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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Training session number one: the rainy road from Johannesburg to Cape Town.


Proud owner of a F650GS Dakar!!!
Our first training session for our epic Cape to Cairo journey was a fun-filled success! My father and I drove down to Cape Town from Johannesburg on Monday morning, the 11th April. I had just barely completed my Novice Riders course with BMW Motarrad at the Zwartskop Race Course in Pretoria and so the trip down was quite an exhilarating experience… if a bit harrowing! I am absolutely in love with my beautiful BMW F650GS Dakar. It is a beast! After being dubbed the wildest and bravest girl on a Dakar, by my course instructor, it was time to live up to the praise and throw caution into the wind, (despite my novice status!) After ensuring that my feet touched the ground, (if only barely with platform boots) we were very keen to hit the open road and try out our wheels. Along the road we faced all sorts of weather conditions… but mostly it pissed with rain all the way along the 1300 odd kilometers of road. We learnt a lot about how to ride in the rain on busy roads, full of trucks and insane drivers who seem to have an inbuilt resentment for motorbikes. Keeping one’s nerves about one’s self in such conditions and still being able to be mesmerized by the freedom of the saddle, is I believe the first step to ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ … in my version of the book anyway.  

The first part of the journey took us to Bloemfontein in freezing conditions. This part of the journey taught us that summer gloves, with air vents which allow biting cold air to seep through, will simply… not do! Get warm gloves- tick! My dad had a day of meetings in Bloemfontein so I spent the day warming my cold bones up and catching up on some work. We then left Bloemfontein at around 4pm to continue onto Smithfield, where we would be spending the night. This route was absolutely beautiful and nothing quite compares to the feeling of driving through beautiful terrain on the open road with the sun set to complete it all marvelously. Yes, it was quite a stunning scene, minus my episode of being stuck behind a large truck carrying chicken feed. Chicken feed falling off a truck at 100kms an hour can feel rather like being pelted by rubber bullets (if you’ve ever experienced this sensation… it is rather unpleasant.) But yes, the universe is rather humorous and at this point it took the opportunity of making fun of my romantic notion of freedom on the road, at quite the opportune moment. As we rode into Smithfield after facing chicken-feed bullets and biblical swarms of miggies, (annoying small bugs,) which arise timely in the dusk, we were very relieved to find a welcome bed and a glass of wine at ‘Nick’s Place.’ 

Dad on the balcony of "Nick's Place." 

Outside Nick's Place in Smithfield, ready to hit the road!   
Dad getting geared up with the two beasts!
After a wonderful big breakfast and a fat cup of coffee and after being briefly interrogated about our trip by the local Smithfield journalist, (I don’t think we can be too hopeful of a resulting celebrity status,) we were off on the open road again. Shortly after, maybe 5 minutes into the drive, it once again began to piss with rain. But we would not let this spoil our drive and instead opted to pick up a rather obnoxious, fluorescent yellow, farmer’s rain suit for me, much to the bemusement of the petrol attendants. My dad luckily did not have to dress in farmer-attire as he had hardcore bikers’ rain gear. But my fluorescent yellow suit did the job and we were off once again, my hardcore biker status slightly tarnished by the farmer’s suit! This part of the journey was definitely the most challenging since it poured so desperately with rain the whole way and on top of this it was rather windy. Passing hundreds of trucks on the road, in these conditions, can be rather frightening. To survive such encounters, the rider is required to react counter-intuitively. For example when you drive past a truck at 140kms an hour and you come into a serious crosswind that causes your bike to wobble furiously, all your head is telling you is - “brake!!!” But what you in fact need to do is accelerate into the crosswind! Absolute madness but quite riveting! I believe it must be this ‘madness’ that is so intoxicating to avid riders.

Along the wet road. 
Embracing the rain! hmm... kind of!
After a few hours of driving we stopped to fill up our bikes with petrol and our bodies with fuel in Beaufort-West. What we discovered at this stop was nothing short of a miracle and an affirmation that the gods are indeed on our side! Whilst sipping his coffee, for some arbitrary reason my dad peered down at my bikes chain to see that the master-link was missing, allowing for the chain to come off at any moment with unpleasant consequences. If a chain comes off of a bike at high speeds it will likely go into the engine causing the bike to go from perhaps 120/140kms to a dead, screeching stop. Hmmm… doesn’t sound like my cup of tea! How I managed to drive the odd +- 1000 kms from Johannesburg to Beaufort West without the master-link on my chain, in the rain is… a complete mystery. The mechanic referred to it as ‘a miracle!’ Now I am not one to be superstitious, but I did feel damn thankful to whatever powers may be! After securing the master link we continued on in the pouring rain which was no longer pissing but rather cascading down upon us. We took shelter in the nearest petrol station when the downpour became too intense, which much to my disgust happened to be a Shell garage, (needless to say we did not fill up, in protest!) It was becoming dark and we still had another 250kms to go and so we decided to stop in quaint and quirky Matjiesfontein for the night. 

After pulling into the little town, we were soon welcomed in the parking lot outside the Lord Milner hotel by a man in a waist-coat who referred to himself as Charlie Chapman… a fair taste of what was to come! He ensured that we promptly made our way to the Laird’s Arm Bar, where there was a blind-man playing a piano albeit not too well despite his laudable effort. We enticed him with a beer, where he was far greater company engaged in conversation and away from the piano. Sadly, it was time to leave the eccentric bar fit with Charlie Chapman’s South African double, a blind-piano man and classy signage requesting “please do not spit on the floor,” or informing that, “loose women are admitted free.”  Dinner was beckoning! 

Welcome respite from the rain. Dad at the Laird's Arm bar in Matjiesfontein.
Classic Sign :)
Another... notice the jar of eggs to the right... quite arbitrary. Quirky very quirky.
The Lord Milner Hotel from the front.

Matjiesfontein's London bus.
We made our way across to the Lord Milner hotel where we were to have dinner in 19th century style. I am quite sure that this building, as well as the staff’s outfits have not changed one bit since the establishment was erected in 1899. The hotel itself boasts of its charm as ‘the last authentic vestige of Victoriana.’ The waitresses were dressed in Victorian-style black maids’ dresses with white aprons ornamented with doily-type detail and white maid’s hats perched ceremoniously upon their heads. The whole ‘1900’s time-warp theme’ was most enjoyable as were the courteous staff... naturally. The meal was quite a treat and so very ‘platteland!’ The mains all served with generous helpings of sickly-sweet, sweet potato. After a wonderful meal we took a stroll around the building which has been preserved all these years in its original state and is full of interesting knickknacks and beautiful antiques. After the +- 800kms drive we feel quite happily into a blissful sleep.

Taking a stroll through the antique embellished lounges of the Lord Milner Hotel.
The next morning we left to finish the last 250kms. At first we drove through an extraordinarily thick fog which covered the entire road and made it very hard to see anything at all. I was quite relieved to find that the fog was not too expansive and we were soon able to see where we were going. This part of the journey was blessed with the best conditions, a welcome relief! So we were thankfully able to just take in the beautiful surroundings without battling difficult conditions. This last part of the Karoo was quite stunning and it was wonderful to witness the change in terrain as we entered into the lush, rolling mountains of the Western Cape. After all the trying weather conditions, it was a real treat to just relax and enjoy the freedom of the bike beneath you, driving through the exquisite landscape.

5425 Miles to Cairo compared to the 745 miles we had just done... puts it into perspective. Our route to Cairo will be roughly 14,000kms.

It felt like quite an accomplishment getting to Cape Town despite how I had given the length of the journey very little credence when deciding to drive down after riding the bike only two short times beforehand. It is probably this nonchalant attitude that gets me doing exciting things like this trip in the first place... even if I only realise the extremity of my planned adventures once I’ve already taken the plunge! I have been so caught up in the excitement of the trip, seeing all these beautiful places, meeting wonderful people and being able to share this wonderful adventure with my father, that I never really considered how challenging actually finishing the journey might be. It has definitely sunk in that one profound element of the trip is going to be the endurance aspect of completing the drive, in very challenging terrain on a bike that weighs roughly four times what I do!!! But waking up to this reality has been a good thing as it will ensure that we are both as ready as we can be to take on ‘the road that lies ahead.’ I think that we both learnt a lot about dealing with the bikes in challenging conditions and more notably about how necessary it is to train before embarking on a long journey like Cape to Cairo. 

The next part of our training agenda will definitely be getting down and dirty in the dust and doing some intensive off-road training, since many of the countries we are driving through will not have long expanses of tar road like the N1! We shall also be focusing on getting some sponsorship for essential gear since driving in difficult conditions seems all the more dangerous and nerve racking when you and your bike are not protected. Come BMW, come Kawasaki, come all! Support us along the road for the Earthchildren xxx The psych is high! The journey has begun! Watch this space... 

With Love, Brittany. 



  1. Good Luck, Rivak and Britt

    Will be following you at sea as far as possible


  2. Well done Brit, the blog's looking good. Look forward to following the great adventure.

  3. Awesome Brit!!!!! The blog is looking great :)


  4. Thank you for your support everyone! This Saturday my father and I will be completing a off-road course at the beautiful Bontebok Ridge Reserve outside Wellington with the BMW Motorcycle Club of the Western Cape. The day is bound to be filled of fun, challenges and I am sure a few laughs! So expect a riveting update soon

  5. Well done Britty I am very proud of what you and your Dad have decided to undertake and the cause that you have chosen to do it for. All love and good wishes and I look forward to hearing all your adventures - loads of love Monique

  6. blog looks awesome..cant help to admit that I am rather jealous..its gonna be an amazing adventure..looking forward to reading the next part on the off road course...

  7. hello cant what to see you guys and ti follow

  8. Well done both of you last Saturday at the introduction to off-road riding. A few laughs and tears later you are far more competent and i am looking forward to have you at our intermediate course next month!