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A German arrives in Africa

2006-06-27 16:49

Lawrence Brown

Herman ready to hit the road.

Oh crap, what now!

"Mr Brown, we've got all the replacement parts fitted but, although we promised you the bike first thing on Friday morning, we're just finishing off fitting the repainted panels and then the bike has to go through the wash bay". Crumbs, lay it on thick or what.

Anyway, at 13h00 on Friday June 23rd, Herman and I were reunited in Cape Town. Herman's battle scars a mere memory and a single thumb of the starter button has Herman purring quietly, waiting for the adventure to start.

Since I've arrived back, I've tabled the experiences and adventures I want to live and, of course, many involve Herman. Experience one, South Africa playing rugby at Newlands.

Courtesy of a kind colleague, I find myself brandishing a season ticket to the SA-France game. Commonly, those who I've spoken to, watch at home as they cannot handle the traffic and crowds.

Well, Herman and I arrive at Newlands (after a quick stop for a pint at the Forrester's Arm's) and the police lady tells me to make my way to the front gate. We arrive at the front gate and the policeman tells me to park up next to his bike on the pavement. No problem, bike won't be touched as he?s there for the duration of the game. Cool!

So, what's the expression, "Rugby is a game played by 30 fools and commented on by 20 000 specialists".

Well, I had the prize specialist behind me. I was in fits of laughter as I listened to his comments. When the French scrum collapsed, his comments in Afrikaans had me wiping tears from my eyes.

Os Du Randt, SA's largest forward then lands on top of a Frenchman, to which I comment, in a Michael Cane sort of tone, "Please get off the French people".

The whole quadrant of the stand just erupted and from then on, you had Afrikaans and Michael Cane commentating. Too bad SA lost but wow, what an experience. Leaving the game, I get to the bike to find people having themselves photographed next to Herman.

From there, I took a ride back via Houtbay and Constantia Nek, arriving back in Blouberg at 18h30. I found myself a window seat in the beachfront pub and just sat there admiring the view of Herman with Table Mountain as a backdrop.

On Friday, despite us being in the middle of winter, the weather forecast is 18-21 degrees and ZERO chance of rain - just what I needed when I was missing the X9 Rider Club mates in England.

So of course, Sunday, I saddle up and set off for a place called Ceres. This is a place famed for its highly fertile soils responsible for growing the country's leading Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and fresh fruit.

I leave the N1 and take the R44 and settle in for the ride. The wind is howling from the right and at times I?m riding the bike at the most bizarre angles.

A truck flashes his lights and gives the sign to ask if I'm OK, I just grin and show him big thumbs up. Soon, we come to a set of road works where a row of about 20 cars is sitting with families walking around in the veld.

I ride up to front, park up and plug in a new CD. Surprising how different a traffic jam at road works is in this country compared to England. It was almost a fun place to be! After a few minutes, the stop sign changes to go and I take off.

Eventually, as I near the mountains in the distance, the wind eases (probably as I get closer to the lee of the mountains) and I get the most incredible payback for persevering in the howling wind.

We start to climb and the rock flashing past is so immense as to make you feel quite insignificant. Then I notice the bike getting a bit loose, only to realise that there are waterfalls which eventually leaves little streams wetting the rock and road, especially in the shaded and sheltered areas. Given the angles of lean I was visiting, I'm not surprised the bike was squirreling around like it was. (Oops!)

We climb the pass Mitchell's Pass which has a 1:12 gradient. Arriving at the top of the pass, I?m presented with the most rugged and awesome vista. I found myself opening my visor and just shouting and whooping - I have simply never seen anything so beautiful!

As I entered the pass, a track from Meatloaf came on the CD, Heaven can Wait!

I found myself saying, "Dude, you have got it so right. If this is what living is all about, then Heaven can wait", unless this is heaven already.

I arrive at Ceres, 146 miles from home and ponder the next move. It's only 11h30, I've just gassed up and a quick glance at the map shows what looks like an interesting ride to a place called Citrusdal going through Prince Alfred Hamlet and a place, aptly named Op die Berg (On the Mountain).

Leaving Ceres, and just through Prince Alfred, I enter the Gydo Pass. Snaking its way along the valley floor it then climbs to 500 meters on a beautiful surface connected by tight switchbacks and sweeping bends as you climb.

A winding road follows what seems to be the crest of a mountain yet, in the distance; your entire view is blocked by enormous ridges. Birds of prey swoop and dive in the fields on each side of the road and I watch as a large black bird dives on a small river only to take off with a long snake in its claws.

I watch carefully that the bird keeps a firm grip on what is surely by now, a very p1ssed off snake. Don?t go dropping that thing anywhere near me.

Now, here's a tip for travellers in SA, when you check the map and see something different, READ THE FLAMING INDEX! Those two thin lines which replace the one solid line should have made me question this.

Still if you gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough. For those wanting to know, this signifies that the road is GRAVEL and that this particular stretch is over 40 kilometers.

Being a firm believer in never turning back at the sign of hardship or riding the same road twice in one day, I persevere. At first, the going is pretty good until we start climbing.

Alpine switchbacks and off camber bends are complemented by loose rocks and stones. Anyone who wondered why you need to do U-Turn feet up, this is it!

Thank heavens for ABS brakes which don?t lock up as well as a huge torqeuy motor mean you have absolute control of the elements to keep you safe. What I was really concerned with was the thin rubber of a road going Bridgestone going over boulders and sharp rocks and thinking, any minute now I'm gonna hear the bang of my Bridgestone?s.

Eventually I see a bloke coming in the opposite direction with a "Correction Services" 4x4. I flag him down and the shock and horror on his face convinces me that they don't see too many bikes up here, let alone a BMW tourer.

With my spirit of adventure being tested I sheepishly ask how much further till I find tar road, "Oh, only another 1/2 a kilometre he says" - I could have kissed him! This last 500 meters was I think a summary reminder to those who have passed along this road of the conditions you've experienced. With rocks and stones spinning away beneath the wheels I eventually sit down in the saddle and wallow in the smoothness of the refound tar road.

Reaching Citrusdal, I don't even stop I'm so desperate to get back to civilisation. I turn left onto the N7 towards Cape Town and soon I see a sign Cape Town 187 kilometres.

All this time, the CD has been playing and fittingly, a fired up track from AC/DC comes on the CD, I wind up the revs and at 4 700r/min, I'm hooking along at 110mph -life is good. In the distance, I see another bike and I quickly reel them in. It's a 3 month old 1200RT ridden by a husband and wife couple from Simonstown.

I pass then swiftly with a wave and thumbs up and after another 10 kilometres, I see the ENGEN services and Spur Steakhouse in the distance. I peel off and run for a quick empty before ordering a toasted cheese and a coke. A table outside in the baking sunshine is greeted with a view from horizon to horizon of mountain ridges.

Suddenly I was not in any rush. The couple I had passed earlier returned having decided that grub was a good call. Braam, the rider told me how they had come almost in my footsteps only to have taken another route to avoid the dirt roads. (Wish I had seen that).

The car park fills with 4x4's loaded with farmers and locals. The comments on the BMW?s kept us grinning and a little guy, about 3 or 4 would simply not go with his parents into the restaurant. He just stood there staring at Herman. Eventually I call his father over, switch off the alarm and the father puts the kid in the seat. The look on this kids face I will treasure forever.

After a delicious sandwich and ice cold coke, I saddle up and hit the N7 again. This is a great road with long sweeping bends, stunning vistas as far as you can see and fields just greening with the first of the seeds and plantations coming alive.

I see the turn to Melkbos Strand and take a right. This short road joining the N7 to the R27 West Coast road is lovely and wide with long sweeping bends and a pleasure to ride.

A final stop at the beachfront and a quick Savannah Dry Cider to wash the road dust out of the throat and the sun sets of the first African Adventure of my German Buddy. 537 kilometres door to door and a spirit of adventure so alive and real I can almost chew it.

Life in SA, with Herman as my companion, is going to be wonderfully rewarding. Next weekend is the Knysna Oyster Festival. The route I've chosen is the scenic R62.

The R62 is an altar to the road god at which one whose quest is the winding road worships. A 520 kilometre roller coaster ride which already leaves me sleepless with anticipation. I hope you'll check in after next weekend for the next instalment of Herman's African Adventure.




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