Everything is carried on the head
Next morning we took the A25 towards the Katse Reservoir and then the plan was to the famous Sani Pass. My map showed no road to get to the A3 but my GPS did, a 4x4 track was described, fingers crossed. Before climbing the high mountain pass over to the dam there was a check point with a barrier stopping traffic. He asked where we were going and was surprised when I said Sani Pass and let us past, this was only a check point to monitor traffic on this difficult part of the road rather than for a security reason. It was a cold lonely accent on a tarred road avoiding boulders that had fallen but not cleared of the route. It was a steep climb but Katie pulled well, she sounded a different due to the high altitude and less oxygen effecting the engines combustion, running rich on fuel.
I had a different jet in my wallet to compensate for this from KTM Cape Town after a story from another biker with his bike almost stopping at altitude of Sani Pass and we were now higher than that pass with more to come! We maxed at 3087m. Maybe with the baffle still removed from the exhaust helped as the outlet gasses escaped without restriction, it certainly helped to warn people I was coming with the extra noise and got off the road.
What a place to have your home...
After some quick photos on the windy top we started our decent towards the Katse Reservoir. Soon the rear brake felt strange, this was a step downhill in low gear but the demons where back in my head.
I forced them away and ignored them but not for long! I lost my back brake completely and brought it to a stop, with Paulina off the bike I turned it pointing up the hill for the bike to role back on the side stand, Paulina also put a stone behind the back wheel, sure to be sure! I had my tin leather summer gloves on with the thumb cut to allow better blood circulation, my only gloves, and they smoked when I touched the rear discoloured disc, it was hotter than a hot thing on a hot day! Looking at my brake pads I could see there wasn’t much meat on them so I prised them away from the disc with a screw driver forcing the piston closed on the calliper. Then we continued down to the valley with engine braking and front brakes only, no point freezing our ass off and repairing on a step hill. Once in the warmer valley just passed a village there was a nice empty flat area to work on the bike above the lake below. I had carried a couple of sets of pads for the rear and it was easy to change them (if all problems could be this simple!).
How can you compare tar to this feeling?
But when I removed the single pin holding them in place I could see the excessive wear from the pads resting on it, this added to the problem because the pads couldn’t slide along the pin freely and trapped the pads from moving. I’m sure I had a spare that came with the pads but found this was only for the front pads and was a different size. Plan B was a slice of metal putty from a round bar which I carried for emergency that when blended with the hardener in its centre would become hard enough to file and drill. Strong stuff!! It just took a little time to apply it and shape it then 30minuets to go hard so after some food we were back moving again.
The road was very quiet and the slopes were where a dull shads almost bare of trees, the trees that we passed were showing the autumn colours and falling leaves.
No trees up here meant there was none of the usual smoke from the huts around and people up here would dry out animal dung to cook with (similar to parts of India). I wandered if there had been trees but the previous ancestors had used it all? Like the serve lack of wild animals…?
Yep, photo shot
Looking down at the GPS I knew we had lots of kms if we wanted to reach Sani Pass. So I kept the speed up a little as the route ahead was unknown. Soon after passing the mouth of the dam we branch off left onto a wide gravel road that was in good condition considering the location. The track had corrugations but still we made good time and the 4x4 section marked on my GPS was very doable.
I noticed on my GPS it described “stone throwing”, more of the kids had their hand out here than before and as we passed they would shout something feeling upset we hadn’t carried them something, hmmmm that will be the “stone throwing” then!
Up at a cold and windy 3087m
You had a real feeling of being remote here and in the mountain highlands, the locals wore blankets around their shoulders and usually waved in return. At the junction where we headed north on the A3 it was tar and a small town, a fuel stop was called for to be sure. Once riding north the tar went as we left the town back to the gravel. This route north was more narrow than before due to the terrain and progress was steady. To be honest I was really enjoying the bike riding and had a nice rhythm going taking the rough and smooth as it came.
I couldn’t believe when we came on a bus up ahead fully loaded inside and the roof rack, I’ve even seen goats and sheep tied to roof of buses in the past. It took a bit of time to get past the dust cloud and my horn had stopped working weeks ago so could only warn him by flashing my lights, I think he though I wanted to race with him! The track got even more narrow carved out of the mountain side, passable for a bus with care and I hoped he would go more slowly for the passengers sake. At one point we saw a battered minibus and car striped of anything useful half way down the mountain side, no barriers or emergency services in these parts when you go over the edge and it sent a chill down my spine.
Mending the rear brakes after the downhill failure
We still had a long way to go and our shadow starched more and more once again, I kept our speed up as much as possible for the conditions.
It was getting dark and the sun began to fall behind the mountains as we speed along clinging to the mountain side, we could also see the rocks covered in frozen water. I eased off after crossing a pass seeing the small spread of lights in front of me pointing to Paulina to tell her this is where we were going. I switched on my lights as late as I could making use of the natural ambient light, there was a problem with the two extra bright HIDs lights I had fitted, maybe another fuse popped. We came upon a small broken down lorry with its lights on full that stopped me, I couldn’t see a thing, then he switched them to side lights allowing me to see around him. It was dark by the time we reached the lights twisting with every curve and slope of the hillside. This was not the place I thought it was and it was some kms ahead which meant much more kms because you follow the curves of the landscape. Finally we reached the end of the road, to the left was Mokhotlong and right was Sani Pass a bit further with accommodation (and a beer) at the highest pub in Africa.
The setting sun while riding the highlands clinging to the mountains
Speaking with a cold and not so frozen Paulina, her new biking pants keeping a smile on her face, we decided to continue the 20km odd to Sani Pass (later finding out this was 20km in a straight line!). The route was very rough in sections and I kept the bike pulling along in low revs, Paulina telling me to keep to the right hand side away from the black abyss on the other. I could also hear her singing which I liked, later she told me it was to keep her from being scared. My rule was seeing rocks and gravel good, looking into the black abyss VERY BAD! A couple of 4x4s coming the other way stopped and the driver ask where we were ok, where we were going and seemed surprised with my reply. I took the opportunity to ask if the accommodation was open on top of the pass and he assured me it was. Also seeing a couple of 4x4s gave me confidence if they have just passed then I certainly could, so I took a steady pace ahead.
Happy after reaching the highest pub in Africa, liked the night ride to get here
What followed were some unforgettable night riding, rocks, ruts and big ol rock gardens but keeping an eye focused up ahead rather than what was directly in front of the wheel made it easier, what’s under the wheel didn’t concern me. This actually improves your riding skills, never focus on what’s directly in front but pick your best line ahead and let the round wheels roll of the rest, with a twist on the throttle to help at times. The downhill rock garden sections were more difficult but we managed. My hands where cold but the deep concentration meant it wasn’t so much a problem.
She pushed me! HONEST!! (((getting my back for the night ride)))
We got the Sani Pass before 8.
00pm to see a sign “Customs Post” and the barriers closed, does this mean we can not pass further?? We can’t go, back can we? This was the Lesotho side of the border, closed for the night with no mans land beyond. I could see lights of what looked like the accommodation ahead. There was a light from a small caravan to my left and I found the local customs guys inside, they directed me to go around the closed gate to the highest bar in Africa.
This is where we go down, the Sani Pass, eeeeeasy!
The room was expensive and cold but the small gas heater took the chill out of it. The kitchen was about to close for the night and there was only a curry dish left for us.
After I had a beer chatting to a few guys from the UK who were regular visitors to South Africa, it was nice to speak with UK people and I asked if they noticed any changes with the new Conservative government after Labours long innings. There wasn’t much news or change about life back in the UK since my departure over 6months ago but it was interesting to chat to them…
Immigration completed, last photo on top - 2865m
The next morning we were treated to the views from the Sani Pass (2873m) looking east into South Africa. We had thought about staying two nights but it was expensive so after some photos we packed the bike and completed the usual border formalities at the Lesotho post. The decent down the pass was easy and Katie sounded her normal self again compared to the higher passes the previous day.
Once in South Africa we camped by a large deserted lake, the camping site was empty apart from us and a couple of fishermen with about ten rods out in the water, they fished all night. Instead of using my hammock as the ground sheet we used it as an extra cover on top of the sleeping bags and it helped against the cold. In the morning we found a few too many large red ants inside the tent. A quick evacuation reviled more of them and a group of holes in the bottom of the tent where they forced there entry. These animals have been my single biggest problem in Africa for me, mostly swarming over and in my food bag…