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Memel to Koppies Sidecar Camping Trip
16 – 19 December 2010


By Alpha Greeff
Do you have any idea what it does to you when you wake up on the morning of your much anticipated camping trip to drumming rain? Yes, drumming rain!  Picture this – the night before the Weather Service had issued warnings for heavy rain in the particular area that we were heading for. They had actually said, from Newcastle to Soweto. So in the light of us travelling from Joburg to Memel, our first stop, we weren’t exactly going to escape the heavy rain? But hey you know what it’s like – the Weather Bureau gets it wrong from time to time? Surely it couldn’t be that bad?  At 4h30 on the morning of the 16th it was actually that bad and worse. On this particular night Vereeniging had more than 100mms of rain in a 24 hour period and neighbours of ours here in Hennopsrivier measured 80mms of rain for the night! Well nou ja fine. Get out the big black bin bags and start wrapping and waterproofing everything. Marius and Maureen Koekemoer from Tzaneen had joined us the previous evening and we were meeting up with Jacquie and Noel Pastor and their little Jenna. We being Ryno and myself and our 2 offspring, Klara and Emma. We would then find Wynand Rood and his daughter, Andea at the Heidelberg 1 Stop and our last findlings, Dennis Smith and his wife Jana from Louis Trichardt whom we were to collect (so to speak) at Villiers.  Our departure was initially set at 7 o’clock but we watched wide eyed as the heavens came down. The Pastors were dealing with water and electric issues at home so it was decided departure would be at 8. At 8 we were still watching the heavens descending wide eyed, but by now we were at Skyview (ha-ha no pun intended) where we met up with team Pastor. And thus we left - Noel on his 2 wheeler and Jacquie and Jenna on their sidecar Katrina, Ryno and Emma on Vladimir (his maiden voyage), Alpha and Klara on Lola and Marius and Maureen on Morra. Once the nerves settled and the water started dripping down into places you didn’t know could get wet in your rain suit and your gloves were soaked enough not to be upset about it anymore, riding in the rain takes on its own kind of charm. The air is wonderful, no smelling horrible exhaust fumes, dry dusty tarmac getting up your nose – none of that! One also figures out the perfect angle to hold your helmet for most effective rain drop blow-off! One quickly learns to hold your feet at such an angle that the water runs down and not into your boots. All in all a fabulous learning curve and one burns up some extra calories staying warm-eish to boot. Riding your sidecar is an incredibly enriching experience in all weather conditions!

By the time we reached the 1-Stop this side of Heidelberg everyone desperately needed a thaw out and some hot coffee or chocolate. After a well deserved breakfast it was back on our Russian steeds. Very good news was that the steady downpour had changed to a soft drizzle and not long after, at Villiers it stopped altogether. We were elated to say the least as we were getting off the highway and onto the R103 at Villiers. From here on the ride was spectacularly beautiful. We had never seen so much water standing, running, falling – it was unbelievable. The air and sky had that shiny brilliant sparkly look it gets after big rain. The air was cool, the sun warm and the road just perfect. We turned onto the R34 towards Vrede and decided it was time to go into Vrede for a change as we always bypass it altogether. Being a Public Holiday there was not much happening and after Vrede lost and found, as some of us wandered a bit and had to be rounded up again, we hit the road to Memel.

I have travelled the road from Vrede on a number of occasions on different bikes at different times of the day and different seasons. The one thing that never changes though is the surrealness of this stretch of road. Once again the magic did its thing and the words of Jim Morrisson: ‘break on through to the other side’ came to mind. It remains one of my favourite stretches of road to ride.  Memel never disappoints and Ryno had booked for us to camp at Cedar Guest House. This turned out to be an inspired strategy, with all our cooking needs being taken care of by the places we camped overnight. This made it much easier to keep the camping gear to a do-able amount on the sidecars. On a lovely green lawn we set up camp and after Dennis had some tweaking done to his sidecar wheel alignment, we trundled off to the Memel Hotel and Audrey and Chris’ special hospitality and good food. It is always special to be greeted by name, even if a year has passed since our last visit!
Friday morning dawned clear and magnificent and Marie from Cedar Guest House’s breakfast made it even more so. The food was truly outstanding and we left with a quiche that never found its way to the table, as padkos.

This was what everybody had been looking forward to. Just outside Memel we got onto the dirt and headed in the direction of Geluksburg, via Mullers Pass, Collings Pass and De Beers Pass. With the rain the previous day the road surfaces were perfect for bike riding and we truly enjoyed the first stretch from Memel to the little shop after Mullers pass. Coldest cool drink I’ve had in a long time!
Got back into the saddle to continue our ride over Collings pass. It was a nice ride to get one’s dirt legs sorted and check equipment attachment. This could fill an entire chapter in a Ural manual – Equipment Attachment – or not! Taking your Ural onto dirt and cranking up the speed a little is the perfect test to see what remains tied down properly and that it is ALWAYS advisable to check all crucial nuts and bolts. The range of things detaching themselves were mostly baggage related ie backpacks, extra petrol cans, rain jackets and even a GPS! Jacquie had her luggage rack come loose the previous day, so she was sorted on this stretch. At the top of Collings Pass we stopped for a windy picnic lunch. What a view back down over where we came from. It gave everyone the opportunity to tighten everything and check all vitals – rigs, riders and monkeys! After a good bum break everybody got themselves together and we started the second leg of our day’s journey to Geluksburg. However it seemed our ‘geluk’ or luck had run out. Not very long after our lunch stop we came down a hill to see our little dirt road disappear into a shallow pan of water. Normally this is the Wilge River, a dry little spruit or stream. After all the rain it looked completely different. We could see the road come out the other side, but it was submerged for a good 300 metres. Ryno and Dennis tested the water, literally walking through to the other side. After much deliberation it was decided that it would be wiser to turn round and ride an alternative route. De Beers Pass would have to wait for another day – perfect excuse to ride this way again! After backtracking for a little while, we headed towards Besters. There we got onto the N3 for a short spell of roughly 15 kms which cost us approx R65 having gone through 2 tollgates!! By now the day was getting long and the fact that Gina’s Self catering had provided incorrect GPS co-ordinates led to everybody’s patience being tested a little. Must say all riders and monkeys kept their cool and their senses of humour and we made it into Gina’s in Geluksburg before sunset.
Everyone had a well deserved drink (or 2!) and we had a braai done for us by Geoff (he of the G in Gina’s, as Gina’s Self Catering is owned by Geoff and Ina). We all slept like logs that night.

On Saturday morning we broke camp and were treated with a sit down breakfast by Ina before we continued our journey back into the Free State. Leaving Geluksburg we were heading towards Indunduna Resort just outside Koppies. Leaving Geluksburg, we drove up Middledale Pass and turning to look back, the view was spectacular. This was good dirt road riding. All got together in Harrismith to fill up again. Marius and Maureen had decided to ride tar with Noel. We left Harrismith on the N5 in the direction of Kestel and Bethlehem. Our next stretch of dirt road we had turned onto towards Afrikakop saw Ryno’s topbox detach itself, this time the bracket actually broke. Very spectacular as the contents got strewn all over the road. Just when one starts thinking that maybe it’s getting a bit long now, we drove into the metropolis of Reitz. After the usual filling up, we headed for the church to eat a peaceful picnic lunch in the shade of the trees lining the street. Reitz turned out to be positively busy with a wedding, farmworkers who had come in for their weekend before Christmas entertainment and of course us! Leaving Reitz we headed towards Petrus Steyn and turned onto the old road, the S902. What an incredible experience. A little country road, tarred and in excellent condition, meandering along the beautiful Free State farmland. This felt a little like being in a movie – the countryside flying by and Urals riding like champions. I enjoyed this stretch of road tremendously as it was particularly scenic requiring very little effort. A nice respite one could say, in the light of what was waiting for us! Soon the fabulous little country road brought us to Petrus Steyn’s door(s). We skirted past PS and left again on a dirt track on the way to Koppies. At this stage we were riding according to GPS indications and the roads kept getting narrower and narrower. We saw some splendid country side and a particularly beautiful Free State homestead. And then it all came to a stand still just after we had ridden through an exciting thunderstorm. Really enjoyed the storm, as we all got to kit up in time and it’s not often that you get to ride into a storm where you can see so wide and far. Loved it! The lightning, the rain, the light – quite frankly just about all of it. We got to a gate with very specific instructions about not entering, lion on the loose, reporting directly to reception, but most of all not entering! We got real lucky because the gate was unlocked, so we did enter! It turned out to be something which all of us agreed is a canned hunting farm. Very strange, wild dogs in camps, hyenas in camps, white lion in camps and being watched through binoculars as we approached the reception. They were hospitable enough though, and after selling u some drinks and giving directions as to how to get to the main road, we left. Eerie place and we were all equally happy to get out of there.

Now we were almost at the Indunduna Resort near Koppies we thought – haha! It’s that magic time of the day when the sun bathes the landscape in this benevolent golden light, there’s a storm way off and everything is looking beautiful. We had 700 metres to go when we came down the embankment to find the Koppies Dam had basically broken its banks and where the bridge went over the water, there was just water and very little bridge! What can I say? I’m sure our faces must have told a thousand words. It was now 5.15 in the afternoon and we had been riding most of the day thinking our destination is 700 meters away. This time there was not even any walking testing the waters as it was clearly running to deep and fast judging by the bridge rails. There was nothing to do but turn around and drive round through the town of Koppies to our final camping spot. At least the light was beautiful, as I said before and the 25kms round also came to an end. Koppies is a depressing, derelict little town. The only feeling it left me with was getting out asap. Saturday night we had a scrumptious lamb potjie and everybody slept like logs again after we had eaten like kings!

Sunday morning we were woken by an early morning thunderstorm. We packed up camp at leisure as there was no rush. We were heading home as the camping trip was over. It had been a fabulous experience and we could not have asked for more. We’ve already started talking about doing a similar trip backwards – no, not reversing, starting Koppies side and riding to Memel from that side! I’ll definitely be first in the queue for the next Sidecar Africa camping trip to Memel and beyond!