Thursday, January 6, 2011

The "Franschhoek and beyond" trip


A friend of mine who also has a four year old son recently bought a new bike after he had been "bikeless" for a couple of years. Our conversations about four year-olds have taken a dramatic turn towards the stuff that men actually should be talking about...stuff like bikes and road trips. Not only did he get a new bike, but he was wise enough to buy something that could go on tar as well as gravel...a BMW F800 GS. Yes, the same bike as what I have and the same colour. He only had white and orange to choose from so one cannot really congratulate him for getting the colour right (besides, he had help from his wife and 4 year old son), but for choosing the right bike he has to be publicly praised. I wish to believe that my input during our conversations at the beach while our four year-old sons were braving the cold Atlantic waters convinced him to make that choice, but seeing that he is relatively intelligent (more than me) with enough biking experience (definitely more than me), I am sure he convinced himself that the F800GS was the bike to go for. I am quite excited about his decision though because I have added a new biking buddy to my list who can explore the dirt roads with me. Now our conversations are a bit more about bikes and less about four year-old boys, but we both cannot wait for these two boys to grow up so that we could involve them in our biking expeditions. But for now they still have to play in the cold Atlantic while we explore the hot gravel road of South Africa.

Stopping for breakfast
Talking about "hot gravel roads". This morning we went for our first ride together. We didn't really have any plans on where we were going. He just wanted to get on the road (everyone with a new bike knows the feeling) and I was just glad to have someone to share the experience with. We were hoping of doing some gravel as well, but we realised that gravel worth riding is a bit far from Cape Town, so we did the normal Malanshoogste Road, the Occultdale Road and the Slent Road for our "gravel part" of the tour. His bike was doing great on the gravel, and so was he. But the rest of our trip was on tar. I am sure that we will do a proper gravel ride very soon. We stopped in Franschoek for breakfast. After the breakfast we realized that it was still early and decided where else we wanted to go. Somewhere "beyond" Franschhoek. Anywhere except back home. And this is where the fun of having a bike and having time on your hands come in. We looked at the map and decided that if we head on towards Villiersdorp that we only have two options of getting back. One is via Grabouw and back on the N2 (which we didn't think was a good option), and the other was towards Worcester and back on the N1...or not if we take the scenic route. So the obvious choice had to be Worcester.

Down towards Breede Valley
Cold drinks at Rawsonville
 We were a bit concerned about the temperature, it was 9.30 and the temperature was already touching the thirties. At Villiersdorp I filled up and from there we cruised in the direction of Worcester. It reminded me of my first "rookie gravel trip" I did with some guys in that area. We started of at 80km/h so that I could get used to the gravel. Boy, that feels like years ago. It was really getting hot and as we approached the Brandvlei Dam, what I first thought were clouds were actually a layer of smoke from veld fires. Typical dry and hot conditions for veld fires and the fire department was working hard to extinguish the many spots where the fires were jumping up. On the bikes it felt as if we were riding in the fire as well as the temperature was in the mid-thirties already. Just before Worcester we turned of towards Rawsonville. The last time that I went through Rawsonville the temperature was minus 2 degrees. Today it was 34 degrees.  We stopped for a cool drink and there I decided that the remainder of my trip was going to be without a jacket. I don't like riding without proper gear, but I reckoned that losing consciousness from heat exhaustion was more likely than falling and scraping my elbows on the tar. We were in any case taking it very slow and enjoying the scenery instead of pinching our bums to make it around the corners.

I wasn't feeling like taking the N1 back to Cape Town, so I suggested the same route my BIL and I took a few days ago when we returned from the South Coast. Through the Slanghoek Valley and over Bain's Pass. I stopped at the Breede River low water bridge to take the picture I wanted to take months ago when we flew passed on that road when Noelene was doing her "mileage trip". That trip had no time for pictures. It was extremely hot at this point and I was thinking of jumping in the river with only my birthday suit on, but unfortunately some locals have pitched up camp next to the bridge and would not have appreciated my stunt, so we headed on towards Bain's Pass.

I have been over the Bain's Pass a couple of times now, and I have never actually stopped to get down to the river. I think a day trip with some beers in an ice box would be a good idea, but how do I carry beer in an ice box on my bike? Maybe I should fill my topbox with water and see if it leaks. Today the temperature was touching the forties along the pass and unfortunately I didn't get my swim in this time either. I will definitely return to this spot for that much needed dip in the Wit River.

From the Bain's Pass it was on to Wellington where the mercury hit the 41.5 degree mark. Riding towards Cape Town the first sign of "coastal" air hit us when the temperature dropped to 33 degrees. It was for sure one of my hottest trips so far, and even though riding in minus 2 degrees sounds like "uncomfortable riding conditions", I think that hitting 41 could be just as uncomfortable. But in the end the ride was a lot of fun. The two 800's were enjoying every moment and so were their riders. The ride was about 250km and took us, with the breakfast included, around 6 hours to complete. Still too fast. We stopped a couple of times to take pictures and enjoy the scenery, but I guess one could do the same trip a couple of times and still find new things to see. I think that we both already are thinking about our next trip. We will just wait for cold air to move in from the Atlantic first....

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