Reader’s Story: The Little Red Zontes to Hel and back
This is the adventurous story of a rookie not-so-adventure rider, Tian Bester, and his Chinese friend, Red Little Zontes, a 125cc not-so-adventure bike. Because who needs a 1200cc anyways? One destination – Gamkaskloof, Die Hel. The rest of the journey writes itself as we strolled along. See the bottom of the story if you wish to send a story or letter yourself. Herewith Tian’s tale:
Sunday, 19 November, Day 1: Cape Town to Ladismith (not to be mistaken for Ladysmith): 303km
The weatherman forecasted 30 degrees for the day. I wake up at 8.30am, with the sun almost getting ready for bed, and realise: I probably should have been on the road by now. I gather my belongings and start strapping everything to the Red Little Zontes 125-J. A sleeping bag and mattress squeezed into the top box, and a tent and backpack strapped on the backseat. I gear-up with my newly purchased adventure Spirit gear, looking like a Power Ranger, have one look at the Red Little Zontes, then at myself, and think: this is going to be EPIC. My first adventure ride. Solo. Free bird. Here we go.
With the Zontes scooting along at 80km/h, it gives you ample time to think about anything and everything. So after reaching Robertson by late lunch time, you quickly find yourself digging deep into your high school math problems and calculate that you’ll only reach Ladismith by sundown… and you don’t have a place to stay yet.
My story actually starts with a crazy but dear friend of mine. He bought a Sym Crox scooter about three or four months before I bought the Zontes, and I owe a lot to him. He showed me what I was missing out on, and as I am writing this, is currently somewhere in Vietnam on a scooter. His Whatsapp profile pic reads “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘holy shit! What a ride!’”
Now you might think this is childish, dumb or irresponsible. Well, you’re just wrong. No argument needed. One adventure ride is all that is needed… and maybe a milkshake from Diesel & Cream in Barrydale on Route 62… on a really hot day.
Arriving in Ladismith by 18:00, the Red Little Zontes, with its tail wagging, gladly kicks out it side stand and finds a brief resting place at the Total Garage just as you enter Ladismith. Its owner starts phoning B&Bs in town, but one after the other gets told: sorry, we are fully booked. So we get back on the road and start crawling through the town. Time after time we get turned down and just as the little Zontes was about to camp alongside the road for the night, we knocked on heaven’s door. The very last guesthouse finally has a room available, and the little Zontes finds a resting place after a long day on Route 62. My ass is numb and I can’t feel my left hand. But boy am I happy.
Monday, 20 November, Day 2: Ladismith to Die Hel: 193km
Waking up much earlier than the previous day, and after a proper breakfast, I find myself packing the Zontes again. Like a cowboy strapping up his horse to go fight the bad guys in the Wild Wild West.
An oom approaches me as we’re getting ready to hit the road:
“Boeta, oulike fietsie die! Hoeveel cc is hy?”
“Dis ‘n 125, oom.”
“Janee, dis reg! Begin klein. Mens het nie ‘n groot ding nodig nie. Waarheen het jy gesê is jy op pad?”
“Ek gaan Hel toe, oom.”
“Hel toe sê jy?”
“Net so, oom.” He looks at me, then at the little Zontes, then back at me. I can see the scepticism in his eyes.
“Dink oom ek sal dit maak?”
“Jjjaaaa, kyk, ek’s al daar af met my Cressida, so daar is niks fout met hierdie rooi miggie nie. Hoe lank ry jy al motorfiets?”
“Nee ag, dis my eerste een; begin van die jaar gekoop.” In the back of his mind he probably thought the local newspaper would be reporting on my unfortunate fatal accident. But I’m full of confidence, and I know the Red Little Zontes won’t let me down. If anything, it will be me letting the little Zontes down.
Back on the road I enter Oudtshoorn and give the Zontes a full tank of green juice. I carefully calculate and recalculate that I will be able to reach Die Hel and make it back alive, with petrol to spare. We greet civilisation and hit the road to the Swartberg pass.
With close to 60 km to go for the day, the Red Little Zontes goes over a crest and stares at a colossal mountain range. The Swartberg pass crawls up the mountain and makes you think twice about your chosen holiday destination.
We leave the tar road behind and enter the Swartberg pass with the little Zontes eating up the gravel road. Slowly but surely we climb this ever growing giant. With each hairpin turn you get the most breathtaking views that one could ask for, and both of us keep turning our heads to admire the scenery, nearly taking the Skelmdraai corner’s sign with its bullet holes down the mountain. We reach the top and stop for a couple of selfies and to enjoy the cool mountain breeze that’s blowing through our engines.
Finally we reach the turnoff that reads: Gamkaskloof 37km. Travel time 2 hours. The Red Little Zontes looks at the sign and happily revs its engine. It drops its clutch and sets off into an unfamiliar territory.
After a slow 10 km into Gamkaskloof you start asking yourself, how do the guys in the Dakar do this? It’s absolutely insane. A lot of fun. But insane! I am tired, my body is numb, and I’ve only just started!
Reaching the 20 km mark you wonder: are we on the right road? Then you reach your first of two somewhat concerning river crossings. Ok, so perhaps it wasn’t really a river, but for someone who has never crossed a water hazard before, anything more than a metre across is a river. Not really knowing how to go about this, we stop in front of it and I carefully look at what the best line would be to take through the crossing. We then carefully creep through the first and celebrate in proper Zontes fashion that we’ve made it. The Red Little Zontes later reaches the second river crossing, which looks shallow, easy to cross and has rather clear water, though this one is about 25 metres long. With a hop and a skip over the slippery river stones, the Zontes suddenly finds its exhaust under water and starts blowing bubbles! Its rider battles to keep it in a straight line. We properly misjudged this one. The water splashes in a big V formation along the sides of the Zontes. With a final burst the Zontes comes out the other end! Victorious, with a major sense of accomplishment (and a feeling of relief) and with the blood rushing through our veins, we soldier on.
By the 30 km mark you start calculating at what point you should turn around so as to not run out of petrol. The Red Little Zontes keeps marching on, filled with confidence! We reach the top of the final mountain pass which looks over the Gamkaskloof Valley. We can now see the end and merely have one treacherous decent to deal with. No worries for the Zontes – first and second gear sees you down the pass and we’ve arrived safely in the valley.
After a very exhausting day in the saddle we reach base camp. We stop at an information board and, with a brief lack of concentration, I put my right foot down only to realise we are standing on a slightly banked turn. Needless to say, the Red Little Zontes and I both hit the ground after a brief battle to keep him upright. Luckily I was able to lay the little Zontes down gently, but still, I’ve never felt so bad about damaging something that is in actual fact, just a machine. It was at this moment that I realised: there is a special bond between man and machine, between adventure riders, superbike riders and cruisers – something that transcends the realm of the English vocabulary. Something that our wives will not understand.
21 & 22 November, Rest days:
The morning of the 21st greets me with a cloudy, 16 degree day in Die Hel. Also, it feels as though someone snuck into my tent during the night and removed my kidneys. While searching my tent for the lost kidneys, which would hopefully be in a bucket of ice somewhere, I realised that this is probably why one would wear a kidney belt. It all suddenly made sense, and I find myself wondering what I would’ve felt like if I hadn’t been wearing one.
As I was getting ready for bed the evening, I was blessed with the calling of an owl who decided to make the treetops, about 10 metres above my tent, his home for at least an hour.
The next morning I was awoken, at 5am, by the sound of dubstep music being played right outside my tent. Or at least, I thought it was dubstep. It turned out to be a Southern Boubou, a bird which has some truly unique calls. With a bit of alteration, I’m pretty sure you can play this in a club.
The remainder of the day was filled with hiking and playing a bit of soccer with the kids on the farm. The soccer game involved more team shuffling and the changing of rules than the amount of times the South African Finance Minister gets replaced in a year. A stuffed bunny was roped in at some point to even the team numbers.
Thursday, 23 November, Day 5: Die Hel to Uniondale: 209km
With another big day ahead for the Red Little Zontes, we saddled up and were on the road by 8am, leaving a place that should rather be called The Heaven behind. We’ve got some serious & treacherous ground to cover, so I struck a deal with the Zontes: I won’t drop you, if you don’t drop me.
Reaching our first little river crossing, we now know which line to take and were quick to pass across it. However, we then got to the second monstrous one. It stretched out in front of us, taunting us with its peaceful soundtrack.
I carefully plot the route that we should take. The Red Little Zontes stares at the hazard, with its eye fixated on the other end. We inch forward. Then we go for it! Hopping across the slippery riverbed, steering left, then right, fighting the rocks below. Water splashes up alongside the little Zontes and the thundering sound of rocks being thrown about roars below us. Balancing and staying upright is constant struggle! We reach a little island of river rocks, with 6 or 7 more metres to go. We pause for a breather and plan the last stretch, knowing that one wrong steering movement could send us crashing down. So again we inch forward and commit to a line. A metre or two into the stream we hit some rocks and the Red Little Zontes comes to an abrupt halt. The steering gets ripped to the right. Like a stallion throwing its rider off, a jolt strikes through the little Zontes with me being thrown to the right and it falling onto its side. Half of it is submerged under water. I hit the kill switch and, with a shot of adrenaline rushing through my veins, throw my companion back onto its wheels. Leaning against each other, I push the it out of the water and park underneath a tree. Out of breath and in some state of shock, I look the Zontes over, apologising out loud. Everything seems fine and only a couple of battle scars get added to the exhaust cover.
Just then, another adventure rider comes galloping through the river crossing on his big BMW. He makes it through and stops next to me, asking if everything is ok. I stand proudly next to the little 125cc, and turn the kill switch off. I attempt to start the Zontes, and without even a hiccup, it roars back to life. Its engine sounds brand new and it happily revs its little engine, as if to it wants to challenge its bigger BMW brother.
Relieved that the Red Little Zontes didn’t decide to take a sip of water while it was in the river, we wait patiently for the BMW’s comrades to arrive. Three other riders are on their way, and sure enough two of them make it safely through the river crossing. The third one makes it to the little island in the crossing and sure enough, right were the little Zontes went down a couple of minutes ago, the river claims its second victim.
In rather spectacular fashion, this BMW rider manages to power out of the river, but ends up in the bush next to the river. He bailed at the last second, leaving the bike at the mercy of gravity. The bike falls back onto the gravel road and lost a mirror in the process. Luckily, there was not too much damage and we managed to get the bike up and running again.
We all four set off, but not before having some vodka shots and christening the river crossing.
Friday, 24 November, Day 6: Uniondale to Knysna: 87km
The experience of being awoken by some kind of bird continues in Uniondale but unfortunately, on this particular morning, I was greeted by a rooster. Which I don’t actually mind, but this was no ordinary rooster. It sounded like it was a teenager whose voice couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a week old chick, or a 60 year old with a hoarse voice.
The Red Little Zontes and I hit the road again, with one of my all-time favourite roads stretching out in front of us for the day – the Prince Alfred pass. Not having too much distance to cover, we take the day slow. As we leave the tar road behind again, we enter the pass, with dark, ominous clouds looming over the distant Knysna forest.
After being overwhelmed by the beauty of the pass, we stop at Angie’s G Spot to explore what’s on offer. Not really seeing any of the self-proclaimed hot beer, lousy food, bad service and kak accommodation, I decided to settle for some great food and excellent service. Having explored Angie’s G Spot, satisfied my empty stomach, and given the little Zontes a quick rub down of all the dust, we got back onto the road.
As the forest drew nearer, the rain started coming down. The Red Little Zontes and I both became ecstatic, because a visit to the Knysna forest is not complete without a wet, wild and muddy road. Soon enough we were battling through a slippery muddy surface as we enter the dense forest. The canopy of trees embraces us with a warm welcome. The call of the Knysna Loerie echoes through the forest, announcing the arrival of the stealthy little Zontes.
Reaching Knysna by the afternoon we quickly found a roosting place for the night and decided to get some well-deserved rest. We end the day by making a quick random stop at a local toy store where we pick up a lonesome traveller. The Green Manalishi, who can be seen in some of the photos, was to keep a watchful eye on what was happening to our right the remainder of the trip. He made his home on the back of the top box for the remainder of the trip.
Saturday, 25 November, Day 7: Knysna to Hartenbos: 193km
The day starts rather late and uncharted roads stretch out in front of the little Zontes and its companion. Today will mark the day whereby we cross seven mountain passes. The Seven Passes road, starting with the Phantom pass, waits ahead.
The Red Little Zontes would have its final gravel day and I could feel the sadness in its chassis as we crested the Phantom pass. This was one hell of an adventure and it’s sad to know that it is nearing the end. The Seven Passes road runs through an absolute gem of a scenic landscape. Why people take the N2 is beyond me. Thanks to those people though, because the road is just too much fun to ride, especially when there aren’t any cars around. It just shows in what rush we as humans are. Always trying to get there first. Always trying to get there via the shortest route. Never taking the long way round and through doing this missing out on so many adventures.
The Homtini, Karatara, Hoogekraal and Touw River Bridge passes are all equally beautiful and after each pass you reach a little bridge with a spectacular view of either a little stream or a river. The little Zontes just eats up the kilometres and enjoys the challenge of all the hairpin turns in the passes.
We stopped over Kula Malaika – an African Experience bush Café & Craft Shop. The non-profit organisation aims to empower the lives of children and young people through skills development. I got to meet the entire crew, each person with their own individual skillset. It was truly amazing to see such a little community of people who are driven by using their unique skillsets – through arts and craft – in order to generate an income for themselves, and to ensure that the skillsets get transferred to the younger generation.
We then reach the final two passes, the Silver River Bridge and Kaaimans River Bridge passes. Newly tarred and with not much traffic, the Red Little Zontes turns into a 1200cc monster and we have an absolute blast around the corners. It was so much fun that the little Zontes abruptly turned around and did the two passes again. I was merely at the mercy of its rebel spirit.
We reach the N2 after driving through George and soldier on to Hartenbos where we stayed the night. Having always visited the town as a child during the December holidays, I was quick to share my nostalgia with the little Zontes.
Sunday, 26 November, Day 8: Hartenbos to Cape Town: 435km
The final day arrives and Thor seemed to have become rather angry overnight. The Red Little Zontes looks up to the sky with its Cyclops eye and welcomes the idea of a bath after the muddy roads that we’ve travelled. I get dressed in my waterproof Power Ranger suit and start the long journey back home.
With Pink Floyd’s Goodbye Blue Sky playing in the background, the little Zontes jumps straight into the rain storm. After a very long, boring, and wet ride, we reach Riversonderend. It is here where the little Zontes begged me to change our heading, at least just for a little while. I agreed without hesitation and made a run for the Hermanus turnoff a couple of kilometres out of Riversonderend. As with the other rather impulsive turnoffs we took, this turned out to be one of the best decisions we made during the trip. Again we were presented with sheer beauty in the form of the Akkedisberg pass and then eventually the smell of blooming trees carrying bluish-purplish flowers around the Klein River Lagoon area.
The sun was now setting in the distance and we still had around 120 km to cover. So we used every last one of the horses in the little 125cc engine in order to make it home in time before the sun was finally swallowed up by the ocean.
The adventure would have one final challenge in store for us. The Sir Lowry’s Pass and its tormenting tornado winds was waiting around the corner, ready to catch the Red Little Zontes by surprise. This was unlike any other wind we’ve ever experienced, and we are used to the Cape Town foreshore winds. The little Zontes didn’t blink for a single second and the Green Manalishi latched onto the top box for its dear little life. We occupied most of the road and crawled over the mountain, safely reaching Somerset West a few minutes later.
The final 40 kilometre stretch home was now all that was standing between us and the end of one awesome adventure.
Arriving Back Home
As the night sky faded to black we arrived safely back home. The Red Little Zontes switched off its engine for one last time during this adventure. We have made it! We crossed around 1 500 challenging kilometres in a week and lived to tell the tale.
Adventure motorcycles are not merely something that you use to get from point A to B. This was my first trip and my only regret is not doing it earlier in life. The true sense of freedom brought about while on a motorcycle cannot be replicated in any other way. If you suspect you have an adventurous spirit, but have never dared to live, get off that chair you are sitting on now and go buy a little cheap adventure bike. There are 125 adventure bugs waiting to bite you.
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