The 2008 Dakar Rally RAID through northern Africa may have been cancelled for security reasons, but this didn’t stop a few local motorcycle enthusiasts from hosting their own interpretation of the event, in the southern region of Africa.
Text and photographs: Richard Sloman (Chrysler SA)
They call him Kalahari Ben. They also call him Ben Bredenkamp. And, on the recent Parys to De Aar Adventure Rally, he was probably called a few other choice names by riders with ti red-of-riding bums too…
The inaugural Parys to De Aar motorcycle rally was held late in April, running (you’ve guessed it) between the towns of Parys in the Free State and De Aar in the Northern Cape Province. The route, stretching over more than 1 000km, wound its way along both the Vaal and Orange rivers, testing not only riding skills but also navigational ones.
Organised by Ben Bredenkamp, the event promised adventure, a unique opportunity to travel off the beaten track, lots of seatti me for adventure motorcycle riders, and the unmistakable camaraderie that forms between riders on events such as these.
The group assembled at the Berakah off -road course, just outside Parys, late on 25 April. Camp was made, and everyone got acquainted around a welcoming campfi re. The vast majority of the riders came from the Gauteng region, but such was the interest that others came from as far afield as Cape Town and George. There were 16 motorcycles, most of them BMWs. A handful of Hondas and a solitary Kawasaki made up the field.
Early next morning the camp was abuzz with excitement… a long day in the saddle was on the menu. The riders were split up into three groups, according to riding skills: the pros, who wanted to spend the entire day on their bikes, with some challenging roads to contend with; the amateurs who wanted a bit of a challenge but didn’t want to rough it too much; and the novices, who were coming along for a joy ride. For the latter group the day’s riding consisted of only a couple of hours on their motorcycles, while the pros had a full day of challenging riding ahead of them.
I made up the rear guard, in a Jeep Commander, sponsored for the event by Chrysler South Africa.
The route on the first day followed the Vaal River on the Free State side almost the entire way to the night’s stop-over in Christiana. The roads used were of the well-maintained gravel persuasion, as well as farm roads. While there were sections that required less speed and more care, the surfaces were fairly hard and compacted, with the occasional pothole and sandy patch.
Owing to the different types of bike used, some riders stopped more often than others for fuel. The sole BMW HP2, with its 13- litre fuel tank, spent a fair amount of time filling up – with the rider’s problematic wrist action, which had an uncanny tendency to remain stuck in the wide open position, partly to blame.
The first day also had its fair share of “situations”.
In the Orkney area, three bikes were cruising together when a local boy on a bicycle, riding on the main road, was accidentally knocked over by one of the bikes.
The boy was fine, but the bikers decided to do the right thing, and report the incident to the farmer. Arriving at his gate, 5km down the road, they spoke to him over an intercom, explaining what had happened, and that the boy was as fit as a fiddle. The faceless farmer then proceeded to lash out at the bike riders over the intercom, calling them lots of unpleasant names. So naturally, the bikers told him what they thought of his unexpected behaviour. The next moment the burly farmer emerged from his house… brandishing a shotgun.
Following some more heated exchanges, the flabbergasted adventure riders bid their unfriendly and hostile host farewell, and reported the incident at the next police station, just in case.
Another “situation” involved a BMW rider, who had travelled all the way from George to take part. He fell heavily in thick sand outside Bothaville. His bike bent and buckled, with about R30 000 worth of damage, his ride was officially over when word came from Klerksdorp hospital that he had suffered a broken collarbone.
The Jeep Commander, which had been towing an empty bike trailer, was then tasked with transporting the stricken bike to the overnight stop. Although the owner of the bike was obviously not very upbeat about the situation, the extra weight on the trailer at least made towing it much more pleasant and less bouncy!
It was dark by the time we arrived at Christiana and we set up camp with the aid of the vehicles’ headlights. Despite the cold weather there were a number of other campers, but they seemed rather shy and preferred to steer clear of the “bike gang.”
Unlike the night before, the Christiana stop-over offered hot showers – a welcome change. Dinner was again prepared on the braai and everyone settled down for the evening, either in their tents or around the glowing campfire.
The second day started early – so early that the local rooster was still fast asleep by the time the group had worked their way through some strong coffee, rusks and yoghurt.
After meeting up at a service station in town for a refuel, the bikers headed out again, this time via the Hertzogville road, crossing the Vaal on one of the numerous old metal bridges that traverse the mighty river. The architecture of this old bridge, off-set by the gleaming convoy of bikes, made for a wonderful contrast between old and new.
The three groups made brisk progress on the good gravel roads and before long the Karoo’s sparse landscape began unfolding before our eyes. By now the roads were not in such good condition and there were some large potholes and rocky sections to deal with, but an adventure wouldn’t be an adventure if we travelled on a perfectly graded dirt road all the time.
Throughout the trip the buddy-system (where everyone in the convoy had to wait at turn-offs for the vehicle or bike behind, to ensure no one got lost) was employed… this was especially appreciated in the Commander cabin, as the chasing Jeep was left behind a few times by the faster-paced bikes.
This “waiting game” had a few other advantages. It allowed the bike riders a chance to take on refreshments, check out the scenery and stretch the legs a bit.
Late afternoon was spent outside the town of Douglas, at the confluence of the Vaal and Orange rivers – a large expanse of water that undoubtedly swells to amazing proportions during flood periods.
The final stretch of gravel road for the day turned out to be the bumpiest section of the trip. It took us to our evening stop-over – a farmhouse just outside Hopetown. The area is rich in Boer War nostalgia and the dwelling’s owner spent much of the evening relating war stories.
A few members of the group traded in their “frequent riding miles” to upgrade their lodgings for the night, and spared themselves the need to pitch tents. For the rest of us, it was business as usual.
A scrumptious Boerekos-breakfast kicked off day three in style, and the group headed to the controversial town of Orania. Aside from home industry shops, the town sports very little in the way of things to see and after a short stop at the “Koeksuster Monument” for a photo call, the group headed off to the Vanderkloof Dam.
Along the way a photo-opportunity on the Havenga Bridge, spanning the Orange River, gave a few posers in the group the chance to show off their riding skills for the cameras.
The main road crosses over the dam, but owing to construction work it was closed. However, the resourceful few in the group, the Jeep Commander included, managed to find another way onto the huge dam wall.
The group reassembled outside of the town of Petrusville at one of the many lay-bys that dot our country’s roads. The afternoon’s route followed immaculately prepared farm roads, which produced a minor incident late in the day. Our bike-mounted cameraman tackled a sandy corner too briskly, and up-ended his bike. This should make for an interesting video, courtesy of his helmet-mounted camera!
We entered De Aar at around 4pm, and celebrated our arrival with a short stop at one of the town’s watering holes. Stories were swapped, blisters compared…
After a short kuier, we made our way to the final night’s stop: a guest farm on the outskirts of town. The weather had been very kind to us throughout the trip but this evening the wind picked up and the temperature plummeted. The camp fires and the warm food were most welcome.
That evening much was said around the dinner table about the Parys to De Aar Adventure Rally. Praise was lavished upon Kalahari Ben, even though several riders sported sore bums, legs and arms.
Naturally, the question of “next year’s event” was raised, and by all accounts the rally seems likely to become a regular feature on the adventure motorcycle calendar. It was, however, agreed by all that it should remain small and exclusive, and most of the places for next year’s Parys to De Aar Adventure Rally have already been booked.