Proud stockists of Ural sidecars & spares

Waaidam Dec 2014 Camping Trip

Strange how stories can get muddled up and change and shape shift and so on and so on. Read recently that the Annual Sidecar Camping Trip (previously to Memel but this year to Waaidam) was originally organised to take the sidecar kids camping. This sounds very plausible but actually  the annual sidecar camping trip had its origin in a completely different place. One of our long standing RideAlong sidecar buds (he was  at the opening of the Sidecar Africa shop in Hennops  almost 5 years ago to give you an idea), suggested we all take our sidecars and camping gear and see if we can go camping successfully with them. We did this – and of course camping gear implied kids for some of us! The real irony is that the camp suggestor and instigator of the whole thing has never been on a Sidecar Camping Trip with us - can you believe!!

Having said all of that it also has to be said that YES!! It works like a bomb – it’s an inspired combination sidecar and camping (and sometimes kids too – just kidding, always kids too!) I’m so scared my monkey reads this and I get into trouble.

The morning of our annual camping trip dawns with no landscape changing storms, no hurricanes, no torrential rain – just sunshine! What a beautiful day!

We get together at Skyview and the sidecar train sets off into the blue horison.  We are riding our now quite familiar route to our camping stomping grounds. Although we’re not riding to Memel this time, we’re not far off. Waaidam is 20 kilometers south of Harrismith in the great open Free State farmlands.

The roads are generally a joy and we love it  – lekker! We had some 2 wheel joiners in the persons of Lize and Deon . Lize wasn’t always as impressed with the dirt roads as the sidecars but she made it look real easy so it couldn’t have been that bad!

Late afternoon sees the happy band of campers roll in to Waaidam. Willem, owner and master comes and greets us by hand and welcomes us and this basically sets the tone for the weekend. This year we had decided not to break camp and move on every day, but to use Waaidam as our base, stay camped and ride out for the next day. Waaidam is a family farm not too far outside Harrismith and Willem is an incredible source of information and interesting personal anecdotes about the area and its history.

Both Friday and Saturday nights we have a wonderful meal prepared for us and all we have to do after a good day’s riding is sit down and tuck in.

Saturday morning dawns clear and beautiful – another perfect day in Africa! After breakfast we ride the dirt route into town. Some real serious Free State corrugations made for a quick warm up ride. Once in Harrismith we decide the quickest way to Swinburne is on the highway. In Swinburne we have a fast pull everyone together stop and set off on our day’s riding, starting with the road past Tandjiesberg. This time I make a real committed effort at practising the Tandjiesberg SlingShot! We do NOT want a repeat of last time.

Last time my little wheels really came off on Normandien. My sidecar was absolutely fine,  I just didn’t cope so well so I had a personal score to settle riding into Normandien. But I’m getting ahead of myself – first we ride some magical country roads winding and weaving our way through the beautiful landscape till we stop at a small shop in the middle of nowhere. In the distance we can see Normandien winding its way up up and on up some more!

It’s time to drink something cold and have a lunch snack. Some of us enjoy ourselves so much that we forget to clean our air filter – what was I thinking!  Maybe I need to clean my own air filter for some clearer thinking because there I am – faced with my nemesis, Normandien, and my air filter has now had a day and a half’s dust coming through and I do nothing about it!

All fortified, barring the air filter business we kit up and get ready for Normandien. Let me tell you a little about Normandien – this pass links Newcastle in KwaZulu Natal to Memel in the Free State. It is thought that the name of the pass is derived from the farm Normandien and a little settlement with a police station and small shop at the foot of the pass on the KZN side.

The following has been taken from a web site called Mountain Passes South Africa -

"Some of the very steep sections with a gradient of 1:6 have been strip concreted making life a little easier in the traction department, but the going is slow and you need to allow a full hour to drive the entire 35km loop, excluding stops. With an impressive altitude gain of 515 vertical meters and an average gradient of 1:24, you can expect fabulous wide vista scenery -and it changes perpetually both n view and vegetation. The pass can be driven (very carefully and slowly) in a sedan vehicle but only downhill. Anyone wanting to do it on the South/North routing, should be in a vehicle with diff-lock or even better, a proper 4x4 with good ground clearance. The road is in a generally poor condition, which does add to its allure for the true off road fraternity."

The summit is not at the intersection, but a few kms further east at 1992m ASL. There is a good view site there where you can gawp down 500 vertical meters at the wide valley known as "Die Ark" - supposedly so-called because of the conglomeration of settlers that inhabited the valley. You will be enchanted and invigorated as you stand facing the wind drawing up the Drakensberg as it powers its way across the rolling grasslands to Memel in the Free State.

The first time I rode Normandien I was unlucky with traffic coming down and not yielding which left me with nowhere to go when I least needed it.

This time I was weary of Normandien and again the pass proved to be less than friendly. Just after my monkey and I completed the first set of concrete we felt quite giddy with relief and joy. One of the other riders even remarked that she didn’t know if we had just gotten better or if the pass just wasn’t that bad. She would regret those words – as the next section of the pass is where it claims its victims and it bit - hard!

The gradient is very steep and one is turning and riding left and suddenly you have to climb onto the concreted section (if you are riding a sidecar it gets technical executing a left turn on a gradient not keeping the power on). As I have a dirty air filter and we had to power down to get onto the concrete we lose enough momentum for us not to be able to get back into the power band and we come to a standstill. Lucky my child super monkey was already getting out to start pushing as well as my old trusted friend Chris from team Boesman coming down to help and together the whole lot of us make it to the top.

Some riders behind me were not so lucky –  the long and the short is that one of the riders ends up riding her sidecar into the mountain to avoid falling over the edge.  Further behind in the field another rider encountered some difficulty and hurt his foot quite badly in the process.

When we stopped at the top and looked out over KZN behind us I thought to myself – Normandien is just like the sea, one should never approach without caution and respect and still you run the risk of being eaten.

The track over the back is fun and we are just in time to get an ice cream at Verkykerskop before everything shuts down for a wedding at 3 o’clock.

The ride back to Waaidam is wide and easy and we are happy to cruise back into our camp site for a cold beer or two.

Saturday night we are all tired and not too long after supper it is ‘magies vol ogies toe’ and most of us crawl into our tents for a well deserved rest.

Sunday morning dawns with the faintest whiff of a storm approaching from the south. There is no better incentive to break camp than an imminent change in the weather. It made me think of when we broke camp on a previous trip in Koppies just after a good old storm had rumbled through early that morning. The air literally feels charged, I love it.

Sleeping bags get rolled up, tents are put into bags and everything gets tied down with bungees and straps. I absolutely love the feeling of riding my sidecar thinking we are a self sufficient little entity and could actually go anywhere we like.

Riding back on the good old N3 with a wide blue canopy over head I cannot help thinking – tempus fugit.  And there on the N3 it wasn’t just time flying – I could say the same of Narki – Ural fugit heeha!  It felt like yesterday when we rode out on the very first camping trip and here we were returning from another memorable sidecar camping expedition.

Written by:  Alpha Greeff