To the Lungs of the Earth

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by 1NiteOwl, Dec 2, 2019.

  1. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
    97
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    Southern Africa
    Much of the earth’s oxygen gets replenished from carbon dioxide in the rainforests along the equator. For every person on our planet there are currently more than 400 trees, but they are disappearing - part of the price paid for relentless economic development. As a result, carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere and we are experiencing the effects of global warming causing increasing swings in the world’s weather. With even Cape Town experiencing a severe drought in 2017/18, what is happening to the equatorial rainforests in Africa?

    We’ve been up the east coast of Africa to Zanzibar, but no further than Kaokoland along the west coast. We haven’t seen Angola at all, and never crossed the equator by road, but we’re not spring chickens anymore. Then I came across this at a local dealer and started to contemplate the possibilities.

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    A few Voetspore (local 4x4 TV travel program) episodes later a route northwards began to take shape and gradually the dream became a reality.

    With a lightweight bike everything changes: they are cheaper to maintain, have lower fuel consumption (even without fuel injection), less tyre wear, are easier to manoeuvre, easier to pick up and still have enough capacity to carry our usual kit. After a few months of commuting on it, I started looking for another Tornado. For mrs Owl.

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    April found me queuing for a new passport at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) offices. According to their website, it takes 10 working days to produce one.

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    With the general disdain that most South Africans have for their public service, one would be sceptical to believe this claim, but within two weeks we both actually did have brand new passports and could apply for the necessary visas. For this:

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    Few people seem to visit the Congo rainforests and their inhabitants, and even Lonely Planet is rather taciturn on the region (Angola merits only two pages in the Africa edition). Hopefully we can assist in expanding the knowledge base a bit.

    In the relentless quest for resources, the habitat of many animals living in this region is disappearing, endangering the very existence of those that have survived the civil wars so endemic to these countries. Even South Africa has not escaped this malaise – it just happened two centuries earlier and has been papered over by the development of game reserves and private game farms (we are the leading export country of CITES-listed trophy items). So maybe we can see some endangered wildlife north of the border before it’s all gone.

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    We’ve done the bosveld route through Limpopo many times before. As this is still the start of the trip, it’s an opportunity to sort out the packing of our stuff, shake down the mods on the bikes, the new equipment (we got new intercoms that are not properly fitted in our helmets yet) and hopefully improve the fuel consumption. It doesn’t start too well with mrs Owl’s Tornado running dry a few km before Vaalwater, with just over 200km on the odo. Oops- with that kind of range we may need those jerrycans more than we would like.

    The target is to get into Botswana before nightfall, and with about 6000km to go, there is every reason to get to the border as quickly as possible. After turning off the N1, we stick to the tar as the Waterberge ("Water Mountains") loom large in front of us.

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    Ellisras (Lephalale) passes under our wheels after crossing the Mokolo river, from where the road roughly follows the path of what is now the Limpopo river near the Groblersbrug/ Martin’s Drift border post (can anyone explain why we have FIFTEEN border posts with Botswana and only ONE with Zimbabwe ??). Electioneering is in full swing, but unfortunately we won’t be able to participate this time around:

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    Thirty kilometres out of town we cross the Tropic of Capricorn before turning north through the Waterberg coalfield:

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    Much of the region around Ellisras is game farming country (despite fact that Eskom- our power utility- is building the Medupi power station here, which will use all the current surplus water from the Mokolo Dam), and every now and then you can spot the animals from the road, like these sable antelope.

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    An hour or so later it is time for a final refuel before exchanging the green grass of home for our neighbour’s donkeys. We make a few last phone calls and send some messages before crossing the Limpopo to perform the usual foot & mouth disease ritual in Botswana, in the dark.

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    The current rate for a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) is now R217/ $15US (even for a small bike!), but formalities are reasonably efficient and by 19H00 we are off on the last stretch to Kwa Nokeng. After paying for camping, our Pulas don’t quite cover two P165 buffet dinner fees, so we share a (big) plate. It has been a long day after the usual rush of last-minute activities that went before it, so we turn in early. Gradually the distant roar of the trucks coming to and from the border fade away in the distance.
    #1
  2. brucemuzik

    brucemuzik Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 17, 2016
    Oddometer:
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    Planet Earth
    Subscribed! Sounds like an amazing trip.

    My wife and I are riding out Tornados around South America. Love these little bikes!

    Of you need any tech tips on the bikes (or have any to share) please take a look at my website for Tornado owners. www.xr250tornado.wordpress.com

    Stay emailing,

    Bruce
    #2
  3. simondippenhall

    simondippenhall Simondippenhall

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Hampshire, England
    Will be following with interest as my friend Jim did some of this earlier this year on his Congolese 125cc (Congo Brazzaville to Capetown).

    Small bikes rock! (Says the guy who was on an 1150GS :-) )
    #3
  4. WHYNOWTHEN

    WHYNOWTHEN where are the pedals?

    Joined:
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    closer to Baja
    Sounds great. I'm in!
    #4
  5. Chat Lunatique

    Chat Lunatique aka El Gato Loco

    Joined:
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    So you're riding a fossil fuel burning machine around Africa in order to lecture us on the dangers of global warning? Okay...... am I missing something here?
    #5
  6. lifeofliberty

    lifeofliberty If you're bored, you're not living

    Joined:
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    Using a fossil-fueled designed/sourced/built computer (or cell phone) to post a non-applicable comment on a fossil-fueled forum (non-sequitur). Looks like you're missing your confirmation bias.
    #6
    Animo, Tsotsie, Shaggie and 5 others like this.
  7. Chat Lunatique

    Chat Lunatique aka El Gato Loco

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    Guilty as charged. But I'm not the one lecturing on global warming am I? At least the Swedish teenager used a sailboat.
    #7
  8. mtncrawler

    mtncrawler Long timer Supporter

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    @1NiteOwl - Please carry on...looking forward to this RR...:lurk
    #8
  9. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Southern Africa
    " lecturing on global warming " is quite a leap of inference from my opening paragraph.

    I guess we should have gone two-up. Or just have stayed home.
    #9
  10. Chat Lunatique

    Chat Lunatique aka El Gato Loco

    Joined:
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    Stay home? No, have your adventure and please tell us all about it here. Might I gently suggest if the warming of the earth is of great concern to you that you might consider purchasing carbon offsets based on the volume of gas you burned. It's about the only way we can be green and still keep on adventure riding.
    #10
  11. buckthedog

    buckthedog Eastbound and down

    Joined:
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    South Mississippi
    Good grief... please stop. ^^^^^ We and the OP does not need a lecture. Im sure all the worldwide environmental leaders and scientists take airplanes to travel to do their lectures, and research. At least he minimized it by purchasing a modern efi 250 cc. I guess he could have sourced animal skins...no that won't work, maybe ecologically friendly harvested bark, formed his own footwear, and walked. He could post a "walk report" on ADVWalker.

    If you truly felt this way, just copy and paste your statement on Every.Single.Ride.Report.
    #11
    Tsotsie and Shaggie like this.
  12. flei

    flei cycletherapist

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    Western Mass.
    Wow! So totally in on this ride report!
    #12
  13. flei

    flei cycletherapist

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    Western Mass.
    This browser extension created by Inmate @jlevers can keep the cat (and others) from interrupting: https://advrider.com/f/threads/adv-get-rid-of-chatter-and-read-in-peace.1216948/
    #13
  14. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

    Joined:
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    Lowlands
    I recently stumbled on your amazing Great Wall Iron Curtain report. You and mrs. Owl are true adventurers! I will definitely follow this new adventure into the lesser known territories.
    #14
  15. 7800

    7800 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2018
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Western Cape, South Africa
    Hi Guys

    I will be travelling through these areas next year on my way down to Cape Town so definitely in! Have a great time, ride safe and keep the reports coming

    ps. I will be on a petrol guzzling crf250 so will chastise myself nightly all the way:hide . I'm coming home so maybe it offsets the flight :hmmmmm

    pps. Adventure riders in SA who are not on 800cc plus machines??????? Go for it:pynd:flug
    #15
  16. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Southern Africa
    We are up with the traffic the next morning (difficult not to) to find everything wet from last night’s drizzle. We drag over a table from one of the chalets nearby to unpack and sort our stuff (this process took a few repetitions before we finally got the packing part sorted). Everything that should be here appears to be present and correct. Good!

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    Nothing has come loose or fallen off the bikes, but mrs Owl’s GPS stopped working near Modimolle (Nylstroom) when the Zumo’s battery ran out and the USB cable I bought there made no difference. On her bike I installed the standard Garmin power cable with filter and inline fuse, so presumably that’s where the problem lies. A quick check with my continuity indicator confirms this diagnosis. Unfortunately I did not pack any 1A fuses, so a 10A one will have to do.

    My GPS now exhibits the same problem as the Zumo on mrs Owl’s bike. As soon as I turn the bike’s USB power socket on, the display says “SAVING TRACKS…” and at 4% it dies. I did not pick this up before we left, because I had cleared the tracks before the trip (so there was nothing to save). Clearly, it’s a cable problem and the GPS is trying to write data to a non-existent recipient on the bike. Fortunately, there’s WiFi and an hour or so later it’s clear what the problem is and how the GPS can be “told” that there is no computer to write all that data to.

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    While the regular USB connector has four contacts (+5V, Return and Data +/-), the mini USB has five contacts and the extra one is used to distinguish between regular charging connections and data comms. The likelihood of sourcing a 17.3 KΩ out here in the gramadoelas is zero and likewise the probability of finding any soldering tools required to make the required link. But…we have some aluminium tape and after trimming a thin sliver of this and carefully prising it into the USB mini connector with a tweezer, I eventually manage to push the connector onto the GPS with the tape still in place and the GPS is happy at last.

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    It’s noon by the time we finally get going towards the Makgadikgadi pans. At Palapye we are able to draw some Pula (Botswana currency) whilst refuelling. It looks like Uber Eats has also taken root in Botswana.

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    Annoyingly, I find that that Tracks4Africa is nearly 250m out with the turnoff in Serowe, and its detail further north also left a lot to be desired. With the late departure there’s only time to show my wife the entrance of the Khama Rhino Sanctuary before moving on. It must be one of the very few reserves with a 100% anti-poaching record; the remote location must surely be a factor.

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    Unsurprisingly with the bit of rain we had, the countryside looks more verdant than I have ever seen this part of Botswana. After an hour or so we stop for a “fuel break” and snacks. It’s about 240km from Palapye to Lethlakane, so we filled up one jerry can apiece as there are no pumps after Serowe.

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    Traffic is almost non-existent and even the usual hordes of donkeys appear to have found greener pastures elsewhere.

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    We stock up on water and fuel at Lethlakane and start looking for a camping spot along the road in the twilight. There’s a detour around the Orapa mine where a service road splits off the tar. A few hundred meters in we are almost undetectable from the main road, so we pitch the tent in the open, next to the track.

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    It turns out to be great spot and we enjoy a lappiestort (shower with a rag) from the water bag we filled up in Lethlakane with some rather oily looking water. We have a great night’s sleep at last as we start to get into the groove of life on the road and finally manage to get going at a more decent time. We see no soul until eight the next morning, when a TLB rumbles past, the driver waving a friendly greeting. By now we have also found a handy use for our tripod:

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    An easy stretch along the southern edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans awaits on our route for the day to Maun. It’s the usual washed-out sandy pan scenery through Mopipi , Rakops and Motopi….

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    …interspersed with villages where rural life goes along as it has done for centuries. In fact, the next 1500 km to the Angolan border are all as flat as a pancake at an elevation of around 3000 ft.

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    It’s become noticeably hotter, vaaler (pallid) and dryer since this morning and there is no water on either side of the bridge across the Thamalakane river in Maun as we head northwards out of town. Fortunately, the Motsana Arts café is still in business and we sink into the plump couches to enjoy a great cappuccino. A proper oasis!

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    Audi Camp is only a few hundred metres down the road and we check in to the campsite at 90 Pula per head ($8 US) after navigating the short but sandy access road.

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    The reception is very friendly although there’s visible decay in the bathrooms since our last visit. But aren’t these welcoming smiles??

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    Mokoro trips into the Okavango are not on offer as the delta is unseasonably dry. Along the edge of what little water is left, the camp’s boats lie waiting for the rains in Angola to make their way southwards.

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    #16
    Joris van O, K1DUDE, forgorin and 3 others like this.
  17. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    684
    Location:
    Lowlands
    garmin... their ability for using tracks is just about the only thing... software, user interface, build quality, all sucks.

    anyway, about the apparent drought at the moment in Southern Africa, just yesterday on the news here, an item about Victoria falls. Unusually dry there as well, I guess 80% or so is just a cliff now, no water falling off. It becomes more and more difficult to see events like that as an occasional exception…
    #17
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  18. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
    97
    Location:
    Southern Africa
    Before departing, I use the opportunity to patch our threadbare helmet linings and line up the intercoms. Today’s destination is Drotsky’s Cabins along the western edge of the Okavango, an old favourite.

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    After another leisurely cup of coffee down the road it’s time to get moving. The bikes are fine, but my GPS fix appears to have worn out. Whilst trying to get a Garmin power cable at Riley’s Garage, the manager offers the use of his workshop and the foreman walks me to the back. There’s an industrial-size soldering iron and a thick piece of solder on the workbench. By opening the metal shield of the mini USB connector I manage to get enough space for the soldering iron and after one or two attempts I have a thin blob of solder across the last two pins. A permanent fix this time.

    Once again we hit the road rather late. Our first stop is Lake Ngami, about 120 km to the southwest.

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    We were last here in 2015, when we camped at the end of the track at the edge of the water. This time, there is no water and the dusty road runs all the way through.

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    After refuelling we follow the road along the western edge of the Okavango delta. There’s still some 300 km to go to Drotsky’s and this is a pretty boring road only livened up by the multitude of potholes that have opened up. It’s dusk by the time we reach Drotsky’s, navigate the sandy approach road and settle in at our allotted camping spot. It’s too late for a sunset cruise, but there’s a boat ride on offer for the short hop to the dining room for a buffet dinner.

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    A great thing about these overlanding spots is that you get to meet some interesting folks, like these Germans with their Deux Chevaux. It’s a regular two-wheel drive but they have managed to drive through most of Africa including the Sahara with it, no doubt with copious use of those sand ladders. Sticker on the rear window: This is not a car…it’s a way of life!

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    Although Maun is dry, up here the delta is still navigable and we use the opportunity to get taken for a short cruise by Zebra.



    This place is a magnet for kingfishers and within minutes we spot a malachite, a brown-hooded, some pieds and a giant kingfisher.

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    Also the notoriously shy green-backed heron, some bee-eaters, a pair of fish-eagles…

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    All too soon our hour is up and we have to get a move on to the Mohembo border post where we get stamped out of Botswana and into Namibia. A painless process, but not costless: there’s another Road Fund to support and it’s $15 per bike. Unlike Botswana’s, which is valid for 90 days with multiple entries, Namibia’s is payable for each entry. Again a country with lots of border posts:

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    There’s a 20 km stint on gravel through the Bwatabwata Park before joining the B8 main road through the Caprivi Strip. Since we have to stop to sign the register at the park gate anyway, we make use of the visitor's table to have a snack.

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    We make a brief detour over the bridge across the Okavango river before refuelling at Hombe. Plenty of water at this end.

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    At the filling station a taxi driver comes over to chat. He turns out to be Angolan and is able to give some travel advice: the road from Katwitwi to Menongue is tarred, but in bad condition with no fuel en route. The better option is to ride to Oshikango, from where the road is good all the way to Lubango with lots of fuel available along the way.

    We reach Rundu in time for a late lunch at Debonair’s because here, as in many other towns we rode through, the Wimpy has closed down. The road basically follows the course of the Okavango river and if you happen to have a plot along the wetlands, you’ve pretty much got it made. Unless there’s a flood.

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    With plots along the river being so popular, there aren’t really any camping spots but fortunately Taranaga Safari Lodge comes to the rescue. There’s a sandy tweespoor track leading to an oasis a few km off the main road. We put our feet up for a beer and savannah before cleaning up in an open air shower and turning in for the night. The cost: $10 per person.

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    For those locals who missed the prime plots along the river, life looks rather dry.

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    But, unexpectedly, we come across a few centre pivot irrigation points that must have been financed by some serious investment. The kind that is unfortunately so rare in Africa.

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    I had expected that we would have to cover the 500-odd km from Rundu to the Angolan border on gravel, but it turns out to be a good tar road. But again, our fuel range lets us down when we have to back-track to Nkurenkuru after the locals tell us there’s no fuel at the Katwitwi border post.

    Herding goats along the road is still a dusty business.

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    With the lack of access to steel fencing here, natural materials get harnessed to contain domestic animals in demarcated areas.

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    …and sold as hardehout bundles for cooking.

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    It’s not long before closing time when we eventually reach the Oshikango border post. A swarm of runners close in on us, offering to arrange a speedy transit and a good rate on Angolan kwanzas. We decline rather unkindly but unnecessarily, as the rate they offer later turns out to be better than what is available at ATMs. There is little traffic, but not many signs either. Undeterred, our unwanted assistants point to a small air-conditioned cubicle along the road where a fat immigration official presides in air-conditioned comfort while we have to stand outside. It’s too late to get through Customs, but the official there is much more affable and explains the significant amount of paperwork that is required before we may set foot on our Marxist neighbour’s soil.

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    #18
  19. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    684
    Location:
    Lowlands
    Crossing the Sahara in a 2CV… just great. I never got beyond crossing France in one of those. It does seem to have beefed up suspension. Citroen actually have made a 4w drive version by simply mounting a second engine in the back. It was called Sahara and intended for the French North African troops. But having their butts kicked out of Algeria I guess they never needed it.

    Thanks for a great update. I particularly liked the photos of the local life in Namibia. The border crossing map is also very welcome, saves me some google time :-)
    Oh, and what a great shot of that kingfisher!
    #19
  20. liv2day

    liv2day Life is about how you handle Plan B Supporter

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Sherwood, Oregon
    Looking forward to following along on this adventure, appreciate your writing style and seriously admire you and your Mrs for getting out on bikes to do this trip.

    Great photos and story, I think it's pretty damn cool you figured out how to deal with the Garmin issue. I also learned something - didn't know that bit about the pin in the USB cable; filing that away for future use.

    Keep the knobby side down and continued safe travels :thumb
    #20