A 200km drive? That’s just around the corner! This month Jannie heads down memory lane, and reminisces about some of the more notable long-distance trips he’s undertaken over the years.
Often a remark can unlock a mental process that leads thoughts down different avenues. Here’s an example. The wife and I were recently guests at a small dinner party when one of our fellow diners casually remarked that he faced a 200km drive in the morning to a business meeting in a Free State town,and wasn’t looking forward to it. He’d even decided to stay overnight so he didn’t have to travel the 200km back home.
While enjoying a nightcap later that evening before turning in, I got to wondering how anyone could be put off by the prospect of a 200km trip. For someone who has spent a lifetime working for motoring magazines like Wiel and Leisure Wheels, a 200km drive is akin to a trip to the corner café to buy milk and bread. My mind immediately went back a few years to the day a colleague and I drove from Randburg to Kingsley Holgate’s home on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast (about 600km) for a photo shoot before the intrepid explorer disappeared on another of his jaunts. We left Randburg at dawn and were back in the office that same evening.
Working for a magazine like Leisure Wheels means that long-distance trips covering stories in far-off places are an occupational hazard. Procrastination is also a journalistic way of life, and time is often of the essence when departing on trips which the average person or holidaymaker would spread over two or three days. Another pressing deadline, on Boxing Day nogal, saw Danie Botha and me make a one-day round trip from Randburg to a farm on the other side of Nelspruit to do a feature on Boer Soek ’n Vrou character Tickey van Wyk and the new lady in his life. The point made by these little jaunts is that we quickly adapt to the demands of constant long-distance travel.
Long-distance truckers and commercial travellers who cover vast distances during the course of a year adapt to the mental and physical demands of doing so. I’m well aware, however, that many citizens will say those who embark on long-distance trips are a danger to themselves and other road users, with fatigue a cause for concern.
I always make sure I have had enough sleep before leaving on a long trip, and check and double check the vehicle is in tip-top condition. The latter is not a major problem with most of our long distances done in machinery supplied and carefully maintained by the motor manufacturers. There is, however, another factor which sets regular long-distance drivers aside from those who infrequently tackle long journeys. You often hear reference being made to cricketers, rugby players and other sportsmen who are not “match fit” after
a short spell away from the game.
Much the same applies to regular long-distance drivers – we have become “long trip fit”. Long-distance trips are, of course, often subject to road conditions. We often drive from Randburg to Kakamas, a distance of 880km, in one stint as it is a favourite overnight stop for destinations on the West Coast or Namibia. The route from Randburg is the N14 and since the stretch of 140km between Vryburg and Kuruman has been widened, conditions are perfect for driving at a constant 120km/h.
If you leave Randburg at 10am you can be in Kakamas in time for sundowners and I once did this trip without even stopping once – except at stop signs, that is. We were travelling in a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D4-D and when we reached Vryburg the fuel gauge had not moved a millimetre. To be on the safe side I made a call to Toyota’s vehicle road test department to enquire if the gauge could possibly be faulty – only to be informed that that specific Prado had two fuel tanks, for a total capacity of 180 litres.
We had enough munchies in the car to keep the hunger pangs at bay and we decided to not stop at all – not even for a restroom visit. Springbok is another of our favourite destinations. I’ve done this 1 400km trip in less than a day on at least three occasions – twice in an Isuzu double cab and once in a Mitsubishi Pajero. But, as mentioned earlier, road conditions are not always favourable for travelling long distances in a short time.
I learnt that lesson when deciding to drive from Port St Johns, where I had been on an assignment, back to Randburg via Kokstad and thought the 900km journey would be both scenic and a piece of cake. Eish! I got the scenic part right but the road twists and turns with constant climbs and descents with a large number of trucks adding to the difficulties. I was way behind schedule by the time I reached Mooi River, and had to stop and take on a few energy drinks. At this point in time, long-distance travel – and shorter distances for that matter – is made a little more difficult by the shocking state of many of South Africa’s major arterials. Some provincial roads are downright dangerous and it is a hard and fast rule among Leisure Wheels staffers that travelling after dark is strictly verboten.
The number of drivers with fake licences and the plethora of vehicles clearly not roadworthy are also causes for concern. But those are matters to be dealt with at another time. Since retreating into a less arduous role at Leisure Wheels, the opportunities for my next long distance jaunt have been a little limited. But spurred on by memories of previous marathons, I have saved the best for last – a 2 000km journey my brother Piet and I covered in 15 hours, stopping only for fuel and a flat tyre.
It was 1992 and we spent two weeks over Christmas and New Year visiting family in Namibia. Our wives and kids had the luxury of flying to Windhoek while Piet and I followed in a Nissan Sani, with a trailer in tow, to accommodate all the holiday bits and pieces needed by two families. A good time was had by all and when it was time to return home, the wives and kids were again packed off to the airport for the flight back to Johannesburg. For Piet and I, a journey of around 2 000km lay ahead and we set off at 4.30am from the farm north of Okahandja.
We had about an hour’s drive on a dirt road before it would be tar all the way to our driveway in Randburg. Okay, there were two of us to share the driving load and once we turned south, we picked up a stiff tailwind and were soon cruising along at rather high speeds. In retrospect, driving fast with a trailer behind us was a little dangerous. But we were young and carefree and still full of holiday spirit.
The Sani was fitted with a three-litre V6 engine and with a full load, plus trailer and high speeds, drank petrol like a petrolholic. We stopped seven times to refuel and made one other stop when the trailer blew a tyre. It was a little bizarre because we realised something was amiss only when bits and pieces of rubber started flying past the side window. The incident cost us about half an hour, but by swapping drivers on a regular basis and fortifying ourselves with snacks put together by the wives, we made good time.
Passage through the Ariamsvlei and Nakop border posts went smoothly and when we reached home at 7.30pm – we had covered 1 957km after 15 hours on the road. That’s an average speed of… 100-and-plenty! Have you had any similar long-distance experiences? If you have, send us your account of your epic journey through the beautiful Southern Africa. We’d love to hear about it.
Text: Jannie Herbst