Let’s face it, we never need a reason to ride but it is sometimes fun to put a particular spin on it. I had some business appointments down in Barberton, in the Lowveld [or is that “Slowveld”?. I, as is usual, decided to go by bike despite the cold snap that promised to arrive on the Friday of my ride. I rolled out of Pretoria at 6 am on my Triumph Scrambler. I usually ride the back road to Bronkhorstspruit and then join the N4 heading east. This allows you to miss the first toll gate. Always a pleasure to put as little as possible into Sanral’s coffers! It was properly cold. Probably around minus 5 considering the wind chill factor. I was barely out of town when I hit the first bank of mist. My visor was misting up from my breath and this was now compounded by almost zero visibility in the misty pre-dawn half-light. I was literally riding at 55 kph, desperately wiping my visor every few seconds to remove the watery mist, and give me some semblance of sight. Eventually, I was forced to open my visor and duck down behind the Puig screen fitted to my Scrambler, where, by just peering over the top I had some semblance of vision. No way that this is fun but rather something to be endured as you pray for the mist to break. The frigid air hitting my face had me gasping for breath as my lungs rebelled against the icy onslaught.
The lights from oncoming traffic compounded the poor visibility problem as the mist on my visor splattered the light into a dazzling, blinding mess. Absolutely riding blind, your mind starts playing tricks on you that there is something in your path. Instinctively I backed off and moved my head around, trying to get the airstream to, just for a second, blow my visor clear and give me a glimpse of the road ahead. I was concentrating so hard that the stop sign where the road T-junctions with the Bronkhorstspruit road, almost took me by surprise. I turned left and gingerly made my way through even more dense mist. My worst nightmare was realised ten kays before Bronkhorstspruit when a collection of taillights sprang out of the mist and I climbed hard on the brakes, not knowing quite what was blocking the road. Literally idling along in first gear I made out an object in the road, which to my utter dismay was an F650GS BMW lying on its side, crash debris everywhere. The rider was lying clear of the road, spread-eagled on the ground. The fact that the cars and trucks that had stopped were directing traffic and not attending to the rider, made me fear the worst. Judging that there was nothing that I could do to help in any way, I mouthed a silent prayer as I continued on my way with a deep sadness in my soul for that unknown fallen brother.
Once on the N4 the mist started to lift and the light started to reclaim the land at the start of a new day. The landscape was frost bedecked and white in the weak wintery sunlight. As always, it felt even colder in the early morning first light. I rode on, deep in thought about how tenuous life can be. The traffic on the highway was already heavy as folks got away early to enjoy what was to be a long weekend. I pulled in at Milly’s to refuel, then turned off at Machadodorp, exiting the town via the R541. This quiet, scenic road drops off the highveld escarpment and winds its way down into the Lowveld, where it t-junctions with the Barberton – Badplaas road about ten kays outside of Badplaas. As you tumble and sweep down this winding and sweeping mountain road you become aware of the panoramic views of rugged cliffs and mountainsides split here and there with wispy waterfalls plunging many metres to the valley floor. In the summer, swollen with sometimes prolific rain they can be quite spectacular. As the Scrambler soaked up the sometimes uneven road surface and railed through the sweeps, my sombre mood lightened and I started to revel in the warmer Lowveld air. A heightened sense of life came over me as I soaked up the glorious mountain views and started to bond deeply with the big booming Triumph.
Turning left to Barberton, the fun gets even better as you descend the Mkonjwe mountains, with the neat plantations contrasting starkly with the jumbled mountain range. Looking left you are rewarded with glimpses of the valley stretching towards Mbombela. By the time I rolled into Barberton the eternal joy of riding a motorcycle through God’s own country had lifted my spirits. Once again I had that bike induced song in my heart and spring in my step. A quick Wimpy coffee and toast and I dispensed with business, raring to get on with my ride. Now for the “Name Game”. Try as I might, even after trolling the streets through the quaint little gold rush town, and even asking passers-by, I can confirm categorically that there is not a “BARBER” in Barberton. Well, I was planning to overnight in Mpumalanga, so let’s see if there is “GRAS” in Graskop……
The road to Mbombela is a beaut! The wooded hillsides are now regularly interspersed with the typical bushveld which gave that famous pooch, Jock, his name. You traverse the valley and then ascend the tight, curvy pass before descending into Mbombela. The surface is good and a real joy to ride on a torquey twin with plenty of ground clearance. The Scrambler is light steering yet stable as you switch direction and pitch it on its ear. All too soon the pass was behind me and I rolled into, and through a bustling town, with an already hectic rush hour swollen by tourists heading to their holiday destinations. I’m on a bike so no sweat. Threading through cues of idling four wheeled shopping baskets, I was soon on the road to White River and beyond.
The road to Hazyview is a long-time favourite. Sweeping past first the Pine Lake on your left and then a little further, the Da Gama Dam on your right, the views are amazing. I have ridden this road so many times over the years that I chuckle inside my helmet when it dawns on me that I even know where the bumps are, as well as subtle changes in camber. This is the incredible aspect of motorcycling. We constantly assess and hone our skills when riding familiar roads. Time stands still as you become one with the bike flowing down a road like a mountain stream meandering through the countryside. The views on this road are dominated by wooded mountainsides which slowly give way to fields of bananas, and then typical bushveld around Hazyview.
Exit Hazyview, and then just after crossing the Sabie river and passing the quaintly named “Hippo Hollow”, you hook a left to Graskop via Kowyns Pass. This is a seriously high-speed road. These days you need to exercise some caution as there are some potholes that have the potential to make a meal of you and your bike. You sweep through long wooded bends with truly spectacular views to all sides. This is another reason to show some restraint. It is a travesty to be in such “attack” mode that you miss the spectacle going on around you. I rode at a healthy clip yet still enjoyed the scenery flashing by.
Some haphazard cloud on the horizon became inflamed by the massive red orb of the setting sun. I had to stop and try to record the spectacle on the “digital” film.
The chilly mountain air was again making its presence felt but in an invigorating way. The road tightened up through Kowyn’s Pass, much to my and the Scrambler’s glee. I stopped in town for fuel so as to be ready for an uninterrupted start the next day, then cruised on to my overnight destination, the Valley View Backpackers. This establishment, on the west of town, gives an uninterrupted view across the valley towards Pilgrim’s Rest. So let me, at this point already, not keep you in suspense but confirm that there is plenty of GRAS in Graskop. In the company of some foreign tourists that evening I can report that grass of the “electric spinach” variety is also not in short supply! You just got to love Africa!
Let me digress for a moment. If you want to travel fast and light, then overnighting in backpackers establishments is just the ticket. Accommodation cost is reasonable, with options to suit all budgets, from dorm-type arrangements [a lot of fun when you are travelling in a group] to en-suite options. I habitually stay in the “Valley View” room which is en-suite with its own toilet and shower. The communal kitchen is the place to get chatting to fellow travellers as meals are prepared. Braai facilities are available too. With a fire going in the lounge, it is really all rather jolly sipping a glass of hooligan soup and chatting to folk from all over. Beds are clean, warm and cosy. Bikes are behind a locked gate, safe and secure. Having had a latish lunch I decided that I couldn’t do justice to my freeze-dried Thai curry, so I chowed a packet of peanuts with a few Captain Morgan’s and just chilled. Everyone turned in by ten and I was snug under the duvet despite the icy Graskop chill outside.
Saturday dawned clear and bright. I showered, punished a cup of coffee then layered up against the early morning chill. A quick chain lube and I was on my way. Riding out of town on the road to Bourke’s Luck and the Potholes, the views were breathtaking. The mountainsides were bathed in the bright early morning sunlight that had banished all but the most tenacious mist to the deepest valleys. Here and there tendrils of mist still stretched their wispy fingers across the road as I raced by. This is high-speed Nirvana. On a Sports weapon, you duck behind the screen and lace together the 240 kph sweepers. I was a little more restrained on the Triumph, but let all 1200cc’s off the leash. The dreaded mist once again spoilt my fun. As I raced towards the valley floor the spooky chill of the mist enveloped me and I was forced to back off. No sooner had I reined in the Scrambler when three cows came plodding along the road. My Sainted Aunt, ploughing into those chaps would have been an epic stufupp! “mombies in the mist” my Rhodie buddies would have said. Cattle were referred to as “mombies” back in the day in Rhodesia, no doubt taken from a Shona or Matabele name. Luckily the mist abated quite soon, just past the “Three Rondavel’s”, then it was back to corner strafing fun. Again the wooded mountainsides had gone, with Mopane bushveld making its first appearance.
In no time I reached the t-junction to turn right up the Abel Erasmus Pass. Up and over we went, the Triumph and I, dropping down through the Kloof like a mini Meiringspoort, and then through the Strydom Tunnel. Now I had the Blyde river vistas to my left and moss coloured mountains all around me.
Lord, the majesty of your creation never ceases to captivate and enthral me! With the versatility of the Scrambler, I rode down a gravel road next to the river for a photo, then flat-tracked out of there. Man oh man, this thing is proper! Back on the tar, I turned left towards Tzaneen. I had it in my mind to look up Modjadji, the Rain Queen, and ask her what the hell she is up to. To tell her that the guys in Cape Town want her to abdicate her throne. This means we must return to the “Name Game” and ride “Modjaji Kloof”. Try as I might, I just could not track her down.
The Galuchi Vervet monkey clan, her emissaries, were staying stum, so unfortunately I must conclude that Modjadji is no longer resident in Modjadji’s Kloof! Now, what about Duiwel’s Kloof? Do you think Old Nick hangs out there or did the place just get a bad rep? There is only one way to find out. Up and down I went, Georges Valley, Duiwels Kloof, Magoebas kloof and eventually all the way to Haenertsburg. The old serpentine fellow never showed. Perhaps he is “going hither and thither, seeking to kill and destroy”, but I’ll tell you something, those roads are more like Heaven to me!
A belated brekkie in Haenartsburg and then back on the road. Polokwane, and the N1 home. I rolled into my spot at around 15:00 pm, a little sore of tush, but in very high spirits. A quick 675 k’s dispensed with through some of the most splendid scenery that you can imagine. We are blessed to live in the most amazingly beautiful and diverse country. William Wallace, the Scottish patriot is quoted as saying, “all men must die, but only some men truly live”.
To play the “Name Game” and venture far and wide in our awesome land, is to truly live! Grab a map book and plan your own “Name Game”, you will add another amazing page to your book of motorcycling adventure, as I did.