Before Sunday, 20 December 2015, I referred to myself as an adventure rider.
This was in fact delusional. Now, for the first time, do I feel entitled to call myself such. This ride made everything else I’ve done pale in comparison. THIS ride got me (Derek), Stuart and my cuz Warren officialy into the club.
This ride was indeed the best I have done so far. The term epic comes to mind but I think I’ll hold that adjective in reserve.
Planning day… 18th December…
Warren came over to my place and we had a few beers whilst discussing the possibility of doing the ride. I was game. We called a few mates and invited them along. Only Stuart showed up for the ride. Short notice and all..
It’s never easy drumming up support at short notice as most blokes have made their plans for the weekend. However a group of three is a good number, as it keeps logistics easy and uncomplicated.
The bikes were waiting on our decision…
They were clean then… so clean.. I hate it if my bike stays clean for too long..
Warren somehow forgot to turn off his ignition and his battery went flat. Musta had something to do with the spectacle of seeing my awesome Tiger 800XC. Or maybe it was the beer..
Anyhow my awesome Tiger 800XC Kindly jump started his GSA and he was on his way home to explain our plans to our wives and get clearance for departure..
On Saturday morning Stuart confirmed that he was in and Warren phoned up the various places and confirmed the booking for our accommodation.
Plan 1 was Gauteng – Himeville – Sani Top – Katse – Clarens – Home. CHANGED!
Plan 2 became Gauteng – Mooi River – Back roads to Himeville – Sani Top – Oxbow – Katse – Clarens _ home.. Much better!
Day 1 map.. The important bit anyway..
I was warned that fuel might be a problem so my 10l Jerry Can was strapped on.. More about that later..
I think my XR600 was feeling rejected…
My Tyres were looking tired. The rear was ok-ish but the front was looking a bit scary.. but no time to change them so I set off with some trepidation, fully expecting to fix a puncture or 3 down route..
That’s how many Kilometres I’d already done on the Mitas E07’s. Awesome Tyres..
We met at Heidelberg on the N3 and slabbed it all the way to The Green Lantern Bar at Van Reenen. No photos, none needed.
Our arrival at the Green Lantern Bar.. Lekker place! (Lekker is a South-Africanismmeaning cool/fun/tasty/great, all rolled into one)
The good people at the Green Lantern gave us some cool advice.. Here is where Plan 2 turned into Plan 3.. A detour down Van Reenen’s pass via gravel roads.
I forget the owner’s name, but he’s an experienced rider in his own right and gave us some good tips..
I thought it was the beer, but evidently they DO have donkeys behind the bar! Posing as reindeer? Maybe it was the beer…?
Before heading out we posed at some building in the derelict part of van reenen. It must’ve been quaint in it’s heyday.
“Medina Mahal”.. A very weird combination of Muslim, Hindu and Jewish symbolism all on one building…
So, off we buggered to find the gravel road that runs along the railway line through the old tunnel and on to Ladysmith..
Bye bye Van Reenen!!
I think the thing I like best about gravel roads is that they are:-
a) More slowly travelled, hence being able to take in more of the surroundings, and
b) One is more easily inclined to stop and tak pictures and just “Be there” for a while.
The highway in sight. Reminded me of this poem..
The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It makes all the difference indeed..
We got to the old tunnel. Silly, really but it’s always a small thrill to go through these old structures that served men for so many years and have now been all but forgotten.. The tunnel does not appear to have seen public use, but rather seems to have been for access to the railway service route.
In one of the early Star Wars movies, Luke Skywalker is shown a dark cave and told by Yoda to go in. He asks “What’s in there?”, to which Yoda replies “Only what you take with you” This played in my head as we went into the tunnel..
I took Warren and Stuart..
After the Tunnel there was a long gravel road, taken at high speed until we reached tar again and stopped for a breather before heading into Ladysmith.. We enjoyed this portion so much that sadly we never took many photos. The only indication of the amount of enjoyment was the grins on our faces and the occasional “Yee-Haaaw” coming from inside our helmets.
We refuelled in Ladysmith. Fuel, drinks and snacks were consumed and then we took the road to Winterton which we passed by and headed for the hills. I took some pics on my Smartphone which got soaking wet and has quit on me, so no pics there.. Probably Warren and Stu have some..
From Winterton we took the R600 South, which becomes a gravel road. Here is when we first saw some rain and pulled over to consider putting on rain suits. At least, Warren and Stuart did. Mine was stolen a while ago… They opted to hold off for a while as it looked like a light shower and nothing more. Oh how wrong were we…
You can see the stones in the road getting shiny from the rain. These proved to be a great source of traction when it got really wet and muddy and we ended up being very thankful that much of the roads had these stones in them.
Not much further and we were out of the rain, which at this point was no more than a shower…
All of us feeling cocky and confident.. Life is good..
Here is the last glimpse of dry roads for what would come to feel like an eternity..
We rounded a corner and went over a hill into the worst rain storm I’ve seen in a while. It bucketed down on us with massive amounts of water, followed by a shower of hail. Luckily the hail was about the size of Mint Imperials and nothing bigger. However, we cot cold and wet in 12 seconds flat. It was the worst possible way to discover that my touring boots are not as waterproof as they were in earlier times. I might as well have been riding in my socks! Warren and Stu were into their rain suits quicker than the first flash of lightning that crossed the sky. At this stage all we could do was press on carefully and hope to ride out from under the storm. We ended up in a little village and took shelter against the wall of a little shack next to the road. For obvious reasons, we took no pictures.
However… Google Maps is amazing!!
Here’s the exact spot in KwaNdlamini where we first took shelter.. The little shack on the left with about 5 inches of roof protruding is where we stood with our backs to the wall and waited it out.
Eventually the rain subsided and we pressed on. However, this was short lived and it bucketed down even worse than before, so once again in some unknown little rural hamlet we abandoned our bikes in a side road and took shelter under the tin roof of an abandoned Cafe (The Ncibidwane Tea Room) with An old and very drunk Zulu man who took shelter there too and also a younger Zulu woman with her baby. We chatted for a while in Zulu while the clouds did their thing until the sun came out and pretended that nothing had happened and we must have been imagining all that foul weather.
Google Maps again…
The roads told a different story… as did the clouds in the background.. Note the rainbow. Stuart and I were joking around that the Man Upstairs said “Ok, that’s enough.. I promise… Muuuaaa-HAHAHAHAAA!!!”
That red earth was like riding on grease when it was wet.. How we stayed upright is a mystery.. The stones were a blessing in disguise. Traction was like being on tar! Only problem was you couldn’t rely on it being there for the entire stretch of road, so we proceeded with much caution.
Behind us, the skies were blue again.. Here you can see how much came down and how quickly it disappreared again!
For some reason, Warren took shelter over the road. I guess he preferred the company of his GS. I can’t imagine why….
There was a reason that Warren was a bit aloof.. It only emerged the next day.
We pressed on into the heart of the exact rainstorm that Noah built an ark to escape from.
All I can tell you is that the sky turned black as sin, the hail came down and each rain drop must have been about 2 liters! Once again we looked for shelter, this time far from any little villages, and eventually, a family of farm labourers took us into their humble home..
Once again, the “Only what you take with you” saying played out in my head. We live in a country where race is pitted against race on a daily basis, and yet here was goodness and friendship to be found. This kind family has a special gift headed their way this Christmas. Maybe StuartC wants to comment on that. I believe that the poor are more willing to share because they help each other out on a daily basis. Here we had a chance to see that in action.
Their story does not end here. When we eventually got to Himeville, we received a call from them inquiring if we had gotten there ok. Such kindness from those who have so little.
It was maybe an hour before we felt brave enough to tackle the rain, which had subsided but not really stopped. It was getting dark and Himeville was still about 70km away.. Inside, the tin roof made this little bit of rain sound like the Battle of Britain was taking placeoutside in the clouds..
Going carefully, with Warren’s GS and it’s array of spotlights lighting up the road as he took point. We joked afterward that all those lumens must’ve dried up the road as we passed, but every now and then that dreaded red goo would rise up to try and strike us down.. We must have ridden some beautiful gravel passes there and will have to do that route again. Pressing on to Himeville became a matter of cold, wet, hungry, tired and thirsty urgency, and I noticed us becoming ever more throttle happy as we got closer and closer, despite the wet conditions and the dark..
Oh man, did we love it!!
I was singing Christmas songs as we growled along throuh the dark and the wind and the rain.
I stopped again at the top of a rise for this photo..
The slippery red earth occastionally tried to snatch us down and trick us into falling, but we remained upright all the way through the mountains.
If someone had told us we’d be riding gravel passes in the dark, in the wet, in the rain, we’d have told them no bloody way.. Yet here we were. It stopped raining here and there and we took the opportunity to take a pic.
After much riding and singing in the rain Himeville finally arrived under our front wheels and we took a welcome drink in the bar of the Himeville Arms..
A good night’s sleep was had by all, and in the morning, happy bikes and happy bikers were all around.
Day 2 Map.
Now no adventure is complete without a little bit of screwing around, and sure enough, first thing in the morning Stuart was grabbing at spanners and tightining up the nuts somewhere in the nether regions of his bike. Apparently something was a bit wobbly in the back end of his TDM. Maybe it was the beer?
I took advantage of the morning sun and used the fence as a washing line. The others were quick to follow suit..
Stuart couldn’t find his tools, probably because they were back in Centurion, so I whipped off the seat of the Tiger and loaned him mine.
This gave me an opportunity to remedy a problem I’d been experiencing since our ride through the rain.
My Jerry can had begun to slip down the seat when it was wet and lodging itself under my ass. This made standing up a problem. Well, not the standing up so much as the sitting down afterward, because I ended up sitting on the Jerry Can which was continually sliding forward.
Warren teasing me about my fuel tank, which contains a measly 17 liters, asopposed to his GS “Oil Tanker”
Over the road from the Himeville Arms…
…was the MOTH Memorial Garden of Rememberance. By the looks of the garden it’s been a while since anybody remembered to clean it up..
We enjoyed a breakfast before packing up and getting ready to head out. We were still waiting for Stuart, who was doing something unknown to his bike..
He finally made his way out the gate. Note that my Jerry Can is now standing vertically on the seat and strapped to the top case. This proved to be a great solution and did not budge again for the remainder of the journey.
Ironically, this is a small story of its own. I was told to bring a Jerry can as finding fuel in Lesotho can be problematic.
As it turned out, I never used it. Not once. I effectively took 10 Liters of fuel from Benoni to Lesotho and back.
That said, that can of fuel inspired a ot of confidence to go along roads that I would otherwise have avoided.
Some other confidence-boosting stuff was my spare tubes, Tools, Tyre Weld..
And an electric pump strapped to my right hand crash bar..
We had some mixed feelings about the Sani Pass. We had just done an unbelievable trek through the mountains by night in the rain on a gravel route with several passes. Each of us was silently hoping Sani would not be an anticlimax.
Off we set into the great wide open…
Beauty abounds in the Underberg..
The mountains did not disappoint. They called to us..
As we hit the gravel section there were many taxis about. 4×4 jobs with serios tyres. Take a close look at the pictures and see how overloaded they are. I guess it takes a lot of faith to get in one of those.
We pressed through and took to the hills.. YAY!
I’m ready to do this ride again! Spectacular scenery, great riding and good mates… It doesn’t get any better than this.
We stopped quite regularly to admire the view and grin at each other. Note, Warren isn’t grinning. He is feeling the rumbling in his stomach.. he was coming down with a bad stomach bug. Poor guy. I have to say he’s a soldier. He never bailed on anything we tried in spite of his maladies which got worse as the day progressed.
One thing I noticed. The South African side of Sani was well managed and the road was easy. Things began to look different when we left the SA border post.
We passed a fair amount of traffic on the way up. No bikes, a few 4wd vehicles and a few taxis. There was traffic going both ways and it made for some interesting timing. I avoided stopping on steep inclines for traffic coming down by timing my arrivals at switchbacks or steep climbs as much as possible, and only once did I have to come to a full stop for some clown who somehow ignored the signs that ascending traffic has right of way.
The usual disclaimer applies here, it was steeper than it looks.. But of course this was still South Africa.. Easy riding..
Alles was net te mooi!
Objects in the rear view mirror are closer than they seem…
Stuart bringing up the rear..
Passports were stamped and we were off!!
Looking back at the South African border gate, see what I mean about the roads? We’re definitely in Lesotho!
More stopping and looking. The roads were a bit more challenging but still easy. Only higher up did they become steeper and more twisty. Erosion and loose rocks made things “interesting..”
Front Page Photo!!
Our Warren is quite photogenic in his MX shirt!
He popped a wheelie and I had just taken the previous pic so the camera was too slow.. Grr.. sorry Warren!!
If you haven’t done this, go do it. Soon.
StuartC was on his Yamaha TDM 850. It has been modified to being an adventure bike by adding a YZF250 front end and some seriaas crash barsand other mods manufactured by Stuart himsef. The bike is all cool!! Stu says the front suspension is sorted but the back end is a “broom handle with a spring on it”
The way to the top is travelled by few. O we few, we happy few, we band of brothers!
Yet another stop to look around. We still had SA Vodacom coverage here, so the last messages home were sent and selfies taken…
Looking back over my shoulder…. It was pretty steep back there..
I love my Tiger!!!
That’s about 85% of the way up…
What a lovely shape….
The last photo before the top!
…and we’re up!
This is the view from the “Highest pub in Africa”. We had a beer and chatted with some other bikers there. The wind was howling, so it was definitely time to put on the jackets.
The local band entertained us on their hand built instruments and a dancer joined in.. The highest gig in Africa??
I just loved that guitar! Complete with funky yellow strings!!
Warren and some local dogs..
My first look at a Basotho hut. Note the “flag”. It was blowing like hell up there..
Beers drunk, it’s time to get going again…
I want to talk about the wind again. The wind was blowing at easily 80km/h, and when we set out that morning it was t-shirts all the way up. However shortly before getting to the top of Sani we went for our jackets, as the air was decidedly cooler up there. Air temperature drops by 2°C every 1000 (330m) feet increase in altitude, so at the top we tested that theory and found it to be true.
Further to that, I stopped to take some pics of a very different landscape to the one we encountered on the way up.
It reminded me a lot of Iceland.
By comparison: Lesotho…
We really do have every country all rolled up into one here on the southern part of Africa..
This is a look back at the new Chinese made Highway.
…and a rear view mirror look at Warren and the top of the rise in the distance..
25km/h. Right.. we stuck to that…
The chinese highway ends at this T-junction where we stopped a while in thought.. Which way to go…
Much thinking was done..
Mokotlong was decided upon as there was fuel there.
It was an interesting little town with a lot going on…
After fuelling up we turned back again towards Butha Bute. We crossed the fabled Senqu river..
Senqu very much, ja…?
There were a lot of hills out there…
The hills were very high.. The Tlaeeng pass is regarded as the highest highway in Africa. Where we stopped I measured it on GPS at 10080 feet (Sorry, my pilot’s app didn’t show altitude in meters)
However we had no reason to mistrust the sign. We all had headaches as a result of the sudden rise in altitude from near sea level at Himeville to this.. The acclimitisation took about 24 hours…
Talking of altitude, we all noticed a very significant decrease in performance of the bikes up there. Stuart and me found ourselves shifting down a lot to take some steep climbs. Warren said nothing. His 1200 didn’t either…
I love my tiger…
This is the last bit of road leading to AfriSki.. really high up there and we were feeling a bit cold, so we were all looking forward to a hot coffee at the Ski resort..
Posing for pics.. here’s a rare shot of myself after Warren snatched my camera and lined me up with my bike..
My boots were still wet inside from the previous day’s ordeal..
The resort reminded me a lot of Germany, just no pine trees..
Very Alpine indeed…
Where’s my Glühwein!!
We ordered coffee, and then Warren skedaddled for the toilet, as his stomach was now letting loose with hellfire and brimestone, while Stuart went outside for a smoke.. I tried speaking to the waiter in German but he was having none of it.
He didn’t even know how to yodel…
Very Bavarian indeed.. It looks like a lot of Jägermeister was drunk around here…
From there it was on to the New Oxbow Inn, about 15km past Afriski towards Butha Bute.. This was the prettiest road of the ride so far. I enjoyed it so much, I stopped to take lots of pics, Warren and Stuart sped ahead aand entered the resort. I sailed on by and did another 10km before turning back. I think it was the beer.. maybe..
This was somewhere way past the resort, shortly before turning back. I want to go back there and ride the rest of this beautiful road!
This is a silly photo taken from the resort overlooking the river. I don’t know what I was thinking when I took it.
I think I was thinking about a beer..
Bikes were hastily unpacked.
Warren needed a kak so badly he didn’t unpack, he didn’t close his front door, he just made for the toilet double time!
The beds looked very comfy. They were! next morning we all waxed lyrical about the beds..
But before all of that, Stu and I settled down in the little lounge for a well-earned beer…
…whilst Warren was settling down on the toilet. We never saw him until supper time when he appeared in the bar, ordered some food, looked at it, and then ran off to the toilet.
Our first day in Lesotho was a roaring success. Some things worthy of mention was the wind. Side on it came close to blowing me off the road once or twice. Also, some sections of the A1 were not completed and we did about 8km on stone. The kind they lay out under railway lines. The bike basically goes where it wants to and you catch up on a lot of praying. It wasn’tfun and the other traffic also made it worse because they also drifted all over the road unpredictably. I just gassed it by them as fast as I could.
A very good night’s sleep was had by all of us and Warren was also feeling a lot better in the morning which was good news, as we had discussed bypassing Katse and heading for home if he was still not well in the morning.
However, he was fine, and Katse was up next…
Day 3a Map.
We all woke up with smiles and good feelings about the day. Breakfast was had and plans made. Katse was on! Gravel roads would be taken!
Bags were packed and bills paid, ready to ride.
I left my phone out in the sun on the bike to dry out. It had died from the rain exposure. Even now it’s not speaking to me. I’ll hand it in to see if it can be fixed because I took some great pics with it before the rain.
I also took a souvenir, a 10 Maloti (Ten Rand equivalent) Basotho note.
My Tiger outside my little Rondavel. R180 per night with breakfast.
So long, new Oxbow Lodge!
We set off in T-shirts.
Before 10 kilometers we stopped and put our jackets on. At that altitude it was just too cold!!
I still love that Tiger… Now gimme that jacket!!
We turned back past Afriski. Sjortly after we turned right onto the gravel. A final look at AfriSki..
About 6km down the gravel road we saw these guys up on the rocks. They were busy building a hut. I guess they are herdsmen..
See the car wreck.. I wonder where it came from, how long it’s been dumped there..
See the gravel.. It was loose and made us ride like pussies..
It looks sunny but it was still cold..
Pic stops happened a lot!
Each day’s riding was different than the one before and we had a hard time deciding hich was the best section. I decided on this one. The landscape was so varied and the riding was fun and in some places challenging. There were times when the remoteness of it all added to the thrill and the little villages tucked between the mountains were so charming. What a day. What a ride!
I love my….
Just looking at these roads makes me want to go ride them again..
Stu grinning inside his helmet..
The first little dam along the route. No Idea what it’s called but it served the little village down the hill. Lots of mine workers around here.. Diamonds!!
We took a wrong turn in the village at the bottom of the hill..
A lot of curious people, but nobody stepped up expecting a handout..
We were trying to get to the road in the valley,, so a bit of backtracking was in order.
And then we were back on track. Nice and green down here…
Women washing and kids playing in the river. You can see that this river is capable of getting nasty in the wet season, whenever that is..
The donkeys were everywhere. Many of them had sacks of grain or whatever on their backs. Many were walking alone. It appears that once they have been packed, the owner smacks them on the backside and tells them to go home, and they do!
This section got very steep very quickly. I observed some donkeys going downhill lose traction and end up running down the slope instead. Scary for them. We just gave some throttle and kept the speed on.
Stopping again to take it all in. Riding with these guys is great. No pissing contests. The pace is easy, we all ride well and nobody has anything to prove. We stop often and just enjoy being there in the moment. We go through copious amounts of Wine Gums and Liquorice Allsorts..
If I said it before, I’m saying it again. We stopped a lot to look at all the wonders around us. However after crossing the bridge and doing the steep ascent, we stopped for a decent time and gazed into the valley below. Even Stu was at a loss for words..
By now it was hotter and we were sheltered from the wind, so the jackets came off again..
I was thinking to myself that the Basotho living here probably have a better quality of life than most of us. But maybe I’m wrong..
Warren was defnitely feeling better. He even cracked a few smiles!
Eventually we came to the highway again at Ha Lejone (I call it Hallo Johnny) and we put in some fuel. I took 10 Liters. R15 per liter. It is sold in 5 liter plastic containers. Stu took 5.
E.T. phone home..
It’s hard to tell where the river ends and the dam begins. The river just gets wider and bluer. This is the first time we stopped for a pic, but we knew we were at the dam before Ha Lejone.
And then we crossed the bridge.
It must’ve been washing day..
Scroll up to the previous photo and see how the road winds up the hill. I went blasting up there, eager to take the lead in the twisties.
Warren tried to signal to me but gave up and turned around, because we were supposed to take the gravel again. I shot up the hill, noticed I was alone, and waited……
Finally I worked out that they were not coming, so I rode back down with a red face while they laughed at me..
We took to the gravel once more. This section was really sandy and slippery. Coarse gravel on a hard packed dirt road. Everyone nearly lost it in a curve several times..
The dam is big
No it’s not big.. it’s faaargin big!
Let’s go get that beer…
Riding in through the secured village to the Katse Lodge.
The wind was up again since quite a way back, adding to the complexity of riding on a million tiny ball bearings…
View from the verandah..
I was thirsty..
Burgers were ordered and Stu had intentions of eating on the verandah in that wind. Not this cowboy, I went inside to eat like a gentleman. Stu and Warren caved and came in too..
After our bellies were suitably filled it was time to get going. I bought a Souvenir. Using two cable ties I managed to affix the Basutho hat to my helmet and rode all the way to Clarens with it. It got much excited applause and laughter in all the villages we passed.
Day 3b Map.
The last stretch home was some spectacular slabbing. It’s just like riding the Alps. Without the yodelling!
Bye bye Katse..
Our last stop in Lesotho, on the Katse bridge..
Then we tackled the last pass.. Magnificent!!
Glorious riding to be had out here..
You just have to go do this route!!
Taken from the back of a moving bike. I had to watch those corners.. could be hairy…
Eventually the land flattened out for the first time in days. It was still a long ride to the border at Butha Buthe..
The moon was rising..
Butha Buthe was bustling. You can see there is more money here than on the eastern escarpment, where access to South Africa is more difficult.
You can see the mixed reactions on the faces to my hat…
The topography was beginning to resemble the Clarens/Golden Gate area..
We stopped for a much needed drink (Coke Zero) in Fouriesburg. It was also the first time we could get decent reception and data so we all called home and took selfies..
We then blasted up to Clarens to check into the backpackers. Sadly I only took a few pics that evening. It was a hurried supper at the Roter Hahn German restaurant. Warren was battling again.. we hurried back to the Backpackers and hit the bunks with a vengeance and passed out, exhausted but happy.
The backpackers is cheap and cheerful. the bunks were fine and we would camp there again. A lekker hippie vibe..
Next mornng we took breakfast in town and headed for home.
After the stunning ride in Lesotho I couldn’t be bothered to take pics orr report on that section. the roads were fine but ordinary. We all got home safe and sound and wanting to do it all again as soon as possible!