Blog 3 by Mick: Ambush at KwaGengeshe
After fixing my bike and still with access to a well-stocked shed, I was keen on checking Tanya’s stator to ensure it didn’t meet the same fate as mine. Thankfully everything was still tight and in its correct place, but I took the opportunity to Loctite the stator securely so it couldn’t happen in future.
With that done, Charlie and Fiona offered to show us to the local Mandela Monument at his capture site and around some local trails in Howick. With Chalrie on his XR500 and us on our unloaded DR650’s, we then headed off onto some forestry tracks around the Karkloof area. It was a great ride and climaxed with a hill-climb known locally as Kyber Pass, a steepish climb with water bars that gave the opportunity to give the DR-osaurus a bit of airtime. Best of all however, was that my DR was back to 14.4V and doing everything it should. The stator repair was successful.
On Saturday we figured we better actually do something and get out of Charlie and Fiona’s hair; our claim to be world travelling nomads was becoming questionable as we were doing quite convincing impersonations of squatters. So we took the opportunity to cook them some dinner to thank them for their hospitality. For the record; Beef Madras with Lemon Yoghurt Cake and Mulled Wine turned out very nicely indeed.
So Sunday we hit the road with Charlie and his friend Fred on a R1200GS. Our destination was the Cobham National Park in the Southern Drakensberg. Charlie had recommended Cobham as one his favourite places to camp in the area and that was too good a recommendation for us to ignore. We took some forestry trails and a railway service track to Nottingham Road, a town just north of Howick, and then a fantastic winding dirt road with great views of the Drakensberg which came into the back of Himeville.
We spent the next 2 days sleeping, resting, reading, eating, and not much else. We sat down by the creek for a quite a few hours and did some trail walks. Lunch at the local pub, the Himeville Arms was great as it gave us a bit of time to chat to the publican about the area. He was a biker himself and quite interested in our trip. Sadly though, as with many of our discussions with locals, the conversation turned to the current state of South Africa and its increasing levels of crime. This fellow, an obvious and unashamed Africaphile, loved his country but was disheartened by what was becoming of it. Three separate farm murders the previous summer, including a close friend of his, had left the community shell shocked.
After a couple days we returned to Howick to pick up some new tyres. Our rears were the same tyres had headed out on our shakedown trip on the Holland Track in Australia on, and they had worn reasonably quickly. We had tried to pick up some replacements on our first visit to Fiona and Charlie’s, but Goodenough, the fellow at the local Yamaha dealer who Charlie had ordered the tyres through, didn’t live up to his name and didn’t actually order the tyres.
This was a blessing in disguise though as it gave us an opportunity to spend some more time with Fiona and Charlie and their friends. Fiona, a primary school teacher, asked if we would come and talk to her students. So we made our way down to Pietermaritzburg and spent an hour or so with her class talking about our trip and Australia with her enthusiastic pupils. Some bizarre questions were asked but it made for a fun and interesting afternoon.
That evening we spent time with a group of Charlie and Fiona’s friends; with their riding buddies John, Fred and Jimmie pouring over maps and scheming cunning routes for our coming weeks; and with Pete and Beth, kind neighbours of theirs reviewing our medical kit. Peter, a doctor, then thoughtfully sourced for us a variety of bits and pieces to augment our supplies. After another successful Sticky Date Pudding, Charlie and I spent quite a bit of time in the shed putting his Yamaha XTZ750 back together. Charlie had removed the motor and rebuilt the top end and I was keen to help with putting the motor back in, a job much better done with two pairs of hands. We finished up after 4am with a few extra jobs on the DR’s done and the XTZ looking like a proper bike again.
It was an understandably late start the next day. Tan and I had thought of heading off into the Drakensburg in the morning, but the late finish the night previous for me and the opportunity for Tanya to spend some time with Eryn, Charlie and Fiona’s daughter, meant we would spend yet another night with our surrogate South African family. The extra day gave Charlie and I an opportunity to finish off reassembling his XTZ, which was soon running as sweet as you’d like. We also spent some time with Paul, one of Charlie’s neighbours, who shouted us a few beers and was the proud owner of a mid 30’s 350cc Velocette RSK and an early 50’s 500cc Vincent Comet, both beautifully restored.
With the Yami running again, on Friday Charlie and I went off trail riding while Tan spent the day studying and then doing an exam. Tanya is finishing her Bachelor of Commerce degree while we are travelling and paid the price for her hard work and diligence by missing out on some great riding and views! Charlie and I swapped bikes for a bit, and if I was to embellish just a little then you’ll have to forgive me, he duly led me into a deathly quagmire capable of swallowing bikes and brave men whole. The stench of death in the air was overwhelming. The DR floated through like an angel, while on the XTZ I suffered the fate of any earthly bike in a mud tsunami of biblical scale. After a heroic fight, the XTZ went down and the rear brake lever bent, minor collateral damage considering the gravity of the situation. Thankfully I managed to lift the bike and extricate myself from the obvious trap before photographic evidence was taken.
Sadly, the actuality – in my humble opinion – is not so interesting so I wont bother to bore you with that… who would want to hear of someone dropping a bike in puddle that could be bridged with a newspaper? Bah, consider this gonzo blogging…
The other benefit of not heading off to the Drakensberg the day previous was the invitation to a braai that evening at Jimmie and Nicki’s house in Hilton, near Howick. Nicki skillfully cooked many lucky animals in various forms on the braai, all topped off with garlic bread laced blue cheese and local red wine. We went to bed very fat and happy.
The following morning, we cooked our favourite breakfast of French Toast, bacon, maple syrup, yoghurt and berries to power everyone up for the coming day’s ride. We were to ride to the bottom of Sani Pass via back roads with Jimmie leading the way on his KTM 525, Fred on his XR400, Charlie on his XTZ750 plus Tan and I. We rode towards the Mkomazi River valley and up to a high lookout post used for spotting bush fires to view Helehele Pass and our next challenge – KwaGengeshe.
At KwaGengeshe, there is a small track that leads to the Mkomazi River via an incredibly steep trail, part of which was so steep it has been concreted. We descended into the valley and the trail got narrower and narrower, almost to the point of single track. Then the concrete road started and the track steepened to probably 1 in 4 i.e. very bloody steep. In fact so steep, I stopped halfway to ensure I didn’t over heat the brakes on the loaded up DR.
At the bottom of the concrete road, Charlie, who was leading, turned right onto a narrow rocky trail for the final descent to the valley bottom. I followed, and soon realised I was in big trouble on the loaded DR. The track was so steep, and so rocky and loose I was struggling to keep the bike up. I wanted to call to Tan on our intercom not to follow but her battery was dead. I looked up to see her coming down. We were committed. I’m not sure what Mkomazi means, but that river on a fat DR is certainly akin to shit creek without a paddle.
We all managed to get to the bottom and had a look at the river, a bit of a chat and then decided it was time to attempt the ascent. Charlie went first, and half way up slipped into a loose depression on one side of the track, which robbed traction and knocked him off line. He turned around and came to the bottom for a second attempt. This time he got further but still slipped to a stop near the top. Thankfully he was close enough to walk and wheel-spin his way to the top to loud applause from us spectators at the bottom.
Next up was Fred. Attempt one had the XR400 halfway to the top, before losing traction, spinning sideways and rapidly accelerating off into the bush at right angles with Fred hanging on for dear life. From the bottom, all we could hear was Charlie filling the valley with laughter! Fred came back down for attempt two, which got the XR further up the climb. I walked up the trail and we helped to get Fred to the top.
And then it was me. I made my first attempt fully loaded, my reasoning being every metre done with lugguge on the bike was one less metre I didn’t have to carry it. I hit the bottom of the track in 1st gear, maybe 4000 rpm where the DR makes a good amount of grunt. The bike skidded and slipped underneath me but I managed to keep in pretty straight. There was a slight left turn near the top and the bike slipped and the rear wheel spun as I turned. I feathered the clutch to control the wheelspin, but released too quickly – lofting the front wheel high and nearly dumping the bike and all my luggage on top of myself.
I vented quite a few loud and choice profanities as I nearly had it, so close but I’d fluffed it. Charlie and Fred helped me stabilise the bike and unloaded the luggage. With no momentum, finishing the climb loaded was never going to be achievable. With their help, I managed to walk the unloaded bike to the top of the climb, then came back for the luggage.
Jimmie on his light KTM put on a hill-climbing clinic for us. He came up at a fair rate of knots making a mockery of all our struggles.
Last up was Tan on her DR. First attempt had her rear wheel spin out in the rocks. We unloaded the panniers and she turned around for a second attempt. This time she got further before spinning the rear wheel and going offline to the right. She valiantly turned for a 3rd attempt, sadly this time with the same result. She conceded defeat and I jumped the yellow DR-osaurus.
I was so physically tired by this time after helping lift, stabilise, and turn bikes on the steep slope, carry luggage, and walk up and down the hill a few times for various reasons, all in the midday heat, that once back down the bottom of the valley on Tan’s bike I turned off the ignition for a few minutes of rest and silence to focus for the coming climb.
I hit the climb much like I did on my bike, but this time managed to negotiate the left hander near the top without too much wheelspin. Right at the top, with the rear wheel spinning I hit a rock about the size of a rockmelon and dropped it, but I was at the top and out of the valley proper. I picked it up and put down the side stand. It had taken us over 3 hours to get the bikes out. The Ambush at KwaGengeshe was over.
We all rested for a good 30mins in any shade we could find, my bash plate water tank coming in very handy as Charlie and Fred had both finished all the water they were carrying. It was hot and we had all been working hard. Extra water is always good.
We rode out of the valley through Helehele Pass and on to Bulwer, a small town where we had lunch at the Nip Inn, a local pub. I had a few celebratory beers and there we said our goodbyes to Jimmie who had to head home. In that short time, the tiring ordeal in the valley had faded to a fun adventure and we all thanked him for leading the ride. Everyone agreed on that; it had been tough but was fun. A bloody good days riding was had.
We finished the day with a short ride to Sani Backpakers for a well deserved nights rest, readying ourselves for a motorbiking blitzkrieg on Lesotho……