2500 kilometres, 10days, 5blokes, 5bikes, 1 ginormous continent...and a broken foot
Christ my body hurts. My left foot is broken in two places, swollen horribly and coloured black and green from bruising. My left thumb has been wrenched so far back that it's barely mobile, and I have a bloody wound on my throat the size of a walnut. I've lost seven kilos in weight and this morning woke up with a livid red rash all over my body, courtesy of the tick bite fever virus coursing through my veins. The spider bite on my right knee has turned septic and throbs with pus and pain. Africa is a bloody tough country, and I fear that I may not be tough enough in return.
I'm in South Africa, and I'm loving it. It's a wild, raw country in a continent rooted in the very essence of mankind and somewhere I've wanted to explore since my dad flew a rickety old Tiger Moth from Croydon to Capetown in 1958. In the UK, where we live safely protected from ourselves and nobody takes responsibility for anything anymore, a motorcycle offers a rare form of escape. Ride and rejoice! You might hurt yourself, and you'll almost certainly break the law. But in Africa, where even the plants want to kill you, riding a bike is as natural as breathing.
The reason for my being here is to recce a route that in November 2006 will be known as Enduro Africa. My host, a barrel-chested lunatic called Mike Glover who laughs like a buffalo and doesn't so much drink beer as throw it at his face, organises motorcycle trips into the heart of South Africa and knows even the remotest places like the back of his big, hairy hand. It's his passion for Africa that means next year's rally is taking place at all.
The route is an almighty loop taking in most of South Africa's Eastern Cape. From Port Elizabeth in the south-east, you'll head north-west through brutal mountain passes towards the Drakensberg range, climbing to nearly 10,000 feet before passing through game reserves as you cross Lesotho. From there you'll traverse the rugged Transkai region before swinging east towards the Wild Coast where game animals roam the plains and sharks and humpback whales cruise off the beach. From here, you'll turn south and run down the coast back to Port Elizabeth.
The British away team on this recce is Enduro Africa's UK manager Simon Smith, team leader Jules Brooks and myself, while the South African home squad consists of Dave Ogden, Mervyn Woods and Mike. Dave and Mervyn, weathered old men with decades of hard off-road riding under their belts, observe us pipsqueak Englishmen with the contempt we deserve. We're using brand new Honda CRF230s for the ride, a mild, air-cooled 18bhp fun-bike. They are entirely non-road legal, with nothing more than a feeble headlight and no rear light or indicators. But, like most things in Africa, these are mere bagatelles which can be easily overlooked.
As we smile for a group picture in Mike's back garden, Jules' CRF topples onto mine, scoring a deep scratch in the fender. Had I known what fate had in store for me I'd have stayed where I was.
We ride for precisely 10.2 of our 2500km before a very funny thing happens. Mike, Mervyn and myself are waiting at a crossroads for the others to catch up so I decide to pop some wheelies on my four-hour old CRF230. And right there, in front of my South African hosts, I flip it. I flip it so perfectly that the rear mudguard is folded round the seat, the exhaust is bent skyward and my fender bag is spewed over the road. At which point the CRF topples onto my boot, smashing two toes. I pick the bike up and perform a wailing, John Cleese-esque dance of self-loathing. The last time I felt this much of a cock was when I broadsided a car sideways into another car, clipping Niall Mackenzie and sending him flying six feet through the air. It was bad.
The fact that this was the first bike I had EVER flipped meant nothing. With a quiet "you're a bit of a cock" from Dave, we kick the exhaust straight and go. Something was seriously amiss with my foot as I could only change up with my heel, but pride kept me silent.
We continue through the forest tracks that saturate Africa's south-eastern tip, my foot starting to throb like a double-bass. The ride heads steadily north fording rivers and picking our way through orange and lemon groves. I mutter along at the back, still seething. But gradually the mood improves as we step up the pace. It's around this time that - incredibly - I have my second big crash of the day.
I'm following Jules and Mervyn, fourth gear, about 50mph. It's dry and dusty, so I hang back but there's still a metre of miasma above the ground. The track is smooth, apart from a single rut, one foot deep, one foot across and 30 feet long. And, as surely as a homing missile, my front wheel slices into it. Wham! We're catapulted into the air, the bike flipping over and landing upside-down while I smack down on my head with a helmet-crushing crunch. The pain from my already-broken foot jams into maximum gear, and dark, arterial blood seeps from my exposed right forearm. Simon, apparently unused to seeing bike crashes close-up, assumes I'm dying as I go into shock, but Mike immediately swings into action and unclips the medicine pouch on his bum-bag. "Two of these for the pain, two of these for the shock." Mike keeps the pharmaceutical black-market of Port Elizabeth in a steady trade, and gradually my shakes subside.
In the space of six hours and less than 10% of the journey distance, I have been reduced to a lump of blooded flesh by my own stupidity and a beginner's trail bike. My reputation is in ruins - nothing I can say now will redeem myself in the eyes of the Africans, who slowly turn their bikes and continue into the sunset. Mike stays to escort me back down into town, where I'm picked up in a truck. Where the others stay their first night in the game-park splendor of Bushman Sands, recounting the day's hilarious events to the sound of hunting lions the background, I jack myself up on 2000mg of Ibuprofen and hop painfully into bed. You could say I've had better nights.
Lying in hospital, the doctor is shaking his head at my X-rays. "You can't walk on it for at least two weeks, and it'll be six before it's fixed." I explain I have to re-join my team that afternoon, and I'll be riding 2400km over the next nine days. "In that case, you'll need some very strong shit, my friend. Take this and good luck." That's what I love about the African spirit - they understand when business is business. With the damaged foot levered into an oversize motocross boot (white pain going in, clenched teeth coming out), Class A pain-killing narcotics swirling around my body and a brand new exhaust on the straightened CRF230, it was time to rendezvous with the others. Mike meets me at Bushman Sands as the others have gone ahead. Feeling for all the world like a schoolboy just out of detention, we set off.
Continue Enduro Africa 2/3
Become a fan of Visordown
Follow us on twitter
Other Immediate Media Sites
Our eCommerce Platform
© Immediate Media Company Ltd 2012. This website is owned and published by Immediate Media Company Limited. www.immediatemedia.co.uk