Leading up to the day I would leave Cape Town on my journey up Africa I had always thought that when this day finally came that I would be feeling great - a feeling of 'this is it!' But what I actually felt was, 'oh boy this is really it, have I got everything I need, have I packed the toothpaste?'
The bike didn't feel like itself either but like a swaggering drunk trying to prove it could walk along a straight line. I had tried my utmost to take only the really essential things, skimping here and there on things I felt I ought to take, and like a child being told by his mother to take that packet of sweets out of the shopping trolley and put it back onto the shelf, I hesitatingly took items out and left them behind.
Leaving the town behind there was a tension of opposites to deal with. I felt like fleeing whatever was behind me and making like an escaped convict for the border but kept telling myself to slow down and take it easy, don't rush it. I stuck to that and found as many dirt roads to ride north on as I could, forcing myself to stop more and more to enjoy the view and capture the moment.
I found a great dirt road running along the coast, where there wasn't a hint of traffic. The fynbos around me was untouched and the beach sand a spectacular white against the fresh blue of the Atlantic. Life was good.
The shadows were getting long as the sun got lower and I decided to find a sheltered beach and sleep there for the night. I enjoyed the first night out in the open, under a full moon on a beach. The next morning it took me until 11:00 to eat, clean, move the bike off the beach and then pack, drive fifty meters and fall over, then having to unpack, lift the bike repack, then go. It was hot and the road became corrugated and not a pleasure to drive and I was trying to find an exit from this west coast dirt road, get on a tar road and drive north as fast as I could, once again feeling the tension between driving slow and enjoying the trip or driving fast and getting further away from Cape Town. I still didn't feel like I was on a trip of a life time, just a short jaunt up the west coast and the closer I got to the border the more I thought I would feel like, "hey now I'm on my way".
On the road to Springbok the temperature climbed to 43 degrees, it was uncomfortable but I consoled myself somewhat with thoughts that it was good to see how the bike and I would cope with this temperature as we would be arriving in the Sahara in spring where temperatures would reach this and perhaps higher. Once refuelled and restocked in Springbok with water and food for the night I left by late afternoon and the temperature started dropping and the sky closed in with afternoon thundershowers. I drove for Eksteenfontien, the entrance to the Ricthersveld were I wanted to explore the next day.
By the time the sun was on the horizon the sky had opened up again. There were no more fences to be seen and I found a dirt road that led onto a small hill overlooking the open plain around me and the by-now orange tinted Richtersveld mountains beyond that.
|My mood was dim, only momentarily lifting with the thought of getting the hell out of this river bed, which felt like a mountain in my path. The question "What the hell am I doing here?" came up a few times.|
As soon as I stopped insects were on me, no personal boundaries amongst us. Wrapping, what would prove to be one of the most valued items I had on the trip, a scarf, around my face kept me sane. An hour after sunset they were gone and didn't bother me any more. By then I was enjoying looking out over the plains below and my imagination enjoyed the cool silver light of the moon whilst taking a sip of Jack Daniels from a small plastic bottle, one small luxury I allowed myself to take along.
On the road towards the Richtersveld I stopped at a wind pump to wash my face and whilst there a herder named Koos and his flock came down to the reservoir. We started chatting and the conversation turned to the problem the local people were experiencing with alcohol abuse. Koos could not find anyone reliable to help him look after his flock of 900 sheep and goats as youngsters were mostly keen to drink and/or smoke dagga and would rather be paid in that 'currency' than in cash.
In the quiet village of Eksteenfontien the locals were friendly and I filled up with provisions and water, and was soon on my way into the conservancy. The temperature was again hitting the low forties and I found a small dam where I spent some time cooling off. Refreshed and somewhat cleaner I headed off, enjoying the challenging roads of rock and sand.
After a while of driving I decided to pull off towards the Orange River. I filled up with brackish water at the Rooiberg Guesthouse before heading off along a path meandering through riverbeds and up a hillside. On the other side, the path led down a steep rocky path into another riverbed and this started to become a challenge. The river sand was deep and soft, snaking along the bottom of a ravine, the walls magnifying the heat. I couldn't get my speed up to keep the front wheel straight and sail above the sand surface as the river curved left and right in between rocks. The bike was swinging side to side with the added weight on the back. I had to paddle along with my feet keeping the bike somewhat straight but quite often falling over, then having to unpack, lift, pack then drive and then fall over and continue the same process.
The process was sapping my energy and denting my determination to get to the Orange River, looking at the GPS I had covered only 5 kilometres of this river bed in forty minutes and there was still six to go, the sun was going to set in fifty minutes time. I was drained, the salty water never quite quenching my thirst, the temperature was still in the high thirties, and I eventually gave up on the idea of getting to the river and set-up camp where the bike had fallen.
I didn't sleep much that night. Between fighting off a blitzkrieg of hungry squadrons of mosquitoes, and the overwhelming heat, there wasn't a chance to. I welcomed the morning light but I was by no means a happy camper. My left eye lid had swelled up from a mosquito bite and I was tired, thirsty and covered with dry sweat and dirt. I looked at myself in the bike's mirror, what a dull sight. My mood was dim, only momentarily lifting with the thought of getting the hell out of this river bed, which felt like a mountain in my path. The question "What the hell am I doing here?" came up a few times.
Getting out was a little easier than getting in, thankfully, and I didn't fall once, however the clutch started to slip, a little worrying. I adjusted the play on the clutch cable which helped and I made a note that I would have to take the bike to BMW when I got to Windhoek.
The trip back to the entrance was great, I felt a lot better and fresh water was near. The road to Vioolsdrift was rather fun if not challenging at times with some sandy river beds and loose rocky descents. By the time I got to the border post between Namibia and South Africa, it was midday and once again the temperature was well into the forties. I spent a few hours at a Wimpy going through maps and appreciating the air-conditioning.
Filled up with fuel and water I made my way along the road towards Rosh Pinah. The road followed the Orange River through the Namibian side of the Richtersveld and was something I had been looking forward to for some time. It had rained heavily the past few weeks and the Orange River was full, sometimes breaking its banks.
The road between Rosh Pinah and Noordoewer was closed. I decided to ignore the sign and continue. If I had to turn back so be it, I had the fuel and the water to do that and I really wanted to see this part of Namibia. I was not disappointed. The mountains along with the heavy clouds in the sky came together to make for beautiful scenery. The river had washed the road away in some parts making it a challenge, but I was up for it. Had I not learnt my lesson from the previous day? I made it through the muddy sections like a breeze over calm water, I felt in command of this machine.
After leaving the bank of the river and turning inland I felt I had the worst behind me. 'Puh', I thought, 'good call not adhering to the road closure sign'. I came to the top of a rise looking down to the Fish River crossing and the penny dropped, along with my spirit. It was flooded too and there was no way to cross it, oh well, I took the risk and had fun. Problem now I thought was that those clouds were looking and sounding very menacing and were threatening to unleash themselves along my path, making the mud worse and possibly even causing the river to rise and cover the road. In my mind it was a race!
On the way back the clutch started slipping again but I had one thing to concern myself over and that was getting across the muddy sections before the rain came. Just before the last two sections of mud the wind from the storm pushed up clouds of dust along the road towards me, the sky was really dark and the thunder was loud. I needed to make this; there was no time to waste. I didn't take a moment to choose my line through the mud, and I just went in. I lost it and went crashing into a muddy bank, the front stuck firmly in the thick clay mud and my feet sunk in calf deep as I got off. The rain started to spit. This was not good, the bike was stuck solidly in the thick mud. It took me twenty hurried minutes to get the bike free, by this time everything was covered in mud.
|... by now the sun had set and I was 80 kilometres from Noordoewer with only two threads on the cable adjustment left and after that I would have no clutch.|
The rain hadn't come, it was all a bluff. Muddied and repacked I speed off. A hundred meters away lay another mud section. I went in with a bit of speed but the bike sank in up to the engine sump before she could clear the section. I had to unpack again, put the bike on its side, drag it out of the hole, lift it up, try drive it out whilst standing next to it. Nope, it wasn't going anywhere with the tyre caked in mud. I dropped it again, dragged it some more. Eventually I found a rock to put under the wheel for traction and hey presto we were out.
By now I was soaked in sweat and mud, exhausted from lifting and dropping the bike. The sun was low and I realized that I wasn't going to make my destination, Aus. I really didn't want to spend another night outside, and decided to head for Noerdoewer. The road leads through a flat and featureless plain, with the setting sun and the chaotic sky filled with rain clouds and rainbows it turned into a wonderland. It had rained here not long before I arrived and the roads were washed away every so often. I drove the bike with the throttle wide open over the silt laden roads, myself driven by the idea of reaching a campsite with a shower before sunset.
The clutch started slipping even worse and I couldn't go any faster than 70 kph. I stopped and adjusted the play on the cable again, by now the sun had set and I was 80 kilometres from Noordoewer with only two threads on the cable adjustment left and after that I would have no clutch. 30 kilometres from Noordoewer on a deserted side road the bike crawled along at 30 kph and was slowing down every minute, I pulled over. It was desolate and quiet, not a person or vehicle had passed in the previous hour. I adjusted the clutch for the last time, and managed to make it to Noordoewer by 22:00.
With a lot of kindness and effort from a friend, I was picked up and driven to Windhoek and was given a place to stay while the bike was being fixed. I had stressed that night alongside the road but in hindsight everything worked out well and I felt I had stressed for no good reason but for fear of being stranded alone in an unfamiliar place. If there was one thing I hoped to learn from this trip it was that even though there would be uncomfortable situations, I could either be afraid and stressed out or choose to be upbeat and have faith both in people and in God. Besides, if it was plain sailing all along what stories will I have to tell when I get back?
Tomorrow I leave Windhoek, well fed and restored. And with faith as my new best friend, I head for the Kaokoland then Angola and the DRC. From here on up is the real unknown for me and the trip really begins in earnest.
Frederick Von Hoyer is a Super Lynx Pilot in the South African National Defence Force. He will be driving from Cape Town to Tangiers by himself on a BMW F800GS, and writing a blog as he goes. This is a journey of a lifetime for Fred, who has been planning this trip for years.
During his trip he will be raising awareness about a charity called Ubuntu Africa, who are involved with improving the health and wellbeing of HIV-positive children in under-served communities in South Africa. To make a donation to the cause, go to their Donations page, and reference 'Cape2Tangiers Charity Drive'.
For more information about Fred and his journey up Africa, go to http://www.cape2tangiers.co.za/.