Annual BMW Biker's Gathering 2004, Clarens, Golden Gate, Free State, South Africa
Author: Steve and Carole Eilertsen. firstname.lastname@example.org
When you leave the main arterial routes of South Africa you step into a different world. Gone is the fast-food, instant-gratification, image-conscious, money-orientated, boutique world of the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg.
By 2:30pm the mountains of Golden Gate were in view. I love vast open spaces and the icy blast of the winter air on my cheeks. I drank in every moment, every panoramic view and savoured each and every kilometer. (You'll now understand why we didn't travel with one of the many groups that blasted past us, their rapt attention fixed on the horizon for a town not yet in view.)
There is a wild, desolate loneliness about the towering sandstone cliffs of the Golden Gate which Carole and I are particularly fond of. This is why we chose, four years ago, to trundle our wedding guests from Johannesburg to share in our ceremony in a tiny chapel in the town of Clocolan, not far from Clarens. This is a very special area!
None of this tells about the BMW gathering except for its well chosen venue. Yes, people complained about the cold but I have toured South Africa in my biker leathers at the height of a summer heat wave. Give me winter any day!
|The whole weekend was incredibly well organised and attention to details was meticulous. On my ride, we had the comfort of a backup vehicle i.e. a brand new BMW X5! This vehicle coped very, very well but still managed to loose a few pieces along the way due to the difficulty of the terrain. The ride went without incident and beside the psychological support, the vehicle was not needed. It did mean however that our packed lunches arrived cold and intact - something that would not have happened if we had had to use our topboxes! |
On the far side one can just make out the trail down into the valley. When doing a ride like this I am pleased about two things. My F650 is a lot lighter than the 1100s. There are times during a difficult patch that a bike threatens to fall over and then it is a lot easier to fight a smaller, lighter bike upright. Secondly, my old 1994 F650 bike is exactly that . . . well maintained, but old! Exposing it to potholes, boulders, mud, water, dust and potential damage is OK. Repairing an older bike is just as costly as a new one, but I saved R50 000-00 before I even started the engine . . . and that amounts to a lot of repairs and services!
I prefer to ride at the back of the group where the air is less thick with testosterone! The added benefit is that I get to see which line is best (assuming there is one!) The down side is that I seldom get the photograph the most difficult sections as I am the last rider through. The pic below however was an exception. This rocky section ended with a sharp 90° bend to the right, up a few large steps of rock before we could ride into the clear again..
This trail ride was not without its moments. My ability to ride 'up' is OK, but my riding 'down' is still suspect. At one point on the homeward run the trail dropped steeply before make a 90° bend to the right. The ground was very loose and stony - in fact I had had difficulty finding enough traction to get up a few hours before. As the corner rushed up on me I made a bad mistake. Instead of looking through the corner, I looked down at the crap that my tyres had to find traction on. I froze. I couldn't turn but neither could I brake! As the bike headed for the edge I considered bailing off but as there did not appear to be a life threatening drop, I held on for dear life! My last decision was "Don't grab the brakes, keep it upright, keep moving". We went over. The bike had a lot of momentum and plunged down first one drop and then another. I remember my neck whipping back and forth and my helmet partly covering my eyes. The scrub was dense. I had no idea of where I was going. We crashed through another thicket and the ground leveled out. Although uneven, the terrain was now rideable. I coaxed the bike into a wide right hand turn, and then gassed it through the virgin undergrowth towards the trail. Moments later I brought the bike to a sharp halt perpendicular to the trail. I had survived! It took a lot of maneuvering to get the bike back onto the trail. I then gunned the bike down the steep, rocky path not wanting to loose my nerve. Five minutes later I caught up with the group who had stopped for a break. They were on their own mission and I was able to sit back on my bike and breath 'long and deep'.
Back in the city I re-lived this wonderful day's riding over and over. I love this stuff!!
The following day Carole and I wanted to ride together. She was ready for something a little more challenging and so we joined up with a group of 10 other bikes and did the ride that runs parallel to the Caledon River. The bikes below are on the South African side with Lesotho being across the river.
This three hour ride was fantastic. This is one of those rides that can be fun for everybody regardless of ability. One can usually see a good distance ahead allowing the experienced riders to ride very quickly despite the constantly switching direction of the trail. A more difficult version of this same ride exists on the Lesotho side of the border - a ride that we will return for some time in the future.
The following day we headed back to Johannesburg and our corporate existence, but it was OK. A weekend like this every few months and I can find it in myself to love the city as well - and I can get a different type of breakfast on every street corner!
A word of congratulations to BMW Motorrad South Africa for organising this event. You guys did a great job. Thank you! We'll be back next year.