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Offline Xpat

Christmas Safari
« on: May 18, 2014, 08:26:10 pm »
Intro

2013 wasnít a good year. Iíve been working my ass off whole year without a break, yet  somehow not achieving what I was supposed to. As the year end approached I was in a bad funk, especially as I knew that at least first half of 2014 is not going to be much better. So a proper chat with the universe about WTF was in order and one of the best ways I know for that is a nice solo bike trip.

When I realised in the early December that I may be able to squeeze in 3 weeks off, I got ambitious and decided to do Richtersveld, which I havenít done yet and then shoot up to Kaokoland and do the Van Zylís pass and riverbeds, which Iíve done a year ago and the good vibes of that trip carried me through the 2013. To get there - I was starting from Joburg - I wanted to cross to south Botswana and take the dirt roads heading west north of the Bots/SA border and do some game viewing around Transfrontier park, before crossing back to SA and heading to Richtersveld.

Getting back to Joburg from Kaokoland I wanted to take the northern route along the Okavango delta. Namibian side was clear - head east through Tsumeb/Grootfontein and hit the dirt roads east from there through Bushmanland to the Bots border at Dobe. The usual route then would be to connect to the tar road going to Maun at Nokaneng and then do the standard ride through Makadikadi from Gweta to Kubu to Letlhakane and then back home. However Iíve done the south side of the Okavango delta couple of times and as I stared at the map I got intrigued by the possibility to circumvent the delta from the north coming long way around to Maun through the Bots bush north of delta - not the boring Caprivi strip in Nam. This would mean to head from Nokaneng on tar up to Shakawe on the Namibian border, take ferry across Okavango, then ride south-east through Seronga on the northern shore of the delta and then north-east to Gudikwe and from there find track to Kwai village on the north-east corner of Moremi and then its just straightforward ride back south-west to Maun along the eastern boundary of Moremi.

The problem was I didnít know if there is any track from Gudikwe to Kwai village, this whole area consist of private concessions and I didnít know if I would be allowed there. And obviously the fact that I would have to cross about 160km between Gudikwe and Kwai of completely uninhabited area ruled by Big 5. I knew they will not let me into Moremi and Chobe NP on the bike, but from my prior trips on 4x4 I knew that there was a gap between Chobe (Mababe gate) and Moremi (North Gate) - so I assumed that I can pass through there to Mababe village and then Iím on the public road running from there to Maun.

Like so:

So I cranked-up Google and started looking for the answers. All I got for ďSeronga to Kwai villageĒ were two short threads on SA 4x4 forums. The good news was that you can get from Seronga to Kwai via cutlines - they were not on the T4A or any maps I had, but I could trace them on the Google Earth and saved the key waypoints. However one of the threads stated categorically that it is off-limits because of the concessions. The other one was from people who have done it in 4x4 and said that as long as you stay on the cutlines and do not camp you should be fine as the cutlines are kind of public service roads (firebreaks I believe). Additional problem was that about 50 km east from Gudikwe the cutline goes through Selinda river which is impassable during the wet season and could only be circumvented going north almost to Nam border via the concessions - so I hoped that I will outrun the wet season that was about to start.

By chance at the same time another wilddog - Goonrider started thread here on the forum about possibility to get from Maun to Kasane offroad - via cutlines, albeit different ones than the route I was looking at. The resounding consensus seemed to be not possible, you need to take the long tar route via Nata.

Result of all this research was that I was hooked onto the idea of exploring the cutlines with the Big 5 as kicker and Richtersveld and Kaokoland took back seat. I decided to change the direction of the trip and head north to the delta first, then move on to Kaokoland and - if time permits I may or may not do the Richtersveld.

Naturally, with the plan this thorough - I usually just head somewhere interesting and figure it out once there - I have ended up doing completely different route, a bit less Rambo, yet it still involving 100s of kms of cutlines in Bots, number of Big 5, and whole new country that I havenít ridden before.

After all this planning, I have promptly engaged in my other big passion - procrastination. As a result I have started from Joburg only on the 19th of Dec - instead of the originally planned start on the 14th. On the plus side I have received new lenses I have ordered from US on eBay optimistically three days before the original departure date. On the negative side I knew I would not be able to do the originally planned route in its entirety within remaining time.

As I havenít written any ride report, a little introduction is probably in order: Iím not originally from around here. Iím what you people call Eastern European - Czech to be specific. Donít call them that in Prague - they are going to get even more grumpy than usual, and technically they will be right. Me, Iíd rather be bundled with Romanians than many of the tribes to the west and south (just ask people who know which vibe they prefer - Romaniacs or Erzberg).

Iím not completely new to the adventure riding. I have done two bigger trips. The first - maiden one as I have made driving license and bought my first bike for the trip, was three months trip from Prague to Kasmir/Ladakh in India and back - 25k km in 2000. The second one was one year and 40k km trip from Prague to Cape Town in 2005/6 (here are some old pictures from that trip: http://www.malec.name/martin/africa/galerie.php). I got bitten by the African bug, managed to score a job in SA and stayed down here since.

While here, I have done most of the highlights in SA and the surrounding countries. The one that stands out for me was the Kaokoland done in December 2012 with my mate, who unfortunately did not finish the trip due to a fall. Here are some videos from that trip (shameless plug as I have already linked them in other WD threads):
http://youtu.be/Rde-Ch2LIL0,
 http://youtu.be/rFASO6OKHww,
http://youtu.be/w-RwRPP5N2A,
http://youtu.be/vqMQXPKc_9I,
http://youtu.be/ClNcmFS2fU0,
http://youtu.be/Aco2G34gspI).

Bikewise for the trip I could chose from:
- Husky TE630 that I have used on the trip in Kaokoland and that would be ideal when the going gets tough. However it is a chore for long distance even on the gravel roads as itís just too high strung and unstable on the long boring stretches - much like KTM 690, and no amount of rally fairings and stuff is going to change that on any of those bikes.
- Tenere 660 - the bike Iíve bought after long deliberations as my long distance tourer, with good reliability (hopefully) for solo remote dirt adventuring, adequate long distance comfort and proven/reasonably safe methods to increase performance (very sedate in standard form) for spirited dirt travelling.

As this trip involved long distances over relatively short period of time, Tenere it was.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2015, 09:59:22 pm by Xpat »
 

Offline dw1

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2014, 08:48:10 pm »
This looks REALLY interesting. Waiting for the rest!  :sip:
Current KTM 950 Adv, R80G/S x 2, TW200,  DR200 Djebel,, XR500R
Previous: YAM AG175, BSA Lightning 650, XT500, KAWA KZ1300, XR500R, VF750-4 BMW K100, WR45,0 DR650 x 2,  XT600 Tenere, XR200,
 

Offline Xpat

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2014, 08:57:58 pm »
Day 1
 
After lots of laying about and doing bugger all, I have finally managed to get my ass to gear and packed the bike on Wednesday 18/12 for departure the next day. As usually I got ambitious and hoped to make it next day to Kubu island on Makgadikgadi for overnighter. I knew itís a stretch so I set-up alarm to start early to give myself a fighting chance. However the universe was sensing a weakness in my resolve (rat race really did job on me this year) and decided to test if I really mean business over the next few days.

So when I woke up at 5:30 next morning, it was raining heavily, cold and the sky was covered completely by low leaden clouds that did not seem to go anywhere. Quick check on the internet confirmed that it is raining more or less all the way to Makgadikgadi and the forecast for the next few days looked the same. Now I do not have a problem to get rained on a little bit here and there, but the prospect of being wet and cold for many 100s or even 1000s of km and potentially many days, seemed a bit un-appetising from my warm bed. I do not have proper waterproof gear for riding in Africa as in my experience you can get either cold (winter) or wet (summer), but not both (except maybe in Western Cape and Lesotho). I can handle being wet and warm, so no need for waterproof biking gear for me - I have only hiking waterproof jacket to get me out of bind.

After flapping for a bit - few hours actually in which I have considered reversing direction of the trip again as the weather west looked better than north - I have driven to Yamaha Centurion to buy that sickly green rain suit. By the time I was done it was lunchtime and the rain stopped.

Route:



I finally got on the bike after midday and was off towards Thabazimbi via Hartbeespoort and Brits. The sky was still fully overcast, but there was no rain and the clouds seemed a bit less dense up north. I havenít had lunch yet and as it was pretty clear that Iím not going to make it to Kubu Island or anywhere close, I have stopped for a chow at the Beestekraal Station. There I grudgingly reflected over a pancake on the progress so far - it was about 2pm and I have made about 100 km to a place (very nice one to be fair) that would be OK for breakfast run or maybe a quick day dash up to Waterberg and back, but not much of a progress in the bigger scheme of things.

Looking at the map I decided to push on to try to make it at least across the border to Botswana in Stockport 200 km north, so I will have one less hassle to deal with next day. I got back on the bike and after about 20 km on tar, took the right turn-off to Assen, where I turned left and hit the dirt road heading north towards Ellisras between Thabazimbi and Marakele NP.

I hit the dirt with vengeance and immediately found another thing to bitch about - the rear end of the bike was very flighty and all over the show. Now, over the last year and a half I have had the Tenere heavily modified to make it into proper long distance dirt adventure bike, which to me means cheaper KTM 660/690 Factory RR (not 690 enduro with fairing) with ability to carry luggage and less maintenance. To address the inadequate Tenere suspension I have swapped the forks for WP from KTM Rally Replica and have had the shock rebuilt by Runner. So I expected excellent handling and the lack of rear stability did piss me off. However, I have ridden Tenere on the same road a week or two earlier without luggage and the bike was handling great. Quick look at the back made pretty clear why - my bags were hanging far too high and back due to the combination of the incredibly stupid high rear end design of Tenere with the silly stepped seat (sorry this really pisses me off as I cannot rectify this Ďbella figuraí design of some Italian buffon) and the SW Motech pannier racks which are too far back to accommodate passenger - I knew that they are not right but didnít want to go through additional hassle of building custom racks (I am looking into that now).

Thankfully I have converted fully to the soft luggage, which is vastly superior to hard cases for any kind of dirt riding in my experience. One of the advantages is that it is not fixed in one place on the bike and can be moved. After quick check of the exhaust headers it seemed I should be able to move the bags to the front onto the passenger footpegs without them catching fire. As it was late I decided to fix the luggage later once stopped for the night and pushed on with the wagging tail.

The dirt eventually did its trick, shut up the annoying whiny little voice in my head and I finally eased into the ride. The road goes through private reserves and I have seen quite a few game - elands, warthogs, impalas and such. Waterberg also provides for nice scenery, especially north of Thabazimbi - I have been up there couple of times on daily trips, but always turned back at Thabazimbi and have not seen the mountains from further up north - very nice I have to say.

Waterberg:










And the close up of the idiot's way to pack bike for riding in dirt:




After about 120 km on dirt I have hit the tar again about 20 km south of Ellisras - I needed fuel. As I arrived to the the outskirts of the town in the late afternoon, I hit the rush hour as people were coming back from work at the power station.

Turning right at the T junction onto the main road I almost dropped it in the middle - the rear was completely flat. I pulled off on the shoulder right next to what I assume is the busiest junction in the town (well actually outside), found the nail in the E09 and established that Iím not going to make it without fixing the tube. Now, just two hour earlier this would have sent me into proper bitch fest, but the dirt got me already into the zone and I was reconciled with a bit of motorcycle maintenance - the location could have been better though. I guess that is the reason I like to ride dirt adventuring - it makes me surrender to whatever comes and stop trying to control everything like I tend/pretend to be doing in my job/life. Works the same with my executive mates that come to ride with me from Europe occasionally - first day or two I just want to punch them in the face every time they open their mouth and at about day 3 the African dirt turns them back into human beings.

I got the tools out, took the wheel and tyre off. Iíve read stories about how difficult it was to get E09 off the rim, but I did not find it any more difficult than other tyres I have done before - I had 3 tyre levers on me though.



Note the nonsensically high rear end of Tenere:


South Africans being the nice people they are, number of commuters stopped and asked if I need help. Iíve politely declined as I was making good progress until two young guys just parked their car and came to assist without asking. They rode superbikes at home in Joburg and said they have patched many tubes before. This presented me with a conundrum as I suffer from a bit of split personality. In the normal daily slog I sadly tend to default to the mindless consumerism and just pay someone to do almost any maintenance (bike, house, car, etc.). On the trips however, I tend to make up for it and like to fix shit myself, however haphazard sometimes the fixes are  (I have ridden half of Ethiopia with duct tape around the front TKC to strengthen huge cut on the sidewall (with a patch inside the tyre), and with a local moped tube in my rear tubeless tyre - until it exploded at about 100 kmh somewhere close to Arba Minch). I find this real world problem solving hugely satisfying given the seemingly virtual nature of problems I usually deal with in the job.

That said, I have never successfully patched a tube - I tried couple of times before and the patch came off every time within few kms. Even Runner when asked how, stops swearing and runs away squealing like a girl. So after about a second of hesitation I handed over to these guys who seemed very confident - they clearly must have been initiated in the black art of motorcycle tube patching somewhere. I watched closely, but the devil must be in the detail imperceptible to my eyes as the guys did exactly what I would have done. Except, somebody once told me that the trick is to let the glue on the patch and tyre dry for about 5 (or 15? minutes) before sticking them together. The guys felt confident about one or two minutes is good enough - for sportbikes anyway. Once they were done Iíve pumped the tube with the little Slime compressor and it seemed to hold - however I had a feeling that I will see that tube again soon. Regardless, Iíve thanked them and they were off - nice chaps.

By the time Iíve put everything back together it was getting dark so I headed to town for sleep over - I do not ride in the dark if I can help it. Iíve slept in Ellisras once before and had trouble finding any place to stay - there are number of signs on the main roads for B&B, but somehow I couldnít find any when I turned into the indicated streets. So I headed for the guesthouse I stayed in last time - donít remember its name, it was sounding old time grandma like involving Rose or some such. I knew it was pricy but I was tired and dirty and could not be bothered looking around. It wasnít to be, they were full. Instead I went for dinner to close-by KFC to get my energy levels restored before getting lost in Ellisras again.

After about 45 minutes of zig-zaging aimlessly in the dark town I have eventually found some room on the outskirts. It was the standard uninspired guesthouse room with fridge, TV and way overpriced at R400, without breakfast being even an extra option. But I was tired so I just took it. Iíve spent the rest of the evening relocating the soft bags on the bike and fitting camera to the helmet.

I now use open face helmet for adventure riding as it provides for much better ventilation on hot days, makes taking picture much easier as you can use viewfinder without taking the helmet off, and - probably most important - makes for much better contact with people you encounter on the road. People relate to you very differently when they see your face. And, funnily enough, my new helmet, which is some noname (AJS or something) R800 job, is quieter than the full face Uvex I used before, but that one is by far my least favourite helmet (Arai I also had is probably quieter). Some people are concerned about the lack of safety, but that is questionable IMO - open helmet, while not protecting your face in the fall, provides for much better peripheral vision and situational awareness and therefore for better active safety.

Anyway, fitting my Drift camera to the open face helmet proved to be tricky. I prefer to have the camera on the helmet as it is the most efficient for image stabilisation. Having it on the side (eye level) also provides for more natural point of view than having it on the top, as well as - the most important - for higher speed impression, which is crucial for the poser value of the resulting video (oh yeah, I pose all right as is probably clear by now from this drivel). The open helmet has obviously less surface to stick the velcro holder on and it has to be moved backwards where the rear slope of the helmet pushes the camera off center. Drift is greatly adjustable in terms of elevation in the holder and horizon alignment - the lens can be rotated about approximately 310 degrees in its socket, but I still wasnít able to get it aligned right on the left side of my helmet. I prefer having it on the left as it enables to capture scenery along the road, rather than oncoming traffic. I ended up fitting it to the right side of the helmet and went to sleep.

Offline hedleyj

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2014, 09:04:11 pm »
More please

It is nice to read a well composed RR

I'm sure the sun goes around the earth twice a day.
 

Offline Sidpitt

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2014, 10:26:51 pm »
 :sip:
If you dont like something, change it!
If you cant, change your attitude.
Dont complain!
 

Offline MegaPix

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2014, 12:52:47 am »
 :sip:
Kobus Schoeman
www.mega-pix.co.za/blog
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Bryanston, Sandton 
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Offline heti

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2014, 03:19:51 pm »
Keep it coming!!!!  :sip:
 

Offline popipants

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2014, 03:55:36 pm »
This looks good. Keep it coming
« Last Edit: May 19, 2014, 04:07:03 pm by popipants »
I've been on the Jameson diet for a week, so far I've lost 7 days....
 

Offline Xpat

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2014, 04:05:56 pm »
Thanks - next installment coming this evening.

Offline alanB

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2014, 04:13:57 pm »
Don't have time to read it now, but this is going to be good!  :ricky:

While the rest of us pontificate, Xpat is one of the guys that gets out there and does stuff!

Cant wait to find out what happened next!  Sounds like a really great trip.
Husqvarna '09 610TE - Great Bike!

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Offline lj111

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2014, 04:37:08 pm »
 :sip:

Thanks!
Some people feel the rain and others just get wet...
 

Offline Xpat

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #11 on: May 19, 2014, 07:31:59 pm »
Day 2

I woke up early and after breakfast of Salticrax and canned pate, packed up and was off west towards the power station. The day was shaping up nicely - there were clouds in the sky illuminated by the raising sun but no threat of the forecasted rain. At the power station turn-off I turned north and hit the dirt road heading towards Stockport border crossing about 70 km north. Iíve ridden this road on Tenere before the suspension upgrades and remembered it as tricky affair that you need to pay attention to. It looks easy - your standard Limpopo dirt road going straight through bush, but itís sandy with corrugations and tracks all over the show as cars are trying to find the least corrugated line.

However with the suspension and luggage sorted - no more tail wagging Iím glad to report, it was a breeze and within km or two I completely eased into the ride. The bike tracked great and I could deal with frequent washouts from recent rains with aggression rather than caution that I had to resort to before. I have seen some game along the way and the clouds illuminated by the early morning sun gave me that fresh new day zen feeling - life was good.

So good that the universe felt a need for correction and about 3 km before the border once I hit the tar again the mushy feeling from the back tyre told me that superbike tube patching technique does not work for adventure bikes. To be fair to the guys, it lasted for about 80 km, while my patches usually come off within first 2 km. I coasted off the road next to a little family settlement of about 5 huts or so - with the family already involved in the simple life of leisure we hard nosed professionals work so hard to achieve sometimes in the ephemeral future. I asked one of the guys if there is a place around that fixes tyres. I do not think he fully understood my English - this is Afrikaans territory and I have funny accent - and he offered instead his somewhat modest tool kit. Nice gesture anyway.

Fixing flat can be a good spectator sport if you have a time (definitely much faster flowing than cricket  ;D):


Nicely set-up workshop - note the most critical tyre fixing tool featured prominently on the bottom left corner:


And done. Also good illustration of the vastly superior luggage set-up for dirt riding (sorry I'm short of pictures for this day so have to pad it up a bit):



With this attempt at mindless consumerism averted, I got my somewhat more comprehensive toolkit out (it includes shampoo, which is crucial for greasing the rubber before insertion so to speak) and got to work. The family watched me and their easy vibe rubbed off on me, so it took me good two hours wallowing in the red sand before I was ready to go again. I didnít bother patching the tube as I was healed of the silly belief that it is possible and instead Iíve put in the spare tube.

Not keen to hit the bush up north without spare tube, I retraced 70 km back to Ellisras to get new tube - to save time I took tar. Ellisras is bustling town so I hoped to be able to get the tube there, but kept my optimism in check as I know from experience how difficult it is to get bike spares in SA outside main cities. The best one was when I tried to buy 17 inch tube in what I believe is official Yamaha dealership in Kimberley, where they had brand new Tenere on the floor and the spareís guy told me that they do not carry 17 inch tubes as no bikes use them. Well in a way he had a point - no self respecting dirt capable bike should ride on 17 inches. To cater for the tube/tyre availability and better offroad-ability I have eventually swapped my rear for 18 inches rim.

Back in the business area of Ellisras next to Toyota dealership I found a shop with Yamaha brand all over it - they were mostly selling boats and quads, but they had some farm bikes on the floor which to me seemed like 18 inch wheelers. But no, they do not sell tubes (do farmers make their own tubes?). There was also busy tyre repair shop in the same building, but again, they did not carry motorcycle tubes. They said they can patch the old tube, but I knew better by now (actually, I have seen a motorbike tube patched successfully - but that was long time ago in Pakistan, it seems to be lost art in SA - feel free to let me how its done if you know).

I eventually got from someone a phone number for Gert, who has a shop fixing dirt bikes outside Ellisras. He was out of town, but confirmed that he has a tube for me, even the heavy duty one and his assistant will let me have it - score! Given my history of getting lost in Ellisras, his directions for the shop left me a bit worried. But they were spot on - just in case you need a tube in Ellisras: from Toyota dealership take the main road to Thabazimbi, when passing hotel Palm Springs (or something like that with Springs in the name) on the right, start counting km and the workshop is exactly 5 km out of town on the left - there is a sign for veterinarian.

With the tube safely packed in, I turned north again. As Iíve lost half a day again I decided to go for the main border crossing at Martinís Drift instead of Stockport as it was more direct route to Palapye on the way to Makgadikgadi. As soon as Iíve got to the border I knew it was a mistake - it was holidays and the border was packed with the SA tourists in 4x4s heading for Bots. SA side was OK, but on the Bots side weíve hit big bottleneck. The immigration was fine as there were enough officers to process the load and we didnít even need to fill those little immigration forms anymore, but as usual there was only one window open to pay the mandatory road tax.

For over an hour and a half I fumed in the long line as my blood was boiling in the stifling heat with all my gear on. I have to admit that I have very ambivalent relationship with Botswana. On the one hand it has IMO the best national parks in the world - for me the Okavango delta, especially Moremi deep inside the delta is the shit. It is also probably the best country to conserve African wildlife in its natural habitat as it has very little population and therefore little pressures between population and animals, and as a result its north is one of the last places where animals roam freely and are not fenced in. On the other hand, considering its size, I always felt that there are relatively few opportunities for good dirt riding - yes there is Makgadikgadi (and probably south around Transfrontier), but outside of that most of the places you just have to stick to tar (I was wrong on this one as I was to find out on this trip). But most importantly Botswanian officials have this annoying tendency to stick mindlessly to the bureaucratic rules and no initiative whatsoever to accommodate independent travelers who just donít fit into their standardised tabular worldview. Getting visa for Botswana was always unbelievable hassle with constantly changing rules, and booking campsites in the delta is just plain joke - they are all booked out for almost a year, yet they were always half empty when I was there on numerous occasions. And this in a country for which tourism is second or third biggest source of revenue. Very different from the rest of Africa, where you can always find a way to resolve unexpected issues - and no, I did not have to pay single bribe in my one year travelling through Africa.

By the time Iíve made it through the border the zen was gone I was again my usual grumpy self. Iíve stopped at the Kwa Nokeng petrol station to change money and buy few things. I was aware of the office of Kwa Nokeng Adventures who organize bike trips through Bots, but choose to stay away as I did not want to spoil their day with my foul mood. However Clinton - owner of the Kwa Nokeng Adventures - was there and called me into his office to find out what I was up to. I explained my plan to try to circumvent Okavango delta through the northern cutlines. I could sense that he did not know what to make out of this grumpy sweaty idiot with funny accent trying to navigate solo a track even he hasnít done yet - I found out later from SA biking magazines, that he is probably one of the most knowledgeable people on the Bots dirt routes. But he gave me a benefit of doubt and suggested an alternative: from Maun go up to the Mababe gate at the south end of Chobe and take 19th parallel cutline along the Chobe southern boundary east towards Pandamatenga on the main road between Nata and Kasane and from there take the Old Hunterís Road on the border of Bots and Zim to Kasane - basically the route Goonrider was looking for. I knew that 19th parallel goes through 200 km of hunting concessions, but he said that shouldnít be a problem as the hunting season is over and Bots government actually was in the process of taking away the concessions as they are not in line with their conservation efforts. He has done the route with a group before and had no problems - the track was not on T4A tracks or in the map, but he gave me key waypoints to follow. He also recommended Zimbabwe - going along the southern shore of lake Kariba all the way to the town of Kariba and then south to the Eastern Highlands.

I liked the suggested route, but there were just two problems with it - to get to Kaokoland which I was still keen on, going to Kasane is serious detour and I would have to go through the boring Caprivi strip to get there. On the other hand, should I choose the Zim route, I did not have Zim visa which the Czechs need (but I thought I may be able to work around it as they already let me in once before without visa to visit the Vic Falls). Anyway, Clinton gave me his business card and emphasized that should I decide to do the 19th, I should call him before I set-off so that he can send somebody in to fetch me should I not come out on the other side - real gentleman! With my spirits lifted greatly from the meeting of kindred biker I set-off in the late afternoon on the main tar road to Palapye.

Kwa Nokeng garage and Clinton's office right after border:


Universe immediately spotted the anomaly (optimistic Eastern European) and went for correction. Soon after I set-off I noticed that the bike runs like crap. It was struggling to get over 120 kmh, vibrated and was running horribly lean. Now, to address what IMO is second weakness of Tenere - very sedate power, the first owner and I have made couple of modifications to increase the airflow and the power: LV pipes, DNA stage 3 filter, drilled throttle body to increase airflow to the engine and Power Commander 5 to set-up the mixture correctly. The hope was that the reliability, which is key for this kind of trip, will remain mostly unaffected as none of these affect the moving parts and compression (like drilling the cylinders to 700cc or racing camshaft).

I hoped that the PC5 somehow got disconnected by vibrations and bike reverted to the standard map, but that was not the case. I called Runner and he thought it may be dirty air filter. Didnít look so, but I decided to clean it anyway once stopped for the night. I tried to stop and restart the bike couple of times as well as accelerate / decelerate a lot to see if somehow it would not come miraculously right, but it wasnít to be. So back to the doom and gloom then.

About an hour later I arrived to Palapye in the early evening and went straight for re-fuel. As I expected the consumption came over 8 l/100km - normally the bike takes 6 litres when pushed hard. Not good, as I needed at least 400 km range minimum to do the cutlines and with this consumption I would be cutting it way too close for comfort with the 32 litres capacity I had - 25 litre tank (I have had the neck in the tank drilled to increase standard 23 litre capacity by 2 litres) plus 7 litres collapsible jerry can.

On the positive side, I was to sleep in the Itumela Camp, which is one of my favourite overnight places in Bots. Itís deep in Palapye secluded from the hustle and bustle of the town and has that relaxed travellerís vibe with open thatched roof bar/restaurant - unlike the standard impersonal overpriced business accommodation usually found in Botswana outside the tourist hotspots. They had a chalet for me and I settled quickly in before the dinner.







Frog basking in the mysterious smells of the Botswanian night:



Over the great buffet dinner and few relaxing beers I have reflected on the pathetic progress so far. Two days into the trip I have made it to about two thirds of the original objective for day 1 - sure an ambitious one, but I have done similar before. The supposedly reliable bike that I spent a lot of time and money to modify exactly for this type of riding was running like crap and there was a good chance that I will have to leave cutlines and Kaokoland out due to the lack of fuel range. Quite sad actually, but the beer kept me reasonably upbeat.

I've noticed that people in RR like to post pics from restaurants. Not sure why but here is the bar in Itumela (to cover up for the lack of pics for the day):






After dinner I have taken the air filters out and cleaned them - but as expected they were clean, and bike still run lean afterwards. There was not much more I could so I just prepared everything for early start in the morning and retreated to bed.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2014, 07:38:28 pm by Xpat »
 

Offline popipants

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #12 on: May 19, 2014, 07:33:41 pm »
I just finished watching the videos. It was awesome. Thanks for making the effort,  I know what it takes to create and edit the videos.

 :thumleft: :thumleft:

People dont always appreciate that to make a 10 min video takes very many hours



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Offline alanB

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2014, 05:57:45 am »
Hi Thomas (hope I got your name right  ::))

I must admit I'm blown away on the scale of this trip!  Doing the Richtersveld, riding the the whole length of Nambia, plus doing a very wild route through Botswana.  Any one of those would be a "BIG" trip for me, but doing them all together is amazing! :thumleft: :ricky:

Interested to hear more about the bike.

Rally RR forks!  Those must have cost more than the bike?  :o :biggrin:

Also, just out of interest - not familiar with the bike - how do you increase the fuel capacity by "drilling the neck"?

What does the bike weigh after your mods?

Lastly how did you know the bike was running lean when it started running badly, did you take out the plug?  Also just wondering.
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Offline Oupa Foe-rie

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2014, 08:58:05 am »
 :happy1:
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Offline Xpat

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #15 on: May 20, 2014, 10:09:52 pm »
Day 3 - Part 1: Palapye -> Kubu Island

I woke up at sunrise to get an early start. Objective for the day was Maun via Kubu island.



Itumela served breakfast only after 7:00 - too late for me so I set-off with empty stomach. I took the tar west to Serowe and kept religiously to 120 kmh max as the bike run reasonably well up to that speed. Above 120 it just vibrated way too much and felt really unhappy. I had to find out what the consumption will be at those speeds to see if I have any chance to tackle the distances required for the cutline up north (400 km plus).

The day was again shaping up nicely - there were big storm clouds gathering slowly far at the horizon, but I was riding in the clear and there was no immediate threat of the rain. The Kalahari was unusually green, which indicated that it has been raining heavily for some time already. This was a concern for two reasons. First and lesser one was that the salt pans on the Makgadikgadi could be under water, or deep mud. That wasnít major worry as I could always ride along the sandy banks of the pans, or worst case retrace back to Letlhakane and take the tar to Maun. I love riding the pans, but having done them 4 times before, missing them wouldnít be a major disappointment.

Which was not the case with the cutline (at this stage I was still aiming for the cutline circumventing the delta from the north, not the one to Kasane proposed by Clinton). It was one of the highlights of this trip and I would be seriously pissed off if I did not at least try to get through. The concern wasnít the cutline per say - the rain would most probably make the deep sand more rideable, but Selinda river crossing about 100 km northwest from Kwai village, as it could be impassable due to high water. The funny part is that I had no clue if I would be able to cross even with the water low. Standard Tenere has air intake already low as the airbox is under the seat. My air intake is even lower as I have the DNA stage 3 filter which basically opens whole left hand side of the airbox to get more air in - seriously limiting the depth of water the bike can go through. I would definitely have to walk the river before attempting to cross it, which on its own will be fun as the river seemed quite wide on the Google Earth (I think the people on the 4x4 forum mentioned that it can be more than 200 meters wide when the water is high - but then I wouldnít even try if it is high) and the chances were there will be crocodiles and hippos. The 4x4s were able to cross in the dry season so there might be a chance, but looking at the green Kalahari and the storm clouds it seemed that wet season was already upon me.

The more I thought about it, the more silly it seemed, but there was no point stressing about it at that point as I had no information about the conditions up there. I still didnít even know if I would be allowed there. Iíll have to figure all that out once in Maun. The good thing was that I had the Clintonís route as a backup - I have checked with Clinton that there are no river crossings on the 19th parallel, so rain was not a factor there.

Apart from playing with different route scenarios in my head, the ride to Serowe was uneventful.
The only excitement was one numbnut in BMW car who caught up with me and sat on my ass for few kms on completely empty high quality tar road. I couldnít get away as I did not want to go over 120, so I slowed down and let him overtake. He did that and then promptly slowed down to about 80 kmh. So I overtook him to get back to my cruising speed and sure enough in no time he was sniffing my ass again. Not sure what it was about - probably just herd instinct when he felt a need for safety in numbers like we were about to enter Fallujah or something. We repeated this exercise one more time and then I stopped to let him go face his fears without my ass for protection.  

In Serowe I turned north towards Letlhakane, the southern entry point to Makgadikgadi. I arrived there at about 9:30 and started looking for breakfast. There are couple of petrol stations on the main road but none of them had food available. They sent me to Shell in town with adjacent small restaurant and supermarket - very convenient as I needed to eat, buy supplies and refuel.

The restaurant was this little kitchenette with about 5 tables and strict maitresse who acted like she was doing me a favour. This brought back nice memories of growing up in the communist country where customer service was considered despicable perversion of decadent capitalist imperialists (Ďwho do you think you are to be served by fellow comrade, eh?í). I ordered full English breakfast and amused myself with annoying the maitresse  by asking for shit I didnít actually need, like serviet, toothpick, tomato sauce and such, just to keep her on her toes.

The breakfast was good though and with the energy levels restored I went for refuel. I was very relieved to see the consumption was back to 6l/100km - if I stick to 120 kmh max. So far good news for my planned cutline shindig. But I still wanted to see what sand in Makgadikadi is going to do to the consumption as the cutlines involved more or less 400 km in dirt, probably half of it deep sand.

The last thing was to buy water - lots of it, which in my case means 12 litres, 3 in my camelback and 9 in the water pouch/bag in the saddle bags. Iím paranoid about dehydration and heat stroke. I came very close to being hung upside down from a tree by the lake Turkana in northern Kenya and having water hosed down (or is it still up?) my ass as that seemed to be (based on advice from two British doctors my co-travellers managed to get on the satellite phone) the only way left  to cool me down quickly enough to save me from overheating and very possible death.

At about 11:00, fed and with supplies fully restored, Iíve finally headed out of town, crossed the main east west road to Orapa and hit the road north to Mmatshumo village, the set-off point for Kubu Island. I was surprised as the road to the village was tarred - it was dirt when I was here last time.

In Mmatshumo the tar turned east and I took the sandy track through the village north towards Kubu Island. I knew from my prior trips that I have to cross about 20 km or so of deep sand double track winding through the thorny bush before reaching the pans. This was always the most demanding part of the Makgadikgadi trip - especially on the fully loaded GSA1150 I have used before. However the rains in the past few days compacted the sand and I made surprisingly quick progress through the bush track - much lighter and more dirt worthy Tenere was obviously also major contributing factor.

I still managed to almost bite the dust within the first 100 meters in the bush after hitting the first deep sand track. As usually I could not be bothered to stop and lower the tyre pressure before hitting the sand so the track did it for me - the stopping, I still had to lower the tyre pressure myself. With the pressure right I continued without any further glitch and the bush ride was just sublime. I got quickly into the flow of the track, riding consistently at about 40 - 60 kmh, braking minimally, steering the bike with the rear wheel through the corners and dodging the thorns at exactly the right moments. I used to race skiing in the Europe and riding this track reminded me closely of skiing off piste in the virgin deep snow - once you let go of the need to control shit and the flow just takes over. The Zen was back with vengeance.

I was almost sad when the bush ended and I reached the Sua pan, but I was glad to see that it is dry. I set-off and in no time made it to the southern gate of the Veterinary fence, where I stopped for short chat with the gatekeepers.













Kubu island on the horizon:


After the gate I turned right following winding double track through the grassy banks of the pan. Again riding for kilometer of this track was just pure bliss. That is until I jumped on the rear brake to slide into sharp left hand corner and nothing happened. I managed to steer through the corner by quickly opening up the throttle and sliding the rear against the high bank of the track, and then stopped to check whatís going on. There was no resistance in the brake lever. The brake fluid level was right, the brake pads were fine and there was no visible leak - so I assumed that there must air somewhere. I kept pumping the lever and eventually it returned to normal. There was no point trying to try to bleed the brakes in the middle of Makgadikgadi as I have never done it before and I did not have any spare brake fluid on me anyway. It was an annoyance that could potentially limit the fun, but not something that would leave me stranded on the pans.

So I set-off again more cautiously, checking regularly if the rear brake is still with me. It seemed to hold and soon I forgot about it and got lured back into the more spirited riding. The track was alternating between salt pan and grassy sandy banks until the last and longest stretch on the pan ended on the south-eastern corner of the Kubu Island where I got welcomed by beautiful big baobab.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2014, 11:12:31 am by Xpat »
 

Offline Xpat

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2014, 10:18:16 pm »
Day 3 - Part 2: Kubu ->Maun

Kubu island (as most here probably know) is the rocky outcrop about 2 km long and maybe 1 - 2 km wide on the western bank of the Sua salt pan and home to probably hundreds of baobabs, which you would struggle to find anywhere else at this concentration (I think). From its higher points the island provides spectacular views across the Sua salt pan and fantastic views of the stars in the night as there is no light pollution. Itís very scenic and has been used over the years to epitomise adventure even in number of marketing materials - such as Top Gear, or marketing fliers for GSA 1150 (long time ago when somebody actually rode the BMWs into the wild for photo shoots - today they just photoshop 3 spotless metrosexuals into a creek).

All this didnít seem good enough for some illuminati, and got him thinking (probably watching Clarkson wax Kubu lyrical on the TV) - how can we make it even better? ĎI know, he thought, Ďlets build a pedestal with a plaque and erect a pole with Lekhubu banner - sure must work if it works to push energy drinks or motor oil!í. Luckily this being Africa, the pedestal is already cracking and the salt will hopefully deal with the pole soon.



I have reached Kubu after midday and stopped for pictures and to cool down - the midday summer heat was intense and made worse by relatively high humidity. I left the bike and gear in the shade under the welcoming baobab and went for a little walkabout to take pictures. The baobab leaves were unusually green, and the trunks were brown rather than reddish as I remembered them from before. The midday sunlight just washed the colors away - on the prior trips to Kubu I always overnighted there and could enjoy the best evening/morning light which makes the colors to stand out much better. But still Kubu doesnít disappoint event with sun at the wrong angle.











Back at the bike I poured some two litres of very warm water over myself, forced some more down my throat and lay down for about an hour in the shade to cool down and decide where to from here. On my prior trips I took the track west to Gweta crossing the Ntwetwe salt pan as itís the shortest route to Maun, and enables to cover more distance on the pans rather than tar. Clinton highly recommended the track up north towards Nata, which runs on the high sand bank between the Sua and Ntwetwe pans and is very scenic. I liked that, but the problem was that I was late - it was about 2:00 pm, and I still had to cover about 90 km to tar during the hottest part of the day and most of it in deep sand track (Gweta track - while longer, is probably easier as considerable part is easy riding on the pans). And then I will still have to cover about 280 km on tar to Maun - compared to about 80km less from Gweta. But then - I could always sleep in Gweta if Iím too late and make it to Maun next morning.

I went for the Nata route, and once sufficiently cooled down, geared up and set-off. The track circumvented Kubu from north along the pan and then turned north towards the next gate in the Veterinary fence. The ride up to the gate was easy track winding through a bush - the only problem was the rear brake failing again - I had to stop and pump it up to get it work again. At the gate I had quick chitchat with the gatekeeper and then continued straight north through the deep sand track crossing the grassy plain (the Gweta route turns left after the gate and follows the veterinary fence west). The riding was nice but required focus - the double track was deep and for many km soft sand. The scenery was nice - typical African plain with the long yellow grass and acacia trees flanking the pans on both sides.







Along the way I stopped at two kraals for a little chat with the locals. The first one was full of young boys who were very excited to see me (OK the bike). I tried to find out where all the girls are, but they did not speak any English so I just assumed that it was some kind of boys boarding school set-up or something. At the next one I have asked nice lady who spoke English if there is any chance to get back on the pan and ride it. There were big storm clouds gathering north west towards Maun, and I was looking for an opportunity to speed up and outrun the highly probable rain. I was making good progress on the sandy track, but it was obviously at much slower pace than I would be able to do on the pans. She told me to stick to the track - the pans were way too muddy.

So I soldiered on through the sand. I was getting a tired and sloppy - letís face it, Iíve arrived at the pans way too late and spend most of the day riding hard in the worst heat of the day - and as usually Iíve had way too much fun getting to Kubu to worry about silly little things like energy conservation. So inevitably I went down - twice. First, the track I was in got just too deep and the high edge of the track on the left caught my luggage and threw me to the right - Iíve seen it coming and slowed down so it amounted more or less to just tip over. Second was a bit more risky - my front wheel got thrown out against the left bank where grass got hold of it and stopped it dead. The sudden stop swang the bike 90 degrees left onto the bank. Again, I somehow sensed it coming so luckily leaned back sufficiently to not go over the bars.



Video highlights of the Makgadikgadi:
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/o_p06DXujLM" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/o_p06DXujLM</a>

The last about 10 - 15 km was my favourite double track winding through the bushes and then I was back on tar about 20 km east from Nata. I turned left on the tar and made it 80 km to Gweta, where I stopped at the Shell garage for re-fuel. I remember this place to be a shithole, but man it deteriorated to new low since I was here last. The shop was almost empty, hot and full of flies - I thought I may get quick hamburger or something, but passed. I needed to pump up the tyres - but no, they did not have the compressor. So I unpacked mine and inflated the tyres myself. After filling up with the petrol I was glad to see that the consumption offroad was under 6 litres - so I was good to go outlining.



By the time I was done it was late and I had about an hour of daylight left - and about 200 km to cover to Maun. The storm clouds west towards Maun were gathering quickly and I could see that it is already raining in places. So I had two options - sleep-over in Gweta or push on to Maun where I would arrive in the dark and most probably wet and/or electrocuted. The right answer was obviously Gweta, but the allure of the cutlines took over and I off to Maun.

To make most of the remaining daylight I ignored the unhappy engine and pushed the bike hard first about 100 km until the light was gone. After that it turned into one big schizophrenia - on the one hand I wanted to push hard to outrun the rain closing on me fast from both sides. And it looked like Iím going to lose - the whole horizon ahead looked as something from the Lord of the Rings, very dark with electric storms raging all over the sky. On the other hand I know how dangerous it is to ride in the dark in these parts - I have hit the cow on the bike before in the dark, and after few close calls with cows, donkeys and zebras, I have eventually resigned and slowed down to about 30 - 40 kmh. Number of times I have actually stopped to let the oncoming cars pass, as their lights blinded me completely. Going this slow, I had to also watch out and get out of the way of the trucks coming from behind, as they were gunning it and didnít give a shit about animals, let alone stupid bikers.

So it was with great relief when Iíve made it finally to Maun after about 2,5 hours in the dark - I even managed to stay dry, the universe stayed on my side this time. In the town I turned right and headed to the Audi Campsite. Audi was almost completely empty - strange as it was holidays and I expected lots of 4x4s as well as overland trucks which like to stay there. I scored one of those furnished permanent tents. Unlike the intrepid grizzly adventurers, Iím not big on camping - I do carry all the camping gear and enjoy it in places where there is no alternative like Marienfluss, but if there is reasonably priced fixed accommodation available I go for it. I just find tent too cramped with all the gear and way too much work after/before a long day in saddle.

Once settled in I went for dinner of proper fillet steak and couple of bears. After the highly stressful 3 hours the life was good again - I felt like I dodged the bullet (OK, donkey) a bit on those last 100 km.

So, naturally the universe not to overdo itself, went for correction again. In the bar Iíve caught up with the Audi manager and asked him about the cutlines. He told me very categorically that I should forget it - itís national park areas and no bikes are allowed there and should I be caught there will be severe repercussions. This put a damper on my mood right there, but I did not give up yet as I was pretty sure from the maps and chat with Clinton that the cutlines do not go through the parks. I will have to figure it out the next day.

Offline MegaPix

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Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #17 on: May 21, 2014, 12:49:46 pm »
I like your photos and the way you tell the story.  Well done.

Your English writing is also very good. 
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Offline Xpat

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #18 on: May 21, 2014, 01:09:17 pm »
I like your photos and the way you tell the story.  Well done.

Your English writing is also very good. 

Thank you MegaPix.

Offline Xpat

Re: Christmas Safari
« Reply #19 on: May 21, 2014, 01:22:21 pm »
Hi Thomas (hope I got your name right  ::))

I must admit I'm blown away on the scale of this trip!  Doing the Richtersveld, riding the the whole length of Nambia, plus doing a very wild route through Botswana.  Any one of those would be a "BIG" trip for me, but doing them all together is amazing! :thumleft: :ricky:

Interested to hear more about the bike.

Rally RR forks!  Those must have cost more than the bike?  :o :biggrin:

Also, just out of interest - not familiar with the bike - how do you increase the fuel capacity by "drilling the neck"?

What does the bike weigh after your mods?

Lastly how did you know the bike was running lean when it started running badly, did you take out the plug?  Also just wondering.

Alan, I have ended up doing completely different route as I wasted time at the beginning. I think the original route could be doable in three weeks, but I'm pretty relaxed about my plans - if I would make only two of the three highlights (which is perfectly doable in three weeks) I would be fine.

The RR forks: I have bought them second hand from Panne here on the forum and the price was very good. Servicing, fitting including tripple clamps costed more - but all together about 25% of the bikes second hand price.

Drilling the neck: Tenere has long neck in the tank, that does not allow to fill the tank completely full and leaves some pace for air I assume to let the petrol expand in the heat. If you drill that neck, you can squeeze in additional 2 liters of petrol, just don't fill up and leave the bike standing on the sun for a day. Here is a picture:



Tenere weight: I did not weight it but I would assume that it weights the standard weight plus all the stuff added - bash plate, central stand, pannier racks etc. I know that the main objection to Tenere is its weight and it would be nice if it would be 10-20 kg less, but this is not a major factor for me and for this kind which combines long distances on tar, sand and rocks its fine - I have TE630 for technical adventures.

Lean: we I just guessed and of course may be wrong. My bike is opened up greatly so I assumed that if fueling is wring it must have reverted to the standard map which is way too lean.