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Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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Ride TalesAn easy way to post your ride reports, whether it's a weekend ride or around the world.
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With a new bike in the garage and some free time it was time to hit the road again!
If I am going to use Bush Baby (that’s the new bike’s nickname) to go through Africa, I decided I should do a smallish trip to see how we managed. I planned a ride down the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast as far as St Lucia before heading north to Johannesburg to visit my Mom and then back home via Lesotho – I thought I might do the Sani Pass and give Bush Baby a good workout! Mother Nature however had other plans for me!
The plan was to avoid all motorways and toll roads and take the roads less traveled. Bush Baby’s top speed is only 110km and who wants to travel on boring motorways in any event! Their only purpose is to get one from one point to another as quickly as possible and that is not what these trips are about.
The road from Umhlanga to St Lucia via the 102 is a fairly good road (more on the roads later!) and the distance just over 200km; a nice warm up ride. As I was traveling on the back roads the trip took longer than it would have on the motorway, but these were roads I had never traveled despite having lived in the area for over 5 years. I was amazed at how quickly I was in a rural setting; barely 20km from one of the most affluent towns in SA I was driving through areas where the locals lived in typical mud huts with no running water or electricity. I wondered what they thought of the SAR3 billion (yes, that’s Billion!) that the state and local authority had spent on a soccer stadium not 100km from where thy lived in poverty below the bread line; and this was only one of 4 such stadiums across the country. I couldn’t help but think that the SA government and local authorities have their priorities horribly wrong.
St Lucia (or more correctly, St Lucia Estuary) is in the iSimangaliso WetlandPark (previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park); the word ‘iSimangaliso’ being Zulu for ‘a marvel’. The park is a United Nations World Heritage Site encompassing several different conservation areas centred on Lake St. Lucia, its tidal estuary, neighbouring game reserves, and the St. Lucia Marine Reserve, which extends offshore into the Mozambique Strait. The oldest of the reserves within this park, St. Lucia Game Reserve, was established in 1895. It is South Africa’s third-largest protected area spanning 280 km of coastline and made up of around 3,280 square km of pristine natural ecosystems.
The Budget Backpackers establishment in St Lucia was true to its name. Fortunately there were only 3 of us in the backpackers – a German couple and myself – and I had the one 8 bed dorm to myself. I am still determined to stay in backpackers or to camp and to avoid hotels; at least one gets to chat to other travelers and they invariably are international travelers and I love to hear their stories. The German couple were not the friendliest I have ever come across and we did no more than exchange pleasantries.
One of the downsides to staying in budget accommodation is that the beds are normally just that, budget. On Wednesday morning I knew that I had slept on a budget bed, my poor back was unhappy and complaining loudly! It took a while to get everything moving properly but I had brought a back brace with – for those of you who follow my blog, you may remember that I had a similar incident on the ferry between the North and South Islands in New Zealand and now I never travel without the brace.
On Wednesday morning I stopped at Mtubatuba to fill up with petrol and was amazed at the site that greeted me. It was still early in the morning but the little town was already buzzing; the local general dealer was playing his hi-fi at full blast hoping that this attract customers into his store, while others were already barbequing meat over open fires to sell, the sidewalk traders had stands everywhere and chickens and goats roamed freely around the town centre. A typical African town!
The road from Mtubatuba to Pongola is good but this was to be expected as I was on the motorway; the alternative would have taken too much time. The road from Pongola to Piet Retief is really interesting! Apart from the motorways, which are in a fair condition, the roads in the rest of SA are appalling; I have no idea what the authorities in charge of the roads have been doing for the last 10 years, because they certainly haven’t been maintaining the roads!
The 2010 Soccer World Cup is a mixed blessing for SA, on the one hand the country is spending vast amounts of money they don’t have on stadiums that will be white elephants after the event is finished, but on the other hand the national and local authorities have been forced to sort out the poorly neglected infrastructure – perhaps now they will realize that the infrastructure actually has to be maintained on an ongoing basis! The road from Pongola to Piet Retief must be one of the worst I have come across. We were stopped on 7 occasions as only 1 lane was open for traffic. On 4 of these occasions the single lane was understandable as they were fixing the other half of the road; the only reason for the single lane on the other 3 occasions was the poor condition of the road; it was imply not possible to ride on the closed side of the road. There is no way this road will be ready for 2010!
The scene in Piet Retief was no different, the roads in the town centre had been completely dug up and had yet to be repaired and resurfaced. From Piet Retief it was on to Ermelo and Bethal and then Johannesburg. I had an interesting incident on the way from Ermelo to Bethal. Given Bush Baby’s low top speed I was quite happy to travel in the slow lane or inside the yellow line if there was one to let the traffic past. At one point I came up behind a large tanker traveling at 80km and waited for a safe spot to pass the tanker. I pulled out to overtake and as I approached the front door of the tanker – me being on the wrong side of the road at this point – the idiotic driver decided that we should have a race; his tanker against my motorbike! Bush Baby just didn’t have the speed to get past and so I had to slow down and pull in behind the tanker again. A few minutes later we approached a large hill and the tanker lost speed and I managed to get past, not without using sign language to explain what I thought of the driver!
As I approached Springs I could see a very large storm brewing over Johannesburg and the air turned really cold. I seemed to be on the fringe of the storm and thought I might get away with getting caught in it. Sadly this never happened. The air kept getting colder and the sky blacker and to complicate matters I missed a turnoff and landed up in the city centre. I do not recommend that you get lost in the centre of Johannesburg on a motorcycle in the middle of a huge storm! It was about 6.30pm and the sky was really black and then the heavens opened, it just came bucketing down! I now had two choices, try and find shelter or just keep going.
Not being one to back away from a challenge I decided to keep going. I wondered around lost in the centre of Johannesburg in the middle of the storm for about half an hour before finding a familiar road – Main Reef Road – which I knew would take me out west to where my Mom lives. The ride down Main Reef Road was really interesting; a 4 lane road in about 20cm of water with traffic everywhere, cars broken down all over the place, no traffic or street lights working and the taxi drivers still treating the road like a race track! I think mother nature decided if I was going to test the bike, the gear and myself she would help me do it properly! I arrived at my Mom’s house at about 7.30pm very wet and bedraggled! Bush Baby had performed flawlessly and I hadn’t done too badly either, over 600km and 11 hours after leaving St Lucia.
The plan had been to arrive much earlier in the day, have dinner with my Mom and brother and then leave for Lesotho early on Thursday. That wasn’t going to happen; Thursday was spent drying everything out. I decided to leave the Lesotho leg of the trip for another time and head back home on Friday.
Friday in Johannesburg dawned warm and sunny and the ride back to Umhlanga looked promising; this looked like another of those situations where Mother Nature was trying to make amends for what she put me through on Wednesday. Little did I realize that Mother Nature wasn’t quite finished with me yet!
I left Johannesburg just after 6am hoping to miss the morning traffic. The motorways in Johannesburg are undergoing a major upgrade for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and I got caught in the morning rush hour; it seems the motorways are a disaster from about 5.30 in the morning. Even though I managed to ride between the traffic for a great deal of the way it still took me about an hour and a half to get out of Johannesburg.
The N3 motorway from Johannesburg to Durban is a good motorway – it has to be with all the traffic it takes – but I again wanted to get off the motorway and besides the toll fees on this motorway are astronomical. Just before Heidelberg I took the alternative route which goes through Standerton and Volksrust. The condition of the road is poor but fortunately not as bad as the road from Pongola to Piet Retief. The sun was shining, the traffic light and I had a great ride to Volksrust where I had brunch.
Just after Ladysmith I missed the turnoff to Greytown and landed up on the N3, probably not a bad thing with what was to come. Just after Mooi River the weather again turned nasty. The N3 motorway is a very busy motorway with a large number of heavy trucks. With my low top speed I was in the slow truck lane most of the time and this was fine until the mist rolled in. Thick pea soup mist with practically zero visibility. Now being in the slow truck lane wasn’t fine, the last thing I wanted to do was go into the back of a slow moving truck!
Not much later it stated to rain and then hail! Why is it you can never find a bridge when you need one? Fortunately the hail wasn’t big – the size of small marbles – but it still hurt! Thick mist, hail, heavy traffic, slow hardly visible trucks – not an ideal mix for a bike trip. I again decided to push on. Fortunately the hail stopped after about 10 minutes but it rained heavily all the way home for the next three hours. Another 600km 11 hour ride.
I had covered a distance of 1 599km since leaving home on Tuesday morning and Bush Baby had performed flawlessly through all that Mother Nature had thrown at us. I had initially been concerned that the bike might be a little small for the Cape Town to London trip but I think she will be just perfect.
Nice ride tale. What bike did you have? Are you planning a trip from CT to London, what route will you be taking and when. 2 Other routes here in South Africa that's also great to ride, and challenging, is Die Hell and Baviaanskloof. Great training for riding in Africa.
Your side panniers looks interesting. Do you have pictures of how they look?
Safe Riding. Maybe see you somewhere in Africa 2011
I am riding a Honda CTX200, the bike was really designed as a farm bike but it is a great dualsport bike, will go anywhere but just not very fast! I am planning to go up the east coast of Africa sometime next year.
I got the panniers with the bike but I think I will change them, I quite like the Andy Strapz bags.
Thanks for the info on the training rides. Hopefully we'll meet on the road somewhere.
Love your thoughts about SA hosting the soccer and I totally agree with you. Money could be spent elsewhere. Guess you can say that about the winter olympics as well.
I was born on the south coast and spent my university years and early career in Durban and was there about a year ago. Things have sure changed. Would love to meet up with you guys in the next year when I plan on being back, this time with a bike.
Hey Peter, enjoyed reading about your trip! I am originally from PE and have been living in On, Canada for about 22 years, I am planning a short trip in September from Milton, Ontario to Tobermory, taking the ferry across to Manatoulin island, through to Sudbury onto Parry Sound. From there to Collingwood and back to Milton. The trip is about 1000 kms long and as i am in no hurry it should take about 4 days. I have a Yamaha XT250 (Chicita) a great little bike so I have the same issue about the freeways or highways as they are called here. I will post my trip and hope i can make it sound as good as yours. Enjoy your trip I will be back in your in your part of the woods in about 3 years, its on my bucket list!
Enjoyable story, nice to ride off the main routes in SA. I have just ridden from Durban to Cape Town via Baviaanskloof, The Hell (Gamkaskloof) and the Karoo and it was awesome. 2212kms So much so, that I have left my bike in Cape Town and will fly back at the end of the month to continue my trip - mostly dirt and now into the Northern Cape.
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