Jan 21 – Feb 11, 2020
February 4 – Tuesday – Clarens
Our room had an air conditioner but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to run it. Instead, we left the windows open for a cool breeze. This turned out to be a mistake: mosquitos! I noticed the first one just after midnight, and woke up a few more times throughout the night, aware that Dan and I had many tiny winged creatures in our room. Eventually, we turned on the lights, Dan figured out the A/C and I went around the room and smashed the mosquitos that had settled on the walls.
The previous evening our group had deliberated about our start time, proposed route and the weather forecast. There was heavy rain coming in the afternoon, but would we have enough time to complete the planned route before it hit? Clearly the previous day’s ride showed that riding in the rain itself wasn’t a problem, but today’s route included 50 kilometers of dirt roads. And dirt roads in the rain would not be fun.
The end result was that we chose to have an early breakfast and an early departure. It was probably one of the quickest departures that we had made so far on this trip: we were on the road before 8 o’clock!
A shot of the Botleng Hotel in the morning light
View from the grounds
We stopped shortly to fuel up – here is a surreptitious shot of the guards in the background
Video of open roads while leaving Boqate
Regardless of the afternoon’s forecast, this morning’s weather was excellent. It was a comfortable temperature, the winds weren’t too strong, and the blue sky was dazzling. The road conditions continued to be excellent and the scenery pleasing. This would give yesterday a run for its money for Best Day of Riding (Ever)!
You can still see the original bridge down below
More hand-planted corn fields
Terraced fields in the distance
Video of this stretch
More brick making
We were crossing back in towards the center of the country, traversing more mountains and enjoying ever-better views. There was very little in the way of human civilization here. What we did see were primitive but tidy homes and periodically a cheerful shepherd or two.
House ruins with a cemetery plot in the background
That’s a big ‘un!
Wide open views
The roads just kept on going, always offering up great curves and vistas
Fascinating geology, too
The mountains that we were riding on now were wide open with long, lazy corners and sight lines that went on forever. There were few buildings, and surprisingly little in the way of agriculture or livestock. Sure, there was the random herd of goats of sheep, but with such verdant slopes I expected to see more pastureland.
Video – surprise sheep!
Currently on top of the world
This went on for hours
Never let your guard down
A glimpse of the internal roof structure
The beautiful road brought us down the mountain to the small town of Thaba-Tseka (population 15,248!). And even though we had descended, our elevation was still over 2,200 m. We were sailing through the Kingdom in the Sky!
At Thaba-Tseka we stopped again for gas and re-grouping. From here we would be on dirt roads, followed by a picnic lunch. The gas “station” was a small shack in the middle of a sloping field of dirt. Only two bikes at a time could be filled so I had plenty of time to look around and watch the goings-on. The owner of the station looked to be a young Chinese guy and he seemed to have a good handle on his business and his employees.
Using a calculator to show the cost of a fill up
I love this guy’s blanket
The weather looked like it was holding up and rain wouldn’t be a problem. Time to turn off the ABS and stand up on the pegs!
The outskirts of Thaba-Tseka
Video from this stretch
And another video
Eventually the group spread itself out on the dirt, with Dan hot on Hana’s heels and me right behind him. The other guys settled in behind us, finding their comfort zone and enjoying the day.
Video (the last one!)
For as poor as the country was, there was a remarkable difference to what I had seen in South Africa. Dan and I agreed that the people of Lesotho, while poor, seemed happier with what they had than their neighbors. It looked like they took more pride in their homes and yards, and the people looked generally content.
Uh oh! Looks like weather!
Hana and Dan had stopped ahead of me and when I rounded the bend, I saw that a long, muddy stretch was between me and them. Hana motioned to me to slow down – or was it “maintain speed”? – and I just smiled as I powered my way through the mud. Fun times!
I pulled over to chat with them and was in time to watch Tom come along and slide into the mud, putting his motorcycle on its side. Oops! We rushed over to help him right the bike and push it onto the dirt. Other than the potential for a couple of bruises, Tom was OK. A small crowd had gathered from the neighboring homes to watch the excitement. I can’t imagine that this must happen very often, as we really were in the middle of nowhere.
The group distribution had shifted greatly after this point, and Jonathan and I were now following Hana. Dan was somewhere behind me, our Senas’ connection coming and going as we went around mountains and lost line-of-sight. No worries: Dan loves riding on dirt roads and I was sure that he was having a fun time back there. And then it started to rain, ever-so-slightly. Hana stopped to wait for the others and motioned for Jonathan and I to go ahead, being careful and waiting for the group when we reached pavement.
It actually wasn’t that far to the pavement and Jon and I had time to relax while we waited. Jon had also dropped his bike on this road and had quite a layer of mud on his gear and bike. He grabbed a spoon (it was the closest thing he had) and started to pry off the larger chunks.
We were at a T-junction with just a couple of buildings, one of them a bar with a (very) loud sound system and someone with a taste for some pretty hard-rocking music. A few people wandered by, but we didn’t seem to cause much of a stir with our presence. One local approached us and went on for a while about needing someone “on the inside” in the US. in order to get a foothold on a way “in”. Jonathan was more patient than I was and gave the guy his email address to see if he could help once he was back home.
Waiting for the rest of the group to arrive over that hillside
Milan and Georg pulled up and explained the delay: Dan had a moment of “too much fun” and crashed his bike in a corner. Um… what? Georg said that he wasn’t sure how serious it was, but the bike had been loaded on the trailer and the truck should be here soon.
Dan is resilient and I wasn’t too worried about him. Sure, he might be sore and bruised and riding in the truck for the rest of the day, but he’s Dan: he’ll bounce right back.
Except that when the truck finally pulled up, he didn’t look ready to bounce at all. It had been a pretty hard fall and Dan looked shaken. But on a positive note, he wasn’t bleeding and no bones were sticking out in awkward places. This was incredibly fortunate, seeing as we were still in the middle of no where.
All this and it wasn’t even lunch time yet.
After digging out some Aleve and bottles of water for Dan and making sure that he was as comfortable as possible, the group continued the ride, this time on pavement.
Below the Katse Dam
We hadn’t gone very far when we stopped again. This time we were to have a picnic at the side of the road while overlooking the Katse Dam. I didn’t really get a chance to enjoy the view, as I was helping Dan out in the truck, making sure that he got something to eat and drink. He was in some pain and it was frustrating not to be able to do anything more for him.
But the best thing we could do was to keep on going and get to our hotel. We still had a long way to go.
The threat of rain had disappeared – for now
Still beautiful roads and scenery though
Heading into the darkness
Crossing the Malibamat’so River
Safety first! The red flag is to warn oncoming traffic of the current road work
Dan and David in the truck; I like to think that David appreciated the company
I still haven’t gotten tired of this country – so beautiful!
We had climbed up gentle slopes, ever closer to the dark clouds. But then we crested the top and had an amazing view down a long and fairly narrow valley. The feat of engineering to get a road down there was incredible.
The first of many sharp corners
Getting to the valley floor was fast – but fun!
Of course, being in the valley didn’t mean that the fun ended
Now that’s using your head!
Our route passed through some small towns, but for the most part, Lesotho remained a largely agricultural and green land. We still had a ways to go before we reached our hotel for the night and I was hoping that Dan was doing ok back there in the truck.
Modern machinery – what a surprise!
Random road check to see if our registration was up-to-date
Getting closer to the South African border
Friendly and happy locals!
Approaching the border
Crossing into South Africa was really easy, and it didn’t take us long to get our passports stamped out of Lesotho and into South Africa. Dan was able to get out of the truck and stand in line when leaving Lesotho, but when the truck pulled through to the South African windows, we decided to leave Dan in the truck and I took both passports for stamping.
No one seemed to notice or care.
Welcome (back) to South Africa!
Mechanically planted corn!
We were about fifteen minutes from the town of Clarens – and our hotel – when the skies opened up. It felt good, especially knowing that we’d be at our hotel soon and could change out of our motorcycle gear. I was anxious to get there and have a longer talk with Dan and see how he was doing. The guy has a high tolerance of pain, but just how badly was he injured?
We pulled into the Protea Hotel in Clarens. Hana made sure that Dan and I got our rooms first, so that we could get our stuff unloaded and plan what to do next. She asked the desk staff about a hospital in town so that Dan could get checked out, but it turned out there were no hospitals in Clarens. The nearest hospital was 36 km away, in the town of Bethlehem.
The hotel staff agreed to call a taxi for us, which showed up about 40 minutes later. The drive to Bethlehem was fast and the driver dropped us off at the MediClinic Hoogland,. From there, it was a blend of paperwork, routine checks, IV pain killers – and an x-ray. The x-ray confirmed that there was more damage than just a few bruises: he had broken four ribs, two of them in a couple of places.
Now came the time for deliberation: do we stick around for the next 24-48 hours (as the doctor suggested) so that she could monitor for severe muscle spasms and further complications? And in doing so, get left behind by the tour group and thereby leaving us stranded in this inhospitable town? Or do we go back to the hotel tonight, pick up prescriptions in the morning and continue on with the tour, with Dan keeping David company in the truck?
I left this decision up to Dan; I would make it work either way. Bethlehem had an airport and there was a hotel nearby. I could go to back to Clarens and pick up our stuff tonight, get a room and wait there until Dan was safely discharged from the hospital, using the time to arrange for a flight back to Cape Town on the 12th. But Dan determined that with the proper drugs he would be fine. And if he wasn’t fine? Then he’d ask David to drop him off at the next nearest hospital. While the doctor naturally preferred Dan to stick around, she did not try to dissuade him, and she made the necessary arrangements for Dan to have his prescriptions and paperwork ready that night.
The staff at the Clinic were all amazing. They did their best to give us everything we needed and were great in helping me when I was trying to sort out what our options were. One thing that was really striking was their reaction when I said that I needed to get a taxi back to Clarens. The woman at the desk was adamant that I should not, under any circumstances, use public transportation or flag down my own taxi. If I needed a ride back to Clarens, I should call the hotel and have them send someone. So that’s what I did. The taxi arrived 30 minutes later with not just the driver, but with an employee from our hotel in the back seat. Dan and I arrived at our hotel at midnight. It had been long, long day.
Link to Day 11