Dustybutt Trip Report - 1000 Miles Off Road in a Day in South Africa
By David A. Braun (aka Flash) with Elroy Haasbroek
Copyright 2004 - All Rights Reserved

The Dusty Butt 1000 was held on October 2, 2004. The event was to cover one thousand miles off road in twenty-four hours on motorcycles. Actual distance was longer due to some paved connecting roads. The event was headquartered and the finish was at the Nkolo Spa in Christiana, South Africa. The route covered a large oval to the southwest, down to Sutherland, South Africa and back. Elroy Haasbroek offered to lend me his wife's F650 Funduro for a few weeks to ride Southern Africa. We ended up riding and successfully completing the Dusty Butt 1000 together. This is our story. It includes a few links to some photographs.

After some “last minute Murphys” we FINALLY got on the road from Johannesburg to Christiana, about two hours behind our targeted departure time. For some reason, the highway to the southwest was particularly crowded for the early afternoon on a weekday. Elroy was splitting lanes like a demon. Of course, I was right on his tail. We split and ripped through the traffic and the heat as fast as possible.  

At one point Elroy was trailing a pod of about eight cars running at the speed limit on a two lane highway when the line dotted.  I didn’t understand why he didn’t pull out to pass. So I signaled and cranked it up to pick off the entire string of traffic.  Elroy pulled out behind me.  After we were free, I waved him past once again. Later, he told me that there was a traffic cop in the bunch and when I flew by, the cop flipped on his signal but when he checked his mirror and saw Elroy coming fast… he just gave up.

Eventually, we stopped for fuel.  Elroy needed a wallet recharge and while I waited, I doused my shirt with water in an effort to cool off.  When he returned from the ATM, I asked him if he rode like this with his wife, Mandy (whose bike I had flown from the USA to borrow). He smiled and said, “Not usually.”

A few klicks down the now two-lane highway we passed a stand with hand-lettered signs advertising biltong and other farm products.  Elroy signaled a u-turn and we bought out the man’s stock of biltong to sustain us during the ride through the Karroo tomorrow.  (Biltong is sort of like jerky, only MUCH better.)

Some distance short of Christiana, the bike went onto reserve so quickly that the motor quit before I could crank the petcock over to the reserve position. Elroy was still running fine and u-turned to see what was up.  He said that Josh (the name Mandy had given her bike) had never gotten the fuel economy that his bike gets, even though they’re both BMW F650 Funduros.  When the fuel filled the carbs, the bike fired again and we took off. I was leading, without knowing exactly where we were going. I overshot the turnoff to Nkolo Spa, the hotel where the event was headquartered. And before I could turn around… I was completely out of fuel.  Once again, Elroy stopped and we had a short conversation.  He rode the two kilometers into town where he filled up his bike and the gas can he had bungeed to the rear of the seat. It wasn’t long before he returned. While I waited in the hot African afternoon sun, I was reminded how important it would be to have sufficient water all during the day tomorrow, not just to remain hydrated for the ride, but for the wait, in the (hopefully unlikely) event that something went wrong.

Shortly after Elroy’s return we were back at the petrol station, filling up the balance of Josh’s tank and our two gas cans.  From there, we back-tracked another couple of kilometers to the Nkolo Spa entrance.  What a nice place!  The grounds were beautiful and manicured. There was a security force patrolling the grounds twenty-four hours.  The bungalows had a full kitchen, dining area, common area, bathroom and two separate bedrooms, each with a pair of twin beds. The double-occupancy price was quite reasonable. We were checked in and squared away well before the riders’ meeting, which we were told was now delayed until six.

It turned out that Jeroen, the organizer, delayed the riders’ meeting until almost seven because a few late arrivals had gotten in touch with him via cell phone. The meeting was longer than it should have been. We went over what it said in the course notes.  There were a few items of interest… the way that the start would work (groups of three to six, starting five minutes apart), the fact that we would receive cards with questions on the back, which we HAD to keep all day and on which we were to collect stickers at various stops. The purpose of the cards was to ensure that folks didn’t skip dirt in favor of parallel paved sections of national highway. We were also apprised of the fact that there would be television coverage of the start.

By about 8:30 p.m. we took the fast acting, short lasting sleeping tablets that Mandy had given us. We figured that it would take us an hour to wake up, pack and do the final prep on the bikes before the 3 a.m. group departure from the hotel. We would then ride 40 km down to Warrenton and refuel in time for the four a.m. start.

Here is Elroy’s write-up of our ride. His memory of the order and location of the events is so much better than mine that I simply entered a few notes, not italicized.

At 02h00, we were up, got dressed and did the last bike prep in a “race face” silence. Just before 03h00, we moved to the assembly area, from where we set off in an un-coordinated group.

The run from the hotel to the start point in Warrenton was a matter of tooling down 44km of straight tar road, feeling out the bike, checking that the lights are good, and playfully testing the F against the KTM 640’s. One or two GS1150’s blasted past, leaving us far behind. Nobody communicated, each rider wrapped in thoughts of the day ahead.

At the petrol station in Warrenton, Flash did the honors after a short discussion on tyre pressures, letting the pressures down to 1.5kPA
(20 psi front, 24 psi rear) or thereabouts. We refueled and checked the bikes over. Flash and I each had 10 litres of spare fuel, strapped to the seat. Some locals, the survivors of some shindig at a barn or pub, came over to see what all the noise was about. One idiot got his van into the middle of the waiting group, raising a lot of irritated voices.

Three groups had been designated – the Triumph Tiger, a KTM 640, a 950 Adventure and at least one
Africa Twin joining the GS1150’s in Group A. We were in Group C, with one of the Dakars and two more KTM 640’s. Each group would set off five minutes after the last.

(I think there were four or five groups.  Certainly we where group C.)

Two characters on shiny superbikes (must have heard the commotion) arrived, wanting to join the ride. The organizer explained where we were going to ride. Their jaws dropped to the floor, and they went to wherever it is that superbikes go. With the TV crew messing about, and the locals milling around the bikes, our group eventually set off at 04h20 or 04h25.

The morons on the sport bikes decided that it would be a great idea to run their motors to the rev limiters at the start of each group, "for the television."

Elroy suggested that I lead the first section.  I declined.  My GPS showed a large error between where we actually were and where it thought the start was supposed to be.  I did NOT want to be leading with a huge error in my understanding of our position in relation to course points.  When the flag dropped, we took off.  After a whopping ten meters of tarmac, we were in the dirt.

Once we hit dirt, the KTM’s immediately took the lead, and we dropped in behind them. At first, I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking-chairs, but the roads were smooth and manageable. We had not yet learned the best spacing, and were riding in each others’ dust - the KTM’s kicked up enough dust to make the road quite invisible.

One had to either follow very close, or drop right back, due to the dust in the still night air. Within the first 30 km, the road became a BAD washboard, and unpredictable. This ride was no fun. We were learning lessons about target fixation by the minute, and unbeknown to me, Flash had hit a stone large enough to put a dent in his front wheel. He was still with us, though.

Between my GPS inaccuracy, the washboard, breathing the dust, the fact that the fact my lights were absolutely useless in the dark and the dust and the being cold, I absolutely HATED the first section. Then at some point there was a “tank trap.” Just as I dropped into it, I saw a rock approximately the size and shape of a football right in my line.  There was barely enough time for it to register in my consciousness, let alone yank the bars or weight a peg to try to avoid it. The front wheel jumped into the air and I felt a large bang on the bottom of the bike. I thought right there that my day was over. When the front wheel kept rolling, I figured that the tire was holding air and the wheel straight enough. When the oil light did not come on, I figured that the crankcase was still whole. But right then I decided that I was having less than no fun and would quit at the first gas stop and follow the paved road back up to the Nkolo Spa where I would spend the day lounging by the pool in the springs.

There was a seventeen kilometer stretch of asphalt early on and while traversing that section I ascertained that there was a definite vibration to the front end where before there had been none. This discovery certainly did nothing to improve my outlook.

Suddenly, everything went dark and quiet, and I could hear the contents of my topbox being thrown about – was I out of the running already?!

I managed to drift to the side of the road without any of the following bikes slamming into my unlit rear, and realized the main fuse was blown. This meant the spare fuel tank had to be unstrapped to replace it. The KTM’s were gone like last month’s pay. Flash and Shaun, on the
Dakar, were gracious enough to stop and assist.

Back in the saddle, the rattling continued. But now I could see the road ahead, since there was less hanging dust. I found it was best to run in the inner track of the opposing lane, where the washboard was ever-so-slightly less severe. My GPS was starting to dance from left to right, and I could see it had shifted to the left in the mounting. I was relying completely on the GPS, as the rough road did not allow me to read the map in the dark.

Having the GPS dancing around was not good. Maybe I should … YIKES!!! I’m barreling down on an intersection, where a tar road crosses the dirt!

Fortunately, the dirt road continued after the intersection, since I did not have time to slow down before I had bounced across the tar. Thankfully, the local farmers had not woken up yet, so I did not become a hood ornament. A quick look over my shoulder confirmed that Flash and Shaun were in for the same sort of experience.

One more road hazard conspired to remove me from the planet: Cattle gates. The road is completely closed off with concrete pillars, 44 gal drums, steel gates and barbed wire, except for one gap, the width of a car. The cattle grid is across this opening.

So, at some point, the dust cleared for a second. There I was, doing 100km/h in the dark, and without warning, there were these tank traps across the road!! I was in track 3, and the grid gate accommodated tracks 1 and 2. The time it took for my brain to process the facts and resolve a route was about equal to the time it took for the available road to flash by under my wheels. I have no idea how I actually cleared through the opening. Once clear, my fear was that the following bikes might be in the same situation, but then their headlights appeared out of the dust, much to my relief.

Back to the interminable washboard, and about now my GPS started floating about with serious intent. So I ended up holding the GPS with one hand as much as possible, while maintaining control and peering ahead in the dark to determine if there were any more killer gates looming. There were a few, but I took them more or less in my stride. Reading the map was not an option – as long as I was breathing dust, I assumed someone had blazed the way.

The sky was starting to turn light blue, and we were able to start making out the ditches and trees. Dawn is my favorite time of day to ride, so the ride became bearable, even though the bouncing was as bad as ever. The bite went out of the air, and I settled down to ride.

The GPS showed a T-junction and a left turn to Schmidtsdrift. Shaun was waiting up ahead, and as I got to the intersection, he roared off. I waited a few seconds for Flash. As he blew by me, he pointed to my spare fuel tank.

It had shaken loose, and was hanging down at the swingarm on the right hand side. The cap was missing, and my bike was getting a gasoline wash. Stop, tie the capless fuel tank back to the seat, go.

The sky had turned yellow – daylight was imminent.

Once the world entered the gloaming, I began to feel much, much better. As pink tinged the horizon, I could begin to see the landscape, no longer riding headlong through a washboard tunnel of dark and unpleasantness.  When there was enough light that the sky began to turn from gray to blue, I realized, “I can DO this.  I WANT to do this.”  It was a very good thing for me that the first gas stop was well after sunrise.

For the next 42 km my attention was split between holding/correcting the fuel tank and holding the GPS, which had rattled completely out of its bracket and was floating loose on top of the tank bag. I raced into Douglas, and found Shaun and Flash at the gas station. The gas station owner placed a sticker on our entry cards to show we had been there.

While fueling, I duct-taped the GPS to the handlebars and bracket. My spare fuel tank was cracked (which we only found when we tried to fill it), so I scrounged a five-litre can, filled it with fuel, found it would not tie down solidly and abandoned it.

Flash now had all our spare fuel. Better not lose him…

From Douglas to Hopetown, the ride settled into what would become the pattern for the day: I would set off post-haste, and after a few minutes Flash would rumble past. At the first bend in the road, I would lose sight of him and, by the time I get to that bend, a dust cloud would be visible at or near the horizon – leading me to discover that Flash is not FROM HERE. He needs to be out of sight to exercise his powers, but he can teleport himself over vast distances.

I would find him at the next junction, 40 or 50 km down the road, resting from his Telekinetic exertions, having had time to ablute, repack the bike, take some photos and possibly check valve clearances. (The reason his riding partners could never discover these abilities before is that they did not have the benefit of the revealing dust-cloud, so they had always assumed he was just around the next corner.)

After the first fuel stop, things got a whole lot better. The riders were spread out over such a long distance that dust was rarely an issue.  The roads, while still gravel, had smoothed out and straightened out.  Generally, the horizon was far away and the road there gently undulating vertically, with few twists. This was an area prime for WFO “off road” riding.  Since Elroy no longer had spare fuel, we had altered our plan from one where we would skip alternate fuel stops to stopping at every one. Therefore, the fuel range of my stock tank was no longer a concern for me.  And so it was WFO at each and every opportunity.

I had noticed while following Elroy that he rode on the right hand side of the road. And in fact after trying all four of the tire tracks in the gravel, I found that the two in the right (oncoming) lane did indeed provide a more secure feeling in the handling of the bike.

Just after Hopetown, I found Shaun working a flat rear tyre on the Dakar. His compressor was running full-tilt and the pressure seemed to be holding. I offered him my tyre irons (Which he later told me were useless to him, since he had neither spare tube, nor a patch kit). His adventures from this point onward would consume an entire campfire (he finished the ride with 15 minutes to spare), but I digress.

Hopetown, Kraankuil, Kraankuil station, Houtkraal Station, de Aar, Richmond. The day was being broken into bite-sized chunks, and we had settled into the rhythm of the ride. The roads were now smoother, and I was able to enjoy the beauty of this arid landscape, since the torturous washboard was behind me. There were still surprises, like patches of deep sand and the occasional twisty bit, but it was more routine, and my heart stayed firmly in my chest.

WFO from horizon to horizon, on a sunny day out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Karroo in the middle of South Africa.  Torching tanks, burning dead dinosaurs, hour after hour.  The landscape would gradually change. We went from areas where there were brown boulders on hills on either side of the road that had actually been sunburned black on their tops.  We went through areas where there were a few farm houses to support a family with a few animals grazing in the Karroo.  I never got bored.  There was always something to see, to think about. Occasionally, the road would make a change in direction or surface texture, riveting one hundred percent of my attention to it.

If there is but one image stuck in my head from my two weeks in Africa that will stay with me forever, it is this… The gravel road ahead is straight, gently undulating up and down.  Elroy is ahead and I am closing on him.  We are going up and down the hills, sometimes in time, sometimes out of time, toward the mountains, far in the distance on the horizon. I see his dust plume, drifting off to the right over the rocky, scrubby Karroo. We are each alone together, in the heat of the day, in the joy of the ride, in the middle of nowhere, in Africa.

We had to note the names of certain landmarks on our entry cards to prove we had not skirted any dirt roads. On this stretch were two railway stations, Kraankuil and Houtkraal.

Between De Aar and Richmond there were some hilly sections, with their accompanying twisties. Once, I came over a rise to find a STEEP drop on the other side, resulting in a hair-raising downhill charge on packed dirt – fortunately the section was straight, and the Bridgestones found some grip before the turn at the bottom. Yee-Ha!

Folks at Richmond stared at the apparitions riding in from the desert. By now we were well covered in an even layer of grey dust. Breakfast consisted of fried eggs, sausages, scones and coffee – all swallowed down in clumsy haste. A quick stop at the bank for extra cash resulted in a ten-minute delay, since the banking system was off-line but the machine would not spit my card back out.

Richmond to Victoria-West was less straight and a number of deep sand patches were enough to keep us wide-awake. The entry card asked us to identify a historic landmark on the way, and we found the railway guarded by a well-preserved pillbox, or blockhouse, from the war in 1899. One day, I would have to come back here for a look-see.

By now I had settled into the rhythm of the ride, and was able to read the chart with ease. The route planners had added alerts for deep sand, twisty roads and other hazards (like GRID GATES), with distances. We could anticipate the road conditions and make better time.

We were running about an hour or so ahead of the cut-off times I had calculated and printed on the planning chart.

Victoria-West is a stunning little town that has been a landmark or camping spot during a number of rides over the years. This trip, though, there was no time for admiring the centuries-old architecture or to enjoy the Karroo-lamb pie. We disturbed the small town shopping as we roared through, looking for the turnoff to Loxton just over the hill.

Between Victoria-West and Loxton lives a community of farmers who segregate their herds and land with a number of grid gates. Each farmer seems to take responsibility for his part of the road, since some stretches are better maintained than others. Impromptu twists in the road are sometimes governed as much by title deeds and grazing camps as by topography, and surprises abound. Deep sand here, rocky stretches there, a hand-painted sign before a right-hander with a ditch, admonishing a farmer (by name) to slow down. The gate separating one farm from the next has stone pillars, sometimes painted white, and after crossing it the change in road condition is immediately apparent. This was hard riding, requiring full attention the whole time.

I came over a sharp rise, down a steep drop and found tracks heading for the ditch through the deep sand at the bottom. Hmmm, Flash was here. Well, he’s not here now, so he must have made it through.

At the next stop, Elroy asked me, “What did you think of that last section?” I told him, “I came over a rise thinking that the road would continue straight and not only did it drop and curve, but the surface got a whole lot deeper.  Luckily I was far enough to the inside at the start to be able to drift to the outside and not run out of road before I ran out of curve.” He laughed and said, “I saw your tracks.”

At an earlier fuel stop, I had told Elroy about hitting the rock. I believe it was this stop where he happened to look down and notice that yes, indeed, the front rim was bent.

As I crossed a narrow bridge, I could make out the outline of the bike on the hill, so I flashed my lights to warn Flash it’s time to get ready to ride. But these were not his wheels; it was a yellow 650GS, abandoned in the middle of nowhere, with the front tyre off the rim. The tank bag was still on the bike. I hooted, hollered and looked around, but there were only the two bikes, the chirping cicadas and I in the still desert air. Nothing more to do here, so I left. (Later, we found that the rider had split the front rim from side to side on a rock. A local farmer patched it together with a metal insert, and he finished the ride).

In Loxton, we stopped at the Farmers co-op to fuel from an ancient pump in the back yard. By now, it was sweltering. We conferred about the answer to the next question on the entry card, and found we had both counted gates instead of farm houses. Oh well, if there was a dispute, our GPS track logs would have to prove we had been there.

From Loxton to Fraserburg, we were able to maintain speeds of 130km/h with ease.

About 10km before Fraserburg, a rider on an 1150GS passed me, going the other way. He must be on his way back, thought I, and consulted my GPS. No, the way home is not on this route. Perhaps he is lost? PERHAPS *I* AM LOST?!! As I looked up from the GPS, the second rider passed me. Then a third, and then an Africa Twin – I MUST have taken a wrong turn! The first rider got a wave, the second a head cocked questioningly and the third got a hand raised palm up (“What’s going on?”). After the fourth, Fraserburg hove into sight, and I realized: they must be on a different ride.

Sigh of relief!

Fraserburg to Sutherland was 113 km of slogging onward – by now the breathtaking scenery was no longer that, but the road was good dirt, so we made good time.

Sutherland is home to one of the world’s most important weather stations and an Observatory. The sky is clear and the air crisp. I thought the landscape was somewhat lunar. We had to be aware of road works, and 44 gallon drums marked the location of deep ditches across one half of the road, leaving the other half for traffic.

In Sutherland we fueled. The attendant put a sticker on our entry cards. We stopped at the shop for water and energy drinks. I bought three high-energy drinks and stowed two in my tank bag. We were halfway. The next stretch would be tough.

Sutherland to Williston was shown as about 100km of twisty roads with deep sand patches. We were warned this would be some of the worst, but it was not unmanageable – I spent a lot of this stretch waiting for the road to worsen, looking out for hazards that never materialized. It was twisty and sandy, but we made good time.

As always, Flash would teleport ahead and then wait for me, snacking on some biltong (like jerky, only 100 times better) and soaking up the afternoon sun. I would approach his landing site and give the sign for “I’m still good”, he would show that he was fine and wave me on. Within minutes, he would roar by again, gathering speed for his next hyper-jump.

Besides biltong snacking and soaking up sunshine, I was remaining hydrated as well as running the other activity associated with hydration. Generally, I’d get far enough ahead of Elroy that I could stop to stretch my legs for a moment, eat some biltong, drink some water and take a leak before his dust plume approached. Sometimes I’d get saddled up and going before he reached me.  Sometimes I’d make a diver’s “ok” symbol (touching the top of my helmet with fingertips and my arm as a big, clear “oh”) and wave him on, only to catch and pass him just up the road.  Those multiple mini-breaks worked wonders for my legs and knees which tend to cramp up when I ride using only the rider’s footpegs.  Riding with my Arkansas highway pegs or using the buddy pegs was a Very Bad Idea on these roads.  At any given instant, the road might top a rise revealing some challenge like a gate or curve or rocky or sandy section. Complacency could turn out to be very seriously wrong on this ride.  So I elected to remain as alert and in control as possible.

Once while I was catching up to Elroy after a mini-break, I was closing on him from about a hundred yards behind as he hit a patch of deep sand at high speed. He started doing “the rowboat” with the handlebars as the rear end started moving side to side, opposite the bars, with increasing excursions.  I slowed and changed my line, thinking that I might be about to watch something Bad happen.  Suddenly, probably a whole lot more to his relief than mine, he recovered.

When you come to a fork in the road, you had better take it – especially if you are tearing along trying to keep up with the Africa Twin and the GS1150’s. The Dakar rider had hesitated, and as we cruised past, the ambulance was just leaving.

“Broken pelvis”, said the farmer who would be taking care of the wrecked Dakar and the abandoned Africa Twin. The rider’s dad had been on the Honda, and had ridden to hospital in the ambulance, so there were two more riders out of the running.

Back at Nkolo, after the ride, someone said it was just a broken clavicle. I don’t know which bone it was, but ANY broken bone out there would ruin your day, possibly much much more.

At Williston, I took a left turn. Flash continued straight, so I checked the chart. It said “no fuel for next 200km, one fuel station only!”, so I whipped about and followed Flash.

The heat was taking its toll, and I was getting tired from it. So Flash taught me about on-bike air-conditioning. “Soak your gloves”, he said. I filled them to the top and stuck my hands into the cool relief. Lifting my arms to allow the water to run down to my armpits. Aaah, BETTER!

Besides soaking my gloves, it was here in the heat of the day that I soaked my Cool Max riding shirt.  For the first half hour or so after the fuel stop, I was actually cold again, as I had been before sunrise.  Only now I was enjoying it.

The locals wanted wheelies, and crowded around exhorting me to “Lift its head for us”. We exchanged some friendly chatter – folks around these parts have a dry, witty sense of humor and peculiar use of language - and then we set off.

Elroy forgot to put his goggles back on his face and I saw it as we took off. I was beeping Josh’s pitiful horn, trying to catch his attention and they flew off the top of his helmet and landed in the street.  An urchin with a head start made a dash for them.  But I was faster and beat him.  Elroy must have either noticed the scene in his mirror or else realized his error since he turned around and returned just as I scooped up the goggles from the street.  It didn’t take but a moment before we were once again churning through the Karroo.

Between Williston and Brospan, the road was bad. Thick gravel, sand patches, corrugations, and potholes conspired to keep me from making progress. The entry card wanted us to count cattle gates, of which there were seven.

Flash must have been getting tired, as his hyper-jumps were getting longer, allowing him more leisure time at intersections while waiting for me. At least he was patient, so I am grateful.

The horse drawn carts full of kids waving to us as we buzzed past were post-card pretty.

The road remained a real challenge until after van Wyksvlei, where we fueled at the co-op, and some young lads wanted to know all about our journey.

Flash said he had, briefly, caught up to some KTM’s (and yet he was waiting for me – Thanks Flash!) I downed the next energy drink.

We had covered 69% of the final distance, and the shadows were stretching over the desert. Flash set off unceremoniously, no doubt to see if he could warp past the KTM’s. I settled in for a long, boring stretch.

As the sun set, I stopped for a quick photograph, and to tighten a bolt on my spotlight, which was drooping slightly.

The chart said “tar road after 67km”. At 72 km, as I was about to panic, there it was – the prettiest thing you ever saw: real, smooth tar. It was getting dark quickly.

I wound up the cricket under the tank bag, kicked my steed into action, and tried to emulate Flash’s paranormal behavior.

In the darkness, a duiker (small deer) crossed in front of my headlights. The riders briefing, I had written KUDU COUNTRY on this part of the chart, so I started looking out for the “ghosts of the bush”, as hunters call them. After a while, there were embankments with Armco on both sides, so I relaxed and locked the throttle to the stop.

Up ahead, a single headlight approached. I dimmed my spotlights. He lit up his pair of yellow PIAA’s. It was Flash, who had turned around to come a-looking for me. Riding with someone, on tar, for a little while, was all the rest I had needed. It felt safe, and I felt good.

I reached the tar some minutes before Elroy.  Figuring that I didn’t want to stand and wait for him while there was still daylight, I took off at a quick pace.  Then I thought better of it, thinking that we should regroup. After all, there was a fairly rough stretch on the last dirt section before the tarmac.< style="mso-spacerun: yes">  I stopped.  I dismounted and even took off my helmet. In the distance I could hear a few unseen families going about preparing their supper and, I suppose, exchanging their experiences of the day.  Still no Elroy… I waited a full five minutes, which was longer than I’d waited all day. With a curse at Murphy, I mounted up to retrace my track.  While I had yet to tap the spare fuel, after dark out here was not the best place to be backtracking.  A short stretch of road and rising over two hills later, there was a bike coming.  Sure enough, it was Elroy.    We both slowed.  We both made the OK sign.  He kept going while I banged a u-ie and then twisted the fast-handle to the stop.

This was one stretch where no dirt road was available, so the total ride had been lengthened to ensure we covered an honest 1000 miles of dirt.

We were now no longer pushing to beat the darkness, so it made sense to take a proper break. At Prieska, we stopped for a pie, some soda and a leg stretch.  I told Flash about the close encounter with the deer. “That’s not close,” sez he, “When you can touch it, it’s close. When it leaves fur on your bike, that’s REAL close”.

At this point, we figured we could easily complete the ride in time, even if we only kept to an average of 50km/h. My GPS said if we kept up the pace we had been going all day, we would finish at about 22h00. Logic said this would never happen.

Having pretty much kept up a “Ride, fuel, hydrate, repeat” pattern all day long, we had gained several hours over the drop-dead times.  Since it was full dark, the only “race” left was to finish on time. As we were hours ahead and could just cruise, I thought that a proper break to refresh, renew, revitalize and reinforce our powers of concentration for the dark roads ahead was in order. This was our longest break of the day, maybe forty-five minutes. 

We agreed that we had gained enough time that we could “cruise” and finish on time... as long was we made NO MISTAKES.  We reviewed our four goals, in order: Live to tell the tale.< style="mso-spacerun: yes">  Bring the bike back in as few pieces as possible.< style="mso-spacerun: yes">  We agreed that finishing on time was certainly possible enough to do now without risking any of the other goals.  Time to ride smart, not fast. 

I changed my headlight bulb to a 100W unit, found that the low beam had been shaken to bits, and changed back to the 55W.

After a good long break, we set off. As we hit the dirt, an owl flew up over Flash’s head, and settled on a post next to him, with its wings outstretched over him – I will never forget the reflection of my lights on the trailing edges of the wing and the silhouette of the bird stretching out in the glare. In the African tradition, when an owl calls your name it is time to die. I reflected on the risks we had been taking all day long and said a prayer for a safe journey ahead, for Flash and myself.

The road became rocky, twisty, hilly, bumpy and downright unrideable. Fist-sized loose stones littered the road, and quick progress was a distant memory. Within a mile or so, my spotlight had vibrated clean off the bracket, and I was lighting up my boots with a little swinging lantern. Duct Tape to the rescue again, and my turn signal became a spotlight mount. Now my ride was cock-eyed.

As we negotiated the less-than-perfect road to Niekerkshoop (wish we had reached this stretch in daylight!), the moon started sneaking into the sky. It was very peculiar. There were no trees to break the skyline, but the moon found; here a little cloud, there a hazy spot, and while a tiny sliver of it could be seen at all times; first dark red, then pink, then soft white, its full face only became visible once it was almost too high to see without looking up … Moonrise by stealth.

The section of road to which Elroy refers was covered with razor-sharp fist-sized rocks. In addition to being rougher than a cog, it was curvy and hilly.  It was the nastiest section we had seen yet. When Elroy and I next stopped and spoke, he said, “Roads that bad should be illegal!”  Then we both laughed.

In the dark distance, we saw the hazard lights flashing.  One could tell it was a motorcycle right off, and as we approached, it turned into two bikes, then three. I stopped to ask. Three GS1150’s, in one place, all with punctures. (I guess they were doing some low flying, and had hit the same rock, or something).

Some local had come by hours before and dropped off a cooler box. Someone else had gone to town to get help, and now they were just waiting. I guessed the next town to be at least 55km away. They seemed to be OK, and I could not help, so we carried on.

Flash wanted to keep the moving speed above 80km/h, and it was ok up to 100 or 110 at times.  In Griekwastad, we found a crowd at the gas station. There was a KTM950 on a trailer, and a few riders, support vehicle drivers or groupies milling about. The sense was that beer had flowed recently. There was activity in the workshop – the local mechanic was trying to figure out what to do about the stranded three. The activity all seemed in earnest and well-intended, but not very successful. I gathered that the local wrench must have been diverted from some local Saturday-night activity, and his brain was not up to these new challenges right now.

Across the street from the gas station were the hotel, and the weekend festivities were roaring. A number of revelers came over to see and hear what these mad, dusty characters were doing in their town. Tongues were clicked, heads were shaken in disbelief and eyebrows were raised at place names, route distances and the strange American in the blue space suit.

Flash and I killed an energy drink each, took a breather and set off into the darkness. My torch batteries had died, and I had bummed a pair off Flash. He was using a light stick to light up his map pouch. We were back in a rhythm, but Flash was not teleporting anymore – he kindly stayed on the road where I could follow at an interval of between 15 and 18 seconds. We maintained a good 90 to 95 km/h pace. It was that part of the ride when I just wanted it to be over.

Griekwastad was where fatigue finally caught up with me.  I realized that we’d already been up and hard at it for more than twenty hours.  I drank my first Red Bull.  The effect was almost immediate.  I hoped that it would not wear off before we got to the end of the dirt.

While I was drinking the Red Bull, Elroy whipped out his tool kit. When I inquired as to what he was doing, he pointed out that one of his turn signal lenses had fallen off. He had bumped it with his helmet while looking at his tire tread and the lens had just popped off.  The screw had backed out.  He had both the screw and the lens and only needed to reinstall them. No duck tape was involved in THIS repair of his bike.

110km later, we were back at the T-junction where I had lost my fuel tank a lifetime ago. From here on, we would retrace our route. We knew this was the bad washboard, and we were not looking forward to it. The fuel in the spare tank was shared into the two bikes, all the hatches were battened down, and we set off in the now-bright moonlight.

We had agreed in Griekwastad to stop here and share the contents of the fuel can for the final push to the end.  It was a good point to regroup for one last (in)sanity and confidence check.  Somewhere in there, the low beam of my headlight had died.  The PIAAs cut the darkness like a knife, illuminating the roadway before me.  The highbeam worked well enough to light whatever was coming up next.

The washboard had not improved at all, and the cattle gates were still there. Believe it or not, I was caught out by the same gate where I had nearly departed this life in the morning. A moment’s panic, and onward.

We were now spending a lot of time standing up, and my wrists were cramping. I was having a hard time holding on.

Birds were flying up from the roadway all the time and close calls a-plenty resulted. Flash hit some, I hit some. One left a mark on my jacket and a stinging sensation on my chest. One bounced off my fairing and into the night. Something hit my chest in the centre and held on. I took it off with my left hand, and felt the little bony structure of what I assume must have been a bat.

The Kudu galloped into the lights from my right, paused on all fours and pulled its head to its left, upward. The bulging eye strained out of its socket. The texture of the huge grey chest and belly - a solid barrier - the neck ahead of the bike, the horns flashing high above me. I was down on the instrument cluster, ducking low. The smell of saltpeter filled my helmet.

One breath later, adrenalin had flushed my system clean of all earthly thoughts. I stopped. Flash pulled up. “How close was it if you could SMELL the kudu?” I said in a shaky voice. “I saw nothing”, says Flash. Ghosts of the bush, indeed. “Thanks for the protection, dear Lord”.

My headlong rush had suddenly gone soft, and it took about a mile before I could ride above 80km/h again.

The washboard did not improve, and within 20km my GPS power connector had shaken apart at the solder joint.

Flash was tired, and had been navigating for a long time. It was supposed to be my turn, but I was now without a torch or GPS. So, once again, he was patient with me, taking the lead. I cursed the GPS and tried to repair it one-handed in the dark, standing up. We were on the home stretch, though.

Flash took a turn and settled in for the ride. A red taillight blinked in the dark – we must be catching up to another rider. As we approached, the red light rose higher – I did not remember any hill around here? Then we passed the radio mast. OK, I said to myself, I must be getting a bit tired!

The sign said “Warrenton”, and the tar road welcomed us back from a long day’s ride. We were done with dirt.

The last stretch, back to the hotel, was covered in what I thought was a WFO blast down the straight roads. Fiddling with the GPS, I got it working again. It showed we were not going as fast as it felt – even our engines must be tired by now.

That very last section… tar road after a thousand miles of dirt… felt like glass. But there was only a center line, no markers indicating upcoming curves as there had been on most of the dirt we had ridden.  In retrospect, those thousand miles we’d traversed earlier in the day had been amazingly well marked, curves and junctions, almost all announced by easy to see signs. The darkness in this paved stretch seemed to suck the lumens right out of the PIAAs.  Several curves just popped up out of nowhere. It was a Good Thing we were very close to the end.

It was 02h00 on the dot, when we stopped at the final checkpoint.

Earlier arrivals were there, and they had been celebrating! Handshakes and big smiles were exchanged all around and tales of derring-do briefly recalled before we were off to bed. We had done it!

Of the 33 entries, 30 riders had started off and 26 had finished. Casualties were the Dakar rider and his father who had accompanied him to hospital, the KTM950 that had bent a valve and one of the three stranded GS1150’s. One pillion completed the ride. Of such rides, legends are born and tall tales told and good friends made.

At the riders’ meeting, when I learned that there was a woman riding pillion for the event, I approached her to ask, “Just whose idea was it for you to ride pillion for a thousand miles off road?”  She responded that she had been on the rear seat for each and every kilometer that had been rung up (wrung up?) on the clock of the BMW R1150GS. I guess that once the decision was made to do the ride, there was never any question she would go. But the twist to the story is that she finished about two hours before her husband.  His was one of the GS’s down with a cut tire. The KTM 640 Adventure riders stopped when they saw the GS with the flat.  It was determined that she would ride pillion into Griekwastad to see what resources she could scare up while he stayed with the bike. In Griekwastad, she worked out some sort of assistance to transport a tube to the disabled bike from yet a third location.  But due to the level of inebriation and celebration of the inhabitants, was uncomfortable waiting in Griekwastad for her ride.  The KTM rider who had brought her there felt the same way and offered her a ride back to Nkolo.  She accepted.  Her husband finished some two hours later.

When I heard this tale recounted by the pair of KTM riders, I shook the hand of the fellow that carried her and said to him, “You, sir, are a genuine Samaritan.” He looked sort of sheepish when he said, “Well… it wasn’t a COMPLETELY altruistic act.  It was after dark and I was getting pretty cold. Having her on the back kept me warm for the rest of the ride.” 

Somewhere in the expanses of the Karroo, a Kudu is telling of the night he came so close to a motorcycle he could smell the rider soiling his jeans.


Elroy #825, '99 black 'Classic' F650, Johannesburg, South Africa.

By 02:30 we had unloaded the bikes and were augering in.  Unfortunately, when I unplugged one of my PIAAs, I held and tugged the wrong places. The next morning I would discover that I had broken one of the wires off at the connector.

My eyes opened begrudgingly in the morning.  I knew that I was awake, yet was still quite tired. When I realized that there was no way that I would fall back to sleep, I got up.  It was 06:30. I staggered around the campground looking at bikes and having brief conversations with other folks up at that hour.  People were packing up and leaving.  

Elroy got up and we had some more conversations with folks. Amongst those folks was Jeroen, the organizer. Elroy wanted to verify that screwing up the questions was not going to keep us from getting our certificates of completion.  Jeroen laughed and said it wouldn’t be a problem.

I noticed that my left hand hurt. Looking at it, I saw blisters. I've gotten blisters on the palm of my right hand while motorcycle riding before, generally when something was wrong with the throttle, like cables in need of replacement. But the left hand simply holds the grip. Apparently I had been holding on to the bike like I had never done before. I spoke to Elroy about this phenomenon. He looked at his hand. He had blisters there, too.

An inspection of the bikes revealed that they were not all that worse for the wear. Elroy’s bike had a bit more duct tape than it had at the start.  Josh had a bent front rim.  My rear Anakee tire had several cuts through the rubber, all the way down to the cord.  But the cord was not cut and the tire still looked quite serviceable.  Elroy was quite pleased that his Bridgestone Trailwings (Bridgerock Turdwings, in my opinion) had held up without any cuts at all.  (As they are made entirely of concrete and steel, I wasn’t surprised that they showed zero signs of wear.  They often show zero signs of sticking to the road.) Elroy said that they had felt just fine all day long yesterday.  I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have kept up or even exceeded my pace if he had had some good tires fitted before the event.

Eventually, at about two in the afternoon, Elroy and I saddled up and parted company. He was heading back home and then to the coast to meet up with Mandy and the kids. After a brief discussion of routes, I was heading south, toward Capetown and after that, to Lesotho, where it turns out the REALLY challenging road is.  Since I had no need for the fuel tank, Elroy took it with him to leave in the bat cave.  While it turned out that I probably could have used it later in my African adventure, I was happy to get back the extra room on the seat.  As we went off in our opposite directions, I could not help but take a last look at Elroy and think, “We had done it. Indeed.

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