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  #1  
Old 19 Dec 2011
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Lesotho 2011

Lesothoooo!


A quick nip to the top of Africa!!
Good times are here again..!


It was only the week before in the middle of October that I’d managed to get away from a disastrous spell in Iraq and what has to be one of the longest 6 week tours of ‘the Pit’ that I care to remember. As usual, working in hostile environments the stress levels get pretty high up on the agenda and the chance of blowing off some steam comes never too early! I had 2 glorious months to look forward to and even though I had enrolled on a medical course I was damn well going to do something with my time to remember..! And that idea included a motorcycle and somewhere off the beaten track.
My course fortunately was in Cape Town, South Africa which, although a touch far from my home in Bonnie Scotland, is a beautiful city and its levels of home grown domestic trauma make excellent testing grounds for an up and coming Paramedic! Actually it’s a bit like Iraq but better wine..! South Africa has always been an odyssey for me and the final stop of a 2008/9 ride through Africa from Edinburgh to the Cape (www.horizonsunlimited.com/tstories/geoffshing)and I found myself pulled back to its awe and magnificence like a moth to a flame (it’s sooo warm… ouch…ouch…ouch..!).
.

The idea grew in my head through countless conversations with a good buddy of mine Al, A South African native, fellow biker and the purchaser of my rather battered ’03 Yamaha XT600e (Bully 2) the veteran of my 08/09 African adventure. He regaled me with stories of endless miles of sand riding with Bully 2 in the Northern Provinces, Long winding coastal roads in the East, stunning Mozambique beaches, Namibian deserts and high mountain plateaus in the Kwa-Zulu Natal, longing and free to adventurous bike riders and one of the holiest of holies… The SANI PASS in Lesotho..! Whoop, a place I’d heard of and always wanted to experience and the ‘Top of Africa’ to boot! I was salivating to say the least.
So, here was the plan…! Medical course for 3 weeks, give myself an extra week to bomb-burst around South Africa with my suitcase packed riding gear and be home for tea and biscuits on the plane home. The bike was to be my old and rather well used ’03 XT600e ‘Bully 2’ loaned by Al. It was in need of some fixing up after been garaged for a year but hey, we were to be re-united again for another little adventure. Al was to join me after riding his ’99 BMW 1100GS to Jo’berg and we were to meet up at the base of the Sani Pass after my course had finished. Bring it on Al; you think you’re the daddy of Adventure riding, Ha..! I’ll show you!! And there started the banter.


During time off on the med course (supposedly studying-oops!), I set about going over Bully 2, getting the engine started which fired off clouds of black smoke (but assured the top end had recently been overhauled by a local mechanic less than 2,000kms before), recharging the battery, new rear spring, brake pads and bleeding, front fork oil, engine oil, new seals, rebuilding the rather seized swingarm, general cleaning, lubricating, inspecting and after a days test riding I felt confident again with Bully 2 under my arse!
Security doesn’t exist in nature……
Before I knew it the course had finished but a spanner had been thrown into the works giving a little stress, as usual medical courses generally require a criminal record check of which I’d neglected to correctly apply for (Arse!) and I wasn’t able to sit the final exam until it, the original copy, had arrived in South Africa Aaaargh! Shall I stay and forgo the trip hoping it may arrive before I lose all this new found knowledge and study like mad..? Or…. If I don’t know it now, I never will! Bugger it I’m off ‘Cede Nullis’! So I quickly packed what gear I may fit into the Giant Basin rear bike bag and headed off onto the N1 headed North East towards Jo’berg. I figured it’ll take a week for the paper to come to Cape Town which will give me the week required for a mad dash to the roof of Africa. I called Al and told him the meet was still on, he offered to return from Jo’berg and show me the local sand areas but was pleased I’d made the decision to head out.
The weather was glorious, traffic flowing nicely through Cape Town, fuel tank full and Bully pottering along like a good thumper should. Screw the paper, I felt cool again, relaxed, throwing caution to the wind, the stress behind and a new adventure to look forward to! The scenery was lovely with interesting skylines, huge vineyards and a smooth mile munching tarmac as I headed into the centre of South Africa. Ok, so I’m not Dr Livingstone here but not bad for a hangover decision at 2pm Saturday afternoon! The N1 is the main artery for South Africa, linking Cape Town to Johannesburg (Jo’berg) and is full of HGVs thundering along at speeds in excess of 120kph and in my experience, these drivers don’t sleep, if rarely! I’m on an XT600e which rather annoyingly will not rise above 120kph no matter where the wind is blowing me. If anyone has ridden thumpers on a highway will know, the mirrors generally aren’t worth a sausage to gauge distance of approaching vehicles so the trucks did give me some worrying moments.
First nights stopover was to be a cheap motel in Beaufort West, a halfway point and frequent travellers rest stop for those hitting the N1 and 500kms from my start point. To my alarm after putting Bully to rest and heading out of the hotel for a I saw a group of locals having a fight less than 100m up the street. I’ve seen (and been in) a few scraps in my time but these locals fight with knives, so I did the best thing ever and dived into the first bar..! (see no evil… etc.!) And Oh boy..! This bar is bloody nuts also! Ha Ha ha! Smashed locals, rowdy truck drivers and some crazy woman pouring whiskey down her bra staring intently at me…! Needless to say, the camera stayed away and so did I after a couple of s!
The following morning, I fuelled up the bike and checked the oil, the level was low but as with XTs they need to be run a while before an accurate reading can be ascertained so I headed off happily away from Beaufort West and towards Bloemfontein. After 50kms I checked Bully’s oil level and found it to be alarmingly low! In fact there were no readings on the dipstick, rather puzzled I obtained oil, topped it up and decided to keep a better eye on it. I checked it again after a 100kms and again, it was low..? WTF!?! Another ½ litre went into the oil tank. Now I’m figuring there’s a problem and a big one! I decided to keep heading on and see what happens
and after hitting another 200kms the oil level has disappeared. I couldn’t figure it out as Al had assured me the engine had been rebuilt at a mechanics shop less than 2,000kms before. I topped up again and headed to where I knew a Yamaha dealer was in Bloemfontein as told by a couple on a Honda Blackbird I’d spoke to earlier in the day.
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__________________
Geoffshing

'Security is a product of one's own imagination, it does not exist in nature as a rule, life is either a daring adventure or nothing.'
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Old 19 Dec 2011
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Lesotho 2011

Trauma? I know that right..?
Making my way into ‘Bloem’ I found Salleys Yamaha in the centre of town and more importantly a biker bar. Whoop, maybe this isn’t such a bad day after all! The place looks lively (see-rowdy) and I headed there as soon as I dumped Bully in a local hotel to worry about his illness over a or two (dozen!) and figure it out in the morning, today is a Sunday and there’s nothing I can do now.
The next morning after breakfast I rode to the bike shop and immediately the mechanic stuck his finger up the exhaust and with a knowing nod, said the engine is shot…! He can give me the definite answer once he takes it apart and I had to agree. I gave the news to Al and resigned myself to the fact that the trip to Lesotho is over, the bike in major trauma and something I should have recognised earlier on but in my clouded state and excitement to hit the road I neglected to seriously think of what it could be. I’d relegated myself to being an Ostrich and shoved my head in the sand… Dummy! Upon hearing the news, Al rode 400kms to meet me in Bloem and discuss our options with the next morning being shown the wrecked cylinder and the mechanic explaining that the inlet rubbers had perished long before the rebuild and should have been replaced then. This oversight allowed sand and dust to be sucked into the engine ruining the piston, rings and cylinder. A rebore was needed! So I had to date, a wrecked engine in a borrowed bike, a hangover, a ton of guilt, a ruined trip and a hefty bill to boot! What else could possibly go wrong? Damn, Blast and Bollocks!!!!


South Africa is a country of many things, as in its new flag there’s a myriad of different colours, races, thoughts and ideas, bucket loads of beauty crammed with history, amazing people and leaders in giving hope and inspiration to change what could be a disaster into a future of feeling things will always work out if you ‘Maak n’ Plan’! If you hit adversity……. Make a Plan! So, a plan was formed in Als head and wow did he surprise the hell out of me! He explained to me about the previous night’s sleep and the thoughts that came with it. About how I’d listened intently to his stories of the Sani Pass and travelled thousands of miles to experience it whilst in country, on a bike, the assurance the engine was fine only to find the previous mechanic did a crap job and he was damned if I were to go home without us both achieving our goal. It wasn’t my fault yet I’d resigned…. he hadn’t! Alhas always wanted another bike, a third enduro to keep at his family’s home and figured if we could find one in this city at a reasonable price, I (we) could still ride the Sani, complete the trip and deliver his new bike home to Cape town..!!!! Grab a quick flight in a weeks’ time and return Bully 2, repaired to its rightful owner.
So the game had TRULY stepped up a notch and so had my gratitude and admiration for South African ‘Maak ‘n Plan’ mentality and especially my mate Al! Time was not on our side to go shopping yet a bike was duly found and a model Al has been wanting for a while, a low mileage, 2006 Kawasaki KLR650, bargained for and purchased and 2 hours later we were off. It was a gamble, a risky purchase and I couldn’t believe it but had the biggest smile on my face for ages that my face was aching! I’m no damsel in distress but Zorro certainly came to the rescue!
Let’s hit the dirt……!
Riding the new bike, as in any new (ish) bike takes some getting used to and this one wasn’t prepped in any way other than a new front tyre, an oil change and a large top-box with the sale. We were a bit dubious when it wouldn’t run very well uphill and over 4,500rpm but we soon figured as it only had 11,000kms on the clock, it needed a damn good thrashing, cleaning of the carbs and she’ll run fine. And it worked…. eventually! I wasn’t complaining as that would have been similar to being presented with a £1,000,000 and moaning it was in a cheque!
So we hit the road and headed for Lesotho rather late in the afternoon and stopped off in Fouriesberg, the temporary Boer capital of the Free State during the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1900) when the British captured Bloemfontein and it showed in the local bar/grill with the old RSA flag hanging from the wall. However the local clientele were friendly enough in giving us directions to cash machines and the B&B where a nice stone house was presented to us with a lockable garage surrounded by yappy dogs! Dinner was presented in one of the local restaurants and I happened to spot a Honda Bros 400cc bike with an obvious fuel filter, parked outside. I struck up a conversation with the restaurant owner as the KLR didn’t have one, who kindly offered to go home and bring me one if I had the need..! I didn’t take him up on his offer but was very impressed by his generosity to help. Dinner was superb!

Whey-hey ..another country!
The Lesotho border crossing was a pleasure to behold, with efficient staff, a welcoming smile and eagerness to help and even an apology for not selling local maps. Al immediately received an offer to buy his bike from the border guard which was received as a compliment to the size of his BMW. I was passed over without regard, ha ha ha! I must be riding the kiddie bike, LOL! A simple form to fill in, flash of passport for the all-important stamp and ‘were in like Flynn!’

Heading into the country we were met with expanses of farming land, rich greens and dark browns of recently ploughed earth, agriculture features heavily in Lesotho’s economy and even the main form of transport is the horse..! The roads were initially of good quality; long sweeping bends interspaced with tight twisty curves and further into the mountains were a bikers dream..! Save the occasional stones on the road due to rock falls I couldn’t fault the state of the tarmac and was slightly aching for something with a bit more power……..an R1 perhaps! LOL! Al and I took turns leading having the opportunity for photographs of the magnificent scenery and of course, ourselves as we progressed into the mountains.
A friend of mine, Mark Hammond (www.ridefar.typepad.com) taught me a valuable lesson during a previous Africa trip that you can never take too many photographs, yet my bulky digital SLR was becoming a pain in the arse and I scolded myself for not bringing a 35mm compact camera along.

Once crossing the border we knew we had a good hard days ride to get to the Sani Pass via another sight worth seeing, the Katse Dam in the Lesotho Highlands. Africa’s highest (1990m above sea level) and second largest dam (185m tall) which involved a slight detour but worth the visit. En route to the dam we tried to convince one of the guards to allow us to ride on top of the dam wall but he strangely flatly denied this mere simple request… wonder why? Insisting we were to get a good look at the dam in some way, we happened across a dirt track leading to the bottom of the dam itself. A tough little track of loose boulders which lead down to the floodgates area. Ok, Ok.. not the wisest of places but by ‘eck it was a great view of the dam itself from the very bottom and was worth it for the engineering feat of ALL that water being held back by the wall 1,950 MILLION cubic metres! Wow! If they opened the taps at that moment I don’t think my 25m gold swimming badge from 5th grade would have helped much! Tours are available but I think we were happy with what we saw and as time was pushing on we made off after a brief lunch stop.
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__________________
Geoffshing

'Security is a product of one's own imagination, it does not exist in nature as a rule, life is either a daring adventure or nothing.'
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  #3  
Old 19 Dec 2011
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Lesotho 2011

“Keep going until even YOUR horse is tired..!”
Leaving the dam, for we had to push on as it being Wednesday and we had to be back in Cape Town by Friday and that was 2,000kms away..! We headed off onto the main road to Mokhotlong some 200kms away and the next town with fuel and closest to the Sani Pass. The roads turned to dirt tracks from now on and we wouldn’t see another bit of tar until South Africa. Hey, that’s why we brought dirt bikes…. Yay! Zipping up and over the mountain passes took us to 3,070m in altitude seeing beautiful farming country, awesome mountain views, rolling grasslands and lots of locals on horseback, even the Police were on horseback. Coming across a junction and slightly unsure whether it was our turning I happened upon a local man galloping his horse up the mountainside, wearing his customary blanket around him to protect from the colder thin air he gave me a beaming smile as to which I complimented his horse. “Oh, Thank you but it’s very tired, not like yours” he exclaimed and slowed it to a walk, I chuckled and being considerate to the sound of motorcycles and horses I also slowed down on minimal revs and asked him whether the junction was the way to the Sani Pass? “Oooh! Very far” He said after a face scrunching thoughtful moment “Very far, keep going until even YOUR horse is tired..!” He also said it would take him 4 days to get there, we were hoping 4 hours..! Ooh Bugger! But I did have 40+ horses under this saddle..!
We pushed on, having a minor adjustment of the ergonomic

s of the bikes levers, tyre pressures and footbrake for off-road conditions we started to eat the miles on some of the most thoroughly enjoyable roads I’ve ever ridden to date, smooth in parts to pick up good speed yet having technical parts to keep the enjoyment of the challenge interesting. Reaching Mokhotlong late afternoon and only 2 hours of light left we quickly fuelled up throwing chocolate and cold drinks down our necks and had a brief conversation with ‘Seepu’ a roadside cobbler. Seepu is a common African name, but the first time I’d ever actually met a Seepu, I’m now looking for a guy named ‘Zobra’ and my pack will be complete LOL.
Heading for the final 50+kms to the Sani, light was pushing fast against us, we’d been on the go for 10+ hours and the last dash to the famous pass started in earnest, full of petrol and the energy bars kicking in we shot out of town and hit some really good dirt roads, only a bit too eagerly on my behalf. I was loving the conditions, the weather was good and my confidence was booming, the bike riding better as we road on great dirt tracks with not another vehicle around for miles, actually..ALL DAY! Coming across a small bridge I noticed the opposite side had a large eroded pothole, I was doing 50kph easily and leading the pair. The sudden rush of ‘Ooops!’ as I realised this is a long and deeper pothole that I expected came quickly. Nothing else to do other than tug the brake lever, dropping slightly the front suspension and hit the gas thereby lifting the front to clear the oncoming ridge. It worked but the back wheel hit with an awkward thump yet I was clear..phew! 2-3 seconds later something hit me on the head. “Bloody Hell what was that?” The top box had snapped clear of

its mounting and followed me at a slightly faster trajectory than I, ricoched off my helmet and crashed to the ground spewing camera, spare oil and a tickertape parade of toilet roll flying through the air! A look back as the ‘Flash to Bang’ wasn’t computing in my tired grey matter only to look at Al who was PI$$ING HIMSELF WITH LAUGHTER! I’ve known Al for 5 years and NEVER seen so much tears of laughter in his eyes until that moment. Point to note; if you’re gonna break
someone else’s bike, at least make ‘em laugh!


On the clean-up and duct tape repairs we attracted the attention of the locals whom saw everything, workers in the fields came to observe and we spent a little time taking pictures and having fun with the kids. Al was trying to get video of the kids as we were chatting and in a previous trip there’s footage of me playing with the local kids in Mali (youtube-The Alien Attacks- ridefar) So I did the same again with these kids, so with a big smile and a loud ‘Roaar’ I chased the kids in good fun and jest. The kids were screaming in delight and scattered, leaving one unfortunate child behind whom had tripped over right at my feet! Without a seconds hesitation I picked up the poor child and lifted it above my head (him/her..?) and the child with a scream immediately wet itself! This kid must have drunk 10 pints a moment before and narrowly avoiding getting peed upon I immediately placed the child back on the floor to an ever increasing puddle of pee and tears, quickly returning to the bike!! Ooops! Again, Al was crying with laughter and the other kids were going nuts laughing too, poor child! Time to bugger off!
The rest of the route was attained in the last of the daylight available, fog and darkness descending quickly as we arrived at the ‘Sani Pass Chalets’ home of Africa’s Highest pub at 2874m! After a can of celebratory lager with dinner we retired to the backpacker’s accommodation and checked out the bikes ready for the next morning’s ride down the pass. The KLR had lost a sub-frame bolt which was replaced with a temp fix and after a pic or two with the starry night, we tallied 450kms in 13 hours………I slept like the dead!
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'Security is a product of one's own imagination, it does not exist in nature as a rule, life is either a daring adventure or nothing.'
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Old 19 Dec 2011
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Lesotho 2011

Down, down, down….!
They say running downhill is much harder than uphill, during my time in the army we used to run up a hill in the Pentlands, Scotland affectionately known as ‘COs Hill’. Getting up it was a bitch and yet the return was worse, the strain on the knees, constant fear of a busted ankle whilst slipping and using your face as a brake should a trip occur. Time constraints were in force the morning we awoke in the Backpackers accommodation so an early start was necessary. The border opens at 6am and we needed to be away soonest in the hope of making Cape Town the next evening.


Making our way to the ‘start line’ at the top of the pass we noticed the cold biting due to the altitude, something I hadn’t noticed the day before. The KLR was giving off some rubbing noises which we found was the plastic chain guard against the chain itself, this was due to the sub frame bolt and it’s temporary fix making the chassis twist ever so slightly, a cable tie soon put that right. A white pickup driver informed us that the official who stamps the passport was still in bed after working a late shift and may only be available after 6am, so we had time to take a few pictures and chat to the local truck drivers. I wasn’t worried about the severity of the pass for if a truck can do it, I’m damn sure an enduro bike shall have no problems. After being bored for ½ hour I decided to check out the ‘Customs’ building, lo and behold it was occupied and I had my exit stamp in a flash..! Informing Al, who did the same and we were off.
The view at the top of the Sani Pass, especially in the early morning is a sight to behold, the sheer distance that can be seen is breath taking, ever decreasing shades of terrain in the distance reminded me of stage backdrops at the theatre showing the perfect view. The weather was dry and calm and perfect riding conditions in the knowledge that once we progressed down it would warm up and warm up it did!


I took the lead for Al had been on the pass before and riding the heavier BMW he took it steady with the extra weight. The famous switchbacks start almost immediately and rider positioning is all important, weight back, look up, don’t ride the brakes and use the engine gearing. The KLR is an enduro dual purpose bike and its gearing shows this. Attempting to use 1st gear to slow the bike downhill was a little too fast for me on the tight switchbacks so I applied slight braking to help, switching between front and rear so as not to overheat the callipers. This time I would have preferred a smaller bike, WR450 perhaps? The further down I went the more awesome the view became and a couple of stops were required to take it all in which wasn’t easy due to the sharp decline and the loose rocks that made the track. Occasionally looking back to see Al concentrating on the BMW, I could sense he was enjoying the challenge the extra weight gave him. The concentration required warmed me up to where I had a sweat under my helmet, I was thankful for having a flip-up helmet. I hate full face lids and only wear them at speed but this was slipping forward and annoying ‘look up Geoff, look up’. My shoulders tightening, neck straining looking up and forward, the previous days trek making my wrists ache. We hadn’t had breakfast yet, normally I’m a grumpy bastard when I haven’t eaten but at this moment, I couldn’t have been further away from caring as THIS WAS BRILLIANT..! It was like teenage sex, short, sharp, exciting and intense, banging a chick yet looking out the window at an ever better chick and after a couple of Km’s/ minutes it was over WAAAY too quickly! The track begins to level and more resembles a green laning exercise, the hard part done, time for the post coital cigarette at the SA border crossing and the slog back to Cape Town.
So there for me was the Sani Pass and Lesotho, one of the shortest yet most spectacular rides I’ve ever done in my life. I’m not a writer and never proclaimed to be, I’m a Yorkshire man and now my knuckles are beginning to hurt from typing. Yet for me it was an intense paced rollercoaster few days of disappointment and elation, failure and success, exhaustion and friendship, my riding ability tested more than ever and the companionship of a truly good friend and fellow rider with his unwavering ‘Maak ‘n Plan’ mentality. I owe my eternal gratitude to Al and one day in the future it will be my pleasure to return the compliment.
Daft yet extremely happy Yorkshire man..!!

Looking back, I would have loved to have turned around and headed back up, which was the original plan (I hate being pushed for time!) but it was not to be, did I truly ‘do’ the Sani Pass? To some, a resounding ‘no’ will holler but the pass isn’t going away for a long time and rumours of it being tarred soon sound pretty unreasonable as they have been spoken about for years. During our mad dash, we’d gained higher altitudes of 3,200m in Lesotho and done much harder technical riding further north of the country, The Sani was a ‘tick in the box’ and if I didn’t do it right, well………….. let’s put it this way, it’ll not be tarred by next year!!
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'Security is a product of one's own imagination, it does not exist in nature as a rule, life is either a daring adventure or nothing.'
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