On a Wing & Some Gravel

On a Wing and some Gravel

“So guys, where do we think we should overnight tonight?” We had left Cape Town and were making our way back to our homes in Kwa-Zulu Natal after a magnificent motorbike adventure in the Karoo. “Let’s aim for Colesberg” came the reply “We will have broken the back of the journey home and need a good feed and a rest”

And so it was, we reached Colesberg in the late afternoon and were shown our digs for the night by the friendly lady who had arranged things for us after Roger had chased down some options for the night. And we did enjoy a wonderful meal at the restaurant a mere 50 metres from the B&B.

“But what about the adventure in the Karoo?” you ask… Well now; a grand adventure it certainly was. We left the Cape Dr workshop at about nine thirty on Monday morning and made a beeline for the relative safety of the backroads out of Cape Town and headed towards Ceres with Gus at the beak end of the group and Bruce keeping the tail tucked in. The little Honda Crf’s and the Honda Tornado, now fully laden and fueled up, took to the open road with gusto!

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Roger sitting on his steed, patiently waiting to leave the Cape Dr Workshop. He was probably watching the final packing being done by the author who seemed to be lagging behind…

Then it happened… We had pulled into a garage in Wellington to refuel when the announcement came: “Guys, I’ll have to make a repair. The front tyre is flat”.  Gus dejectedly let us know about his predicament. He had repaired the tube in the front wheel three times during the preceding week and the pesky puncture would have nothing of it… These heavy duty tubes are fantastic until one day they suffer a puncture! They are notoriously difficult to repair.

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Gus hard at work repairing the puncture at a garage in Wellington. Gus had done this often and made short work of this repair!

In no time at all we had refueled and Gus had changed the tube, pumped the wheel and we were on our way again. Gus is a master at roadside repairs and is certainly an asset to the team on any ride!

Not too much further along the road we passed through Ceres and pretty soon we had found the gravel! It was great to be away from the traffic and enjoying some sublime gravel again!

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The R355 is one of the Karoo’s great strips of gravel and it was in wonderful condition. An absolute pleasure to ride!

By now the lads had started to feel the need for some grub and the stop at the Tankwa Padstal was perfectly timed. Imagine, if you will, enjoying the treat of ice cold Cokes and beers slaking a great thirst in the middle of a parched Karoo landscape! “Roosterkoek” burgers were soon produced by the friendly hosts and enjoyed by the hungry adventurers along with more of the cold stuff! It would be remiss of us not to state that if you are traveling on the R355, a stop at the Tankwa Padstal is mandatory!

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The Tankwa Padstal is an icon of the Tankwa Karoo and a “must stop” for any traveler!
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The “Werkswinkel” pub is a great spot, offering respite, in the form of a cold one, to any dry, raspy throat after some time in the saddle.
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Ian standing in awe of all “the goodies that you never knew you needed until you went into the shop” that are available at the Tankwa Padstal…

After sniffing out a leaky Desert Fox auxiliary fuel bag and salvaging as much of the petrol as possible, we headed out to our first overnight stop – Bizaansgat! An intriguing name for a farm, no doubt, but what an awesome spot! We tracked down our unit; the Kraalhuis, and settled down for a braai under the most magnificent of Karoo skies. The tone for the remainder of the adventure had been set!

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Our rustic overnight spot on the farm Bizaansgat. The Kraalhuis was more than comfortable and as it faces the sunset, the late afternoon views are quite grand!

A lazy-ish start was made the next morning and we made tracks for Bo-Wadrif en-route to Sutherland via the Ouberg Pass. It was to be a long day out under the Karoo sun with some reasonably taxing riding thrown into the mix just to ensure that we were all focused! One aspect of the day’s riding that was to keep us a little on edge was the fact that fuel was in limited supply… The Tornado was the only bike with a reasonably sized tank. “So I should be ok for fuel then” quipped Ian. We soon brought him back to earth by letting him know that it was relatively easy to drain fuel from the Tornado’s tank if necessary…

We made a lunch stop at the base of the Ouberg Pass. Gus had thoughtfully brought along the left-overs from last night’s braai, kept cool in his cool bag. These braai “tjoppies” were thoroughly enjoyed. Of course, a can or two of tuna went down well too. And the last of the cold beer. Trail food – a bit weird…

Ouberg Pass beckoned and it wasn’t long before the work rate was to be increased substantially. The pass is rough and a little recent flood damage certainly added to the excitement! Loose gravel surfaces occasionally littered with fist sized rocks focussed things “in helmet” pretty smartly! The laden 250’s worked hard all the way up the pass; fans buzzing on the liquid cooled machines. The riders were buzzing too! The first real challenge of our adventure was met head on and everyone, on reaching the summit, was suitably elated while staring back down at the magnificence of the Tankwa Karoo far below us under a mantle of grey storm clouds!

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Gus was tasked with the provision of some action for the camera: “Go a little way down the Ouberg Pass and give it horns on your way back, we need an action shot” Job done!

Ian, our Kiwi friend, who hadn’t done much gravel road riding in the months leading up to his visit to South Africa did really well – a sort of baptism of rocks! Roger also pulled off a mean trick in sumiting Ouberg Pass on his fully laden Crf – the only relatively recent sortie of this magnitude having been a ride up Bezuidenhout’s Pass in Kwa-Zulu Natal with his wife Pat as a passenger nogal! Well done boys!

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The view of the Tankwa Karoo Basin is simply awesome from the top of he Ouberg Pass. The heavy grey skies thankfully yielded no rain… The ride up the pass would have been somewhat tougher if it had rained!

 

The track soon became a road, a beautiful recently restored road, and the ride into Sutherland was certainly comfortable. Thing is… Just about all of us were watching, with more than a passing interest, the flashing “low fuel” warnings on the dash! It was still some way to Sutherland…This bit of the tale could be dragged out I suppose, but suffice to say that the CRF250L’s are pretty darn frugal and we all made it to Sutherland on the fuel we had! Luckily there had been no need to scrounge fuel from Ian!

After setting up camp at Oom Jurg’s Sterland Campsite we hit the showers and dressed up for a much anticipated meal in town. Actually, we all cleaned up suprisingly well and enjoyed a great meal at the Jupiter Room Restaurant properly chased down with a few light brown frosties… And a glass or two of good red! Oh, and a Coke…

We awoke to pleasant Sutherland morning air and each of the “manne” set about the task of slowly dismantling their camps while keeping a beady eye on the gas cookers which were boiling water for the cappuccinos and instant oats. Yup – the day cannot start properly until coffee and oats have been “enjoyed”… As we didn’t have far to go to our next overnight stop in Middelpos, we took ourselves on a leisurely tour of the town after topping up the bikes and spare fuel containers at the local fuel pump. This was really quite a quaint operation, what with the fuel pumps being practically on the sidewalk. Very old school with the local garage being a simple workshop that happened to have fuel pumps just outside the door! Wonderful. I’m sure that the “fuel station” is also the spot where many local farmers catch up with the news of the district. Unless, of course, they fill up later in the day after the jet has flown over and enjoy a frostie at the local pub before heading back to their farms…

During our tour of Sutherland we came across a B&B with the moniker “Blue Moon Bed & Breakfast”. They offered a great breakfast menu. The idea of stopping for a decent brunch was instantly agreed to and we were soon comfortably ensconced on the shady verandah enjoying great mid-morning fare!

But there was a bit of an oops… Roger realised that he had left his back-pack hanging in the tree back at the Sterland Campsite. Off he scooted to retrieve said bag while our grub was being prepared. His timing was impeccable – we had just sent his meal back to be kept warm when he rocked up. Thoughtfully, we had ordered our second cups of coffee so that we something to do while Roger enjoyed his brunch!

The road to Middelpos was great. We traversed this section of the Karoo with delight. I think that it was somewhere along this road that we came across a grand old man of the area – a large old tortise. I bet this fellow would be a true story teller around a campfire!

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If this guy could talk, we reckon he’d keep us enthralled with tales of the Karoo from generations back.

And then we came across a herd of woolly sheep being taken for their lunch time walk down the road. We eased quietly through the mass of potential scarves and jerseys and waited on the other side of the flock for Roger who had stopped to chat with the friendly shepherds. (I’m looking forward to seeing the video!)

Onward we rode and, as is now normal on these adventures, Gus stopped at a sign for a farm campsite. Who knows? Perhaps on another adventure we’d be able to spend a night or two at this spot; we simply had to check it out… And what a great stop it turned out to be. When we reached the end of the track a certain Martin soon appeared to enlighten us about “things camping on his farm”. We chatted for a good half an hour at the gate (under the blazing Karoo sun), had just eagerly jumped back into our riding jackets and said our good byes when we heard the words: “It’s quite warm out, would you guys like a cold drink before you head off?” Martin’s words had barely left his lips and we found ourselves on the outside of our jackets again and sitting on his cool verandah, cold drinks in hand. Legendary Karoo hospitality at its best… An interesting man Martin is: It’s just him and his wife on the farm, farming 300 odd sheep while building their campsite and growing some vegetables! He and his wife had left corporate life behind for a relatively stress free life in the Karoo!

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Gus, Roger, Martin and Ian all looking suitably refreshed after the fine cool drinks enjoyed on the verandah of Martin’s Karoo home.

The League of Adventurers, as we had styled ourselves, however had to leave and once again we suited up and this time actually left Martin’s farm to continue on our way to Middelpos – chilled beers on the stoep awaited!

And pretty soon we found ourselves “stoep sitting” at the Middelpos Hotel, cold bevvie in hand, chatting about the day’s ride.

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Plenty of bike parking at the Middelpos Hotel. The “stoep” in front of the bikes is where one sits with drink in hand to mull over the events of the day…

Dinner was a typical Karoo home cooked affair and included pudding. On an adventure biking trip this was a real bonus! After coffee it was pretty much lights out as we headed for the comfort of a proper bed… After a lazy breakfast the next morning, we packed our steeds and Middelpos soon became a speck in the dust behind us. Our target for the day was a pre-booked campsite in the Tankwa Karoo National Park. The route into the Park included the Gannaga Pass but not before a short stop at the Gannaga Lodge for a cold drink. It was here that we met Robert, one of the owners of the Lodge. What a lovely fellow! Although ‘twas a bit odd to meet and chat with a Scotsman in the Karoo! One wonders how many ales it would take to get him to fill the Tankwa Karoo with the sound of Bagpipes!

Back on the Hondas we drifted towards the head of the Gannaga Pass – the edge of the Tankwa Karoo basin. Before heading down the pass we ducked left along a “tweespoor track” (twin track) which took us towards the edge of the escarpment – Gus and I had been along this track before and it had provided a stunning view down into the Tankwa Karoo back then.  It was a view to be shared with Roger and Ian. It had, however, become quite a different track… very rocky and quite difficult. In fact the track had caused Ian’s luggage to come loose and, if I’m honest, I was more than happy to stay back and assist him in securing his cargo…Quite some time passed and we eventually caught sight of Gus and Roger on their way back from the edge. The edge of the escarpment that is! The two guys had been rewarded for their efforts and reported on the magnificent views they had enjoyed. So, a worthwhile sojourn to the edge then!

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Not far down the Gannaga Pass we came across this view site. Of course the stars of the show were lined up for the obligatory photo!

The Gannaga Pass beckoned and what a wonderful ride down it we had. Stopping often to take in the views of the vast expanse that lay before us, we reveled in the magnificence!

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And here is Roger adjusting his camera to “panorama” mode – no other setting will capture the sheer vastness of the Tankwa Karoo! The Gannaga Pass can be seen winding its way down to the plains below.
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At the base of the Gannaga Pass I had to stop and look back. I was quite keen to turn around and ride back up just to be able to come back down again! It’s that good!

On arrival at the Park office we checked in only to be informed that our booked campsite was no longer available as it had no water. Sadly, a thirsty baboon had fallen into the reservoir and drowned. This had tainted the water which meant that the Park Authorities had to drain the reservoir and clean the plumbing. Happily we were allocated an alternative camp site. So after splitting up a bag of firewood and loading the wood onto our bikes, we rode off to the Perdekloof Camp Site. By late afternoon we had set up our camp and were enjoying some cold ones again. Roger took himself off for some photography while the rest of us lazed around after rinsing some of the dust out of our clothes.

The braai fire was soon ready and it wasn’t long before we were braai-ing the meat that the kind folk at the Middelpos Hotel had arranged for us. How much better does it get than when you’re enjoying a wee dram and a few cold beers with like-minded adventurers under a startlingly brilliaint Karoo sky listening to the sizzle of a braai?

We made the decision to leave Langkloof earlier than our usual leisurely “about nine o’clock which really meant ten-ish” start and actually got away while the Karoo day was still cool… ish… Roger was packed and ready first and he scooted off to the Reception Office to use their Wi-Fi and send comforting messages home to Pat. We probably should all have done that. Not to Pat mind! But to our own better halves!

Anyway, we had soon re-grouped at the Reception Office and after splitting up a couple of bottles of cold water to top up our hydration packs and downing the left overs, we took off down the dusty road which when linked to other dusty roads would deposit us at the Cederberg Oasis, our next overnight spot.

Well… the day turned out to be quite long but most entertaining. The roads were typical brilliant Karoo specimens and we reveled in the joy of motorcycling in the “ver verlate vlaktes” of the Tankwa Karoo. As luck would have it, we missed our first turn off but, no worries, an extra few (read 40km) didn’t do us any harm!

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These broken wind pumps always seem sad… One wonders if the bore hole dried up causing the farmer to move on  leaving the machine to fend for itself…

There were many stops during the day – some for a bit of a rest, some for photos and others for another rest at a different spot – the ever changing and inspiring views cause this sort of thing. One of the more interesting stops was at the tee-pee just across the dry, sandy and rocky Biedouw River.

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The sign tells us exactly where we are, but we still need to find ourselves on the map! The harsh landscape is testimony to the tough, seemingly endless drought gripping the Cape…

  We made our way down the steep and bumpy Biedouw Pass (bad tracks had by now just become bumpy…) to the Biedouw River crossing. Gus sailed across and waited expectantly on the far bank, camera at the ready for the inevitable mishap… He was suitably foiled! I managed the “stand up, look up, open up” thing quite well, Roger provided an impressive sandy “rooster tail” and Ian bumped and paddled through the sand and rocks admirably! All good then.

It was obviously now time for a celebratory beer. “I wish there were cold beers here” quipped Gus as we drew up next to the farm house at the point known as “Uitspankraal”. As shockingly unexpected as it sounds, cold beers arrived soon after the relevant question was asked of the owner. Amazing, and not a little perplexing! What we discovered while enjoying those cold ones was that the guys who owned the establishment were in fact in the throes of setting up an Adventure Bike Paradise. They had recently established a couple of camp sites and a few dirt bike routes on their farm. The dirt bike routes it appeared were more for the “hard core” guys. Adventurers such as ourselves would probably prefer to simply stay over en-route to the next overnight stop. And the cost of the beers? Well, you’ll pay in sweat and gears just getting there, but the kind fellows simply said “leave behind in cash what you think the beers and company are worth and tell everyone about us”. Hopefully you have been paying attention ‘cause this is us telling you about Uitspankraal! By the time you read this, my guess is that the new pub is probably a much more advanced building than the open structure with a tin roof than when we were there lounging in the shade! Go there!

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A minor side stand incident… Luckily no bikes were injured. Gus had put his foot down on a loose stone and then gently laid the CRF down for a rest!

Cederberg Oasis beckoned and after some time we found ourselves down in Wuppertahl. A quaint old village Mission Station with a small shop that had enough coke and crisps to satisfy the nagging hunger before we commenced the climb out of town. The Eselbank 4×4 trail up the mountain is another of those “must do” adventure bike trails. The trail is a good mix of concrete strips up the hill and a sandy plateau which morphs into a sadistic track covered with marble like stones… The views were stunning as we made our way up into the start of the Cederberg. Craggy rock formations abound and one is hard pressed not to stop at every turn to nab another photo!

The plateau track is also about the point at which the personal discussions within some of the helmets becomes un-publishable… “Enough now”, “When does this s**t end”, “It’s been a long day already, let’s not spoil things with this c**p”!

And then we passed through Eselbank. What an amazing little settlement at the base of the mountains. I found it a bit sad though that the inhabitants didn’t seem to worry too much about the litter… Anyway, after some more rolling marble surfaces I came around a corner to find that Ian had stopped. I stopped nearby and after my inquiry as to his well-being, I was told what to do… I didn’t do it. After some encouraging words, reminding him that it wasn’t that many years ago that I was uttering the same expletives, we saddled up and aimed again for the Cederberg Oasis. About ten minutes later we joined the main gravel road.  Joy of joys! It was a veritable highway and with rejuvenated spirit we drifted down to our lodging. And a cold beer. And another cold beer! You see, a couple of Gus’s Cape Town adventuring mates had joined us for the last day and so it only seemed proper to share a cold one or two or three with them. Phil and Marcus felt duly welcomed…

The evening meal was just perfect. The lads were hungry and thirsty. It all went down rather well. In fact, it’s been said before, but the Cederberg Oasis dinners are legendary! Again, go there and find out for yourself.

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The main entrance to the Cederberg Oasis is just off the road. So it’s really quick and easy to get one’s mitts around an ice cold beer after a long day of adventuring!

Oh – and lest we forget, the youngsters pitched their tents as planned while the senior member (and you know who you are…) of the League of Adventurers hired a pre-pitched tent with a downy soft mattress lined with cosy sheets on a proper bed. Let’s just chalk it up to experience!

The last day of our adventure dawned and the lads were keen to get going. We aimed our Hondas (and the one Yamaha) towards the North-West and our overnight stop at the Nature’s View Camp Site in the Oliphant’s River Valley near Citrusdal. After shopping in Citrusdal for braai supplies, we were soon watching braai-master Gus weave his magic around the fire. Starters turned out to be a meal on their own… Gus and Phil conjoured up “braai-broodtjies” – basically a toasted sarmie. Think about this: A twelve millimeter thick slice of white bread, a few slices of finely sliced tomato, a handful of sliced onion, a twelve millimeter thick slice of cheddar cheese and to top it off, the second 12 millimeter slice of white bread. All of this clamped together in the braai grid and “whallah!”. You have the next best thing to sliced bread!

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“Braai Master” Gus tending to the hunger busting “Braai Broodtjies”.

Oh, and then we still had the usual braai meat extravaganza! Sheesh! As they say in the country “maagies vol, oogies toe” (bellies full, eyes shut)! We all slept well, despite the snorers… Some of whom would have put a burbling V twin to shame! ‘Nuff said!

Well, the road back to Cape Town was kept mainly surfaced and included a stop for brunch in Riebeck Kasteel. We took a few minutes to greet a friend of Roger’s and then procceeded to the Wicked Treats eatery for the required grub. Satiated, we wet our Buffs and saddled up for the final push to Cape Town. But wait, there’s more…

That pesky front wheel of Gus’s Honda had the last say. We came across an empty garage and made it our own. Pretty soon Gus had the wheel off his CRF and was slaving away again as we offered as much encouragement as we could. Luckily there’s not much space around a 21 inch front wheel for assistants!

What an adventure! “

When do we leave for the next one?”

Bruce Houghting

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