Cederberg backroads revisited

Posted by Rob House on 5 May 2010

An unsympathetic head cold was an inauspicious start to a long planned trip into the Cederberg with my buddy Albert Franck. ‘Big Al’ and I have been mates since I joined a trip to Zanzibar with him back in late 2007 (January 2008 Getaway) and have clocked up a few kilometers jointly in the six or so countries we have traveled through together. A quick trip into the Cederberg Mountains, however, had eluded us until now.

Al had organized a couple of BMW’s new GS800’s to try out and I was looking forward to seeing how both it and I would handle gravel, and my least favourite surface, sand. I needn’t have worried.

A later than planned start found us barreling up the N7 and away from Table Mountains flat top. I must admit that at this point the bike felt a little, well, ‘little’ I suppose. After riding the QE2 of adventure bikes, the BMW1200 Adventure, this nippy 800 felt like a rodeo pony.

At Citrusdal we parted ways with tarmac. Deep blue skies stretched overhead while earthy orange colours painted the landscape in autumn hues as we hummed along leaving small dust trails in our wake. In no time we joined the main route into the Cederberg via the Nieuwoudts Pass, and wound our way up, over, and down to our overnight campsite at Algeria.

This area was heavily damaged by fire a few years ago with many of the pine forests suffering in the conflagration. The campsite was undamaged and has changed little since I was here a few years ago, other than new paved road surfaces leading into the campsite and along the immediate valley.

I love camping. When time allows me, I like nothing better than to spend a weekend under canvas. The combination of bike and camping make every outing an irresistible adventure waiting to happen. Al, by contrast, is a creature of comfort and not one of life’s natural campers. By the way his tent was painfully slowly taking shape I wondered if it had ever been used before. ‘How are you dong’? I asked while unrolling my sleeping bag into my canvass cave. I didn’t want to interfere in his battle for dominance with what looked like the makings of a set of bagpipes.

‘Eermm… , good’, he shot back as one of his tent poles made another bid for freedom, shot skyward, and the last couple of minutes of carefully studied work collapsed into an untidy pile of sticks and nylon. ‘Do you think maybe the poles go inside?’ I ventured. Ahhhh…, two minutes later his accommodation was finished!

Although the late autumn day was beginning to get away from us, the sun was still high and we judged that we had time enough to make a quick foray over the Uitkyk Pass, (one of the few places here you can sometimes get a cell phone signal) and down to the Stadsaal caves and rock paintings. Luckily the necessary permit could be acquired from the Algeria camp entrance and we set off as shadows lengthened.

Road conditions on these stretches were given on my map as alternatively, ‘poor’, ‘very bad’ and ‘bad’. Not entirely inspiring when tackling the roads on two wheels. Even less so when your head feels like cotton wool. That said, the riding was exhilarating as the GS800 inspired learning new skill sets and pushing personal boundaries. Hell, this was even fun!

After a short detour into Sanddrif campsite by mistake (easily done) we found the gate to the caves. Late evening light, itself a warm orange, lit the sandstone and gave the cave the energy of ages past. Lost in thought we lingered long enough to soak up some personal memories before low light drove us back to Algeria, supper, and a certain hip flask with a dram of Mr Jamesons best. Purely medicinal you understand!

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