Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day 1


Excitement is off the charts. The bike was loaded and ready the night before already and we were up very early. Geared up and ready we said our goodbyes to the family and headed to the rendezvous point to meet up with Smidty and his son.

Ready for the big adventure:

Smidty and I have not ridden together before and our sons do not know each other, so it was literally introductions before we set of. It was a perfect day for it too - clear skies and brilliant scenery. Smidty and I both needed to get away for a bit. Just get away from it all and recharge.

The wheels sang as we rode past Kaaimans, Wilderness, Island Lake, Langvlei, Sedgefield, Groenvlei, The Knysna lagoon... Perfect scenery on this crystal clear day. Seemed ironic that this was what we were trying to "get away from".

Just past Plett we left the Nasional road towards Nature's valley on the “old passes road”. Nature's Valley is a small village at the mouth of the Groot River at the bottom of the Groot River pass. The little town is enfolded with mountainous forest and must be one of the most beautiful parts of the Garden Route. It is the only residential area within a South African National Park. This route (the R102) runs through the Groot-, Bloukrans- and Storms River gorges are some of Thomas Bain’s masterpieces.

Nobody thought that a coastal road would be possible through the dense forest, but Bain never shied away from a challenge. This “old passes road” offers one of the most rewarding scenic drives in the country to travellers who have the time. But who has time anymore? Everybody races past on the N2. Sad that they're missing out on this:

"We're coming to the end of a hundred years or more of devices we invented to save time. What has become of this? Nobody has enough time anymore... We are a time-impoverished society. We have lots of material things, but we have no time left. It is the time of mechanical devices... It is the new poverty." Needleman - 1999

But not us We are on holiday and have LOTS of time to take it all in!

Our third pass for the day:
(Kaaimans having been the first)

The original Bloukrans Pass was built during 1881 and recently upgraded. It is currently closed to traffic though due to flood damage. Well, it's closed if you're not on an adventure bike

With the road being closed there is almost no traffic. Bliss! And just look at the scenery!

This is just what the doctor ordered. Over that bridge we enter the Eastern Cape

Shortly after crossing the Bloukrans River there is a magnificent viewpoint of the toll road-bridge over the river.

Bloukrans Bridge was completed in 1984 and is said to be the highest single span arch bridge in the Africa (216m). They claim to have the third highest commercially operated Bungy Jump in the world. The thing is that you cannot see the beauty of the bridge when you're on it. Also, by riding over it on the busy N2 highway (and paying a toll to do so! ) you miss out on the alternative - the magnificent Bloukrans Pass. No wonder people want to (bungy) jump off the bridge. You have to punish yourself for such stupidity

Next up is the Storms River gorge. The pass through the Storms River gorge unfortunately is not open to traffic anymore and you have to cross on the N2 over the Paul Sauer Bridge:

The Paul Sauer Bridge is (wrongly) known to many as the "Storms River Bridge". It was designed by Riccardo Morandi and was completed in 1956.

After a short stint on the N2 the GPS tells us to take an offramp and a minor road and so we do. We both have the same route loaded on our GPS's but funnily enough the two GPS's want to take us to vastly different places We stop at a T-junction and my GPS says "Turn Right on Road". Smidty looks at his GPS and it says "Turn Left on Road". What the hell? This is where I start having trust issues with the GPS...

Luckily we still know where we are and we turn Left. I shudder as I think we're heading into the Eastern Cape mountains where we would not know where we are and will be reliant on these devises. What did the future hold?

Another "refreshment" stop Also our first gravel for the day!

We're heading to St Francis Bay and the reason is two-fold: I want to photograph Seal Point Light house and I thought it a good idea to start off in the Eastern Cape at sea level, seeing that we're going to be on some pretty high passes at a later stage.

Cape St Francis Lighthouse or Seal Point Light house was built in 1878 at this cape point to warn ships of the dangerous reefs that stretch more than a kilometer out to the sea. It is the tallest masonry tower on the South African coast standing at a height of 27.75 m. Although it is no longer in full operation it is open to the public and guided tours of this historic lighthouse are available.

This is where the ride really started for me. From here on we ride into the unknown. Especially with our very creative GPS's The route was carefully planned and loaded but the GPS had other ideas. Somehow we ended up riding a dirt road from St Francis bay to Jeffery's Bay. I never even knew a dirt road between those places existed! Eventually we did get to the Van Staden's Pass:

The Van Stadens Bridge is a concrete arch bridge over the Van Stadens River. It was opened on November 11, 1971. Just 12 days later, a Uitenhage man jumped to his death, and its reputation as the Bridge of Death grew from there. The death toll from suicides off the bridge is currently at 72.

A R1-million video-camera surveillance system, paid for by private donors, was installed in August 2005. Gauteng journalist Franz Kemp raised the funds after his daughter Inge had jumped off the bridge in 2003. The local police and pedestrians have rescued some twenty people from jumping off since that time.

The latest suicide happened on the 8th of August 2009 when a 20 year old man jumped to his death while onlookers from Cape Town and a family from PE stood admiring the bridge. Standing here I could imagine that it must have been a terrible sight as you are quite close to the bridge.

We continued North to Uitenhage where (luckily) I stopped to photographed this beautiful municipal building.

While stopped Smidty asked whether we're not going to get fuel. "Nah. The GPS has a waypoint marked Last Fuel Today. We'll do it there."

"Uhm, we've passed that waypoint already"

What the hell? My GPS chose to ignore that little waypoint. Go figure. So we turn around to get fuel and supplies for the evening.

Some interresting trivia on Uitenhage: In the 1880s the signalman at the station, who lost both legs in an accident, trained a baboon called Jack to pull the signal levers. The baboon did the job for 9 years until his death. Maybe I should get a baboon to work my GPS?

Finally we left civilization behind. We saw some beautiful scenery and impressive structures today, but the aim of the trip was to get away and into the mountains. So off we went, heading North towards the Zuurberge and Addo Elephant park. Incredibly I have never been here. It wont be the last time.

This area was not always an Elephant sanctuary. This used to be farmland. As farming activities in the lower Sundays River intensified, the Addo farmers came into conflict with the local elephants which were very destructive of their crops. Eventually, a professional hunter was engaged to exterminate them. In 1931 there were only eleven elephants remaining when, fortunately, the government stepped in and created a sanctuary.

Today the Addo Elephant National Park has grown to some 125 000 hectares and is well on the way to becoming much larger still - about 400 000 hectares. The elephant herd now numbers over 400, a tribute to the long-term efforts of conservation.

We headed further North still to a place called Slagboom. Slagboom has it's own Police station and a dam, but not much else. I wonder how it got it's name? Sounds interesting. Anyway, we arrived at our camp at Slagboom Outdoors thirsty after a hot first day. Temperatures soared to 30 degrees today and an even hotter day was forecast for tomorrow

Camp was set up:

We were the only people there. Pure bliss. Asterix and Smidty Jnr gathered / chopped some wood (and found that my new axe was as blunt as anything ) and made the fire. We all clicked well today and got to know each other better on our first night. We chatted about the upcoming passes and it's difficulty level. I haven't been to most of the passes (except Katberg and Michell's Pass) myself so I had no idea what to expect. But I knew that there would be some testing areas.

TR: "Don't worry, it wont be worse than Baviaans and even that is not that difficult"

Smidty: "I've never been to Baviaans on my bike."

TR: "Well, it's not that bad believe me. The guys on the WD forum exaggerate everything. Some even think Swartberg Pass is difficult and that's nothing but a gravel road. I'm sure you'll be fine."

Smidty: "I've never been over Swartberg Pass on my bike."

TR: "Oh. Well, don't worry. Trust me..."

The four of us chatted around the fire under a brilliant starlit night. We removed our tents' rain flies when we turned in and lay looking at the vast expanse above us.

I even managed to clock in at home with the weak cellphone signal we had. Mrs.TR was worried about Asterix being on such a long trip.

*Phone rings*

"Hello hun! Just phoning to report that all is well. Asterix and I are in the Zuurberg mountains and about to fall asleep under the stars."

You cannot buy memories like these.

We rode 438km today and 4 passes. Tomorrow we head over the Zuurberg and into the Eastern Cape Proper. If all goes according to plan we'll ride Katberg Pass and sleep in Hogsback.

Sources: Wikipedia; Romance of the Cape Mountain Passes; jbay.com; Wikipedia; Routes.co.za; Addo

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