Afrikaanz Adventure

The wild animal count had been low, I suppose, due to the exhaust note coming from the rear of my KTM.

But out of nowhere a startled Kudu suddenly leapt directly over the front of my bike at head height. I was doing 40mph at the time. I can still see his rear hooves just half a metre from my head as I skidded to a halt, blinked a couple of times and burst out laughing. A Kudu is the size of a horse and has massive, razorsharp horns, but I didn’t see it as a near miss. Just one of those unreal, never-to-be-forgotten moments that happen every single day in South Africa.  I’d arrived in Port Elizabeth the previous day and been met by Mike Glover at Red Cherry Adventures.  Mike had kindly stepped in at the last minute when my original destination, Nairobi, had become a war zone . I went over to his ranch to discuss where I was headed and how to work the KTM’s GPS system. If you’re going anywhere by yourself on a bike in Africa, you need a GPS. Or a bloody big map!

SA 5
A Kudu. Yesterday.

So now I’ve made it to Baviaanskloof. This garganutan nature reserve is a guarantor of solitude. For the next four hours, I come across one 4×4 and, strangely, a guy on a bicycle who stops to chat. As we both sit atthe side of the road and soak up the expanse of endless valleys that lay infront of us, he opens the conversation.
“Afternoon. Fancy meeting you here,” he says, greeting me like an old friend.
“Beautiful view, eh?”
“Stunning,” I agree.
“How much further to the other side?”
“About 120k, I think.”
“Well, I’d best be off then.”

SA 4
Erm excuse me, but we don’t have fords in London. How do I?…

And with that he picked up his relic of a bike and headed off into the distance, but not before warning me of the river crossing that lay ahead. I’d crossed the river a few times already and it had been shallow.  But now it was waist-deep and I was terrified of dropping the bike and destroying my equipment. The engine would drown and I’d be stranded in a game reserve with Lord knows what for company. I needn’t have worried. The KTM chugged through the clear water to the other side. It was turning out to be the best day’s riding I’d ever had and I was only half way to the first night’s stop-over.
I stayed that night in Willowmore, an oasis of green in a lunar landscape that confirmed Africa’s reputation for big skies. You could see for what seemed like hundreds of miles as the boundless plains gave way to a billion stars in the sky. One of the beauties of travelling in South Africa is B&Bs. You get so much for your money, and the welcome and hospitality is without equal. I was the subject of much humour that night because of my ‘rooinek’ (English soldiers were called rednecks in the Boer War because, like me, it was the only part of their bodies exposed to the sun) and was made to feel very much at home.

SA 3
Not a traffic jam in sight

The next morning I headed off in the most perfect conditions to Uniondale and the Prince Albert pass. Recent appalling weather had taken its toll on the pass and I was met with a scene that looked like the main road into Basra. A torn and twisted road littered with detritus and mud stretched out ahead of me. Yikes. It snaked its way through the hills as I passed yetmore ‘road closed’ signs and once again I found myself alone on mud tracks and fire road. But I’m grinning as the rear of the bike slides around on the loose surface beneath me and the final 30k into the town of Knysna varies from red clay to sand and finally to tarmac. Hard riding, but good riding.  The smell of the Indian Ocean hit me as I rode in through Knysna’s shanty towns. Somehow in the face of such a harsh life, these projects are colourful and intriguing but at the same time a little intimidating to a lone rider who doesn’t know the country nor its people that well. 300 kilometres later I’m in Jeffrey’s Bay, known locally as J-Bay. Having once worked on a surf magazine, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to drop in to one of the southern hemisphere’s worldclass breaks. It was the wrong time of year to see its legendary ‘supertubes’ firing on all cylinders but I pitched here for the night before my rendezvous at the Schotia game reserve the following day.  Accommodation found me that evening. As I was standing at the side of the road wondering where to stay, a Belgian guy called Soi came running out of his garage to chat all things off-road and seeing as he ran a B&B, it was obvious where to crash that night.

Jeffrey’s Bay

I was in no hurry the following morning and strolled down the beach for a quick swim (the nearest I got to surf time). Then it was time for the game reserve, the journey broken up by a series of road works and many people who’d seen me earlier on my travels.  Suddenly, I’m like a faux celebrity being bombarded with questions. Where am I from? Where have I been? Where am I going? My tracker and guide for the day at the game reserve was Bertha, a lovely girl whose boundless enthusiasm made even the smallest bird seem fascinating. I was desperate to see the lions maim and kill someone or something, but the German in our party refused to leave the safety of our Land Rover, dammit. We had to settle instead for a night safari in search of Africa’s biggest killer of humans –the hippo. Hippos have terrible eyesight, are not very smart, are aggressive and can run in sprints up to 40mph, so on a bike in the middle of nowhere they’re best given a wide berth. I’m left with the clear message that all the amazing animals of Africa are pretty dangerous if taken for granted. It’s a sobering realisation when you’re riding by yourself.

SA 7
Grrrr says he, unfazed are they.

The next day I’m joined for the ride out of Port Alfred by local legend Mervyn Woods. Merv has raced in some of the toughest races in the world including the Baja and Roof of Africa and it was great to have someone to ride with who has such knowledge of the region. We parted company at the gates of Kwandwe game reserve and he took off telling me I must come back and stay sometime – an offer I intend to take up. The route he supplied was more challenging than anything I’d done so far and I found myself in tough mountain passes, the KTM doing an amazing job of finding grip as we rode on the loose surface. Stopping for fuel in Fort Beaufort I was engulfed by kids asking for money. They had no fear and just hopped on to the bike as I sat there being refuelled. The garage was heaving with people, most with luggage, all busy going some place or coming back from somewhere else.

Mile upon mile of breathtaking views

As day turned to dusk, I aborted my plans to stay in the town of Hogsback and continued on to Katberg because I was just enjoying the ride too much. With an amazing dirt track unravelling before me, I strapped my video camera to my helmet and chucked some rock’n’roll on the iPod. Reality interrupted within 10 minutes as I carried too much speed into a rutted section and panicked, my vision fixed on the only immovable object in my path: a boulder. By the time I’d skidded and hit the boulder, we toppled unceremoniously into a bush. And I’d been doing such a good job of keeping it upright!  The KTM had been the perfect tool for the routes I’d taken. So much of the 1,300 km had been on cross country trails and mountain passes and with it’s gargantuan 25litre fuel tank you could roam for 270-300km before refuelling, a huge source of comfort when you’re really in the middle of nowhere.  And it’s the different nowheres that make the Eastern Cape of South Africa so unique and remarkable. You could ride for hours with no human contact and then suddenly be greeted like a returning hero when riding through a small community.

SA 6
Abondoned Safari park to yourself? Oh go on then.

I would have loved to have shared this trip with a buddy, the animal sightings, the incredible views and the genuine warmth of the people I stayed with and spoke to has left me with a huge desire to return to this country. Sometimes this job allows huge privileges and this has certainly been one of them.
Seeing the African continent on the back of a bike is an extraordinary adventure for anyone.

How I did it:
Red Cherry Adventures has a fleet of
KTM 450 EXC off-road bikes and will be
running packaged tours in various different
riding areas within SA this year. They also
have 640 Adventures like I rode for self-hire
rideaways and can cater to any request.

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