Zambian Joyride

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by metaljockey, May 28, 2010.

  1. metaljockey

    metaljockey Dodgy SOB

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2005
    Oddometer:
    279
    Location:
    Eastern Cape, South Africa
    We wanted a trip with a bit of a challenge, something to get our teeth into.

    Zambia stepped right up to the plate and shoved it down our throats.

    Day one

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    Day two

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    Day three

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    And every day thereafter we were challenged and rewarded.



    If you want riding bliss, Zambia is it.

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    #1
  2. metaljockey

    metaljockey Dodgy SOB

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2005
    Oddometer:
    279
    Location:
    Eastern Cape, South Africa
    Livingstone to Sinazongwe

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    It was to be just two of us, me and my pal Hennie. Neither me nor Hennie had any experience of Zambia, but we had heard good things, and we were keen to do a trip with a difference.

    Normally our trips are at the end of the dry season. This helps with the terrain and the game viewing. But I have grown weary of the dusty, dry and mono-chrome surrounds. I wanted some greenery, moist sandy tracks and the odd thunderstorm to pretty things up. So we planned to hit Zambia at the end of the wet season.

    Our first target was to ride the length of Lake Kariba on the Zambian side. So we started from Livingstone and the first 60 potholed kilometers claimed my number plate.
    As soon as we swung off the main road towards the lake, it became clear that we were gonna get what we came for.

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    I have never been able to ride mud, and I doubt that it is a skill that I will ever acquire. This red stuff however turns out to be not too bad. It’s scary stuff to encounter and it makes you build up a sweat in no time, but after a couple of kilometers you can actually ride it pretty effectively. It’s almost like sand, just let the bike move around and do it’s thing, the throttle can get you out of most situations.

    Rivers are running fast and high. Not really a good sign because we intend crossing a variety of rivers that are only passable in the dry season. Zambia had a proper wet season this year; three weeks before we came, there was news of 12 people having drowned in floods.

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    When we get to a village we stop for some refreshments. Have a look at my headlight and screen on the X and the headlight and screen on Hennie’s 800. We had just ridden the exact same road. Now please explain to me how BMW finds it appropriate to fit an ornamental fender to the most off-road biased model in their range?

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    It turns out that this village has no beer at all. Well, not commercial beer. They do make a home made jobbie from milk and maize though; chibuku. Now this is upsetting news for us, we are on the first day of our trip and already there’s a beer issue. We may have to learn new vices if this is indicative of how things are going to be for us further on. So we have some chibuku. It turns out to be an acquired taste. We will have to put some effort in if we hope to become regular imbibers. On the plus side, it’s cheap, around $0,15 a glass (or plastic container). There, it tastes a lot better already.

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    After climbing a rough track we finally get our first view of Lake Kariba in the distance.

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    We have left the road by now and the track we are on is proving to be very enjoyable. Stopping at a stream to cool down I take the opportunity to clean some of that mud off my radiator.

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    We are by now riding parallel with the lake but the track is several kilometers inland so we never get to see the lake. Good riding however, crossing streams and the like every so often.


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    We get some quality riding in and by late afternoon we notice that we are within striking distance of a lodge called Kariba Bush Club. Seeing that we are tired and dusty this looks to be the ideal spot to overnight. When we get there, there is a sign at the gate that they are closed for a private function. We try our luck anyway but are shown away without so much as an offer of a cold one as consolation. The cherry on the cake being that the guys in charge stand there with beers in their hands. To be fair though, they were really civil about it.

    The next lodge is 60 km away. A bit of a tall order as it is late afternoon already, but I reckon we can make it. I’m wrong of course, like I always am when it comes to getting somewhere before dark. And so it happens that on the first day, in the dark, we have to cross a river where the bridge washed away. Although it is not too deep it is flowing and has a sandy bottom (‘spoelsand’ in Afrikaans). I make it some way in before the back wheel buries itself.

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    Excellent, wet boots for tomorrow then. To our relief extra hands appear out of the night.

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    They are experienced in these matters too and we are sternly instructed by an 11 year old to shut the bikes down and put it in neutral. By pushing the bikes they are able to stay largely on top of the sand and although it is hard work and I have to take a short break to get my breath back, we manage to get both bikes across.

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    All this takes place just 3km short of our destination. And the last 3km we have to find our way through a flooded floodplain which can be tricky in the dark.

    When we finally get to Lakeview Rest Camp, we are the only guests. Being tired, filthy and wet, we opt to take a bungalow and with an icebucket full of beers and Fanta we retire to our stoep to reflect on Day One.

    We are mightily impressed with Zambia. It’s seldom that the first day of a trip gets out of the blocks so decisively. We are well satisfied, this was not a day wasted.
    #2
  3. InterGalactic

    InterGalactic SoleTraveler

    Joined:
    May 27, 2010
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    16
    Location:
    NW Georgia
    :rillaBring it on :super
    #3
  4. prometheus rising

    prometheus rising Ghost In The Machine

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2008
    Oddometer:
    834
    :thumb :thumb Yeah !! You're back for another round:clap :clap :clap
    #4
  5. Longbow

    Longbow Vroooom

    Joined:
    May 22, 2010
    Oddometer:
    294
    Location:
    Billings, Montana USA
    I am looking forward to this adventure. :lurk

    Have a great ride, Good luck.
    Longbow
    #5
  6. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2009
    Oddometer:
    168
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    :clap:clap:clap

    In.
    #6
  7. flying.moto

    flying.moto Earthbound Misfit, I

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2007
    Oddometer:
    349
    Location:
    South of Gorman
    IN!

    Another amazing place and another real world insight on an 800 i want so badly!

    My sister has been to Africa once an I'm still yet to make it there... but when I will, it must be on a moto.

    Thank you for taking us along! :clap
    #7
  8. petefromberkeley

    petefromberkeley -

    Joined:
    May 13, 2004
    Oddometer:
    3,294
    Location:
    Berkeley, CA

    :clap:clap I rode across Zambia in '05. This ride report can only be a good one! I wish I could go back! Have fun guys............
    #8
  9. trepeir

    trepeir n00b

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2009
    Oddometer:
    3
    Location:
    Indiana
    Cool Pictures and good luck on your adventure.
    I'm jealous, I want to go.

    Viele Gruesse Trepeir
    #9
  10. metaljockey

    metaljockey Dodgy SOB

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2005
    Oddometer:
    279
    Location:
    Eastern Cape, South Africa
    Sinazongwe to bush camp

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    The next morning we get to see what Lake View Rest Camp looks like.

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    I unpack my saddle bags that got flooded last night to dry stuff out and also strap them up high, it looks like water crossings are going to be par for the course from here on.

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    I also do some waterproofing to electronics.

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    After a good breakfast and a chat with Keith, the manager, we get going. As we pass through Sinazeze we buy petrol out of 5l containers, as we won't have the opportunity to fill up for some time from here. They rip us R20 per litre ($2.60).


    Anything with wheels can be a victim of the wet season.

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    Even caterpillar tracks in stead of wheels are no guarantee.

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    This proves also to be the last intact bridge, the next one and all thereafter are washed away.

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    From hereon only foot traffic. And of course us.

    Wet boots for the second day.

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    It is really pleasant riding, good gravel and crossing streams every so often.

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    As we come around a mountain we see a river through the trees to our right, and it’s a big one. This could be a problem. After crossing a washed away part of the road on a footpath we come upon a Hilux bakkie that has been parked in the road for months. Clearly caught between the washed away road and the river. And when we get to the crossing our fears are confirmed, the bridge have been washed away.

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    I make myself comfortable under a tree and Hennie goes to walk it. Things don't look too good.

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    We are not keen to backtrack for two days, so we sit down and start working out ways of dealing with this dilemma. The thing about rivers is that the longer you spend with them, the more you get a feel for them and what can and cannot be done. If you take your time, a solution will invariably make its appearance. We watch a local cross the river on a very different line and we walk the river a couple of more times to check the best lines. Finally we believe that it can be done and we offload the bikes.

    It’s not too deep, but the force of the water can easily wash the bike out from under you. With local help and a towrope we go for it. We figure that if we are able to stabilize the wheels ,we should be able to get across.

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    It's hairy, the river is flowing strongly and the bottom has large rocks.

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    After getting the bikes across we also carry our luggage across and take a well deserved cool down.

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    We are quite chuffed to have made it across.

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    Luggage strapped on again and ready to go. Close to the end of this rocky bit I go down and the bike falls on my leg, painfully so. It takes a couple of attempts from Hennie to get the bike lifted high enough for me to pull my leg out.

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    I am increasingly getting a dislike for the air shock on this bike. When you put a foot down to steady the bike and unload your weight on the seat, the shock pushes you right over because it has such immense travel.

    Immediately after we cross this river it becomes clear that we are the first vehicles to travel here since the beginning of the wet season last year. We also again learn the value of Tracks for Africa as the main route has been abandoned, even by pedestrians. Something serious must have happened further on if even the locals do not use the route anymore. With the grass having overgrown the alternative route we have to go down to a 80m scale on T4A to find where the track begins, even so we ride past it four times without seeing it.

    The riding turns technical and we have a ball.

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    This well has a plaque that says it was sponsored by Canadians, and I just want to thank them, they made my day a lot better.

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    I am generally against outside aid but I must say, these wells make a huge difference to the quality of life of the people living here.



    We continue riding and get a wide range of terrain to play on, rocks, sand, mud, clay, ruts, cambers, water crossings, everything your heart can desire. We spend the whole afternoon on the pegs just basking in riding nirvana.

    Because everything is wet we get a lot of practice riding all kinds of slippery surfaces, and we learn a new skill. We are used to using the clutch to control the power output on the back wheel. Here however, we learn to modulate the throttle only. Using it to get the weight off the front but being careful not to overdo it so that the back wheel does not start slipping, because we are continuously riding the center ridges between ruts as well as cambers.

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    Looking for a place to camp proves to be difficult because everywhere is wet.

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    We finally find a small sandy patch, still wet, but at least not muddy.

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    I find that with all the falling over during the day, my spare engine oil popped it's cap and everything inside the pannier is now well oiled.

    The kids from some nearby huts come to have a look at us but keep a respectful distance of about a 100m. This is new to us.

    We've just had the best day. We conquered a river, we rode the most entertaining paadjies possible and we both agree that even if we were to crash and end the trip tomorrow, it was already worth it. We are damn happy.

    That night we lie down to the sounds of drums and singing, beautiful female voices. Very atmospheric. During the night we have a rain shower passing through and I am glad that I am sleeping off the ground on a stretcher.
    #10
  11. machalooney

    machalooney Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2009
    Oddometer:
    233
    Location:
    SMOKEY MOUNTAINS
    Looking forward to riding along! But first, I am going to go for a ride, thank you!
    :1drink
    #11
  12. Shaggie

    Shaggie Unseen University

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2005
    Oddometer:
    2,765
    Location:
    Christchurch, New Zealand
    subscribed!!

    woo hoo a MetalJockey RR!!
    #12
  13. Bigger Al

    Bigger Al Still a stupid tire guy

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2004
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Auburn, CA
    Wow!:clap Your images are fantastic, and your writing style is very easy. Thanks for bringing us along so far.:freaky

    I have got to ride in Africa someday...........................

    Subscribed.
    #13
  14. WarLlama

    WarLlama belligerent cameloid

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
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    Location:
    twixt & tween
    :clap :lurk
    #14
  15. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    376
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    I'm in! I launched a 25,000 km ride from Lusaka on a Dakar in 2003. Never ventured so deep into the bush in the rainy season though! All those water crossings are wild!

    I like it. More please.

    :lurk
    #15
  16. Shaggie

    Shaggie Unseen University

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2005
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    Location:
    Christchurch, New Zealand
    :lurk




    :ddog
    #16
  17. z987k

    z987k Long timer

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    Location:
    Anchorage, AK
    :lurk
    #17
  18. mtb_man

    mtb_man Unfettered

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2009
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    Location:
    Canberra, AUS
    I'm so excited to see another MJ ride report that I think I just pee'd a little.

    Can't wait to see how this one ends. :lurk
    #18
  19. Goran69

    Goran69 MNE

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Montenegro Europe
    Another Metal classic..:clap :clap :clap :clap

    And already great
    #19
  20. metaljockey

    metaljockey Dodgy SOB

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2005
    Oddometer:
    279
    Location:
    Eastern Cape, South Africa
    Bush camp to bush camp

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    The next morning as we are packing up, the kids of the previous night appear and bring their parents with them. They bring us a gift of five corn on the cob. How's that, we squat on their land and they bring us gifts. So far we have found every single Zambian to be very friendly, courteous and helpful. We also get a lot of waving and cheering on when we ride past.

    And the fantastic riding continues, interrupted every so often by river crossing challenges. Luckily Hennie seems to like wading rivers so I try to keep my fresh socks dry.

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    Which is of course futile. So, for the third day in a row, it is squelching boots for us.

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    It's like enduro riding, just with a heavier bike and at a leisurely pace.

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    By this time I have already made up my mind that Zambia is going to see me again. Day after day of this kind of riding you do not find just anywhere. It is pure pleasure.

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    When we start finding vehicle tracks we know that we won't be turned around anymore by some river, mud or washaway.

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    We have a humorous moment where Hennie gets lost amongst some huts in a village and comes out the way we went in and keeps going. For several kilometers he is puzzled that he is now following two sets of bike tracks in stead of one before it finally dawns on him that he is backtracking.

    And again we need to get the tow rope out.

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    You won’t believe how tightly that sand can hold a wheel. It took both of us and several villagers to get the 800 unstuck.

    When the track opens up we know that we are close to Chipepo and we take a break to have some of those mielies raw.

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    We are absolutely delighted to come across a settlement that we did not know existed and they have beer.

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    And a disco ball.

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    We are also introduced to Whiskey Black. Double the alcohol content of beer, so we figure if we pack two each it means that we will have four beers each for tonight around the fire.

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    From here we are riding blind as we do not have any mapping on the GPS. We are working off an old map that indicates a road through to Siyavonga. I have always found it strange that no two maps on Zambia ever agree on anything but the main routes. Being here it becomes clear that on an annual basis the wet season changes everything to the extent that from one year to the next, good, new roads can disappear.

    Everybody is very helpful though and we learn that the road is known as the Bottom Road, and that it may be passable for us but not for other vehicles.

    It starts out very nicely.

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    Nice fast riding.

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    But, if you see a suspicious stick you need to tap off.

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    It was put there by some Samaritan to warn you of an impending teeth-on-the-handlebars situation.

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    Fallen baobab. They are giants that live for hundreds of years, but once they topple they disappear quickly into dust as they are fibrous.

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    Just look at this lovely stuff, now tell me you don’t want to enjoy that yourself.

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    I hear all kinds of shenanigans from the rear of the bike when I hit whoops and upon checking I find that my home made rack system had broken a weld. Hennie has the allen keys so I wait for him to turn back so we can make a plan.

    Which just makes this funnier. He crossed this ditch and waited for me to take a pic. After some time he crossed it successfully again to go look for me. Then, when I'm there with the camera it's third time unlucky and he fucks it up.

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    All this mud and wet sand is deadly for brake pads. I once did a wet and muddy enduro with brand new pads and within 90km they were down to the metal.

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    So we brought spare pads and lo and behold, third day of the trip and the 800's rear pads call it quits.

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    In East London, where we stay, the closest BMW dealer is a 600km round trip away, so the 800 gets bastardized. Thank you Simon (our KTM dealer).

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    The break also gives me the chance to modify my socks to protect my calf where the top of the boot has worn it raw. One of the things you learn happens when you stay wet for several days in a row.

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    The other thing you learn is that there is a massively potent and pungent algaebacterialvirusbastard that thrives in wet helmet environments. Not the common variety either, this one only kills off the others on about the third day. Fucking disgusting I tell you.

    When the track dries out we don't recognise it as a sign and blissfully go on a substantial trip in the wrong direction.

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    And still, wet feet guaranteed.

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    And still just fantastic riding.

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    We get put back on the right track by locals. During the two days we spent on this track we must have asked "Is this the road to Siyavonga?" probably over 50 times, and every time we were given the correct answer by helpful locals. You try that in the Transkei and see if you get two answers that concur.

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    It gets harder to believe them though, late in the afternoon and the road is just a voetpaadjie. Several times we take a wrong split and have to hunt around.

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    When we get to a substantial river, I just feel that we cannot possibly be on the Bottom Road anymore because we reach it on a sandy single track and the other side is just bush. There is a large bridge though that appears to have been abandoned a long time ago and the access to it has been washed away.

    After scouting around for a place to cross the river, an old man makes his appearance. I ask him if we are still on the way to Siyavonga. He lifts his arms over his head and casts them forward across the river as if he sees a wide highway and says“"Yes sir, this the main road to Siyavonga". This is the exact spot he indicates.

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    We have to cross with a circuitous route because a ravine deposited a whole underwater beach of custard-like mud in front of our exit. Powering through is necessary because the bottom is a mess of sand and mud alternating.

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    Here Hennie has to cross the ditch and turn 90 degrees right up the hill without losing momentum, which looks like a tall order to me.

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    He manages though.

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    I think it's all done and I miss the picture of the day. The back wheel slides into the top of the ditch and with Hennie hanging full length on the bars the 800 flips over backward. I can see it is going to crush him down in the bottom of that ditch and catch myself shouting for him to get out of the way. Somehow he manages to get it sideways before it's too late.

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    Again we get help from the locals to get the bike upright and up the bank.

    Then it's my turn and I manage to avoid all the pitfalls only to get stuck in a rut right at the top.

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    It's late and we are dog tired so we look for a place to camp.

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    The warm Whiskey Blacks are welcome but we feel well used. Four days of hard riding and the last full day spent on the pegs takes it out of you.

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    Personally, I'm slowly getting gatvol of wet feet all day every day.

    Again we find that the locals keep a respectful distance and again the night air brings the joyous singing of women. It is special to me because it is so Africa, villagers getting together to sing at night around the fire and you can hear the joy in the women’s voices. They really love the singing.

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    #20