Yup. Sani Pass. But we’ll get to that later…
What a great feeling… Having forgotten where you were and where you had lain your head, to wake up and realise you are on holiday, alone with your motorcycle, with days of awesome riding and adventure ahead of you and Sani Pass to climb after some brekkie. I was as happy as a pig in sh*t.
Once I had overslept, and arrived at the breakfast table I decided that, seeing today I was crossing a border, it would be a good time to try and organise international roaming, permission from insurance, a letter from BMW, change my daily withdrawal limit so I could withdraw all the cash I needed for the next week, and buy a toothbrush, which I had left at home. The joys of traveling without a woman to organise your life.Amazingly, most of the above worked out OK, and I couldn’t be bothered about the ones that didn’t, the mood was just too good. So I waxed the chain, filled up the tank, popped on the GoPro and whipped off down the road to tackle the great Sani Pass, that I had heard so much about.
Waxing the chain: not as rad as gleaming the cube
The tar road to Sani Pass is a work of art. With no sarcasm it is literally one of the best tar roads I have ever ridden. It is in beautiful condition, brand-spanking new and is made up of an awesome set of twisties – made for a motorcycle. After a short bit of scenic dirt road I reached the border, disappointed to not see my friend there from the previous night, according to the other official he had called into work ‘sick’.
The tar road to Sani – smooth as a baby’s bottom and nearly as wide as Kim’s
Finally, the dirt has arrived
After the mandatory touristy ‘look where I was’ photos, I hit the road with my serious-face on ready for the gnarly stuff. Now I don’t know who of you reading this article have ridden up Sani Pass, but I spent the whole trip waiting for the technical stuff. Now, it is steep, but maybe it used to be worse? Maybe all the Chinese contracting companies have ironed out most of the kinks? I’m not sure, but I like my dirt roads a little bit ‘kinky’. If anything makes Sani Pass a difficult road to ride, it is the sheer beauty of your surroundings. The need to stop and take it all in hits you every 100m, it hurts to keep on riding sometimes, past some of the views it throws at you, and we all know how dangerous staring at a beautiful view can be when trying to ride a heavily-laden adventure bike up a steep dirt incline on the edge of a cliff. It is really, really breathtakingly beautiful, and so refreshing to finally feel like you are on your way to leaving the beaten-track.
Granted: The road did get worse after this…
Touristy photo number 1 – Ya gotta do it though!
Touristy photo no. 2 – You HAVE to!
A tight turn: You have to place the camera on a tripod, turn around on a steep gravel incline, ride past, turn around again, ride back, and pack everything up again, for. every. single. shot.
Evidence of road works: not great constantly having to overtake these guys only to have them pass you again at every scenic spot.
Trucks, trucks, trucks.
On the way up the Sani pass, it is really beautiful
As you go up it just starts getting better, some of the most magnificent views I’ve ever seen
And there’s the valley you come out of
At the top of Sani Pass is the Lesotho border post, as you see it, you will instantly realise “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas (South Africa) anymore.”. I will never get tired of that feeling: a mixture of panic, pleasure and new things.
And this is the Lesotho side.
This is why people do adventure-biking. I cheerfully got my passport stamped and headed over to “The Highest Pub in Africa” at Sani Mountain Lodge for a pint, albeit a mighty-expensive one. This one beer turned into two, which turned into three, which turned into lunch. By this time I thought to myself that it might be a better idea to camp here, than to push, it was already past 13h00 and I wasnt in the mood to rush through a beautiful landscape and amazing riding. I wanted to take it all in as it should be. After trying to convince myself I was doing the right thing, yet still feeling heavily defeated, lazy, and soft, I set up my tent in an open area of the mountain and lay down for nap. What a lazy bastard.
Everyone’s heard of ‘helmet hair’, here’s your chance to see ‘helmet beard’ Sani top: ‘highest’ pub in Africa (excluding Afriski – sshhh)
Spot the sticker! We made it onto the bar—
The entertainment at Sani Top: They’re no Deep Purple, but they’ll do
Setting up a tent alone in the wind, you gotta have skills
My camp spot – all done (sneak a look at that rear tyre)
And my view from bed
Sani Summit – that’s Sani Mountain Lodge on the far right (the one with the pub)
After setting up my tent and putting on some jeans I went to meet and greet some the passers by in the backpackers and the camp-site. This is another great advantage to traveling alone. When traveling in a couple, or with friends, I find one tends to make fewer new connections, and meet fewer new friends. The social bubble of our familiars is a comfort and sense of security, but at the same time it is limiting what you take in and who you meet.
Among the people I met were three hikers, who had been hiking for 11 days through Lesotho, and camping in the wild with 3 days left to go, an awesome bunch of people (and absolutely nuts, they made my solo bike trip look like a Sunday drive). There was also a group of Afrikaans ministers and preachers doing a 4×4 trip, and a large group of bikers who had come to ride Sani Pass. The majority of the bikers were doing their first trip on the dirt and having their first camping experience, and they were loving it. Being on my own and probably looking like a bit of a sorry sight, the guys took pity on me, they fed me, boozed me, and entertained me to no end. I was very thankful not to have to subject myself to lonely baked beans on the camping-gaz in the cold that night, a braai, a fire, and a beer would do just fine.
My “windswept’ pose – had to put this late in the post in case it gives people a fright and they stop reading
Before I hit the hay, one of the guys noticed that my rear tyre was completely flat. After a torrent of foul-language topped with a ‘whatever, its future-Poodle’s problem’, I decided to wake up at the crack-o’-dawn and deal with the problem then. Below freezing in the middle of the night on soft soil, filled with beer are no conditions in which to fix a tyre.
I was up at 05h00. I got the bike to hard, flat ground, and started to work. Initially nervous about doing this on my own, I was surprised at how easily I managed in the beginning and my confidence was up (oh just you wait!). After repairing the puncture and feeling inside the tyre for any protruding nastiness I replaced the tube, wrestled the tyre back over the rim with valuable help from one of the hikers, who had spent time leading overland truck tours through Africa. As it turns out, Sunlight dish-washing liquid is a winner in this department. After getting the wheel back to the bike and hooking up the compressor, I quickly realised there was still a leak. So back to the start I went. What had happened was a thorn had lodged itself in the tyre in such a way that it only protruded when the tube was pumped up against it. By now, everyone was awake, people were keen to get involved or just watch the escalating scene I was causing. The scene was getting progressively more embarrassing too. It took 30-45 minutes to get the stubborn thorn out of the tyre, after which the new leak also had to be patched. Once hooked up to the compressor, I realised there was still a leak, the new patch hadn’t taken completely. By now the black powder-coat on the rim was scratched from the tyre-levers, my tools were everywhere, I was hungry, gatvol and fast approaching the “Lord, why have you forsaken me” stage, after having left the “what the hell was I thinking” stage behind me. Thankfully, and to my huge relief, the new patch worked. After about seven hours (yes, seven hours) of struggle, my bike was once again ready to roll. I have learned to look at these sorts of difficulties in a positive light. With The Great American Trek rapidly approaching, I now see these experiences as learning opportunities, they make me better, and they prepare me more thoroughly. At least I would have been there already when this happens to me in the middle of a foreign continent. Not only this, but I think it also strengthens ones resolve. Especially on your own, this sort of struggle will do wonders for your mental strength if you manage to solve the problem, which you will, you have to…
The ‘men-of-God’ who had been staying at the backpackers were kind enough to share their cooked breakfast with me and make me some fresh coffee, so after some chatting with the hikers, some cheering up and calming down, I took to the road once again. My technical difficulties had resulted in my departure time being delayed to somewhere around 12;30, but the weather had warmed up a bit and the Sun was shining, so I didn’t zip my waterproof and warm layers into my riding gear (rookie move!). I headed out in good spirits on the muddy road away from Sani and through the mountains. I was oblivious to the fact that what awaited me was the hardest day I would ever experience on two wheels.
A little taste of Part 3 – hardest ride I have ever done to date
Part 3 to follow shortly.