Not The Lesotho Chronicles 13 -25 March 2021

Not The Lesotho Chronicles
13 -25 March 2021
Words by Wes, Photos by all

As the age old saying goes, “What a year 2020 was for everyone”. One of the consequences of a worldwide pandemic was that a small group of fortunate souls had the inconvenience of a postponed motorcycle trip. What started off as a trip planned for March 2020, slowly deteriorated each time the president spoke. Geoff Russell, our tour leader had to constantly deviate and modify the route based on border access and reports from various locals in the areas we were to travel to. The bureaucracy was mounting, until eventually it proved impossible and the looming departure date had to be cancelled, until we could find a solution.

The solution eventually came, not without the hard work of juggling the accommodation schedules combined with some creative thinking by Geoff and many of the team determined to assist in getting the Lesotho tour back on track – just not in Lesotho, but focusing on the Drakensberg instead.

During the course of all these changes, many participants had to drop out, and a few got the opportunity to join us as well. So, the final number was set for departure at 18 rearing adventurers on 13 motorcycles.

        

Day 1 (Sat, 13 Mar 2021)

Part of the crowd met at the Plattekloof Engen for a 07:30 getaway from the city while those staying more to the North joined us at Du Kloof Lodge on the far side of Du Toit’s Kloof. We took an uneventful R60 to Robertson and at 10:00 were passing through Montagu onto the R62 to stop briefly in Barrydale for fuel and a snack. At 11:45, Ladismith saw us arriving for lunch at Die Kanna Kombuis where the food was tasty but like many of the smaller town restaurants, struggled to serve all 18 of us. For the health conscious South African, I can highly recommend the Biltong, Butternut, Feta and Avo Salad.

We left at 13:15 on the R62 and I was excited by one of my favourite pieces of tar, the Huisrivier Pass. As we were heading east, it was getting hot and humid, but it eventually cooled down to 38 degrees by the time we got to De Rust where we stopped for some snacks and hydration. The wiser riders were looking to the skies as we had both a tar and a gravel option to get to Willowmore. But the skies ahead were getting dark with angry grey thunder clouds coming in from the north. If we had to get showered on, I think we would all choose to be showered on while on tar which is how we proceeded.

With the smell of fresh rain pleasuring the senses, we did a good job of dodging the pockets of rain coming down on the dry karoo land. We arrived at The Willow after 17:00, checked in, had a much-needed shower and headed to the pub to start catching up with old friends and make some new ones.

El-anne hosted us graciously despite all our requests, even managing to serve the loadshedded dinner in time and by candle light. A somewhat fitting experience in a historical guesthouse.

The Willow Historical Guesthouse – Willowmore

                               

Day 2

After an early breakfast and getaway just before 08:00 we headed north-east for Graaff-Reinet under a canopy of grey clouds. I was distracted by the distant receding ridgeline of mountains fading into lighter shades of blue until they perfectly matched the pale hue of the sky ahead.

We cruised through Graaff-Reinet, and the skies above were clearing as we got onto the R61 and then R401 towards Hofmeyr for fuel. This road was just a shakedown test, and it did just that as Alan lost his gear lever arm and had to resort to shifting using the shaft attached to the spline. As we arrived into Hofmeyr, Eddie rolled into town on a low-rider. His rear suspension on his new R1250GSA had seemingly given up the ghost on the way here. We all pitched in with possible solutions, but on this occasion, nothing seemed to work. Eddie decided to cruise on the tar back to PE to see if BMW could help him out and possibly meet us later in the tour. That was not to be and such a cruel and premature end to his journey!

Earlier that morning, a fellow biker traveling in the opposite direction suggested we visit the Victorian Boutique Hotel in Hofmeyr, and that is where we paused for a pit stop. It was good that we stopped there to admire the recently renovated Victorian Hotel and Restaurant with all the period fittings and furnishings. Definitively a place to remember if you are passing the area.

We left Hofmeyr at about 13:00 for another 50km on gravel that passed through Grootdoringhoek Pass where sections of the road were closed in with thick Acacias. I was sure someone would catch a puncture along the way! No-one did and we made it to a tar intersection where we inflated our tyres for the final stretch.

The road elevated us away from the Karoo plains and into mountain country with Idwe being our first (unscheduled) stop as Albie found an open hardware store on a Sunday afternoon to buy some nuts and bolts to fix Alan’s shifty shifter. The cumulonimbus clouds kept their distance, but treated us to heavenly shapes in the sky.

As we passed through Elliot (Khowa) and climbed higher, I was mesmerised by the vertical spires of rocks jutting out of the soft rolling hills above. It reminded me of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps. Suddenly Ruxi tapped me and pointed to the cuttings in the side of the mountain, indicating some form of corners. I checked my GPS to confirm that indeed, this was Barkly Pass and that shoulder tapping was the submitted request that I drop a few gears and get a move on up that glorious pass with haste.

We arrived at the Mountain Shadows lodge situated at the top of the pass at 16:30. After freshening up, we attended dinner and drinks. Some of us even sported a few rounds of pool while Alan did his best to saturate Bill and myself with whiskey.

Mountain Shadows Hotel – Elliot/Khowa

Day 3

Today’s plan was to do a loop in the morning (leaving our luggage at Mountain Shadows) and pick it up later for the short stretch to Walkerbouts in the town of Rhodes. We left after a leisurely breakfast, Ruxi having scouted out the road to Rhodes on her morning run. As we left Mountain Shadows, I was taken with the views of the surrounding mountain faces and was told that they are even more stunning in the evening light.

We stopped in Barkly East for fuel before hitting the dirt road for a surprise route. Had I known we would be riding such a beauty, I probably would have been more mindful of the surroundings before suddenly arriving at what was the summit of Otto du Plessis Pass. That view woke me up indeed and reminded me to ride with an open mind and appreciate the views before our eyes. Especially one this gorgeous!

The group had stretched out a bit on the descent down the 658m of rocky and loose pass but the team at the front decided to wait after a river crossing. After waiting a little longer than expected, Herman went back to find out what was going on just as David arrived to pass on the news that Alan had dropped his bike and was in pain.

That’s never something we like to hear on these remote bike trips, or any trips for that matter. Geoff had already given Alan some pain killers and supervised Bruce and Bill while they picked up the bike and pointed it downhill. While Noelene was nursing Alan and walking down the pass, 5km ahead, I had to pillion Herman to shuttle Alan’s lonely bike down the road. We eventually got to the landing site and Herman rode Alan’s bike down some 20km’s to the tar where most of us were to rendezvous. Several of us tenderly mounted Alan upon Geoff’s pillion seat for the ride down the gravel pass. I had to ferry Noelene to the group to hitch a ride with Roodt while I looked for Ruxi. At one point I remember seeing Tristan riding in the opposite direction with Herman on the back to fetch Herman’s bike that got left behind. Although, I lost track of who else had to swap and change bikes and become pillions or riders during the course of this afternoon, but it does highlight the trust we all were forced to bestow upon our fellow team mates… Good times, hahaha!

What shouldn’t have come as a surprise was the fact that the hospital in Elliot didn’t have any X-ray machines to inspect Alan’s swollen arm and painful ribs. Not that we were planning on abandoning our friend there, but the nurse forbade us from leaving without Alan because they didn’t have any ambulance to take him to a better equipped medical centre.

With Alan loaded up, we gingerly made our way up Barkly Pass to Mountain Shadows. The manager luckily assisted with the situation by finding a room to check Alan into and agreeing to take him to a real hospital the next day. By now the team was still spread between our rendezvous at the tar, and Mountain Shadows, while some of us were waiting with Alan’s bike for a farmer who said he would load it up. As Geoff didn’t know that at the time, we made our way back to fetch the riderless bike. We arrived back before the bike was loaded and while most of the group had made their way to Mountain Shadows already to meet Alan in the bar, we got a move on as the rains started coming down.

It was only by a miracle that no one got left behind in the confusion of the day’s logistical events and Geoff called ahead to Herman to corral the troops from the bar and be ready to ride by the time we arrived at 17:30. After all, we still had an 80km ride to Rhodes to do in the twilight!

We said our goodbyes to Alan and I wolfed down an energy bar and packet of chips for lunch as we kitted up and made for the hills. All things considered, that stretch to Rhodes was a pretty patch of land. Meandering along the north of Bell Kop, we zigzagged our way east with a magical sunset in our mirrors. We arrived at Walkerbouts in Rhodes in the dark, but spirits were soon revived by the merriment supplied by the bar, and the generous servings of a hot meal at the end of a weary day in the saddle.

Walkerbouts Inn – Rhodes

Day 4

Today was pencilled in as a rest day, which most of the group opted for, deciding to meet up for brunch/lunch at the Rubicon after recovering from breakfast. This was followed by a sightseeing walk around the town.

A smaller group of us went on an outride into the mountains, and not even 2 minutes after leaving town, I was surprised to see that we were going up Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. I’ve read about it, along with several other high altitude passes, but not taking geography in school, I didn’t realise until then that we were on the heartland of high passes.

The road took us through a ravine with obvious signs of flood damage along the river banks before reaching a concrete section which led us up some impressively steep hairpins and 1:3 gradients
(just pray to high heaven your brakes work on the way down!). We reached Tiffendell Ski Resort a little after 10:00 and as they were closed over the summer season, we continued on to Loch Ness to witness where the trout spawn. It is also the highest still-water fly-fishing venue in SA.

On the way down, we got to pay more attention to the scenery, and at the bottom of the pass we split into smaller groups yet, with Geoff, George, and Lynette leaving us in Herman’s custody. We took it carefully up Naude’s Nek, keeping an eye on the incoming clouds on an otherwise beautiful day. But you know how fickle the weather can be on the high slopes.

Herman had sold us on the idea of tea and scones at Tenahead Lodge if we behaved and had time to spare, which we did. Roodt, Ruxi and I had never been there before so we decided to take a look around and were suitably impressed at the grandeur of such an estate so remote in the mountains. I imagine it’s even better in the winter, covered in snow with a cozy fireplace, snuggled between blankets with some sherry to keep warm.

As we were enjoying ourselves, the clouds started threatening us so we made our escape. Knowing the pass conditions, we made our way to Rhodes with intent. I was the one that kept on stopping for photos and so had to play catch up with Roodt and Herman. The lightning in the distance made me put the camera away and twist that throttle. Not all stories have a happy ending, because thick tropical droplets came down in a torrent just in time to soak us through as we entered the town.

There was nothing to do but hang up our gear and console ourselves at the pub and swap yarns. It turned out be the last wet ride until the final stretch home as the rain gods became merciful with us and Tristan’s new rain suit refused to be put to use.

Walkerbouts Inn – Rhodes

Day 5

Today we all rode together and started off a bit later than planned, a little after 08:30. We went back up Naude’s Nek and stopped at the view point before cruising down the other side. I was struggling to maintain a good gearing and had to run on my brakes for a significant part of the way down. Entertainment was provided by the miraculous views of the Dragon Mountains sloping into the fertile lands of the upper and lower Pitseng to meet up with the Luzi river within the poort.

Due to our outride yesterday, and the fact that Pumbaa missed her fuel stop in the confusion of the day before, I had to steal fuel from Geoff and Roodt from Bruce. Just enough to make it to the next station which was in Mount Fletcher. It’s not the kind of town that many people plan to stop in (for several reasons). So Roodt, Ruxi and I didn’t mess about and kept a short pitstop as the group passed by on this tar stretch.

We took to the gravel after Mount Fletcher with a left hander. With the group stretching further and further on the badly potholed road, I was trying to maintain a headlight in my mirror. In the process however, I lost the bike ahead of us. Some 30km up the road, and not being sure of the etiquette in this part of the group, we arrived at a junction where I was pretty sure we had to turn right (having seen the GPS routing). So, we waited for Herman who was at the back and also had the routes at hand. With a call to make, together we decided that the group had turned and that no one had waited for us.

Geoff on the other hand, due to the road condition (and recent weather), thought it better to take a longer, but easier and quicker route to Matatiele, while a group of 7 of us chose to take the original route instead. I was in front of the second group and it took me a while to realise that the muddier sections didn’t have any tyre tracks anymore. After another group discussion we phoned Geoff, to clarify the situation and try to bring his blood pressure back down because by that time, news had reached him that 7 of his flock had gone astray. This incident highlighted perfectly the importance of not deviating from the route as you please, and to maintain your course until you meet your riding buddies at any intersection. Sorry Geoff! Next round is on me.

In the end we reassured him that the group could manage it, and followed our route to Matatiele on a very adventurous but rewarding route. We crossed the bridge over the Kinira River and picked up the pace to base after stopping shortly to admire the flowering Cosmos that covered the roadsides in colour.

The last of us arrived at Resthaven after fuelling up in the mid-afternoon. Having found our room, Ruxi and I went back up the road to do some shopping before settling in under the awnings to swap war stories of the day.

Phil and his wife, Elrita were excellent hosts. They entertained us with stories of local tales and fed us like no one else could!

Resthaven – Matatiele

Day 6
Due to this tour originally being a Lesotho tour, plans had to be changed from this point on to suit the current travel regulations for the plague. During the final planning phase (which happened about 17 times leading up to our leaving), the most suitable accommodation happened to be a measly 60km away. This meant that the pace today was very unGeoff like.

We had a relaxed start to the morning, with a king’s breakfast and then a bike inspection session where most of us took the opportunity to kick the tyres and see if anything fell off. It’s an important practice to routinely check your bike over before any ride, but especially when riding off-road with the added bumps and vibrations. Just the simple things to get to – such as, tightening any loose bolts, wheel spokes, chain retensioning, brake calliper pins, tyre condition, etc.

We left Resthaven at 10:00 and shortly after getting on the gravel, we got caught in a real boggy patch, was this how the whole day would be? Luckily not, but instead swept through the back roads with fields of corn and green pastures at a relaxed pace that gave us a chance to actually see the landscape for what it is. We had been very lucky so far in the fact that we had not one puncture until now, and as if scripted, I was chosen to pick up a nail in my tyre. We carefully parked off and had a puncture repair workshop for those needing a refresher – plus I got to train Ruxi in these matters as well. We have the view that with 2-up riding, the pillion is not just a passenger for the adventure, but gets the opportunity to participate in the challenge in any way they can. The sense of accomplishment of adventure can then be shared between rider and pillion in an authentic way. I’m just lucky enough that my pillion is not shy of getting stuck amongst it as every adventure demands.

No one will ever get a better puncture; sunny weather, but not too hot; flat level ground; not dusty; plenty of time in the day; and all the tools necessary. After the repair, I packed up and we carried on along the road which lay like a ribbon upon the undulating hills of the southern Drakensberg. We happened upon our destination at 12:30.

St. Bernards Peak Mountain Lodge in the Southern Drakenberg, which is run by Ian and Rudi, is a stunning family venue with pool area, children’s play area, pool table and darts, and a fully stocked bar where Ian will test you with some jigsaw puzzles and brain games. You can base yourself here for hiking trails and swimming in the waterfalls and river, cycling trails, bird watching, and guided horse riding in this mountainous region. With no wi-fi and limited cell reception, this is an ideal place to unplug from reality, and with campsites for R85 p/p p/n, Ruxi and I will definitely be back.

They catered a full lunch for us all, after which we walked it off by doing a 6km round trip to the St Bernards Lake and chilling on jetty before a burst of rain chased us back. Tonight’s dinner was a fully catered braai, and most of us sat and kuiered around the firepit while listening to the call of 2 resident owls as dusk turned into night.

St. Bernards Peak Mountain Lodge – Kokstad

Day 7

Luani decided that this was a perfect location for some horse riding in the mountains with Ian. Rudi describes him as a centaur who has been breeding/raising horses for longer than most of us have been causing trouble. She recounted her epic day out on the saddle and in the mountains with a big grin on her face.

The majority of us chose to venture on an outride today which would include a trip to the highest pub in Africa at the top of the infamous Sani Pass. Leaving after breakfast at 08:45, we took the gravel road to the R617 which flowed towards Underberg with intimidating views of infinite mountain ridges in Lesotho to our left. It is also known as the Barrier of Spears such is its inspiration to the human imagination.

As a side quest today, Alison had to procure new gloves as she lost hers a couple of days ago. So, we stormed the Yamaha dealership in Himeville that morning and Alison found the last pair her size. I’ll take that as a good sign for the day ahead.

Taking the Sani turn off after the town, I started buzzing, trying to absorb the atmosphere of the event. But it did deflate me somewhat that the signboard was insignificant and the smooth tarred road seemed a far cry to what I expected. Also, I had no view of the famous hairpins, but it was still about 20km and tucked away tightly within the high cliffs. After arriving at the dreaded road construction and having to stop for construction vehicles, we hit the dirt and shortly thereafter found the border post at 11:00. To continue up the pass would have been fine with just a stamp in your passport, but if you wanted to get through the Lesotho border at the top, you had to get the rapid COVID antigen test at the mobile station. The test cost R300 apiece, and for 11 of us, took under 1 hour to process. Hardly an inconvenience as far as border crossings go.

To refer to the opening introduction from Mountain Passes South Africa website:
“Sani Pass is the mother of all South African mountain passes. Statistically and in every sense, it out distances, out climbs, and out performs all its competitors with consummate ease to have become the most iconic gravel pass in SA.”

The vertical ascent of this pass has the national first prize of 1332m ending at the summit of 2876m, with a maximum gradient of 1:4 and at the time of our attempt had been badly eroded by water runoff, exposing many loose rocky sections. Added to this, a broken-down truck in one of the bends made for an interesting obstacle to tackle. This pass has also recorded snow in every month (although not in the same years), but is a reminder you are dealing with a bona fide high-altitude pass.

Up and up we went on the gradual climb, soaking in the stunningly green spurs running down into the valley below. We witnessed beautiful waterfalls raining down (luckily on the opposite side of the pass) while the riders were fully engaged with picking out the softest rocks to bounce off. The pass tested all the riders and pillions to their limits, and some riders were wise enough not to push beyond that and turned around in favour of a well-earned lunch at The Stonehouse in Himeville.

As with the increase in altitude, the rocks got bigger, and the ruts deeper, the turns sharper and the incline steeper. This was tough work hauling those big bikes up. Sometimes the smoothest line up was on the very edge of the cliff that required all your will power not to freak out at the view over the precipice. We stalled, spun out, and fell over, but in the end, we got up, we encouraged each other, pushed, pulled and eventually rode our bikes over the finish line which was the Lesotho Border. We were so overjoyed at the sense of relief, but time wasn’t on our side. Arriving at the top just before 15:00, we took all of 30mins of admiring the view, celebrating, and filling in paperwork for border admin.

We took to our descent down the pass, but I was fatigued and the falling wasn’t over for Ruxi and I yet. Luckily, we all made it back down without much damage to bikes or people. What was a 3hr ride up, turned out to be a merely 30min descent. After fuelling up in Underberg, we belted it on the tar and then on the gravel. With the dust and the setting sun blinding us, we made our way back to the lodge before 18:00 in time for a very festive reception and a celebration.

Later we found out that George and Lynette also got stuck on their way down, and they had to commence with some road building of their own just to get the bike back on track. Each had their own adventure, and this was a good test for all Everyone can say they took up the Sani Pass challenge with open arms.

Except Geoff, he stayed in bed all day…

St. Bernards Peak Mountain Lodge – Kokstad

Day 8

After a cheery send off, our group returned to the tarred R617 via yesterday’s route to take a relaxed cruise through the expanses of tree plantations near Franklin as we started our descent towards the Transkei and the Wild Coast.

We rode through remote villages of smiling, waving children and had to dodge sheep, goats, and cows who were oblivious to us. This is a normal experience in the Transkei and may come as a shock to first time visitors.

Most of us were riding GS Adventures with a bigger fuel capacity. However, two of the bikes were not, so we had to make a fuel stop in Harding which was a shock to the senses after coming from the vast open lands of rural Transkei. Harding was jam packed with motor traffic, foot traffic and traders setting up shop right up to the road side. Again, we didn’t mess about and only those that needed the fuel went to the pumps while the rest of us kept a cautious eye out.

With Harding at our backs, we continued through Flagstaff and onto Lusikisiki with no dramas, just in time to pull into the Total Garage for our pit stop and lunch break. Geoff had been advised before the trip that this is the garage to get fuel from as others before us had fuelling problems due to dirty/contaminated fuel from various other garages. I’m not the one to argue with advice like that and so was happy with the choice.

We pulled off the main drag just after Lusikisiki and continued for another 25km or so of gravel through tea plantations. The last lovely stretch of serpentine tar section through lush forestry transported me to Knysna for a moment just before arriving at the Mbotyi River Lodge at about 15:00.

We all had a hot and sweaty day in this humid area and the swimming pool was used by most of us before dinner and games night in the bar.

Mbotyi River Lodge – Lusikisiki

Day 9
Today was another rest day for everyone. For a few explorers that went for a walk on the beach and in the hills, making discoveries and playing the fool, adopting a cow, and pushing George down the hill, it all sounded like a wonderful day out!

Ruxi and myself went in search of a few waterfalls (Fraser, Magwa, and then Angel Falls) which was an enjoyable solo trip of about 2 hours. On our way to Magwa falls, we passed the tea plantation factory and were curious if they hosted any tours, but I don’t think a tourist has passed here in many months and the security guard didn’t know what to do with us, so we just carried on our way before returning just in time for lunch. After making more plans, Herman, Ruxi and I got some paddles and canoed up and down the river, inspecting the local wildlife and then paddling up to the beach before returning to base for a nap and then a lekker kuier with the mob for the rest of the evening…

Mbotyi River Lodge – Lusikisiki

Day 10

Today was going to be another fair stretch to Cintsa, and Geoff thought it would be a good idea that I direct everyone to the waterfalls before we left Lusikisiki – provided we don’t dawdle. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and some of the group took that last bit to heart, hahaha.

At least everyone was staying safe, especially after we heard the news that just 3 weeks ago a car fell from the view site of Magwa Falls to the bottom of the gorge, some 140m below! In hindsight I felt very silly for not trying to walk to the other side of the gorge after seeing some of the locals had done just that and the view from the other side must have been even more astonishing. But we could mess about no more, so took the opportunity to admire the views as they were.

Returning past the tea plantations on to Lusikisiki, we stopped here to pump our tyres up. Sadly, this marked the end of the dirty roads as we were to gradually head west on tar from now on.

Outside Lusikisiki, on the R61 towards the river mouth near Port St John’s, is a glorious piece of tar slaloming between every hillside. According to the SuperSpar billboard, it was 133 corners on that section, and I kept Geoff’s mirrors full as we weaved our way down to the coastline. Man alive! That was a thing of beauty! I had to check Geoff’s panniers for gouging as I was certain he was resting his bike on them through those bends.

From Port St. Johns, we went through Mtatha, onto the N2 for a slog towards East London. I had some fun on Kei Cuttings Pass before we stopped at the Ultra City near the Kei River Bridge for fuel and lunch at the Steers. That was a few minutes out from tonight’s accommodation at the popular Crawfords in the beautiful town of Cintsa where your journey is not over until you’ve navigated the rollercoaster of a driveway. The key is not to stop for any reason, hahaha!

Crawfords Beach Lodge – Cintsa

Day 11

The final rest day happened to be in the paradise of Cintsa, and first off on the agenda for the early risers was a bike washing competition. Herman had arranged for a high-pressure hose from the resort manager and was therefore declared the winner. The restaurant at Crawfords is sensational and I tackled about 5 rounds with the breakfast buffet while Ruxi barely won her battle to maintain her fast. I call that a healthy balance.

Plans were made with the stap span to go to the beach for a mid-morning stroll, but Ruxi and I headed straight for the beach to digest our breakfast, before going off to visit some college friends of mine for lunch in East London (if that’s still the name of the town).

The sun was out and the mood was ripe for the wine to flow that afternoon for lunch at Crawfords and I was told that there was quite a party that broke out on the terraces in our absence – which doesn’t really count as a real party then, does it? Hehehe. Anyway, the bar was very happy for the fiscal injection that stemmed from their consumption habits and as a result, Crawfords can now remain in business for the next few years to come… You’re welcome 😉

Crawfords Beach Lodge – CintsaSay something to round up the journey

Day 12

The long slog today was just a taster for tomorrows ride, and unfortunately Herman had to leave us early in the morning and head home with haste. He made it back safely after a distance of 1080km in an undisclosed time -we’ll just have to speculate on that.

We couldn’t leave Crawfords without enjoying one last time (for now) their delicious food and exceptional service before our day’s journey of just over 400km to Graaff Reinet. Only taking minor stops for fuel and snack breaks along the way, I was struggling to concentrate in the end, with the body getting all aches and pains.

We arrived in Graaff Reinet at the Karoopark Guest House and the veterans of travel, unloaded their bikes and checked in to chill out.

A few of us that had never stopped in Graaff Reinet (except for fuel), took a short outride to the Valley of Desolation in the Cambadoo National Park. Here we enjoyed some game sightings and after a serious gain in altitude we were rewarded with beautiful vistas of the town down below, all the surrounding mountains in the area and beyond and unique rock formations.

We gathered for drinks and shared our favourite moments of the last 2 weeks. The start of the trip already felt like an age ago, full of amazing new experiences and memories to last us a lifetime. Before dinner, our host, Chantel, regaled us with the legend of Withond. The white bull terrier was instrumental in the manufacturing of the distilled liqueur that the locals made and which we then sampled. You’ll have to pay a visit yourself to hear what really happened.

Karoopark Guest House – Graaff Reinet

Day 13

It was our final day of riding, and we said our goodbyes as the group was splitting off to various places apart from Cape Town.

Some left early and got on the gas, but a group of 6 bikes started cruising just before 08h00 for Beaufort West where we made contact with a swarm of locusts (well, some of us). I was lucky enough to duck just in time so that Ruxi could take the brunt of that particular locust! We stopped for fuel and coffee, but the coffee machine was broken so we had to push on. I was struggling with this rhythm. Not being able to sit still for long, I decided to pull over at Prince Alfred Road to stretch and do some roadside jumping jacks before chasing the group down.

Further down the N1, we pulled over for lunch at the Steers in Laingsburg where we said our final goodbyes. It’s always a precious time, as we have all experienced such fantastic bonding moments, all condensed into a short period.

I left that stop a little earlier, thinking that I would shoot home, but I realised I wanted to be a part of waving everyone off as each of us took our respective offramps from the N1. So, I maintained my pace just ahead of the group and timed it surprisingly well. I pulled into the Ultra-City in Worcester for a top up and as I was paying, the group passed me on the N1. Going in hot pursuit, we caught up to the group before Du Toits Kloof and got to ride in with them back home.

Adventures like these offer a wonderful opportunity to see our country much more comprehensively than just a line between A and B. We chose to stay in family run guest houses as opposed to chain hotels and the benefits (other than supporting local communities) is that our hosts add that special flavour to our stays – such as sharing stories of Withond and the like. I certainly made genuine friendships on this trip and we all got to learn new things whether it was riding skills, travel tips, or how to mix your drinks properly.
Last but not least, I must offer my thanks to Geoff and Noelene for organising and executing one of the most logistically difficult tours in memory. Bravo!

4005km, 13 days
Ride well,
Wes

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