Riding the C28 to Windhoek

The community of motorcycle riders never ceases to amaze me. I know of no other means of transportation that attracts common threads like a motorcycle. In fact, most travelers slip through cities anonymous and without making an impression or attracting attention other than to the taxis, souvenir hawkers, panhandlers or tourist offices. They blend in, or in those cases where the contrast between race, creed or color is blatantly evident they just simply look like a tourist or a visitor. But as a motorcyclist the scene is quite different. The bike is a magnet to not only other motorcyclists, but to others curious about this foreigner in their land on a strange looking machine with a license plate that is oddly and curiously unfamiliar. Just pulling over to the side of the road to review a map, take a swig of water or to stretch my legs I’m inevitably soon in conversation with someone.

Even more, because my panniers sport my website address, often I receive e-mail from strangers who’ve seen my bike when I was eating, hiking, sleeping, shopping or pissing. But travel by motorcycle cannot be compared to typical or traditional travel. The interaction with local people, the ability to stop at locations off the beaten tourist track and the freedom to roam contributes to the excitement and adventure of motorcycle travel. And while I’ve written many times in the past about the kindness of strangers, I just have to give a nod to South Africa and Namibia on this same topic.

From the first new friends I met in Cape Town, Wes and Celeste, to Robin in Haut Bay, to Arthur my Zimbabwean friend and Jan at NuNu’s in Burgersdorp, John in Addo. And then there are the so many people who’ve stumbled onto my website or my ADVrider thread like Willie from the Settlers Way 1 Stop, Hennie and his buddies from Pretoria and so many more yet age seems to prevent me from remembering top of mind. Suffice to say, the list goes on. I’m alone. But never alone. These “strangers” have taken time to write me, offer advice, food, petrol, service, support and companionship to this weary worldriding traveler.

Then there’s Rob Gush, a fellow 650 rider from Port Elizabeth (South Africa) who I’ve had an ongoing dialog over e-mail for several days. Interested in my journey and having recently completed a Namibian adventure, he has taken the time to scan maps, send GPS way points, refer me to locals who know the area better and otherwise going out of his way to see that my experience in Southern Africa is complete and that I don’t just breeze through and miss the essence of this great landscape and its people. I’ve never met nor talked with Rob but he’s been a bundle of help. As has Louis Mouton a Namibian ex-pat now living in London.

All this name dropping isn’t for the sake of dropping names, but as I contemplate my next moves while wallowing in the holiday spirit in Swakopmund, I do have business to do before continuing the adventure. First, Doc is still a bit rough — particularly when it’s hot and under conditions when a stronger twist of the throttle is called for such as climbing mountain passes or making time on flat and straight stretches. Then there’s the nagging electrical problem — a short. Good god this has boggled me and one of the best BMW technicians in Africa – Shane at Atlantic Motorad in Cape Town. There’s a short that keeps blowing fuses which knocks out the charing and power to my Garmin GPS and PIAA lights. I’ve got to be at BMW in Windhoek the day after New Years to see if Dieter, the technician there, can help sort these problems out.

So Rob, Louis, Andreas the owner of this hotel and the people at the local tourist information office have been providing lots of data and ideas for consideration.

But first things first. I’ve got to get to Windhoek. There are several ways to make the 200+ mile journey to the capital city of Namibia. Most people simply jump on the paved B2 highway. That’s the fastest and easiest. There’s a northern route that takes you to Henties Bay to Uis and back down to Windhoek. And then there’s the C28 — a gravel road that passes uranium mines and then climbs through the steep and winding Basua Pass before rolling into the center of Windhoek. Each has its pros and cons. And while I thought I’d had enough of dirt, gravel, sand and rock for awhile, I decided to take the C28 where I’ve been warned that it’s unlikely I’ll see more than a couple cars during the 4-5 hour journey across the Namib desert and the rolling hills of the Khomus Hochland before landing in what will be the scorching hot highlands city of Windhoek.

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Cynthia and Andreas, owners and my caretakers in Swakopmund, Namibia

Before bidding farewell to my caretakers at Deutches Haus Hotel and after checking out Andreas’ mighty Ducati ST4S, he asked if he could help arrange an appointment at BMW in Windhoek. Sympathizing with my concern to get Doc in good shape for the northward journey through Africa, he picked up the phone and called his friend Hedley who runs the sales department at BMW in Windhoek. They were jabbering on in Afrikaans and then click. “You go there 8am on Monday morning. Hedley will take care of you.” If that wasn’t fantastic news, Cynthia then pleasantly surprised me with an amazing and generous holiday gift — than 50% discount on my originally agreed upon room rate at this comfortable and centrally located hotel. Wow. Thanks!

I made my way to the C28 and thought that the warnings from Andreas, Louis, the tourist office and an overland 4×4 couple I’d met were unfounded. The road was solid with barely a dusting of sand or gravel. I easily felt comfortable riding 120-130khp (70-75mph). The dirt road had been treated with some sort of chemical that gave it a solid and robust base. This bonus feature had to be thanks to the influence and heavier traffic of the mines. This lasted for about 40km where at times I was even greeted with 300-500 meter stretches of pavement which were well documented as “dust control” areas. But all good things must pass. After I past the second mining facility, I was quickly reminded of the road into Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. Loose, slippery and without any defined tread tracks to follow. The occasional washes with loose rock and soon followed by an encore of sand — all enough to cause the bike to wobble and wiggle and its pilot to tense up and concentrate. I stopped often to hydrate as the beating sun cooked my nose and heated up my suit. Then a cloud cover first offered some relief, but then some apprehension. The further east I rode, the clouds got lower and darker. And I wasn’t anywhere near the pass. But they hung ominously and seemingly reflected the direction and the pattern of the dusty track I was riding. And not one car had passed in either direction.

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Short stretches of tar and good hard pack surface teased me that the ride to Windhoek would be cake. Not!


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They want me to ride in this crap? Fortunately this was as deep as it got. But it’s scary!


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Then the sky threatened me as I headed into the mountains – and trailed right into those mountains.

Then the rain drops started falling. Just a few. Then some more. I wanted to stick my tongue out and catch them, but I was too caught up in concentrating. That’s when I saw Tertius and Natalie. Actually I saw the behemoth BMW GS1150 parked on the side of the road, then the two of them sitting up against a cattle fence. I put my bike up on the stand and pulled my helmet off.

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Tertius Van Zyl & Natalie Gaertner from Cape Town hanging and hoping to cool off!

“Hey, it’s you,” Tertius said as a smile came to his face. “I saw you in Cape Town.” He reminded me we had crossed paths briefly my last day in Cape Town at the BMW dealership while Natalie extended her hand an introduced herself. At the beginning of what will be a three-week journey the two just spent a couple nights in Windhoek and were headed to Swakopmund for New Years. “Be careful, it’s real loose and slippery as you get closer to the pass,” he said as we exchanged notes on road conditions. “Very steep and lots of twists and turns; the washes come up fast, I bottomed out on just about each one,” Tertius remembered. With a TKC80 strapped atop a couple duffel bag, he changed his rear tire at BMW in Windhoek to something that would handle better on the pavement. Oddly, his first day on the new tire and he was tracking a rocky, gravelly and sandy track. “I chose this road for safety,” he explained. “Last time i took that tar road I vowed never to ride it again.” He explained that the two lane highway supports two much traffic, and many ill-maintained taxis piloted by death wish drivers careen around corners at 140kph or faster. He wondered when one of them wouldn’t make the turn and take out everyone in the opposite lane. “Nope, I rode this stretch a few years ago on a KLR,” he recalled.

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As our conversation drifted into bike and tire talk, I lamented my ongoing problems with Doc explaining that I hoped the last BMW technician until Nairobi, Kenya would be able to sort out my problem. That’s when Tertius dropped the other shoe. He explained that Dieter, the BMW mechanic in Namibia left on holiday after fitting the new tire on Tertius’ bike. He could see the change in my outlook, from cheery, high-energy positive “allan” to angst and worry. “Not sure for how long,” he tried comforting. “Maybe for the long weekend. Or maybe until the end of the month.” I knew I had an appointment first thing Monday morning with Hedley, so I tried to remain positive. This was difficult. Pointing to the storm clouds and the mountains east he said, “Right now, that’s your biggest problem.”

They’re heading to Swakop to be with friends and then to Botswana, Tanzania, a few days in Malawi on the lake and back through Mozambique before bee-lining it back to Cape Town toward the end of the month. After exchanging e-mails, taking photos and the ubiquitous handshakes and hugs we went our separate ways vowing that there might be a possibility I’d see them as they’re headed back to South Africa. It is a small world after all.

I continued straight into the storm. While the air cooled the rain held out for awhile. I managed my way at a reasonable pace through the loose gravel, rocks and sand. Then when I finally saw the second vehicle of the day, I happened to be riding on the right side of the road, because the gravel was less deep and the surface somewhat harder. Crossing over a mound of gravel to get to the other side was a bit nerve racking. I continued motoring on in that lane looking for the best “hop over” point, which I did a few hundred meters before the truck passed. But as he did he leaned out the window shaking his fist and pointing to my side of the road. Well, there are some strangers you just don’t want to get to know.

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The pass was glorious, steep, loose and fun. Having made it to the top I stopped in a rocky pull off punctuated by a timber and corrugated metal shelter. The sky was getting darker. I grabbed a handful of trail mix, took several pulls on my water bottle and watched the third car of the day pull into the way by. Soon we were conversing and sharing stories of motorcycles, this C28 road and Namibia. Turns out that a friend of Manfred and Marijke would be the first Namibian to race in the infamous Paris to Dakar Rally due to start in a couple weeks. “Where you staying in Windhoek,” Manfred asked. I hadn’t yet arranged accommodation and upon explaining this he asked if I’d like to stay at his hotel. Because most people leave the city to come to Swakopmund or elsewhere for the holiday, it was very slow in Windhoek. He promised to call the manager and arrange a rate that would simply cover costs and I would have a safe place to park Doc and be reasonably close to BMW. Sold!

While riding in the rain never is fun, but on the C28 today it kept the dust down and perhaps hardened the sand so it was a less slippery than if the late afternoon sun had cooked it dry.

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Atop Gasua Pass on the road from Walvis Bay to Windhoek, Namibia.

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For the remaining few h ours of my ride I battle on and off hard rain. Climbing through the hills the roads got slick. Cresting one I fishtailed slightly then with some help of the throttle came back into line. Scary. For one stretch the road was reasonably hard but sharp rocks planted in the dirt contributed to a bumpy and slippery ride. I had to adjust speed accordingly and just took it easy. At one point I noticed a large cat cross the road 500 meters ahead of me. It was a lion. I was sure of it. It’s stocky front shoulders and heavy mane shadowed against the grey sky. It disappeared into the bush.

I rolled into Windhoek about 6:30pm making the day’s journey about 6 hours including the hour stop with Tertius and Natalie. Navigating my way up into the hills of Klein Windhoek I managed to find the luxurious Thule Hotel overlooking the mountains as the sunset. And here Stefan had a room waiting and a reasonable discounted rate for me. Sometimes things just sort themselves out.

Now we’ll just have to see about Doc.

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The view from Hotel Thule in Windhoek!

1 reply
  1. Airhawk1
    Airhawk1 says:

    Allen, thanks for the great stories and photos. It’s 12 degrees F outside and we’re expecting snow…. these pictures remind me that it’s all worth waiting for.

    Reply

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