Going Forth - North

The open road is calling and the bikes are roaring,
The mist is thick and the rain might be pouring,
But today is the day when we start our ride,
To tour through this country, far and wide.

We had two events to attend. The first was a bat outing, organized by the Gauteng and Northern Regions Bat Interest Group, close to the Pafuri gate of the Kruger National Park. The second was a gathering of the African Twin motorcycle club.
After many months of planning, studying maps and picking routes, I finally got a route worked out. This was the route we were planning on.

But this story is not about that route. This is the story of what actually transpired.
We leave home an hour late, and immediately run into thick mist next to OR Tambo airport. Once we leave the highway and head to Bapsfontein and then on to Bronkhorstspruit things get worse, and in Bronkies we decide to have coffee for an hour to see if the mist will let up.

(You might notice I did a bit of creative paint work on the maps. This is because of a strange quirk in mapsource, please forgive that)

This trip was several months in the making, and we are riding with a great feeling of excitement.

We do mostly tar until we are well out of Gauteng, and as soon as we get to the gravel we hit thick, slippery mud. Some way in the mud gets so serious that I decide I will first walk the obstacle and find my way through. With Cave Girl handling the camera I take my bike through, itís tough going.

These conditions call for serious concentration, or you will end up with a bike on its side, and that always ends up with embarrassing photographs. Fortunately I manage to avoid that situation.

Walking through snotty mud in full adventure kit, rain-kit included, is a task on its own.

With my bike through itís Cave Girlís turn. I admire the way she did it, especially the part where she pointed to her bike and said ĎNow bring mine through.í

Her bike is much heavier than mine and Iíve already churned up the mud properly, so halfway into the mud I feel myself slipping towards a pool of water with what is obviously a lot of thick mud at the bottom. Cave Girl has no option but to abandon the photo session to help me keep the bike upright as I take it through, so only two photos of me bringing her bike through.

Somewhere during the day I hit the first bad failure of the trip, I discover my Jicko stove is not working. The first time we want to make coffee itís pissing fuel out of the regulator valve. I swear at Michnus for a few minutes until I feel better. Sorry Michnus, if your ears were burning itís my fault, my apologies. Next time Iíll remember to take the spare o-rings with me so I can do the repairs on the road.

(Just to clear things up, the problem with the Jicko was a mistake on my part, not the stoveís. After we got home I did the maintenance on the stove like I should have Ė it takes five to ten minutes Ė and the stove was good as new again. The Jicko is a great piece of kit!)

Bridge over the Olifants River. We were to cross this river many times during this trip.

The road is muddy but fun, and then we reach Chunies Poort. Iíve only ever heard of this poort and I planned our route through here especially because I wanted to see it. This, it will turn out half an hour later, was a catastrophic mistake.
Well we all make mistakes, donít we? Here is what I, in all of my ignorance, managed to achieve.

I know that Moria, the place where the ZCC church has their annual pilgrimage to, is in Polokwane. Itís always on the news, right, the ZCC is going to Moria at Polokwane. Ok now here is where things go badly wrong. It turns out that the actual place where they go to, the actual grounds, are at a place called Zion City, on a road that just happens to be, you guessed it, the one that I had planned for the day.
It also just happens that it is now Easter, and the time of the great ZCC pilgrimage.

I would still like to know what went through Cave Girlís mind when she realized that my little mistake was going to cause us to lane-split through five kilometers (you read that right Ė five frigging kilometers) of double lane Putco busses.
I simply cannot put the experience to paper. It took us probably an hour and a half to do those few kilometers, and I was thoroughly exhausted after the time. The busses were basically standing still, waiting to be let into their parking area. There were people climbing in and out, visiting friends from other busses. Vendors with drinks, food and holy relics for sale. Dogs, goats, donkeys, cows and even the occasional policeman. How Cave Girl must have felt is anybodyís guess, but sheís tough as nails, and said not a bad word to me about the whole affair.

By the time we got through it was late, getting dark and the mist and rain had once again closed in, and we now had to do Magoebas Kloof. This was a shame, as I had planned to do some riding in the kloof to see this place that I have heard so much about. Instead it was a bad experience to say the least. In the dark I could not find the campsite where we were supposed to camp for the night, and we ended up in Tzaneen.
Cold, wet and hungry, we decided to stick camping where the sun doesnít shine and found ourselves a lodge to stay at, where we promptly cleaned out the barís stock of Black Label beer, colloquially known as Zamalek.

The day has ended and sleep lies creeping,
To dream of roads both straight and sweeping,
Of tar and of gravel and adventures grand,
As we travel along through this beautiful land.

Day 2

We head out again to tame the roads,
Our willing bikes purring, under their loads.
What will we see, what wonders await?
This longing for adventure will never abate!

Tzaneen to Pafuri River Lodge

We leave the lodge early and head north, excited about the riding that lies ahead. Today we are supposed to ride mostly dirt, but with the weather still playing up we will see about that.

Just out of Tzaneen I almost meet my end. The road is wet and there are two cars ahead of me. When the vehicle in front of me pulls out to overtake the slower vehicle in front I donít wait for him to finish his overtaking, but stupidly trust that he has checked that the road ahead is clear. I pull out from behind the slow vehicle after him. A moment later two cars are coming from the front, and the vehicle which Iím following swerves back. Now Iím faced with oncoming traffic, and Iím already going too fast to swerve, and the road is far too wet to simply slam on breaks.

I do as we used to do in high school on our bicycles. I hit both front and back break as hard as I dare, and after gearing for more engine stopping power I even put my left boot on the tar and skid as hard as I can, all the time looking ahead to see if there is a soft piece of tar for me to land on. Today though, my good luck angel is riding hard and fast, and keeping up with me, and somehow I manage to keep the bike upright and out of trouble. Iím rattled though, and for the next while I ride extremely carefully. And I wonít even begin to tell you how loud and long Cave Girl spoke (I used the word loosely) to me when she eventually caught up with me.

We find our way to the Groot Kremetart (Lit. Big Baobab) tree. We are awestruck by this thing, and I can tell you itís worth a visit. Even though we get there just after seven in the morning they serve us coffee inside the tree, and of course true to form Cave Girl wastes no time in finding where in the tree the bats (Nycteris Thebaica) are roosting. The hollows in the tree are natural, not man-made.
(A sad aside note here Ė A few years after we visited, a large part of the tree died off, and the tree is, as far as I know, not of sight-seeing value anymore.)

The road to the tree and out again is muddy though, and already we have to keep focused all the time to keep the right bits at the top and the feet bits at the bottom.

Cave Girl is a bit worried about the condition of the dirt roads, and I had to agree that riding mud the whole day was not going to work, we simply had too much ground to cover.

We do visit Thohoyandou for lunch, and promptly promise each other that we wonít set foot there again. It was, on second thoughts, probably a mistake to venture in there at the end of the month at the beginning of Easter weekend.

We skip some of the mud and do tar until the tar runs out and we have no choice but to go gravel, but by that time we are far up north and although itís still overcast, the gravel roads are not too muddy. We manage good speed, but the scenery is so fantastic that I keep on stopping for pictures and simply to take in the surroundings.

Itís also around here that we realize that no matter where we go, we can always hear the bells of the localís farm animals. No matter how thick the bush is, the bells are always somewhere inside there.
Just before sunset we reach Pafuri river camp, where Pebbles has set up our tent and camp, and we need to only unload the bikes and open a beer. Thanks Pebbles, your effort was greatly appreciated.

Our bikes having a rest after two daysí riding.

The long days riding has tired us out,
Our gentle snoring leaves nothing to doubt.
Together weíre happy to share the roads,
Just us and our bikes to carry our loads.

Day 3

Pafuri camp Ė 3 days

Here at Pafuri we take a short rest,
To gather our strength before heading west,
With many a beer and many a cheer,
Three days in the bush, our heads to clear.

We stayed over in Pafuri camp for 3 days. We did no riding those days.
The actual reason for our visit to Pafuri was to join the Gauteng Bat Interest Group, which was there to do a survey on the bats in the area. So at night we helped with putting up the nets and catching bats and the days were spent at our leisure. So if you see some pictures of bats in this part of the report, you know why. Personally Iím very fond of the little creatures, who take up a very important role in nature.

One thing about Pafuri is the heat, it is as hot as you can imagine. Even at the end of April the temperature was hitting 38 degrees, and you could wring water from the air it was so humid. In the afternoon the air simply gives up and it starts raining. Itís not like the rain down south though, itís more like standing in a luke-warm shower. Take lots of cold beers when you go.

The first day we took a ride into the Kruger National park with Pebbles, and got to see a lot of game.

This was a mother ellie and her calf.

The Crook of Crooks corner

Some Ellies

Back at Pafuri we first found this snake. See if you can spot it in the foliage.
(I cannot post this next pic because it shows somebody handling a bat with no gloves. Doh!)
Then the night was spent with the bats
The second day we went fishing at Makuya National Park.

A note on the fishing at Makuya Park. First, we had this ellie (above) standing a few meters upstream from where we were fishing.

Check out the mark I am standing in, that round mark is the spoor, or footprint, left by the recently departed elephant.

Cave Girl and LeonDude enjoying the day

Then there was the fact that the reeds hid all the crocodiles, or crocologs as we call them. Then, just as we were leaving, Pebbles found that she was sharing her fishing spot with a Mister Hippo.

It makes for interesting fishing when you are doing so in a National Park that boasts the big five and borders on Kruger with no fences. Itís an experience I can seriously recommend.

Pebbles at World View

The next day we spent in camp, and early morning I tried my hand fishing the Mutale river, but with no luck. Check out the warning on the way to the river, and they are not joking. This spot is one kilometer away from Kruger park, and the river has taken out the fence months ago.

Back on the road after having a rest,
Doing what we do and love doing best.
Riding all day on roads we donít know,
Today we will follow the Limpopoís great flow.

Pafuri River camp to Ratho Bush camp
During the night Cave Girl wakes me up. We had sorted our riding gear the day before and left it on the ground sheet, and now we could hear rain falling. Damn! With bleary eyes we crawl out of the tent and get everything out of the rain, then crawl back into the tent and try to sleep a bit more before morning comes.

Bikes ready to leave

We leave early, intent on getting as far as possible before the heat of the day forces us off the bikes. I want to try and reach a place called Ratho Bush camp, but on the way there I want to ride a road that hugs the Limpopo river, and I want to pass the most northern point of South Africa which, by the way, is not Beit Bridge borderpost. All this is new terrain to me, and from ride reports I have read I am expecting nothing other than the thickest sand for mile upon mile.

We head west from Pafuri, and when we turn off on the first dirt road there is a security gate, but it is opened with no questions asked or anything. We find no sand. Instead it is a well-maintained road that runs next to the Limpopo river. What does surprise me is the amount of razor wire between the road and the river, there are three rows of wire, each a few meters apart. And all three with great big holes in them every few hundred meters where the Zimbabweans are entering the country illegally.
We stop for coffee at a fishing spot (above), then continue.

At another place where I stop we climb up a little hill to take photos of our bikes next to the river. From this height we can hear a lot of shouting and most of it sounds angry. There is also a baby crying not far from us, and all of this is coming from the river. After climbing down I walk to where I can see the river, and Iím not too surprised to see a person swimming across the river from Zimbabwe to South Africa. It makes me uncomfortable, and I hurry Cave Girl along to the bikes to get out of there. The people coming over that river have nothing to lose by attacking the two of us, who have everything to lose. It really puts a damper on our adventure.

The bikes next to the Limpopo river

You cannot see it too well on the photo, but that is a person swimming across the crocodile-infested Limpopo river

We reach Beit Bridge without any further incident. Here we have a bit of difficulty finding the road that I want to take, but Cave Girl finds it for us, and we head off on the road that a lot of people refer to as the Sisal line because of a row of sisal plants that was planted there many years ago. Just for the record, even though I searched and kept my eyes open, there was not one sisal plant to be seen on that road.

From here itís only a few kilometers to the most northern point of South Africa. When we find it, I am not too impressed to find that of course there are three rows of razor wire, each with a great big hole in it. And down by the river, the angry shouting of Zimbabweans as they make their way over the river. Is there anybody still left in that country? Cave Girl wants to stay for a coffee, but Iím a bit disgusted. I piss on the northern most point and we get back on our bikes and head further.

Cave Girl at the northern most point

LeonDude at the northern most point

LeonDude showing his disgust with the border control. Groenie would have been so proud of me.

The bikes

I miss a turnoff point on the GPS, so we have to backtrack and sneak through a farm to get to the road that I want to be on, but soon we are riding through the Mapungubwe game reserve. The road is littered with elephant dung, and we ride carefully. The road is also very corrugated, and it gets worse and worse until we are forced to ride next to the road instead of on the road. I start remembering stories of shock absorbers packing up from corrugations, but by the time I start wondering if we should turn around we are already halfway into the park, and we might as well continue on. Man, that road could do with a serious bit of scraping. When we hit the tar weíre both glad the corrugations are over, but thereís more to come.

Sorry about the poor quality of this photo, but I was in a bit of a hurry to get going again because whatever left those balls on the ground could still be lurking around, and the bush is so thick you cannot see them. Check the footprints too.

The dirt road to Ratho Bush camp is only fifteen kilometers long, but once again itís badly corrugated, and this road is covered with marbles, (loose stones), so that the bikes are forever slipping and sliding under us. Then the marbles starts making way for sand. Lovely thick patches of sand waiting to grab us. Weíre having none of it, we are tired and hot and we want to get off the road, so we beat the sand-monster into submission and ride and ride. The fifteen kilos feels like a hundred miles of sliding around and then getting into sand patches, but at last we get to Ratho Bush camp, where a refreshing shower awaits us.

Sunset over the Limpopo river. I did no photo-chopping on these pics, the clouds were really that colour, and happened to match the colour of Cave Girl's top perfectly.

I discover my second disastrous failure of the trip. Getting off my bike, I notice something is leaking out of my tail-bag and all over my left saddle bag. Where is this water coming from, I think, and stick my finger into it. Itís not water, itís oil. The good old can of GTX oil did not make the corrugations alive, and has sprung a small leak, and Iíve got half a can of GTX oil all over everything that was in my tail bag. Oh the beauty of biking with KLR650s.

Cave Girlís turn to cast for supper. Check her top and the clouds and sky.

I try my hand at fishing again, but still with no luck. No matter, we have now fished the Limpopo river, a first for us. That night we join the rest of the people in the camp for a communal braai, (BBQ) but as Cave Girl fetches our meat from the kitchen we get plates placed in our hands, and the other campers insist we share their meal with them. It is a lovely and unexpected gesture, thanks people.
If you are wondering why there are no fences between the camp and the river, it is because the opposite bank here is not Zimbabwe, it is Botswana. Bots people would rather stay where they are than come swimming over the river.

Under the stars of the African sky,
The flames of a campfire leap and fly.
Dancing and chasing the shadows around,
An African night our adventure has found.

Sunrise on the river has a magic of its own,
That cannot by words or by pictures be shown.
Get out and go see for yourself how it glows,
Where the mighty Limpopo sweeps and flows.

Ratho Bush Camp to Tzaneen

We get up early because I want to have coffee on the banks of the Limpopo river before we get going. On the way there I take a wrong bush path and we end up wasting about half an hour walking through beautiful if rather clammy bushes. When we do get going weíre worried about the condition of the road that we have to ride out, but a good nightís rest has seen us right, and we fly over the stuff we were battling with yesterday.

Early morning next to the Limpopo river

Once on the tar I pick up the speed to Alldays, where we stop to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Leisurely for the waiter and waitress, not for us. Man, it always gets to me in these small towns how slow the service is. There are at least twenty people eating in this restaurant, and they have one waiter and one waitress doing all the work. Laid back, very laid back.

From Alldays we head due south, town-hopping to see how far south we can get before the sun goes down. At Vivo we turn east to Louis Trichardt, a town that surprises me. Riding into town I think hell, this is what all towns in SA could look like. Everything is clean and neat and well looked after. But we donít dilly-dally, we head out of town and find a dirt road that takes us South past the wall of the Albasini dam.

First photo stop at the business end of the Albasini dam.

From there itís a mixture of dirt and tar, passing through the scenic Duiwelskloof all the way to Tzaneen, where we end up spending yet another night at the Ivory tusk lodge, after a few phone calls convinced us that the bed and breakfasts in the area were way more expensive than the hotel.

Once again the staff is great, going so far as to organize us a place to braai and setting us up with a nice fire. We have a great meal before retiring to bed once again happy with the dayís riding.

Not much of a plan, but to carry on riding,
Just us and our bikes, over Africa gliding.
The sights and the smells and things that we hear,
For a while in our minds will burn bright and clear.

Go South, go South, for friends are awaiting,
At convivial fires with their talk not abating.
The African Twin is a legend of old,
With a soul of passion and a heart of gold.

Tzaneen to Graskop

Right from the start we don our rain gear. We leave early and push on, because Cave Girl wants to get to Graskop early so we can watch the other Africa Twin group members arrive.

A bit further on, the Olifants river, again.

A stop just after the J.G. Strydom tunnel.

The ride along the Blyde River Canyon is fantastic, I can go back and do that ride again and again.

En route we stop off at the Three Rondawels to take some photos of this natural wonder. Fantastic view huh? I hope you people enjoy it, we rode a long way to bring you these pics! Sarcasm aside, we were disappointed, but weather is part of the trip.

Cave Girl enjoying the view of the Three Rondavels. At least we found a quiet spot in the mist to enjoy an early lunch, then we headed off to Graskop, where the views were better.

Some waterfall along the way. Damn, for the life of me I cannot remember which one this was! There are so many of them in that area.
After booking in and unpacking at Panorama we were off to the bar at the big swing, where the views were a bit more rewarding. And donít even ask, no I did not do the big swing.

The view from the bar at the big swing.

Then the Africa Twin group started arriving, and the night was spent meeting new friends and greeting old ones.

Stories are told and tales unfold
Next to glowing warm fires in a night dark and cold.
Old friends are greeted and new friends are made,
Until the coals, in the cold night fade.

Tipper tapper goes the rain on the roof,
Oh dear I hope my gear is waterproof,
Wet boot and wet gloves, you all know the drill,
Wet roads filled with mud, you all know the thrill!

Graskop to Grobblersdal

All during the night my shoulder keeps me awake, and lying awake I listen to the rain fall. (My shoulder had been aching the whole of the previous day, and no amount of painkillers helped). Even before the sun is supposed to make an appearance I know that the dayís organized ride will be cancelled. There will be no fun in picking up heavy DS bikes on slippery mountain passes.

My first glimpse outside confirms it, a thick white mist blankets everything, and itís still raining. We get up and have breakfast, then in still pouring rain head down to hear what the AT group has to say, and itís worse than I had thought. Not only has the ride been cancelled, but most of the group is packing up camp and theyíre heading home.

Cave Girl and me have a quick discussion and decide on a plan. We will pack up our stuff and head in the direction of home, town-hopping until four oíclock. At four we will find the nearest place to stay over. Cave Girl decides to send our camping stuff back on the vehicle of a friend, so we will be riding light bikes for the next two days.

Two well-soaked bikes

We also pack up and say our good-buys, then head out towards Pilgrimsí Rest. Itís a wonderfully twisty road, and I battle to keep the speed down and the bike upright. We donít stop in Pilgrimsí Rest but head straight through to Lydenburg, where we stop for a hamburger.

Beware of that road leading into Lydenburg, almost all of it is one great pothole now, in danger of being named a natural wonder of the world in its own right!

From Lydenburg I want to do a tar road we have not done before, including Jaap se Hoogte and De Berg Pass to Roossenekal. The riding is breathtaking as always, not least because it is freezing cold in the mist with spots of rain. This road is high-speed tar in good condition, so Iím a bit surprised that only a few superbikes come screaming past.

We find nothing much in Roossenekal on a quiet Sunday afternoon, so we push on to Groblersdal, where we find a massively overpriced B & B to stay over at, then spend a fruitless hour looking for an open restaurant. We end up buying bread rolls at a cafť and I eat some of our emergency rations. Cave Girl eats bread out of a bottle, AKA, Zamalek.

Some great gravel roads

Of course I have to get hit by one last catastrophic failure for the trip Ė my trusted GPS has packed up. Something inside must have broken off because all the buttons on the right side of the unit has stopped functioning. This is a bad setback, but at least I know how to navigate without the GPS. Well, sort of . . .
Weíre both well satisfied with the days riding, and wish we could do more of our rides like this, just town-hopping with no specific destination for the night.

One last night away from home,
One last day, this country to roam.
Yet already weíre planning our next long ride,
Over African soil, our bikes will glide.

One last day in the saddle to spend,
Our minds and souls with nature to blend.
Once last time the wind in our faces,
Riding through all kinds of wonderful places.

Going home

We get going early, but not in much of a rush. Itís been a fantastic holiday, and I donít really feel like going home yet. We find our way out of Grobblersdal and head down on the N11. The road is all but deserted in the early morning and I keep our speed right down. Itís overcast and cool, and getting colder as we head further south.
Just north of Loskopdam we turn off towards the little dirt back-road at the back of the nature reserve. The road is even in worse condition than it is normally, and we have to carefully pick our way over washed out gullies, ruts and rocky down-hills, interspersed with lots of muddy patches. Most of the mud is already dried up, and we make good speed.
All around us storms are threatening, but for once weíre lucky, we only get a few drops.

A short hop across tar and we are now riding next to the Wilge river, where we stop for a quick breakfast.

Breakfast stop

Then itís only a few kilometers before we hit the tar snake that will take us all the way to Bapsfontein. In Bapsfontein we have to say farewell to our holiday, and a lovely time together.
Riding home alone from there I feel strangely calm. It has been a great trip, and even on this trip we have already been planning our next great trip together, and I know itís only a matter of time before we head out again.
For now though, itís only me and my trusted KLR, heading home.

Thanks for reading this report, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed doing the ride.

From the two of us, until we see you guys and girls on the road again, stay safe!

Sometimes itís rainy and sometimes itís cold,
The sun might scorch and the wind blows bold.
But the bikes and the roads will call to our hearts,
Then weíll head out again, to unknown parts!

A last few notes.

We did a total of more than 2500 Kilos on this trip, and as always the KLRs handled it exceptionally well. With a bit of oil and petrol added at the right times these bikes love going wherever we take them.

Thanks again Cave Girl, you are the most patient of travelling companions. I get us lost, I take us into the heart of traffic in Zion City Moria, I drag you along to out-flung corners of South Africa, and you just follow me. I really do appreciate your patience.

The breathtaking beauty of travelling Africa, even just our little corner of it, is a gift not all people have. We as Wild Dog Adventure riders are exceptionally lucky to actually get out there and enjoy our country in a way that makes sense only to bikers and dogs who stick their heads out of car windows.

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