Having had a wonderful stay at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp I set off early morning with the aim of doing as many miles as I could to get myself up to the Province of KwaZuluNatal.
I had promised to call in to see and old friend in Port Elizabeth who had been part of my team when we both worked for Dimention Data in London. That done it was head down and push on up the N2 to see how far I could get by 4pm which I have always used as my cut off time for riding then finding accommodation. It was a super hot day so I had been stopping a lot to rest and get drinks so I only managed around 550km however that was all done at between 80 and 90kpm to not over stress Katie. Did I mention Katie is the name I have given the KLR??? Nearing 4pm I was pulled over by a traffic cop who told me she was just interested to see who the guy in bright orange trousers was riding though this rural area. That done and her curiosity satisfied I reached a small farming town of Komga which boasted nothing more then the guest house I stayed in. I shared a dinner (and breakfast ) table with a very polite and interesting guy by the name of Bouk ( probably completely wrong spelling. Bouk told me of his time back in the ” old days” in South Africa of how he was a police captain and how he had acted many times as a close protection ” guide” to Mrs Margret Thatcher during her visits to the country. I could see he held her in great esteem and I actually believe him.
One of the down sides to punching out the miles is that there is very little time for taking photos. The next day was going to be a breeze at only 466 km’s so I was able to now and again take some scenery shots. One of the other things that made the rides seem so long during the day apart from the heat was the numerous road works. They seem to go on for miles then just when you think you are making progress another set…. But I did take the time to Photograph this lovely lady who was sitting on and old contain just outside Underberg which was my target for the night. Margret’s job is to wave her red flag to warn the traffic of road works ahead. She started work at 7am that morning and it was now 4pm and she had another hour to go. There is no stopping for lunch nor shade from the sun. You could see she was weary from being there all day and in this case money wasn’t going to solve the problem but I like to think the spare bottle of water and half a packet of Tennis biscuits may have helped her through the last part of her day.
I had an interesting night staying in Underberg to say the least with a squadron of mozzies repeatedly attacking me all night. So not only did I have the sound of the little buzzers I ended up with no less than 22 tags from them ( don’t scratch,don’t scratch……arrrrggg). Next morning my only real focus was the job in hand……I was heading up the Sani Pass. Stories of this pass have buzzed around the travelling biking community for years and I had heard how it was, easy…impossible…interesting….got to be done!! I was going for it. Sod it flat tyre…. But not a train smash as for just up the road is May’s Autos who are a yamaha dealer. I used one of the emergency inflator canisters to put some pressure in so I could move Katie, then nipped across the road to the gas station to use the airline there to top the tire up. Mays where more than happy to fit a new front tube and I had a good chat with Malchom who seems to be running everything in the show room and spares and workshop manager. Seems Malchom used to work for Fowlers in Bristol a number of years ago. New tube fitted for a total of R200 ( £15.38!!!! ) I set off to the border post where I was to leave South Africa then once at the top of Sani Pass I would enter the Kingdom of Lesotho.
The border guards where super friendly and wished me luck as I set off up the “hill”. Now I have to confess that I didn’t really know what to expect but certainly the first part of the ride leading up to the pass was stunning with 5 small river crossing and some seriously good scenery. However I must confess that once the real riding started I wasn’t in any position to be stopping and taking photos so you will have to make do with the one from the bottom and then from the top. I had spoken briefly to a French family at the border post in a Nissan X trail which I was soon negotiating around as they had become stuck. The road climbed and climbed and I was soon thinking that this was probably beyond my skill level. As I got higher and the air got thinner I was gasping for breath and my chest was on fire. With every hairpin it just got steeper until I just had to ride to the edge of a bend and stop to try and recover. Bear in mind at this point it was also well over 30C. A couple of guys who were following me stopped to ask if I was ok and I used mostly sign language to indicate that apart from not being able to breath this was the best ride of my life…..maybe. The guys informed me that there were only about six bends left until we reached the summit but now it got seriously steep (you mean that wasn’t???) they suggested that they take my luggage from the back of Katie to make it easier for me on the last bit to which I gladly accepted. I just wish I had met them at the bottom!!! They were right the last six bend were seriously hectic but now with what felt like a KTM oryx under me I was able to go for it and reached the top. As soon as the ground levelled out just before the Lesotho Border Post I stopped and took off my helmet and jacket then proceeded to do my utmost not to throw up. Advice to anyone who is thinking of doing this pass……work on your fitness levels!!!
Once over the border I made my way across to the Highest Pub in Africa. Sani Lodge is simply a life saving place to flop once you have reached the top. Whilst I was sitting there for a couple of hours trying to get my breath back there must have been at least 20 4×4’s loaded with tourist passengers that had driven up the pass. Those of you who saw Charley Bormans TV show recently will know that can be quite scary too.
My aim had always been to camp at the top of the pass so once John the owner or the pub had shown me where to pitch I made my way across and started unloading.It was almost ironic that just as I had emptied all the tent out on to the ground the biggest thunder clap and rain storm hit without warning. I was hanging onto the tent like I was flying a kite and getting soaked at the same time. I ended up wrapping myself in the tent and sitting on the floor with it over my head simply to stop it blowing away. Luckily for me it lasted no more than a few minutes and I was able to get the tent pitched and kit stowed and at last relax. I was pitched on the outskirts of a typical Lesotho shepherds village. There where lots of the shepherds passing by to look at the man in the orange trousers as well as sheep cattle and donkeys….so many donkeys!
The French family finally arrived at the top having had the car towed up by one of John’s drivers. Luckily they were staying there that night also and we joined forced to make a plan for tomorrow’s journey. My original plan had been to ride back down the pass and find somewhere (without the entire mozzie population of South Africa) then make my way up to Golden Gate National Park for 1st March. At this point I have to be honest and say that having ridden up Sani I really didn’t relish the idea of trying to ride down…..So myself and the French contingent of the EU Sani expedition chatted to some local guys who suggested we might like to consider seeing more of Lesotho. Sounded like a plan. The only thing between us and a beautiful flat smooth tar road was ….The Black Mountain…. I am sure they called it that just to scare us.
After a night of very little sleep again this time due to sheep tripping over my guy ropes and a donkey singing to me at stupid o’clock oh yes and the dog that I seriously thought was gong to come through the tent and eat me.. We met for breakfast and decided that we would team up and travel over the Black Mountain pass ( sound of thunder..) together so if either had a problem we could all help. The first 10kms were just normal clay roads with some big potholes but then I have ridden in Bedfordshire so am used to that!! Once we started up the mountain it became apparent that e X Trail was gong to struggle. At one point we had the whole family and 5 local lads who had appeared from nowhere helping move rocks to fill in some of the holes and then help push so the car could make it up this track. I do have to say at this point that this road was much more to my liking and I was able to enjoy the ride. That one would be on my do again list.
Myself and the French family parted company once we were back on the tar road near Mokhotlong as I needed to find fuel by now. As I continued along the awesome Drakensberg Mountain range I was amazed at just how rural Lesotho is compared with South Africa. Certainly in the area I was riding the main occupation seems to be working the herds of cattle or flocks of sheep. The shepherds looking rather strange in this hot weather in their woollen blankets with a full woollen balaclava type hat on even in the full suns and then what seems to be standard issue Wellington boots that they all wear. Whilst stopping to take a photo this young lad came and stood close by watching me. I said hello and he smiled and we managed to find out that his name is Beni. Beni looks after his father sheep on the hillside which overlooks the school where I have a feeling he would rather be.
Tonight I am writing this blog whilst still in Lesotho in believe it or not one of the premier ski resorts in Africa. Afriski is set on the A1 road approx 70 km’s from the Lesotho/South Africa border post. Very happy to say there is not a sign of any snow…..just the usual nightly thunderstorm. Still it will settle the dust for the ride tomorrow. Wonder if I will bump into Prince Harry ???
Till the next time…..