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Lesotho Part 3 : Sani Pass to Katse Dam

Matt Snyman

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They say adventure is only glamorous in retrospect…

The sky was overcast and ominous as I headed away from Sani Pass. I could already feel butterflies in my stomach at the prospect of heading into the unknown all alone. Sani Pass and its lodge, bar and backpackers are still very civilised, very well known, and very close to the South African border. I had heard lots and lots of stories about Sani and seen millions of pics, but now, the trip was actually starting, and I could feel it strongly. Happy, but nervous to be on the bike again I made my way into great wide open, now with a pathological fear of having another puncture.

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Heading away from Sani with the weather coming in

The weather started to worsen, the thermometer on the bike showed 0.0 degrees C, with a grey sky that was quickly darkening, and light that was fading. Then it started to rain, soon with increasing intensity on an already waterlogged, mud road. With the rain also came a cold mountain wind. Slipping and sliding over the wide, muddy roads, and steadily beginning to feel the cold, I made my way further up the mountain, gaining altitude as I went. When I look back at the GoPro footage I had taken from the helmet-cam, it had already been noticeably snowing for some time already, but I only realised later when I saw it against my black glove. To see the snow was very unexpected for me, it would be my first time riding though snow and I was really excited (oh the irony). I saw the snow as a blessing, and when combined with a beautiful view and a great rainbow I was overcome with relief and felt crazy-chuffed with myself for overcoming the hard morning I was having (Pffft! Hahaha!).

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Noticing the snow for the first time, I was still excited about it at this stage…

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Beautiful view and a rainbow before it all went to hell

And now for a phrase I’ve been waiting to type most of my life: LITTLE DID HE KNOW the unsuspecting biker had completed the relaxing, warm, dry, morning stage of the ride. And up I went. The weather got infinitely worse, and so did the road. Freezing temperatures, driving rain, snow, sleet, and hail (yup, that’s right: hail) made the ride unbearably uncomfortable, and to add to this, not only had I not attached my winter or wet layers into my gear, but my both my phones were useless. I had absolutely no reception and no-one knew where I was. This would prove to be one of the hardest parts of the journey mentally, which came as quite a surprise to me. The greatest source of my stress throughout the ride would be the idea of what my wife and mother might be going through back home after not hearing from me after I had promised to check-in with them daily. This theme played through my head for the majority of the ride, and I think the mountains taught me a great deal about the effects our decisions and our well-being have on our loved ones, and seeing things from their point of view. It taught me to worry about my safety not for my sake, but for theirs.

Anyway, enough with the touchy-feely fluff and back to the ride. The road was a bloody disaster and I was colder than a well-diggers arse, it had gone from a wide, muddy, dirt highway to an uneven, narrow, rocky pass, with very slippery mud and a sheer drop on one side. All then while the weather continued. In one clear, God-given few minutes, the weather held up to a drizzle, and after psyching myself up, I pounced off the bike, took of my jacket and my pants (not at the same time obviously- that would be insane) and zipped the waterproof and warm layers into them, shivering violently. In this period I even managed to put on a dry shirt and swap my gloves out for a dry pair with some glove liners underneath, whilst this was happening, two local girls walked past me and shared a very awkward moment with a half-naked, pasty-white South African in panic-mode.

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The last shot before my battery died, it only got worse from here on

By now, the weather had started up again, it was becoming so foul that it became dark, and the sun ‘set’ at about 16:30. It was soon pitch dark, made worse by the weather, the road, my lack of cell coverage, the massive mountain and the fact that I was alone and no-one on Earth knew where I was. I was beside myself with a whirlwind of worry, and no matter how I rode, my destination didn’t seem to get any closer. I pushed into the night, counting kilometer by kilometer through the muck and the cold, never before have I had to work so hard to motivate myself to keep on going, even though stopping was not even a vaguely an option. So I carried on following my orange headlight through the night through kilometer upon kilometer of windy mountain roads. Soon, in the absolute middle of nowhere, I came upon a massive half-constructed highway overpass, very odd since the only nearby road was the crappy little one I was on, which went under the bridge. It made a very impressive scene, which was very post-apocalyptic in nature when viewed with a bit of imagination. As I rode under the huge concrete bridge I noticed that it provided amazing shelter from the rain as well as the wind, so for a moment I shared a thought with my own brain: ‘are you thinking what I’m thinking?’. I was desperate for shelter and rest, it was now about 20:00 and my destination was still a long way off. I would have to put up the tent again, it would be very cold. With the bike stopped I looked around, it was deadly quiet, and pitch dark, no workers, offices or any signs of life. This place looked completely deserted, had I made a wrong turn? Where was I? I suddenly had an intrusive, unwelcome thought about the movie “The hills have eyes”. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. We ride on! Immediately!

And so I pushed on, it felt like forever, but before long I saw lights, lots of lights. This had to be Thaba Tseka, the town before Katse Dam, and I have never in my life been so happy for my tyres to hit tarmac – I even did a little dance and accidentally ran a stop-street to celebrate. The thought of pushing on further to Katse dam seemed ridiculous at this point, a bad idea. And as I was thinking this, I saw a sign. The illuminated words ‘lodge’ were an absolute God-send, I rode in without delay. Met with a large, sopping wet man in full motorcycle gear, shivering, with red eyes and a filthy face filled with panic, the staff looked at me like an alien had just walked through the door. They were the most amazing people, immediately I had a room, the manager let me use her own cellphone to call my very relieved wife and organised me dinner when I was ready. For Thaba Tseka this is extremely impressive and was very unexpected.

I didn’t even realise how cold I had gotten, it had gotten to the point where it could have become very dangerous medically. This became apparent when, after peeling off my mud-soaked gear, I was still freezing cold and shivering after 15 minutes in a boiling hot bath. I warmed up, I ate, I drank hot-chocolate, and I slept in a warm, dry bed, where I could remember the idea of the overpass without regret.

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Buggered… finally in Thaba Tseka

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My Thaba Tseka room didn’t know what hit it…

In the morning I missioned off to the local PEP store and bought myself a sim-card with a Lesotho number – I was back in the loop and back on the radar. The benefit with being so close to Katse Dam was that I could take my time that morning, and really enjoy the ride. When I started the ride again it became apparent to me what I must have missed the previous day by riding in the dark and the ‘hell-on-earth’, I must admit, I was a bit sad about it, and still am.

The ride consisted of windy, open gravel road, every turn had a better view than the last. It felt like a massive luxury to have the sun on my back, and be able to stop for a drink here and there, play with kids in the villages, and be near-assaulted for “sweeties”. Life was damn good again.

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This is Thaba Tseka – All of it.

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Majestically introducing scenery – one of my many talents

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This is the pass that I rode to Thaba Tseka: it’s much more relaxing from afar

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The sweetie monsters

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Most were very camera shy – not this guy

Before long, the beautiful ride led to Katse Dam, absolutely beautiful, and now I could see it properly. That night I ate like a king at Katse lodge’s restaurant with fancy 4x4ing families and followed it up with a dinner of junk-food in bed reading Jupiter’s travels – amazing. At Katse lodge I stayed in a dorm, I was the only person in a massive, echoey dorm, with communal bathrooms and a good creep-factor, luckily I couldn’t be bothered this time round and I had a blast, I did my washing and my room even had a powerful heater that managed to dry all my gear and even scorch one riding sock, what a win.

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The GPS was being really helpful all the way to Katse Dam

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And finally, I made it – Katse Dam wall

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My dorm at Katse, not even slightly creepy.

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This was the view from the dorm window – too cool

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My awesome turbo-heater, doing a great job of drying out the gear

Coming up in Part 4 (The last one): Some of the best, and most satisfying riding ever, an amazing African ski resort and an unpleasant encounter with a taxi to bring to ride to an abrupt end –

For more on The Great Amertican Trek visit: www.greatamericantrek.com




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