Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Two Wheels to Africa - Part 3 of 3

Written by  March 31, 2011

Day 24 finds us continuing our westward trek to the Atlantic coast. We are in what is known as the Caprivi Strip, a narrow passage in Namibia sandwiched between Angola on the north and Botswana on the south. Reports are this region seems to be in ongoing conflict of one sort or another. Part of this area is in the Chobe National Park as is evident by several signs cautioning us to watch out for elephants and a speed limit of 80 km/hr. The paved road is straight and flat, and the temperature climbs to a sweltering 104°F. I put in my earphones and plug into some music I had loaded into my GPS to ward off this boring section of road.

Passing through several small villages whose structures consist of stick walls and grass roofs remind us of the living conditions here. A common sight along the road is mostly women carrying 5 gallon buckets of water precariously balanced on their heads. Coming out of the Caprivi Strip we arrive at Rundu, the capitol of the Kavango Region with a population of about 76,000 people. Our hotel is about a mile of barren terrain from the Okavango River which marks the border between Namibia and Angola. A quick look at the US State Department web site for Angola is enough to convince me that I don’t need to go there. Across the street from the hotel is a crowded shopping district. Debbie and I wander over there and into a grocery store located in a small shopping mall. It is crowded and pretty well stocked. Many people are searched and frisked as they leave the store.

The next day is more of the same straight fast boring highway with lots of donkeys, cattle and goats either on or near the road. The speed limit is 120 km/hr and it is already 90°F by 10 AM. We’re at about 17° latitude which is roughly the southern hemispheres equivalent of Cancun. Finally we begin to see some welcome hills in the distance. Most of us meet a gas station in the small town of Grootfontein to fuel up. It’s here that a few of us split off from the group track and take a detour down another gravel road to the Hoba meteorite. It is the largest one found on earth at 66 tons, measuring roughly 8½ feet square and 3 feet thick. I’ll bet there aren’t many people who have their photo taken while standing on the world’s largest meteorite.

Back on the highway going 80 mph we get a headlight flash from a couple of oncoming cars. A couple of miles ahead is what appears to be a burnt out shack, and sure enough there are cops there with radar. Fortunately they clock us at our new slower speed and we return the flash to others coming from the other direction. The chase truck catches up to us at a gas station where we stopped for a quick bite to eat and informs us that Diana has a blown radiator hose about an hour ahead of us. At the gas station there is another interesting thing. On several occasions on this trip I’ve seen people buying one or two cigarettes at a time from a store clerk. This station has a coin operated machine that sells them one at a time. Diana’s bike apparently just had a leak and was able to make it to our next destination. It is here in Outjo that there are new knobby tires awaiting us. These were shipped in ahead of time and all of us take our turn at the station having our tires replaced after 3762 miles. Being a little apprehensive, the word is we will need the new knobby tread for the next few sections of our journey.

Even on guided tours things aren’t always what they are supposed to be. Today’s ride from Outjo to Twyfelfontein was expected to be 145 miles of gravel road, but instead the first 89 miles are good straight pavement through some pretty bland deserted countryside with the temperatures only getting to 97°F. Even though we hadn’t gone very far we stopped in Khorixas and filled up the tank and got a cold drink. Leaving town, the road turns to good gravel that Debbie and I manage at a relatively slow 45 mph. The flat scenery begins to change with intermittent rocky hills sporadically popping up from the unexciting arid landscape. At a tee in the road there is a small shop where we make a stop, and even though we haven’t seen any signs of electricity for a long time they have cold drinks for sale.

Passing the entrance to the Twyfelfontein Lodge, we continue on for another 3 km down the road to the most forsaken gas station I have ever seen. It is located next to the road and has one sole gas pump under an awning supported by 4 poles and nothing else. It’s back to the lodge, which is nestled up against some small rocky mountains. This place is so remote that if it wasn’t for the Bushman rock carvings in the area I don’t think anyone would ever come here. At dinner the hotel staff puts on a little song and dance show for us while we dine on kudu, pork loin and chicken. Following dinner we have a short meeting. The main topic is tomorrow’s optional ride. Because of its roughness, the optional route will not be supported by the chase vehicle and if you break down you are on your own.

There are seven brave souls (or hardy fools) that opt for taking on the turmoils of the Rhino Camp road. We leave about 7:30 AM and are soon on a path better suited for a 250cc dirt bike than a fully laden 1200cc dual purpose bike. This rough road, if you can call it a road, winds up and down through mountains, flats, dried up rivers, sand washes and canyons. It quickly gets into the 90’s as I struggle through the many deep sand washes. At one interesting point we come across a Namibian garage sale of sorts. Beside the road is a small piece of plywood covered with an assortment of stones with a sign stating that they are for sale. There is a small jar for you to put your money in and you can take the stone of your choice, or if you’re cheap, just pick up one of the thousands of other similar stones that are lying on the ground for as far as you can see. The money is supposed to go to the Rhino Trust Organization so a few of us drop in a few coins, and I know of one lucky lady who is getting a stone for Christmas.

Fifty-five miles into the route I reach Rhino Camp at about 1:00 PM I’ve already consumed 2 of the 3 liters of water I brought with me and I’ve fallen twice in the deep sand. It’s a hot. dry 97°F, and I’m beat as we rest under a shade tree complete with a sign cautioning us against elephants and lions. It seems as though most of the shrubs and trees in Africa have some sort of thorn. My hand brushes up against some limbs that are hanging in the pathway and now the backs of my leather gloves have small cuts in them. After signing out with the camp security guard we leave Rhino Camp winding up the mountains on a rough rocky road for another 10 km. Up on top, the gravel road smooths out and becomes mostly straight and wide. I’m exhausted and enjoying the change from the rough section that had me sweating profusely and wondering if I had brought enough water, to this smooth section where I could easily maintain 55-60 mph. This road runs pretty much straight to the Atlantic Ocean and is flat and devoid of any signs of life, plant or animal. It is getting overcast and cooler as we approach the ocean with the temperature dropping to 67°F as the ocean comes into view.

At the ocean the gravel road intersects with a salt road, which, as I understand it, is a mixture of salt and sand. This salt road seems similar to a chip and seal surface that we have here in the US but becomes extremely slippery when wet. Lucky for us it is dry today as we have many miles to go before we get to our destination in Swakopmund. There are now 4 of us traveling together going 70-80 mph down this sparsely traveled road that is following the Atlantic coast. Arriving at a very nice hotel, I sit on a bench exhausted and have a cold beer. Of the seven of us, I believe only Helge hasn’t fallen at least once today. At dinner I have zebra as we all swap stories of today’s challenging ride.

Our travel guide says we are leaving civilization until reaching Cape Town. From my point of view we haven’t seen much civilization for a long time anyway. The route is on a paved highway out of town following the coast for about 20 miles when the road turns inland and the pavement ends returning us to our old friend the gravel road. Early on, traffic is light but as the day progresses traffic picks up with mostly big trucks, busses and 4x4 tour vehicles. These create huge clouds of dust, and it is difficult to see the road even though it is straight flat and the surrounding land is just sand and rocks. There are some soft sandy sections and ultimately Debbie and I crash in the middle of the road. Neither of us is hurt but my right turn signal and fog light are ripped off. The chase vehicle comes by and I have Debbie ride in it so I can better navigate the deep sand sections of the road. I’m still having trouble in the sand sections as I pass a sign marking the Tropic of Capricorn. The road conditions finally improve as we near the settlement of Solitaire. This consists of a gas station, bakery and restaurant where Moose McGregor has received wide coverage for his shop's apple strudel. Everyone stops here as it is the only place to stop for miles and miles in any direction. Roughly only another 100 km to go and we will be at our lodge at the Sossususvlei/Sesriem portion of the Naukluft National Park, the fourth largest game park in the world and the largest in Africa at 19,215 square miles.

The night is spent in our very nice half tent-half stucco accommodations just outside the park entrance. Dinner is a selection of grilled-for-you meats ranging from kudu to ostrich to springbok to zebra. We are up extra early so we can be in the park near sunrise in order to get the spectacular photos of the sun casting shadows on the towering red sand dunes, only to be rejected at the park entrance because we are on motorcycles. We ride back to the hotel only to find out that all of the for-hire tour vehicles have been booked. About half the group packs into the chase vehicle and enters the park. Debbie and I as well as several others stay at the lodge. The wind is blowing and a mini sand storm coats everything with a thin layer of fine sand. I take time out for a nap then using some JB Weld make repairs to my broken fog light and turn signal. Later that day we get our chance, via the chase vehicle, to go see the dunes which are the tallest in the world some reaching 1000 feet off the desert floor. Their red color is due to iron oxide and the older the dune, the darker red it is. This is truly one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments in a place that few ever get to see in person.

It’s now Day 31, and we have two choices for our route today. The first one is 365 miles of all gravel and the second is 491 miles with only about 100 miles of gravel. Riders are really spaced out as clouds of dust erupt from our tires, and today there is little wind to blow it away. Most of the road is good and at times I’m hitting 55-60 mph. The road is very remote with little traffic other than us. Debbie is riding in the chase vehicle today. In the middle of nowhere I come across a short toothless old man walking down the side of the road. He has no water and is a long way from anywhere. I stop and he hops on the back of my bike. I taxi him for about 10 miles and come to a tee in the road where he gets off and takes off walking to the left. A few of the other riders are here at this intersection where the two routes split. The left route has some pavement but is about 130 miles longer. The gravel road hasn’t been too bad so far, and all decide to take the shorter gravel road to the right, still having to maintain huge spacing due to the dust.

I take the shorter right route and soon come up on one of the big 4WD tour vehicles that is showering me with dust and rocks as I pass. It is clear sailing and I kick it up into 6th gear going 60-70 mph trying to make this a shorter day. All of a sudden I hit some loose stuff and go into a tank slapper. The next thing I remember is I’m in the chase vehicle that is pulling into a medical clinic in Keetmanshoop and I’m really sore. There is a line of people so Andrew takes in my helmet, which now is sporting a 6 inch split up the back, and says he has a crash victim that needs looked at. They drive me around back and I get right in ahead of the crowd to see the doctor. They take a quick look then give me a shot for pain and send us to another location for x-rays. While standing in front of the x-ray machine I pass out again falling to the floor. After the x-rays we return to the med clinic where the doctor has stayed past quitting time just for me. Luckily nothing is broken but I’m sore and my back is all scratched up even through my heavily padded riding jacket.

Later I find out that Randy was the first to find me face down and unconscious in the middle of the road, followed by Diana and Dan. My bike is trashed and parts and the contents of my panniers are strewn up and down the road. They said I came to, but I don’t remember any of it. Turns out I’m not the only one to crash this day. Tom also crashed in deep sand and his bike is also out of commission as well as his hand and elbow. We spend the night in town while the rest of the group is on down the road at Fish River. Tom and my bike are pretty much destroyed and a Helge finds a guy in town that will haul them to Cape Town for us thus freeing up the trailer on the chase vehicle in case another bike breaks down.

I wake up the next morning sore and stiff as hell. After settling up with the doctors and making the final arrangements to have our bikes trucked to Cape Town, Andrew, Debbie, Tom and I pile into the chase vehicle and head to meet up with the rest of the group in Fish River. There are only three more days on the road before we get to Cape Town. Prior to the trip Dave had a new aftermarket rim installed on his GS800. Unfortunately, the bearings in it are already shot. Harry arrives from Johannesburg with a new set of bearings only to find out the aftermarket rim uses a different size than the stock rim and the new bearings don’t fit. This means there are now 5 of us packed into the Toyota pickup for the rest of our journey.

The rest of the route is all pretty much pavement and the scenery is showing more signs of civilization. There are now road signs, fences, power lines, fields with crops and even a small dammed reservoir complete with a speed boat. I’m uncomfortable and sore as is everyone else packed into the chase vehicle. The ride is over for me, but luckily it was over near the end of the trip, and I got to undergo the thrills and spills of riding through some of the most interesting places I’ve ever seen. To get the opportunity to experience the culture and traditions of this land that is quite different from what we are used to in the US. It really broadens one’s perspective and will leave lasting memories of our trip to Africa.

By Jeff Hower