Jurg se Kaya: tackling West Coast Sand

Zanie's picture

Points: 5

In the spirit of “rather late than never”, here it is.

Prequel (Thu 17 Nov)

Lance finally talked me into tackling the club’s annual trek to the “land of sand”, i.e. Jurg se Kaya on the West Coast. Then he had the audacity to bail and leave me to tackle the first two days minus my usual shadow. He had a good reason though: attending his gran’s funeral (she died at the ripe old age of 95).

The trip started out auspiciously enough the day before I set off: I discovered a flat front just before leaving work. Lance came out to rescue me, because I had no tools. We could not find any offending item, but there was a small cut in the tube. We finally managed to leave my work at 8pm. As a side note: this was back in November last year. My current tally of flat tyres now stands at 10 in less than 2 years.

I dare you to clamp my wheel…

I remember watching a documentary series about two guys going “adventure biking” around China. When one had a flat, he said his bike was “broken” and loaded it onto a truck! I found that incredibly funny.

Day 01 (Fri 18 Nov)

(I only switched my Garmin on a while into the ride)

Distance (actual): 466 km
Distance (recorded): 407 km
Time (recorded): 09:46:03 (42 km/h)
Moving time (recorded): 06:54:00 (59 km/h)
FYI: Others averaged much higher speeds! I’m a plodder.

Lance was not along, therefore I unashamedly cannibalised others’ photos from Facebook for the first two days. A large group of about 24 bikes met at Swartland Engen; setting off shortly after 7am. The club hadn’t had a trip to Jurg se Kaya in a while, hence the high numbers this time around.

Group shot (I was the only rider on this trip that did not have a y chromosome):

The guy with the 650 in the foreground of the picture below would be instrumental to my finishing this trip on my bike (rather than be relegated to the trailer and back-up vehicle). I called him MacGyver. Others called him Ritalin, due to the high amounts of energy exuded from his personage.

We managed to largely avoid the N7 until just before Klawer, taking back and gravel routes. Lunch was had at Vanrhynsdorp.

Legends and myths abound regarding the stretch of sand before the Kaya and I was never quite sure the distance. It varied depending on the person questioned. It appeared to correlate with skill level. The faster guys would throw out a number that seemed rather assuring, while the less skilled gave a number that sounded insurmountable.

Yet there were some that did not even reach this stretch unscathed. There was one minor fall (scratches only) and one major off. On one corner with a steep drop-off embankment, I saw two guys on a recovery mission in the bushes, with the top of a bike just visible at road-level. When I reached the main body of the group, I informed the rider nearest to me that someone had gone off the road. I’m not sure what I expected – that the message would get to the front where the ride-leader was stationed via a broken telephone? Actually a real telephone helped. Ride-leader Geoff got a call to inform him of matters and I got a strafdop that night for my communication (or lack thereof) skills.

It turned out that MacGyver had gone off the road. The bike was unrideable, with a massive triangular smiley and bent forks. His bike was the first to be loaded on the back-up trailer (there were to be many more).

The run-up to the last stretch of coastal road to the Kaya is usually also liberally sand-plastered, hence we all regrouped. We were bunched into groups of self-professed skill level (I firmly stationed myself with those men brave enough to admit to beginner status). We were allowed to set off first, with the advanced group chilling out to let us build a long lead time. Therefore if any of us fell, there would be fresh helpers at hand when the pros arrived (falling is a very tiring business). The road was very manageable, but talks with the old hands revealed that it was because the road was in an incredibly good (read: relatively sand-free) condition when compared to previous years.

Finally we were on the coastal sand. This type of sand is very different to the sand I experienced in Namibia. Namibia has vast, wide roads of fine-grained sand, where you could dance and snake to your heart’s delight and the sand would just magically be swept aside. This stuff seemed more solid and coarse, with your options of play limited to two very business-like tracks. It completely messed with my head. I have absolutely no pictures of the road on the way in, but here are some drawn from the third day of our trip on the way back home, just to give an idea of the sand:

My odd riding style does not quite lend itself to this sort of terrain. I do not have “meerkat” skills and tend to ride even very rocky stuff sitting. My modus operandi was to shift all my weight back onto my pillion seat and hover-craft 2 inches above the seat when it got hairy.

The 650 has an incredibly long first gear and sand does not like first gear. But second gear required a level of speed with which I was deeply uncomfortable. Yet first-gear riding ended up with many low-speed tumbles, so I generally picked second gear and managed (mostly) to stay on board despite incredible manoeuvres and bounces, sometimes from one track to the next. Geoff, following behind, said he prayed for me. Willpower kept me on board that day, and the thought of hitting ground at that speed (I broke my foot years earlier from a 30 km/h off – it doesn’t take much). I wish someone had filmed me on this day, for it was the only day when my nerves and resolve held out and I’m sure Lance doesn’t believe I actually rode that route.

Yet one of my hardest falls in my biking career was on that stretch (there have been two others falls since I started riding that would classify as more than side-stand incidents). I was barely hanging on to my steed when I saw another rider that had stopped. A sand-newbie cannot change direction or thought-patterns quickly and I ended up having one of those all-the-air-knocked-out-of-your-lungs falls. I had some fun technicolour bruises to show for it later.

But that was not the worst. A quick health scan of my bike showed up a fatal end-of-ride breakage: my clutch lever was snapped clean off, flush with the handlebar. Not a smidgen remained. I sadly waited for the back-up vehicle. My ride, for all intents and purposes, was over. Or was it?

The entire field of bikes consisted largely of 1200s. The only bike that resembled mine was the busted 650 on the trailer. MacGyver sacrificed the clutch lever from this bike, filing it down (someone actually had a file!) in order to fit my bike. My clutch switch had to be disconnected, so I was not able to start my bike in gear for the rest of the trip (had to find neutral first), but I was able to ride!

Cannibalised clutch lever on the left, standard brake lever on the right:

The donor bike, minus clutch lever:

I finally reached Jurg se Kaya, managing to miraculously make the last sandy corner (despite some wild bucking), where Lance tells me that even he took a tumble. The cat’s out of the bag. The stretch of coastal sand road is 7 km in length.

I was not the only one who took a damaging tumble on the sand stretch of doom. Froggy came off hard and hurt his wrist. His bike got a bit hurt, but nothing that cable-ties couldn’t fix. Nevertheless, the bike was loaded onto the trailer, because cable-ties couldn’t fix Froggy.  Good thing my bike was salvaged en route, as the trailer already had a sad 650 and only two bikes would fit comfortably. This would be a trip of “musical bikes” on the trailer, trying to make space for the next victim by fixing up bikes.

Froggy’s bike:

Geoff assigned everybody their digs. Some decided to camp, while others (including myself) made use of the rooms. Geoff assigned me one of the “de luxe” apartments, i.e. less leaks and no bats. We were warned about the rustic nature of the facilities, but it doesn’t bother me. I’ve shared a cement floor in shed with tractors and various other farming implements and am generally happy to go into complete grunge mode if there are no shower facilities - if the trip isn’t too long (generally 3 days) and my co-riders don’t mind the smell! The loo was a long-drop, but it complied with my only two requirements: clean and loads of white gold (loo paper) available! You don’t find this at most garages… Supper consisted of chicken, sweetcorn pie and pasta salad. Yum.

The Kaya (outside):

The Kaya (inside):

Kellan entertained us with videos taken on his GoPro on the ride. The speed at which he rode made my head spin. I felt a bit queasy just watching the video. Even more so when it showed a little duiker or some such small bokkie cross the track right in front of him. Both can be lucky they’re still alive!

Watch from about 2:15 to see the close shave and watch further if you want to feel queasy:



Day 02 (Sat 19 Nov)

(Again, forgot to activate my Garmin initially.)

Distance (actual): 171 km
Distance (recorded): 132 km
Time (recorded): 04:21:58 (30 km/h)
Moving time (recorded): 02:51:00 (46 km/h)

The Kaya by morning:

A day-ride to Garies was on the cards. Froggy decided to give it a miss thanks to his wrist. As a result of my nutty riding style of the previous day, where I had seemed to stay on board mostly through sheer luck, Geoff had told the others that if they wanted to watch something interesting, they should watch me. If anyone took him up on this advice, they would be sorely disappointed. My last nerve fled in the morning, along with my resolve and my ego. Those 7 km are awfully long if you paddle…

When free of the cloying sand, the rest of the route was real fun. It did have sand, but the red, softer stuff, which seems to mesh better with my brain. Again: no pictures of the route itself, which is a pity, because the ride out to Garies was really beautiful and interesting.

The standard 650’s definitely don’t have enough suspension travel at the back, because I’m constantly busting my bike at the back when the number plate catches onto my wheel’s knobblies. This time round it wasn’t that serious and only required strapping up with someone’s tie-down (if that someone reads this – I still have your tie-down!).

In a subsequent ride to this trip, the back was damaged badly due to the same issue, locking up my rear wheel when the tail-light section snapped off and was dragged forward until jammed solidly between wheel and swing-arm. I’m currently having my bike’s rear modified to avoid this in future.

I think it was on the way out to Garies that the second big incident occurred: someone lost it around a corner and ended in a ditch. Straps were required to get the bike back out of the ditch. A smiley (similar to the one on the 650) and bent stanchions meant the end of the ride for this bike.

We were not to have lunch at Garies Hotel today, because the place seems to have taken a disliking to bikers - or the idea of having customers? Therefore Garies simply served as a refuelling pit-stop. We were to have boerie braai lunch back at the Kaya.

The temperatures climbed into the “getting-unbearable” range. At this point, I was right at the back of the field, but BJ took to babysitting me.

BJ - one of my many babysitters on this ride:

At least, we were at the back until Gerhard got a puncture. Gerhard is one of our usual little group of 4 that goes on rides together (Ilse was sitting out this ride due to knee damage and Lance had yet to join the ride).

Gerhard and me:

BJ and I set off, once the back-up vehicle and help arrived at Gerhard, but we had to stop shortly afterwards at a fork in the road, in order to make sure that the back-up chose the correct route. BJ and I waited in the blazing heat. Even the signboard was not throwing any usable shade.


Eventually all was well and we were able to set off. My falls on the Sand Road of Doom numbered at least 5 today. All incredibly low-speed falls. But this meant that I’d usually get tangled in my bike and need someone to lift it from me. In other cases I was more than happy to help with the lifting, though I was starting to flag. My baby-sitters noticed this and forced me to rest. They would not let me set off again until I downed an Energade and was breathing normally.

Charles (on the right), one of my other baby-sitters:

I finally completed my paddle epic to the Kaya. Yet another bike was trailered to the Kaya: Christian’s bike gave up the ghost. It would idle, but the moment the throttle was engaged, the bike died. That meant two bikes on the trailer from today’s ride, but yet another non-working one waiting at the Kaya (the 650). Three is not a feasible number. Yet MacGyver had plenty energy left and got to work on Christian’s bike. Andy, usually the combined medic-and-fixer-of-bikes, could have a break from his usual duties. The diagnosis from Christian’s bike: the throttle potentiometer was the problem. MacGyver managed to fix the issue and we were back down to two non-working bikes (and one non-working person).

What made this year different from previous years was that we had lunch (steak, wors and salad) at the Kaya and an entire afternoon to loaf.

Many disappeared for a snooze. I sat happily chatting to Cecil, who enlightened me as to the function of a potentiometer. It “tells” the bike the position of the throttle. If it is damaged and gets the message wrong, your bike won’t go. Bikes seem to be full of stuff that does this…

Towards late afternoon / early evening, people started appearing again. Perhaps they were lured by the smell of the starters, which consisted of absolutely delish deep-fried bites of crayfish.

Meanwhile Lance was making his way towards the Kaya. He came from the south rather than our northern path, which meant that he had virgin sand all to himself.

Due to the heat, he was wearing the body-armour he usually wears on his plastic. The other bit of attire was less conventional. His story was that his usual top was dirty and torn. I’m not sure why he felt that was a problem. Regardless, he arrived garbed in a smart white shirt over his body-armour. I don’t have a good photo of it, but this would give an idea:

It was a no-holds-barred supper tonight, with seafood bisque (my favourite meal of the whole trip – a soup with big bits of mussels, calamari, etc.) followed by the traditional crayfish.

Day 03 (Sun 20 Nov)

Distance: 407 km
Time: 08:51:33 (46 km/h)
Moving time: 05:46:33 (70 km/h)

The morning dawned chilly, but the bikes were warmly wrapped.

It may seem incredibly weird to cover a bike on an off-road trip, but this is a good idea when so close to the ocean. A bike just needs to look at sea air and it will rust. Lance’s bike lives in a garage. Mine lives outdoors but under a bike blankie. Yet Lance’s bike has more rust. The reason: he rides it along the Blouberg coastal road on his daily commute.

Breakfast at the Kaya consisted of coffee and rusks:

Another one of my babysitters: Steve.

There was an Alan and a Steve on this trip. Anyone familiar with the BBC’s clip featuring funny talking animals will realise why this was cause for great hilarity on the trip.



We would have pictures today. Lance testing out the GoPro’s placement on his helmet:

We left the Kaya on the route Lance used the previous day – towards the south. Froggy had someone else ride his bike on the sand. He’d take over on the tar. I spent most of my time paddling when on the thick sand and clocked only one fall.

At least I wasn’t alone in my struggles:

Some managed:

And some excelled. Gerard was not focused on survival, like the rest of us, but on having fun; creating bow-waves of sand where-ever he went. And who knows where Kellan was. Somewhere up-front terrorising the local fauna at warp speed no doubt.

Gerhard on the right:

Charles and BJ were my main babysitter today. Lance would disappear periodically and then re-appear with his GoPro.

The road eventually widened. This was something I could manage. Plenty “dancing” room! I hit into high gear and cruised along easily.

The road changed yet again, this time to thick red sand. I slowed down a lot, but still found this type of sand easier to deal with than the beach-sand tweespoor, aside from when it got incredibly thick (then paddles were deployed) or presented lots of sand on a corner. I still don’t like corners. Adding sand doesn’t help either.

Beautiful scenery:

Lance kept branching off to explore the side roads:

Sometimes with Gerhard in tow:

Lance discovering a cove where the 4x4 set play:

Pick a route!

Some human interest shots:

Gerhard having fun:

We had lunch at Eland’s Bay, after which people went their separate ways. It was boiling hot at this point, so a bunch of us decided to hug the coast on the way back. The rest returned via Piketberg. We thought we had it bad, with temperatures in the high 30’s, but the others had to deal with a maximum of 44°C.

Needless to say, it was an epic trip. Obviously I still need to work on those sand skills. The fear is pretty much gone, but the finesse is not there. Maybe next time I can bring my sum total of roughly nine falls down a bit, for there will definitely be a next time!

Charles Oertel's picture
Joined: 2007/04/14

Nice report Zanie.  I'll see you there next time.  Wouldn't miss this ride for the world.

Committee: Webmaster / Ride Captain

Geoff Russell's picture
Joined: 2007/09/25

Thanks Zanie, another great report, you are becoming a legend in this regard.

The Video of Kellan riding the sand and his near miss send shivers down my spine.

Hope to see you in November on this Tour again.

Committee: Ride Captain

Zanie's picture
Joined: 2013/11/21

Thanks Charles and Geoff. It was really an awesome experience. Barring disasters and work commitments, I'll be there again! I'm heading to northern Namibia next week. Hopefully I'll get a bit more sand riding practice wink. But first, getting my bike road-worthy again... (still bust from the Tankwa trip).

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