I stepped out of my car into the cold, dark air. Mt hood towered above me to the north, but she was still concealed by the black vail of the night sky. Three weeks earlier, I had guided myself into a snow storm there while navigating to a tucked away waterfall I had seen in the distance. The sights and storm that day were beautiful and powerful and made me fall in love with the mountain that I often viewed from afar but had never had the pleasure of running directly in her shadow. I knew the weather was going to be wild but I thought it had been my last chance to run up the white river basin before it transitioned into snowshoe season. But there I was, three weeks later with glowing stars above my head and a plan to go further than the weather would allow on my previous visit.

After my first few steps, I paused to absorb the view to the south, away from the mountain. Thick fog was rolling by, swift and unending, with the sunrise beginning to paint itself in the night sky above. I turned back, now able to see the mountain as the colors reached its massive grey and white walls, still backdropped by the night. A cap of streaked clouds moved across her summit. I knew this was going to be a memorable day in the hills.

I continued running alongside the basin on a service road that thins into single track in the first mile. The light of the sun continued to spill on to the scene and light the distant path before me. But then strong winds came as if provoked by the light of the day. It lifted the dry sand and dust from the ground and funneled it down through the basin into my face and through the trees on both sides of the river. I put on glasses to protect my eyes as best as I could, but hours later I would still be irritated by the persistent grains that found their way under my eye lids. Cruising through the trees alongside the basin, I felt slow against the challenging winds but excited by the unexpected elements.

Excitement turned to fear as a nearby tree let out a roaring snap and came swinging down to collide with the earth just 20 feet from me. I abruptly changed course and sprinted straight for the riverbed as I noticed the number of deadening trees being assaulted by the strong winds. Other trees fell but I made it the hundred yards to the river before they snapped. I was now out of the path of any falling trees, but would need to combat the large jagged rocks and soft sinking sand to maintain my forward progress. I also no longer had the trees to help calm the wind and the dust it carried.

I worked my way around a bend in the river basin and was greeted by another breath taking sight. The wind had carried in a wall of clouds that glowed bright orange as if attempting to conceal a fire behind its mass. I was in awe and inspired to push through the winds that didn’t seem to want me there.

The river basin eventually split into two draws and I ascended the finger between them just as the dust turned to freezing rain. It blew sideways and struck my face without mercy. The earth beneath my feet was now like a soft sand beach, wet on the surface but dry beneath, no longer rocky, but now speckled with patches of bright green. My face stung and my legs were beet red and numbing. I noticed that the ridge was thinning further up, and I feared that once I got there, it would not be passable in such forceful, and at times blinding, weather. In order to reach my turnaround at Timberline Lodge, I knew that I would need to run back down to the basin floor and climb the next ridge over.

The fast trip down was an exciting reward for my short, challenging ascent. I was finally moving downhill with the wind and rain against my back, and the soft sand now absorbing the impact beneath my feet. Upon reaching the floor of the basin, I entered the tree line to the West where I would get on the Pacific Crest Trail to complete my run to the lodge. Miles later, through the persistent weather, I reached my turnaround, aching and cold, but completely in awe of how fortunate I was to experience such a day.

I stretched and got warm for a few minutes under a sheltered area, attracting strange looks from the warm and comfortable passers-by. I probably looked like a mangy dog licking its wounds before heading back into the wet, grey world. I stepped back outside just as the rain turned into snow, the flakes small but many. My descent was fast with the slope and wind in my favor. For the first couple miles of descent, my right quad ached and cramped–an issue I have been struggling with the last few weeks. I would have to spend some extra time with the unforgiving foam roller that night.

In the last mile, I passed a runner just beginning his journey. I wanted to stop and tell him all he had missed that morning, but I knew he would find adventures of his own. The day was brutal at times, but the unexpected can always turn an ordinary run into an extraordinary adventure.

Written by: Jonny Bobgan

Pulled over some 500 metres up from the well-known hairpin bend on the pass famed travel author TV Bulpin referred to as “a classic piece of old time road making with dramatic views and the indefinable elegance of its curves…” the Forest was dense, bathed in dappled summer dawn light and full of things with names like Mountain Waxberrys, White Stinkwood, Kamassi and the beautifully flowering Cape Chestnuts. Somewhere a Knysna Turaco hollered its raucous kok-kok kok-kok.

It was difficult to believe that not too many kilometres away on the N2 highway, holiday makers in fully-loaded SUVs where snarling at each other as they made their way home from summer holidays – trailers, caravans and who knows what else in tow. Perhaps though, we should return to that same N2, for it is there where the context to all of this lies.

The Garden Route N2 between Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth has been an integral part of my life from early memory. There were the family holiday trips early on, heading from home in the Eastern Cape to go fishing with grandpa in Hermanus. In high school it was associated with contest surf trips – stressfully competitive missions down to Vic Bay and Cape Town. Then, as student at Stellenbosch University, it was the way home during vacations – each landmark a step further away from the books and lecture halls.

The older I got and more I drove it, the more I started wondering about the backroad routes on the same stretch. I’d always been taken by the area’s history and haunted by the Forest (which should always be spelled with a capital T, as in Dalene Matthee’s works). I found myself seeking forays and glimpses without having to make a real effort, or stretch out the the trip home too much.

After a lot of detours I realised it was just about possible to travel the Garden Route all the way by staying off the N2 (with the odd short transfer here and there). Bloukrans Pass near Nature’s Valley became a favourite detour. As did the historic Seven Passes Route between George and Knysna.

At first I drove the Seven Passes purely for adventure’s sake – to be making a part of the journey so many holiday makers are, on a dirt road – now as a resident of the Garden Route once again after too many years in the big city, this 75-kilometre road which traverses Phantom Pass and the Homtini Gorge (of which I speak above) and crosses the Karatara-, Hoogekraal, Touw-, Silver-, Kaaimans- and Swart rivers as they drain the Outeniqua mountains to the sea, has become a favourite day trip.

Instead of the usual 90-minutes it takes to drive if you just go, my young family and I often now spend an entire day on the route. Here’s why:

Driven from east to west the route starts with a right turn off the N2 immediately after you’ve crossed the bridge over the Knysna lagoon. It doesn’t take long to realise you’re off the regular tourist rush and even though you’re not quite onto the first pass yet (and the road is still tar) it’s obligatory to slow down – downshift – so to speak from driving with ‘getting from point A to point B’ in mind to pleasure cruising.

Rather than a ghost, as most would suspect, Phantom Pass was named after the white Phantom Moth found in that area. However, the pass is charmingly wound in mythology anyway.

The 7,4 kilometre route from the Knysna River to the top of the pass and the regional tar road to Rheenendal takes more-or-less 10 minutes to drive. The pass is gravel and narrow with glimpses into the beautifully forested Knysna river valley on some of the hairpins.

Portland Manor, Barrington’s old estate is now a luxury lodge and lies off the road to Rheenendal. We always make time on this tar section to stop at Spookasem, a delightful farm stall and the home of the Kamma Kamma (for ‘make believe’ in Afrikaans) rag dolls. Then we have brunch at The Red Barn at Fern Gully Farm (www.theredbarn.co.za) a little way down the road, where the kids can run wide-open while artisan cappuccinos follow free-range bacon and eggs.

After Rheenendal you reach the Homtini Pass, my favourite of the seven and the one where I always take time to pull over and wind down the windows to let the Forest and its sounds and smells, in. Aside from the bridge (all the timber bridges were replaced with concrete in the early 1900’s) the pass is as it was almost 150-years ago when constructed by master road engineer Thomas Bain and his brother-in-law, Adam de Smidt.

If the river is not flowing too fast, the brown waters of the Homtini (stained so by the ubiquitous vegetable matter and roots) are ideal for a dip. The best place to stop is off the road on either side of the bridge, from there follow the trail in whatever direction you fancy.

The next pass is Karatara. The wacky name and sad history of the small settlement is enough reason to drive it. Karatara is where the woodcutters settled after the 1939 complete withdrawal of their woodcutting permits. Their descendents live there still.

From here the route follows a pattern of pastural farmlands on the plateau, some pockets of forestry plantations and then the spectacular indigenously forested river valleys. The next valley is traversed by Hoogekraal Pass. The pass was built by Adam de Smidt in 1874 and due to its lesser gradient and depth was perhaps the easiest to construct. Similar to drive.

After Hoogekraal you reach the settlement of Hoekwil, a hamlet fast becoming trendy among urbanites in search of coastal country charm as well as retirees. From here the route takes you on the ‘Forest Road’ to George. It is more than aptly named with the forest starring rather than the passes themselves, as it takes in the Touw River Pass (sometimes confused with the Duiwelskop Pass a 4×4-only trail higher in the mountains) as well as the Silver (which is tarred), Kaaimansgat and Black River Passes (also tarred).

Those all still lay ahead. Right now bugs and beetles of all manner provided an orchestral backdrop as the Forest in the Homtini valley stirred as the day began to heat. The dust two descending mountain bikers had kicked up earlier added to the scene. It all seemed right out of Dalene Matthee’s Circles in a Forest and it would’ve been fitting if Oupoot had walked across the road right then.

Written by: Jazz Kuschke


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