Taking the road less travelled (not travelled at all?) *

Zanie's picture

Points: 9

On the weekend of 24-27 September, 4 friends set off on a 4-day trip that promised to comprise mainly of beautiful gravel highway. What we actually encountered was a very, very different story…

Twice we ended up on “roads,” for want of a better name, where we were forced to turn around. Out of the four bikes, three had to have a rear wheel removed at some point in time; not always for the classical puncture reason. Only on one out of the three nights did we end up staying where we had originally planned. We got to learn first-hand which tools were useful, which were useless and which were sorely missed, but unfortunately missing.

Yet again, as seems to be an increasingly common thread in my ride reports, the planned and actual route differ. The gpx file (attached) represents the planned route (I stand corrected - it is a track of our actual route). The Google Maps links under each day show the actual route taken.

There are a couple of useful bits and bobs that we learnt through this ride. I’ll make note of these little lessons throughout.

The cast: me (650GS) and Lance (800GSA), and Ilse (650GS) and Gerhard (Tiger).

The film crew: Lance and Gerhard.

From left to right: Gerhard, Ilse and Lance.

Lance and I

DAY 1: Losing our marbles

Google Maps route

We headed off at 7:30 from Table View, as we had a lot of ground to cover. This meant quite a bit of the black stuff (tar). At least the Western Cape is blessed with loads of beautiful black stuff passes. Our morning included Du Toitskloof Pass and a sometimes-gravel scenic jiggle through Rawsonville area. There are almost no photos of this section, as Lance probably thought it too pedestrian to film and Gerhard’s GoPro decided that today’s forecast would include a copious amount of fog, in stark contrast to reality.

Lesson 01: Do not wash a GoPro’s casing the night before a ride. No matter how often you try to dry it, there will always be some die-hard moisture left.

There are still some flowers left out there.

We had our lunch stop at Diesel & Crème.

They make the most epic milkshakes, in all sorts of interesting flavours, e.g. Turkish Delight. It is a meal on its own. Make sure you are very hungry before ordering food as well.

After lunch, we did Tradouw Pass and then hit the gravel. It wasn’t long before we reached our first obstacle.

I always worry at water crossings. I keep having images of me drowning my bike. The guys, being the gentlemen they are, made sure the ladies went first. I firmly focused on the other bank and rode. Cobbles? What cobbles?

Ilse was next. She was also not too comfortable with the idea of a water crossing.

Lance made it look good.

A rider’s perspective

A rider – Gerhard

Ilse reliving the moment of achievement

Since we were on farm roads, it meant the inevitable: cows. Since we were on the back-and-beyond farm roads this needs a clarifier: free-roaming cows. Be on the look-out. Wikipedia tells me they average over half a tonne. Give or take a few kilos either way the fact remains that they weigh more than you on a bike. You don’t want to hit one.

The most interesting road of the day was Gysmanshoek Pass. It was stunning and quite fun, considering it was more technical than the other roads we covered.

It is a public road, despite the signs that make it seem otherwise. It is ok to ride the pass, but not to go exploring on the roads that branch off from the pass – these are private.

There were some mud puddles…

…some of indeterminate depth. “After you my dear.”

Ilse and a puddle

The road had some loose and/or rocky sections.

The ascent, in particular, is covered in loose marbles. You don’t want to stop on this, as you would struggle to get going again. I gunned it. I seem to be in the habit of picking the worst lines possible (you know – those including the erosion gutter, etc.), but manage through luck and my friend the throttle to keep going.

I was a bit bemused that the road didn’t scare me. Just a couple of months ago, this type of road would have been firmly on my avoidance list. Now I actually found it fun! Perhaps I have graduated from my first semester in TITS (Time in The Saddle)? I covered 10,000km in just 4 months this year. By the time I did this trip, the sum total of all km I have ever ridden on a bike was 22,000km.

Ilse has not had the luxury of gallivanting across the country-side, racking up the miles, as much as I have. She lost momentum and got stuck on the marbles. Every time she tried to pull away, she slid further back.

Ilse waiting for a push-start from Lance

The view at the top is worth a stop. If you can see it past all the beautiful bikes!

The descent

Some sections here are also quite loose. There was a gate on one of the steeper bits. Unless you are comfortable with braking hard on loose stuff on a steep slope when a gate randomly appears out of nowhere, keep the speed on the lower side.

Somewhere after Gysmanshoek Pass, I saw Ilse do something interesting while riding: she swung her right leg up quite high. She later told me she almost jumped on top of her bike. The reason?

Lance had been riding ahead. He said he think he rode over the puffy, as it had been stretched across the road and he couldn’t have missed it. When Ilse rode past, the puffy was properly pissed off and hissed at her. Gerhard, Lance and I all turned around to have a closer look. Ilse waited far ahead. She doesn’t like the slitheries. On a previous ride together she ended up “buying a farm” when trying to avoid a snake on the road. I hope the puffy wasn’t too badly hurt.

We had some stunning scenery on the remainder of our ride for the day.

The view point above the Gourits River is well worth a stop.

Crossing the Gourits. This is not the crazy-high bridge of bungee fame that you find closer to the river mouth, but rather a lesser-frequented crossing.

Our rest stop for the night was Dwarsrivier Country Getaway, a biker-friendly spot that has a “biker bar” advertised on a sign-post at the road itself.

We had the lucky privilege of being their very first campers! The ablutions were brand new and had been tested out by the owners, Martin and Jenny, the day before. There is no electricity, but paraffin lamps provide light. The water is heated using a donkey. The shower water pressure is great. Apparently it’s even better than at the main house!

We spent a bit of time at the pub while the fires for the braai and donkey got going. Martin told Ilse she could write a message on their pub wall, being the first campers – look for it amongst all the other scribbles. The camp setting is lovely. I enjoyed the sounds of frogs and nightjars at night.

This was the only day when things went according to plan.

DAY 2: Starting to unravel

Google Maps route

We were all up before 7am on a calm, clear morning, at a frosty 6 degrees.

Similar to day 1, we had a long day planned. Google Maps said it would take 6 hours; excluding lunch, fuel or scenery-viewing stops. I had been worried about these long times, as it gave very little lee-way for “life,” i.e. other stuff that happens while you are carefully planning your life. The long hours in the saddle don’t bother me. I haven’t had lower-back aches in a while. I am getting bike fit!

Despite the early rise, we only got away just before 9am.

Why, oh why do people keep saying that summer is the riding season? The Western Cape is a dull brown in summer. I have been riding almost every weekend in winter (and now in early spring) and it is stunning. Sure, you get the odd drenching and the temperatures can get bloody freezing, but everything is amazingly green.

This may be the Moordkuil Pass, but I stand under correction. It may just be a random road we did before the pass itself.

Thanksgiving anyone?

The next pass was Dagbreek Pass/Blesbok Road. It has some very sharp corners. At the corner just before the one where the below picture was taken, I executed a power-slide against my will. I do not have the skill-set to do this voluntarily, but you will be amazed what you can do involuntarily if the alternative is an exploration of ungravelled mountain slope.

You are almost guaranteed to see game on or shortly after this pass, as the road runs next to a private game farm.

Zebras! Both the hoofed and motorcycle variety.

We stopped at a petrol station in George for fuel and nibbles. This would be the last fuel-stop for a while, as we did not plan to ride right in to Knysna. I don’t know what made me do it, but I decided to do a pre-trip inspection for kicks and giggles; checking the tyres of all the bikes. I have basically never done this before.

Huh? Why couldn’t I see all the knobbles at the base of my back tyre? It looks a bit flat. I stepped on the tyre’s side-wall and it was very definitely squishy. Oh dear. I put my bike on its centre stand and had a decent look at the tyre. It didn’t take long to find the large nail jammed in my tyre. Bugger! My first flat! Lance had had his first flat just last week (also in suburbia). We have both been riding for 2 years. Obviously Murphy was doing the rounds (we really should have taken this hint).

Lance and Gerhard quickly Googled the nearest tyre-fixing spot (the wonders of modern phones – mine doesn’t even have a colour screen…).  It seemed that my puncture wasn’t a fast flat. We pumped up my tyre at the garage and headed off in search of our chosen destination, Wheels. We ended up getting slightly lost. We spotted a BMW dealer. They said they would not be able to help us within the next half hour, but they directed us to Wheels. I’m glad we ended up going to Wheels, as they were able to help us immediately. They would also probably be (much) cheaper. My bike is not used to being touched by a BMW dealer anyway. It may just give it a heart attack.

We were incredibly lucky that I had noticed the puncture in George and at a petrol station. It made it easier for everyone. This was to be the last “easy fix” on our route.

Lesson 02: Do your pre-trip inspections.

We headed off again after my bike was doctored. At a T-junction, I got left behind by the others, as I did not hit a traffic gap they did. When I headed off, I remembered seeing some bikers turn right further ahead. Hence, I turned right. I rode quite far before deciding that the others could not have come in this direction. Meanwhile, they had been worried that I had been flattened by the traffic and were only too glad to not find me anywhere (rather than find bits of me on the road). When I did eventually join up with them, Ilse said I would be given a “straf-dop” tonight for making her worry. She would get me back in spades on the following day.

We followed the Seven Passes route. The route name is a bit of a misnomer, as there are actually 8 passes. The first 3 are tar: Swartrivier, Kaaimansgat and Silver River.

The remainder are gravel: Touw River/Duiwelskop, Hoogekraal, Karatara, Homtini Gorge/Goukamma River and Phantom.

Gerhard had too much speed on one corner. This resulted in some off-road exploring (not meaning gravel, just plain off-road). Unfortunately Lance just caught the tail-end of this escapade, i.e. Gerhard rerouting back.

If you could write a novel about the Seven Passes route it would be called “50 Shades of Green.” That’s what it is: a lot of shade and a lot of green.

But beware, this novel dark, masochistic side: locals in speeding vehicles that do not always keep to their side of the road. Hug your side of the road unless you want to be part of a who-dun-it murder thriller.

These roads are beautiful, but if you are used to the Tankwa Karoo, it seems to be a rather hemmed-in, tame beauty. It feels like civilisation, or at least the next sedan vehicle, is just a corner away. 

I enjoyed the following passes, Gouna and Kom-se-Pad, much more. They seemed quieter (maybe it was the time of day?) and they had the most eye-candy when it comes to “forest and views” scenery.

Gouna Pass

You must stop at the sharp corner with the dead trees. The view is fantastic. The guys weren’t too good with their GoPro angles. I could not create a snapshot that did the view justice. Therefore, if you want to see it, go there!

It’s a damn sharp and steep corner that must be taken with extreme caution, especially if you are descending; unless of course you’ve always dreamt about flying?

We met up with a father and sons (2) crowd on this corner. Obviously they also stopped to admire the view. Ilse asked them whether they would like to swap one of their bikes (ranging from 80 to 250 cc) for her big one. They politely declined. They looked like they were having buckets of fun.

We were chasing time at this point, thanks to the puncture episode and me getting lost, which cost us about 2 hours. It was 5:30pm and we had hoped to do the entire Prince Alfred’s Pass (70km) and head to Eagle Falls via Uniondale; a route that would take at least another 2 hours. We resigned ourselves to eventually riding in the dark.


Gerhard stopped me to tell me that my luggage was looking a bit loose. I had forgotten to strap it down after our stop at the Gouna corner. One of the straps had been lost; the other was still clinging on for dear life. Luckily I had two spare straps, so I even had a “spare spare.” During a previous ride (still to be committed to the Interweb), I had a spare strap for Lance when he fell, busting his soft-luggage straps.

Lesson 03: You can never have too many spare straps.

Do not even try to avoid the potholes. For every one you swerve to avoid, you will hit two. Example picture below.

Prince Alfred’s Pass

We reached Angie’s G Spot sometime past 6pm. Ilse decided to head a petition to overnight right there. The rest of us did not need much convincing. We were tired, it was late and we had always wanted to stay at Angie’s G Spot anyway. It would mean we would have to shorten some of tomorrow’s route. If we could only know what “short-cut” Lance had in store for us…

We found a patch of grass

Lance and I have stopped for lunch at Angie’s G Spot before. It is a fascinating place; from the glass-wall kitchen (since there is no electricity other than that provided by solar or a generator – natural light is important) to the bus-room (the original home of the owner was a bus, around which the current house is built). You must have a chat with the owners (Harold and Angie) and have them show you around the place. Their stories are as interesting as the buildings.

As promised/threatened by Ilse earlier in the day, I would have my “straf-dop.” Harold has a unique offering in his bar: a “poes dop.” Oh… my… word…

The face says it all

Your bill labels it sweetly as a “puss dop.”

The strange gadgets never end. Ilse got to try out some strange device that’s name I have now forgotten. It is basically used to whack snuff into your nose. Your nose rests on a metal “spike” with a lip, so the metal bar doesn’t actually hit your nose. Ilse was sneezing up a storm thereafter.

The food was very yummy home-made fare, but on the pricey side as they have to import the ingredients all the way from Plett (Uniondale is too expensive). The pork curry was delish.

There had been light drizzle in the evening, but not enough to dampen our spirits. It even meant we got to see some wildlife!

Day 3: The vanishing road

Google Maps route (planned)
Google Maps route (actual)

Lance and I woke to find that we had acquired a guard dog overnight. Albeit, not a very alert one.

Since we were already “behind schedule,” we cut out the remainder of Prince Alfred’s Pass. Instead, we took a short-cut that ran alongside the Keurbooms River between the R339 and Route 62.

We covered 17km on Route 62 before climbing off on to gravel again.

Ostrich stampede!

A tortoise inspecting one of the bikes

Our route included Kammanassie Pass and Wapadsnek Pass.

We spotted some mountains that reminded me of Golden Gate, with large red cliff-faces. The below picture doesn’t do it justice.

We stopped for lunch at Blue Swallow in De Rust, before heading on to Meiringspoort. It was originally planned that this would form part of a circular loop, bringing us back via Swartberg Pass; the main attraction.

I know Meiringspoort is tar – this is a place where a Smartcar can roam...

…but it is still stunning. I hope never to get into that mind-set, where it’s “just another tar pass, ho-hum.”

From about this point onwards, the remaining plans for our day’s route were well and truly scuttled. A cascade of decisions resulted in an adventure that will be burnt into my memory (and this despite the fact that Lance always jokes that I live in a goldfish bowl, i.e. 2-second memory span).

It was decided that we would include a gravel loop in our route rather than go through Klaarstroom. It would only add an additional 9km to the route, but included 3 passes or poorts: Bloupuntrivier Poort, Kleinvlei Pass and Aapsrivierpoort.

The views were amazing. Actually it was so amazing that I did not notice a right-hand-side bend in the road. Or perhaps it wasn’t sign-posted with one of those “sharp-corner” signs; something that I, still not completely over my fear of corners, use as a key guideline. Even when I entered the curve, it seemed that it would be gentle, but it tightened quickly. I was doing about 70-80km/h; not fast for the pros, but way too fast for me.

My reactions showed me exactly how far I had come since my fateful Die Hel trip last year. Back then, I had fixated on the corner, gone straight, hit the brakes, went down and spent 3 months on crutches for my sins. My whole being screamed against the idea of crutches. I did not touch the brakes, I looked as far ahead as I could and I leaned the bike far beyond what I have ever done on a gravel corner. I was sitting at the time, so there was not much room for the whole “put your weight on the outside foot-peg to stop the bike sliding.” My bike did indeed start sliding out. I jerked it semi-upright to avoid sliding; only to lean over hard in the next split-second, until it started losing traction yet again. I think adrenaline slows everything down massively, because I can remember the bike losing traction twice, but I made it through, with hammering heart.

Ilse was behind me and had thought it seemed that I had taken the corner rather fast. I was glad to hear that both Gerhard and Lance had also been taken by surprise at the same place.

Meanwhile, Lance had discovered what appeared to be a “short-cut” to Swartberg Pass on his Garmin Maps. 13km into our gravel loop, we diverted onto this road.

The going was immediately more interesting.

I was having a ball. This is the reason I got my bike: to go where my poor Atos cannot go.

Lance and I soon reached yet another gate. It was closed by some rusted wire twisted around a chain. When I untwisted the wire, it disintegrated. This should have set the alarm bells ringing. As it was, our alarm bells were ringing for another reason: where were Ilse and Gerhard? They had been behind us just a milli-moment ago. I told Lance to head back so long, while I close the gate.

When I reached the others I saw a scene that made my brain go on holiday: Ilse, lying on the road, looking very peaceful, whilst Gerhard was doing CPR. Lance was faffing around at his bike, trying not to look in my direction. Gerhard said that if there ever was an emergency, he would like me  to be “on the team.” I seemed to remain calm. The only question I could think of asking: “Is she breathing?” (stupid question actually). Someone’s answer: “Yes.” Me: “Then why are you doing CPR?” The fact that Ilse had looked so very peaceful, almost smiling, should have been my cue. At that point, the others couldn’t contain themselves and all started laughing. Why laugh when you are about to be murdered? By me? I suppose this was their way of getting back at me when I went AWOL in George.

Needless to say, I was heartily relieved to find out that the only reason Ilse and Gerhard had fallen behind was this…

Ilse’s bike had half a fence wrapped around the rear wheel.

This presented an interesting dilemma. The wire was not of the soft and pliable variety. What we really needed was wire cutters. Between the two guys, we had a suite of tools, but wire cutters were not included in the inventory.

The only solution was to remove of the rear wheel. Easy right? Not if the axle shaft has not seen lubrication in a while and is as dry as the Sahara Desert. No matter how hard you pull, that axle goes no-where. Lance eventually used one of his screw-drivers and a rock to hammer the axle through.

Lesson 04: Pack wire clippers!

Lesson 05: Make sure the axle shaft is lubricated. Tyre shops don’t always do this, as they do not have to remove the damn things out in the sticks.

Lesson 06: Some type of (large enough) clamp that could aid in leverage would have been useful (the ones we had were too small to fit over the axle shaft).

I am not even going to include a lesson that you should take tools along in the first place. Riding without is asking for big trouble (not that Lance and I have not been guilty of this in the past).

We were to spot many more randomly placed booby-traps of rolled wire, or singular hard-to-spot wire pieces, along this particular road. Twice I picked up some wire as well, but they were short pieces and I stopped in time, before everything became irreversibly entangled.

After an hour we were on our way again. After the gate that had been held together by the rusted wire, the road got progressively worse.

This hill was incredibly steep, with some rocks and dongas thrown in for good measure. My usual reaction would have been to stop and take stock. Now I just charged ahead, making sure I was looking where I wanted to go.

And then we reached The Donga. By the time the others arrived, I had already crossed. Again: keeping up a bit of speed and looking where I wanted to go helped me a lot. I did not give myself time to get scared of the obstacle. It was a strange experience for me: my fear appeared to have gone on holiday on this road. I was having a blast!

Not so for Ilse. She has fewer off-road km below the belt. She also had another big worry on her mind: she had recently been for two job interviews at the same place (which was a promising sign that they asked her back for a second interview) and they had not got back to her yet with a final decision before we left on this trip. She said she could not afford to hurt herself again and start a new job at a very corporate place on crutches or in a moon boot. Like me, she also has the shadow of a past injury hovering over her. It was back in full force today. My shadow had gone missing for some reason. Maybe because I know (from experience) that my work would be very supportive if I had to end up on crutches again. It has a very non-corporate atmosphere and the people there are like my second family.

The holes on the left are intimidating. You can easily slide into them. If you put your foot in one during a fall/slide, it could turn out nasty.

Me trying to direct Ilse across.

Her back wheel got stuck in a hole, but a quick push saw her on her way.

The same road, looking back

The Donga from a rider’s perspective – rather intimidating

Stressed, but smiling

I don’t think Ilse believed me that she was doing great – that this obstacle really is difficult; not just for her. That is, until Lance also got a bit stuck. I think that made her feel better!

I noticed throughout the ride that Lance would have difficulties on sections where I was fine, yet he is the better rider. Having a larger, heavily-laden bike (Lance carried the tent, sleeping bags/mats, etc.) is a distinct handicap. Ilse’s bike also had quite a heavy load in comparison to mine.

Guess which line I had taken here? The one on the left, with the dirt step. Told you I don’t choose good lines. At least I made it over, thanks to my good friend, momentum.

Gerhard took Ilse’s bike over this obstacle.

More erosion

The road resembled its namesake less and less the further we went

The next big obstacle after The Donga was The Moat.

Lance decided to try it out, but didn’t get too far…

Teamwork removed Lance’s bike from the quagmire.

I was amazed at how well my boots coped with the muck. They kept all the water and gunge out.

The problem remained: how to get to the other side? You know how some people say that the problem is all in your head? This one was. Gerhard discovered a perfectly passable route that skirted around the water.

It wasn’t long before we hit our next water crossing. When in doubt, stop and walk it to look for the best line. This is me on the way back. On the way out, I trudged through the water to feel what the ground surface felt like. Thankfully this one didn’t have a bottom of thick, soft mud like the previous one.

Gerhard went first. There was a little poll of grass that caught his left foot on the way out of the puddle. He had a sore foot for a while afterwards.

The rest of us followed without incident

It wasn’t just the polls of grass. There were many bushes just waiting to grab your feet. Keep your toes tucked in!

Ilse having a fight with a bush

Lance decided his bike needed a rest. Here’s the rest of us in mutiny of his order to pick up the bike.

What a fantastic back-drop!

Choose your line: water or mud.

This is a road?

Where is this road going?

Lance got into a fight with various bushes

Be gone foul twig!

Stunning scenery

It seemed that we would only get small breathers before hitting the next obstacle. Lance is usually not too good with compliments, so it felt great hearing some captured inadvertently by his GoPro. Yay! He does think I’m cool!

Ilse in the following puddle. Gooi mielies!

Gerhard crossing uneventfully, as the guys generally do.

The going wasn’t getting any easier

And then, suddenly, one of the strangest sights.

No one seemed to be home. What place is this? Who used (uses?) it? We circled behind it, but the road ended here. Obviously we were meant to take the left-hand-fork just short distance back.

It has the most amazing view

This place runs off “wireless.” If it used to have electricity, it doesn’t anymore.

The road deteriorated fast after the house, if that can be believed.

Look carefully. There are two people in this photo.

Ilse was trapped beneath her bike. She waited for the guys to lift it. Smart move. She tore her Achilles tendon once when she dragged her foot out from underneath a bike.

A quick check that every body part works as it should

“I’m alive!”

Kudos to Ilse for continuing. Gerhard manhandled her bike over the obstacle.

A short while later, Gerhard decided to join Ilse in the “hall of fall.”

“That just doesn’t look natural!”

The road became extremely rocky. I finally got to make full use of my bash-plate, a decorative bauble until today.

I was still having a ball. What a crazy adventure! The empty bottle on my soft luggage was very useful at a later stage. At this point, Lance and I had run out of water. Thankfully, it was a relatively cool day. There was also an entire lake somewhere back there. Ilse shared some of her water with us.

At this point, it was easier to ride off the road than on.

I was out front, but stopped here, because what I saw did not look promising. There was something that resembled a faint track on the other side of a pretty deep river valley. We had been forging ahead all this time, as we did not want to face all the obstacles we had just covered. Strangely, we appeared to be following the opposite of the saying: “Rather than devil you know, than the one you don’t.” We knew plenty of devils behind us, and they weren’t pretty.

But what we were facing now was the un-prettiest thing we had seen to date. The “road” dropped down to a river, where you had the option of burnt reeds interspersed with water channels deep and narrow enough to catch your foot-pegs or a 2-3m deep erosion trench. This was followed on the other side by a steep exit consisting of flat rocks covered by a mini-stream. Unfortunately the guys didn’t get good footage of this section.

Ilse getting a supportive hug.

Sure, it looked scary, but it could probably be done. Gerhard and I were removing reeds and trying to stomp a path through.

At that point the voice of reason piped up, in the form of Lance. Who thought Lance could be reasonable? He stated the facts (always a good place to start): we had taken 3 hours to cover 13km, it was 4:30pm, his GPS was showing another 13km to go, the road was only getting worse and his Garmin was showing that the route took a quite extreme zig-zagging path at a point further along (not a good sign). We were to learn later that it had been 13km to the next way-point only. The entire route was 50km in total and then it would spit you out on the top of Swartberg Pass, close to the Die Hel turn-off entrance, i.e. still very far from civilisation.

There was a very real chance that we may have to camp on the mountain, but our first choice would be to get off it before nightfall. The clouds were gathering and there was rain forecast for that night and the next day. It would only make the route even more difficult, as it had been wet enough today.

The idea of facing all the obstacles a second time made my heart sink into my shoes. Oh well. No other choice! Back over the same puddles.

What Ilse and I hadn’t fully processed was that the road had progressively worsened on our way out. Each obstacle had rated at the same category on the scary scale for us, yet we hadn’t realised that they were actually getting scarier and we were simply “levelling up.” On the way back, the obstacles seemed much, much easier.

This did not mean that there was smooth sailing the whole way. In the picture below, I am getting help in walking my bike out, after it got stuck in the mud.

We were back at the beautiful lake by 5pm.

Fighting bushes again.

What a beautiful road

In fact, the obstacles seemed so easy and we were reaching them so quickly (in comparison to our trip out), that Gerhard mistook The Moat for yet another do-able water-crossing.

Well and truly stuck

I had mentioned the GoPro, but Lance was worried about time. Therefore there is no footage of us dragging the bike out. It took some doing, as it was in deep mud. Gerhard first removed all the luggage. He and Ilse tie down their soft luggage with ropes they used in rock-climbing. All the bits of rope were tied together to form a long line. The guys pushed on either side of the bike, while Ilse and I pulled on the rope. Later, Lance helped us pull, while Gerhard kept the bike upright. He was knackered.

I used my spare, empty Energade water bottle to spray off the worst of the mud from Gerhard’s chain and callipers, using water from The Moat.

Lesson 07: No matter how bad the going gets, remember that they are the most interesting bits of your trip. Later you will regret not having a memento.

Lesson 08: We had to make do with climbing ropes, which we were very lucky to have! Make sure some form of ropes or straps are packed. We did not have a tow rope. This would be a good future investment.

Ilse needed help again at The Donga. She did really well on the remainder of the route.

Long shadows

It was after 6pm by the time the worst of the road was behind us. It had only taken us 1h45min. The fact that we hadn’t had to remove a wheel cut down on time substantially.

I was amazed that I had survived The Epic Road with only one side-stand incident.

We headed for Prince Albert, as this was the nearest place of civilisation at the time. The last stretch saw us riding in the dark.

We were in no mood to camp, especially given the rain forecast. Reception at the Hotel helped us find a place where we could sleep, by phoning around. The town was basically fully booked, as there was a wedding party happening and it was a long weekend. We managed to secure a spot at a place which I do not think actually operates anymore: Saxo-Koeberg. They had not expected anyone. They apologised that the bedding, which they hastily had to install, did not have matching covers, etc. We couldn’t care a hoot for colour-schemes. We were eternally grateful for a bed (and at a very reasonable price). 

Two asides to this day:

The route we took actually does exist on Google Maps, although we discovered later that only the Western side is shown on Tracks for Africa.

Ilse got the job!!

A video Lance created of the day:




Day 4: Another dead-end

Google Maps route (planned)
Google Maps route (actual)

Our planned and actual routes continued to diverge. I do not even think that the planned route link above was the eventual planned route, as it had changed again shortly before our trip.

The sound of rain during the night validated our decision to stay in a room rather than camp.

Both Ilse and I were looking forward to relatively effortless roads compared to yesterday. The previous day had been an amazing adventure, but I was now ready to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

We decided to try out a gravel road from Prince Albert to Laingsburg; running roughly parallel to the N1. We had been warned to try it only from the Prince Albert side, as there was a farmer on that side that may or may not sometimes lock one of the gates. If you came from the other direction it would mean a lot of back-tracking.

The views were fantastic; with moody skies.

You could soak up the scenery, or let the scenery soak you!

This time it was Ilse and I that ended up at a gate; wondering where the guys got to. After some waiting, we headed back to investigate. This time I was not met by a scene from ER, although Gerhard’s bike did need some…

Do not let the beautiful scenery in the photo below detract from the calamity of our little group having to perform our very first side-of-the-road puncture fix.

No convenient middle-of-George setting this time. Middle-of-nowhere is more like it. But what an amazing back-drop.

Lance had been warned that the conveniently-sized, mini tyre levers and bead breakers did not give enough leverage, which was exactly the reason he bought workshop-sized tools. Nevertheless, the bead breakers failed to impress.

Whatever you do Lance, don’t look up!

We decided to try the bike-side-stand technique we had witnessed on a group ride just weeks before. Thank goodness we had Lance’s bike. The two 650s’ side-stands won’t work, as they have an extra loop of metal that will get in the way.

The sound of the bead breaking resulted in smiles all around.

A guy in a 4x4 spotted us and stopped; asking if we needed assistance. We told him we were ok. We had all the right tools at least. We just lacked first-hand experience, but were building it now! We chatted about the route, as it seemed he was also looking for a way through. We warned him about the potentially locked gate and pointed him in the right direction (all of us had initially missed the sharp turn to the right in the route). He was back again in about half an hour to tell us not to bother, as the gate was indeed locked. It was nice of him to go out of his way to warn us. There’s real camaraderie out here in the bundus.

The large tyre-levers definitely gave better leverage, but that isn’t to say we didn’t use every tyre lever we could lay our hands on!

Here is a good time to reflect and be thankful that Gerhard and Ilse came well-prepared. Lance and I have done many trips without a compressor. We had a bicycle pump instead. Can you imagine what you would look like after trying to pump a tyre to 4 bar – the pressure it took for the tyre to reseat onto the rim – with a bicycle pump? I’ll try not to think about it… Ilse even had some sunlight liquid to smear on the tyre to assist with getting it off and back on the rim.

Almost there

Meanwhile we even had a lightning show in the distance (where the clouds show dark blue in the photo below). It felt out-of-this-world.

Lesson 09: Always invest in the longer tyre-levers.

Lesson 10: A friend’s bike works better than any tools when trying to break a bead. Make sure to pack a friend! They also come in handy for other things such as moral support and chatter.

Lesson 11: Pack spare tubes and make sure there is one compressor for the group. Do I even need to mention this? Our little group of 4 all had tubed tyres. Two of us had punctures; both of them nothing to do with riding style or tyre pressure, but everything to do with damn long nails. How do you guard against that?

Lesson 12: “Jammer-lappie” and water. We had the former, but a drastic shortage of the latter. If you do not have a lot of water, best is to “wash” your hands using sand first. This removes most, if not all, of the grease. Then you can wash the sand off with minimal water.

After about two hours (definitely didn’t break any tyre-change speed records here) we were on our way again. But where to? Our planned route was a no-go. Lance figured there was a way to get back to Prince Albert without going back the way we came. The GPS seemed to show an alternative loop back. I should have known that “Lance” and “alternative route” together mean trouble.

Lance on a mission

The scruffy road to the left is the one we took.

Déjà vu – disappearing road version 2

The scenery was to die for

And I was dying slowly, from overheating. We had inserted all our rain layers, because there was rain forecast for the Cape area; our final destination today.

I also came to a sudden, stark realisation. The reason I had felt so on-top-of-the-world during yesterday’s crazy riding was this: There. Was. No. SAND.

Ilse and I were unimpressed. If you looked carefully, you may just have seen our own miniature thunderstorm systems, hovering like a dark cloud over us.

The universe doesn’t like angry women. To maintain cosmic balance and restore peace, it decided to give the guys a strong hint – by ending the road.

Technically the road did not end. It was simply overgrown.

Perhaps some serious bundu-bashing and forest-removal would have seen a way through, but I think the guys took the hint. I would actually like to explore it one day when I’m not drowning in my own sweat. I also need to get my act together with regards to sand (I signed up this week for an introduction to sand riding course).

We turned back on the road that was not quite a road.

It’s there, I swear it is.


Happy person just ran out of happy…

…because of this.

Gerhard not phased

Ilse doing some paddling

Me doing some paddling

How embarrassing. Let’s redeem ourselves a little bit.

Ilse looking cool

Me looking cool

Lance shepherding me. Shame. He was rather sweet, despite feeling murderous vibes from my direction.

Back over the same puddles

Time was running out for us, which meant that we were only able to fit in one more stretch of gravel: the Witteberge Road. This road has a special place in my heart. I have ridden it three times this year and enjoyed it thoroughly each time. I love the pass on the Laingsburg side; seeing the sweeping views as you drop down.

The guys found a deceptive puddle with a deep hole. They waited for us girls and had a good laugh at our expense.

The Witteberge Road is unfenced, so you should watch out for sheep, horses and cattle. In this case the sheep had to watch out for the bikes.

When we reached the N1, we really did not feel quite ready for tar yet. We did a small section of the rail service road.

Until a locked gate forced us to accept the inevitable.

The rain layers were not installed in vain. We did get caught in the rain on the way home. It cleared enough by the time we got to the Huguenot Tunnel to do Du Toitskloof instead. Du Toiskloof is always my first option, but it may not have been the safest choice in the rain. We finally arrived home in the dark.

Thanks to day 3’s adventure, Ilse never did get to ride Swartberg Pass, which she really wanted to see. This only means one thing: when’s the next trip?


* Winner of the Ruslamere Monthly Trip Report prize, including an enlarged photo printed and mounted by Audiolens

Joined: 2008/01/28

I love these ride reports.

Joined: 2007/06/25

Zanie, your reports are super special, tx.

Think before you ink.

Trust is the most valuable asset.

I have the rest of my life to get old.

Joined: 2012/09/12

Zanie, ek haal my hoed wat ek nie dra nie vir jou af!, jy is yster!!.  Sulke Adventures saam jou "lewensmaat" bepaal of dit gaan hou of nie, en julle dit nou al dubbel en dwars bewys, my ink was al lankal op n skeibrief gesit lol :)  Welldone!  Dit seker hoekom ek en Adie nie meer saam ry nie haha

Joined: 2008/11/24

Hi Zanie,

i Dont normally enjoy reading about trips (preferred to do them) but i must allso say hats off !! and would like to Donate a Towstrap (new)I Have a Couple left over from Hamman Motorrad days so you are welcome to pop round ; 6 Akasia Avenue Sonnendal/Panorama Parow and collect.Just phone to make sure i am here 0824485185.

J P Hamman
Tel 021 9307055 or 0824485185

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

What a great report.

Committee: Ride Captain

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

What a spectacular report.  And I like your profile picture.  I am sure a number of riders are drawing encouragement from reading about your trips and your fears.  Thanks for all the effort you are putting in.

Let me know when you are coming to a club meeting so I can award you a trip-report prize.

Committee: Webmaster / Ride Captain

Zanie's picture
Joined: 2013/11/21

Thanks all blush

Marinda: Lyk my ek raak maar gewoond aan Lance se mannewales. Hy het lank nie die einde gehoor van die Die Hel trip nie, maar nou kan ek net dankie sê. As dit nie vir hom was nie, sou ek nie al hierdie mal dinge doen nie (hy't my ook gekry om bergfiets te ry). Dit het lank geneem voordat ek weer ok was in my kop met grondpad (ek is nogsteeds nie/was nooit ok met sand nie!), maar dit was die moeite werd! Nou wil hy my op 'n sandkursus neem...

JPHamman: Wow! Thanks! This club is really special in that way. I remember Andy offering me a front brake lever after my Die Hel trip (mine was snapped). Everyone here is so willing to help! I'll be your side of the world over the weekend, so I'll give you a ring.

Charles: The profile pic was taken going up Ouberg Pass. Perhaps I can inspire some more lady-bikers through my reports. There seem to be more and more of us out there. I will see whether I can attend the next club meeting (27th Oct?). It's difficult for me as I live in the very Deep South, but I do have somewhere to crash (bad choice of words!) that side of the world for a night.

I'll see whether I can get Day 4 done within the next 2 days. I was taking a break after day 3. That was a monster marathon writing session last weekend!

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

Deep South?  Like Kommetjie?  I'm in Kirstenhof/Norfolk Park at the end of the M3.  So I can chaperone you home if you like (I'm assuming you are on the bike of course).

Committee: Webmaster / Ride Captain

Zanie's picture
Joined: 2013/11/21

Deep South a.k.a. Noordhoek, but Lance stays in Blouberg (that's my weekend home), so I can head to his place and stay over there for the night if I can twist his arm to chaperone me to the meeting. Thanks for the offer.

Zanie's picture
Joined: 2013/11/21

Day 4 finally uploaded. Mission complete.

Thanks for my tow strap JP!!

Mwendo's picture
Joined: 2011/04/13

Epic! with a capital F!

Thank you Zanie, for yet another great report.

I have been drooling over your Day 3 (Swartberg 4x4) and Day 4 (Prince Albert - Floriskraal Dam) routes ever since I first learnt of their existence. Slingsby's Swartberg & Klein- Karoo map is a veritable treasure trove on the region, including these two routes.

I fully concur with what others have said before - it is really great to witness your growth, the way you confront your fears and overcome the setbacks head-on! Doe so voort!

The only problem with hindsight, is you don't see it coming!

Zanie's picture
Joined: 2013/11/21

I'm going to necromance this thread, because someone was actually crazy enough to ride the full route of that Swartberg Kruin road that beat us on day 3 of this trip. Those who are on Wild Dog forum, may have seen his response.

Basically, he was intrigued by the trip report and contacted the farmer, getting permission to ride the full route and recce it for an organised tour. They were on KTM 690's. Bigger bikes would have suffered.

Thank you Lance for making the call to turn around when we did. Otherwise we would have had to face this...


Craig Cauvin's picture
Joined: 2012/01/11


Oh hold on - that's something else.............. wink


Craig C

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