African diaries (or When we were young)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Thomas B., Aug 17, 2020.

  1. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    I was looking at some old slides the other day, because I need some time for my body to heal and shouldn´t be doing any hard work. Had a slipped disc that got operated last week and the doctor told me to stay away from bikes for the next 6 weeks – go figure – he doesn´t know me, but I will take it easy in the beginning. Got this in my body now and the good thing is – all the pain is gone that I have been having for the last months.

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    Bear im mind: this was in the late 80s early 90s. At a time with no internet, long before GPS-recievers were small and affordable, with very little available information, but with the fearlessness of the youth.

    I started motorcycling on a XL 250 when I was still going to school. Not because I wanted to ride an offroad capable bike, but because a 250 dual sport looked more like a «real» bike than a street bike (so I thought). Then I met a friend of a friend that was doing trial with his friends and he said that they had the permission to train in a huge gravel pit on the weekends and that I should join them and try my bike offroad if I liked. I remember joining them and thinking this is kind of cool. I was there every weekend that whole summer long and really got the hang of it. Then the friend moved to Berlin and all fell apart. After owning a XL 500, with which I had some problems and sold after one year, I bought a R 80 G/S, that was supposed to be a very reliable bike I had heard. I had no real intention to take that bike off the tarmac, but did do an occacional dirt road. A friend of mine would buy 2 monthly bike magazines and after finishing them would hand them over to me. I was still studying and had no money for such things. In one of the issues there was an article of two guys that took their dual sport bikes to Algeria. The fotos in the magazin were amazing, out of this world, and nothing close to anything I had ever seen before. Somehow this article stayed in the back of mine and popped up every now and then. I remember I tried to find information about a travel to africa. There was not much to be found at that time, and the information was often lets say – questionable. One guy recomended to use a wide, rundown road tyre for sand. A knobblie would just dig you in very fast. (Glad that info sounded strange to me and I never tried it out.) Another book suggested to take a large amount of milk powder with you as proteins were scarce. Only followed that advice once.
    #1
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  2. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    A year after reading that article I found a guy interested in joining me through an add I had put into a bike magazin. Going all alone seemed too risky to me so company was more than welcome.

    Living in Europe, Africa was just about at your doorstep. The only problem was that you had to cross the alps one way or the other. If you wanted to go in winter when it was not so hot and you could include the Xmas holidays for more vacation time, it was always a gamble with the snow. The highway is cleared very fast and ridable, but if it snowed the day you were leaving you were fu….ed and your booked ferry gone. I always made it although it was freezing cold sometimes.

    From where I lived, southern Germany, it was one days highway ride and a day on a ferry and then you were in Tunisia and in Africa. One more day and you were in Algeria. THE place to go for the real Sahara experience. Our plan was to follow the „main road“ down to Tamanraset, the most southern oasis in Algeria. Then do a loop through the magnificent Hoggar-mountains, and then decide what to do then.


    leaving home for the first africa trip

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    getting close to the pass over the alps we had to cross

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    what I learned then: there were always a couple of bikes at the ferry

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    #2
  3. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    Hi Thomas, I am very much looking forward to the tale of your first adventure!

    the first thing that strikes me in the photos is that all riders are young people. Looking at photos of today’s trips, it seems only time and technology has advanced, the riders are still the same people (only older).

    wish you a speedy recovery from your operation!
    #3
  4. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    Hi squadraquota, thanks for the good wishes, all is on a good way.

    You are right. The guys on the bikes in those times were all young. The older ones were in cars and trucks. But not only in Africa. When I was young exploring Europe on a bike you would go on a campsite in the evening and there were always other guys on bikes. Young guys that only had the money for a bike and camping. Nowadays we are often the only bike although the campsite is full. (Yes, we still do the camping thing)
    There are still alot of bikes on the streets, but when you look into the helmets you see mainly old faces (not that mine looks younger) and thos guys have money and stay in hotels.
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  5. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    Arriving at the ferry there a couple of other bikes waiting allready so we got in line. The next day we were all excited when our wheels rolled onto african ground for the first time, but we would have a look at Tunisia a little on our way back. Our goal was Algeria and we took the shortest way to the border. Going south in Alferia there were not too many options and since it was our first time in the desert we took the main road that is all paved – according to the map. We soon found out that that was only half the truth. The build quality oft he road was very bad and the big trucks going south quickly destroyed it so that there often were big holes in the tarmac, often more holes than tarmac or the tarmac was missing completely. Riding these stretches was non fun. It was often 1 and 2 gear for hours with alot of braking in between. Where they were working on the road there were long detours that were completely torn up by the traffic (mainly the trucks) and were there was sand it was very soft and deep and rutted. It was no fun. There were some fun bits here and there where there was space and you could ride beside the main piste and find your own way.

    On the second day in Algeria we were crossing the Grand Erg Oriental when a strong sand wind hit us. We were on a good tarmac road then but with the wind from the side riding in a serious angle on a straight road. The visibility was getting very bad and when the night came over us it became too dangerous to ride. We stopped and managed to get one of our tents up and jumped in. After a small diner of candy bars we managed to fall asleep. During the night the wind died down completely and we woke up to a perfect sunny morning. We had just enough time to pack the sleeping bags and the tent away before the wind picked up again getting stronger and stronger with every minute.


    First night in Tunisia

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    meeting other biker on the way in a cafe

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    Just look at that young guy - doesn´t he look cool?

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    crumbeling road

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    Seeing our first big dunes

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  6. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    Arriving in the oasis of Ghardia we took a days rest to recover from the wind. There were other bikers there coming from the south and we listened to their stories of doing some seldom used pistes and the faboulous riding they had there. Even after arriving in Tamanrasset a couple of days later I was not convinced that this was really so much fun. In the sand I had a lot of problems. I couldn´t get controll over the bike. It went with me where it wanted to and I had quite some crashes. We met some guys that had been out there in the wind a couple of days ago and had lost thier way. They couldn´t get a tent up so just lay there wrapped up in thier ground sheets waiting fort he wind to stop. They were running low on water and were even preparing to die out there. They had written good by letters for their families. But then the wind died down and a by pure chance a car past by giving them water and showing them the way to Tam. Listening to thier story got us thinking, but we hadn´t come here to stick our tales between the legs and go home. We didn´t want to give up yet. We did the Hoggar mountain loop, which was a very bumpy, corrugated ride, but had stunning landscape with unforgetable views and then teamed up with two guys in a VW bus, that were keen to join us on the way up on the piste passing Amguid. That was at the time a not very much used route going north, but we had heard that navigation was not too difficult.
    You have to imagine: we had no GPS only a compass and a large scale map (1:1000000) on that you really couldn´t see too much. And then there were big plains were you could hardly see any mountains or anything else for orientation. We would carry much more fuel and water than we do today for the same stretch because we often weren´t sure where we really were. Today you might not know if you can get to where you want to go, but at least you know where you are.

    That was „adventure riding“ (although it was not called that in those days) at its finest.




    long straight road going south

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    Erwin, I was traveling with

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    the oasis of Ghardia

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    spending the night beside the road with others that we met

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    look at that huge tankbag I had. It was terrible. on rough pistes it would bounce back and forth and allways hit my chest. Very annoying. I got rid of that in later trips.

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  7. oldschoolsdime92

    oldschoolsdime92 Been here awhile

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    very cool! Love this! Maybe I've overlooked it, but any idea roughly what time frame this trip was?
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  8. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    This trip was in the beginning of 1987. My god how long ago. What do we have now? 2020 - really? How old am I? I still feel so young!!!
    #8
  9. Dessert Storm

    Dessert Storm Dances With Drunks

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    Fantastic! :clap

    More please
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  10. forgorin

    forgorin Stuck in Japan

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    Sorry to hear about your back. Glad to hear that things will be ok.

    Wonderful! Adventure indeed. Things have become much easier to do with modern 'toys'. Not to disparage what modern riders do. But it took more guts to just head out there. I don't think i could have done it...
    #10
  11. Burro driver

    Burro driver dba John

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    Love meeting other travelers on the road. Sharing a campfire and sharing stories
    .... priceless
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  12. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    Thanks and stay tuned.
    More coming soon
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  13. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    Things indeed are different with all the modern technology we have. I would love to go back to Algeria with a modern light bike and gps. You could do so much more. But that is not going to happen anymore. Algeria will not be open to single travellers without a guide. Not in my lifetime. Sadly.

    Yeah, that´s allways fun.
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  14. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    On the Hoggar loop.
    We left our tents and tailbags in Tam and planned to sleep with the monks up on the pass - what was possible we had heard.

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    and with me

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    On the Assekrem in the middle of the Hoggar. The view is best at sunrise or sunset

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    #14
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  15. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    Wow that landscape looks otherworldly…it never ceases to amaze me that people can somehow make a living in such rugged environments.
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  16. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    On that Amguid-piste we had a great time. We often rode side by side over the big plains and got the feeling of complete freedom. We past the Erg Amguid a small dune region with soft sand, but no ruts. That was more like it. Just open the throttle and go. There I found out by shifting my body weight from back to front and back again that I had too much weight in the back. Leaning forward standing up would increase the bikes stability noticably. I began to love the riding. That was what I had come here for.

    We found our way north and after exploring Tunisia for a couple of days took the ferry back to Italy and made our way home.

    After still being in doubt if I liked this when we arrived in Tamanrasset, I wrote into my travel-diary I was keeping at the time after I got home:

    Africa, I´ll be back!


    Camping in the Sahara, always great

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    It was soft in places, digging out the van

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    At the Erg Amguid

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    from on the dunes

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    How cool I was

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    One more marvellous camping spot

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    And then this trip was over (more to come)
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  17. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    the Knight in White…in the era of the mustache…

    Any chance of hearing Sandra’s opinion about this photo? :lol3
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  18. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    Oh yeah the mustache. had that for many years, but got rid of it before I met Sandra.

    I´ll show the foto to Mrs B and see what she says.

    I´ll let you know.

    She is out drinking with a girlfriend I don´t know. Hope that turns out good.

    so I´m at home drinking alone - hope that turns out good!!!
    #18
  19. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    Ok, I asked her what she thinks of the foto and I promise I didn´t tell her why I wanted to know.

    She said: Oh, so white

    then a pause and then: so young and muscular.

    That´s what she said - I swear.
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  20. simondippenhall

    simondippenhall Simondippenhall

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    Thomas: You were indeed truly ! And I hope the back mends soon.

    I want to thank you for this evocative ride report.

    I also want (without hijacking your thread) to thank you and other adventurers of that era for getting me started on adventure riding. THANK YOU!!!

    On my honeymoon in 1983 in Southern Morocco, my new bride and I were sat on a cafe terrace one day when out of the desert rode a couple of guys on BMW adventure bikes.

    I turned to my wife with a sparkle in my eyes to say: “Wow! Just...Wow! “

    That remained only a sparkle until kids were raised but now I am in my 60s (and very uncool) I have just ridden from London the length and breadth of Africa on my r1150gs.

    And all thanks to you and your contemporaries for lighting that spark in the first place. Thanks

    End of thread hijack! IMG_7891.jpg
    #20
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