The sleepy Eastern Cape town of Willowmore is never as busy as it is right now. On the dusty main road; not a parking spot is to be found and pedestrians have to dodge bicycles and cars crawling at walking pace through town, as there is simply no space on the pavements. Knysna has the Oyster Festival, Grahamstown has the National Art Festival – but Willowmore has the Trans Baviaans.
For two weekends a year the town comes alive with an influx of visitors. This year those weekends are the second and third weekends in August. Every bed in town is filled. Makeshift accommodation is provided by a temporary campsite and mattresses on the floor of the school and church halls. The town’s main attraction has long been its location as the gateway to the Baviaanskloof. Even outside of the mountain bike race it lures adventure seekers looking for a point from which to strike out into the country’s largest wilderness area.
“One of the restaurant owners told me they pray for Trans Baviaans ahead of Christmas in Willowmore” race director Zane Schmahl laughed. “With 1 250 riders, and a growing number of friends and family members who accompany them as supporters, the race provides a massive boost to the local economy. Not just in Willowmore, on the Karoo side of the kloof, but also in Jeffery’s Bay on the far side. It is great to see the town so full and all the small businesses benefiting from the event.”
“At EcoBound we like to use local service providers as much as possible” Schmahl continued. “Take Vero’s for example. We provide the raw materials and pay her to make her famous roosterbrood for 2 500 mountain bikers over the two weekends of the Trans Baviaans Race and Repeat. She has grown her business into a Baviaanskloof institution with the help of the thousands of riders who have visited her both within and outside of the events over the years.”
“The Smit family, who farm in the kloof also play a massive part in the event” Schmahl praised. “They hunt kudu and make sausage and sosaties which are braaied at Check Point 3. It is probably the most connected to the area riders can be, being nourished by healthy, free range and hormone free, venison from the Baviaanskloof” he concluded.
Aside from mountain bikers the other groups of thrill seekers with whom the region is exceptionally popular are adventure motor-bikers and 4×4 enthusiasts. Their trips through the kloof keep Willowmore on the tourist map with year-round visitors. On Saturday afternoon, when the majority of the field is making their slow ascent of the Mother of All Climbs, the most significant ascent of the event, many will no doubt be wishing for an engine. There can be no doubt however that experiencing the kloof by mountain bike is the best way to do so.
If you have never taken part in the Trans Baviaans then you will be able to get a hint of what South Africa’s most popular ultra-endurance mountain bike race is all about on Saturday the 10th of August. Follow @EcoBoundEvents on Twitter for regular updates from the race or @transbaviaans on Instagram for insights into the beauty of the area. Alternatively like the Trans Baviaans Facebook page to view all the photos and videos from the 2019 race or visit www.transbaviaans.co.za for more information.