Friday, March 17, 2017

Rough Start

My disposition was rigid when I made my first turn onto the tarmac of South Africa. The unfamiliarity of my new BMW 800 GS motorcycle coupled with driving on the opposite side of the road and the general cultural road rules sent me into a bit of internal panic. The first destination was the Union Buildings (like our capital) that overlook all of Pretoria. The very prominent 14 meter tall bronze statue of former South African Leader Nelson Mandela with arms stretched out widely much like his person of years past. Now the citizens complain openly about the corruption of the current leadership. Sounds familiar?

We then worked our way downhill winding through the neighborhoods and then onto a motorway towards our first evenings accommodation just a short ride away.

Lunch time has us parking our bikes on the side of a rough looking building  was our introduction to the township tavern in Mandela Village. These settlements sprung up since the early 1990’s  just before the independence from 30 years of Apartheid. Now group of 15 sit at a long table in a cool darkened dining area. Today’s  local cuisine buffet style offering is explained by our  support van driver, the rough and tough looking Julian, that sports a friendly gentle smile. The sauces tasted spicy and the meat tender. I’m not furnishing much more info because I’ll explain later.

At the end of the first day we had the option to ride bikes in lieu of a sitting in truck to take a short two hour Safari. Sama Motorcycle Tours is the only sanctioned company permitted to run small groups of motorcycles on a photo safari through the Dinokeng Game Reserve. Half our group, including myself chose to tour along the sandy dusty small winding roads to look for animals in the tall grass. This makes viewing a little edgy because you sit much lower than the larger 4 x 4 tour coaches. We viewed zebra, wildebeest, impala, and ostrich before returning to the Kawlata Lodge and treated ourselves in a local brew followed by a buffet dinner.  I was exhausted both physically and mentally forcing me turn in early to restore some energy for 300km ride the next day.


Health is an important topic among strangers grouped together. It’s amazing how close you can get in such a brief period of time when illness strikes. The phenomena rang true of our group of 5 Aussies, 4 Brits, one Canadian, and 4 yanks.

March 12th will go down as not one of Curt’s best days but hey when you’re on tour in an exotic country it can’t be that bad….or can it?

The routine of this trip is to wake up at the proper time to get to enjoy a buffet breakfast at 7AM, have your cases delivered to the support vehicle no later than 7:45 and be ready for  the day’s  briefing by 8AM. Shortly after we fire up the engines and keep up with Darryl our leader if you can. To be fair, others want the thrill of an accelerated pace while Chuck and I choose to make our own more casual pace…within reason.

Whining of starters and the blasting popping sounds of motorcycle engines signal our departure from the Kwalata Lodge. Not long after leaving the lodge we stop at a Shell petrol station to fuel the bikes and use the toilet facilities. While at the station I began to experience unrest in the lower regions of my body. While no reaction occurred at the station I began to think what if an explosion was in the offing and if so, what is my emergency plan...on a motorcycle?  Leaving the station I was riding directly in back of Darryl the group leader and owner of SAMA as we entered on the freeway, which put me in position to pull over when we exited the freeway to signal others behind of an upcoming turn.. As I sat off to the left side of the road with my blinker on and using my arm to catch the attention of the others, my stomach began it’s revolution. I was to wait at my position until the last rider known as the sweeper rode up. All the riders seemed to had passed so I rode down the exit ramp to join the others when I realized the sweeper, Chuck, hadn’t rode up. Panic struck as Darryl looked back at me with a concerned expression. I fucked up….oh shit, Chuck may not see us and ride past on the upper freeway. Fortunately Chuck saw me exit and rode down the ramp behind me. Whew , the end result was good but I’ll never let that happen again.

The group took off and I trailed near the rear feeling a bit stupid  yet more importantly I felt a bit shaky . Riding a few more hours the couple riding just in front of me pulled off to the left into a small clearing in the forest. The driver, Grant, quickly jumped off his bike, removed his helmet and shuffled to the bush edge, bent over, and lost his lunch. Paralyzed in a jackknife position his wife, Clare told me he had been fighting off his upset feeling for an hour. I reassured her that I too had the same feeling and that I suspect we had a nasty case of salmonella poisoning from breakfast. We were 15 minutes from the hotel so he toughed it out and controlled myself until we pulled into the lodge. Once at the Mogoefaskloof lodge, we all felt a bit better knowing facilities were close at hand. 

But my story gets better. I was told about the possibility of a Canopy Tour (aka; Zip Line) crossing the steep canyons in the Magoebaskloof mountains. So I signed up even knowing that I must exercise control and ignore my physical discomfort. A half dozen of us loaded into the support van and drove to the zip line site. We were a bit late but the team of assistants got us all into our harnesses and briefly went over the instructions on how to clip into the cable and brake. Two of the assistants traveled with us as we hiked down a narrow trail into the canyon. I’ve done zip lines before and this was a bit cruder that the one in Colorado that Sharon and I took a few years ago. These canyons are much deeper and severe. The one tech went across first while the other hooked us in, gave final instructions and sent us down the line. Each time special instructions were given as to when to brake so you reach the other side or don’t go too fast into the eleven landing areas. On about number 4 my tech hooked me in and said “Don’t Brake”. I took him literally and took off. This was a short run into heavily forested landing platform and when I got into the trees the landing deck went by and I went into the rock wall beyond it immediately stopping my progress. I was stunned. All I could think was “Don’t Brake”. He forgot to say until you come 4 meters to the end then brake. I ended up with a pretty good laceration next to my left eye and a slightly lighter cut on my forehead and on my upper cheek. First aid was immediately given, a plaster applied, and I continued much more cautiously. 

To summarize my March 12th….I screwed up signaling, I got a dandy case of diarrhea, and I smashed my face into a rock wall. Not bad for day two.  Am I having fun yet? You bet!

after getting first aid on my left eye
being more cautious soaring above a waterfall




  1. OK, don't forget to brake. Happy St. Patrick's Day and or house buying day for us! Went to the Morning Star Restaurant in Palominas to listen to some music performed by Mahoney, Becky Reyes, and Cado. The full house consisted of lots of old ranchers from the surrounding community, as well as some Bisbee folks. Tonight at Carlos and Daphne's from some more Irish festivities. Sending love and hugs.

  2. Gathering experiences and stories. You're a rich man Curtis. Thank you for sharing. - Greg

  3. Whoa! Now those are some adventures! Be safe!

  4. OOooooohhhhhh - wow !!! Must think positively now - It Can Only Get BETTER! - the worst is behind you... Full Sails to the wind and Carry On!
    xox Ruby