To Hell and Gone
This “Opstel” was written by a fellow biker, Jan vd Wezthuizen and with his permission I thought to share his story with you all.
TO HELL AND GONE!
Although I have travelled through the Baviaanskloof by mountain bike some 14 years ago, I, at several occasions during this tour, I asked myself how I ever allowed my aging body to again be lured into something so challenging and with so little logic in it. Attempts at finding an answer escalated exponentially after each of my four falls. The fact, that South Africa and for that matter Africa is criss crossed with good road networks and wonderful scenery makes it even more difficult to know why sane well balanced humans would search for the most difficult “roads” to travel on and torture themsel
ves? For me, age and absolute stupidity may contain some explanation. For other people a valid reason is obviously found in the fact that the challenge is there, the “been there, done it” phenomenon, the “its fun when it’s done” satisfaction and that “memories are made of this”! This motorcycle tour was no different. In fact I would (naturally only now and in retrospect) rate it as having been very special, both as regards the challenge and the company.
It all started some time ago when Richard Bennet started toying with the idea of riding a motorbike from Cape to Cairo. When his friend a Norman Emslie agreed with it the theory approached practice. Then Rufus Dreyer joined in and finally Stellios Georgeiou completed the foursome – “Three farmers and a Greek” – to quote Richard Bennet. The tour was on. My aspirations of a motorbike tour were much more humble, but having heard of this group, I, some time ago approached Rufus with the invitation to accompany me on a short tour of the Zuurberg, Swartberg and Bloukrans Passes. Shortly after having done it, I started getting invitations by cell phone, e-mail and personally to join the foursome on a tour of the Baviaanskloof and “Die Hell” as a practice run for their Cape to Cairo expedition. I summarily ignored all invitations and avoided any contact. Rufus, however was persistent and after a personal visit, I had no further (by his judgement) valid excuses. Fortunately, on the morning of our departure, my Kawasaki refused point blank to start. Valid excuse? No. Push start it! (Had I known what awaited me both as regards the roads and the company I had to tolerate, I would, at that point have destroyed the Kawasaki completely – No not quite).
So later on Friday morning 22 October, the foursome, all mounted on Kawasaki KLR 650’s having already travelled 250 kms, arrived at my house only approximately an hour and a half late, but quite chirpy as if it was meant to be like that. It was only already half an hour later than the scheduled meeting with the sixth biker, Arthur Loretz and his BMW 1200 GS, who was waiting for us at the Padlangs Roadhouse just past Patensie, still one hours ride from my house. Again there was no apparent concern. (I already then should have known better). It was not the end yet. Halfway to Patensie, Norman’s KLR suddenly cut out. After careful investigation the approximately 20 technical diagnoses, were narrowed down to the fact that even the indestructible KLR’s need petrol to run on. Richard took off to a nearby petrol station and returned with two litres of petrol. Bob’s your uncle. Problem solved. We then rode to Patensie where we filled up with petrol and rode to the Padlangs Road House where we met Arthur approximately two hours behind schedule. We had lunch and started off for our destiny, Doornkloof Bush Camp, some 113 kms of torturous (very) rough dirt road passes which we were destined to reach two hours later.
This road through the Baviaanskloof which lies between the Kouga and Baviaans mountains was the longest of the 24 roads and one of the last roads built by Thomas Baines and his father Andrew Geddes Baines before the death of the former in 1893. This road which crosses the Grootrivier more than 20 times was one of the first which linked the Western Cape with the Eastern Frontier. Throughout history as today, it was never considered to be an easy route. In 1987 Nature Conservation took over and started buying up private farms to establish the Baviaanskloof Wilderness area.
Patensie to Baviaans.
A short distance from Patensie, Rufus decided that it was essential to inspect the various camping sites en route. We all turned down the sandy track but my front wheel slipped and I went down (all be it at almost stand still speed). Norman rushed to my assistance. Having inspected the camp site we departed from it none the wiser only to, after a few kilometres, discover that Stellios did not follow us. It turned out that he too went down and was not able to pick his bike up. Richard back tracked in assistance. Problem solved. The first 26 kms to Komdomo, the first camp site and official office in the Baviaanskloof is good road and I found comfort in the “information” that the Baviaanskloof road had been graded.
Approximately 17 kms further, just past Cambria we reached the Baviaanskloof entrance gate where we paid our dues and continued on a road of which the surface clearly showed that the grader had either got lost or had been hijacked. It now called for serious action. We crawled up the steep ten kilometre incline to Bergplaas only to again crawl down the other side to Kleinplaat and Doodsklip.
So it was forwards and mostly upwards and downwards through these passes and, just for fun, a few water crossings – real 20 to 30 km/hr stuff. By now nothing was dry any more and my boots contained a fair volume of unwelcome water. These water crossings were also popular spots where my “friends” would wait to take “action” photos, particularly crossings where it required finding your way over a surface covered with slippery stones. It was at one of these that Norman decided to photograph my expertise at traversing the mean obstacle. He had me in his view finder and was just about to take the photo when I disappeared. I had hit a submerged rock, made a ninety degree turn and rode out of sight into a reed bush only to reappear again as I fell back into the road. Norman again rushed to my assistance without taking the photo!
By now I think my body language must have shouted anything but “I really enjoy this road”! All this was aggravated by the fact that Richard then took of with a wheel spin with Rufus, Norman and Stellios following suit as if riding on an interstate highway. Out of shear nervousness, I now gripped the handlebars like a vice. We continued past Apieskloof, and Doornkraal through some more steep twisties until we passed the now derelict Geelhoutbos camp site. On our way Arthur and I noticed an object in the road which I recognised it as Rufus’ centre stand and picked it up. With some more bolts being lost from his bike along the way, I started thinking that the answer that Rufus got on the Wild Dog Blog when he asked for advice as to the spares for a KLR to take on a Cape to Cairo tour was spot on. The reply was: “A box of bolts and nuts and a gallon of Lock Tite”. On handing him his stand, Rufus asked “and where are the springs?” Ha, Ha. The road now became a lot better and for the next 20 kms allowed for a bit more throttle. Even so, the “Cape to Cairo” foursome had to stop ever so often to allow the backmarkers to catch up. We reached Doornkloof at 18h30, three and a half hours after leaving the Padlangs Roadhouse. An average of 32 kms per hour. Good graded road, my foot!
It was soon pretty clear that the “Cape to Cairo” foursome had equipped themselves with all the alluring gadgets thinkable. The only problem was that they clearly did not know how all these gadgets worked. Stellios had several attempts at putting up his new tent but never got it right. It, at the end very much resembled something like a cross between and rather flat Red Indian tepee and a Bushman “skerm”. It was equally clear that the group consisted of four absolutely extreme personalities. There was Richard Bennet, extrovert makhulu who, when patience was issued, could never receive it because he was always gone before the time, but with a spirit that will not easily be exhausted, big 130 kgs of Norman Emslie (poor KLR), calm, quiet anchor man, Stellios Georgeiou, calm, objective and a punch bag for Richard and finally Rufus (MacGyver) Dreyer who heads up the group as organiser, cook, mechanic, photographer and few more responsibilities. As the tour went on, their ability to ride and deal with crises was evident.
We had a lovely braai of absolutely excellent quality mutton, “roosterkoek” and salads supplied by the owners of the camp site. Supper around the fire was accompanied by loads of “wisdom”. Norman remarked that he was now sick and tired of continually having to pick up my gloves, helmet, bike and me. Then it was off to bed.
To Hell and Gone!
The next morning I was in for more revelations. When Richard gets up, the whole camp gets up. That in itself is not a problem, but impatience gets him out of bed very, very early. He immediately blamed me for waking him up and expressed sympathy for poor Tossie who according to him must have a torrid time with a husband who snores so violently. (Lot of lies). Even though Rufus had been up to his usual tricks and had deflated Richard’s bike’s front wheel, and we still had to break camp, we were packed and on the road well before our scheduled departure time, thanks to Rich.
The route now took us along the valley, past Makadaat’s Cave, through the Nuwekloof Pass where we left the Baviaanskloof and headed for the N9, a distance of 112 kms.
Then on tar for a further 80 kms to De Rust where we planned to have breakfast. Being on tar Arthur just could not resist the temptation to show us on our lowly KLR’s what a BMW 1200 GS is made of and sped of into the distance. We simply pretended as if we never noticed.
Beforehand Arthur and I agreed that, should it rain, we would give the Gamkaskloof (“Die Hel”) a skip. As we approached De Rust we rode into cold, cold rain. I was obviously delighted since my nerves were on edge of riding down into “Die Hel” and this would be a very handy escape. Rufus was not going to have anything of the sort and quietly phoned Piet Joubert, the owner of our destined camp site, who said that there was no rain in the Gamkaskloof. Bad news for me. So after a lovely breakfast, a fire to get us a bit warmer and with no valid excuse we were on our way, but only after Adam, the pickled parking attendant who looked after our bikes, was sent to buy two bottles of Old Brown Sherry to counter the cold.
Halfway through the Meiringspoort, it was, however to much heat rather than the cold that made us stop when Norman noticed the temperature of his KLR suddenly increase. On inspection it was found that as a result of the bad roads through the Baviaanskloof and the resultant vibration, all the brackets of the radiator fan had broken off and that the fan had chafed right through some of the veins of the radiator.
We turned into a convenient nearby picnic spot and the team, spearheaded by MacGyver Dreyer, moved in for action. Being prepared to take on Africa they ripped the radiator out in no time and found the leak. The solution was simple. Seal the leak. With what? A Cape to Cairo group equipped with all the gadgets from blue tooth, GPS’s, to two way radios and no epoxy glue? Disgrace. Then Arthur came to the rescue with Pratley Steel and half an hour later we were on our way again.
Arthur and I were contemplating to accompany the Cape to Cairo tour up to the Victoria Falls and whilst we now noticed that they will certainly need our wisdom and help, we offered to continue a bit further. Was there perhaps a reason for their consensus reaction of “Thank you, but no thank you”?
Meiringspoort was named after a farmer who owned the property. The road which crosses the Grootrivier 25 times was built between 1856 and 1858 to transport wool from farmers who farmed to the north to Mosselbay and was later upgraded by Thomas Baines. It had devastating floods in 1885, 1968 and 1996 after which it was rebuilt to its present status.
After a further 84 kms of lovely tar road we reached the turnoff to the Swartberg Pass. From here it would be 12 kilometers of twisting dirt road up the renowned Swartberg Pass to the turnoff into the Gamkaskloof and a further 45 kilometers down the kloof to our destination at Piet se Staning.
On paper these distances appear short, but even the sign at the turnoff for the Gamkaskloof says “45 kms – two hours driving time”. Again the foursome sped off while I crawled along at my best speed with Arthur behind me to “nurse” me. The leaders would, however stop at strategic points for us to regroup and Rufus would often ride ahead to take photos of us.
There were a number of river crossings with the same problem of a variety of round stones which played havoc with any control of the bike. Progress was slow and from the top of every hill the jeep track snaking into the distance and over the next horizon appeared to continue for ever. After, what felt like a decade, we reached the so called narrow Spaghetti Pass which zigg zags down a 400 meter drop from the top of the escarpment. This road is so narrow that there is no room for vehicles coming up to pass those going down. It requires reversing until a wider spot is found. As luck would have it, it was here that we got traffic on their way out of the kloof.
A group of Landrovers forced Norman into a ditch on the side of the road and it took all his efforts to get out of it. On one of several hairpin turns I (stupidly) locked my front brake, the front wheel slid on the loose gravel and I went down again. Arthur helped me pick the bike up and we went on. We reached the bottom of the valley and continued to the restaurant and our camp site which we reached at 17h00.
Here we met with Piet Joubert who gave us a quick run down of the history of the Gamkaskloof.
The part of the kloof which was cultivated in its former “life” is only a few hundred meters wide and 14 kilometres long. All contact with the outside world was through three foot-paths navigable only on foot or by donkeys. Produce for marketing was carried by donkeys along the northern poort to Prins Albert 62 kms away. People used the southern route to walk to Calitzdorp 18 kms away. In 1958, before the construction of the road, a 1938 Morris 8 was moved over rocks and pulled by donkeys into the kloof. It was also at that time that, the administrator of the Cape Province, Mr Otto du Plessis agreed that a road be constructed. Work started immediately and with the aid of an Allis Chalmers 11 Crawler and 18 men under the leadership of Koos van Zyl, the road was completed in two and a half years. In August 1962 the 18 families living in the kloof could for the first time transport their produce by road to the market. These 45 kilometres into the Gamkaskloof remains a challenge to all forms of transport and by my judgement the word road is used rather loosely! The way to Hell would be more appropriate!
Rufus had arranged that we have supper at the restaurant at 18h00. We had a lovely plate of lamb chops vegetables which we washed down with (too much) wine. During supper Richard said that the trip to Cairo is approximately 16000 kms and extrapolated that should I continue to on average fall once every 100 kms I would fall 160 times by the time we reached Cairo. He then said that he had a confession to make. During the day he had stopped, sat on the bike, took his helmet, gloves and jacket off and thinking that his side stand was out he just got of the bike with obvious consequences. Richard, if you continue to drop your bike like that on average once every 400 kms you will drop it 40 times on your way to Cairo! On our way to bed Richard then decided that we had to build relationships with the couple who camped next to us. This we did, most likely to their disgust and irritation. Richard went to bed before Rufus and Norman who, on their return to camp summarily dropped his tent. Stellios still did not get his tent right.
The next morning, we were up early again and decided to only have a cup of coffee before taking on the spaghetti pass. We got away early. There had been a slight drizzle during the night and before we departed. The road was damp and slippery in places it was not slippery wet. Climbing the pass was considerably better than descending it and it therefore felt a lot shorter. In addition, it being early still, there was no other vehicles to contend with. So the return journey, and including all the river crossings went without any casualties. (Well done Jan) With about three kilometres to go to the T-junction with the Swartberg Pass road, Arthur and I caught up with the group. Norman’s gear leaver had broken and made it impossible to change gears. It was taken off and Pratley Puttied. We spent some time waiting for the Pratley to set and made coffee.
When it was considered that the epoxy had set properly, the leaver was fitted, but lasted only one change – the Pratley was not hard yet. Norman passed me at the summit of the pass shouting that he was in third gear and could not stop. He rode down the pass in third gear and free wheeled where possible. The road was now properly wet and slippery and just as we cleared the summit, Arthur’s GS slipped and slided. This was an early warning and we descended with great care. At one point Rufus nearly became too confident and just managed to control his bike. Fortunately, the surface became gravel and less slippery towards the bottom of the pass.
Norman was still in third gear. Realising that it was a Sunday and that garages would not be open, with about thirty kilometres to go to Oudtshoorn, Rufus took a chance turned into a farm next to the road and enquired whether the owner had a welder. The man obliged and again MacGyver went into action. Half an hour later the welded gear leaver was fitted and we were on our way.
It was now getting late and Norman, Stellios and Richard still had to return to Fort Beaufort before dark. Having only had a cup of coffee for breakfast, we all stopped at the Oudtshoorn Spur for lunch and decided on the shortest routes back. With the Fort Beaufort contingent going back via Jansenville and Somerset East (a distance of more than 500 kms) and Rufus, Arthur and I going via De Rust, Uniondale and down the Langkloof, (for me a distance of 380 kms) it meant that we had to part company.
By now every part of my body protested with my backside no longer finding the vibrating KLR amusing at all. We stopped at the Uniondale turnoff for a breather and while refilling in Uniondale decided that we will stop for coffee at Joubertina. No such luck. All potential coffee places were closed so that we carried on to Kareedouw. Here we were more fortunate and after a lovely warm cup of coffee, I said good bye to Arthur and Rufus who were to take the short cut to the N2 and Oyster Bay whilst I continued east to the N2 and Port Elizabeth. I started off taking it easy but with my backside now protesting seriously and the rain threatening, I opened the KLR up a bit more. We reached our homes respectively at 17h00 and 17h20.
I later learnt that on the way to Fort Beaufort, Normans KLR started vibrating so badly that he contacted his wife to come and fetch him at Somerset East. Richard and Stellios continued and reached their homes at approximately 19h00 after 752 kilometres for the day. Well done. You are champions!!!
Again, it was a wonderful tour with wonderful company.
Thank you all
Dr. Jan vd Westhuysen http://www.2africareal.blogspot.com/