Things always take longer than you’d like. Especially when it comes to motorcycle dealers. As my bike sat for over a month in Rio this past summer, the humidity combined with the salt ocean air did a number on the bike. The nuts and bolts holding the end cap of my Adventure Pipe had oxidized and when I tried to pull the pipe off, some of the bolts just turned and others just wouldn’t budge. I was sure they’d break. So asked Shane and the capable crew at Atlantic Motoraad in Cape Town to see if they could drill out the nuts and ultimately make the necessary modifications so that the pipe could come off, get repacked and reinstalled. I also decided new rubber on the rear would be a good idea since perhaps the next place to find a a seventeen-inch rear tire would probably be in Nairobi. Plus, there is a nagging performance program. Seems the bike is starved for fuel. Of course, this it’s not consistent so therefore difficult to troubleshoot and diagnose.
Robin, the Cape Town resident with a bike who Grant and Julie met through the Horizons Unlimited community is in the midst of planning a South American trip and was eager to do a shake down trip on his bike, would join me through Namibia and perhaps up to Livingston in Zambia. But our plans for a Thursday early afternoon departure died when Shane indicated that two cells on my battery had collapsed and the exhaust was presenting difficulties. The good news is that Grant and Julie showed up at Tom’s Guest House Thursday afternoon giving me an opportunity to join them for dinner and usher them to the local Apple store — after more than two years traveling around North and South America, they are considering adding a computer to the things they carry. Plus, it’s quite possible they will head to Namibia next week. Chances are we may be in Windhoek around the same time.
A couple years ago when I was in the midst of planning this trip, I contacted Frank Butler, a Scottish motorcyclists who was living in Papau New Guinea. At the time he had been traveling by motorcycle throughout Asia and was making plans for trips through Africa and the Americas. Over the past few months I tracked him down as he was traveling south through Africa – visiting many of the countries I hope to visit. Timing worked out and Frank happened to be in South Africa, so Robin and I arranged to meet him for lunch in Tulbagh, an hour or two outside Cape Town before heading north toward Namibia.
Rolling in on a F650GS Dakar, Frank sat down, ordered a beer and the travel stories started flowing. Not overly impressed with northwestern Africa, he advised me against traveling there with the comment that even if someone paid him to do it again he wouldn’t want to. He found northeastern Africa, which he visited on a previous trip, to be far more interesting. Robin, who for the past five years or so has retired after selling a successful security business he started in South Africa in the 90’s, has completed two overland trips between London and Cape Town over the last ten years in a Range Rover 4×4. Both journeys he did going through the northeast so he had similarly good things to say about this part of Africa.
Bidding Frank goodbye Robin and I headed north. Our plan was to settle for the evening in Clanwilliam, a few hours north then make for Springbok and the Namibian border the next afternoon. With time to kill we surveyed the map and thought of taking a dirt farm road over a mountain pass. According to the map is was just under 100km. While we firgured we could make it in an hour and a half of two hours, the reality was much different. Three things upset our timing and rhythm. First, the first 20km were heavily wash-boarded/corrugated of the bone rattling, bike vibrating and teeth chattering kind. Second, the first patch of deep sand through Robin for a loop. Riding ahead of me he almost lost it, but with my heavy load and caught by surprise, I plunged about 20 meters into it until the front tire just gave out and I went down with a laugh into the sand. It’d been since mid-November last year that I laid the bike down at the end of the bridge near Santa Cruz Bolivia. And the last time the bike needed to be picked off the ground was in El Chaltén in Argentina Patagonia after fierce winds blew it over while I was hiking up Fitz Roy.
Robin had made it through that patch of sand and then 200 meters up the road he found more. Standing by the side of the road he might of seen me go down. But refusing to ride back through the sand he walked the short distance to help me put Doc up on two wheels again. After one dump and a couple nearly falls we were prepared for the next five or six patches of sand and paddled through without problem. But it was the rain and lightning that really threw us. We thought we’d be back on the main highway and miss the wrath of the looming thunderheads that had surrounded us, but we were wrong. The rain was especially problematic for my riding partner. Everything Robin carried save the Crocs strapped to the outside, was stuffed into a large backpack and tied down to the seat. While this made for a nice backrest for the long boring tarred straightaways, the bag wasn’t water proof. Finding shelter for 45 minutes under a farmers barn, Robin chatted in Afrikaans with the farmer while I patiently waited, snapped photos and tried to think through the problems I am still having with Doc – still taking that performance hit, especially when the bike is hot in the desert, and the electrical on the GPS and lights went out again. Could this be a more serious electrical problem?
Sadly I couldn’t keep heavily loaded Doc upright through this nasty deep sand, but even with the crash and the relentless wash-boarding earlier, the bottle of Shiraz I’d been carrying for dinner that night survived perfectly – though a little hot and bottle shocked form the ride. Note the storm brewing on the horizon.
After three passes of showers we made a break for it and tackled the remaining 15km to the main road without problem. After a night in Clanwilliam, lunch the following day in Springbok, we battled fierce winds that could give Patagonia a challenge. Riding behind Robin I watched him several times get blown into the opposite lane. Perhaps with my heavier load and too much experience riding this type of wind I managed to tuck down and blast through it. By late afternoon we crossed into Namibia and found shelter at the Chinqua River Camp. Eager to have my Carnet stamped out of South Africa I learned that Namibia along with South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana are all part of a commonly managed group of transit countries. Upon existing Botswana I would have my carnet stamped.
Welcome to Namibia! I know I’ve got Doc loaded, but I’ve seen some other riders with more and some of the 4×4 overlanders passing me could give the RV’s I saw in Alaska a serious challenge in the weight contest!
Situated on the bank of the Oranje River, Abiqua River Camp provides nice campsites with shade and grass. We were able to join in and sample the food prepared for a group of travelers gearing to take a 4 day river trip. Because of the fierce winds, which are uncommon here this time of year, Robin and I contemplated our own day trip down the river the following morning. He’d been on the river before and was backing out of joining me. If the winds were as strong as they were while we pitched our tents, I’d back out, too. But by next morning things looked better and I took the day trip. Riding down the 16km through 4 or 5 extremely tame rapids, the vistas of rising red rock cliffs, swampy reed fined shores and a plethora of wild bird activity. At one point an eagle soared above us and slowly floated effortlessly while it scoped the area for prey. The last 45 minutes of the 3-hour paddle down the river the winds picked up. It was a chore and somewhat a struggle to get back to camp.
While I paddled, Robin rode. Returning to camp exhausted he rode nearly 200km, but the dirt roads required so much concentration he didn’t venture as far as he had hoped before departing. But his short ride did provide us with some reconnaissance in terms of road conditions for the next days ride to Aus, on the edge of the Namib desert.