Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mountain Sanctuary Park / Breedtsnek birthday weekend

It was Hardy's birthday weekend and he suggested we go braai at Mountain SanctuaryPark. We didn't want to go over Breedts Nek in the dark, so we took half a day's leave on Friday. But things happened (like they always do), so by the time we got the bikes packed, it was closer to 4 than to 3.

We headed out on Malibongwe towards van Gaalens, and then followed the tar road to Hekpoort. The Garmin said sunset would be before 6, so the TW was going at maximum speed (which is about 90 km/h). Loved the quiet roads through Skeerpoort. By the time we reached the Bird store at the start of the dirt road, the sun was already low-ish. 

The short side up Breedts Nek wasn't too intimidating (and way faster than by mountain bike), and we stopped briefly at the top. Going down was more difficult - it's way easier and faster to navigate a mountain bike over the gnarly bits than to get a motorbike over it - but it was much faster than the time we drove over there with the Jimny.

The last bit of road to Mountain Sanctuary Park had some sandy bits, but the TW's fat wheels handled it well.

We set up camp, and got down to the business of braaiing some steaks.

On Saturday morning we explored (on foot) the rocks and pools around the park, and in the afternoon we took the bikes to go ride Breedts Nek again so that I could get some practice on the gnarly bits. Like the previous evening, I found that going up over the loose rocky bits was much easier than having to negotiate the same rocky bits on the way down. I felt more in control on the way up - the only thing you have to focus on is the throttle, and it helps that the handlebars are closer. Going down, however, there's a throttle, 2 breaks and a lot of weight to manage. And the handle bars are further away.

But man, does this bike have nice suspension!! For a mountain biker, getting onto a real motorbike changes the whole concept of 'suspension'. If the bike chose a bad line over some rocky steps, the only thing I had to do was to stay balanced on the bike - the bike did all the rest. Way easier than mountain biking ... but still a lot scarier on the downhills over the rocky bits.

After Breedts Nek, we rode to Mooinooi's Spar to get something to braai and some birthday-chips, and then lazed around the campsite.


Hardy's Honda doing hammock-anchor duty.

There wasn't much space to pack luxuries like big camping chairs - but the TW worked perfectly well as a back-rest.

Sunday morning we swam in the rock-pools, and after a late brunch packed up. Even though we had less luggage (we braaied the steaks, fried the bacon and eggs, drank the wine, retired the old Salomons that we hiked in, and ate the birthday cake), getting everything back on the bikes was more difficult than when we came.

We rode over Breedts Nek again. The technical bits were still scary, but I had enough confidence by now to choose the second-best line I could find, and at times deliberately picked (short) bad lines to see how the suspension would handle it. Once on tar we took quiet tar roads through the cradle of humankind and back home. 

Any weekend out is a good weekend. But combine a bike, a braai, a tent and some mountains and it is near perfect :)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Lesotho Adventure: Epilogue

1. If you're new to motorbiking, I can't think of a better place to go ride (once you know how the gears and brakes work, obviously). The roads are in good condition and with not a lot of traffic (except close to the border posts.)  

2. The Drakensberg and Maluti are very green in March / April. If you can fit it in, plan to go in autumn.

3.It was great having a 'backup' bakkie with. Not only because Eisbein and Rogue documented the whole tour for us through their camera lens, but also because of all the luxuries that we could pack, and the different perspectives of the same experiences at the end of each day.

And it's nice to have pictures of both bikes and from a different perspective than what we've seen from the bike - thank you Eisbein and Rogue!

4. When I did the ADA DP1 course 2 weeks before this trip, I was a bit baffled about the huge number of 'adventure bikers' out there with their 'dual purpose' bikes. I got that they wanted to have some adventure, see the world ... but why would you get a 1200cc bike and then want to go do singletrack and technical things with it? 

And then I remembered ... a long time ago I cycled (old-school, mountain bike 'peddle' cycle with panniers) around Ireland, and then across Scotland. I put slicks on, because that was more efficient. And it was a hardtail, because that's what people rode those days. (In South Africa, at least)
And then I got to the Great Glen Way, which was some of the best singletrack I've seen at the time ... and arguably still some of the best I've seen. And knobblies and no luggage (and some suspension) would have been better, and if I ever go back, I'll leave the luggage at an Inn for the day and go play - but at the time, I rode it with slicks and the panniers - because that's what I had.

That must have been what 'dual purpose' riders are after: The ability to cover the distance around Ireland, but when it gets to really pretty stuff, the ability to ride that as well. I think I now 'get' adventure riders a bit better :)

5. The TW's tank is really small. And it really is not fast. But is it fun!

When I got the bike, it was going to be the bike that I learn on, a 'meanwhile' bike while I decide if I actually do like this adventure thing, and what type of bike I really would want once I can ride. 
But I think this bike has a good few tours still left for me to do ... 

Until the next adventure...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lesotho Adventure 5: Semonkong-Golden Gate

From Semonkong back to Golden Gate is just over 300 km. We went back towards Roma on the same twisty tar road and over the same hills that we came in on.

In Roma we didn't stop at the Vatican ... but we did stop at the bottle store next door to get some Malutis to take home.

The closer we got to Maseru, the more the traffic picked up ... closer to the border post it got really busy with lots of trucks and holidaymakers on their way in. I much prefer the smaller border posts - quicker to get through, and less chance for road blocks with traffic officers looking for bribes.

In Ladybrand we stopped to stretch our legs, fill up and get some coffee.There were no more sheep or donkey carts on the roads, and the road between Ladybrand and Fouriesburg was in good condition with little traffic, so the TW could go maximum speed ... which is 80 on the uphills, and 115 or so on the downhills. 

I  doubt the TW was built for long distances on straight tar. It took 1 hour 20 to ride the 120km from Ladybrand to Fouriesburg. I had to slow down every now and again to 80 km/h so that I could see what's going on in my mirrors - they start rattling at 90 km/h and then you see 3 cars for every one car behind you ...

In Fouriesburg we stopped at the Plaasstoep for lunch, and then it was just the 55km to Golden Gate left.

3 kms out of Golden Gate the TW ran out of fuel again. It was only 170 from where we filled up in Ladybrand ... clearly the TW didn't appreciate me trying to go faster than 90 km/h ... or maybe it was enjoying the adventure so much that it didn't want it to end ...

Anyway, so we arrived back in Golden Gate, fetched the Jimny, rearranged luggage, packed the bikes, and we were off on our way to Gauteng.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lesotho Adventure 4: Semonkong

Riding: 26 km
Hiking: 8.4 km

Semonkong lodge is on the up-river side of the falls, and on the opposite side of the canyon into which it falls. You can either ride around the canyon to view the falls from the opposite side, or hike along the river to see it from the top. The lodge also arrange donkey-tours to the falls if you're tired of your bike by now.

 If you feel adventurous, you can take on the world's highest commercial abseil just next to the falls (which includes a hike out of the gorge.)

We took the bikes on the dirt-road around. It is 13 km one-way on interesting gravel road with shallow water crossings and some steep up- and downhills. 

The Lesotho sky (mountain bike event) had a stage in this area last year, and it's easy to see why event organisers would want to include this in the route. The thin air together with the hills would make this a very tough event, though ... Lesotho is not flat.

The afternoon Hardy and I hiked along the river to the waterfall. It's an 8.4 km round-trip, a bit over 2 hours. Follow the river from the lodge all the way down to the falls, or stay on the higher ground inland (an easier route). Cross the river at the bridge about a km upstream from the falls, so that you can get a clearer view of the falls where they drop.

The waterfall looks a lot higher if you view it from right next to where it falls.

You could swim in the river (just next to the campsite) after your hike ... or just go for a hot shower if the March air is too nippy and the sun is already down.

The Duck & Donkey (the lodge's tavern) has excellent lunches. The dinner menu has fewer options (2 options per night, but a new choice each day) and you have to book otherwise you wont get space - the restaurant was fully booked and a bit squeezed the night that we were there. Eating there felt a bit like the 'youth hostels' that I used when I bicycle-toured in Europe many years ago: travelers from all over Southern Africa and indeed from around the world, all on their own adventures and with different tales of the places where they've been to and where they want to go next.

If you braai or make a potjie, be careful of the ducks - they tried to steal food off our plates while we were eating. (and please don't feed them ... at least not while you're eating ...)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lesotho Adventure 3: Ramabantha to Semonkong

Lesotho Long weekend adventure 3: Ramabantha to Semonkong
49 km
1452m vertical ascent

After yesterday's long day, it was just a short distance from Ramabantha to Semonking. The road is in great condition - recently tarred, very little traffic and no potholes.

I love the Drakensberg in Autumn - everything is green, but the bulk of the summer thundershowers is over and it's not too cold yet. Same must be true for Lesotho - everything is green, with patches of pink cosmos scattered inbetween.

There's only one 'hill' between Ramabantha and Semonkong - as far as a 1468m ascent can be considered a 'hill'.

The last bit of uphill on the only climb for the day was so steep that the taxi had to engage 'low range' to get up there - zig-zagging his way up the hill. I was glad I was on the TW and not on a mountain bike.

We would have time to explore the waterfall the next day, so we ignored the signs pointing to the waterfall and went straight for Semonkong. Hardy was disappointed that the old bridge over the Maletsunyane river (that becomes the falls a few km downstream) was replaced by a shiny new one. The old one looked more interesting ...

To get to the lodge, you go through Semonkong's 'CBD' and then an interesting little road shared with donkeys and horse-riders.

The campsite at Semonkong is way more rustic than the one at Ramabanta. It was also a lot busier - while we were the only campers at Ramabanta, Semonkong's campsite was full. This was the only campsite where we booked in advance, and we were glad we did so.

If you're ever in Semonkong, ask at the Lodge's restaurant for Elizabeth, the blanket lady, and see if you can arrange a blanket tour (R65-100 pp, depending on how many people). She's a great source of info about Basotho blankets, but even more so about the history, stories and culture. The local store has tuna, cheese sauce, rice and pasta and basic vegetables, but if you're planning to braai, maybe consider bringing your own meat. If you're braaiing, ask at the restaurant if you could buy a flat round bread to go with supper.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Lesotho Adventure 2: Katse to Ramabanta

Katse to Ramabantha: 241 km
Vertical ascent: 5787
Mountain passes: Many
Views: unlimited

From Katse it's a magnificent dirt road to Thaba Tseka. It's about 60 kms, and took us about 2 hours. There are no major mountain passes, just mile upon mile of dirt road, very green grass, green hills, green fields and a taxi or donkey cart every now and again. Parts of this road reminded me of that dirt road that goes into Vuvu when you do Ride2Rhodes (mountain bike); some of it reminded me (probably more accurately) of some of the roads we mountain biked on the Trans Lesotho

We filled up at Thaba Tseka, and then continued on tar, mountain pass after mountain pass. 

Quiet road, the odd truck, donkey cart or a few sheep. You're either on the way up a mountain, or down it. On one of the passes (Mokhoabong Pass?) we stopped for droewors and Easter eggs (Happy Birthday Rogue!) 

After that, more mountain passes. Think Franshoek pass, and when you get to the bottom, another Franschoek pass, and then another one. All day long. 

Then there were more mountain passes. Cheche pass, Likalaneng, Past Nazareth, over Blue Mountain pass, Bushman's pass (not sure about the order?). 

On 'God Help Me' pass we stopped for more droewors, to top up the TW's fuel, and to check distances to the next fuel station. 

Doesn't matter how pretty the roads, if you're not used to travelling by bike, you'll be tired after 210 kms - which was roughly when we arrived in Roma. Hardy filled the Honda's tank, and then it was another 30 km or so to Ramabantha. The road to Ramabantha is a bit ... more rural, shall we say, than the lovely tar road that we've been on - but then you enter the colonial lawns of Ramabantha - wow! Lovely campsite, friendly staff, cold beer, beautiful lawns and oh, those showers!

We set up camp, enjoyed the local beer, and then got the braai going. 

I haven't been a biker for all too long (it's about 4 months since I got the learner's and learnt where the gears are and how to work them) ... and I haven't bike-toured all that much ... but this was easily one of the best days I've had on my bike. 

March Lesotho Trip 1: Golden Gate to Katse

Day 1: Golden Gate to Katse Lodge. Around 220 km.

The TW's tank capacity is 7 l. On a good day that could be around 210km, but 170 km is probably more realistic. On the previous weekend-trip to Katse Hardy carried a small jerry-can with fuel to top me up. We bought fuel from a cafe just above the Katse lodge to ensure that there's enough fuel to get the TW back to Fouriesburg.

Hardy wasn't too excited about carrying the jerry-can around again, so we toyed with the idea of taking the bakkie with. Within half an hour after mentioning this to Eisbein, his and Rogue's air tickets were bought: they were coming from Cape Town to drive the bakkie for us. The TW is a bit too slow for safety on South African highways, so plan was to drive the bakkie (bikes at the back) to Golden Gate, and ride from there.
 I picked them up at the Gautrain station, and then started making our way to Golden Gate. At Reitz my GPS led us astray, so we missed Bethlehem and, consequently, the opportunity to get supper. It was dark and very wet when we arrived.  Hardy already pitched the tents, and after supper (coffee, Simba chips and droewors) we went to sleep with the sound of rain through the night.
We woke up to a beautiful misty and very green Free State.

The rain subsided and we quickly packed up. After a short detour through Clarens, we were on our way to breakfast in Fouriesburg, where we were also going to fill up both bikes, the bakkie and the Jerry can. 

About 10 kms outside of Fouriesburg the TW sputtered a bit ... and then some more. And then cut out. We only rode 130 since the last time we filled up ... but that did include the ADA DP1 training course ... I switched to reserve, but a few kms further the tank was really empty. The bakkie drove off to Fouriesburg to get fuel, and we were on the road again.
If you're ever in Fouriesburg, stop at 'Die Plaasstoep' for breakfast.

Caledonspoort border post is just over 10 kms from Fouriesburg. Once you're out of Butha-Buthe, the roads are quieter and it was great being outside. Lesotho was very green.

The Mafika Lesiu pass must be one of the prettiest in the world - I'm sure Eisbein felt ever so slightly jealous that he was in the bakkie and not on a bike. And the mountains were full of water - at some point Eisbein and Rogue (in the bakkie) could see 19 waterfalls from the same spot.  
We stopped at a viewpoint just below the top of the pass.

The TW was not impressed with the last few 100 metres of this pass. It sputtered and hickupped, but once over the top (at 3090) and on the downhill, it was happy again. You get your first glimpse of the Katse dam soon after you've crossed the highest point of the pass, but if you're not used to riding it's still a long way (50 or so) of twisty turny roads to the lodge. 

We checked out the campsite above the dam wall, then proceeded to the Lodge for sundowners on the stoep (ice cold Maluti beers and popcorn) and supper (try the almond trout).

The lodge was fully booked, so we went back to the campsite above the dam wall to pitch tents for the night.