What I Think I Remember of South Africa – Rod Klassen

If our previous posts have ignited your curiosity surrounding international bike travel adventures, then this next series of posts right up your ally.  If you have ever found yourself questioning the “challenge” of the predicable and generally paved roads here in Canada, follow along in this series from another one of our fantastic customers at OGC, Rod Klaassen, as he takes us to South Africa and back!

For anyone interested in getting in touch with his tour organizers, (Whom Rod highly recommends), check out the GSAdventures website

On a more current note, Dylan Van der Merwe (son of the tour organizer) is currently competing in the GS Africa contest (May 2016)!

A recent note from Darrell van der Merwe, Tour Organizer of GSAdventures, to Rod; RE: GS Africa contestant Daryl van der Merwe:

“Yes Dylan got through to the regional finals , this leg was however a team event . Three guys in a team with total points counting .
They finished 2nd as a team , unfortunately 1 of his team members hit a photographer during an event and although that didn’t count against them the time they lost because of that dropped them into 2nd .
They had been leading fairly comfortably at that stage .
So not the result he was hopeing for but he can compete again at the next event which is again an individual event . All of these qualifying events are leading to the final South African team selection in 2017 so all is not lost .
Dylan has emerged as one of the stronger competitors but in team events you need a little luck sometimes – Ill keep you posted .”

 

(Insert wide-eyed emoji here)

 

Could you imagine being part of a competition like that!? Get a little taste for what riding in South Africa is all about…..

 

South Africa - Part # 1

The Start

Somehow ‘South Africa’ magically appeared on our list of ‘next places to go on a motorcycle’, as though it had been there all our lives. How lucky we were that it actually happened, somehow! Of course it didn’t just ‘happen’, we planned. Sort of. Our list of ‘things to do’ was pretty basic: gravel roads, lots of hills, remote areas, reliable bikes, clean sheets, good food, and cheap beer. Beer figures in all successful endeavours, we reasoned, and it is important to know history. Oh yes, and keep it simple.

 

The Research Questions

Obviously, here were some outstanding questions for further research. For example: is South Africa big enough for motorcycling adventure because it looks so very small on the map. Well, it is. In fact it is really big. Really! Those little grade school atlases with their weird map projections designed to show off Texas don’t do it justice! A more empirical measure is this: if you really open the throttle on a GS and leave it there for a week or so and you still haven’t come to the end of the road, or anywhere near the end, well then it’s big enough. Is it over your head? Is the Pacific deep? Deep enough!

Are there mountains there? Well, the answer to that also turned out to be yes! Big ones too, I have since been told. Finding mountains was never a problem, apparently, but truthfully I never actually saw them. I strongly suspected they were there but had, at the time, only fleeting peripheral perceptions of empty space, a vague awareness of tight corkscrew turns – up and down, and slight bowel constrictions of the sort typically originating in unexpected encounters with loose gravel. Who can look for mountains with all that other stuff to concentrate on. Iam sure there are mountains in South Africa, somewhere. I have been told they were big ones.

Would it be dark in the jungle? Perhaps, if there were trees in South Africa. If anyone ever sidles up to you in a bar and regales you with daring tales of the dark South African Jungle, just walk away. In South Africa you must look for trees. But not in Lesotho. Don’t bother there – no trees, just mountains, thatched huts, and smiling children.

What about dangerous wildlife? As it turned out within a few hours of our arrival we were briefly eyeballed by real live lions, and that IS an experience for the memory banks. The more dangerous wildlife, however, was encountered at a Hostel in Jeffreys Bay. There’s no telling what those wankers and posers will do after dark. You can’t do much with the real animals of darkest Africa.

The Plan

Duhh – the Internet!! Can’t go wrong there, eh? The Internet is great for planning: South Africa; Motorcycles; Adventure. As it turned out, the Internet lead us to GSAdventures, and that was Darrell and his wife Michelle and their son Dylan. As many others have noted in their travel diaries, when you trust your people instincts, things somehow turn out all right, and they sure did for us. Lucky for us! You can rely on the Internet, sometimes. Just watch out for Chat Rooms.

GS Adventures did it all. It got the bikes, planned our route, met us as the airport, and pointed us in the direction of beer (actually, we kind of figured that one out on our own). They not only put us on roads of the kind we wanted, they put us on the roads that went to the kinds of places we had only dreamed about, and then they did something that was way out of the ordinary for any tour operator anywhere – they let us ride! How wonderful. How different! Outride Darrell and Dylan – don’t even try it! Pushed – no way – they just wanted a good trip. And no one got lost, which is generally a good thing in Africa. It can get pretty dark there at times.

Until Google Travel taps you to report on South Africa because you have lived there all your life, have worn out sixty-four BMWs – nothing under 1000cc, in your decades of travel, and you currently have a lot of spare time, just let someone else do it. Like Darrell. Time spent in preparation in never wasted, and Darrell claims 140,000 km over five years of motorcycling research. Liar – I bet it’s a lot more. As important – he made notes on his travels. Nothing like proper preparation! Lesotho, Joubert’s Pass, Baviaanskloof, Swartbeg Pass, Die Hel, Franschhoek, the Garden Route, and more, much more – he made it all easy to find. He even found Ronnies Sex Shop, and yes, there is no apostrophe, but that’s another story.

 

What Bikes and Other Questions of Real Adventure

On oft-repeated question of the philosophical sort, the sort most often posed in bars while drinking, is this: what type of bike is best? In the box beside ‘Previous Riding Experience’ we had all checked off ‘Hardcore’, of course – it was the Internet after all, and so we awaited, patiently, to be asked for our opinions on that most important of questions. The bikes, Darrell bluntly informed us, would be 2016 R1200GS’s because they were simply the best for what we wanted to do. Oh, and red ones. Yes, Dear Readers, in the comfort and privacy of your own home, with opinions informed by hours spent watching Long Way CD’s, reading glossy mags, and perceiving perceived wisdoms, the GS may be decisively declared to be a bike ‘far too heavy’ for ‘whatevering’, but what the hell. It was fast and fun in its getting us to all the places we really wanted to go, and its lovely torque purred us easily up all the steep mountain roads of the world, or at least in South Africa. Kitty, Kitty! At the outset the bikes were clean, immaculate in fact, just like real BMW owners like, but not afterward! Darrell had been right in his choice. Spot on! But why red?

Two of our number opted for GS800’s, but there’s always two in every crowd, eh?

Some purists may say – and it may well be there are some out there among you, Dear Readers, that this was not at all a ’real’ adventure, and some of you may well be right. But who cares if you are! Africa is a place for dreams, and GSAdventures let us live our dreams of riding on African roads. So there! Fortune favours the bold. We got everything we wanted, and far, far more. None of it included engines field-stripped under a hot sun on the shoulder of a busy highway; sketchy welds given the parting benediction of ‘good enough’ in an oil-soaked backyard; days spent in the back of an old truck sourcing BMW parts with the help of attentive sheep; and, tires punctured by Acacia thorns with not a shade tree in sight until Christmas. Nope, none of that really good stuff. We planned, well sort of, or at least Darrell did. We had fun, a lot of it, all of us. We came back better riders – much better, and all of us would go back in a heartbeat. It was that good.

You can find it all in South Africa. I liked the baboons clattering across the patio roof, perhaps because there are so few back home. The Puff Adder was not too engaging, but that’s roadkill for you, and I did mention the lions. Other things will occur in time, no doubt. Oh yes: traffic filtering – lane splitting, is legal, and may be done at either high or low speeds; just follow the white line closely, and keep your eyes wide open. Did I mention riding beside an out-of-control wild fire about to leap the road? Or sleeping in a cave with the Southern Cross sitting overhead plain as day at midnight? In Africa its your lookout. What a great place for motorcycle adventure!

 

What You Really Need to Remember

Before more is written of the ride itself, two things must be kept firmly in mind. Firstly, the distillates of sound, colour, smell, and feel that are the real stuff of a motorcycle trip, never mind emotions, cannot be caught in words. No way! Second, pictures lie. Everything is a helluva a lot steeper than it looks, and it follows that all curves are tighter and all water crossings are deeper and more treacherous. It would, however, be wrong to conclude that all speeds are less than reported. That’s just impossible! Although the physics of all that are unclear, it’s physics, and you can’t argue with that. That’s a well known fact. At least it is one known to me.

We rode 3326 km from Johannesburg south through Lesotho and then to the coast and then southeastward toward Cape Town. Is South Africa boring! Maybe, if you are dead or normally live on another planet that has just engaged with random acts of high-speed plate tectonics, but otherwise: NO!!!!!!! Did you hear that? Somehow all the days were different: long days spent on loose gravel roads punctuated by water crossings; fast days spent leaning hard on beautiful swooping, climbing, dropping pavement; scary slow days clinging onto scenic dropoffs and tight, recurving hairpins; fun days spent on narrow scenic coastal roads running high above a rocky coast set off by the most exquisite of aquamarine blue, and so on. You get the picture. Each day was different, but all were fun, scenic and, well, different. Expressways out of Joburg, and the long Highway 62 with its tour busses laden with old folk simply linked the good parts. All good! You get the idea.

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