The Berg & Bush has it all, a three-day mountain bike ride in the shape of the Great Trek, a race in the shape of the Descent, and a relaxed, family-style MTB weekend away in the shape of the original 2 Day.
This year all three events went out of their way to provide a little bit of everything for everyone; there was snow, lightening, thunder, thunderous rain, light rain, mud , beer, burgers and heat. Above all, there was also great riding, probably the greatest riding at any stage race in the country.
Thanks to a mixture of obliging cattle and game, the natural terrain, and some hard-working local farmers, the trails of the Berg & Bush mix the sublime with the sensational. These are some of the iconic scenes that you encounter in the Central Drakensberg region.
The name is well known in mountain bike circles thanks to this section of trail’s inclusion in both the Berg & Bush and the Old Mutual joBerg2c. This year only the Descent riders were able to experience the sweeping switchbacks, and even then only after race organiser Gary Green left his home at 3am to ride day 1 of the Descent ahead to the field to make sure it was safe. Green got lost - on his own farm - but luckily all riders made it to the finish (as did Green, eventually).
A few days later - on day 1 of the Great Trek - the route had to be diverted after a massive storm moved in over the area. The day was declared neutral and riders were taken down an alternative descent. Rain hammered the race village near Sterkfontein Dam, but when the clouds lifted, riders were left with a chill in the air and incredible views of the snow-capped Drakensberg. (The more sensible riders in the field skipped the day altogether and opened up their bar tabs in the always impressive race village. Sponsored wine from Fairview and R10 CBC beers meant that some riders clocked numerous PBs for most beers in an hour).
We’re in this Tugela
There’s a moment on day 2 of the event where you’re riding in dry bush veld, past beautiful acacia trees and thicks aloes, when without warning you pop out on the banks of the Tugela River. It’s an impressive awakening and an awe-inspiring sight, not to mention a bloody fun trail along the banks of the river.
Only the lucky few spot the plentiful roaming giraffe in the area. It’s small thing, but the game encounters are a standout feature of the Berg & Bush.
Ain’t life Grand
One of the more compellingly bizarre features on day 3 of the event - a day that boasts many compelling features - is the Grand Canyon section of trail. You hit this little beauty - an impressively eroded river bed - in the middle of the bushveld. It’s a short section of trail, but it’s so unlike anything you’ve ridden before that you can’t help but whooping as you whip through.
Klapping the Kop
Everyone knows about the climb up Spioenkop; it’s hellishly steep and a real leg-burner on the third day of a great event. But what goes up must come down, and there’s no better descent than the dash down Spioenkop. From the top of the famous battle site you fly downhill at a dizzying rate, twisting and turning for 13 blissful kilometres. There are berms, bumps, jumps and jollies aplenty. The trail flows so perfectly that you feel like a pro as you glide towards the finish line.
Without question, the water points at the Berg & Bush are festive and filling. Each table is run by a different farmer or community member, all trying to outdo each other with their offerings. This table pictured is the last one of the entire event, and not entirely necessary as it comes so close to the finish - but the freshly made toasted sandwiches and sizzling sausages force you to put the brakes on for one last snack. If you don’t go home heavier than when you arrived, you’ve failed at your Berg & Bush challenge.