Adventure? How do you define that? What springs to mind? Climbing Everest, free-diving in the open ocean, cycling around the world unsupported?
Yes, those most definitely are adventurous souls out on big adventures but the fact of the matter is that all adventures are relative. If you spend your life chained to the cubicle, a solo 4000km road trip on a little 300cc motorcycle could be termed an adventure. And so it was my personal little adventure, recounted here in all it’s glory…….
The plan, if you can call it that, was simple. Do a return trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town to take care of some ugly tenant-related business and try and have some fun in the process. With a tent and some sleeping gear strapped to the Versys-X the only guideline was “Stay south of the N1 going down, stay north of the N1 on the return”. Depending on progress we’d find a place to camp each night – hopefully, and failing that there was always the option of finding a local guesthouse or B&B.
So what makes an adventure? I think many will scoff at the idea that a ride on the tarmac classifies as such? But, who cares. for me, this certainly classifies. While I’ve ridden motrcycles for years, mostly commuting in the Johannesburg traffic, I’ve never done a long, cross-country trip like this. And, to top it all, and under no illusions, the little x300 is not in the same class as a litre-bike when it comes to eating up the open road. While cruising at 120km/h [9000rpm] is doable, it’s probably as fast as you want to push it and still have the little bike be alive next week for more fun.
Leading up to the weekend, the gear was extracted from the shed, dusted off and checked and rechecked. Travelling on a small bike is an exercise in minimilalism. There is only so much you can fit no matter how hard you try. At the end the luggage consisted of a basic toolkit and spare tubes, a tent, sleeping bag and mattress, a couple of t-shirts and a change of socks and undies. That’s pretty much it.
In no real rush, Saturday 7am saw us leaving behind the familiarity of home for the freedom of the open road. Let the adventure begin, finally.
There’s not much to be said for the 100km or so that is needed to get away from the city freeways and suicidal drivers in the tincans on wheels. I have heard of people putting their bikes on a train and getting off to ride in the Swartberg mountains and fighting the R69 traffic made me think that might have been a better plan but soon, I was out in the rolling grasslands of the northern Free State, the traffic pretty much a thing of the past.
There’s not much to recommend the endless, featureless grasslands of the northern Free State other than the solitude. The scenery is monotonous and each dusty little town is as run down and unwelcoming as the former. Heilbron, Lindley and Senekal for fuel. Then on to Marquad, Lady Brand and finally the Drakensberg and the mountains of Lesotho are starting to improve the experience. There’s boredom in the ability to look down a long, straight road and see into the future. No, much more pleasant when the view is limited by turns, hills and undulations.
The x300 tank holds around 17 liters, nominally good for around 400-450km in econo-mode. Travelling at 120km/h with buffetting cross-winds is most definitely not econo-mode though, and I was finding I’d fill up each 350km or so. Every hour or so I’d also stop the bike in a safe spot, far from the road and take a stretch and a breather. This kind of travel doesn’t work well if you’re on a deadline but with 2-3 days allocated to ride down, what was the problem wit an hourly stop?
The eastern Free State is were the journey finally begins. The foothills of the ‘berg make for stunning scenery and interesting roads. Winding along between Lady Brand and Wepener, I pretty much have the road to myself. Beautiful solitude at last. I’ve settled on Bethulie at Gariep Dam as the overnight stop and to get there from Wepener means a stretch of about 70km on dirt. It starts out smooth enough but after a couple of kms the ruts become a little more agressive. I can see if you’re tired, exhausted even from a long day in the saddle, how a stretch of dirt like this might catch you out. The sand piles up between the vehicle tyre tracks and you have to be very careful crossing those lest you loose the front end.
Bethulie turns out to be a pretty little place on the north-eastern banks of the Gariep Dam. Not as run-down as many Free State towns, but nevertheless small and dusty. By now I’m ready to get off the bike, exhausted in fact and have no intention of delaying setting up camp for the night. The small supermarket doesn’t have much on offer and so I settle on some bananas and a tin of peaches for dinner. A query about possible campsites has the cashier pointing me up the road to Pitch-Up SA, a campsite created in somebody’s back garden. Despite the booming barks of the Great Danes, a peaceful little spot with clean ablutions and me the only one there.
I am cold this morning, so cold! Travelling light means I have my summer jacket, a polo fleece stave less and over that I have my rain gear, a light duty, Quiver inshore jacket. Eventually I stop and double upon my gloves. The morning sun ght is awesome, bathing the endless grassland in a soft warm light that contrasts with the winter chill of late spring.
Reaching Middleburg I take the only eatery on offer, Captain Dorego’s, just to be able to wrap myself around a hot cup of coffee. The breakfast and coffee are possibly the worst I have ever tasted, even the cockroaches avoid this place I’m sure. It’s good to warm up a little before mounting up and heading on down the road though.
Graaf Reinet is really the first town on the journey so far that isn’t dusty, dirty, totally run down. The NG church which dominates the town centre is really magnificent and the surrounding neighbourhoods are awash with B&B’s, all fully booked according to the signage. I stop to take a few snaps of the church, still cold to the core.
Leaving Graaf Reinet there’s only long, straight nothingness. The road stretches relentlessly onward, far into the future. Mercifully free of traffic it ends after a while and winds and turns past the empty Beervlei Dam and into the mountains. The fuel tank decides the next turn, 102km to Derust vs 140k to Uniondale. We lean into the right and follow the endless blacktop ahead.
I don’t stop for the biker, pushing his disabled Triumph. He has his buddies around him and it will serve no purpose that I get involved. A better person than I would probably just have stopped for a brief chat and top encourage them. DeRust, Oudshoorn, Zoar, Barrydale. This is the road I came to ride, twisty, mountainous and devoid of traffic. For a while, despite the discomfort of what is turning into a huge day in the saddle, I’m content.
Arriving late afternoon in Montagu I fuel up for what seems the thousandth time and debate whether I should find a spot for the night? It’s a beautiful little town, definitely a must for a future weekend away, but the sun is still high in the sky and so I opt to push on, to try find an overnight spot in Worcester, closer to my final destination of Glencairn. Stop and Go roadworks delay the journey to Ashton, Robertson and Worcester.
All plans of stopping over in Worcester disolve with the late afternoon sun. If it’s not yet set I still have light and I still have time. I burst out of the tunnel, the sun now set, and its a dark and busy freeway drive in traffic as I wearily make my way home. Finally. 19h30. Twelve hours on the road today. I crash and sleep the sleep of the dead.
I awake to numbness between my shoulder blades. My right knee is fine again and my butt hardly sore, but oh, the numbness of the shoulders. It lingers for 3 to 4 days.
The windy Cape Peninsular roads are why I wanted the bike here. I do the Chapmans drive and stop at the top for breakfast on the way to the yacht club. This wind is going to take some getting used to though. Just when you feel you have a perfect line to carve the turn a gust reminds you who’s Boss.
A week on board, avoiding confrontation with the tenants sees them leaving as desired. Relief! I can’t leave early on Sunday, needing to hang curtains and replace locks. The damn security gate lock just won’t be replaced and I eventually conceed defeat. I’m out of time if I want to still make some progress on the road today! By the time I finally get going it’s already 10h30.
The original plan was to stay north of the N1 but, compared to the R62, it sparsely populated and the direwct routes hav lots of gravel. I change my mind, deciding to return via the R62 again. De Rust, Gariep, Jo’burg for a three-day ride.
Heading back north, barely two hours on the road, and I feel my knee and shoulder already complaining bitterly. Worcester is here and decisions have to be made: take a right to Robertson and Barrydale and endure this discomfort for another three days or head straight up the N1 and get it over with. This adventure is starting to feel hard, too hard. I keep headed north on the N1, traffic be damned.
3566km all told…most of them done at 9-10,000 rpm. I hope the drivetrain noise that plagued me on the entire return journey is solved? It would appear to be a case of poor drivetrain lubrication. We shall see.
Reflecting on what turned out to be quite a tough, arduous journey I can’t but help to think, “What was the point?” Is all adventure this uncomfortable, painful even? It was so with the South Atlantic crossing. Exactly the same with the Hobiecat -based Malawi Marathon. Why is it that on the road, in the midst of the suffering, I’m calling for an end to it and yet now, hardly two days after the end of the ride, I’m already thinking back fondly, actually glad that I finished what I started?
Ultimately it was a pointless, selfish exercise done for no other reason than “I’ve always wanted to.”
Try as I might I seem constrained by the clock, or at least the need to get back to my comfort Zone in the shortest possible time. What was planned as three days was again pushed into two (for reasons already discussed).
Do others experience “adventure” in a similar way? Is it normal to want to do something so badly and then, as soon as the going gets a little tough, to want out?
I am glad to have proven that a tiny capacity bike like the x300 is fully capable. It just reinforces my choice of the Versys over all the liter-class bikes and their quarter-million price tags. Don’t get me wrong – I’m under no illusions that a GS1200 would be more comfortable but the comfort of the journey would already have been replaced by the lingering discomfort of the debt.
The one big question lurking in the shadows is obvious. “Would you do this again?” There is no easy answer. “Yes and No,” I would reply. The next time, I’ ll be based in Glencairn, closer to the roads and mountains that where actually the real inspiration for this adventure. The journey will be shorter, more comfortable and with no objective, no destination, no limited time frame.
Perhaps under those circumstances………?