Friday, September 27, 2013

Maslov's Hierarchy of (Biker) Needs

The objective was simple to answer. Cover as many gravel roads in 5 days and include one night at "Die Hel". The question I get many times probably not that simple to answer. "Why do you do it?" Here follows a possible explanation....

It was raining and cold when Jacobsroodt and myself took off from Cape Town on our way to Reebok. The idea was to go via Elim and Malgas seeing that I have never crossed the river at Malgas before. At Hermanus we drove into the Whale Festival, got chased away from the pavement in front of the Wimpy and ended up in a dainty pink cake and tea shop called Yves's Pudding & Pie. Inside we paraded like two bulls in a china shop and Jacobsroot's request for a stronger chair did not help in our effort to act more inconspicuous. I don't know if it was Yves herself that served us, but the lady sincerely apologized for the pink marshmallow and glitter on the cheesecake which we had ordered along with coffee...and yes, tea. I tested her by saying that we are gay and appreciated the finer detail in cake decoration. Her response was rather unexpected "No way, I have already noticed the wedding ring on your finger....."

After Jacobsroodt missed a turn-off we only reached our first gravel after Gansbaai. It was not a hundred meters on to that road when the first challenge was presented to us in the shape of a flooded road. Being the short-shit I am with little option of putting my feet down from my gigantic beast I managed to cross the water sitting like a little puppy dog who has yet to master the technique of lifting its leg. How does the saying go? "If you want to run with the big dogs you have to piss like a big dog". Anyway, I was not ready for that yet and after that still had to cross a few muddy patches looking like a dork. Jacobsroodt on the other hand was marking his territory with confidence.

Close to Elim we were forced to take a detour. Road constructions. Strangely enough on the detour route we reached a flooded bridge. A friendly Capetonian impressing his wife was already testing the water when we arrived and he convinced us that crossing that river was not a good idea. After comparing his wet jeans next to Jocobsroodt's bike pants it turned out that the water was knee-deep. For me that would be waist-deep. He turned around with his X5 and we decided to follow his lead. No need drowning on our first day. 

When we reached Napier rain started falling again and we realized that if we wanted to reach Reebok at around 4, we need to reconsider the rest of our journey on gravel. With the current road conditions we decided  to call it a day and headed via Swellendam to Reebok. Not much gravel for the first day, we never saw Malgas but we got the appetizer we appreciated for the rest of the tour.

Our plans to spend our second night in Gamkaskloof was put on hold when Cape Nature put a proverbial spoke in our wheel. They told us that "the Hell was fully booked". I have now doubt that Hell must be a crowded place, but the one we were thinking of could in my opinion never be full. We did alter our plans however and decided to do a circle route instead. The friendly "guest house" where we were staying was providing the best in food and entertainment so two nights at the same place was not going to hurt our reputation as hard-core travelers who doesn't stay long in one place.

The next morning we took the first gravel road just outside Reebok, filled our bikes at Blanco and made our first ascend onto the Montagu Pass. I don't know how many times I have been over the Montagu Pass, in different vehicles, bakkies, mountain bikes and on motor bike, but every time I go there I am mesmerized by the beauty of the pass. We did the occasional stop for a picture or two, but in general the pass is rather short and not very difficult to ride. 

After the pass we crossed the R62 and continued on gravel roads via Perdepoort and finally towards Uniondale. I was impressed with the road and the beauty of the area. Here Jacobsroodt was going all out and I realized that I am now finally starting to keep up with the big dog. We adjusted my handle bars the previous night to improve my standing position and it worked much better. We also adjusted my suspension on route as I was hitting it hard on some bumps. When we reached Prince Alfred's Pass we were glad to hear that the road had already been opened for traffic behind the Karoo-to-Coast cyclists who were making their way to Knysna. Unfortunately for us we did meet up with the bunch that should not have entered the race in the first place. Some were bitching and shouting because we left them covered in dust but we were cautious all the time and smiled as we passed the poor buggers who have not discovered the pleasures of off-road motor biking yet.

We covered a good section of gravel on day two, but when we reached Knysna we yet again decided to head back home and skipped the Road of Seven Passes between Knysna and George. There was braai and some cold beers waiting for us in Reebok and the hunger set in. Where gravel was concerned we were much more successful and felt more in contempt than the first day.

The third day was going to be the big one... the Swartberg Pass and Gamkaskloof. As usual we left at 8 am and decided that we will do Montagu Pass again, why not? We crossed the R62 again but this time headed straight on towards Dysselsdorp, all the way on gravel. This gravel road I guess could fall under "very good condition road" as we easily could reach speeds of 120 or more while still feeling in control. Standing up was becoming second nature to me by now because I used to be slightly skeptic of this riding position in the past. I realized on the one or two occasions where I did sit down that I was more used to my adjusted handlebars now while standing than what I was when sitting down. It also felt to me like my bike had become smaller each time I sat down, which was rather weird as my legs could still barely touch the ground. It was also on this leg that Jacobsroodt discovered that the ATG soft luggage bags are not strong enough to withstand continuous ramping.

We traveled on to De Rust, filled up and then headed onto the Oude Muragie road towards the Kango Caves. Yet another stunningly beautiful road with enough twists and turns to keep you awake all the time. Jacobsroodt was still at times leaving me behind but I guess this time it was more my decision to stay out of the dust and enjoy the scenery at the same time. This gave him enough time to check the map at the next stop and take the occasional picture of me arriving a few seconds after him.

Then came the mighty Swartberg Mountains with the most impressive pass in the Southern Cape. Even though I have crossed this one a few times as well, I always get a shiver when I hit the first gravel. The road conditions is really not bad, but I just had this image of this huge difficult to cross mountain for many years since I've been a child. Going up I can only imagine the look on the poor people's faces who had to build this pass with the equipment they had those days. Had they only known back then how much pleasure it would give us today. The view is also spectacular and no matter where you stop, you always experience some kind of amazement. The best part however is passing cars with poor dads coping with restless children and the family dog at the back thinking "Dude, I understand the commitment to your family but hell, you need to get out here and try this on a bike some day".

When we reached the turn-off to Gamkaskloof we did the traditional photo session next to the warning sign and carefully started our way towards "Die Hel". For me the road to "Die Hel" means loose rocks, a few sandy patches here and there, sharp corners, a few humps that resulted in a bend rim on my last trip there and the one dreaded water crossing that only has loose pebbles on the bottom. I have mentioned this before, putting my feet down is not an option because I am very likely to drop my bike. With all my electronic equipment in my topbox and my iPhone in my pocket I was not looking forward to any event that could result in me getting soaked. But, like my father always said to me, "We will cross the bridge when we get there". In this case, I was patiently waiting for the drift to cross.

The ride towards the bottom went relative well. At a stage Jacobsroodt said to me he was expecting much worse, but I guess everything is relative depending on your level of skill. Personally I only feared the water crossing for the reason mentioned above, but for the rest of the road, I have to agree with him. Long and tedious with the only real skill tester at the end when it gets really steep and sharp. The water crossings I did perfectly. Jacobsroodt put his foot down which made me feel very proud of myself, but in the end I never said anything about the jelly legs and skipped heart beats I endured on the way.

When we arrived at the bottom there was no sign of any campers at the Cape Nature camping area. Why we were told the place was fully booked is still a mystery to me. Maybe it was because there was no-one from Cape Nature on duty that weekend and they didn;t want to embarrass themselves. We headed on to the end where Pieter gave us a camping site for 50 bucks each, cold beers and enough wood to braai and make two bonfires had we wished to do so. There were still some campers who clearly returned from the Karoo-to-Coast event. Fortunately none of them ones who got dust in their eyes on the previous day because we did make quite an entrance...standing of course. For us it was a day well spend on gravel.

The next morning at 8 we left for the top again. Yet again three drifts to cross, loose rocks and whatever makes gravel biking fun, but we managed well and decided to head to Prins Albert to fill up again. The plan for the day was to go towards Calitzdorp and then on to Warmwaterberg Spa near Barrydale, so we completed the Swartberg Pass from the Gamkaskloof turn-off and and crossed it again on our return. This time it was plain formality and Jacobsroodt  who lost all restraint at the end rode his bike down like he was on a 250 scrambler.  Me again with no option to put feet down took the gentler option down and arrived at the tar a few minutes after him. 

The best discovery of my trip was the gravel road towards Calitzdorp. I have never been on that road before, but I was intrigued by all the little B&B's, farms and beautiful scenery along that road. I could not imagine that there are still so many parts in the country which I have never seen before and probably never will unless I quit my job right now and start riding tomorrow until I fall over....or run out of cash. From Calitzdorp we headed towards Ladismith. At this point I realized that I was suffering from not only throttle cramp, but also from rider fatigue. Jacobsroodt still wanted to include more gravel, but I eventually convinced him that I am too tired to concentrate any longer. He might be able to throw his 800 around like a plastic bike, but for me it was a heavy piece of machinery and safety comes first I guess. I have learned the hard way before and I was not planning a repeat.

When we arrived at Warmwaterberg Spa, we headed for the hot baths immediately. It feels a bit like climbing into someone else's warm bath water still half-way dressed, but it was really a perfect way to sooth the sore limbs and stiff necks.  In the water we met a chap who brought his wife and two kids for a week's vacation. While he got really interested in our travel story his wife was clearly upset that he was making small talk while she had to control two little kids. She reprimanded him in front of us and he submissively had to let go of his dream to travel the world on a bike one day. As Jacobsroodt said to me later: "He said he also still wanted to do this bike thing, so I only gave him the first 5 minutes introduction knowing that there are quite a few steps he would still have to take before he gets there. Besides, I didn't think his wife will ever let him out of the house..."

The last day was going to be a very short one. Besides the rider fatigue which was much better the next morning after another swim at 6 am, I also had a conscience to deal with. Two little kids of my own at home waiting for their adventurous father to return. We did a last section on gravel towards Montagu and although the road itself was pretty boring, we did get one or two surprises along the way. At the gate of Sanbona Game Reserve we were told to hang on for a while because lions were spotted close to the road and we were not safe on bikes. I am pretty sure my F800GS could outrun any lion, but it was the cornering I was worried about. We waited twenty minutes before we were allowed to proceed through the gate. The main road runs through the reserve, so we were allowed to pass as long as we didn't take any turn-offs. We were riding slow checking for wild animals but only saw some giraffe and tsetsebes. Of the lions there were no signs. 

I have to admit that by day 5 I have improved my stand-up riding tremendously up to a point where I felt more comfortable standing up than sitting down. I realized at times that I stood up in town while I was always thinking that anyone doing that looks rather stupid. What the heck, at this time I was covered in dust, my bike looked like it was used in Operation Desert Storm and I was on top of the world. Maslow said that their are six basic needs for man's motivation; physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and finally self-actualization. I am pretty sure that I have reached and satisfied all those needs in one trip. So if the question of why we ride are not answered then I guess it's time to join a trip and experience it the way we did.

Photo Gallery

Pictures by Justasurferdude and Jacobsroodt

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I see, I like, I buy

I am a very impulsive buyer... I see, I like, I buy. If I can afford it of course. This was definitely not the case with panniers for my motor bike, I just couldn't afford it. What this allowed me to do was to first shop around and that is exactly what I did. Three years to be exact. It also gave me time to think about what I really needed. Soft or hard luggage, removable or permanent racks, for 5 day or 5 month trips, tar or gravel...the list goes on. Slowly I started making up my mind. Now it was just the case of finding the right stuff.

I decided on soft panniers - They look more manly for the bush, they can be repaired easier, they can be flung over your shoulder like cowboys do with their saddle bags, can be stored behind the flat-screen TV, can be used on most pannier racks...again, the list goes on.

My choice in pannier racks wasn't that easy though. I did not want to have permanent racks on the side of my bike when I am not traveling. I just don't like the look of panic handles. I wanted something that could be removed. So, I was looking for removable racks like WS-Motech. Even here I was not 100% happy because once you take off the removable parts you still sit with part of the bracket exposed...and a sharp part for that matter. I was stuck.

Then a few weeks ago I walked into Flying Brick shop and Chris showed me my options on saddle bags. On the floor he had pannier racks from Rumbux, manufactured for Yahama. I saw, I liked...but I needed it for my F800GS so I didn't buy. Lo and behold Chris told me later that Rumbux is working on a F800GS version. Chris gave them a call and they said they are doing final testing, should be ready the following week. Very reasonably priced too.

Today I received my panniers. Chris and myself didn't waste time and fitted them on the pavement in front of his shop. It would have taken us 30 minutes or less if I hadn't stripped a bold. The panniers fitted perfectly. They could be removed in a jiffy if I wished to do so, but because they look super cool and can also act as crash bars to protect the exhaust they are staying on permanently. The powder coated finish looks amazing, but what I like most is the shape of the racks that follows the lines of the bike. They look as if they should be there.

I also bought ATG soft luggage bags to complete the picture and if all goes well then I will be testing out my new equipment in three days time on a 5-day trip across the Southern Cape dirt roads. Watch this space for feedback.

Like my mother-in-law said the other day, "one thing calls for the other". Now I need those front crash bars and I am not going to wait another three years....

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Nile Special

The flight from Johannesburg arrived at Entebbe at 7pm. The 120 km drive to Jinja where the Nile exits Lake Victoria took 4 hours to complete. As the gates at the Nile River Explorers camp opened someone was ramming a perfectly roadworthy SUV into a semi-demolished brick building. A cheering crowd of young shirtless travelers made sure they had the event captured for posting on YouTube later, most of them wearing a flag of some sort around their necks. We've arrived at our destination but we clearly missed out on the party. After 15 hours of travel I was not going to join in now. I downed one Nile Special just to check out the scene but more particular to make sure that I don't have any of the current party goers on the same raft as me the next morning. Apparently rafting and seasickness goes hand in hand for some and I was sure in this case they were all going to be "some" tomorrow.

The next morning at 7 I was awaken by the call of a Fish Eagle and monkeys playing in the trees. I got up and started looking for a place to charge my phone. The tent that I slept in had no electricity due to the SUV's destruction work the previous night. Kicking a path open through the cans and empty beer bottles I managed to find a working wall socket. Four die-hard survivors from the previous night's party were still sipping on their last beers. I was rather relieved to hear that they were "overlanders" traveling through Africa and were not part of the day's planned rafting excursion. I guess the "overlanders" make full use of each and every pit-stop along their route to Cape Town to build up enough aversion to alcohol for when they actually go back home and start "REAL" life.

The truck to the starting point left at 9am. After a quick breakfast at the rafting equipment storage facilities, we headed down to the river. There we got a safety induction. Even though I think it was a bit over-exaggerated, when drowning is a possible outcome of the activities to follow one can probably expect that. I guess the one rapid called "The Dead Dutchman" justifies it. There were enough people for three teams and we were told to make sure that we choose our partners carefully. I went for the "crazy group" hoping that we might follow a more extreme route than the "cautious group"...with the middle group heading nowhere I guess.

I had no idea what was waiting for us. All I knew is that we had a raft and locally made wooden oars, a chatty guide called Peter and some 9 rapids ahead ranging from grade 1 to grade 5. The grade 6 rapid along the route is not allowed for commercial rafting and we were going to walk around it. I guess grade 5 was going to be our biggest challenge then. Once in the water we did a few safety maneuvers like flipping the boat, diving under an overturned raft and getting out again, flipping it back again and climbing back on. Also a few other safety maneuvers to make sure we don't "end up in Cairo" as Peter repeatedly warned we would be doing if we don't follow his instructions. Then it was off to the first rapid.

One of the only two disappointments of the day I guess was the fact that the river wasn't flowing at full strength. I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it definitely alters the possible routes over the rapids. Apparently it does not change the grading, but I feel that with a full flowing river we might have had more fun...or scary moments. The crazy guys managed to tip the boat on the first rapid, but we all got back in safely with only our pride injured. This tipping thing was going to repeat itself a few more times, so it was good later on that we had a few practice runs. Crazy had nothing to do with it. You basically have no control over the raft and the turbulent currents decide where it wants to flip you. The safety training does help when you all of a sudden find yourself alone floating down a river that goes all the way to Cairo.

In between the rapids were long stretches of flat water. These sections were quite honestly very boring. I did not sign up for that but I did pay for it, so I used these moments to enjoy the scenery and locals doing their washing on the river banks. It also allowed enough time for a voluntary dip in the warm water, many jokes and getting to know fellow rafters.  We had a German, two South Africans and three Pommies on board, with a very pleasant Ugandan as our guide. In one of the flat stretches we managed to have lunch on the raft which consisted of sweet pineapples and biscuits. The biscuits however I suspect might have been teething biscuits for babies. The food was delivered by the safety raft. This raft, much larger than the one we were on, was steered by one guy with two huge oars and massive pecs. You could see in his upper body physique that he does this quite often. Although his raft takes the rapids much easier due to its size, he still managed to make the rest of us all look a bit amateurish. He later transported two passenger who were not prepared to face another dunking in the Nile and he managed to do this all by himself. Next time I am taking that raft and plenty of ice cold beers. I might even consider a braai on-board.

The memory capturer of the day who used to sell photos for 10 US realized soon after taking up the position of chief photographer that technology was a bitch and he suffered losses because of piracy. One guy on a raft buys a CD and copies it for the rest, simple. The solution to save his business he reckoned was to sell only one copy to the team for 80 US and then they can sort it out between themselves. We had a look at the pictures and even though some of them were really cool, my fellow team mates who mostly are poor students doing charity work in Africa decided that they were not interested. I tried to deal with the photographer for a lower price for myself, but he didn't budge. He was prepared to leave empty handed that day (none of the other teams bought their's either) just because of his "all-or-nothing" business plan. So the second disappointment of the day was that I also left empty-handed. Memories in this digital age that costs more than half of the whole experience in my opinion was a bit over the top. 

The last rapid is named after the local beer...Nile Special. Our guide warned us all along the way that no raft survives this rapid. We were the first raft heading for the rapid to test his theory. As we hit the second huge wave we saw a blue object floating past us at a tremendous speed. The highlight of the day turned out to be our guide falling off and overtaking us in the rapid. We just had enough time to grasp air for a good burst of laughter when the Nile decided it was time to join him. Further downstream while clinging onto the raft we managed to pick up the pieces and oars that went flying along with our guide. From there we drifted slowly ashore recapturing quite an eventful and exciting day. 

When we arrived at our final stop, we had a good buffet and cold beers. From there we took a shuttle back to Kampala where I was booked in for the night. The 70 km trip to Kampala took another 4 hours. By the time we reached Kampala I was still peeved off with the photographer. My action photos will never be published anywhere and might as well have gone down with the Nile to Cairo. The experience was great, the adrenaline level however not nearly as high as I was hoping for. I've had worse experiences in water before and never really felt like I was going to drown soon. Isn't that the whole idea? If you weren't the one running to your mother when your cousins pushed your head under the water in the swimming pool, you are likely to survive this too. I am pretty sure there are more dangerous rivers around the world where a grade 5 might give you a run for your money. The grade 6 rapid where we walked past did look a bit more intimidating, but the rafting we did in the upper section of the Victoria Nile was rather tame. The two passengers on the safety raft however might not agree.....

(*The pictures you see on this site I shamelessly pirated from the Internet. It is not me on any of the rafts, but it does give an indication of what the rapids look like)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Friday the 13th

I don't know if Friday the 13th had anything to do with it, but when I got my GoPro ready for my next adventure, it bombed out on me and haven't started since. As a matter of fact I tried each and every advise I could find on the Internet and just as I got my hopes up, it died again.  At the moment it is on its way to Johannesburg while I am on my way to Uganda.

I haven't traveled for a while. The reason being that my job changed and I am not required to do as many travels as I did before. The traveling was getting hectic and the advice to be careful what you wish for was not taken seriously, so after changing positions in an attempt to travel less a serious bout of cabin fever set in after a month or so. When this opportunity came up to go to Uganda I grabbed it with both hands.

What I have learned over the past couple of days is that you probably lose your "frequent traveler" status within 3 months of your last flight. The skill of packing a suitcase in 1 hour, online check-ins, having all your electronic gadgets ready and still have time to kiss your wife and the kids goodbye somehow disappears very quickly. Add to that a GoPro that decided to stop working the afternoon before your travel and you are bound to realize later than you have left something important at home. I managed to get through check-in this morning on my first domestic flight to Johannesburg, so at least I know that my e-ticket and passport is with me. My final destination is Jinja in Uganda, via Entebbe. Passport - check, Forex - check, second-skin - check, sunscreen - check, GoPro........f*cked!

So, I am heading on an adventure down the Victoria Nile and I don't have any means of capturing it. My GoPro is still under warranty, so at least there is some hope of having it fixed (hopefully replaced), but capturing the experience I'll have to do in my memory. The iPhone will not work in Grade 5 rapids, as a matter of fact, my phone is not even charged and will probably not see Jinja before the battery runs out. Friday the 13th is behind me, but I still feel the effects. Hopefully by tomorrow when I splash down that river clinging on for dear life all of this would make sense to me....

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Golden Moment

Wow, what an amazing view this morning. Took this picture on my way to work. Had to do panoramic stitching as the picture was too wide for my iPhone lens. Golden moment, but unfortunately no sign of that pot of gold!

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Streetwise Two vs. the "Streetwise Two"

I was hungry, thought a Streetwise Two at KFC was a quick way to solve that. Little did I know that there were two other smart asses on the prowl. What was supposed to cost me around 25 bucks turned out to be a quite expensive meal in the end.

This unfortunate event happened at the KFC in Green Point. The police are looking for these two suspects.