Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I filled in "Adventure"

" A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."
  - Lao Tzu

I left Cape Town with not much of a plan. All I know was that after an unpleasant week at work I wanted to get away, get my mind off things and just ride. As I left my house heading northbound I thought that a cruiser would have been a better mode of transport for this excursion than a GS. I've always wanted to explore some gravel roads on the western coast yes, but contradicting reports on road conditions, inaccurate maps and possible "sand traps" always had me a bit reluctant to explore that side of the Western Cape on my own. This time I would settle for the straight an narrow...the N7. With the state of mind I was in, I believed that was the better option...

I always divide my rides into three categories..."earplug", "earphone" or "eardrum" rides. "Earplug rides" are those long boring rides where I try to cover the greatest distance in the shortest time possible...usually resulting in the need for earplugs to dampen the wind noise. "Earphone rides" are between 80-120 km/h, relaxed and usually in no rush to reach my destination...if there is one in fact. For gravel roads I need to concentrate and to enjoy the scenery with the sound of 800cc's in my ears, so no plugs or earphones allowed. I decided that this was going to be an "earphone ride" to Vredendal with a sleepover at the Bo-Tuin Cottages in Vanrhynsdorp and then back on the same route the next day...

Cool MX Boots
When I left my house the weather was fine, slightly overcast towards Malmesbury and around 18 degrees with no wind.  With the encouragement of Meat Loaf and Eminem in my ears I managed to get to Piekenierskloof Pass where the temperature had dropped to around 14 degrees and the mist was gradually turning into a drizzle. My new O'Neil MX boots which I bought two days before was arguably a bit of an overkill for this ride, but I was determined to wear them so that I could get used to them and besides...they looked rather cool. Changing gears with space boots however was still a bit of a nuisance and when I walked on them it felt like I just got a new pair of prosthesis. What was more worrisome though was by the time that I reached the Piekenierskloof Pass my arse was sore and boredom had already crept in. I stopped at Citrusdal were the sun showed his head for the first time and tried GoogleMaps on my mobile for an alternative route to take. Not that I wanted to add more kilometers to a sore bum, but I needed a road which had more curves than the N7 at least. The white line on the opposite side of the Olifants River looked like a good option. Chances were good that it was going to be gravel, but what the heck I was dressed for the occasion and I had to restore the feeling in my backside. 

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
 - Andre Gide

I drove through town, turned off on what I believed was the white line I had seen on the map and hoped for the best. After passing an informal settlement where some drunk local threw a rock at me, the gravel suddenly appeared. All of a sudden I was on a new adventure. A fairly good gravel road where I have never been on before with the N7 and its roadworks (apparently with 8 traffic stop points) visible across the river on the left hand side. I did not even think of deflating my tyres or switching off my ABS, but true to my beliefs I removed the earphones when I stopped to take what would be the first of many pictures along the "scenic route".  Pretty soon all the issues at work disappeared and I started writing the first chapter of my post in my head.... 

"It is amazing how your whole experience can change from moving from one side of the river to the other", I thought to myself. The gravel road was running much closer to the river than the N7, obviously without traffic and each corner presented a new surprise on the other side. All of a sudden I remembered why I had changed from my first bike which was a cruiser to the GS. This is what I wanted to do, explore and discover. To many this road might be old news, but to me it was a new discovery and not the only one I would experience on this weekend trip.

The road which I later identified as "Die Ou Kaapse Pad" goes all the way up following the curves of the Olifants River until it reaches Clanwilliam. There I filled up and saw another road (R363) heading further north but indicated on the map with a similar yellow line as the N7. Even though I was a bit disappointed thinking it might be tarred it was also heading in my direction of choice and anything other than the N7 at this stage looked appealing. 

Another surprise... the R363 turned out to be gravel too and just as exciting as the previous one. My dad always says that he is pretty sure the guys who drew the maps had never been there themselves. I was thinking the same when the yellow road turned out to be the same as the white one. This road also touches the banks of the Olifants River at times and became rather tricky at some points with loose gravel and sandy patches. I would definitely not say "novice-riders-please-avoid", but there was still some puddles left from rain and some sandy bits and loose stones to negotiate. The main thing is that I was having so much fun and realized that by the time it meets up with the N7 I would be close to Vredendal where the Namaqua Festival was happening. 

"More Namakwalanders"
Not a festival lover myself I thought the festival might be the biggest attraction in that part of the world right now seeing that the flower season was long gone. Only the fynbos and other shrubs had flowers which somehow still made the ride worthwhile where flowers were concerned, but the festival would be a good place to grab something to eat and to see what the people of the Namaqualand had to offer. Ever had a pizza cone before...? Delicious. I walked along the stalls and could see that Greenmarket Square got the news of the Namaqua Festival early enough and basically had moved up north with the same crap imported from Africa and China. Making sure that I leave before Huisgenoot's Music Show with the likes of Kurt Darren started I left for Vanrhynsdorp to get a shower and a bed for the night. 

At Bo-Tuin Cottages I was treated like a guest of honour. Make sure to book your bed for next year's "flower run". My hostess Salome convinced me to take the coastal route back home the next day. I was a bit skeptic as my map shows no roads running down the coast. Clearly I was ill-informed. "You can take the toll road from Doornbaai all the way past Lambersbaai onto Elandsbaai" she said. What? A toll road along the coast? You must be kidding me....

Lookout Point Doornbaai - Just fog
Bobaas Bo-Tuin Breakfast
The next morning after a fantastic breakfast I took the 82 km tarred road to Doornbaai. At Doringbaai I could not see a thing, the fog was as thick as candy floss. Finding a "toll road" even harder to spot. Slightly embarrassed I phoned Salome asking for more information on finding this mysterious toll road. "Just drive through town and when the road veers off to your left then you are on it". OK, found it. The road changed quickly into a sandy road, no signs, no nothing. I was heading into the fog again on a road I did not know where it would take me and the sand worried me. Suddenly a fork in the road appeared. You know the saying: "When you get to a fork in the road...take it!"? Well, I could see a devils fork ahead and I took it, the middle prong across the bridge to be exact. After a few kilometres something told me that I might have taken the wrong one, so I phoned again. "Is there a railway line on your left hand side?" NO. "Then you are on the wrong road...".

I remember crossing the railway line when I took the middle prong earlier, so I turned around. I took the right one this time but still no-one asking for toll or no signs indicating that I am on the correct road.  Soon I was heading south with a railway line on the left of me and mist occasionally rolling in from the sea on the right hand side. At least the sun was now in full shine most of the time. It turned out that I was on Transnet's service road along the Sishen line. Moments later the oncoming Sishen train confirmed that, about four kilometres longs with eight electric units pulling this long snake. Quite something to witness, but still no toll gate in sight. Along the way one or two cars passed from the front so I was thinking that should I end up with my face on the ground, at least there is movement on this road. I never knew that service roads were open to public, but I was certain that had I been trespassing at least I was not doing it alone

Devil's Fork - Keep to your right
Wrong Road, turn around
Right Road, continue...
Sishen Train homeward bound
The service road was really in a good condition. Every now and then I got to a bridge crossing similar in design to the first one and I did my "devils-fork-routine" avoiding the bridge and going back onto the service road again. When I checked out of curiosity GoogleMaps placed me somewhere in a field next to a railway line with no roads close-by. I didn't mind because I was happy to be where I was and was obviously way ahead of Google on this one. I was doing about 80-100 km/h doing my "Interflora-man stance" I learned from Jacobsroodt on my previous trip. It saves the arms against the wind pressure from the front. You know the one-foot-on-the-back-footrest-stance......?

Just before Lamberts Bay I saw a string of cars ahead of me. No I'm lying, just two. "That must be the toll gate", I thought to myself. Everyone signed a book and was left through. I asked the gentleman in the uniform what the damage was for using this "private road". "Nothing Meester, the company that used to maintain the road is no longer here. It will be free until Transnet finds a new one". Ok, that worked for me. I completed the "visitor's book" and I noticed that most people filled in "Kamp" (Camping) under "Purpose of journey". I filled in "Adventure".....

"T" for Toll. It does exist...just not on my maps
Toll Plaza at Lamberts Bay
From Lamberts Bay I continued on with the road until I got to Elands Bay. At Elands Bay I just stopped to put my MX boots on the same beach that was made famous by Bruce Brown's movie, The Endless Summer. The road continues down to Velddrift where I left it early with the plan of filling up again in Velddrift. I am not sure if you can get onto it again to make it all the way down to Saldanha. From Velddrift I took the straight and narrow way back home to continue my 400 km ride of the day, this time on the West Coast Road and very pleased with myself.

A gravel toll road along the West Coast? Who would have thought? A boring ride turning into an adventure? For sure!

"I have discovered that even the mediocre can have adventures and even the fearful can achieve."
 - Edmund Hillary

As for the cruiser idea.....nah, never again!

1 comment:

  1. Great Ride! Thanks for the Ride Report. Glad you got the boots☺