07 August 2014

Sani Pass on Vespas Winter 2011

Magda - The 7th of August dawned with clear blue skies and the most beautiful sunshine.

Jerome - This is what we have come for, the Sani Pass. Four Vespas: Marlene on the PX 150, myself on the ET4, Charlie on the PX200 and Magda on the GTS 300; all eager to conquer the pass in the middle of winter.

Magda - Buoyed we set off into Underberg to fuel up beasts and machines. At the foot of Sani Pass lay our first obstacle-the no nonsense, all business Lesotho border control. Excitedly and with hearts in mouths and Vespas skulking on the trailers we presented our passports in family format.

With the snow capped peaks towering above us, would our dream end now and here? The sun glinted off the silver nr 7 on my Vespa and blessed us with the right to proceed on our passage. Around the first bend we hastily offloaded our steeds and donned various riding paraphernalia.

Charlie’s battle gear consisting of the biggest pair of wings I have ever seen. Marlene passed out little miniature bottles of Jagermeister and Bugs. Jerome strapped on his camera and I packed 2L of juice.

After Thinus deflated our tyres, we sharing ice cold juice and Jagermeister, which flushed our excited faces. We fun filled blue eyes and wide brilliant smiles matching the snow.  News filtered down that the pass was blocked higher up by a snowed in grader, a broken down minibus and 4x4’s that had been forced to spend the previous night on the pass itself.

The 4x4 traffic jam before the block made Sandton at 5 look tame. The thought of returning to Underberg riled us. Up we HAD to go, a paid for bed, warm food and the highest pub in Africa was to be had by the victorious.

Joy and elation as the first stuck 4x4 that slept over on the pass came creeping cold and cat-footed down past us with huge icicles suspended like whiskers from the fenders - we knew the way to the top was open and there was no stopping us now, we could taste the blood warm gluhwein swilling in our mouths, hear the log fire roaring and feel the ice cold beers pressing against our sweaty palms!

Fortified with Dutch courage we set off on the monumentous task of conquering Sani Pass with Vespas. Behind us and in front of us numerous 4x4 all terrain vehicles and serious off road motor bikers followed suit.

 I could just imagine what they must have been thinking at the sight of such a motley group attempting the same thing with a tenth of the horsepower and one sporting wings. I am sure there was a few WTF’s expressed accompanied with a few sniggers. So you think you can dance..... VESPA gives you wings.

An epic battle followed. I recollect the ascent as being easy at the bottom and gradually becoming more taxing and difficult as we proceeded and almost becoming impossible near the top. Over rocks and stones, riverbeds, twists and turns and ruts, mud and slush and treacherous ice we travelled.

Charlie got stuck on a steep incline which had me running back to help, shouting to children to come help push. With 4 pairs of willing hands on the back seat, a mighty heave and a fight with the gears and a push and off Charlie goes-wings flapping in the breeze.

Through snow and in between stuck 4x4’s we made our winding way, ever climbing higher and higher, steeper and steeper. Stopping and starting, pushing and pulling, picking each other up after falls. Focused and driven my mind created surprisingly vivid mental snapshots of it all..... The lone elderly cyclist determinedly pushing his bicycle all the way to the top after the chain snapped halfway up.

Marlene’s red 1979 Mathilda sure footed and being driven with enormous skill and years of bike riding experience under the belt-beautiful to behold. I envisioned seeing Marlene, 40yrs on, bent with age on the stoep of some retirement village somewhere pointing a gnarled finger to a photo album, regaling the grandchildren with tales of “The Great Sani Pass Adventure” and fondly saying “Those were the days”.

After losing grip 4 metres into the ice line and feeling my bike spinning round almost 180’ I managed to stay upright as I brought the scooter under control. I found myself facing the cliff edge with its sheer drop. My heart pounded and I uttered a choice expletive starting with Gordon Ramsey’s favourite letter of the alphabet.

The snow boots I had on gave good grip and I was firmly planted wide legged over the scooter, the scooter however wasn’t and it proceeded to faint from under me in one of those classic slow motion- almost lady like- movie scenes. I just couldn’t keep 151kg from going down and managed to step off and away to the side to safety as she dropped. I bent down and turned the key off in the ignition to protect the engine and stop any loss of oil.

Marlene and Jerome came running over to the rescue and together we lifted and turned the bike round. I was relieved to find only minor sticker damage. I had recently traded in and up for this new black 300 Vespa and it was scarcely a few months old. I decided to not attempt the last few icy bends due to the ice and the certain possibility of causing far greater damage.

As I headed down I saw Charlie approaching on her blue PX and I shouted a warning that this was no place for two wheels. My words were hardly out when Charlie went down quite hard and quite spectacularly onto her right side, almost immediately her left hand shot out straight up in the air and she shouted out loud to the shocked onlookers “I’m okay!”. That’s Charlie for you-what a trooper.

Later I heard Charlie had fallen 3 times that day. Due to gearbox damage from a previous flying incident (which is altogether another story) and loss of oil she had to call it a day only a few bends from the top.

Jerome and Marlene helped each other through the last few bends, sometimes walking and pushing through the slippery cocktail of snow and mud and ice. Hats off! She ain’t heavy, she’s my sista! That's what friends are for. Charlie and my bike were loaded and Thinus led the 4x4’s up through the last bends displaying impressive 4x4 knowledge and skill. Sani top chalets and the highest pub in Africa beckoned to us.

Marlene and Jerome summits  


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