Rescued through the kindness of strangers

Zanie's picture

Points: 6

The Easter weekend seemed to materialise without much warning. On the spur of the moment, Lance and I decided to join a 2-day Moto-Adventure SA trip, led by Mouton.

Day 01: When things go right (sort of)

Route (rough)
Cape Town-Worcester-De Doorns-Touwsriver-Matjiesfontein

Route statistics
Distance: 294 km
Elapsed Time: 7:51:36 (37 km/h)
Moving time: 5:09:06 (57 km/h)

Everyone met at the Winelands Engen on the Saturday morning. The group was nice and small: 8 bikes and 9 people. There were quite a few who were new to biking: one pillion was on her first ever bike trip, the one other lady on her own bike had been riding for about a year, one guy was recently back on a bike after a 40-year hiatus, etc. It made for a relaxed pace, which I quite enjoyed. For once, I was not always to be found in my usual spot, i.e. the last one just before the back-up vehicle.

We rode some pretty tar back-roads from Rawsonville. After De Doorns, we turned off onto some obscure gravel tracks. Mouton had to arrange with the local farmers to ride these roads and to leave strategic gates unlocked for our group. Unfortunately one of the first farmers on the route was away and therefore the gate was locked. But all was not lost. The bikes could still find a way around. The back-up vehicle had to reroute. We would meet up with it again at our designated lunch spot.

Lance, always gung-ho, decided to head out into the veld; not really realising that there was actually a track hidden somewhere in the bushes that would meet up with our planned route. I seem to have (misplaced) trust in him, so I followed, along with some others. It took a while for everyone to extricate themselves from the fynbos.

A second (apparent) barrier appeared: another gate with two very business-like locks. Mouton started searching for a possible alternate route. Lance, always of the opinion that “there must be a way”, decided to take a closer look at the gate. The locks were there all right, but they were just hanging around as décor. The chain around the gate was not actually locked. Happily, all of us continued on our journey. The road that followed was a very fun tweespoor, with some loose rocks and technical bits. It would have been scary if you had asked me to ride it not even two years ago, but now I was thoroughly enjoying it.

Living life on the edge:

We stopped for a break at an old, disused railway tunnel. The inside was amazing, because there was no cement or masonry lining for most of its length.

You had to ride slowly, so as not to kick up dust. The locals (bats) like clear air.

Our next stop was at a monument to commemorate people who had lost their lives when the train derailed.

Some more scenery:

This steep hill looked much more imposing in real life:

This picture flattened what was actually an off-camber with a rocky donga on the left:

Our lunch stop was at Pilgrimage at Matroosberg. Only one soul braved the swimming pool. The temperatures had been rather cool the entire day.

We climbed back onto gravel after our lunch. These roads were deceptive. In general, they were easier than the morning run, but there were some booby-traps interspersed randomly across the route. On trying to overtake someone, I spotted a gargantuan (porcupine-dug?) hole on the right-hand-side of the road, which I could not hope to miss on my current trajectory. I rapidly changed course and fell back in line with a hammering heart. I think I’d be ok right where I was thank you very much!

The next obstacle that caught me out was one of the very many water-eroded ditches that crossed the road. Some were mini, but others had quite harsh edges. I hit one of them hard. Roughly a km or so onwards, my back wheel suddenly locked up. I can thank my lucky stars that it did so on a straight stretch. I stuck to my bike like a barnacle to a rock, while the back fish-tailed left and right. I waited it out until the bike had slowed to a decent speed before experimenting with the front brakes. Meanwhile, my brain was whizzing through the possibilities. Flat tyre? Thrown and jammed chain? It turned out it was an old problem that had now officially turned dangerous.

The F650GS is not really designed for more serious off-road or hard hits. The number plate mounting is in such a position that a standard-sized number plate will touch the rear wheel when the bike’s suspension bottoms out. Given that I have knobblie tyres, the knobbles catches the number plate; dragging it beneath the bike.

In past rides, either the number plate had progressively lost bits and pieces or the tail-piece had snapped at the mountings, but had remained held on by some wires. This had previously happened at low speeds and I would be alerted by a burning smell and strange sounds coming from the back of my bike as the number plate from the dangling tail-piece dragged across the rear wheel. This time I had been going too fast and my new helmet is much more sound-proof. I did not hear anything. Eventually, the whole tail-piece had broken free and been carried forward until it jammed at the front end of the rear-wheel arch. I will be looking into getting a smaller number plate in future…

Previously:

This time:

We stayed over in Matjiesfontein. Lance and I started chatting with others who were staying close-by for the simple reason that we shared a common interest: bikes! This group was doing a recce of routes, as they have started a company (RETZA) that will take people on tours on Royal Enfields. They were kind enough to let us take their bikes for a spin.

Lance and I trying out a different mode of transport:

Day 02: When things go wrong

We were given the option to ride with the tour group today or do our own thing. Lance and I decided to chart our own path.

Route

Click here for a Google Map of our route.

Route statistics
Distance: 507 km
Elapsed Time: 11:22:43 (45 km/h)
Moving time: 08:00:39 (63 km/h)

I had never ridden Sutherland’s Ouberg Pass from top-to-bottom. Almost two years ago, we rode it from bottom-to-top, as Lance had (rightly so) figured that this would be an easier option for me when I was still very new at biking - at that point my comfortable speed on gravel did not exceed 60km/h!

We needed to get fuel first, so we headed the direct tar route from Matjiesfontein to Sutherland. Sutherland is the one small town that refuses to keep conventional hours at their fuel station. We were met with a sign stating that opening hours on a Sunday was from 11:30 until 12:30 (it was 10:45 at the time) and that a call-out fee of R20 was applicable. The only problem: no number to contact, even if you were willing to pay the call-out fee. Some Googling suggested a number that reached the petrol station owner (he happens to live diagonally across the road). He waived the call-out fee. Perhaps because by that time we had been joined by two other bikers (not from the tour group) and two cars, all looking for fuel.

Having refuelled, we headed to Ouberg Pass. At the very top, Lance discovered a gate that was (fortuitously) unlocked. We decided to investigate and found an excellent viewpoint.

​Ouberg Pass is incredibly steep and I’m glad Lance never took me down it when I was new at biking. It would have been terrifying! Now it was just stunning. I kept to first gear for the steepest bits, so that I could concentrate on the view rather than focusing on staying alive.

All smiles at the bottom of the pass:

Lance took us towards Tankwa Padstal (our planned lunch stop) via a back route: the R356 (not to be confused with the main gravel highway – the R355). It was on this desolate road where things started to unravel.

I hit another ditch. Hard. I slacked off immediately, because that hit had the distinct possibility of a snakebite. I navigated the next slack bend in the road carefully. That’s when I felt it: the slight jiggle of the front. Sigh. I stopped as quickly as I could, before steering became unmanageable – I’ve had a front flat at speed before and it gets “fun” if you keep going.

I was not worried. I sat in the shade of my bike, applying sunblock in preparation for the up-coming labour (there was no other shade in sight), and waited for Lance to figure out that I was not following him. He had all the tools and I had the mini-compressor. We are well-versed in this time-honoured ritual. This would be my 9th flat tyre in just over 18 months (my tally now sits at 5 rear flats and 4 front flats).

Lance positioned the bike neatly with a rock for support, so that it doesn’t fall onto the forks once the front wheel is removed.

We had all the tools we needed, but at that point our luck ran out. The pinch bolt was stuck fast – either screwed too tight or rusted in place. This is the first thing you need to loosen to remove the front wheel. Lance had a go, using all his strength. The Torx wrench snapped…

Trying to loosen the screw with what was left of the wrench only ended up stripping the screw head.

Not pretty or workable:

The absolute irony. We had all the tools, but now we were royally stuck. The road was a dead zone. We did not expect anyone else along shortly. As much as I hated it, at this point the only option was too abandon my bike. There wasn’t even a bush or place where I could hide it. I decided to lock my steering and cover my bike so as to protect it from the sand-blasting wind. I would pillion home with Lance and we would fetch my bike with a trailer the next day, if my bike was still there…

An incredibly sad moment:

Then our luck turned. Some locals in a car and a bakkie arrived on the scene; stopping to see whether we were ok. They were happy to offer us a lift to Tankwa Padstal, once we had described our predicament. My bike was uncovered and unceremoniously loaded onto the bakkie. It could stand happily on its side-stand, with some of my ROK straps and some rope from the locals holding my bike so as not to tip over onto the other side.

I would be forever grateful to these guys for helping us out. I climbed into the bakkie, as I am not a happy pillion - I like being in control of the bike. Mr Bakkie (I never even got his name!) explained that he had been visited by his uncle (the guy in the car) and the uncle’s family (the car was full of people) and Mr Bakkie was now escorting his uncle to the R355, after which he would turn around and go home.

We arrived at Tankwa Padstal, which appeared to be a haven for people with punctures. There were some cyclists and their back-up crew busy fixing a flat and there was another biker with a yellow 800GS having a look at a rear flat on his bike.

Mr Yellow GS (I did not get his name either!) had turned in at the Padstal when he realised he had a flat. His buddy had continued, but later sent a message that he was stuck without fuel at the end of the R355. Now they were both in trouble, considering that while the Padstal did sell slime (Mr Yellow GS had tried this, but it hadn’t worked) and had some spare second-hand tyres available for free for stuck bikers (Mr Yellow GS’s tyre had been badly damaged), the Padstal did not sell tubes and Mr Yellow GS did not have any tubes. Lance readily gave the rear tube he had to Mr Yellow GS and started helping him change the tube.

Meanwhile, I snuffled around for a T40 Torx wrench. The only other biker there did not have any Torx wrenches, so that was a dead end, but I was told to check with Henk from Zulu Overland Tours whether he had tools. Henk?! He was here? I had last seem him on my and Lance’s trip to Namibia with WAVolt, where Henk had been our medic and caterer. Great news: Henk had a BMW tool set with a T40 wrench. Bad news: my bike’s screw head was now stripped so badly that the T40 did not work.

Again, we had reached the end of our apparent options. My bike was wheeled to the back of Tankwa Padstal, where it would hang out until we could fetch it the next day. But we were saved this extra effort by Mr Yellow GS, who was willing to damage his T45 wrench by hammering it into the offending screw head. The T45 had a long “stem”; offering more leverage. Once it was solidly hammered into the screw and some elbow-grease was applied, the screw came loose. We were finally able to fix my front flat.

Throughout all these goings-on, Lance and I had munched some lunch at the Padstal, so that once my tyre was fixed, we were ready to set off again. We did not come across Mr Yellow GS and his buddy on the R355, so hopefully the fuel transfer went successfully and they made it to the nearest petrol station.

We arrived home with both bikes at 9pm, all thanks to the kindness of Mr Bakkie and his family, as well as Mr Yellow GS (if you’re out there somewhere – please introduce yourself!). One good turn deserves another. At least we got to help Mr Yellow GS get home as well. What a great day of helpfulness. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.

Postscript

I had the rear of my bike modified. The standard tail-light was replaced by a smaller LED light (much brighter) and smaller tail-light fitting. The number plate now sits much higher and I have yet to have further rear-end breakages despite hitting some more ditches in following rides.

Garth Hewitt's picture
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Joined: 2011/02/07

Hi Zanie,

 

Read your report on WD's last night.

Your reports always make for an interesting read.laugh

Epic stuff.yes

Garth Hewitt

2010 R1200GSA

 

Jackie Wiese's picture
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Joined: 2012/02/26

Never a dull moment with Zanie around!

You go girl and most certainly making life a ride!!

Zanie's picture
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Joined: 2013/11/21

I found out the name of one of my rescuers through Wild Dog forum. Mr Yellow GS is Lourens. It turns out the fuel transfer was successful and he and his buddy were able to get home that night as well.

Andyman's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/22

Awesome route and a lekker secret tunnel. Nice to see the bug is not wearing off you for gravel travel.

 

Andyman
Anyone can ride a bike fast....   But can you ride your bike real slow???

Lance Claase's picture
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Joined: 2016/06/23

Epic :)

Thank you.

Zanie's picture
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Joined: 2013/11/21

Postscript added

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