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Old 10-28-2012, 12:47 AM   #1
westfrogger OP
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Joined: Aug 2010
Location: Cape Town
Oddometer: 65
Along the bottom bit of Africa

I live in Cape Town, which for those that know - or have a map handy - is more or less on the bottom-left corner of the continent. Therefore I can really only head north or east or any combination in between (unless I go by boat, in which case I can go west if it pleases me, but there are sharks and this is not ADVpaddler.com).

Since I have spent the last few years looking at what's north(-ish) of me I decided to go east for a change. Since this the Third World, we don't have a lot of choices for roads and a choose one of the quieter ones through Bains Kloof Pass (built 159 years ago, and looks like it too). Lovely part of the world: very little traffic and narrow twisty roads. And I don't even have a picture to show you ... ah well, the riding was too good to stop for pee breaks or photographs.

My route through some backroads did eventually find me on the N1 - which, imaginatively, means National Road Numero Uno. The Big Chief. And full of fekking trucks. I peel off at a little backwater (in winter, in summer it's a little back dry-river-bed) called Laingsberg. Now Laingsberg is famous for only two things. In 1981 the river flooded and killed a whole lot of people; and the 100-odd kilometres beyond it is responsible for more road deaths than any other stretch of highway in the country.



^ That means 'Flood Museum'. They are very proud of it. It's actually a very cool place: everyone is super friendly and they have lawyers so that you can make sure things are in order before you die on the next 100-kilometre stretch. Very thoughtful of them.



The 100-kilometre "Death Stretch" is always in the news, and as I expected it to be peppered with speed-trap cameras and funny blokes in ill-fitting uniforms waving radar guns I cautiously obeyed the speed limit (cross-reference with GPS and 10 km/h margin-of-error factored in ). Just out of town a very large sign proudly states the current safety status for the Death Stretch:

Days since previous accident: 0
Previous record: 11

11. Eleven days. That's their proud record. And these would be fatal accidents. Fender benders are not included. When was the last one? Last night? This morning? Hope they cleaned up ... don't want that kind of splatter on my bike. I was still considering doing a u-turn to get a photograph of the sign ... when I crested a blind rise, only to have the headlights of a car closing in on me at 240 km/h.

You see some folks think they are invincible. They buy a (bottom-line) German car and they believe it not only improves their driving skills, but that they are extremely important and other people must yield to them. Even on a blind rise will they see it fit to cross over a double white line and drive on the wrong side of the road just to get past the 'ordinary' person driving within reasonable parameters of the law (and common sense). Now you'd think that when they spot the motorcycle (who is in his designated lane) they'd apply brakes, get back into their lane, wave an apology and feel like an idiot before the ego took hold again? No. Let the fugger on the (small) motorcycle get the fug out of the way. Hell yes, I'd like to live a little longer, so I will ride on the side of the road. You two zoom past me. No inconvenience at all, I still have - let's see - a whole 2 centimetres of tar next to me wheels. Then there was the double-trailer rig (truck) passing another truck carrying two decks of cars ... it astounded me that these people expected me to simply get out of their way. Or die. My choice entirely. It sounds as if I am pissed off, but I simply find it hilarious The place is packed to the rafters with Darwin Award candidates.

As the government is paranoid about losing tax payers every 11 days or less, they have outfitted this particular stretch with countless picnic sites (that'll sort 'em out - let them load up on sugar then drive) and "Kanniedood" strips.

Now I hear you ask wtf is a Kanniedood stretch. While this is what happens when very clever people come together and have a brainstorming session. The fruits of this particular session was a grand plan to identify the really notorious parts of the road and lay some narrow strips of tar across them. That way when you drive over the strips your wheels make a noise and you wake up! Works perfectly to counteract that sleepy feeling you got from the sammich you had at the picnic site just a short distance ago ...

You can't hear them blatting along with your thumper. The best part is the one below (see photo) was just after a sweeping bend in the road ... so all sleeping drivers end up in the bushes next to the road.





But it was all fun. Because of the notoriety of the road I found all these things in good humour. It was only the one truck and one car that tried to kill me, the rest were perfectly friendly. The scenery in this part was as dull as anything, but the weather was good, the wind backing off and the iPod loaded with some good stuff. I peeled off onto a narrow road and found myself overnighting in a small town called Prince Albert. Right next to the Swartberg (direct translation: Black Mountain).

That would be the next day's adventure.

westfrogger screwed with this post 10-28-2012 at 03:33 AM
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Old 10-28-2012, 03:32 AM   #2
westfrogger OP
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Now Black Mountain Pass sounds like it could be a bad place. Well, it could be. But you have to consider that there is a road that runs off that which is called The Hell. So to put things into perspective I didn't think that Swartberg Pass was going to try to kill me. Perhaps I was naive.

Let's rewind a little so I can give you some background. My trip was really only conceived a few days before I left. I had a little spare time, and thought I'd drag my bike into the Hinterland for some exploration of places I either hadn't been to in many years, or had never seen. I was travelling alone, so could pretty much do as I please.

The day before the mountain had its head in a cloud. But morning bloomed promising good conditions for a ride into the this place of legend. Bike packed and all the junk I am carrying strapped down I headed off in the general direction of New Things. I peeled off at a sign proclaiming the start of the Swartberg Pass, and rode smack into a sign that said:

Road Closed.

Hmmm. Why? Looks okay from here? What if they are lying ... thinking back to the news that several roads had washed away just east of here a few days earlier. How bad can it be? Just ride carefully, as my insurance company will tell me to eff-off if I mess the bike up on a closed road ...

Up ahead the two rock faces of the ridges on either side of me closed in abruptly. I couldn't imagine a road going in there. Of course it did, and I found myself crossing a river twice and then started the climb towards the upper reaches of the mountain. Road conditions were excellent, and the views spectacular.



The air up there was frigid, but fresh. The views exceptional and good visibility towards the arid north.







I passed only two cars and two motorcycles came trundling past me during a stop to absorb the views. It was no-man's land. Empty and quiet. Pure magic, and almost a shame to fire up the thumper again.

The very top of the pass, named The Top of all things, had a small van with two French (I think) visitors wearing bicycle helmets. They were about to start a downhill cycle to the south. I pushed on and enjoyed the twisty roads to the next town, Oudtshoorn, the biggest town in the Little Karoo and famous for caves and a massive ostrich-feather boom of the late 1800s.



The next never-been-here place en route was the Montagu Pass. In 1847 the Montagu Pass opened for business. Travellers could now traverse the mountains in a mere 3 hours. Previously it had taken three days. Since then a new mountain pass, the Outeniqua, had been built allowing you to get over the mountain in 15 minutes. Naturally I chose the course of the 3-hour road and enjoyed the entire length of it, sharing it with only one other lunatic: somebody trying the cycle up it (erm ... whatsamatter, never heard of a motorised two-wheeler?). Washed out from the recent trains, but a darn fine ride nonetheless.

Below the pass is a sprawling metropolis called George. Home to around 70 000 folks, mostly old ones, and the gateway to far more interesting places that lie further east. First a drive down to their airport to try spot some air traffic. I love flying, and Cape Town does not allow me the luxury of seeing (larger) aircraft from either end of a runway (well, not without having myself relieved of mobile, wallet and camera gear; possibly life).



Check that off the list then ...

I left the madness of the Big Smoke that George is, and slowly wound my way along the river and coast to a gem called Wilderness. Wikipedia tells me that Wilderness has a population density of 140/km2. And bear in mind it's only 2,6 km2 in size. So it's kinda a small place, and I like that. I dropped all my luggage off where I stayed and headed out again, only to get lost. Stupidly left the maps and GPS behind and was running low on gas, but ended with some good exploring nonetheless.



The next day was meant to be one with no destination. Loop around some of the back roads in the region and get back to camp. Alrighty then.
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