Joined: Jun 2005
Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa
Luangwa to Mutinondo river
Our plan for the day is to cover the 120km corridor route to the Great North Road and then do a quick 200km on tar to get to an overnight spot as we head home to Kasane.
The Corridor road has not been used since last year. Lucky for us Ahmed had cut open the first 20km to the local chief’s village. He warns us that the elephant are very aggressive in this first 20km. Apparently, years ago they were the most heavily poached elephant in the country. It was so bad that there are now elephant born that never develop tusks. All the adults were shot out, leaving the young ones to grow up without their leadership. Now these ‘undisciplined’ ones are running amok. Not a week goes by that there is not an incident.
We are happy to not run into any.
The cut-open road looks like this. It would have been damn unpleasant if it wasn’t. We are again doing this route without the assistance of GPS.
It does not take long for us to figure out that this is going to be a long day. It had rained quite a bit during the night, and although this looks like Hennie hit the deck for no reason, he did not.
Under what looks like a good surface, it is slippery as snot.
We have been paddling this stuff for a while and Hennie believes that he can ride it on the pegs. You can not. Check out the tyres.
We had barely done 10km and Hennie is not feeling well. I think that once you have used up your body’s reserves, you don’t just get it back with one meal or a night's rest. We are just not in the best of shape anymore.
Crashing while on the pegs is not making things easier, I can see Hennie is less than happy.
From here we both ride in first and we slide around for the next ten kilometres. You would have the bike snake off into the bush arbitrarily, you then hit the brakes and nothing would happen, the bike just keeps going with locked brakes.
And I keep on reading the track wrong. I would see the clay surface in the left track and the right track would be covered with dried grass. So I go for the extra traction of the grass. Wrong. The grass is just preventing the snot underneath it from drying so it is way more slippery than the exposed clay on the left.
We slip and slide in this shit until we get to the village.
Twenty kms in and we have already finished our water and we are sweating copiously.
Luckily the water problem gets sorted immediately.
By the way, have a look at these tyres. We knew we were going to need a lot of grip because this was going to be a muddy trip. I was also planning to ride the bikes back down to East London from Zambia, so we needed something that would last.
I opted for the Michelin Desert, a tyre I have used extensively and that I trust. Hennie is also a Desert fan and wanted one, but it seems Michelin does not import the 17 inch Desert. What he fitted instead is a Mitas E09. The tread pattern is actually quite close to the Desert, have a look.
Hennie was very pleased with the grip of the Mitas. I might well try one of those in future, it certainly looks like it will give better mileage than the Desert.
When we leave the village everything changes, no more mud and the villagers had started reconstructing the road for the dry season. Immediately the tsetse fly start chasing us though.
As long as you keep your speed up the tsetse fly can not keep up, but the second you stop they catch up and lay into you. We do not get much of a chance to enjoy the scenery.
And our luck doesn’t last, the road repairs last maybe 5kms and then we cannot outrun the tsetse anymore.
When the tsetse gets in under your shirt they just go into a feeding frenzy, well, they are always in a feeding frenzy, they just get better opportunities. Check out Hennie’s back.
The moment the road repairs stop the riding becomes very difficult. Long grass and ruts messed up with elephant tracks. Very technical.
We spend most of the time trying to balance on the centre ridge to avoid the deep ruts, but the grass hampers your sight so that you often cannot see where your wheels are supposed to go. We ride in first gear on the clutch all the time. Meantime the tsetse is eating away at us. It is hot, there is no airflow in this grass.
Where ever there is a little open area you pull up to get some air.
When you pull off it’s into the thick of it again. In this heat you are forced to ride with your visor closed because your face is used as a tool to part the grass. You can’t see shit where your wheel is supposed to go. So you ride blind feeling your way.
The grass seeds are making life hell. This is not enjoyable riding, not enjoyable at all.
When the savannah grass periodically opens up to something greener and softer it is bad news. This is, or rather was a wet area. Under that grass is a myriad of deep elephant tracks that have now turned to stone. But you cannot see them through the grass.
The road is just plain fucked. Everywhere, with no letup.
Hennie tries again to do the second gear thing and falls hard. Proper separation and all. Again his footpeg bends up, as well as his brake and his hand protectors. We get it sorted with tyre levers.
Look closely, this pic is of my bike, 15m away.
We fall over often. And we do not have the strength to pick up our own bikes anymore. You just hit the hooter and the other guy makes his way back to you on foot. We haven’t seen any locals for hours now.
This is not fun. It just gets worse until we cannot manage more than 2km at a time, then we stop and drink one liter of water and rest a little right there in the sun.
Pulling away again takes a lot from you because you are pulling off into a wall of grass. Two km on you are spent and forced to stop or fall down, and again drink a litre of water. I count 4 consecutive stops where we down a litre.
We have done by now maybe 40km of the 120km Corridor road. We misjudged quite substantially here. This hell may last for two days if we are lucky, three if we are not.
And then we come to this. In the state we are in this is insurmountable to us. The end of the road. We are not getting across here today.
We were sitting under the trees for a while before the two guys you saw in the previous pics showed up. We had not seen any people for about two hours already, yet when you stop long enough, someone comes to check on you.
And again, here where we are at our wits end, the good people of Zambia lend a helping hand, or rather, axe. We can get the bikes into the bush at the top of the wash-away, and there is a line for the wheels right on the edge of the wash, where the closest guy is standing.
Unfortunately, the branches will topple us over into the ravine and fortunately these guys know how to wield an axe.
They quickly chop the tree back and with some effort we get both bikes to the other side.
I am not doing well though, we again started without breakfast and the water we had been chugging seems to have washed all the good stuff out of me. I am dizzy and no amount of standing around waiting for it to wear off seems to be helping any. I feel weak, really weak.
Hennie is also not in good condition. We figure out that we cannot drink water anymore as we have very little left over, we have to save it for emergencies. So we decide to lie under the bushes in this ravine until the worst heat of the day has worn off. This is the first time ever on a trip that we take a siesta.
Hennie has some peanuts and I try to eat a handfull, but without saliva I cannot get this lot swallowed. So in the end I spit out what looks remarkably like a baboon turd.
While we lie there we get stung.., no, sting is not the right word. We get punctured by these.
When the worst heat is over we head out again. And things are just the same as the morning but worse. So much worse that between the two of us, we have only one picture to show for the whole afternoon.
Some arsehole had been here in the wet season with a vehicle; so the center ridge is flanked by two wheel ruts deeper than what my belly plate is off the ground. When you donner in there, the bike has to be physically lifted up because the back wheel does not reach the bottom.
Pulling on that bike with all I have, I fear that I will pop a vein in my anus any second.
The grass is still an impenetrable wall, we ride the clutch for hour after hour and my radiator fan never turns off. Sometimes I have to let the bike cool down when the warning light comes on.
The elephants have also more or less destroyed all of the road. Their muddy tracks, that had dried, makes it virtually impossible to ride, especially because you can’t see them in the grass. They are wide enough to take your complete wheel, so when you drop into one the bike slams to a dead stop and you topple over. I just do not have the strength anymore to try and stop the bike going down.
I get so gatvol of elephant tracks that I swear that if we run into a herd I’ll fucking assault them.
The tsetse situation in the meantime had escalated into a full blown slaughter. We are riding seriously technical ridges, standing on the pegs with one hand on the throttle, and the other hand crazily slapping away at your backside like someone being attacked by a swarm of bees. The second you stop, they swarm around front and come inside your helmet, trying to bite you on the face. Both of us get bitten badly.
Here is the one pic we took. Elephant tracks, some as deep as your knee and wide enough to take any of your wheels. Try to put your foot out and it disappears down another hole.
We emerge out of the grass to find ourselves in a village, and at a gate leading into South Luangwa National Park again. We pull up, order water, drink it, order more, drink that, order more, drink that and order a last one and when I’ve finished that I panic because I'm really close to puking it all up again because it feels like I might have overdone it.
We also fill up a 5l container. We must be looking pretty bad because all the faces staring at us have that “what the fuck?” expression.
Reaching a village is a hell of a thing for us, and these okes confirm the worst is over. Another 6km of the same grass, then 6km of good road and we should reach the Mutinonda river, where there is a community camp. We can sleep there. We ask if there is a bridge and the answer is; “There is a magnificent bridge sir.”
So we head off into the same shit, but knowing it is limited to 6km, makes it totally different. When we join a proper path we see fresh vehicle tracks and we know our world has changed for the better. The road is twin track with stretches of fine white sand periodically that lasts for a couple of hundred metres at a time. The center ridge is black mud that had hardened, with an edge like a 90 degree curb where the tyres of vehicles have shaped it.
The sandy bits are somewhat tricky because they are a very narrow V, trees to the outside and the curb on the inside. Hennie seems to struggle more and drops back and I try to get more stability by going faster.
I exit another sandy stretch at about 70 km/h and I must’ve tapped off just a second too early. The front wheel slips two inches to the right and starts getting intimate with the curb. Trying to jump it would lead to a nasty cross up and high side so I don’t even attempt it. At 60-70 km/h we go down. I make sure I get rid of the bike, because the last time we went down at speed the X spent the best part of 40 metres sliding on top of me.
I get up quickly to check if all is working and walk off in the wrong direction for a second or two until I recompose.
I get off extremely lightly. I have bruises and abrasions on my left leg, hip, arm and shoulder but I break nothing. The bike loses a mirror, my GPS holder breaks and the tank gets some roughing up, but everything else can be straightened and re-tightened.
Just like the first day, three km from the end.
After getting things up and working, we, and our tsetse cloud, work our way gingerly to the Mutinondo river, which turns out to have a nice new big bridge. Very beautiful river too. You can see straight to the bottom, yet it runs at a fierce speed. We appreciate all this while swinging shirts around us to keep the tsetse cloud humming.
The camp is right next to the bridge and we waste no time to get a rinse down in the river. We did 70 km for the day and we had to work hard at every single one.
We are told that we can have a bungalow, but that they do not have mattresses and bedding as they are not open for the season yet. How much for the bungalow? “No sir, it is free, we cannot charge you because we are not open.”
I get my tent and stretcher set up, but when I lie down I go into a feverish type of shutdown. I hear Hennie later, making food, but I cannot move.
Late that night I force myself up because I am concerned at having not had anything to eat the whole day, but when I swallow the first mouthful I know the next one will have me puking so I leave it.
I sleep very badly because of back pain.
I have always maintained that there is no such thing as a bad day’s riding. I was wrong.
This has been the worst day of riding I have ever had, by a long margin.
For example, there was a day, some six years ago, where it so happened that I raced flat-out into a field of semi submerged rocks. The surprisingly violent off that resulted, broke my forearm into six pieces. This was at about eleven in the morning. It also turned out that I could not get to a hospital until the day thereafter.
Now, if I had to choose between re-living that day, and re-living today, I would choose the broken arm day with no hesitation. I still have some good memories of that day. Before I crashed I was having the perfect ride, fast, in control, I was so in sync with that bike. It was fantastic, it still makes me smile.
There was nothing good about today however, nothing at all.
metaljockey screwed with this post 06-03-2010 at 03:12 PM