Motorbike tour

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Nov 2006

“Come on”, Jeremy urged. “I need to lay my Old Man to rest”.

How could I refuse this offer? I had already booked leave with the intention of repeating the previous year’s surf safari to Jefferys’s Bay. The trip however had sadly been cancelled when three of the group had dropped out for varying reasons, such as work commitments and offers of watching the Springboks in action at Twickers. Jeremy’s alternative entailed a three day motorcycle trip through the Klein Karoo and Southern Cape, predominantly making use of the quieter dirt roads. The objective of the trip – to scatter his father’s ashes at Red Stone Hills, near Calitzdorp

“But Jeremy”, I protested feebly, “I haven’t split a leg over a motorbike saddle since 1985”.

“You’ve still got a license. Haven’t you”?

“Sure.”

And so it was that at 05h30 on relatively chilly Friday November morning, Jeremy and I found ourselves purring along the N1 astride two handsome BMW650GS Dakars. The bikes, fitted with a hard box at the back and a nylon tank bag at the front contained all the gear we needed, including tools; cameras; spare tyres and tyre inflators; maps and other necessities. Sadly, Jeremy’s Dad was missing. After much deliberation, Jeremy had decided to keep his father’s ashes for a future trip to an area in the Eastern Cape that his father had loved so much.

Riding over Du Toit’s Kloof Pass, the sense of holiday and freedom began to take hold and despite the ominous cloud cover and blustery wind, I realized what I had missed out on for so many years. A quick fuel stop and coffee at the Worcester One Stop allowed my numbing fingers to thaw and I gazed with envy at Jeremy’s heated handle-grips. However, the weather was already beginning to warm up as we left the N1 shortly before Touws River, turning left on the R46 toward the Hottentotskloof and passing the Aquila game reserve. From this point on, until we stopped for breakfast at Maaitjiesfontein, we never encountered another vehicle or human being.  This is testimony to the fact that South Africa still has enough wide open spaces to tour in relative peace and safety.

After going through a beautiful pass, called ‘Die Venster’, and traveling about 40 kms on tar, we finally reached the dirt road and stopped to admire the open quietness of the Klein Karoo and naturally, to allow Jeremy to have a fag. Traveling on the dirt roads through the Karoo, one is struck by how well kept they are, despite the isolation. The Karoo itself, was lovely, particularly after a fair bit of rain. So peaceful and pretty. One saw the occasional sheep; a few labourers’ cottages (some surrounded by immaculate green lawns) and several ostriches. In fact, the trip revealed that the ostrich industry in the Cape must be booming. There were also enumerable tortoises – we must have seen at least twenty in a half hour passage of time.

On a few occasions, we had to carefully pick our way through sections of flooded road.  And, having just been through one of these sections, I was heading happily down the road when I noticed a tortoise that had just pushed another one onto it’s back. Jeremy, traveling ahead of me, had seen it too and had stopped to rescue the conquered tortoise. Unfortunately, he had stopped just around a bend and was doing a U-turn on the bike when I came around the corner at about 80kms/hr and saw his bike in front of me. I climbed onto the back brakes (not that effective on dirt) and tried to take evasionary action but hit Jeremy’s front wheel at about 40kms/hr, sending him flying and came down hard with the bike on top of me and my head buried in the sand. The exhaust was on my leg, heating up my calf muscle to an uncomfortably high temperature. There was little I could do about this awkward situation, as I was flat on my stomach and the dry weight of the Dakar is a beefy 177kgs. Fortunately, Jeremy heaved the machine off me and we established that apart from a snapped mirror and broken indicator, the bikes were scratched but fine. Jeremy had a sore thumb, where the handlebars had come back at him and I had slightly scratched and bruised legs and a sore hand, which later swelled spectacularly but was only mildly uncomfortable.

“Jeez, I’m really sorry about your bike, Jeremy”, I said.

“Nah”. He said, as he lit a cigarette. “Now it’s got houding”!

We dusted ourselves off and went to rescue the tortoise, which wasn’t overly grateful for all we had been through on it’s account and it scuttled into the bushes without so much as a backward glance.

Back on the bikes, it was about another 20 minutes on the dirt road, which spat us out directly opposite Maaitjiesfontein where we called in for our planned breakfast at 09h30. The food was delicious and as anyone who has ever been to Maaitjiesfontein can testify, the setting is magnificent. From Maaitjiesfontein, we headed 25 kms up the N1 to Laingsberg to refuel and also to buy tyre sealant prior to setting off to our next destination, Calitzdorp. We must have been tempting fate because fifteen minutes out of Laingsberg on the Rooinek pass, I developed a back tyre puncture, which even the tyre sealant inflator could not sort out. So there in the mid-morning heat, Jeremy and I set out to change the back tube, with the bike precariously suspended on a neat pyramid of flat rocks (loaned from the fence running alongside the road). I can assure you that it is not easy to change the back tyre of a motorbike (with limited tools) and we sweated buckets but finally succeeded and triumphantly toasted our success with a cool drink and cigarette.

The intended detour (18kms) to investigate the Floriskraal dam was called off due to the loss of time caused by the puncture. Instead, we proceeded roughly forty kilometers East along some lovely stretches of dirt road, greeting one or two fellow cyclists, who were passing in the other direction.  We eventually turned right through the magnificently winding  Seweweekspoort, where we slowed right down to a crawl to appreciate the surroundings. Stopping at one of the many drifts, we stripped off and swam in the beautifully refreshing, rusty coloured water, mere meters off the road. Here we were able to wash off a lot of the dirt and grease and truly relax.

Dressed, once again and with the stress of work long forgotten, we continued on to intersect the well-known R62. Along the way, we came across an impressively big, copper coloured Cape Cobra, which reared up at Jeremy as he passed, before racing for the safety of the bushes at the side of the road.

The journey now took us twenty five kilometers East along the R62, through the winding Huisrivier Pass to Calitzdorp. Here, a toasted sandwich and tea restored our energy and the friendly restaurant owners advised us of various routes to take. The next part of the journey was a long circular route around the Groenfontein dam. This road was unbelievably beautiful in parts and a little more technical than the previous roads we had ridden. We eventually came back into Calitzdorp from the other direction and after buying some beers and a bottle of ‘soetes’, we headed back the way we had come to Red Stone Hill Cottages, stopping on the way to admire the evening light on the red rocks of Red Stone Hills. These hills burn red orange in the light, not unlike Ayres Rock in Australia and are surrounded by dense green vegetation.  It was fortunate that Jeremy hadn’t brought his father’s ashes, as the spot he had chosen was in the natural window atop one of the hills, which we later discovered was a full day’s walking hike away. We toasted the hills with a sip of Jeripigo – Calitzdorp’s finest, and rode the last two kilometers to our overnight stop just before darkness set in. We had covered a little in excess of 600 kilometers.

Petro, our hostess who owns the Red Stone Hill Cottages, had done us proud – Jeremy knows her fairly well from previous bike trips and had phoned ahead to ask her to arrange some food. We literally sank into chairs on the patio of the simple but beautifully appointed cottage and lit the blitz for our braai. The fire had been set and Petro had marinated two substantial ostrich steaks; wrapped mushrooms and cheese in foil and made three different salads. A few cold beers later, followed by a meal that would take some beating, we recounted the war stories of the day, before scrubbing off the dust of many miles with a well earned shower and fell into a deep, undisturbed sleep.

On the road again by 07h30 the following morning, having settled the (very reasonable) bill of R570.00. We headed South and were soon climbing the Rooiberg pass, this after seeing another cobra – this one sadly dead, having been run over. In the early morning light, Jeremy following a jackal for about 200 metres down the road, where it presumably believed him to be a growling predator. The pass itself is spectacularly beautiful but quite hairy and a couple of the down hill u-bends require first gear and a brave constitution, as the cliff drops away below the road. At the top we stopped for a cool drink and came across a lone cow, which must have escaped from a nearby farm and which had the entire landscape to itself. The views themselves from the summit, stretched for miles in all directions and the vista was awesome.

We wound cautiously down the pass, arriving in the valley below, where we then picked up speed and eventually reached the tiny, dusty town of Van Wyksdorp for breakfast. Why anyone lives in this forlorn town, is a mystery. We stopped at the only ‘restaurant’ in the town for a very good bacon and egg breakfast and chatted to the owner, who was dressed in an eclectic mix of eccentric clothing. She had moved to Van Wyksdorp three years previously, after find life in Macgregor too crowded and noisy and was bemoaning the attempts by developers to subdivide the surrounding farm land to sell off as holiday accommodation. Like many places in this area, the local population appear to enjoy their Friday evening dop and many were still staggering about the streets in a state of complete inebriation and seemed to find a particular fascination in a pair of dusty touring bikers. They would be insistent on wanting to shake our hand or to go off at us in a string of expletives for no particular reason, or both!

Back on the bikes and now heading further South, we had a long and not quite so pretty, but none-the-less delightful journey along the R327. Here with road being more open and straight, I find one goes into an almost trance-like state. One’s concentration on the road surface, which changes constantly, is supreme and off course on ensuring the road ahead is clear. The bike at about 80kms/hr and 4.000 revs purrs like a contented cheetah and other than the technical aspect of riding and the scenery, one hardly thinks about anything else at all. Dirt riding is very relaxing.

Coming through Cloete’s pass into Herbertsdale is another breathtakingly beautiful ride and we marveled at how quickly the scenery and vegetation changes over relatively short distances. After refueling at Herbertsdale, which I would rate even less attractive than Van Wyksdorp and waiting patiently whilst a shop assistant painstaking wrote out an invoice for two cooldrinks, we were relieved to be on the road again.

The route was now taking us West toward the foot of the Langberg mountains through some stunning farmlands where thick groves of poplars line exquisitely clear streams and swallows and martins scour the road ahead of the bikes. We had on two occasions to literally pass through herds of cows, which were heading peacefully down the road. An advantage of being astride as opposed to inside a vehicle, is that one can smell the countryside and the animals and this adds to the raw earthiness of the experience. In several areas along this section, we came across ‘Road Flooded’ signs and areas where the road had washed away in parts, testimony to the recent heavy rains in the area. It is also difficult to find some of the quieter routes on the maps we had taken and once or twice we needed to stop and ask for directions to ensure we were heading in the right direction.

Along the way, we stopped at a coffee shop by little dam for tea and then headed for Suurbraak near the foot of Tradouw’s Pass, which brought us onto the N2. Fifty five further kilometers on the N2 followed and I couldn’t believe how quickly I had learned to despise tar roads. This sentiment wasn’t assisted by the battering we took from the vicious Southeaster and it was with some relief that shortly after refueling at Riviersonderend, we turned right onto the dirt again (the R406) to Greyton. What a lovely drive and we couldn’t resist stopping at yet another pristine river to toast life in general with a healthy swig of Jeripego .

At six thirty, we pulled into the Post House in Greyton, now severely run down following the impending divorce of the owners and resultant neglect. It is still enduringly quaint however and the rooms spotlessly clean. We managed to bath (no showers available) just in time to get to the Barnard hotel to watch SA’s dismal performance against Ireland amongst a spirited crowd of holidaymakers. Following that we had a wonderful Thai pork curry and got chatting to a couple at the next table, who shared our interest in off-road touring. We eventually had to leave the restaurant, as they were closing for the night and on the walk home, we encountered three brothers, who were having a drink on the stoep of their house. They invited us to join them, and so it was that we solved South Africa’s woes over a couple of Brandy and cokes and weaved our very short distance back to the Post House and to a welcome nights rest.

Next morning I was ready to ride at 08h00 – the appointed hour. but no sign of Jeremy, so I crossed the main street to a little restaurant for scrambled eggs and a cappuccino and eventually woke Jeremy at 09h45. He changed and packed in record time and we were away before 10h15 after getting directions from the friendly manager of the Post House. We traveled via Grenadendal and along the South West bank of Theewaterskloof dam, following a long, windy road into Botrivier. Here we rode though our final pass, Vanderstelpas, which was picturesque but marred very slightly by heavy traffic, consisting of 4 cars.

We had a cool drink in Botrivier our tour now complete – The final administration being to the battle the wind and traffic over the Houhoek and Sir Lowry’s passes to arrive home in time for a braai, prepared by our good wives.

About the author

Born and raised in Zambia, I took out permanent residence in RSA on leaving school. As an accountant, most of my career was spent in the corporate world. However, following retrenchment, I was obligated (and happy) to start my own practice. My first bike was a Yamaha 175 scrambler, which I bought in my early 20’s and sold several years later. A very long hiatus ensued before an off-road Karoo experience on a borrowed bike showed me what I had been missing. A BMW 800GS shortly followed, then an ’07 1200GS and a ’13 1200GS. Writing has been an interest and hobby of mine for years and bike rides generally allow for good writing experiences.