Imagine if you can, the breathtaking beauty of your nearest wilderness and mountain area - then multiply that by 100 and you may get a sense of the incredible majesty that Lesotho's Moloti Route offers visitors to the 'Mountain Kingdom'.
Last Friday, we set-out from Pretoria with a group of riders for a weekend at the second-highest dam in Africa - Katse Dam. This trip had been planned for some time, so by the time we left Pretoria - and caught the tail-end of peak-hour traffic, the excitement of a really great ride had surpassed our expectations. We made it through the traffic without losing anyone to the notorious Gauteng traffic or the threatening clouds and regrouped at the Engen Blockhouse outside Meyerton to connect with our support team.
With seventeen bikes in tow, we rode in ideal conditions towards Clarens where we stopped for what was meant to be a quick lunch at Clarens Brewery. Well, having experienced great service before, Friday afternoon was perhaps a little too hectic for the crew and our 'quickie' managed to leave us almost an hour behind schedule. Great food and brews, but not for those on a tight cross-border schedule. The rain clouds began gathering while we waited to leave, and by the time we had ripped up the pass to Fouriesburg and the reached the Caledonspoort border post, we were getting wet! Our arrival at the border coincided with Friday afternoon's homeward-bound Basotho's, but we cleared the border relatively quickly - losing only two riders due to an expired passport! Now numerically down on our numbers, we reached Botha-Bothe for a top-up fuel stop at the same time as what seemed like half of the drivers in Lesotho. The rain, the crowds and excited livestock made for interesting riding to our turn towards Katse at Hlotse (Leribe).
Well, here the wheels started coming-off as we managed to 'lose' two bikes in the confusion of rush-hour. Our intrepid leader had pulled-over at the intersection, but in the confusion, two riders missed the turn and headed onward to Maseru. When the support team arrived, he assumed the group had all turned and then went looking for the remainder of the bikes that were supposed to wait a little further down the road where the chance of being struck by vehicles or cattle were less, but alas, the pull of the pass had proved too great and they had already left. A mad chase ensued with frequent stops to ask locals whether they had seen the bikes pass, before he caught them going up the pass. Passing each in turn, he counted them off and was horrified that yes, indeed, two bikes were missing. By now the weather had really deteriorated and it was getting dark, so after frantic calls and messages to voice-mailboxes, it was decided to get the remainder of the group to Katse Lodge before any accidents became inevitable.
The ride to Katse got progressively worse with the rain, potholes and boulders that littered some corners following rain earlier in the week. Thankfully, the group reached the Lodge with only a minor incident (pothole that claimed a few bent spokes, leaking front forks, a lost number plate and two rather elliptical indentations in the fuel tank. By now the sun was truly set and as anyone that has traveled this road in the dark can attest, it gets darker than a witch's "$£! and we were very glad to arrive to a very nervous staff and wide-eyed manager almost three hours later than expected. Calming nerves and getting rooms together took a few minutes before everyone tumbled into the dining-room to swap survival stories of the past two hours.
In the meantime, more calls were being made to the mailboxes and eventually to the at-home partner of one of the 'missing riders' in the hope that they would contact home first in the case of an emergency.. No news - only the start of panic, so plans were formulated to get back into the support vehicle and go back up- and down the mountain - all the time hoping that the two had seen the weather and found a guest house for the night. A last-minute call from home to get the facts about the 'missing' and get the rescue party going was accompanied by two furious riders arriving at the Lodge ! Yes, they had realised thirty kilometers down the road that they had missed the turnoff in Leribe and turned-back before reaching Cape Town. They then tackled the pass and the road - pushed their bikes past two trucks that had since our ride managed to close the pass, and reached the Lodge stressed, angry and highly pissed!
Tempers eventually subsided and we could appreciate the situation and what led to it, and as one of the group quiped "well, we didn't actually lose anyone on the pass tonite" we all breathed a sigh of relief and went back to the dinner and wine.
Riding in a group like this poses its own challenges, and it is so easy for riders to get separated. Add to the mix some wet and crowded conditions - poor signposting and a lack of understanding of pack riding - but we were thankful that nobody was hurt. It was a good day, but stressful beyond expectations.