I've always said that the Karoo wasn't for me.
Give me the mountains of the Boland, Overberg and Garden route, the sea close by and I'm happy.
I am one for ferns and lots of water and rolling green hills. In comparison the Karoo always struck me as dry, flat and harsh.
Then Ektoknbike mentioned over a couple of beers after the Robertson charity run that he have friends over in the Karoo and that they wouldn't mind a visit from us 'stadsjapies'.
Before I knew I was a part of the few friends that was invited on this journey.
One that turned out to not only be a fantastic trip and ride around some of the (surprisingly so for a 'Karoo virgin') most beautiful and scenic areas and amazing roads, but also one that had a profound impact on the way that I look at myself, the people around me, my friends and Mother Earth. Yes even about the One that I believe created me.
Don't worry - I'm not usually this philosophical, but one thing that I cannot deny is the fact that I came back from the Karoo somehow a little bit different from how and who I was going in.
I guess its all about the perspective.
So lets start at the beginning and let me not get ahead of myself as I so often do
The excitement grew as the day of departure came closer.
I was packed and ready very early on the Thursday night already.
Friday morning 6:45 I'm off to the Engen 1 Stop where I was to meet up with Surf, Bru, BigEd and TopBox.
All dressed up and excited I get onto the loaded bike and hit the starter button.
Instead of firing up the starter happily turns the motor that every now and then lets out a fart and a pop and that's about it.
Rogue could see the surprise and frustration growing on my face. The 1st time EVER that Sauerkraut misses a beat and it must be THIS MORNING!
I almost started crying in frustration.
Well - 2 years of coping with the FJ1200 that I had with a broken starter prepared us for this morning.
My wife is very good with tow starting a bike behind the car, so off we went. After about 30 meters of spitting and popping the engine fired.
I was on my way.
Only logical explanation was that I washed the bike 2 days prior and that I didn't ride it far enough to dry all the important bits. For the rest of the trip it was as I remembered it - faultless.
So I arrived at the 1 stop a couple of minutes late to find the rest of the party present and as excited as I was.
A couple of "good morning's" and 'look what plan I made w.r.t. luggage' and we were on our way.
Swung by Biesie's place with his twins looking at the arriving party through the living room window.
'Pappa en oom Wihan motorfiets - broem!' was apparently the phrase of the morning
We decided to 'slab it' through the tunnel as we were tight on time and it was raining.
Interesting thing happened as we entered the tunnel - due to the heat inside it was instant 'fogging up' - the visors, the mirrors - everything.
We met up with the others in Ceres and then after a breakfast for some of us we hit the road to Sutherland.
We were officially, as the whole group, on our way!
The road surfaces were awesome, but on some of these roads the hardened mud tracks was testimony to the fact that these roads were not going to be as friendly if they were soaking wet.
This is Trailrider between Ceres and the turn-off towards Sutherland:
A little later we got to our first water crossing. As was mentioned Yellowfever decided to go at it again and ended up storming the water, splashing himself in the process. He looked like he just dove into the water.
This was through some hills:
Ok - officially this was uncharted territory for me. I just had to turn around and take a photo.
This was the place where the 1st major regroup and resting session was. I was already getting a soft spot for the surroundings:
Operator's Djebel taking in the scenery and the roads that are still to come. That Djebel surprised me.
We never once had to wait for him to play catch up with the 'bigger bikes'. That little 250 held its own.
Taking 11 bikes through a 'plattelandse' filling station with only one or two pumps operating takes a while, so almost everywhere I shot off during the refilling for a photo of the local church.
This is in Sutherland:
Getting hamburgers and chips for lunch at the hotel in Sutherland.
Some Graffiti on the wall in the bar area:
After Sutherland we were treated to the 1st of many more of the infamous Karoo Gravel Highways that I heard so much about.
Me and Surf were sweepers for most of the trip and we found ourselves deliberately falling behind a little so that we had to 'catch up' with the group. Fastest I've ever been on gravel was just before these photos were taken...
Surf winding down. If GS's had parachutes to slow them down his one would be deployed right about now...
Biesie coming past:
My pride and joy:
The one in the background that started the telelever and oil head generation and the one in front that (imo) perfected it:
Fuel stop in Frazerburg and only one working pump got me this.
I must say the locals were quite perplexed. Here I come with my loaded bike. Onto the sidewalk, park the bike, lie flat on my back almost underneath it. Take the foto, greet them and ride off...
This was the 1st time we had some issues.
Topbox's XR's decompression lever/valve didn't want to release all the way, making it just about impossible to kick it into life. After about 15 minutes of the 'kick/rest/fiddle/repeat- cycle' we decided to give it a go (to the entertainment of the locals I'm sure judging by the crowds that gathered) at trying to push start the beast. Not easy. We managed to get it to sound like it wanted to fire a couple of times.
Lucky for us the pushing and almost firing up let the decompression valve settle back to where it should have been and it was a very pleasant sound to hear that XR roar to life.
By this time (20 minutes after the 1st guys left) it was me and Biesie and Topbox, as well as Surf who turned back to find out where we were and then Trailrider, Yellowfever and Bru waiting on various turn-off's on the road out of there.
At some point Ektoknbike looked back trying to look for the lost sheep a little too long and found himself out farming.
It wasn't fun when we finally cought up with the front to find our fearless leader lying in the road looking very uncomfortable and his bike parked in a fence with bits having bent and broken off
At least Ektoknbike was in high spirits and the farm was just about 30km's from there. Danie came to pick the bike and rider up and we were on our last stretch after helping out and with the backdrop of the sun setting.
I like windpumps.
I also like silhouettes against the setting sun.
The Karoo makes for damn fine sunsets.
Arriving at the farm Yellowfever was just standing next to his bike and I (being lower down at the time) couldn't resist this photo:
From there it was the night ride along the tweespoor and up to our camping spot.
Danie is the best host one can wish for. He really took good care of us that evening.
It was fun and jokes and talking till late that night. The stars and milky way looked so close that it felt like we could pick them from the black background.
I saw about 4 shooting stars as well.
I was (surprisingly for me) up early the next morning, so I decided to try and make use of the sun coming up.
Early risers with the bikes in the background:
The not so early risers ...
The rising sun colouring the bikes:
I like the textures in the grass:
No - I don't have a BMW fetish - I just thought that the two similar shaped bikes and the colours was good at the time
Yes - it was that cold
Yellowfever parked his bike were it was almost facing the rising sun the next morning.
As I walked through the bikes with the camera I couldn't resist this photo:
The view from the bikes:
Biesie just having crawled out of his tent:
It was time for another show of the incredible Karoo people's hospitality.
Breakfast in the form of juice, fresh scones and volstruis droëwors.
After that we hit the road and was again treated to a veriety of different surfaces.
We needed to be slightly more awake on these roads as some of them was washed out and/or freshly grated.
You'd find yourself coming round a corner at highway speeds and then all of a sudden hitting a sandy patch.
Keeping your cool and easing through it though made most of those times just a 'what was that ? moment' after you went through it already.
This was one of the better moments.
Surf came through on the very left of the photo. Then all of a sudden his bike jerked to the right - right through the middle of the muddy patch. After that his front wheel climbed onto the ledge you see on the right in the foreground, but the rear didn't. After having ridden a good couple of rides and possibly thousands of K's alongside and with Surf I can without a doubt say that he is the 'master of the save'. I've seen him save situations on his Pig where LOTS of other riders would just either abandon ship or lose it totally.
Look at the mud spray behind the rear wheel. I just wish I could record the sounds he made while negotiating that episode!
Waiting (and eating) in Loxton
BigEd on the way out of Loxton:
Yellowfever on his way...
Surf checking out the scenery:
Our hosts for the evening was again amazing. They opened their home, their braai, their food and their bottles to us
No doubt a winner - I've always wanted one - now even more...
With lots of gates to close and the water crossings while sweeping the next day my camera didn't come out that often.
Amazing riding crossing the riverbed a couple of times.
This was after we joined up with the road going back to Frazerburg again:
At Laingsburg I got the chance to take a couple of photos of what Surf coined 'Mik-en-bekruip'.
Being big and having the bike loaded so that you cannot swing your foot over makes for an interesting approach.
I also did the 'mik-en-bekruip-dance' every time I mounted my bike.
The entrance of 7Weekspoort:
On the other side, just before Yellowfever and Trailrider headed for George Topbox discovered use number 104 for a XR...
I was so taken by the scenery that I didn't really take photos from Ladismith onwards, but this one was on the way to Anysberg:
This one was going out of AnysBerg:
After this we started splitting off and making our respective ways home to meet the schedules that some of us was on. More than once did we at the back switch our bikes off and just listened to the sound of it.
The Karoo met me as a stranger and skeptic to it, received me with open arms and within the space of these four days turned me into a lifelong fan.
There is nothing that can prepare you for its harsh beauty or the warmth you find in even the coldest situations.
As you sit on the bike going for kilometer after kilometer you can't help but look at the surroundings and your own life and situation in a totally new way. A different perspective so to speak.
You cannot help to think that you have left (be it deliberately or not) a little bit of your soul there and you want to, no, need to go back there so that you can go and find it again.
Everything is so less complicated. Harder but also easier. Slower. Simpler.
Do I want to live there ?
No - for that I am too much of a city boy.
But I find myself wanting to go back there.
Even if it is only for a couple of days.
Like so many times before, this time the John Denver song popped into my head and (for the 1st time) it made real sense:
'There are pathways winding bellow me
In pleasure I've gone where they go.
In the quiet stillness I can hear symphonies
the loveliest music I know'