Enduro Africa: Part 2

Jul 26, 2013 View Comments by

Kids and dogs everywhere

Day 4, Monday: Port Alfred to Morgan’s Bay

We set off at our usual time (8 a.m.) and had the obligatory police escort to the city limits. It rained lightly, which helped with the dust problem but made it slippery enough that falling into the deep ruts was a concern. It was that day we had our first real casualty. This chap apparently got caught by a rut and had a massive crash resulting in a broken leg and unbelievable bruises on his stomach and groin area. The medics that rode along with us were less concerned about the broken leg than the trauma to his body. It was a shame his ride ended so soon.

The ride today was the longest of the trip at over 186 miles and we saw several small towns filled with people. The towns all looked like they had seen better days. You could see that most of the structures had been built during the European era but were now unused or poorly maintained. Every window and door had a steel gate. There was trash everywhere and the drives were rutted and potholed. The only buildings that were kept up in any shape or form were the multi-national gas stations. I guess with so little competition it doesn’t matter what your business looks like. One quite humorous thing I noticed was that every big gas station had a man or woman with a badge that prominently stated “Team Leader.” They usually had very good English skills and were clearly very proud of their position. We don’t see very many “Team Leaders” at gas stations in Canada.

Apparently there is a system in South Africa where the majority of citizens have a  debit card of sorts that is topped off by the government at certain times of the month. That day there were women lined up thirty deep at the ATMs withdrawing the funds in cash. For many of their families, these cards mean the difference between poverty and abject poverty.

Andrew from Washington D.C. had a harrowing experience. He was riding beside me, not really paying attention, when he suddenly saw a puff adder on the road in front of him. These snakes account for more fatalities than any other in Africa—and they’re everywhere. He managed to get his front wheel over the snake but his rear wheel kicked it up in the air just as the rest of us arrived. Fortunately, we all found a way around it but the team sweep said it was still looking for someone to bite when he went by.

Shortly after the snake incident we stopped in a town for fuel and then headed up a paved highway to the next off-road section. As soon as we hit the highway I knew I had a problem as the bike started to slew around on the back wheel. After pulling over, the sweep and I began removing the wheel. Unfortunately we didn’t have the right tube so we had to wait until another team came along to fix the flat. Once the flat was fixed I set off with the sweep behind me, but had no idea where we were going. A short while later  my bike quit because we had inadvertently turned off the fuel during the tire fix. That’s when I noticed the sweep was nowhere to be seen. I turned the fuel back on and thought that perhaps he’d gone by me and was waiting up ahead, so I rode further down the highway only to realize I was completely on my own. It was slightly unnerving because I had no maps, GPS, or any idea where I was supposed to be going. Finally I decided I’d head back to where the original incident was and hope they came looking for me there. Before I got back I came across the sweep, who now had a flat of his own. We fixed the flat, but shortly thereafter, he had a mechanical problem, which required a technician to fix before he could continue. I couldn’t help but notice that Enduro Africa was very concerned about one of their guys being left alone beside the highway. They made sure they got the tech truck there real fast. As I mentioned earlier, the sweep was a tough Afrikaan with a military background, but they didn’t want him alone. It made my little experience of getting separated from the group all the more interesting.

We finally arrived at Morgan’s Bay, the last team in and covered in mud. After power washing the bikes and having showers we made it to dinner and the pre-ride briefing for the next day.

Day 5, Tuesday: Morgan’s Bay to Mazeppa Bay

This day’s route was only 50 miles, but this was where the Wild Coast actually began and the true off-road adventure commenced. We began by crossing the Kei River on a motorized ferry that deposited us in the heart of rural Transkei. Transkei is the homeland of the Xhosa people who are very friendly and laid back subsistence farmers. The houses were the same circular design we’d seen earlier but had vegetable gardens and some livestock close by. Chickens, pigs, goats, cows, donkeys, and even a few horses were usually penned up close to the homes. Occasionally we would come across livestock on the trails. The cows, goats, and donkeys were okay but the horses were unpredictable.

The riding was very technical with numerous stream crossings, crazy climbs, and some deep sandy trails (my worst nightmare). We visited a beach with a fairly recent shipwreck and saw vistas of the Wild Coast that no one, unless on a motorcycle or horseback, would ever see. The beaches were snow white and stretched to the horizon. Rock formations disappeared into the surf hundreds of meters offshore. The vegetation included native palms and flowering cacti. The cliffs were hundreds of meters high.

One vista was awe-inspiring but also tragic; a rider on a Red Cherry adventure had enthusiastically wheelied up the slope, not knowing it ended at an 80-degree cliff drop-off. It had happened the week before and he was in the hospital but was effectively brain dead. This is not an area to get carried away in. Team Orange (mine) had one severe case of dehydration that required medical care, and a spectacular endo that tossed a rider over the bars and onto the ground. A rider on another team missed a corner and got into some barbed wire that penetrated his visor and gave him some deep facial cuts. The riding doctors sewed him up in the ditch and he continued on the ride. I made it through the day with no incidents but I’m sure it was more luck than skill.

We made an unscheduled stop at a remote community store that was stocked with canned goods and bottled sodas. It had been a long time since I’d seen Fresca in a two-liter glass bottle. The owner must have thought all her Christmas’ had come together as 15 hungry, hot riders bought up her store. Naturally our arrival brought out all the locals, mostly children, except for one elder who appeared to be giving me grief over something that had happened in the past. He was quite democratic in that when he’d chastised me enough he moved on to some other guys. The kids didn’t bother us much but as soon as our “picnic” was over there was a wild scramble for the empty cans and bottles. I noticed it was the young boys in the scrum for the bottles but they would immediately take them to their older brothers who then disappeared. Mostly the kids wanted their photos taken so they could see what they looked like on the camera displays. The entertainment value of digital cameras is amazing in Africa.

We arrived at Mazeppa Bay around six, shortly before sundown. This was a good resort that would be acceptable to most North Americans. It had a nice pool, cool bar with a patio, good food, and accommodating staff. It also had a moth-eating terrier that was great entertainment. I walked into the bar with Timothy to see this little dog sitting under the wall-mounted TV barking upwards and making trial jumps. Timothy noticed a huge moth that had attached itself to the TV casing. I realized the terrier was after this prize so I lifted him up to the TV not really thinking about what would happen. He snapped the moth up and as soon as I put him down he disappeared under a bench with his prize before the other resident bar dog could steal a share. Apparently his rat killing instincts had mutated to moths; much safer I would think.

Because the next day was technically a rest day most of the riders took the opportunity to party into the wee hours. Apparently a ruckus between one rider and a team leader resulted in the rider being tossed across the bar onto the floor; scratch one rider with a suspected broken shoulder. He was the buddy of the guy who broke his leg the first day. It seemed they weren’t destined to finish the ride.

Text and Photography by Mike Atkin

Missed Part 1? Read it here!
Enduro Africa: Part 1

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