Proud stockists of Ural sidecars & spares

Geluksburg, Memel, Country Trax
10 – 13 May 2012

Unlike 2 years ago when we were met with torrential rain on our departure for our Memel Camping Trip, we were met with absolutely perfect camping weather last Thursday morning. The only things brighter than the sun were the smiles of the campers – your proverbial band of happy campers. All things that involve our sidecars make us happy and if we get to ride them when everyone else is at work, it’s just so much better. Even the traffic was friendly, but I suppose the sight of 6 sidecars riding in convoy, clearly packed for some serious business, lights up most faces!
Off at Rigel and on to Delmas. The most interesting thing about this part of the world is that the first sign said Delmas 60kms – which brought me to 91 on my speedometer. The next one was Delmas 18kms (go figure it’s quite an odd one!) which made Delmas 87kms from original departure and the next sign said Delmas 10km, which left me and my speedometer at 86km from departure. We would eventually stop at the garage at 86kms but it does give you an idea of how fascinating that part of the road is. If I start getting up to sums in my helmet you must know how desperate I am! But once we had some Wimpy coffee and hot chocolate at our 86km Delmas stop, life was looking good.
We had a bit of a monster day ahead of us – 437kms, mostly dirt road, to Gina’s in Geluksburg - and keeping the campers moving proved to be a challenge at times. We get so carried away with talking and taking photos that we sometimes need a bit of herding. Anyway we were now heading in the direction of Bapsfontein and then Devon and somewhere between Devon and Greylingstad the landscape worked its magic and I could feel my head go quieter and the breathing a lot easier. This is big sky country in the true sense of the word.
Somewhere before Greylingstad our enthusiasm got the better of us and half the contingent took a wrong fork and forked off into the distance. After a little wait during which I found a farm with my name, everyone was back in the convoy and we were on the road again. I have a sneaking suspicion that all farmers move their oversized, very big, doesn’t fit onto the road properly, agricultural equipment on Thursdays. I have never seen so much big equipment in transit.
The horizons seem low and the blue endless. We rumbled through Robberts Drift en route to Vrede where Jacquie wanted to go say hello to one of her knights in shining armour. From there we were riding for the N3 and Harrismith.
We had one of our lekker lekker padkospieknieks next to the road with real boerewors and boiled eggs. There was some more elegant food and then there was Jude and Sheilagh’s topbox/cooler transformations! Not only had Ryno accidently dropped the top/cooler box earlier, but the food had transformed itself in there. Only someone who has personal experience of what food is capable of in a top box will understand. I once saw our boiled eggs unshell/deshell themselves and mingle real close like with some bread rolls! Have also seen rusks reduced to round golf like balls. There is no end to the possibilities it would seem. Can say though that it does not change the taste one bit.
In Harrismith we did the unforgivable and lost our back-up vehicle. Thank goodness they eventually found their way to us and did not take it personally. No harm was done. We descended the Middledale Pass and drove into Geoff and Ina’s place called Gina’s in Geluksburg just before dark.
We had stayed here on a previous sidecar camping trip and got a very warm welcome. Once again Geoff braaied the best skaaptjoppies in the whole wide world and Ina’s potato salad was heavenly. In fact all the food was just perfect and as we had spent 10 hours in the saddle, it wasn’t too long before the snoring started.
Friday morning the day dawned perfectly clear. Today we would go up and out the Middledale Pass again, which turned out to be a lot more beautiful in the morning sunlight as opposed to dodging monster potholes against time. At least this morning we could see the potholes and the whole beautiful Lost Valley and general beauty surrounding us.
We then had a fuel stop in Montrose and from there headed to Collings Pass which we would be riding backwards this trip – no, not in reverse, riding it from the other direction! On our last journey we got to the opposite side of the Wilge Spruit and the spruit looked more like a pan with the result that we had to turn around and change our route. Not this time! We drove through and past and came to a good spot to have lunch – actually one of the sidecars needed a new rear brake spring so the rest of us couldn’t wait to unpack our padkos again! A very friendly local man and his horse and his 6 dogs came for a chat and waved goodbye again and not long after we were getting ready to ride Collings Pass down and then on to the biggie for the day – Normandien.
Before I get to tell you about my own personal sidecar pass riding Waterloo – just a mention of the many yellow bicycles with school children riding them. I remember reading that the DoE had given rural children yellow bicycles to get to and from school. A real treat to see so many children benefitting from this. Generally it was heart warming to see how well kept the schools were in this part of the world. School children looked neat, one little guy looking very smart in what looked in passing like a brand new school blazer. You know that look when it’s been bought to fit another 3 years – with your fingers barely making it out the sleeves. I could have eaten him up!
Also saw the most incredible dairy farm I’ve ever seen in my life at the bottom of Collings Pass. Wow this is bovine abundance on a whole new level. There were truly Jersey ?cows (I’m not the world’s greatest expert on cow types) as far as the eye could see.
Back to sidecar riding!
Between Tandjiesberg and Scheurklip (this is somewhere before Collings Pass) Ryno demonstrated a manoeuvre called the Tandjiesberg Slingshot - Tandjiesberg for the location he demonstrated and Slingshot for what it resembles. This is a very clever manoeuvre he cooked up after much experience (Sani comes to mind) and wondering upon the issue of how best to get your sidecar moving on a steep incline. Well if you want to know how to do this you need to come camping with us – as they say in the classics ‘what goes on the trip stays on the trip!’This was in anticipation of Normandien as I would later come to realise.
There is a sign at the start of Normandien warning that no heavy vehicles were allowed on the pass. I did ask if it was a hectic pass and got told it was D for difficult. Man I should have known better. The first time I suffered from vertigo was a few years back when riding in Croatia going up the Biokovo Mountains to the highest point in the Adriatic. The second we cleared the pine trees I got completely over occupied with the distance down and felt less than well. At first I didn’t know what it was.
Anyway all was going relatively well on Normandien until the one little LandCruiser from the top did not yield to the upcoming traffic and give it right of way as it should, that I came to a grinding halt.
Now I have to explain – round about here is where all rational thought and reason abandoned me and my fingers almost had to be surgically removed from my front brake (worst mistake of all every biker will tell you) but I couldn’t care what my brain was telling me – I could hardly breathe I was so scared. It was also round about then that I started screaming like a banshee at my husband that this was now all his problem etc etc. Not only is the incline here severe to say the least, there is a yawning abyss where the ground should be on the right!
He finally convinced me to get back on, at the same time telling me to stop screaming at him, and with him and James our backup driver pushing like crazy, me slipping the clutch until it stank, I executed the Tandjiesberg Slingshot on the Normandien Pass. It’s quite scary when getting out of trouble involves pulling off as aggressively as you can, heading right for the edge and then turning sharp while slipping your clutch and swearing to your heart’s content. Multi tasking take on new meaning! I really am not going to describe the edge or any of the gobsmacking ravines and cliffs. Truth is I cannot - being a firm believer in object fixation and once watching someone ride over the edge because they were looking there, I developed something similar to tunnel vision on Normandien. I may not even recognise any of Normandien should I drive up in a car!! The other five sidecars drove up Normandien without a problem with Ryno even coming down again to be my knight in shining armour.
The descent was not quite so fear inducing but the afternoon took on a funny non-colour – I am serious, it had nothing to do with me it was the weather. Strange and grey. The road surface also became less and less hospitable until all that was left the last 20 kilometeres was a bone-jarring mind-numbing judder.
We survived all this and rode into Memel late afternoon. We camped in the garden of Cedar Caravan Park and Guest House – also a repeat from our last trip. By the time we got to Chris and Audrey’s Memel Hotel I was ready for a stiff little drink. Had a lekker chat on the Hotel stoep watching the dorp go by and then a hearty supper. Once again it did not take much to get us to sleep, but I kept having flashbacks of that pass which almost closed my chest just thinking about it.
Saturday morning was fresh and cold – no wind with a lazy sun finally sticking its rays out like fingers. Marie made her legendary breakfast – last time I went on a bit about this breakfast. Well this time I’m going to go on a bit more. Imagine and old little barn/shed, incredibly beautifully decorated with a roaring fire in the corner and a warm coal stove along the long wall. A long table set for all of us and food that is inspired! Marie truly understands food – the sheer beauty of good presentation and wholesome good taste. I sound like a hotel brochure – but I promise you, I have eaten a number of good breakfasts in my forty plus years and nothing matches this woman’s breakfast.
Finally we dragged ourselves away from the breakfast table and went to take some pics of us and our sidecars in front of the pretty church at the end of the main road.
Today was what I like to think of as a Bonus Day – just easy riding in beautiful country side. We would be riding a total of 171 kilometers to our camping spot for the night – Jan Staal’s Country Trax.
Riding out from Memel in the direction of Volksrust on the R38 we rode Botha’s Pass and stopped at the Botha’s Pass Kontant Winkel. A real treat! Marius had to get some Nastergal jam and in the process we bought as much as we could fit onto Lola and Vlad along with the camping gear. I even got a Consol Solar Bottle lamp and it was a treat to meet the owner, Elise.
Right after the shopping spree we turned onto a little dirt road. This really was easy riding and I’m sure we were all singing in our helmets – you can’t sing too early as it fogs up your visor.
The road kept winding through the scenery and took us past the Zaaihoek Dam. We had a bunch up stop, i.e. just checking that all were in the convoy. I may add that after our less than impressive riding of the first day we really got it together and were now very paraat and polite riders.
Jacquie had a flat rear tyre just as we rode into the outskirts of Wakkerstroom. Luckily she just loves this kind of thing and with much direction from our intrepid leader, she changed it all by herself. Very impressive! She would ride on to earn the title Miss Amersfoort for this trip!
Seeing as Jacquie had worked so hard we were all real thirsty and had to have some coffee and cake in Wakkers. My personal affiliation to Wakkerstroom stretches back some 20 odd years to when Ry and I did our paragliding training here. Very fond memories and I’ve always loved Wakkers subsequently. As with an old friend it’s always good to see them looking well, and so it was with Wakkers.
We rode out and turned onto a road that took us past Inyoni, old paragliding stomping ground, and down into the most beautiful bowl of scenery you can imagine. The road varied enough to keep one awake and the riding really was just very good. Again it struck me how neat the rural homesteads were.
We kept it moving and not too far from Country Trax the road stopped and where there used to be a bridge there was now thin air.
Luckily there was quite an interesting little detour river crossing which really was good as we all came through in our own different ways and all enjoyed tremendously. Nothing like an unexpected little bit of fun to wake everybody up.
The road into Country Trax is unique. Jan has made a series of humps that eventually feels if you’re riding into heaven. For those who have been to Country Trax you’ll know that it is like a version of heaven. Accommodation and structures are fashioned and sculpted from wood on a scale that really is impressive. The attitude to functional and aesthetics is really thought through and some very clever recycling is done. Apart from the Off-Road Rider Training they also offer self catering accommodation which I can more than recommend.
Jan’s wife Elsie and his sister Elna are from the same culinary sisterhood as Marie in Memel. The food was just fabulous – beef fillet and Mash Mole Hills and a beautiful salad and a spicy version of boereboontjies! I was so happy I never had anything to eat in Wakkerstroom.
The last night was a feast and we all slept like little logs next to Jan’s bigger logs under the huge blue gums.
So it came to be Sunday morning and we were getting ready for the home stretch – 319 kilometers. Amersfoort is not inspiring – in fact if you were feeling good before it may have changed before Amersfoort is done with you. Got going and rode through Standerton and on to the Petrol Garage and Take Away at the Balfour off-ramp of the N3.
Ugly little place and Jacquie’s Hari managed a flat on the sidecar – think she’s kind of done flat tyres now for the next 20 000kms at least.
On the highway home it looked like real rain and just because we all struggled and wriggled into our rain suits, Jude and Sheilagh stayed dry because Murphy’s law – if you do it you don’t need it!!
And so ended another wonderful camping trip on our dearly beloved sidecars. Thank you to back up family and car – it was so good to know you’ve got our backsides. James’ disappointment at not having to put an Ural on the trailer was real. Thanks to Ryno, our intrepid leader for the hours of route planning, sorting accommodation and fantastic meals and least but not last – The Tandjiesberg Slingshot!
Where are we riding to next?
Written by:  Alpha Greeff