With Lance and Frans, Across the Expanse

With Lance and Frans, Across the Expanse


 

When my friend Lance first suggested that I fly down to Cape Town to join him and others of the local Italian Motorcycle Owners Club for a 6-day tour of the countryside, I immediately declined. My domestic obligations, projects and such had me pinned down, and the thought of flying halfway around the world for a week of joyriding offended my Calvinistic nature.
 
On further reflection, however, I realized that I’d forever regret passing up this unique opportunity. And after all, Calvin was a humorless old prick. And Lance had asked nicely. How could I refuse? To do so would be an act of utter ingratitude, an insult from which our friendship might never recover. Clearly, I had to do this tour.
 
Crestone, Colorado to Cape Town is a hell of a trek, involving a long drive to Golden, overnight at a friend’s house, cajoling him to rise before 4:00 am and drive me to Denver International Airport in a brief window between storm systems. Two and a half days after boarding at DIA I arrived in Cape Town, where Lance was waiting at the gate. It was immensely gratifying to see a friendly face after that ordeal.
 
Following a good night’s sleep, Lance and I ventured into the city to find me a new helmet and riding boots. That done, we were joined by Lance’s friend Gavin and rode up to Dave Allam’s place on the west coast. Gavin was on an R90/6, Lance on his H-D Street Rod, I on Lance’s Laverda 750S. The latter bike is essentially a streer-legal track bike, and though a thrill to ride within its intended parameters, the Laverda hates city traffic as much as I do. It only starts to work at 6000 rpm, doesn’t want to run at all below about 4000 and overheats in traffic. Where conditions allowed, I brought the revs up into the happy range, which induced an amusing unicycle effect when powering out of a tight curve. And did I mention that everyone drives on the wrong side down there?
 
Once out on the open road, the bike and I settled down and enjoyed the trip to Dave’s place on the Atlantic coast. A man’s man and a generous and ebullient host, Dave put out a banquet fit for a crew of lumberjacks. His open bar suffered our attentions into the wee hours.
 
The next day was New Years Eve. Along with Dave’s son Michael and several friends, we headed off for a spirited ride along the Atlantic shoreline. The surf here is quite impressive, and expansive views included sundry lagoons, dunes and rocky outcroppings.
On New Years Day we rode again, a motley entourage of five or six bikes, from a 500-cc Kawasaki KLE to a metric power cruiser to a new, insanely overpowered ZX10R. After a long pull to the fruit-growing region of Citrusdal, Lance and I parted from the others and headed back to Cape Town.

lance in wine countryBy the time our tour officially began on January 2, we had already put in a few hundred miles. But now the serious riding began. Lance swapped his Street Rod for an R1100S, and I was on his ZRX1200R Eddie Lawson Replica. Frans joined us on his beautiful blue ZZR1200, a fine sport tourer. Gavin threw a leg over his nicely restored Yamaha SR500 and came along for the first leg, up to Franschhoek in the wine country. After lunch, Gavin headed for home. The rest of us worked our way up and over Franschhoek Pass, which afforded an outstanding view of the lush vineyards below. Centuries ago, the vines were planted by Huguenots at the behest of the thirsty folks of the Dutch East India Company, and today’s South African wine industry is the result. We continued north over the Koo Pass to the N1 highway.

From Matjiesfontein to Beaufort West is about 150 miles of flat, straight, hot riding. The kind of riding wherein you tuck in, twist the wick and fly. We’d left Cape Town a bit later than intended, and made leisurely stops along the way. Night was falling as we reached our first night’s destination, a housekeeping cottage at the Beaufort Inn. Lance had arranged for the Inn’s owners to set us up with provisions, and I relaxed with a dram or two of Johnnie Walker Red while Lance and Frans engaged in the traditional Afrikaner ritual of braai, a mixed grill of meats and sausages. Seems motorcycling, scotch and grilled meat are a universal combination, and we feasted big.

karoo viewDay two consisted of a 400-mile grind up the N12 to the diamond mining capital of Kimberley. This stretch crossed the Great Karoo, a lonely, hardscrabble landscape reminiscent of the more desolate parts of the American Southwest. As we rolled through Victoria West, the kitschy Victoria Trading Post caught our eye. This place is a combination antique shop/deli/soccer hero museum, and we pored over its curiosities as we enjoyed a homemade ginger ale. By the time we reached Britstown, the dry heat and relentless sun had sapped our strength. Even with frequent sips from my hydration pack, I felt like the Karoo was steadily draining my energy, and we were all ready to got off the road, out of the sun and rejuvenate for a while. In a shady courtyard surrounded by hanging grapevines, we replenished our liquids and cooled our core temperature in preparation for the remaining 200-mile pull that stood between us and Kimberley. This long, straight bit of highway was essentially devoid of traffic – and of traffic law enforcement. We chose to make time rather than stop and sniff every cactus along the way, and occasionally explored the impressive performance limits of our respective mounts.

Once again, the light was fading as we rolled into our destination. After two days on the open road, it was strange to be in a city once again, let alone ensconced in the historic Kimberley Club, where we spent the night. This stiff-upper-lip, oiled walnut establishment was built in the 1870s by Cecil Rhodes as a retreat from his daily toils as Virtual Emperor of Africa.
 
A quick shower and we ducked out for dinner at the Mohawk Spur, a local chain restaurant that serves, well… meat, of course. And does a fine job of it, too. We filled up on protein, and headed over to the Halfway House for a tot. Fancy this: The Halfway House is one of two drive-in bars in South Africa.  That means you can drive up, honk your horn for service and enjoy a drink or three while seated behind the wheel of your car! We didn’t test whether they would serve us on motorcycles – that seemed immoderate – but we did see one oke (Afrikaans for bloke) sipping a rum and coke behind the wheel of his Taurus.
 
Day 3: We saddled up and rode over to the Big Hole Mine Museum. This is a major tourist draw, and celebrates the history of diamond mining in Kimberley. As well as the Big Hole itself, enclosed exhibits and an “underground experience” mineshaft guided tour, the museum has a reconstructed 19th century street scene with various shops – and the Occidental Bar, where we enjoyed breakfast. A note on breakfast in South Africa: meat. Everywhere we went, the default breakfast comprised two eggs (sunny side up), sausage, bacon, some grilled mushrooms, a slice or two of grilled tomato, more sausage and bacon. After a few days, yogurt and muesli began to sound pretty good. Another note: coffee. It’s hard to get a bad cup of coffee in South Africa.
 
The day’s ride was considerably shorter than the long pulls of the previous two days, about 200 miles east into the Free State. After our long ride through the Karoo, the changes in topography, vegetation and climate were most welcome. Clouds thickened, and we ducked into the village of Excelsior to wait out a brief but intense thunderstorm. Once the weather cleared we continued on to Ladybrand and our destination, The Oldenburg Lodge and Game Park. This is hidden away some miles off the highway at the end of a long gravel road. Had I thought to bring a cigar, I would have enjoyed it on the porch of our cottage, listening to a distant owl and gazing at the Southern Cross. As it was, we settled for a few drams of Johnnie Walker Red and a good night’s rest. In the morning we walked to breakfast at the lodge’s dining room, a handsome building with spectacular views and a miniature resident ungulate, which we dubbed a bansai bambi.
 
Day 4: From Ladybrand we took the R26 down to Wepener, where we encountered border guards stationed at a checkpoint to intercept smugglers crossing over from Lesotho. After a brief conversation, Lance grabbed the rifle away from one of the border guards and posed for a photograph. The guard did not protest being disarmed by an arrogant biker, but stood by patiently waiting to be reunited with his weapon. Semper Fi!

We continued southwest through Zastron and Smithfield to Bethulie, where we stopped for lunch at the Dawilda Café. There was a kid of about 13 years loitering outside the café, and behind a chain link fence, his snarling pit bull ran back and forth, clearly agitated. Lance asked, “Does your dog bite people?” “No,” replied the teen, “only kafirs.” (an extremely rude sobriquet for blacks.)

ride to horizonFrom Bethulie we headed south into the Eastern Cape and our destination for the night, Cradock. In sweltering heat we found our cottage, one of 25 antique-filled century-old cottages operated as Die Tuishuise. Which means “the tush house,” I think, though I saw no evidence of funny business.  In late afternoon the air was still hot, hot, hot; we immediately peeled off our riding gear and changed into our civvies.  A ceiling fan in my bedroom helped a bit, but we all were weary from yet another day of baking in the sun. Dinner was a fine buffet meal (meats!) at the Victoria Manor, a short walk from our cottage. This old hotel has a finely appointed dining room with excellent food and service. The raw ostrich appetizer was good, I guess, washed down with a dram or two of Johnny Walker Black.

Day 5: We left our Tuishuise cabin just as an Australian tour group was boarding its bus. A young kid in the group, clearly a budding sprockethead, loitered around our bikes until his mother dragged him away. His cute teenage sister hovered around the bikes as well, and I tried to distance myself as Lance and Frans entertained her. I’ve seen Easy Rider a few times, and envisioned life imitating art, to our disadvantage.

soldiers at the barThe Die Tuishuise housekeeping staff lined up and performed a few al fresco African tunes for the tour group, after which the latter dutifully filed onto their bus for another day of packaged sightseeing. More than one envious backward glance found us mounting our bikes as we headed off for al fresco breakfast at the Golden Valley Country Inn. At the inn, a mongoose joined us at our table, adding a bit of novelty to the meal as he and Frans tussled and discussed the business of the day. Following breakfast, we amused the inn’s manager by trying on decorative military helmets in the bar.  In Afrikaans, the manager told us that the day before, several German motorcyclists had shown up hot and exhausted, and leapt into the swimming pool in full touring regalia. It’s that hot.
A sign across the road from the inn advertised  “justice, African style” and Lance asked a passing black bicyclist what that means. Apparently armed guards protect local property for a fee, and punish would-be thieves with a thorough ass-whupping, rather than working through the established judicial system. As a result, according to the bicyclist, thefts are few.

After breakfast we continued south to Port Elizabeth, a major industrial city on the Indian Ocean.  City traffic was a rude awakening after our long miles in the country, but with skilful riding, Lance successfully outraced a father/son team on a 400-cc metric cruiser as we worked our way along the coast road.
 
After coffee and milkshakes at the local aquarium we left Port Elizabeth, planning on lunch in Nysna. Low on gas, we ducked off the highway and into a small hamlet where we discovered a watering hole named “The Three-legged Pig” with a half-dozen sportbikes parked out front. Of course we had to check the place out. It was not a pretentious place. The bar’s owner was anchoring one end of the humble bar, nursing a beer and lamenting that his wife had made him and his dog sleep outdoors the previous night. Evidently, stumbling home in the wee hours, he had become outraged when a woman sitting in a car honked her horn. He mistakenly assumed she was hooting at him, when in fact she was trying to signal her domestic help in a neighboring house. In his misplaced umbrage he approached the car, reached in and slapped her face. For this gesture he was arrested; hence the al fresco sleeping arrangements. Why the dog was exiled, I don’t know. Why the assaulted woman was upset, HE didn’t know. After all, he hadn’t used his fist, but had only slapped her with his open hand. Hearing the story told, Lance expressed his surprise at learning that our host might act aggressively toward a woman, having taken him for an enlightened modern metrosexual. A tense silence settled over the crowd, as all present mulled over the meaning of the word “metrosexual.” Some time passed before casual banter resumed.
 
Cheered by the hominess of the joint, we decided to stay for lunch. And speaking of joints, I ducked outside to photograph one of the bikers with his motorcycle, a Suzuki TL1000R sporting a homemade license plate that read FUX OFF. I asked the rider, who had been smoking a joint in the parking lot, to pose next to his bike. Frans asked him, rhetorically, if the license tag was legal. “Do you think THIS is legal???” responded the biker, lifting the Suzuki’s seat and proudly displaying a Tupperware container filled with loose cannibas buds.
 
Meanwhile, back inside, the telltale odor of overheated transformer mingled with cigarette smoke, beer and grilled meat. Presently the power went out, killing the exhaust fan, TV and lights. The bar owner checked out the exposed breaker panel on the wall of the dining area. We watched incredulously as he laid a hand on the incoming power cord and declared that he could “feel amperage coming in.” Beyond this declaration, he was powerless to ferret out the problem, and a specialist was summoned.
 
The electrician showed up in short order, and in short pants. Also, he was barefoot. This fact was not lost on Lance, who asked him if some kind of footwear wasn’t typically part of an electrician’s standard dress code. The tradesman, by now standing on a chair and peering at the breaker panel, replied: “If you like my bare feet, you can have a look at my bare ass!” He proceeded to pull down his shorts, and went to work on the electric panel while mooning the room. We finished our lunch.
 
Once again, time was getting the better of us, and we had to make up miles. So we rode through Knysna, and didn’t stop to check out the Changes Café, as I had hoped to. (Anyplace that markets itself as “your pink triangle on the square” is worth at least a coffee stop!) Weather had turned, and we slogged on for many miles through a cold drizzle. We stopped to look down into the Storms River Gorge, but under the circumstances weren’t inclined to hang around very long. On to Wilderness and our night’s destination, the Protea Hotel Wilderness Resort.
 
Frans’ wife Chantal and their adolescent son were waiting at the hotel when we arrived, and a joyous reunion ensued. Lance and I basked in the reflected glory of a happy family reunited. After celebratory martinis, dinner at the hotel was buffet style, and very opulent – an embarrassment of riches, truth be told. 
 
Day 6: It was time to head back to Cape Town. The last day of any successful tour is always bittersweet, and continuing wet weather put the emphasis on bitter. The Garden Route was to be the highlight of this trip, and a steady drizzle soured my mood. A much-anticipated ride through luscious rainforest was disappointing. Poor visibility queered the view and wet asphalt meant tiptoeing through the twisties. Due to the weather the day’s itinerary was abbreviated, with long-anticipated high passes written off in the name of discretion.
 
But after a while the weather lifted and with it, my mood. Once again we were riding in sunshine. Finally we were able to enjoy a couple of nice passes, some great scenery and a charming village or two. Suddenly, though, it was over. Back into Cape Town we rode, the congestion and urban traffic a cold dose of reality, especially for Lance. The change in his demeanor was palpable as we drew ever closer to the end of the ride and return to his quotidian burdens.
 
The tour was over, but not the fun. The following day Lance and I joined our mutual friend Richard and his brother-in-law for a glorious ride out to Cape Point. We all were on vintage machinery, comprising a pair of Moto Guzzi LeMans I’s, a Moto Morini 500 Sport and a Hinckley Bonneville. Okay, three of us were on vintage bikes. To the casual eye, the Hinckley looked the part, though it certainly didn’t act anything like its namesake.

near cape pointThe ride out to the point was a blissful, casual cruise in stunning seacoast scenery. At the point is an historic lighthouse and views to die for. A restaurant for lunch fare, a gift shop to pick up the postcards I’d forgotten to buy earlier (and would forget to mail) and a leisurely ride back to the city, those three rorty old v-twins growling with a bit more bark than bite. A tribe of baboons slowed us down through some tight stuff, but we were in no hurry. The solid, riding-on-rails handling of the superb vintage Italian bikes made the pace arbitrary; those bikes danced their own dance at any speed. One of the Guzzis quit running on the way back; an electrical fault simple to diagnose and field-repair. Ah yes: the challenge of riding vintage iron, the satisfaction of a riddle solved, a dormant machine brought back to life, a voyage resumed. A perfect point on which to end a perfect trip.

 

RC Herman
Crestone, Colorado
July, 2007