Tankwa pan at sunset

Tankwa pan at sunset

I’ve had bikes on and off for the last 15 years.  I love the freedom, the wind in my hair, the open Karoo flats and the power underneath me.  I get a sort of satisfaction.  The dust rises up behind me as I speed into the unknown.  Some times when the city life gets too much I just get on my bike and ride into the Karoo.  No idea where I am going to sleep or what adventures may wait.  Sometimes I plan a route, other times I just go and see where the road takes me.

Camping in a river bed

Camping in a river bed

A lot of the time I ride with a good friend of mine, Uwe.  Like me he loves the openness of the Karoo.  Uwe is a legend and he’s been through Africa on his bike more than once.  He always takes the best droewors (dried sausage); he’s a butcher, the best in Cape Town.  He owns Gardens Continental Butchery, 120 Kloof Street, 021 423 6944.

Uwe the butcher

Uwe the butcher

Spectacular clouds and landscape of the Karoo

Spectacular clouds and landscape of the Karoo

At other times I go by myself to leave the stress behind.  I am a photographer and one of my favourite things to do is to take star-trail photographs with my film SLR camera.  The Karoo night allows spectacular star watching and needless to say, it’s great for star-trail photography.

Tankwa star-trail taken with my film SLR

Tankwa star-trail taken with my film SLR

I’ve had many adventures.  Some people think it’s not much of an adventure, but I live for those moments of unexpectedness.  So, without further ado here is my latest adventure:

I packed my bike one Saturday morning in late summer, got on it and rode into the Karoo.  I had already planned my route to one of my favourite overnight places in the Tankwa Karoo.  I was ready to get out of the city’s hustle and bustle.  I always allow plenty of time to get to my destination because I can sometimes really get lost in my photography along the way.  This happens especially in spring when all the wild flowers are blooming.  This time there were no flowers: the season was over.  The road was quiet and I was enjoying every moment.

About an hour on the dirt roads and I passed a rooikat (lynx).  This is a very shy species of cat and I was surprised to see it.  It disappeared into the Karoo veld as I came to a standstill.  I took off again and stopped at a dead jackal in the road a bit later to take some photos.  I felt sorry for the jackal.  I love their howling after sunset and I often join in.  Sometimes my howling even gets a reply from them.

Dead jackal

Dead jackal

Close to my destination I hit a particularly sandy stretch and had to slow down to a manageable speed.  The roads are normally very loose by the end of summer.  I was surprised to see that this road was that loose as the last time I was there the sand was hard.  At the worst spot I lost control and fell.  Luckily the sand was soft and the bike was fine.  So was I.  I took the panniers off and proceeded to pick the bike up.  I struggled to get the bike out of the really difficult places.  Once I was out I had to walk back to fetch my panniers.  The last couple of kilometres were uneventful and I got to my destination in no time.  I pitched my tent in a dry pan and left to go say hello to some local farm workers I had befriended on one of my previous trips.  I asked them for some firewood and they delivered it an hour or so later.  We had a nice chat and some cigarettes.  I always have lots of questions to ask the locals and they love to tell their stories, they can chat away for hours.  These people fascinate me.  They get by with the bare minimum in this barren land.  It seems like it’s a tough life, but they are always happy and friendly.  Maybe we city folk are doing it all wrong with all our earthly possessions and financial mind-set.  They left for their home shortly after sunset and I made a fire.  I was content with a mug of wine in the one hand and a cigarette in the other, chilling by the fire waiting for the night to set in slowly.  I particularly love the nights in the Karoo with the openness of the landscape and the dryness of the air.  You can only imagine the clearness of the skies at nights and how I enjoy myself taking star-trail photos.  This is the time I take my film SLR out, when everything is quiet and peaceful and the Karoo really crawls in under your skin.

Tankwa friends

Tankwa friends

People ask me if I get lonely on a trip by myself.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t in the least.  I am photography crazy and on such a trip I take loads of photos.  And I always have things to do around camp.  Making a safe fireplace and fire, making my camp more comfortable and on these trips I do a lot of thinking.  I think about life, I make plans for the future, I explore new ideas and I generally allow my thoughts to sink in and make space for new ones.  It does wonders for the soul.

Tough country

Tough country

The next morning I packed and left early for home, just after sunrise.  I decided to take a different route home.  Partly because I wanted to avoid the sandy stretch where I fell the previous day and partly because I had never taken this road on my bike before.  Some would say that this was a mistake but for me this was the best part of my adventure.  About an hour down the road I ran into some loose sand and in places the road was so bad and washed away that I really had to slow down a lot.  After the previous day’s fall this made me a bit nervous.  I carried on.

The next thing I knew the bike was difficult to control and I knew it was a puncture probably caused by the gravel.  Instinctively I also knew the chances of fixing a puncture caused by loose gravel might be slim.  This was at about eight ‘o clock.  I stopped and went through all the motions.  I put the bike on the centre-stand and I put some Tyreweld in it: that did not fix the problem.  I tried to take the wheel off but I neglected to bring the No.22 spanner.  The adjustable wrench slipped and I did not want to damage the nut.  So there I was, on the longest dirt road between two towns in South Africa without any water or cell phone reception.  I knew it might take a while before a vehicle, and potential lift came past.  But that did not faze me in the least.  Very much unlike my reactions would have been two days ago with the city stress still on my mind.  So I blew up my camping mattress and got comfortable in my bike’s shade.  I put my earphones in and before I knew it I fell asleep right there next to my bike.

Stranded in the middle of nowhere

Stranded in the middle of nowhere

Two hours later I was woken up by a taxi.  It stopped but was going the opposite way I wanted to go.  I gave the driver instruction to phone my friend as soon as he got reception and tell him to come fetch me.  I knew it might take another two hours before the taxi got any signal and then it will take my friend at least four hours to get there from Cape Town.  But that was the best I could do at that stage.  The taxi left and I continued my nap.

Another hour later I woke up again.  This time by a bakkie (pick-up truck) going in the right direction.  The driver, Henk, had a No.22 spanner, so we took the wheel off to try and fix the puncture but after a long struggle we decided to load the bike on the back of his bakkie.   But we had no rope to tie it on with and on these roads the bike will fall around on the back and get wrecked.  So I came up with the idea to take some fence wire.  I hope the farmer is not too upset with us for stealing his boundary fence, but it was necessary.

With the bike secured on the back we slowly made our way to Ceres.  We chatted away and the three hour drive passed quickly.

About an hour from Ceres I got reception and phoned my friend.  He had just left Cape Town.  Henk dropped me off in Ceres where I waited for my friend to come pick me up.  The first thing I did was to buy a Coke and some cigarettes.  Then I waited for another hour or so under a tree on the pavement before they arrived.  I got home at six that evening and even after a long day I had a smile on my face.  I had had my adventure.

A special thanks to the locals that gave me fire wood, to Henk for helping me get to Ceres, to the farmer we stole the fence wire from and to my friends Yunus and Victoria for fetching me in Ceres and for being part of my adventure.

As I sit here on my balcony putting my adventure on paper and staring over our beautiful Table Mountain, I can’t help but think when and where my next bike trip will be and what adventures it might bring.

Cederberg

Cederberg

Spring time in the Tankwa Karoo

Spring time in the Tankwa Karoo

Klein Karoo

Klein Karoo

Low clouds over the pan

Low clouds over the pan

Moordenaars Karoo

Moordenaars Karoo

Long shadow at sunset.

Long shadow at sunset.

Speeding away

Speeding away

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