TG Newsletter: OPPIE OEWER - SERALA ROUTE
Oppie Oewer - Serala Route
(12 March 2022)
RIDE PRAY FALL
Four Tank Girls goons decided to join the Du Toits from Oppie Oewer Adventures for a weekend of riding up and into the Wolkberg mountains. They call the route ‘Serala’ (after the highest peak in this mountain range) and solemnly swore that it was an easy, trouble-free ride.
In 1877, the old boer Voortrekker, Louis Trichardt, got sick of the tsetse flies around Soutpansberg and decided to aim his wagon train towards Delagoa Bay. But two major obstacles stood in his way: the Drakensberg escarpment and the Olifants river. Our man Louis decided to shoot for a shortcut ‘straight’ down the mountains.
The thing is, Louis Trichardt’s route took them through the vastest forest in the vastest kloof north of the vast and vonderful Garden Route called the Wolkberg mountain range.
They headed up towards Serala peak atop the Wolkberg before plunging down into the Mohlapitse river valley, which is even these days still only a rough 4×4 track. It crosses the Mohlapitse river some 18 times as you go along.
We imagined it being very hard with an old wooden wagon, with no suspension, limited brakes, and 16 stubborn oxen. We later learned it’s not much easier with a Suzuki DR650…
So many bikers will philosophize about the intense freedom that riding offers them. It gives meaning to your very existence; you find time to examine the essence of life. While travelling, you uncover symbolism in every relationship.
But for some of us a ride is just a ride, and all we want to take home with us is a roastie scab that we can pick two weeks down the line, a big black bruised bum that we can post on Facebook, and a broken lever that will be on back order for at least two months.
Therefor we ride beyond our capabilities! We feel fulfilled by every skid mark, dabbed boot print, and brake slide we draw on the eternal map of Google Earth.
We venture past our senses, claim our badges for hard-earned stupidities, and proudly stand up to our eyeballs covered in survival. ‘Cause we rode…
In these mountains, the weather changes rapidly from clear skies to smothering mist, with the highest reaches enveloped in clouds, hence the name of the range, translating to ‘Cloud Mountain’ from Afrikaans. The Wolkberg is rugged, with rocky shoulders and deep, humid gorges.
So, we started at the foot of these misty mountains and within four meters we had our first casualty. Crispy’s bike went head first down a sloot. Considering her feet barely touch the foot pegs, there was not much chance she could catch it before it dived.
To stay on top, you must always know where you are at any given moment. Perfect balance is just above the foot pegs. Right between heaven and earth. Not too much swearing, not too much sweating. Otherwise, with a heart pumping too crazy, you lose balance, you lose power, you eat mud.
From that point onwards we slid, slipped, roosted, burned, skated, slithered and slunked up this moss covered, slimy, muddy, overgrown, not-used-for-the-last-6-months, bosbou plantasie road. We spent more time unbending levers, taping up leaky brake lines, twisting handlebars and fastening loose parts, than actually riding.
Just as you start building up a semblance of speed, one of the two wheels decides on a complete direction change and tips you over with a plunk. Herman was our sweeper and every time he had to stop and pick up a lazy bike, he himself and his GeeEss got stuck in knee deep drift-mud.
We yelled, we swore a lot, we gave spiritual encouragement, and we were definitely praying for some divine intervention. Because adventure riding is not just an ideological lifestyle – it’s a gospel.
Most days on an adventure motorcycle starts with a leap of faith. You have to believe in the bike itself, your skill, the road, dumb luck, and maybe in a spiritual entity. Tomorrow you can be a denier, but while the wheels are rolling faith might just be your only hope.
Tempers flared up into second gear, two feet ahead with a double spray of frustration following close on its heels.
We eventually made it to the top with a magnificent view of the Devil’s Knuckles as a reward.
We had just survived a stiff uppercut, but the western side of the mountains had a sucker punch lined up.
Even though the descent went a lot faster (DR brakes tend to overheat), the route did not get any easier - with bigger boulders, sharper corners and longer water crossings.
The previous night, Gerrit was very concerned about Karen’s little Suzuki 125. He’d never had a dinky toy go up the mountain and was not convinced she would make it… But there’s a whole movie about some English man that went up a hill and came down a mountain. Karen herself is fluent in both English as well as Afrikaans. And so little Bubble the VanVan rode like the multilingual star that she are! With her fearless little beating piston, she scrambled past all the bigger monsters, kept rolling her petite sprocket when the high horses got stuck, and flapped her valves without a hitch.
In Jaws they said, “We’re going to need a bigger boat”. On Serala we all wished we had smaller bikes.
Suzuki South Africa – PLEASE NOTE – there might be an increase in interest for this little nothingwillstopme two-wheeler.
At some point Crispy’s bravery started running short. Little Annie Crispy Cream, she fills the space between her boots and the soil beneath her wheels with smiles and laughter and jollity. But by the 64th bounce she had come to the end of her rope. She was on her Suzuki DR650 and it proved too much magnitude for her 6-inch legs.
With age comes the insight that we don’t always need ‘easy’; it’s just that we can’t always have ‘so damn hard’ either.
Gerrit accompanied The Crisp on a slightly less inclined road going around the mountain, to meet up with us dilly dupes on the other side.
Meanwhile, Chikita, our great, scathed and designated crash test dummy had the ride of her life. Not once did she falter, struggle or complain. She pulled her Husqvarna-wagon over all the obstacles like a well-trained voorlooper ox named JanBloed.
Some days count, others weigh down. Mostly – these are the same days.
Skinny, on the other hand, was having a hard time keeping her motorcycle together. Bits and pieces kept falling off, dropping down, dragging and pinching. She blamed it on the lack of oxygen at the height of 2000m above see lever… sea level!
At a steep bult she tried to stop behind some of the parked bikes just to find there were NO BRAKES! The front brake line had stripped. She went for the back brake, but as she tapped her right foot, she couldn’t find a lever. The lever had bent in to below the engine from a previous fall. She tipped over to the left and duly bent her gear lever too, nudging it properly under the frame.
We call them prepared-surprises. You know what you set yourselves up for riding into a misty mountain, overgrown with lantana. You know too well what could and probably will happen, yet you are stunned when these little mishaps do occur.
But… It all goes away. From the bruises on your hips, the mud on your boots, to the humiliation of your tumble. Eventually, everything goes away.
“What is this we see in the Wolkberg mountains - humans tormented by demons?!?”
“No… it’s called attempted adventure riding with limited skills and buggeroll knowledge.”
“Mmmm… Same thing!!!”
To Gerrit, Wenperdjie and Herman;
With a group of riders, there will always be someone helping, pushing, pulling, picking up, pep talking. We might not stop falling and we might become disparaged, but we should always keep saying thank you, forever and with deep sincerity.
CHIKITA PRODUCTIONS PRESENT:
Motorcycles are like the universe – a great spinning engine. At the core there is serenity & peace, but on the edges, it is a whirl of winds & a pull of gravity. Watch us tuck & roll… over & over & over again on the Serala route in the Wolkberg mountains. With support from the du Toits from Oppie Oewer Adventures!
Video produced by Jolandi Mentz (12 March 2022)
It’s the left lever. It’s the right lever. It’s the foot break. It’s the right peg. It’s the left handlebar. There’s not much left that’s still right. All… ALL of it’s either broken, cracked or bent…
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