Monday, January 28, 2013

Why we ride bike

Ever wondered why people ride dangerous machines to work? Beating the traffic might be the only answer to that one, but take the "to work" out of the question and you end up with this clip for an answer. Let's use the cliché about pictures saying more than words....

 Well done to the guys who put this together. Seeing that I have also contributed a milli-second of footage to this I am sure I can post this on my blog and pretend I also know the answer.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Downwind Drop-out

I wasn't aiming for a spot under the first 10, for that I had too little experience and skill. My aim was just to finish. But it was not that simple...

The Langebaan Downwind Dash is an annual sailing event starting from Langebaan and ending after a 20 km slalom course in Saldanha. If my kite choice was correct and I didn't loose my board on the way...OR my way on the board, then finishing would be no problem. I was walking around the beach earlier in the day to see what size kites the guys were rigging up, but was still concerned that I might be over-powered on my 10 Cabrinha Switchblade. The wind prediction for late afternoon was quite strong and one never knows how strong the wind blows on the open sea. The option to take my 7 Nomad was scrapped when the event organizers announced that the race will start 30 minutes later than planned due to their "only problem for the day"....the lack of wind. 

When we lined up for the start I could already feel that even my 10 might not be able to get me smoothly to Saldanha. After I dropped my kite on the first leg of the course while trying everything in my power to get decent pull, I knew I was in for a tough race. Everyone was frantically throwing their kites up and down to get speed. After the first turn I eventually got momentum but still wondering if I should continue or terminate my attempt at the second turning point which is close to Mykonos Beach. 

The third leg was going quite well. I overtook a few wind surfers who obviously are more expensive on wind consumption than me. I realized that the next turning point was quite far so I decided not to look ahead, but to take it ripple by ripple just following the guy in front of me. At some point, just to make sure I was still heading in the right direction, I looked up and realised that someone must have switched off the fans ahead of me. Around the area where the iron ore jetty runs into the bay, kites were scattered all over the water surface. I realised that the wind must have dropped and it wasn't long after that when my kite also starting giving up instead of staying up. I slowly sunk back into the water and knew that all I need to do now was to keep my kite in the air and wait until the wind picks up again. I didn't want to sail into the "doldrums" and also end up with a kite on the water, so I decided to hang around where I was with the hope of getting wind again soon and watch when they start going again. I was about three and a half kilometres from shore. I knew that if did't get my kite in the air again I was going to drift downwind towards the iron ore jetty. My aim was to finish the race, not slowly collide with a protruding iron obstacle. All I could do was wait.

After a couple of minutes struggling to keep the kite up, my kite dropped to the sea surface like a red autumn leave. Unless the wind pick up considerably I knew I was NOT going to get it in the air again. With only my kite board for support and feeling that I cannot stay afloat any more I decided to reel myself in towards my kite so that I could at least hold on to my kite. This is the standard procedure for rescuing yourself in the event of a kite "failure" deep at sea. The next step is to start praying but I was not there yet. I wasn't too worried as the organisers promised at least 10 rescue boats and I was not the only one at that point with my kite in the water. From where I was floating I could see at least 10 more kites down. Only after a while my thoughts started wandering towards programs I have seen on National Geographic Wild and the shark cage diving I did a few months ago. The water was quite murky and I was sure that underneath me were spectators of a different kind checking out the Downwind Dash from a different angle and different reasons.

After spending about 30 minutes going nowhere other than closer to the jetty, a boat with a friendly couple came past and offered to help. At this time there were already 40+ kites in the water and no NSRI boats in sight. I got in, was offered a Heineken and started helping pulling out other drop-outs from the water. Funny though that they have all watched the same programs on National Geographic Wild and seemed to have had the same concerns I had.

In the end there were probably 90 or more kiters who did not make it to the finish line, including me of course, so I don't feel to ashamed for my "Downwind Drop-out". It was a big disappointment though, but I guess if your largest kite is a 10 and the wind stops blowing then it can be called "circumstances beyond my control". There were even size 14 kites that did not make it. All I can do now is wait for next year and try again. This time I am only entering if gale force winds are predicted.

Thanks to Mark And Alli who was so kind to rescue us. Mark is also a kite boarder who decided on the day to skip the race and do the boat thing because he had concerns about the lack of wind as well. In the end the boat ride back to shore was quite pleasurable as well. I might not have come back with a prize, but I do have a nice story to tell....

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Explore Africa

Monday, January 14, 2013

Go check it out....

If you ever happen to find yourself in Plett (Plettenberg Bay) again and you just want to get away from it all then head down Piesang Valley Road and go find yourself a spot to relax and to fill your stomach at the same time. I've been to Plett a few times, but funny enough I've never stayed over until recently when I joined a couple of varsity friends for a little reunion. I discovered a new playground, but yet again I didn't have any of my toys with me, so with my family and friends we headed down to Earth Cafe

Earth Cafe is part of the Global Village and a few kilometres outside Plett on the Piesang Valley Road. I was amazed when I saw the quaint little place in the middle of what could easily be called "the bush" and even though we were just going to have a small breakfast we stayed for a couple of hours just relaxing and forgetting that we need to be back at work on Monday. The place has a fantastic feel to it and you cannot imagine that close by is the bustling holiday town of Plett and a few kilometers north runs the busy N2 highway. Although I only had a small breakfast, it is definitely worthwhile checking out the menu. Food you can eat with your eyes first.  

I spoke to the owner and asked him whether he does not want to create a camping site for bikers, but from the look I got and guess I will need a bit more convincing. I am even prepared to push my bike for the last couple of meters not to disturb the silence. Take your family there and enjoy this gem, you will easily forget that there are things like work and cities in your life as well.

Friday, January 4, 2013

South African Xmas Tree

Revival Tour 2013

In 2012 I didn't do nearly as many trips I would have liked to. I decided that 2013 was going to be different, so I did my first trip on the 1st of January and called it my "Revival Tour". What was supposed to be a four day trip however ended after two days mainly because of two reasons. On the second day I landed mid-day at Matjiesfontein where I was supposed to overnight and had no idea what I was going to do with myself for the rest of the afternoon besides maybe taking some pictures and visiting the museum. Riding on seemed like a better option at the time. Secondly my "patched-up" topbox which had been "repaired" after a previous fall fell off with all my camera equipment inside. Fortunately this sturdy BMW top box could give any Coleman cooler box a run for its money and my cameras survived a second crash. I was however not prepared to take it for a third bashing seeing that it has survived two already and the third time might be interpreted as "pushing my luck". I was also not going to spend a whole afternoon in Matjiesfontein musing on whether I should continue my tour with a dodgy topbox or head straight home and postpone the last part of my trip until a next time.

My initial plan was to take as much footage of my trip with my Sony Handycam and compliment it with a few  shots from my GoPro attached to my helmet. I had my SLR camera also on board hoping for some nice photo opportunities at various locations like Matjiesfontein, Barrydale, Prince Albert, etc. The ideas was to create a nice 20-minute movie of my Revival Tour for my blog...

On New Year's Day I left Cape Town at 6:30, headed for Worcester via the Du Toitskloof Pass and stopped quite frequently along the way to gather footage. It was actually cold most of the way with temperatures ranging from 15 degrees to 21. I knew I had the whole day to get to Mossel Bay, so I was really just cruising along absorbing the scenery. At Seweweekspoort I planned a quick "in-and-out" ride because I have never been through Seweweekspoort before. It would be the only "no t-shirt yet" section of my whole trip and I was really excited to see what the place looked like. What a lovely road and scenery.   Unfortunately it was not exactly what I was expecting to see and experience. I was a bit disappointed but think it was because of reports I have read and an image I have created about this "must-do" poort that created the exeptionally high expectations. Compared to roads like Prince Alfred Pass, Gamkaskloof, Montagu Pass and even Meiringspoort it was not as adventurous and exciting as I had hoped for. I was planning on spending at least two or more hours in the poort for footage, but eventually did the 40km through and back in less than an hour. I was also totally appalled at the amount of rubbish that was floating in the rivers and blowing around the picnic spots. I guess after New Year celebrations that could be expected, but it really was a sad face to see on such a beautiful morning.

The rest of the way to Mossel Bay via Oudtshoorn and the Robinson Pass was well concluded with a braai at my brother-in-law's.

My second day started at around 7 am and I left for the Montagu Pass via the old road to George passing through Blanco. The Montagu Pass to me is really spectacular and I have spend lots of time on that pass before. I remember years ago when I still thought it would be the biggest challenge to do it on a mountain bike. I did it a few times since then and every time I go there I just want to stay there as long as I can. It's really worth going early in the morning when everything smells fresh with its cool and damp shaded areas and "foresty" smell. It was here that I realised with utter disgust that all the files on my Handycam from the previous day were corrupted. It would not be the first time that I have lost all the files on this stupid little video recorder, so my hopes of retrieving it was lost along with my "Producer" aspirations. I never took many pictures with my SLR on the way either so it was left up to the GoPro to save the day...and the tour for that matter.

After the Montagu Pass I joined the queue of Gauteng motorist heading towards Oudtshoorn and for them eventually towards a province they sadly call "home". I was thinking how bad it must be to be driving back to Gauteng after a holiday on the South Coast and shouted a little "Thank You Lord it's not me!" inside my helmet. When I drove into Oudtshoorn I let go of my handle bars to stretch my arms and nearly lost control because of a wobbling front wheel. I stopped to check it out thinking that I might have lost one of the little wheel balancing weights, but it was not that. I was a bit worried as I have never felt that wobble before. I've had concerns with an "unstable front suspension" since I bought the bike. Compared to my previous F800GS the handlebars just feel very loose at high speeds and now all of a sudden it does weird things at slow speed as well. With the Swartberg Pass still beckoning to be conquered and no Motorad support in Oudshoorn (nothing found on my iPone) I decided to move along and hope for the best.

I was doing about 80 kph all the way to the foot of the Swartberg Mountains frequently letting go of my handlebars hoping that the wobble would have mysteriously disappeared. Later I slightly got used to the wobble and decided to focus on the ride rather than the possibility of getting tank-slapped before I reach my final destination. There were quite a few vehicles on the pass already, as well as mountain bikers thinking they were mean to do it on leg power. I also thought that long time ago when I crossed the Swartberg Pass on a mountain bike but then I discovered the engine-driven two-wheeled mode of transport and never felt the need to "prove myself "again. By this time of my trip I was just using my GoPro for footage and decided that I will make short clips of the passes in case someone would be interested to look at it. It might give an idea of what the passes look like and the road conditions. Maybe I can prevent someone from having a disappointment like I had at Seweweeks or make them more relax for an upcoming trip across the mighty Swartberg Mountains.

The ride over the pass was excellent as usual. I am always amazed by the engineering and commitment that must have gone into the planning and construction of the pass. I drove past the turn-off to The Hell and smiled because of a previous experience I had there with a mate's Buel that made it there but only half-way back. I was a bit sad when I reached the end of the pass and was contemplating going back again just to do the long uphill section to the top. I prefer going UP passes and hate the coming down part, but I still had to get to Matjiesfontein and was hoping on getting something to eat at Prince Albert before I finish the boring part of the day's route. The temperature already reached the high twenties, but after refuelling I decided to skip breakfast and head straight on to Matjiesfontein.

The stretch to Prince Albert Way and the N1 to Laingsburg was exhausting and boring as usual. On the N1 the oncoming traffic was hectic but did not bother me much. I was more trying not to fall asleep and with a strong side/head-on wind struggling to keep my bike on the road. I stopped for "breakfast" in Laingsburg around noon and with a full stomach on my way to Matjiesfotein I hit the bump which dislodged my topbox and send it flying through the air. Fortunately for me I heard it fall on the tar behind me and I immediately stopped to retrieve it and roughly calculate a ball-park figure on the damage. With around R15 000 worth of camera equipment inside I was a bit peeved off with myself for always wanting to fix things the "cheap way". Fortunately nothing was broken except maybe my motivation to continue the tour with this self-launching topbox. When I reached Matjiesfontain at  around 12:30 I had already made up my mind to push on. If it was going to be "homeward bound", then it was NOT going to be on the N1. I turned off at Touws River to go via Ceres and the Bain's Kloof Pass. With a wobbly front wheel and a shaky topbox I spend more time now checking my equipment in the rear-view mirror than checking the scenery ahead of me. I did however catch a glimpse of two elephants at the Aquila Nature Reserve just outside Touws River and was glad that I was still able to live in Africa with its wonderful wild life and screwed-up politicians.

When I reached Bain's Kloof Pass it was already 33 degrees. I switched on my GoPro for the last time and in between silly motorist and a precariously bouncing topbox I was rather relieved when I reached Wellington. There I stopped for a pie and Coke and from there on took a leisurely ride back home. I reached my house at around 4:30.

Doing over 1200 kilometres in two days is not really what I had planned, but what I was very pleased at was the fact that I started my new year with a bike trip. Maybe it did not go all that well, but it was lots of fun and a fantastic way to start the year. I am already thinking of new ways to use my GoPro and to sort out my luggage carrier issues and to have my front suspensions checked out asap. There is definitely a bike trip revival happening for me and it will hopefully continue far into 2013.

Below are the clips that I made from the passes. Rather boring to watch except maybe for the parts where I nearly left the road while looking back at the pass and the arsehole who didn't want me to pass him on the Bain's Kloof Pass. Unfortunately the quality on YouTube is also not as good as the files I uploaded, but the time it took to upload discouraged me from uploading again. No wheelies, sand monsters, skilled manoeuvres or exciting stuff, but at least a good idea of what the passes look like from the seat of a motorbike.