Proud stockists of Ural sidecars & spares
2014 Karoo Ride
I get to catch up with Birgit in the car and get to know Kerstin a little on the long drive down to Bethesda. We arrive in Bethesda in time to gather most of the clan for a good home brewed beer at Andre's Sneeuberg Brewery &Two Goats Deli, and a lekker homemade cheese and salami platter as a starter before we all join for supper at the Karoo Lamb.
Let me introduce the riders, monkeys and steeds without any further ado. Imagine some kind of platform like they have at the start of the Dakar - now picture fireworks and drum rolls and all kind of things as the teams arrive to be announced! If you think this is excessive, wait - you'll understand by the end of this report why every single team can be regarded as heroic.
Leading this band of heroes are Ryno and Emma in Frodo, usually second in the choir Alpha and Klara in Narki (Narki means dearly beloved and most trusted in Orange!). Not too far behind are Birgit and Kerstin in Hari (our very own Austrian prince). Flying next in The Eagle are the ever smiling Marty and newby monkey Daphne. Next onto the platform please welcome Chris and Hester in Boesman, who rode all the way from Sasolburg in their sidecar - real hard core riders. Next to roll on is Boris with his rider and monkey, Mark and Gregan. For Gregan this would also be a first and probably a trip he'll remember longer than he anticipated. Next we can wave Grant and Nerine or Lauren (whoever will not be driving the back-up vehicle) in Sergei onto the ramp – tadaaaa! Ronel and Mike in Kosmosblom are the next team – very beautiful in floral splendour (now we are sounding more like a fashion ramp than a bike ramp!) A novel addition is first time joiner Danie, on his GS 1150 sidecar conversion. Brian and Barbara in their two tone blue and silver Ural, also newby trippers, fall in behind Danie and right at the back, last but MOST definitely not least, Leyla the trusty with Jude and Sheilagh riding sweep. This would become a trip that would really test our sweep’s commitment and ability - a test passed with absolutely flying colours!!
And so the adventure begins - we leave Bethesda via 'Die Geut' - loosely translated means 'the gutter' and no it's not metaphorical, it's a good description of the road leading upward and out! Ryno brings the sidecar train to a halt to show us all the little motorbike rider sitting amongst the rocks - he is promptly dubbed Harley man. It's a misty chilly morning but we get rewarded with some beautiful spots of sunlight in a magnificent Karoo landscape. Colourwise the combination of yellow poplar groves and silver blue agave bushes against a back drop of varying shades of green is breath taking. The feeling is one of misty magic, especially when we encounter our first rainbow of the trip. A beautiful mist-bow appears in the landscape and fills me with great joy. Ryno said it was better than church and I couldn't agree more.
The Karoo conjures up arid flat landscapes in most of our mind's eyes - the reality in this ride could not be further from the truth. Everywhere is evidence of much rain and water is present in various shapes and manifestations, even in the road! Who thought that some monster mud puddles would become the first source of excitement in our riding day. One mud puddle being deep and long enough to claim Brian's clutch. One or two other sidecars looked like they may get stuck but we all make it through without further hiccups.
Beautiful farms and homesteads with names like Onverwags, Groenvlei, Waterkrans! Swaelkrans and Kruidfontein to name a few, roll by. Having ploughed our way through some mud we decide to have the first of our padkos-lunches and do some stock take etc re our first stretch in the big wide Karoo. Having thawed out and eaten, we get going in the direction of Murraysburg. We do not linger in Murraysburg and ride on to the N1 and The Vale on the way to Beaufort West. The riding remains easy and scenic and just before we join the N1 to do battle with the big trucks on tar, we spot a train. It occurred to me that I couldn't remember when it became a novelty to spot a train, but everyone equally excited and waving.
Luckily it's a short hop skip and a jump on the highway before we turn in at The Vale, our accommodation for the night. Beautiful Karoo farmstay. My monkey was elated when we got to buy some garlic stuffed olives at reception – no vampires in that helmet!
Monday morning dawns clear and beautiful and we head out to Beaufort West to fuel up and get going. Not too far after Beaufort we turn off to the right in the direction of Fraserburg. It is a very beautiful ride through really attractive Karoo-scapes past farms like Grantham and De Hoek and we ride through the Oukloof Pass.
Lunch is eaten on the trot - no not really because actually we do get off our trusty iron ponies to enjoy our lunch - love these as it is always a good way to get to know the fellow riders and to see what who likes to eat! Ronel and Mike even braaied a choppie or 2!
Not too long after our lunch stop the landscape becomes indescribably beautiful with huge stone stacks and stone ridges and koppies. Everywhere we ride there are puddles and pans and the flood damage on the roads are evident.
As life happens so do rides. So just picture this – the landscape is beautiful lulling one into a happy post- lunch little trans when we come across a river crossing that’s slightly deeper and a little longer than most of us anticipated. Due to some very enthusiastic and paraat brake work we don’t hit the water in 3rd gear but rather in 1st. It never occurred to me that the crossing may be too deep! Probably got through by the skin of our teeth. Very entertaining to watch our sweep’s approach to this whole affair. You had to be there and I’m sure someone’s got video footage. Needless to say there goes the afternoon snooze and everyone is wide awake again wet feet and all!
It is not too late in the afternoon when we ride into Sutherland after having watched the SALT telescope on the horizon for miles. It's a fantastic landmark! Sunday night we all have supper together and not too long after everyone is fast asleep. Nothing like fresh air and big skies to get everyone to bed early.
Tuesday morning dawns in all its Karoo glory and we get in the saddle to ride to Kruisrivier via Prince Albert and the Swartberg Pass. Had to laugh – we were all worried about the cold in Sutherland – turns out to be warmest morning yet! But first we do some jaw dropping landscape and then a heart stopping little pass called the Rammelkop/Allemans? Pass. As far as the eye can see on the first leg the Karoo is green, almost emerald green if you use your imagination – haha. I was still busy negotiating a little donga where the rain washed the road away when I came round a bend and suddenly it all gives way and far ahead and below lies the Greater Karoo. I’ve never heard of the Rammelkop/Allemans Pass? but it did test everyone’s downhill legs a little. Well done Lauren!!!
Just short of Merweville, we stop at an old farmhouse ruin for a rest and have some snacks and cold drinks and of course take pics of our magnificent sidecars! What’s a collective selfie – a soupie? We are no slouches when it comes to these.
Merweville is picturesque and clean and must have one of the most impressive Dutch reformed churches on the platteland. This church was finished in 1914 and declared a national monument in 1991. A Dark grey and white structure that is really quite formidable – exactly how I think of the Dutch Reformed Church in general.
The mountains that started as a blue-ish purple haze on the horison are becoming more distinct. From Merweville we now ride perpendicular to these mountains and over every little crest and round every bend we get closer – slowly but surely. At Prince Albert Road we follow a little tar road all the way to Prince Albert. This is a stunning road winding its way toward the Swartberg Mountains. Like a movie the mountains get bigger and bigger and blacker until one can read Prince Albert in big white letters!
This is the home of Kokkedoor – an Afrikaans cooking contest TV show that has been very successful on KykNET. So what better place to have lunch? We stop at the Lazy Lizard and after a bit of a slow start, the lunch turns out to be exceptional. I had Pesto Pasta – absolutely magnificent. Most riders and monkeys seemed happy enough.
Now we had to get ourselves and our full tummies up the Swartberg Pass. The approach to this fabulous pass always fills me with great awe and excitement. I think one would be permitted to use the word awesome in its true original form for describing this engineering feat. At Teeberg we stop to take pics and to make sure everyone is still with us. At the top we stop for jackets and jerseys as the weather had changed quite a lot from take-off down in Prince Albert. One doesn’t only cross from the Great to the Little Karoo, you might as well be entering another world. The vegetation changes, the geological profile changes and the weather in our case. Our descent is uneventful and we are rewarded with another fantastic rainbow as we drive down. At Matjiesrivier we turn in the direction of Kruisrivier, our next stop and also our overnight stay.
On the way there we ride past the truly splendid Swartberg Private Wildlife Estate and as before I can only salivate and wave at the house of my dreams as we go past. We did get to see some Water Buck on the Estate (I’m sure the buck would not want to be called by their Afrikaans colloquial name, ‘Kringgatte’ as they now live in a very posh estate indeed and that would not be appropriate!)
What a warm welcome we receive at Kruisrivier. The Strydoms have been farming on this farm since 1759 and Basie and Mandie are now the 7th generation. Their sons would be 8th should one or more of them decide to continue farming at Kruisrivier. Mandie is hugely creative and dynamic and the accommodation reflects this – we stay in the news Room, The Pitts are in The Stables, Birgit and Kerstin sleep with a beautiful old carriage and a wedding dress in a huge box frame in ‘Die Waenhuis’ and The Mill is occupied by Barbara and Brian and Team Sweep.
We have a really hearty supper – sweet potatoes and all things ‘Boerekos’! Loved the breakfast the next morning and especially the preserved apricots! Thank you Mandie – we loved it! Nerine enjoyed staying there so much she said she wants to go back there for a break just to sit on her little stoep by the stream!
It had been raining throughout the night and it was nice and chilly and wet when we set out on Wednesday morning. We depart in the direction of Oudtshoorn and at the road that says Lategansvlei we turn right. We go past a huge entrance with name Wildehondekloof Private Wildlife Estate (clearly golf is not the thing in this part of the world but they do take their Estates quite seriously!) and I’m still conjouring up what their houses must look like (or not?) when we encounter our first water obstacle for the day. As this is quite early I have a moment where I think to myself – hier kom n ding! It’s been raining a lot and this is just the start!
However, we had local knowledge as Basie said that a neighbour had come through there and although there are signs that says Road Closed, we should ignore this and forge on. So we did and what a wonderful morning’s forging it became. The water crossings were enough to be entertaining and the scenery was the kind that makes me sing in my helmet. Singing in the shower has never really done it for me, but singing in my helmet is positively transcendent. Maybe I’ll manage translucent one day – haha! I suppose I should practise some opera for that. My monkey screams/sings opera in her helmet – I’ve heard her!
And for putting up with the rain and cold we are rewarded with another spectacular rainbow. This is the first of our more taxing riding days and we keep moving.
We fill up in Oudtshoorn and ride out via Dysselsdorp. Have no idea who was more surprised, the sidecar riders, the good people of Dysselsdorp or our back up driver? In order to get onto the route we want to ride from Oudtshoorn to Uniondale it involved quite a bit of turning and negotiating our way through kids of both human and goat sorts, dogs and general everyday people going about their business and more washing than I’ve seen in a while. After what feels like riding in circles with a varying audience for quite a while (it only felt like this!), we leave Dysselsdorp in the direction of the Kamanassie and Uniondale.
It really is a very beautiful route and we all enjoy ourselves tremendously. Lunch is a top and cooler box special outside the Café opposite the petrol station in Uniondale and we watch the world go by – fridges being swopped, the individual responses (or nor not!) to the resident nuisance who tried to chat to anyone who looked vaguely approachable. I think a ghost would have met with a warmer response generally!
We leave Uniondale via the Uniondale Poort and then we ride on to Joubertina and Kareedouw alongside the mountains as opposed to over and under. Very civilised ride with pastoral scenes everywhere the eye can see.
Kareedouw we all fill up and just outside Kareedouw we turn off the tar at the Assegaaibosch railway siding. The road changes immediately, climbing quite steeply into the afternoon sun. We are heading for the Baviaans Lodge and we are now back to over and undering the mountain range as opposed to riding along it. Some of the right corners are getting tighter and the climbs are directly into the sun which I think sometimes is my saving grace – not seeing what to get unnecessarily concerned with is sometimes a very good thing indeed. The drops on the side of the road were getting a little steeper and I have to focus not to get too involved in how far down etc etc etc.
At the bottom of exactly such a long down-hill section where I had to stay focussed on the road and not the ravine beside me, we stopped for a collect everyone, our breaths and our thoughts. It always makes me anxious when the next rider that should be in the train doesn’t arrive. Is it a mechanical issue, is it a flat tyre – what’s up? Finally a sidecar arrives with the news that one of the riders had gotten lost in the moment and went into a corner too fast with the result that they flipped. The bad news is that Mike has hurt his shoulder and is in pain and the sidecar had to be loaded onto the trailer. The good news is they didn’t leave the road and Ronel is fine.
Just as we approach Baviaans Lodge after a long descent into the valley and I think yay here we are, I hear quite a loud noise behind me. We had just ridden into some deep dappled shade and Birgit had not seen the rock with the result that what I saw in my rear view mirror was a sidecar on its side with the sidecar chair in the air! Luckily no damage to Birgit or Kerstin at all (other than Birgit’s pride) and the damage to the bike got sorted with some metal glue and a coin in the end - I kid you not!!
We had a splendid supper and the girls and Ry and I stayed in a very beautiful guest cottage. Pity we got in quite late in the afternoon as I would have liked to have explored a little and seen more of the Lodge.
Thursday is a day for capital letters – today is the day we ride into the Baviaanskloof from the side. The good people from the Lodge tell us it’s only the first 5 kilometers that are quite hectic and after that not too bad at all. From the forums and info gathered off the web, Ryno seems to think there’s one 400m stretch that may prove a challenge for the Urals, but other than that we should be able to ride it no problem. And so starts a day that would shift my personal riding boundaries and perceptions.
Anyway, look left look right let’s move right along this is going to be a VERY long day and we have to get going. So now we’ve climbed the first stretch out and where we turn up to do the next climb, something in me just decides I will not be riding up here. I loathe having to ride a steep incline, up or down, with the sidecar higher than the bike. So metaphorically my little wheels come off and I say to the husband, best he rides my sidecar up for me. This goes down with the anticipated enthusiasm, but I dig my heels in and he rides Narki the first steep part. This is so funny as it turns out this would be one of the easiest climbs of the next 38kms and after that for some or other bizarre reason the fear was gone and I rode my Narki with my little monkey through the most gruelling 38kms I have ever ridden with a sidecar!
This section of the route turned out to take us 9 hours in all in the end. This day particularly I can only speak for myself and team Boesman and team Eagle. We rode right in front in a tight little pack that looked out for each other. We found a riding rhythm quite early and I learnt to trust them implicitly. It would go like this – Chris and Hester would do the next stretch if it looked difficult with Marty and Daphne in The Eagle waiting and hanging back until we heard team Boesman hooting wherever they had gone over the next crest. This meant road clear for next sidecar with Chris often walking back to show and direct where best approach would be. We would also listen and watch very closely where we could hear change in gear and engine noise and where we could see Hester getting out for monkey duty i.e. pushing!
My child monkey, almost 12 years old - astounded me. The first time she had to get out and offered to push I really thought here goes nothing. Was I wrong! I had no idea she’s so strong and brave. We would never have gotten through without her actively pushing and shoving. From my heart thanks to teams Eagle and Boesman for encouraging, pushing and cheering us on all day long.
Like I said in the beginning I can only speak for team Narki, but I heard rumours of Mark overturning Boris sans his monkey luckily, Danie dangling from his footpeg, Ryno dragging himself and Hari backwards through some bushes etc etc but like I said, this was only hearsay. Apparently we also had our intrepid back-up driver, Nerine towing a trailer with rider on bike on sidecar on trailer and another sidececar behind at some stages of this mind boggling day!
I can go on and on about this day but I won’t because days like these, where an inner landscape is shifted can be excruciatingly boring for others to read/listen to. But I do know now that if it can physically be ridden with a Ural sidecar my monkey and I can ride it now. We proved this not once, not twice, we did it over and over for an entire day. Suffice to say that the team that started out that morning did not remotely resemble the team that rode into Chris Lamprecht’s back yard late that afternoon.
Although this day will live on for those who rode it forever, it also took its toll. The toll would be exacted in all kinds of ways manifesting itself in various different shapes over the next few days.
As I was saying, it was sunset when the back-up vehicle finally rode into Rus en Vrede, Chris Lamprecht’s farm. We were supposed to still ride on to Patensie where we were due to stay in The Ripple Inn. This wasn’t going to happen and we were now looking for a place to accommodate 21 people overnight and feed everyone. Never fear, all I can say is I have never seen someone organise all of the above in 20 minutes flat! Not only did we all have more than adequate accommodation, we also had braai packs and cold beer. As if this wasn’t enough, breakfast had also been organised for the next morning. It would seem that no ask is too big for the fantastic people of the Baviaans! We can take a leaf out of their book – all the above was offered and delivered without payment up front.
Ryno and I and our two monkeys stayed in Joachimskraal - a mud cottage with a donkey for hot water. I have never stayed in something that stayed so warm overnight – it was fabulous and we had boiling hot water for 4 showers that night! A million thank you’s to Chris and his brother, Bernard!
That night I got into bed more grateful than I’ve done in a while – we had all made it through in one piece so to speak. But man as soon as I closed my eyes the day would start all over again. Have no idea how long it took me to finally fall asleep as I kept riding mountains all night long. These dreams would actually stay with me for about a week after.
Friday morning we were treated to a Baviaanskloof style breakfast! Fresh hot roosterkoek with real butter and apricot jam, boerewors, bacon and scramble and grated cheese – it makes my tummy sing! This is a blissful combination! The place where we had breakfast and the majority of the group stayed over is called Doringkloof and all I can say is check it out for yourself if you ever have the opportunity.
Although breakfast was splendid, it also got us off to quite a late start. The road leading through the kloof is a real joy to ride. Ural sidecars really love these roads and the landscape is exceptional. This ride through the gate to Patensie via Combrinks Pass, has always been a biggy in my riding life. We rode it last year and I had to keep my thoughts focussed as it demands one’s attention – road conditions and surface, other traffic and of course the ever present mile long drops on the side of the road.
We had a bunch up and cold drink stop at Smitskraal to get everyone battle ready for our ride on and out to Patensie. The toll taken by the previous day’s strenuous riding was becoming evident. Narki was needing final drive oil all the time as did The Eagle, my throttle hand was aching continuously but regardless our spirits couldn’t be dampened!
When we stopped at the Padlangs Padstal on the way to Patensie, it occurred to me that the previous day’s riding had drawn Baviaans’ teeth to a large extent. Don’t get me wrong, it remains impressive and I still worked hard, especially on that last exposed climb where I kept wondering if it wouldn’t have been better without the concrete, but still it was no longer the overriding memory of the day when I got in bed. I dreamt about the previous day again.
Long before we got to sleep though, we filled up at Patensie and rode on to Hankey and Uitenhage on our way to the Zuurberg Inn.
As I said earlier, we would pay for our lekker breakfast that morning at Doringkloof. We were now riding against time as it became clear that we wouldn’t get to Zuurberg in daylight. In riding as in life there are always ups for the downs – so to speak, one must just learn where to look. So the big up for having to ride the last part of our journey in the dark, was that we got to ride through a very beautiful part of our country with the sun setting behind us. The changing colours of the sky and the radiant last light of the day, did make up for the dark riding at the end of the day.
Riding at night alters the experience quite considerably. Suddenly you cannot judge the angle of the road ahead – are we riding towards downhill or uphill and how steep is the incline? The dust in the headlight looks dense so it’s scary riding into it as one can see little. Following the red tail lights is easier but one has to get the following distance right etc etc etc. So we rode Doringnek Pass in the dark and arrive at the Zuurberg Inn cold, dusty, dirty, hungry and tired.
Did I perk up when I saw the accommodation and of course by the time everyone had arrived and we could all relax and have a drink, life was good again. Brian had a flat tyre in the dark, but luckily Jude and Grant assisted and in no time everyone was going again. The buffet supper at Zuurberg was fantastic and the beds big and wide and warm. Beautiful bath and shower, life really was good. The initial idea was that the Zuurberg Inn would be a little bit of a spoil and papmer for our weary bodies and bikes as we were supposed to have arrived at about midday. However our side entry into Baviaans changed our plans a little and hence we had a ‘shorter’ stay in the Zuurberg Inn and no stay in Patensie. And I was so looking forward to the Mussel Pot at the The Ripple Hill Hotel in Patensie!
I have to be very honest now. It was with great reluctance that I got out of bed on the last morning of the trip. Not only do I hate last days, but the bed was sooo comfy! But I’m a big girl and I know all good things come to an end so I drag myself into my by now filthy riding pants and drag myself and my luggage down to the sidecars. Right next to the where the sidecars are parked, is a game viewing vehicle and just before I arrived the staff had put fresh fruit and snacks for the game drive in the vehicle. Man were those little monkeys quick!! In no time they were enjoying their own game drive of sorts, this time game is just more of a verb and it involves finding the apples and oranges in amongst all the goodies! Watching the monkeys, real monkeys, having such a good time cheered me up a little. Seeing the breakfast buffet cheered me up a lot!
Traditional breakfasts have their place and yadda yadda yadda but sometimes someone comes up with something wonderful – like Rosti and cocktail sausages. And then a bit of avo and Bob’s no longer president and there we go.
The Zuurberg Pass is beautiful and in some places a little worse than I remember but not as long as I remember it last time. The difference it makes riding a pass first leg in the morning as opposed to last thing before you stop also has a big influence on how one remembers it.
Once we have the Zuurberg Pass behind us, the roads widen and become easier and as a result the pace picks up. And there on the last morning our collective sidecar luck finally runs out. As we’re riding along the road passing through Kakebeenleegte, the road is wide and good and then suddenly from nowhere there’s a VERY nasty donga from the rainwater running straight across. Even if you can see far ahead it kind of creeps up on you and I was very lucky as Ryno had slowed down significantly to show me and I had time to show Birgit behind me and I could make out another set of lights behind her which also slowed down.
However a few riders later, Brian wouldn’t be so lucky. I was not there and did not see the accident happen but understood the following after. Brian never saw the donga across the road and hit it going too fast. The sidecar lifted as it hit the donga and the whole rig flipped. Luckily a fence caught Brian and Barbara’s sidecar which stopped them from going over again. The long and the short of it was that Barbara was injured as well as Brian. Brian could walk and function – the barbed wire had hurt his hand when they lifted the bike back on its wheels. Barbara’s injuries seemed more serious and once again incredible people in this part of the world came to the rescue.
Some of us had ridden on to Somerset East as there was nothing for us to do at the accident scene, so we were waiting for news. Got a phone call saying we must organise for the doctor to meet Barbara at the hospital. As luck would also have it, Somerset East has a big and functional provincial hospital.
It transpired after some X-rays and the doctor seeing Barbara that she was injured but it was not necessary for her to be admitted. All I can say is that she showed immense fortitude while she was in serious pain. She was a huge inspiration in how to deal with a crisis and I admire her tremendously for it.
While Barbara was being looked after Jude decided to have a good look at the trailer as they realised there were problems with the trailer when they had to take Brian’s bike back to Ann’s Villa where they decided to leave it. Jude’s sixth sense proved to be a real bonus. It became clear that the trailer needed some real TLC as well.
How it lasted that long no one knows – must have been the ladies driving back-up that got the whole show so far! Once again our fellow countrymen did not disappoint and before long the problem had been welded in another Good Samaritan’s workshop and everyone was ready to leave for the last leg of our epic journey.
Now we were no longer riding the scenic route but the shortest route to Graaff -Reinet and Nieu Bethesda beyond. Team Boesman, Chris and Hester had left earlier the afternoon to ride on to Sasolburg, so we waved them goodbye as they still had a very long way to go.
We never ride in the dark and suddenly here were we again, closing our visors and pointing our sidecars into the sunset. It was a spectacular Karoo affair with beautiful colours and a small silver sliver of a moon. Luckily we had some practice the night before, but this time the darkness was C for seriaas!
Once the horison had disappeared it became very surreal. At times there were no lights in the landscape and we were like a little train of light steaming through the dark landscape. Became quite magical and intense. One is very aware of the road surface and the intense tangible darkness surrounding you and you focus almost blindly on the rider in front of you.
I was now actively imagining our little light train arriving safely in Nieu-Bethesda (something Marty our own hot air balloon pilot told me he often does). At least this felt like doing something instead of just worrying about the kudus and other buck. Also imagined our guardian angels flying over and along side. So in no time I was very busy in my helmet again, darkness or not. No singing though too busy imagining!
And before I go all shoewaaa and hey brother on ye all, it so happened that we rode into Nieu Bethesda safe and without further damage or injury of any kind. We almost made it without incident, but Jude ran out of petrol just as we turned off to Bethesda!
We wolfed down our lamb stew at The Karoo Lamb that evening with huge gratitude that everyone who had ridden out from Bethesda the week before had returned. We had mostly returned in one pieceat least everyone was up and talking and eating.
This was the end of a trip that left most of us and our sidecars altered in some way. Every trip alters me. It teaches me things I didn’t know and sometimes things I knew but had forgotten. I am now writing this Trip Report a little after the event as I needed for it to settle before I could verbalise it. Personally this trip showed me what courage looks like and I will now recognise her when I see her again! It was a rainbow ride on so many levels. I salute my monkey and all the other teams – viva Ural!!