Enduro Africa: Part 3

Aug 02, 2013 View Comments by

Enduro Africa: Part 3Day 6, Wednesday: Rest Day and Touch Africa Project

This was a most interesting day in that we got to interact with the community through the local school. We rode or drove to the school about 20 kilometers away. It was located on a small plateau overlooking the surrounding countryside and serviced all the various ages up to what seemed to be early teens. It was difficult to know how old the children were because they were in school uniforms and seemed to mature very early. It was interesting to note that as the kids got older there were fewer males in the mix.

The school was located close by a village on top of some hills. The soccer field was a cow pasture with drooping goals at each end. However the soccer team was very well turned out in team uniforms that looked very professional. The school had no power other than a generator that worked occasionally. The floors were dirt and for the younger children there were no desks. Washrooms were outhouses without running water. It was as if someone had ordered a school built, ran out of money when the walls and roof were up, and then simply abandoned the project. Apparently all the rural schools are similar. One good thing was there appeared to be lunch for every student.

Our mandate was to fix some vandalism, build a playground gym, fit some doors to the open classrooms, and carpet some floors. We also painted and restored desks that were going to another school in the same area. I ended up on desk restoration, which I managed to organize into an assembly line. We must have painted and fixed 50 or so desks in about four hours.

At the end of the work period we convened in the central courtyard where the headmaster of the school and Mike Glover of Red Cherry Adventures exchanged speeches. Before the speeches began the school choir gave a concert that was outstanding. The culture of the black South Africans revolves around dance and musical harmony. It was very moving.

But then Mike Glover read the riot act to the gathered students, parents and staff of the community school. In essence he said he would be back in January and if any of the work had been defaced or stolen it would be the last time that Enduro Africa would come to that school. The headmaster responded very eloquently, thanked all of us for our efforts but carefully avoided any possible issues. The headman of the community spoke in the local language that was then translated to us. It seemed that the very long and flowery address mostly said thanks. One of our riders had brought his bagpipes from Scotland so he led the kids around the schoolyard to the tones of Scotland the Great. I can’t imagine what the kids thought about bagpipes. I’ve been around them all my life and I’m still on the fence.

Day 7, Thursday: Mazeppa Bay to Hole in the Wall

Today’s ride was 140 kilometers, which started with a highly technical 300-meter descent into the Qora Gorge. There were numerous crashes and get-offs but no injuries requiring the attention of the riding doctors. The descent was followed by crossings of the Qora, Jujura, Nbaqara, and Bashee rivers plus endless small streams and other water filled areas. When we collectively complained about boots full of water we were advised that we should have drilled holes to let the water out! Really sympathetic guys these Afrikaans.

One rider dropped his bike so deep in a stream we had to drag it out plus stand it on its back wheel to drain it. Flats, overheated clutches, and bent controls were the order of the day and then it started to rain. We reached the mid-point of the ride around noon. This was the option point to take the really technical ride (low road) that would get us to our hotel after dark or a slightly less challenging ride (high road) that would get us in around 6 pm. Fortunately, the route organizer showed up and advised our team leader that he thought it would be impassable for our group. At this point we had already lost a number of riders to injuries and exhaustion so there was a big sigh of relief when we set off down the “high road.” However one expert team did navigate the low road and made it in time for dinner.

This was the day I had my “really big get-off.” We were climbing a quite steep trail that was littered with rocks and tree roots. The actual gradient wasn’t that extreme but there were several corners to navigate. I made it about half way and got mixed up in another rider’s incident, which brought me to a halt. I made several attempts to get going again but finally had to turn the bike over to the current South Africa Enduro champion who easily rode it about 20 meters and then said “Do you want to try it from here?” Naturally I said “Sure.” What an idiot! I made it about another five meters; the bike flipped on top of me, smacked my head into the ground, and proceeded to ride me back down the hill. Fortunately a fellow team member threw himself (or fell down as he put it) in front of me to stop my progress. That incident really hurt but other than a sore neck and bruises I was okay.

“Hole-in-the-Wall” is a rock formation in the sea that has a hole worn in it. The resort we stayed at has the same name but for a different reason. Actually, it wasn’t all that bad other than my room being the access to the bathroom. I had a steady parade of riders walking past my bed needing the facilities all night long.

Day 8, Friday: Hole in the Wall to Port St. Johns

Day eight was a fairly easy ride of 140 kilometers with a lunch stop at Cremorne on the banks of the mighty Umzimvubu River. Unlike a lot of the small towns we rode through, the white residents of Cremorne have mostly stayed. It has a “hippie” flavor to it since most of the businesses are run by whites who look like they attended Woodstock, or at least were around at that time.

Like everywhere in South Africa there were hundreds of dogs that all look like they came from the same genetic pool. Apparently they’re now recognised by some kennel club as a distinct breed. They’re quite social and friendly although they like chasing motorcycles. They will approach for a pet or a handout. I was eating a jellybean-like Gatorade energy snack while waiting for the group to get going again. This local dog came sniffing around so I gave him one of my jellybeans. He sniffed it, very politely took it from my fingers, walked a few meters away, and spit it out on the grass. I guess he either wasn’t that hungry or thought I was trying to poison him. I viewed those jellybeans somewhat differently after that.

Day 9, Saturday: Port St. Johns to Mbotyi

This days’ ride was to be short but highly technical. Only four riders had ever done the route. Our organiser, Mike Glover, with his sidekick route master had ridden it, and to our disgust; Glover’s thirteen-year-old son and a buddy had too! But it had rained all night so the route master had an escape route at the midway point.

It was hell. At one point I made a pact with myself that there was no way I was going to drop the bike again because I simply wouldn’t be able to pick it up. That day I cleared a hill (no stops or drops) that no one other than the team leaders made it up. I was stoked! I think the only reason I made it was because I avoided the trail and rode up through the bush alongside it. It wasn’t pretty, but I made it.

After this hill we rode through some forest tracks where the trees literally grew completely overhead. It was like riding in a tunnel of branches and leaves. At one point the air was full of flying termite queens that were migrating to new territories. It was surreal, like a scene from Star Wars. In some points we had to lift tree limbs to let our fellow riders get through and I got at least one nasty crack on the top of my helmet from not ducking far enough.

At the pre-arranged escape point it was decided to call off the second half of the ride as once down in that area there was no getting out. The only choice would have been to leave the bikes, try to walk out, and even that would have been some trick. A group made up of team leaders and a few expert level riders did make it through but not without some hair-raising crashes including one team leader going off a cliff. Really fun stuff!

The ride to Mbotyi was in itself quite a challenge as there were sections off road in red clay which is so slippery when wet it’s almost impossible to stay upright. It was like riding a motorcycle on ice. There was absolutely nothing you could do except hold the throttle gently open in a high gear and use the tiniest of steering movement to glide back and forth over the road surface. The worst thing was that the oncoming cars, trucks, and mini-buses didn’t have any control either. If you fell in front of one your only hope would have been to scramble on your hands and knees into the slight ditch and hope they didn’t follow you down. One of our team dropped his bike and he must have slid for 60 meters beside his bike. There was a truck coming the other way but fellow team members managed to stop and get him and his bike off the road. I took to riding in the ditch or at least on the grass verge which wasn’t quite as slippery.

The reward was arriving at the spectacular Mbotyi River Lodge with its manicured lawns, great rooms with real hot water, lighted palm trees, super bar and lounge, terrific food and employees. Of all the so-called resorts we stayed at this would be the only one I would go back to. There is a great true story that about 20 years ago there was some serious tribal trouble, which looked as if it was going to result in a local war. Army helicopters evacuated the staff and guests and the Lodge was abandoned with tables laid, beds made, and wine and beer in the cooler. The staff returned after several years to find the resort absolutely untouched. There was nothing vandalized, stolen, broken, or in any way changed. The tables were exactly like the day they were set.

For this to have happened in South Africa is amazing because everywhere you go there are guards, razor wire, and even electric fences. I would not have believed this event had it not been confirmed by one of the Afrikaan teams leaders and the manager of the resort.

Text and photography by Mike Atkin

Stay tuned for the final installment of Enduro Africa.

If you missed the previous two parts, you can catch up here:

Enduro Africa: Part 1

Enduro Africa: Part 2

 

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