Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The little devil in the back of the car

Some advice from an explorer. Do NOT explore new roads when you are 400km from home and you have a bored 3 and a half year old in the back seat....

Mossel Bay's Harbour
Mossel Bay towarsd the left
I am always looking for new roads...or the scenic routes as I prefer to call them. The problem with finding these roads is usually time...or rather the lack there off. We are so used to speeding from one point to our final destination that we forget to look for the "alternative routes". There are quite a few roads in the Southern Cape that I still want to do, and I have a long list of them, but finding the time is usually the obstacle. After spending a weekend in the Garden route I decided to take a different road back home. My plan was to leave the N2 10 kilometres after Mossel Bay and then to cross the Outeniqua Mountains via Herbertsdale and Van Wyksdorp to finally reach the well known Route 62. From there it would be straight back home. But there were two things that I didn't take into account....the surface of the road and the patience of my 3 and a half year old son in the back seat.

Herbertsdale Valley
Little devil and his stones
I sort of did know that the road from Herbertsdale via van Wyksdorp (R327) is gravel, but what I did not know was the condition of the road. We left Mossel Bay at around 9 am after I took one or two pictures from the top of the hill where all the rich people live, and headed straight for Herbertsdale. To get to Herbertsdale one has to turn off about 10 kilometres after Mossel Bay just before the PetroSA refinery. This road has a couple of twists and turns and eventually goes down into the Herbertsdale valley, pass the Gourits River. Herbertsdale is a very small town with only one shop (OK, there might be one or two more), but I did not stop to take pictures. At this point we have already stopped once to take pictures, but the stop was rather to give my son some "time outside the vehicle". He insisted on picking up stones (he is an avid stone collector) on the side of the road and it was already a struggle to get him back into the car. I didn't want to push my luck any further.

Going towards Cloete's Pass
Part of Cloete's Pass
On the other side of Herbertsdale we hit our first gravel. The road looked very well maintained and I was sure that we would get to Van Wyksdorp and eventually to Route 62 in no time. But first we had to cross Cloete's Pass. The pass actually runs in between the Langeberg Mountains and the Outeniqua Mountains, but with enough sharp bends to make it yet another stunning gravel pass. Here I reluctantly stopped once or twice to take some pictures. We crossed a couple of low water bridges and drifts and I was sure that during the raining season there would be no way to use this road. I also realized that there were no cell phone reception and I was rather pleased to know that we were entering rather desolate terrain. Should we have a break down here, we would have to wait for passing cars, and there weren't many of them around. I knew that this was more a road for my bike, but I had an opportunity to see it and I was not turning back or anything. My son on the other hand was getting rather annoyed with sitting in the car and was making life really hard for us.

Cement road on opposite bank
Low water bridge over Gourits
As we went further the road became more and more rocky. It was clear to see that the road does not get used much. We couldn't see any farms and I was sure that this was "no-man's land". Going deeper and deeper into the valley was really awesome and when we finally reached the Gourits River (I assume it was the Gourits River, there were no signs) I was ready to stop and hopefully take my son for a quick swim. Unfortunately (or fortunately) by this time he had fallen asleep. I stopped on the way down for a picture but had to keep on driving as we reached the low water bridge. At this point I promised myself that I will come back later for a proper swim in this river. With absolutely no-one around swim suits are definitely non-compulsory. Freedom at its best. On the opposite bank the gravel road turned into a 100 meter single lane concrete road, probably because of its steepness and problems with erosion. From here onwards we were in the Klein Karoo and ahead of us was nothing but dry earth and a long stretch of dusty road.

Langeberg Mountains on the left
Karoo "dust showers"
We eventually reached civilization again in the form of some remote farmsteads, but due to the poor condition of the road we weren't traveling very fast. My son was still asleep and even though I wanted to continue past Van Wyksdorp, I now started looking at my watch and contemplating the distance still ahead. At some point he will wake up and if we are still exploring the same gravel road he might make it even more difficult for us to enjoy the adventure. So, I was looking for the shortest way home now, and when we reached the turn off to Van Wyksdorp I did a few calculations and decided to head straight on to the nearest tarred road. Just before we reached the R323 which gave us the option of 20 kilometres back to the N2 or 43 kilometres to Route 62, we entered a small Klein-Karoo rain shower. Not what you can call rain, but it did settle the dust a bit. We call it "stofbuie" ("dust showers") in South Africa. The smell of the rain falling on the dry Karoo veld was better than most of the perfumes you find in the duty free shops at Heathrow. At the tarred road I went for the 20kms south over the Garcia Pass option towards the N2. I knew that from there it is much quicker to Cape Town than via Route 62. If it hadn't been for the little devil that was still sleeping like an angel in the back of the car, I would've however gone for the yet-to-be-discovered scenic route. But now at least I know what the road looks like. I also know that this is a definite one for the bike and not for the family car. I will come back to take my dip in the river that I unfortunately had to pass in an attempt to spare ourselves possible complications further down the road to Cape Town. But, I am still glad I did it and I don't blame the little devil in the back of the car. One day when he is older his dad will take him on the back of the bike....and we will explore more roads and both do our swim together in the first suitable river we find.

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