TAKING THE “STOFPAD” TO SAVE SHEEP IN SUTHERLAND: by Wouter De Vos

TAKING THE “STOFPAD” TO SAVE SHEEP IN SUTHERLAND: by Wouter De Vos

It was on Friday 30 July that I had a look at my Facebook memories. And I realised that my first trip to Sutherland on a R 1200 GSA took place 5 years ago, to the date. And here I was, going through the motions of finishing the final arrangements of the 2021 Sutherland Winter Ride. I realised what a lot of water had flowed into the ocean since that first trip in 2016. So much had happened, I have learnt so much and grown so much in those 5 years.

Now, I have since that trip NEVER missed an opportunity to travel to Sutherland. I love the Karoo, and I will ride there at the drop of a hat when given the opportunity.

But then came COVID-19, and the disruption it had on absolutely every aspect of our lives and activities. And so it happened that there could be no ride to Sutherland, as is our custom, in 2020.

But 2021 would see the resumption of this annual event on our club calendar.

MAKIN’ PLANS:

Initial enquiries indicated that accommodation in Sutherland was scarcer than hen’s teeth, due to the massive development of windfarms on the area, and the contractors involved in these projects taking up just about every bed in Sutherland. This made a 2021 Sutherland seem highly unlikely.

But those who know me understand that I am way too stubborn to know when to give up and walk away from an idea. Being a spoilt only child, I was adamant that I will take a group to Sutherland, even if it would only be ten bikes.

With accommodation being the main concern, I contacted my regular host in Sutherland, Anelia Marais. Her establishment was let out to contractors, but she was kind enough to put me on to Shelly van Eck of the V8 Guesthouse. Shelly obviously decided that she will make this exercise work, come hell or high water. Soon Marita Britz from Die Heks se Huis was also involved, and in no time both these establishments were full. Then Suzaan Paulsen of Moonshine Cabins came on board, and her cabins were both filled. It was game on…. We had a ride!

The next challenge that presented itself was to find a suitable host for dinner, as our regular host of years prior had a change of ownership, and with that did not seem interested in accommodating us as has been done historically.

Time for Plan B. I contacted Save the Sheep (www.savethesheep.co.za), an NPO that supports local and other farmers with drought relief. They were keen to cater for us as a fundraiser, and we were good to go! More about that later.

We decided to opt for two groups, a tar group led by the very capable Rouen Williams, and a gravel / off-road group which I would lead.

SATURDAY LOVE:

Saturday morning 31 July saw my off-road group meet up at Caltex Elto Towers, just off the R300 in Kuilsrivier. And what a splendid meeting point this is. Fuel is available, the Patriot Coffee Shop is open 24h and so is the OK, so one can even pick up that last minute supply like an impact player toothbrush for the one now lying on the basin at home…

Everyone was on time, and this set the bar for the entire ride. The plan was to leave at 07h30 and get on the road and cover some tar distance as soon as possible.

I am a firm believer in the concept of “headroom,” and to plan pro-actively to ensure that, should any unforeseen situation(s) present itself, there is ample time to deal with it.

We hopped onto a quiet R300, and headed left onto the N1 northbound, reaching our first stop at the lookout point at the top of Du Toits Kloof Pass. I will never grow tired of gazing over the beauty of Paarl, Wellington and, on a bright day, all the way to Table Mountain. We are truly blessed to live in the most beautiful part of the world.

From here it was upward and onward over the mountain, and on to Slanghoek. And it was here where another unexpected little surprise jumped in our way. Not only did we ride into the densest fog imaginable, but we were also confronted by a huge yellow board informing us that there was flooding ahead. Considering the low water bridge further along the planned route, I made the call to rather divert past ATKV Goudini.

Soon we met up with the remaining three members of our group, Andy (Bains Kloof), Thysman and Hennie (Worcester) who waited for us the Bains Kloof turnoff. An then we shot through Ceres, and up Gydo Pass where we regrouped again at the viewpoint. At this stage I was particularly surprised by two observations:

  1. That anyone was actually able to find the right equipment and relieve themselves, given the cold
  2. That no-one had yet made a mess of the “you are responsible for the rider behind you” rule (Also known as the Riding Law of Jackie Wiese).

Our next stop was at the Agrimark at Op die Berg (quite an original name for a settlement at the top of a mountain, don’t you think?) where we could fill up our bikes for the stretch that lay ahead. The next available fuel would be in Sutherland. Here we were treated by the arrival of some splendid gas guzzling vintage Ford F100 and F250 trucks, which was part of a group that was heading out to Tankwa Tented Camp.

We departed and had a brief stop when we reached the gravel to deflate tyres, and then it was time to make dust. First, we reached the steep Katbakkies Pass, and then we had a brief stop at the ruins along Peerboomskloof before it was downhill to Tankwa Padstal.

Here we would have a solid break for an early lunch. I was quite pleased with the fact that we were making good time in terms of our planned schedule (not that I would share this information with anyone). As always, food was good, the venue beyond fascinating, the company good and laughter abound.

Then it was time for 117km of serious gravel, with a few rather nasty little spots along the way. But all was going well, and we were making good time. Or so I thought…

I heard a hooter behind me but looked in the mirror and did not notice any cause for concern. And then some more hoots, and suddenly young Hennie was next to me, hooting and signalling that I must stop. Who had encountered trouble, I wondered? Only to find out that it was me.

“Oom se bike rook verskriklik…” was the message I did not want to hear. My first thought was that something was wrong with the engine, but I religiously watch the instruments, and did not see anything. Then I saw it. The paralever above Anastasia’s driveshaft had bent and was touching against the rear tire. And that explained the smoke, and also signalled the end of riding for Carmen and I as far as Saturday 31 July was concerned.

So, in pulled Neil and Dillon with the backup vehicle, and with the help of our sweeper, the one and only Andyman, my beloved Anastasia was soon securely fastened on the trailer. Sitting in the front of the bakkie the talk around me was just white noise, I was deeply concerned over Anastasia, and whether we would be able to ride the next day.

We had 14km of gravel left for the day. Stan Hilliar, who stood in as sweeper until we met up with Andy, was now suddenly the ride leader. How is that for a versatile man… Sweeper and ride leader all in one day. Let no man say we cannot roll with the punches and adapt as situations present themselves.

The weight of the loaded trailer ensured that we slowly (like in really slowly…) made our way up Verlatenkloof Pass, reaching Sutherland at around 16h00. We made our way through town to fill up, and then headed to our accommodation for the evening, the V8 Guesthouse.

At this stage, my greatest concern was to make every effort to get Anastasia up and running again, as I had a lovely route planned for the rest of the ride, and I had no intention of spending it as a spectator, looking on from inside a backup vehicle.

When Shelly of V8 Guesthouse informed me the previous afternoon that Rene and Jean Verhulp had arrived safely from George, she mentioned that she was willing to take them on a tour of “the workshop.” This term was now first and foremost in my mind, and I needed to get two things into that workshop urgently. My Anastasia and Andy Connell. I phoned Shelly from the garage and asked her to arrange access to this workshop.

When we arrived at V8 a few minutes later, Shelly and her hubby Johan were waiting for us. Johan had one look, we took Anastasia off the trailer, and around the workshop. Here a sturdy steel bar was strategically positioned against Anastasia’s frame, and a moer of a big tool that Johan referred to as a “pull dozer” was introduced into proceedings. A rather intimidating chain was positioned around the bent paralever, and Johan gradually pumped a hydraulic lever, whilst the bent component miraculously straightened before our very eyes, Andy introduced a tyre lever, and this was positioned against the straightened paralever to keep it in the straightened position. If it stayed in this position, we were good to ride.

The rationale was also to check every so often if a space was opening up between the tyre lever and the paralever, and if the cable ties that held in it position remained tight.

And that was it as far as the “running” repairs were concerned.

Now, one of the key factors that can make or break a ride is the pillion if you decide to take one along. I am in the best possible position. I have my Carmen. She is super organised, and this was already evident the Friday before the ride when I saw the well organised assortment of snacks for the ride. Another testimony to this was my arrival at the guest house after the repair procedure. All our things were organised, and we were settled in our room. All that remained for me was to take a very quick (Sutherland is in the middle of a severe drought…) shower and to get dressed for our evening function.

ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT…

The Whitehouse Guesthouse and Save the Sheep NPO were more ready for us.

On the TV in the bar some team in Green and some team in red were playing an odd game with an even odd shaped ball. I had a look, but one unpunished tip tackle on Pieter-Steph du Toit was enough to convince me that all rugby referees must come from the same gene pool as our Minister of Police. I decided to boot the rugby into touch.

To say that we had a lovely meal would be an absolute understatement. From the bread table starter, through the lovely lamb “braaivleis” to the malva pudding and coffee were all absolutely top notch. We could not have asked for better.

AJ Burger, joined by Derick Hanekom, were our hosts from www.savethesheep.co.za. This NPO does amazing work to support the local and other farmers during this terrible drought that is ravaging the beautiful Karoo. Please take the time, have a look at their website, and if you feel that way inclined, and you are able to, please support them.

An absolutely lovely evening was enjoyed by all. And just to make a good evening great, the Springboks beat the crowd of bleak boned hooligans from Her Majesty’s obscure little island convincingly. For me, the best was however the opportunity to play auctioneer with some wine and ensure that the bottom line for Save the Sheep was R 2 100 more than ever expected.

Back at the V8 Guesthouse, we proceeded to the braai room, where the fun continued. Between the fire, Klawer Hanepoot, and Zachie Loots as raconteur, the evening was closed with loads of fun and laughter. A warm bed called…

THAT’S WHAT I LOVE ABOUT SUNDAY:

On four occasions I have attempted to start a BMW R1200 GSA early on a winter’s morning in Sutherland. On four occasions I failed.

And so it came to pass that we would only depart from the Whitehouse at 08h30 in the first day of August 2021. We had lost two bikes and gained two bikes to remain at a total of eleven off-road bikes for Sunday.

14km outside Sutherland we turned left onto the Roggecloof road, our first stretch of gravel of the day. This was not my first tango. Normally this road is absolutely beautiful, but sadly the first section on this day would prove to be vastly different from previous experiences. As always, the views from Komsberg Pass were magnificent.

With the construction of the windfarms in the area however, these roads are used by loaded heavy vehicles that obviously run with excessively high tyre pressures. This causes severe damage to the gravel roads, and corrugation after corrugation I could not help but wonder when the penny would drop that gravel roads require lower tyre pressures.

After the first gravel leg for the day, a short tar stretch along the R354 took us to the turnoff to Laingsburg. For me personally, this would be the most beautiful scenery of the entire trip, as well as the best road surface. If you ever experienced that feeling of: “This riding is so good, I can continue like this forever….” Well, this was it. It was just so magical I wished it would last forever.

But it did not, and soon we reached Laingsburg. A Laingsburg stop was not on the cards in the initial planning but considering that we had a few ladies with us it was deemed appropriate, and plans were adapted accordingly.

Hereafter it was upwards over the Perdefonteinpoort pass, and onwards along the Witteberge Road that runs parallel along the N1 from Laingsburg towards Touwsrivier. This would be last stretch of gravel of this ride. But what a beautiful road. If gravel roads are your thing, put this one on your bucket list.

       

Too soon we reached the railway crossing where we joined up with the N1 again at Konstabel. Why in the name of Peter the Apostle a place would be named after a police rank, heaven only knows. But it is what it is.

At the Total and Steers outside Touwsrivier tummies, bikes and tyres were filled, before tackling the last tar stretch back to Cape Town

My planning was to arrive back home by 16h00, and when we stopped in front of the gate, I showed Carmen how the display changed from 15h59 to 16h00. A more appropriate end there could not be to a formidable trip!

AFTERTHOUGHT:

Saturday 7 August saw me replacing the damaged paralever with a suitable replacement part.

If you ever wondered if a makeshift plan by Andy Connell with a tyre lever and 21 cable ties can get you home from the Karoo.

It can.

THANKS TO:

  • The most amazing group of riders ever, who not once cocked up the rule that one is ALWAYS responsible for the rider behind you.
  • Backup crew Neil Visagie, Dillon Boshoff and Sharon Pretorius
  • Impact player Sweeper and Ride Leader Stan Hilliar
  • Official sweeper, plan maker and adventure riding encyclopedia Andy Connell
  • V8 Guesthouse, Johan and Shelly van Eck
  • Save the Sheep, Derick Hanekom and A.J. Burger
  • The Whitehouse Inn
  • And my Carmentjie, my life and travel partner and the best companion I could ever wish for.
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