Adventure: To Hell and Back Trip Report
This is an entry for the history books. I have not had so much fun as I have had on this trip since I first discovered bikes and sex 20 odd years ago.
I have been to the Hell, aka Gamkaskloof once before. At that stage I only had a superbike, and we were travelling for on a 10 day trip on the famous Route 62. I will have to do this trip once again sometime – it’s a serious amount of fun. But I am losing my train of though. The point is that the last time I visited the Hell it was 43 degrees Celsius according to the North Korean no-name brand 4×4 I was seated in. Clearly North Korea never reaches temperatures above 25 degrees, because that was what about the level the aircon could handle. I was hot and bothered. There is only one thing worse than not being able to ride such an epic off-road road by bike and that has to sit in the back of this silly 4×4 not even being able to navigate the odd second degree 4×4 rock climb on our way to the Hell.
I was fortunate. Some idiot decided I had to sit in the back next to the cooler box filled with ice cold beers. I consumed. Nothing worse than overheating with cold beers to keep you company. After drinking hard for about three hours we finally arrived. I remember, because when I got out of the back of this silly 4×4 I promptly fell on my face. My entire recollection of the road to Hell then is a complete blur, except that I do remember that the two brothers that rode the road on their BMW GS’s shat bricks. It was HARD. And these are guys that have been on bikes since the age of 14. They know what they’re doing. I had to do it for myself, on a Dual Sport Bike, and relatively sober.
So here we go. At last my chance to do this trip. I had a bike, that, to be completely honest was brand new. I have done one trip completely impromptu one Friday Evening to the Tankwa Karoo. That was mostly tar. By the time we took to the road on this trip I had a grand total of a thousand kilometres on this bike and honestly, gravel roads scared the shit out of me. For one, the bike was way too tall for me with unique physique which consists of a fat arse and short legs. It is severely embarrassing how many times I have drop the bike on its side trying to mount it. It’s silly I know, I have been on bikes since I was fourteen years old and the I keep on fucking dropping this bloody thing. However, in my defence, when I do get going it’s a lot better.
I had to know ahead of time that I was going to be tested to my max. This was getting my Dual Sports license – my wings in the traditional sense of the word I guess. The weekend before we departed my partner in crime discovered this article on Wilddogs about a couple of bikers that got stuck somewhere in and around Oudtshoorn due to heavy snow. But you know how it goes – it will never happen to us.
Luckily, I and mean this was fucking god-sent – we discussed warm weather versus cold weather gear in the bar the weekend before we departed and decided we better get ourselves some of this shit before leaving for our trip. We are ‘harde baard’ bikers – or at least so we would like to think, but seriously, had it not been for this new cold weather gear I think we could have been in serious trouble.
Our broad plan was the following:
Leave around 16:00 on the Friday to ride to Barrydale and sleep at the Tradouw Guest House:
Make way all the way to the Hell and sleep at one of the farthest cottages, Jan Eentand’s Cottage:
Return to Oudtshoorn, visit the Cango Caves for the adventure tour of the caves, and sleep over just outside of Oudtshoorn at Gamkaberg Nature Reserve.
So here’s how the trip went down.
We left slightly late out of Cape Town on the Friday with various company meetings getting in the way of our fun. The road to Barrydale was very busy since it was the annual Wacky Wine Weekend in and around Robertson. All the mountain tops were snow covered when we felt the chill quite quickly.
The ride to Barrydale took significantly longer than anticipated, but we found it in good enough time and managed to warm up quite nicely at the Karoo Bikers Saloon just outside of Barrydale:
We drank deep and the brandy and coke was flowing freely. We got in bed at a very healthy 1 o’clock the next morning. We got up early to fly a couple of times through the Tradouw passes just outside of Barrydale the next morning before breakfast, but a sudden onset of serious rain spoiled this plan and it will have to be left of another day.
After a very good breakfast thanks to Leon from the Tradouw Guest House we set on our way to the Hell. It was an absolutely brilliant road; albeit very wet all the way there. However, as we entered the Swartberg pass leading towards the road to the Hell we got the full force of the bad weather. We had unbelievably thick mist, heavy rain, a temperature recorded at -2 degrees on the bike and a very strong wind. It was a very serious and certainly dangerous set of conditions. The mist combined with an uncontrollable fogging of my helmet meant that I could see virtually nothing more than a meter to two ahead of me. That is not to mention a slippery and snotty dirt road.
When finally got to the top of the pass things were at the worst. For the briefest most we considered not continuing, which would certainly have been the sensible thing to do. We decided to zip and buckle up all that we could on our brand new wet weather gear, take our raincoats out of the panniers, switch the hand warmers to max, take a deep swig or two from our trusty bottle of OBS, and head onward. It was nerve-wrecking, especially given my level of offroad experience to date.
It was a trial by fire. Your level of concentration to the max. Thank god for a couple of serious Korn tracks that kept me company. We pushed on, and initially things were getting worse. All the rivers were in full flow which meant that I had to do my first river crossing. After a couple of hours of this, things cleared up a little and left us with only a very slippery and snotty dirt road conditions to contend with. More than once each of us had a little moment where we nearly had to find ourselves a soft spot of a rough landing. Remarkably none of us turned horizontal and at some stage after the initial fears subsided I really started enjoying it. By the time we flew into the Hell approximately three hours later, I was little tiger. I found my adventure biking kung fu, and it was strong. I have not had this much fun for a very long time – I am now completely hooked.
We had to find our accommodation, Jan Eentand’s Cottage which was another 10 kilometres deeper into the Hell – one of the furthest outposts of the area. These last 10 kilometres took us through roads underneath lots of trees which create a bit of a surreal canopy which seems to accentuate speed. My normal heavy metal combined with this biking nirvana could have been a very good theme for a music video and it was an absolutely flawless high speed chase. By this stage our minds have been reprogrammed to ignore the natural fears and to just know that you are meant to be doing this, that you face risk, but that it’s not worth stressing about – just ride the best road ever knowing that you’ll handle it as it’s presented.
By the time we got to our cottage we were both very cold and wet throughout, but dripping in adrenaline. We promptly built a big bonfire, poured some brandy and coke and rehashed the highlights of this epic road we both travelled with great success. We were in bed quite early – cold, wet, exhausted, a little intoxicated – but with absolutely huge smiles on our faces.
The next morning we were up early, both of us looking forward to the doing this trip on the way back again. By then the weather cleared up a little and the rain subsided. The roads were a little less wet, but slippery they remained. The previous day we were large unable to take much video or still footage because of the wet conditions and because the cameras kept on fogging up. On the way back at least we had more opportunity to capture some of the scenery on camera, and certainly most of the trip video was taken on the way back.
We drove the trip back in a record time of just over two hours in what was every bit as good as the day before. When we got to the end of the road to Hell we were both clearly sad to see this epic road come to an end. I for one felt like backtracking a couple of kilometres to just keep the magic last a little longer.
We left our gravel roads towards to the Cango Caves were I did the adventure guided tour. Read more about this under the report on this 999 Experience.
After the caves, we travelled approximately 20 kilometres out of Oudtshoorn towards Cape Town and slept at the Shanti Lodge in the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve. Again it was a very cold night, and certainly things were still very chilly when we headed back to Cape Town for the 450 odd kilometre trip.
The total of 120 kilometres we travelled on the gravel road to the Hell was certainly the defining stretch of the trip and main reason we did the trip in the first place. It was epic fun! I cannot stress how much that little dirt road permanently turned me into an adventure biker. I am thrilled with the fun and success we have had on this trip – the fact that despite the worst possible conditions nature could have conjured up, we were able to have a serious amount of fun, not mess up or hurt ourselves in any way and ultimately make it home completely safe and all bikes and equipment intact. I can highly recommend this trip to all that’s ready for a little extreme out there adventure.
Here’s a short video of the trip:
Here a couple of pictures taken from the trip.