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Offline Highsider

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So I opened a Czech account...
« on: April 12, 2019, 11:40:52 pm »
Itís been a while since this ride, nearly five months.  Maybe I was waiting to see if Xpat was going to do a RR.  Maybe my uncharacteristic shortage of decent photoís or video from the latter part of the ride discouraged me to write a RR.  Perhaps some experiences are so epic that they cannot be committed to paper without losing something in translation.  Whatever the reason, this was a sleeper, woken up by JonWís concerns over the demise of the RR on the forum.

Sometimes things develop so quickly that youíre left with a somewhat unnerving and uneasy feeling, finding yourself in radically unfamiliar circumstances far beyond your control and comfort zone.

This is how I felt, crammed into a tiny dilapidated herdsmanís hut on a hillside in the middle of nowhere with three strangers, whilst taking refuge from the mother of thunderstorms, peals of lightning splitting the heavens mere millimeters above my head, whilst hail and rain pelted down.  How did I end up here?!

Rewind one week.

I call my wife, she can hear Iím excited about something even though Iím trying to contain it.  It isnít a good idea to be overly enthusiastic about bike stuff versus kids parties for example. 
ďRemember that guy I told you about, the guy who came from Poland or somewhere ex eastern block, who rides solo in Lesotho and sleeps out in the mountains?Ē  (Her eyes start to roll) Uh huh?
ďWell heís just emailed me to see if Jon and I are keen to join him on a part of one of those rides in Lesotho, what do you think?Ē
She doesnít like surprises, especially short notice bike related ones, however I get her blessing. 

Xpat admits over email that his inventory of usual suspects is exhausted, or feigning injury / family commitments / bike problems.
He asks if I recall the RR by Ian the Tooth about the Drakensburg escarpment traverse between Sehlabathebe and Sani.  I remember.  I remember thinking these guys are not well in the head.  As it turns out two of the ďnot so well on the headĒ guys have also been invited on the ride.

I try to convince Jon to join us.  Somehow Xpat has mistaken us for rock hopping hardcore adventurers of his ilk.  Jon is not keen, citing our recent failure to reach even Rhino Peak from Sani a few weeks before, and his then state of riding un-fitness and newness to his 520. 

So itís just myself and Martin, and two guys who will join us on day two for the actual traverse.  The two guys go by the names of Stuart Joyner and Ian Macdonald.  I only find out later that these two are the original human incarnation of riding gods.
Martin and I exchange ideas on routes and gear.  The plan is to meet at Sani Top, and in case I decide to join him for some of his remaining itinerary, I opt to put my bike on the back of my Bakkie and drive up Sani.  He will do the same from Afriski. From there weíd ride to Sehlabathebe via Matibeng Pass and stay over at Thamathu Lodge which is on the route.  The other two will ride from Matatiele and Ramatseliso and catch up to us somewhere on the route.

ďFailure is always an option, pack for sleeping out in the mountainsĒ is not the most confidence inspiring mantra, but I take it to heart.  Sleeping bag, tarpaulin, packets for kit, all stuffed into my Giant Loop Coyote.

I take another look at the original RR by Ian the tooth.  Holy Crap what have I got myself into? 

I go through my 525 carefully.  I notice my Metzler 6 Day Extreme rear is looking a bit worse for wear.  Should be ok for one last ride, right?

Friday morning early, I get up and hit the road to Himeville and then towards Sani.  I go past the Sani Pass hotel and see the signs.  My heart drops.  Is this the day of the Sani Pass Marathon?  Watering points appear at regular intervals and half way to the SA border post I start to see runners who are all on their way down now.  Over 700 of them apparently.  I wave at the leaders, the next bunch are like zombies, the back bunch are your typically jovial marathon back markers. 
The runners enjoy right of way.  They force me to take very bad lines and I am grateful for 4x4 but so sorry for my tyres.

It takes me an incredible two and a half hours just to get up the Pass, and I am running late for my rendezvous with Martin.  There has been no comms with him for a while.  Finally I get to the parking lot at the top of Sani, and get to meet Xpat in person who is wearing his polker face.

We offload my bike and I go inside to relieve my bladder.  There was no privacy on the Pass today for a pee.  I come back out and Martin mentions my sprocket ratio may not be suitable and my tyre is a bit worn.  How bad can it be, Martin?  Indeed... If only I had read the ďeconomically adventurising a 500Ē thread better, Iíd have known about sprocket ratios.
Itís now that I notice my 10l fuel container is missing off my Bakkie, presumably slidden off the back on the way up a steep section.  Blast.  This sort of thing rattles me, I plan extensively and when something happens with no contingency, I donít like it and it tends to rattle me a bit.
Martin sweet-talks someone and we get permission to park our bakkies side by side in the only afdak available.  Nice.

I kit up and we get under way.  The weather is good and even though we leave an hour after planned, it should be ok. The first section is tar and Martin stops to make sure he doesnít have a flat rear, but is just his brand new CO2 getting squirrelly on asphalt. 
We pass the turn off to Sani Stone Lodge where hopefully we will exit tomorrow on our way back to Sani.


We hit the gravel and I realize that this Xpat guy who portrays himself as a ďbumbling adventurerĒ is a seasoned experienced rider and I battle a bit to keep up on the gravel. 
In what seems like no time at all we are up and over Matibeng Pass.  Martin mentions more than once this is the easy part, that tomorrow is much tougher.  Just a year ago Matibeng was the goal; now it is just a road.  Funny how us humans can adjust to circumstances. 
We pass a few happy villagers.


We stop at the Chinese shop to buy food for supper.  Martin buys meat balls or bully beef, I will eat my instant pasta and tuna.  I buy what I think is condensed milk and a loaf of bread.  We commence with the usual fuel filling discourse and head for the shabeen for a cold one before completing the last 20km to Thamathu Village. 
I easily find the lodge this time.  Last time was in the dark.  We are met by the caretaker who gives us each our own rondavel.  No other guests that night, bonus.

The showers are hot and welcome after a long day that started at my home in KZN.  I now share a remote location with a relative stranger,  both of us foreigners in this foreign place.  We cook our respective meals.  Martin warns me he only eats once a day and proceeds to do a proper job of it.  My condensed milk turns out to be dehydrated milk or something horrid.  I only notice once Iíve taken a good suck on it expecting the sweet taste of condensed mik.

Our conversation turns to the traverse and specifically to the two gentleman who will be joining us, or rather, catching us. 
Martin shows me a picture of Ian and Stuart with a group of locals and Ian the tooth who for some reason was the only one dressed in kit...

What I didnít know was this is how the Matat Farmers dress for riding, itís whatever farm cloths they have on at the time.  Boy, looks can be deceiving.

We hit the sack, braced for an early start at 6am. 


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Online Ian in Great Brak River

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2019, 03:32:26 am »
Here comes another excellent Lesotho ride!

 8)
1978. It's 6am, mid winter...two up on a XL 185S ... off to my first casino ever with all of R40 and we've got a full tank of fuel, so enough to get there we reckon.... that's determination...

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2019, 03:33:57 am »
Subscribed.
 

Online Noneking

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2019, 04:24:12 am »
 :thumleft: :thumleft:
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Offline BMWPE

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2019, 05:36:58 am »
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Rallye
 

Offline hedleyj

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2019, 06:30:30 am »
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Nice bit of wordsmithing 😀
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Offline onderbroek

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2019, 06:44:41 am »
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Offline RrP

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #7 on: April 13, 2019, 07:09:16 am »
Bring it on.!!

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Offline Saddle Up

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #8 on: April 13, 2019, 07:39:31 am »
This is going to be great.
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Offline the ruffian

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2019, 07:43:36 am »
Yebo Baba!

I love the understated tone of this....
 

Offline Takashi

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2019, 09:12:20 am »

Friday morning early, I get up and hit the road to Himeville and then towards Sani.  I go past the Sani Pass hotel and see the signs.  My heart drops.  Is this the day of the Sani Pass Marathon?  Watering points appear at regular intervals and half way to the SA border post I start to see runners who are all on their way down now.  Over 700 of them apparently.  I wave at the leaders, the next bunch are like zombies, the back bunch are your typically jovial marathon back markers. 
The runners enjoy right of way.  They force me to take very bad lines and I am grateful for 4x4 but so sorry for my tyres.




Yo dude, I was one of those idiots running around all over the pass.

Hope you had a nice ride in the sky country.
 

Offline Offshore

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2019, 10:28:16 am »
 :sip: :thumleft:
 

Offline Highsider

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2019, 10:53:33 am »
Well Takshi, seeing all those insane high-altitude trail runners taking on Sani just made me realize there are people out there who do even stupider things than me.  Thanks for commenting.


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Offline Sardine

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2019, 10:57:55 am »
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Online Xpat

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #14 on: April 13, 2019, 09:27:08 pm »
Holy Moly Kevin, Losper and you clearly conspired to force my hand on these reports I didn't get to. I suspect you want me to carry it through. Ok, I'll bite again - especially as I have most of the pictures  :lol8:

First of all, your Poland comment makes clear all of a sudden, why you accepted and sweet talked your wife so eagerly. You thought you were invited by Minxy. You are a brave man to try to pull that one on HSK, so maybe its for best for all that instead you bumped into different eastern european blonde on top of Sani. I have to give it to you - you didn't show the dismay you must have felt one bit (you must have been married for a while).

Ok so here is my take on this one:

Ever since I have read the report from IanTheTooth about the Drakensberg Traverse from Sehlabathebe to Sani that he did with Iain and a secret man, this was on the cards. I have actually tried it solo about year and a half ago going in the opposite direction from Sani to Sehlabathebe, but failed misserably not even making it to the Rhino peak (that failure is described somwehere here: http://www.wilddog.za.net/forum/index.php?topic=217872.0). Which was probably a good thing as there was no way I would have made it up the Mashai ridge, where I had to walk my bike down this time - we will get to that later.

So when I came back from summer in Europe in November and after settling a score I had open with Mozambique (http://www.wilddog.za.net/forum/index.php?topic=233639.0) this one was next in the line. I had actually 4 day loop in central Lesotho coming up with Straatkat, TK and GregF, so I decided to head to the mountains early and settle some of the open scores before that ride.

I have never met Kevin (Highsider) before, but as he seemed to be quite interested in my prior Lesotho exploits on WD, and as he hails from nearby KZN where everybody rides rocks for breakfast, he seemed like a good candidate for riding partner for this particular route. Especially as he owns 525, the next best thing for this route after 500  :snorting:

I was quite chuffed when he accepted readily - most people seem keen for trips, but when push comes to shovel most of them usually come up with a lame excuse like family or work or money (comon people - get your priorities straight - you can always buy new family or work, but you will not get chance to ride Drakensberg traverse that often!).

I was hesitant to let Iain know about my plans as his riding is at completely different level to mine and I was worried that him coming would eliminate one of the most important options on my trips - option to chicken out. But I have mentioned the trip to IanTheTooth and he promptly informed Iain, who in turn was very keen to join. Who am I to turn away a guy who actually plotted the route, so I arranged with him date and he was to join us on the day of the traverse coming from his farm near Matliatele. He also roped in Stuart, another farmer from the area and his frequent riding pal. Against my expectations, this turned out to be blessing, as without them and their help with riding our bikes over some of the tough bits, we might had to turn back.

So the arrangement with Kevin was to meet at the Sani top, where we would leave our cars and ride on day 1 to Sehlabathebe on the main roads (i.e. down towards Mokhotlong tar, turn onto dirty A3 to Thaba Tseka, then turn again to Sehonkong and over Matebeng pass to Sehlabathebe for overnight. Next day we will then traverse southern Drakensberg back to Sani. Kevin new a joint called Thamathu lodge about 10 km north of Sehlabathebe and booked us in for the overnight.

The plan more or less worked out. We have met on agreed morning at the Sani Lodge, me arriving from Afriski where I slept over on my commute from Joburg, while Kevin had to navigate crowd or marathon runners up the Sani pass, which held him back a bit. But no stress, the first day to Sehlabathebe was no biggie and easily doable even with later start.

Here are some pics of the marathon commotion I took while waiting for Kevin:










Not sure what the paddle kayak was for up there - probably just a prop to give the driver outdoorsy cred, like a massive bullbar on 4x4 does in Sandton:




And finally Kevin crawled up the pass into sight:







After quick introduction, Kevin uloaded the bike and geared up and we set-off to Sehlabathebe. It was easy and uneventful ride - except of the threat of rain towards the end. Here Kevin lowering his pressures somwhere past Sehonkong with some local kids in attendance:













We have arrived at the bottom fo the Matebeng pass in the late afternoon. I have done the pass few times on big bikes, but it has been quite a few years since I was here last time and reports I have red said the pass deteriorated greatly. Not sure - maybe my memory deceives me - but I didn't find it that much worse from what I have remembered. I believe commited rider can do it on big adventure bike even now without too much bother. Yes there are some rocky sections, but they were there before as well.


Top of the Matebeng pass:










Down at Sehlabathebe we stopped at the chinese shop for petrol and some chow (i.e. cans of something mushy)










Afterwards we stopped at local shebeen for a beer and then pushed on north to Thamathu village for the night. By now it was getting late and the setting sun with clouds overhead made for a decent scenery:



















Thamathu lodge was very fitting establishment for this remote and quite corner - very rustic, but with all the amenities an explorer of tracks less traveled may wish for. Its set-up reminded me a bit of the St. James mission lodge near Mohkotlong. Dramatic sunset made for a very pretty colors:



















After dinner made of variety of cans we settled into our chalets for an early start next morning.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2019, 09:32:29 pm by Xpat »
 

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #15 on: April 13, 2019, 09:44:50 pm »
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Online Xpat

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #16 on: April 13, 2019, 09:57:37 pm »
Day 2 - Thamathu lodge to Sani


We woke up early still in darkness for an early start, packed up, geared up and set-off at about 6:00 am. I knew from IanTheTooth that we would hit the toughest bit dubbed 'waterfall' pretty soon as it was within 10 or so km of Thamathu, so we wanted to get there early to give us as much time as possible before we would get caught up by Iain and Stuart, who will be crossing the Ramtselise border post only once it opens at 7:00, so we should have more than hour lead.

Morning at Thamathu and the route we were to negotiate:










Initially the riding was pretty mellow following beautifull wide valley and we were making good progress following and easy double track:
















Once the double track run out, we hit the cattle tracks pushing further into the valleys to the north:




Soon we hit the valley that led to the dreaded 'waterfall' and pushed on:







Pretty soon we could see the waterfall, and the the sides of the valley got gradually steeper testing our off-camber skills:







There is Kevin somewhere down there:

























There is a bike somewhere in this picture:









« Last Edit: April 13, 2019, 10:03:48 pm by Xpat »
 

Online Xpat

Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #17 on: April 13, 2019, 10:43:34 pm »
The terrain near the waterfall indeed became quite challenging. The offcamber got uncomfortably steep and on top of it the tracks became very rocky. Kevn was getting quite tired so I left him to catch his breath and walked up the tracks for next about 300 - 400 meters past the waterfall to see what is in store for us. It was so-so, but I felt confident to at least give it a bash, especially as the valley seemed much easier furhter up above the waterfall.

It was my day and to my surprise I made it past waterfall almost in one swoop - not exactly, but it felt that way and I was quite chuffed:













Kevin once he caught his breath followed me for a bit on foot to see what is in store for him. He is walking up somewhere in this picture:




Once I made it above the waterfall, I parked my bike and walked back to help Kevin. He has done his own bit of scoutting and when I came back he looked somewhat shellshocked. He clearly had serious doubts about the wisdom of this enterprise. I felt bad for forgetting to tell him to change his sprockets - he was running quite long set-up which just didn't work here very well and as a result he was getting very tired quickly, which obviously affected his self-confidence. I was quite keen to push on now that I believed I have made it past the worst bit, but at the same time I was very much aware that it wouldn't be wise to lure Kevin into something he was very uncomfortable with. So I assured him that if he doesn't feel like it we can turn back at any point (at the end of the day 'failure is always an option' is my main motto on these trips, which probably helped me to survive most of these trips in one piece), and then I just tried to reason that it was still very early, so we still had plenty of time to turn back and make it back home the same day if we wished to do so.

He agreed to try to push on, but I could see that his heart was not in it. And, just as we were mulling over our options, Iain on 500 and Stuart on 450 rocked up all cheerfull and fresh hoping at will in which and every direction over any rock Lesotho threw its way. I have to say it was very impressive and at the same time intimidating sight. Iain is at least in the ballpark of my age, but Stuart seems at least deeply into his 60 (I didn't find courage to ask him his age). And seeing hoping all over that offcamber at will like a mountain goat was very humbling (actually the right word is humiliating, but I guess those words have the same root).

After quick introduction, they took quick stock of the situation and Iain offered Kevin to ride his bike up the tough section, to which visibly relieved Kevin readily agreed. I'm pretty sure they saved our trip right there. Here is some of that action:

Stuart navigating the waterfall section:
















And Iain riding up Kevin's bike:



















Once all the bikes were above the waterfall, we took a breather and filled up our camel bags from the stream.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2019, 11:38:05 pm by Xpat »
 

Offline Highsider

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #18 on: April 13, 2019, 10:58:33 pm »
Ha so Martin has taken the bait and joined on with his excellent pics and memory.
Itís been while since Iíve had such a decent nights sleep. I make myself a double Ďhug in the mugí because Iím going to need all the help I can get today.  Martin and I are both keen to set off as early as possible to get as much of a head start as possible over the Matat Farmers.  If they catch us too quickly, before the waterfall, they will see our true colors, was Martinís general sentiment. 
The first section is easy riding, it lulls me into a false sense of security.

We reach a silly little puddle crossing with a rocky exit.  Martin goes through and has to dab a bit on the rocks.

I decide to take a different way out, more water but less rocks on exit.  I discover that the rocks up here get covered in the slipperiest algae covering imaginable.  I have a lot of theories why this is but not much time to debate because this happens:

The water is very very cold.  I curse my stupidity (follow the guy in front of he gets through ok!) My gloves and boots are now soaked and my bike is lying on its side half submerged.  Martin quickly comes to help and we get the bike upright. 
If Iíve drowned this bike so early in the day, Iíll be properly pissed off.  Fortunately the old girl fires up after one or two swings.
My confidence has taken a bit of a knock.
We press on and quickly the terrain changes.
There are no decent tracks, just a relentless succession of rocks, khaki bos shrubs and holes.  It never gives me a break, it doesnít let me get a groove or momentum, it is just a continuous series of small obstacles. It is very tiring, physically and mentally.  With no path to follow I need to plot my own path. Martin doesnít seem to notice but itís getting steep and off camber and as we ascend, the dreaded waterfall comes into view.  I fall off a couple more times and I waste precious energy picking up and starting off again.  This altitude isnít helping.  I pant like a dog on heat but I donít get any air.  What the hell is wrong with me?



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Offline Highsider

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Re: So I opened a Czech account...
« Reply #19 on: April 13, 2019, 11:30:26 pm »
Martin goes for a very long walk to check the  difficulty of the waterfall section.  Iím losing my nerve to carry on, what if it gets way more difficult after this, I will destroy Martinís ride.  If I turn around he will follow me, also ending his ride.  I decide right there and then to shed some weight and get a bit fit when I get home.  Maybe get a new left knee while Iím at it.  After what seems like an age, Martin comes into sight again. 
We strike a deal.  He will try to get up past the waterfall.  If he makes it he comes back to help me up.  I agree and at this moment I hear bikes approaching.  The Matat Farmers have caught up and they come up the valley as effortlessly as a Sunday stroll in the park.

Ian can see Iím not a happy camper and offers to ride my 525 out of this situation.  I get to ride his 500.  I canít believe how he gets my bike to comply.  He is fairly short and light compared to me, but it doesnít worry him. 
I concentrate on this 500.  I really donít want to damage his bike, he just got it.
Much to my delight and relief, the 500 feels like a 250 and has loads of low down torque. 
From here on my mood improves.  I get quite far up the hillside till I get stuck again.  This time Stuart takes a walk down to me and rides Ianís 500 up a further 50 or 60 meters.
Huffing and puffing on foot, I watch this 60- something grandfather in a floppy hat and a pair of the tiredest boots Iíve ever seen simply ride this bike fluidly over the rocks,
Just keeping the momentum going and hardly breaking a sweat.

I get to see Ian doing pivot turns on my big old 525 and itís both marvelous and humbling.  What gentleman!  I am the weakest link here and they are being very cool about it.  We get to the top of the waterfall and thatís where I kick into survival mode.  I remove my jacket and my camera, I need to focus on riding and not other distractions.  Itís suddenly very hot and we fill up our trippers in the river.  After a snack and a drink, things are looking up.  I am especially grateful that Martinís ride is back on track.


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It's not what you ride, it's how you ride...
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