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Offline Xpat

Short way around the delta
« on: May 17, 2016, 06:30:09 pm »

For few years now I wanted to circumvent Okavango delta Maun to Maun properly - meaning riding Botswanian tracks and cutlines north of the delta between Khwai village on the east and Seronga / Shakawe in the west. I have tried to incorporate it into each of my last 3 Christmas trips, always failing due to running out of time or breakdowns. Apart from one post on a 4x4 forum I haven't heard about anybody who has done it - especially on a bike. And yet - to my surprise - the route nowadays exists even on Googlemaps and has actualy a name - Transit Road.
Makes one wonder what the heck are you lot - the cream of African adventure biking - doing :pot:.

So when my boss brought to my attention that I can have 10 days off over Easter if I take 2 or 3 days of vacation I jumped at the opportunity (wondering nonetheless why the boss wants me out of the office) to have another try at the delta circumvention. The plan was easy - ride up to delta on as much dirt as possible, circumvent the delta, do some exploration of area east of Namibian border between Tsodilo Hills and Dube border crossing and quick dash straight back to Joburg.

I do most of my trips solo mostly because I'm just too lazy to try to accommodate constrains of other people with all the attendant compromises, but decided this time to give it a go and put out feelers for a partner or two. As one would expect over family holidays most people were busy, but eventually AlanB put me in contact with Straatkat, who was keen to join. Unfortunatelly his work commitmets (he works for himself, so public holidays do not work the same way as for us corporate rats) didn't allow for the full 10 day trip. He had 4 days, so he decided to join me for two day ride up to Gweta through the Makgadikgadi pans, where he would turn back to Joburg, while I will continue to the delta.

With that settled all that remained to do was to pack up and wait for the departure on 19th of March.

Planned route:

Few teasers:


Offline Ganjora

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2016, 06:47:39 pm »
This is going to be good.

Offline OOOOMS

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2016, 07:18:52 pm »

Offline Stevie

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2016, 07:19:12 pm »
This looks proper

Offline Xpat

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2016, 08:08:34 pm »
Day 1

Straatkat on TE610 and I on 690 met up at the Total garage in Hartebeespoort at about 7:15. I was 15 min late as I run into a dense fog over the mountains - probably the first time I run into fog in/near Joburg for the 9 years I've been living here. After cheesburger we set-off and rode tar 20 km or so to Brits where we hit the dirt roads passing through the private reserves on the way to Assen and Rooiberg. We were ridding at quite a klip - the roads were good, but occassional sandy sections and washouts kept one focused. I was clearly the weaker link in the duo, jumping up the pegs into the aggressive attack position at the sight of a slightest change in the surface, while Straatkat cruised unfazed nonchalantly sitting his front wheel about a meter or two to the right of my rear wheel to stay out of my dust. I eventually eased into the ride (as someone who started riding dirt in his middle 30s, I have to basically relearn everything at the beginning of each ride) and we cruised at what I consider reasonably high speed (though Straatkat may have dozed of here and there) steadily up north.

We stopped in Rooiberg for an early lunch. We spent lazy hour and a half eating and chatting before we set-off again. Due to my sketchy planning we missed the golden opportunity to fuel up, which would force us to change the route later on in the day, due to limited fuel capacity on Straatkat's TE610 (and probably mine 690 with all the rear wheel spin). You see, first day was basically a liaison and the plan was to get to Palapye on as much dirt as possible: from Rooiberg we were heading up along the western fence of Marakele NP, and then after 20 km or so on tar I wanted to hit the dirt roads to Stockpoort border crossing, from where I have plotted another 130 km or so of little dirt tracks to Palapye. It was a good plan, but there was no chance for refuel after Rooiberg as we would bypass both Thabazimbi and Lephalale - the next petrol was in Palapye about 250 km away. But I didn't use my brain which later forced us to make a detour to Lephalale and Martin's Drift.

After lunch we jumped back on the back and pushed north. We stopped only rarely, so there were limited photo opportunities. Here was one with Waterberg in the background:

Straatkat styling it up with Waterberge for a backdrop:

While riding along the Marakele western fence, Straatkat couldn't stand up my high speed cruise anymore, and gunned ahead leaving me in the trail of dust. When I caught up with him waiting on the crest of a small hill, he had big smile plastered on his face completely oblivious to the three elephants in blind panic pinned between electric fence and a mountain about 40 meters behind him. Before I could stop and warn him, he buggered of while I stopped the bike to calm the elies down and try to get some pictures. Not sure that was the best move as for a while it looked like the matriarch is considering charging through the fence, but eventually she moved off after the rest of the family and all I managed in the commotion are these glimpses of elephant matron disapearing in the forest:

After Marakele Straatkat run out of petrol in his main tank and had to refill from his own custom made 8l rear tank. You see, Straatkat is a resourcefull man who knows how to use his hands to make his own stuff (all I can use my hands for is to search ebay and type in credit card details). Being a smart man, he didn't want to overcomplicate it so he didn't put in additional electric pump, but rather uses much more robust manual pump to trasfer petrol to the front tank - which on occasion earns him a wanking comment or 10:

That was the point when I realised that I screwed up and we will not be able to make it all the way to Palapye without refuel. The only option left now was to a detour to Lephalale for refill, so we took dirt roads there instead of Stockpoort. When we made it there it was getting late (those dirt roads take time even though we weren't slacking), so after quick refill, we hit the tar to Martin's Drift border to save time. Martin's Drift took about an hour or more due to usual bottleneck at the Bots road tax counter. Which turned out to be blessing in disguise as we found out later we have just missed a huge deluge on the way to Palapye.

Once throug the border and after quick rehydration stopover at the Kwa Nokeng garage we pushed to Palapye 100 km away, which we reached just as the sun disapearead behind the horizon. We got Pula at the ATM, refilled, and headed for overnighter in Itumela campsite - the backpackers of choice in these area. Palapye looked like one huge swamp - clearly the ground was too waterlocked to be able to absorb the latest deluge.

Which almost came to bite us in the ass, when we made it to Itumela, where we found out to my dismay that they are sold out. WTF - this used to be quiet place hidden behind hideous train station that only initiated knew about. Nowadays its preferred stopover for the overland trucks, and if you happen there when they arive (they all seem to have the same schedule for some reason), you might find yourself out of bed.

Eventually, they found a room for us that was booked as a reserve should somebody from the overland truck want to upgrade from a tent. And I was really glad, as the whole camping ground was just one huge puddle and even getting to our accomodation we were sliding all over the place in thick mud.

Once settled in we headed to the bar for few beers and buffet dinner before hitting the beds.

Route ridden:

« Last Edit: May 17, 2016, 08:09:49 pm by Xpat »

Offline skydiver

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2016, 08:50:28 pm »
Looking forward to the rest  :thumleft:
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Offline Pilchie

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2016, 09:07:43 pm »
May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live

Offline Xpat

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2016, 10:44:38 pm »
Day 2

I cannot remember if they do not serve breakfast in Itumela or they start serving too late, but we I believe we did set-off without one - apart form quick lunch bar or some such. Objective for the day was to cross Makgadikgadi pans and make it to Gweta for sleepover. It is bit of a shame not to stay over at the Kubu island, but I have been there 5 - 6 times, and Straatkat had a tight deadline.

Bikes ready to go:

Unlike day before, we had about 240 km of tar to Lethlakane to get over with before we will hit the dirt again on Makgadikgadi. The slab was boring and annoying, but we soldiered on and made it to Lethlakane at about 10:30 or so. We stopped at the new Engen garage for a bite and petrol. It took a while to recover from the mind numbing slab and get blood circulating in the extremities freely again. We used the time enquiring about the current situation on the pans. Already getting there, we have seen heavy clouds gathering over the pans, and locals confirmed that the pans are wet. How wet, we will have to see ourselves.

Filled up we finally set-off shortly before noon. First 30 km is tar up to Mmatshumo, where we continued north on the double track running through the 20 or so km of bushes surrounding the pans. Very soon we hit the first puddles covering the track for dozens, sometimes even 100 meters or so. Initially we tried to look for alternative routes, but the bush was dense and pretty sure it was clear that we will have to get wet:

Occasionally there were dry sandy patches, but not for long:

Eventually we made it to the Sua pan, but not without one or two mishaps. Of course, the pan was wet.

Straatkat and the butterflies:

I have ridden them before wet and knew how unpredictable and dangerous this wet snot can be, so we opted for the track following the western flank of the Sua pan. It was much better - for a while...

But the track eventually hit the pan anyway. Big parts of the pan were under water - it was basically a shallow lake/swamp instead of set of big puddles:

I was cruising without so much as a sweat, but Straatkat had a hard time keeping Husky up. The reason was simple - tyres. He was ridding Michelin T63 upfront and Kenda Block at the back. Luckily for me I have finally listened to Runner's recommendation before the trip and put real knobblies upfront (Maxxis CrossIT Desert) instead of usual E09 and left E09 Dakar at the back. And while the back was all over the show if I wasn't carefull with the throttle, the front felt absolutely safe like it had nail sticking out of it. Once or twice I pivoted 90 degrees around the front when I lost rear, and perfectly in control. I haven't felt once on the pans - actually on the whole trip, and another one after. And not for the lack of trying.

Straatkat on the other hand, didn't have much luck with that bloody Michelin. I think he mentioned that he went down 11 times whiile crossing Makgadikgadi, and it was sapping his energy. What was worse, his bike - apart from having really stupidly low air intake, has some weird condition and when the sparkplug gets wet it dies and doesn't want to start. He did his best to avoid it, but that Michelin made sure it came to bite us in the ass.

Straatkat down in the drink:

After one of the falls which seen the airbox intake under water, Straatkat decided rather to take the sparplug out before starting the bike to prevent potential starter/valve damage. Luckily this time there was no water in and the bike started up without problem:

Space out of water was scarce:

So we pushed on - with all the reflection it felt a bit like riding the sky:

Eventually we made it to the southern veterinary fence gate. I knew that afterwards the track runs on the higher grassy ground flanking the pan, so I Straatkat will have better time riding there:

And it looked good!

For about a km...

This ditch unfortunatelly proved fatal for the Husky - well for the day at least. Straatkat had a mishap in it and the bike wouldn't start afterwards.

Out went the tools, sparkpugs, exhaust, the works. There was water in the engine, that must have made it there through the exhaust, as the airbox wasn't at any point under water. Once we believed we got the water out of the engine, we tried to push the bike. We got an odd explosion, but the bike wouldn't start. Eventually after many tries and with daylight disapearing quickly, we set-up camp on the higher and dryier ground about 100 meters from the road.

These 4x4s came by backtracking from the pans. They said there were 4x4s stuck on the pans ahead sleeping out there and they were not keen to end up the same way:

Straatkat giving it his best:

But the daylight was fading fast:

Route ridden:

Offline Ian in Great Brak River

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2016, 12:09:41 am »
Bliksem! ... yet another full on adventure, Cool Bananas!

1978. It's 6am, mid winter...two up on a XL 185S ... off to my first casino ever with all of R40 and we've got a full tank of fuel, so enough to get there we reckon.... that's determination...

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Other bike: '05 Honda Varadero 1000
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Offline lj111

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2016, 07:38:29 am »
Sub :sip:
Looking good :thumleft: and a bit wet :eek7:
Some people feel the rain and others just get wet...

Offline OOOOMS

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2016, 07:44:38 am »
And awsome pics  :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft:

Offline katana

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2016, 09:17:42 am »
If you want to haul ass, you gotta mix gas.

Offline FrancoisTz

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2016, 09:37:13 am »
Guts you have in abundance, well done.
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank amongst those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Offline ROOI

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #13 on: May 18, 2016, 01:59:39 pm »
 :sip:  sub

Offline Orangeswifty

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #14 on: May 18, 2016, 02:20:39 pm »
Great guns guys
Epic trip!
send more!! :thumleft:
Bertie should have taken his SE :biggrin:
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Offline Xpat

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #15 on: May 18, 2016, 02:36:10 pm »
Thanks for the comments.

@Orangeswifty: SE would be great for this kind of trip (including Okavango circumvention) - lots of flat riding with dozens of km of deep Kalahari sand  except for one thing - the fuel range. For the Okavango part one will need at least 400 km range and that is without reserve for unforeseen events - like not being able to cross Selinda river and have to back track. I think that may be too much even for standard SE - Bertie's has Rotweiler conversion and my understanding from him is it eats even grass along the way if unattended.

Offline Crossed-up

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #16 on: May 18, 2016, 02:57:53 pm »
Great stuff! Look forward to more.

Offline ktmmer

Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #17 on: May 18, 2016, 03:28:11 pm »
Looking forward to more.

Online Rough Rider

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #18 on: May 18, 2016, 03:39:32 pm »
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Offline Operator

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Re: Short way around the delta
« Reply #19 on: May 18, 2016, 03:59:24 pm »