Crazy, I’m Crazy … The Amageza Offroad Rallye

| November 20, 2014 | Comments (1)

The first line on the Amageza Rallye should have warned me that this was silly!

Amageza’ is the local Southern African (Xhosa) word for ‘crazy’ – a vital ingredient you’ll need to brave this gruelling rallye challenge and win through for a coveted Finisher’s Medal.

“Awudeli ukuhlupeka” – you never get enough of suffering – said my friend Billy Chaka whose watched me head off many times shaking his head, as he sips on a whiskey and the comforts of new hot babe.

I guess our choice of rides are different, this time the ride I was planning was one of the hardest events of my life .. again the website should have warned me!

Facing long marathon stages, competitors traverse ‘liaison’ & ‘special’ race sections, in the rallye adventure style similar to the Dakar Rallye events from the 80s & 90s. First run in 2011, the Amageza Rallye is Southern Africa’s only multi-day, multi-stage rallye, with a daily moving bivouac that crosses a breath-taking, diverse variety of terrain: mountain ranges, dense African bush, giant salt pans, Karoo semi-desert, the world-renown Namib-Kalahari Desert, and the unforgiving Skeleton Coast.

The Amageza Rallye follows the format of a Cross-Country Rally. The objective of each rider is to follow the roadbook as sole navigation source, with a GPS to track the riders stage and provide directional (compass heading) information.

The roadbook, the fucking roadbook… a large roll of directions like a roll of toilet paper which you follow with clues and hints but which drives you crazy with frustration as you try and follow the hieroglyphics, plus at the same time follow the distance cues on your ICO ( distance measuring tool) and make sure your turn is the right heading on your compass or GPS set on heading mode. All this while trying to speed across the most inhospitable terrain the organiser Alex could find.

“The Amageza is a war of attrition, which survives body or machine” said one survivor, and in 2013, 17 out of 44 riders finished.

So we trained to survive, getting fitter than we had in years, riding for thousands of kilometres across harsh terrain and kitting, readying and hammering our bikes to get them as ready as our old bodies! We?

We are Team Zama Zama, meaning to try, to attempt, to keep at it.. although maybe Amageeza’s may have been more appropriate given our ages.


Gavin, Kieron, GG, James

Me, GG, I started riding a motorbike for the first time in 2006 and since got hooked on touring bikes, large cross country battleships with panniers and big screens and comfy seats. I’ve never entered a bike race, and now here I am on a KTM 500, a seat like an ironing board, a tiny fairing, huge petrol tank and a wild power that lifts the front wheel completely involuntarily with every twist of the throttle. My heart rate is at a perpetually race competing with the peaky revs and my grin in the helmet wider than the Tugela.

Gavin Morton, he’s been riding for years, before I was born I think, he rides with a fluid fast effortless style of a true expert, but patient and helpful he’s always goading and helping us crash test dummies. Gavin is the wheelie king and is perpetually on the rear wheel seemingly able to wheelie forever. Without Gavin’s help I would never have made it, years of riding, a friendly wisdom along with Gavins passion for bikes are priceless.

James Cunningham, surfer trapped in a toppies body, can’t work out whether he is a surfer, mountain biker or motorcyclist, also done lots of racing in his time. James is on his KTM 500, a competent off road rider but he can’t follow a GPS let alone a roadbook. Navigation is James nightmare inducing Achilles heal.

Kieron Murray, the bull.. wrestles a large 990 like its a 500, including training rides on wild sand and riverbed outdoing the little bikes! His bike a KTM 660 Rallye – truly a beautiful Dakar racing machine. Famous for claiming that he had this roadbook waxed, then leading us straight into lost, Kieron has yet to unwax himself.. now he says nothing & just rides!

Johnny Everest and Kyle finish off our team, we have decided to be supported and Kyle is our competent and energetic mechanic and Johnny logistics man, refuelling, racing ahead and putting up camp, only drawing a line at massaging our sore bottoms!

I think the last time I trained so hard for anything was for the Camel Trophy SA selections and that was when I was barely 30! Running, cycling, gym, press-ups (flip never remembered them being so flipping hard), riding offroad for miles and miles. Offroad means like looking at a rocky mountain, pointing the bike up to the top and riding over kilometres of what looks like my mother’s rockery. We rode the Pongola 500 – 500 km’s of sand along the SA Moz border fence and around Kozi bay and Lake Sibaya, riverbeds at De Wildt the enduro bike training ground and the mean black route at Dakar legend Alfie Cox’s bike festival. I bought my KTM on the 10th of August and when I left for the Amageza at the end of October I had done almost 4000km’s .. offroad!

[b]Judgement Day arrives,[/b] we head off for Upington, excited, nervous, ready to race.

Staying overnight at the Red Sands Lodge we partied into the night with the best kudu steak around, late night Captain Morgan and a stumble to our rooms. We awoke ready for the first day of Amageza only to find we had been burgled in the night. Locals, probably watching us drink and be merry knowing we would sleep deeply, broke in and carted off our cameras, phones, cash and even a helmet! It’s not the first time and the lodge kind of shook their heads and shrugged and called the police. Disgusting and irresponsible, they could have at least warned us.. but we had our bikes and we could still race, unlike our neighbour a professional photographer who lost more than R 150 000 worth of equipment en route to the Kalahari and would have to turn around and go home.

Scrutineering & Prologue: Upington; 2 November

In rallye events such as the Amageza and Dakar, the event is of such an extreme nature that if the bike can’t make it, you don’t have enough fuel or water, your emergency equipment is inadequate, you can realistically die out in the desert. For this reason these events do a rigorous scrutineering, every bit of the bike is inspected, emergency equipment laid out, radios tested, water and fuel quantities checked.. a long list ticked before you can race. We pass scrutineering, we are in and ready!

A short 2.5km race around a motocross track sets our starting times, Gavin and Kieron up front in the 20’s, James and I 41 and 42. James is desperately happy, he can let me navigate.

We get our roadbooks .. no turning back now, our hearts in our mouth as we mark the roadbooks, each colour a warning, information, a clue or hieroglyphics….

I guess before I start with the real action I must thank our sponsors…
RAD – thanks for the spares, the passion and the support, Hydr8 for the water, in the desert its like gold, Motorex for all the oil, lube and that kind of stuff to keep our bikes going, Mitas for some awesome hiking gear and Bike SA & Offroad & Adventure SA mags. As you’ll read we needed the support!

 

UPINGTON TO ASKHAM
3 November 2014
273km – Team Supported Race Stage
Liaison: 94km
Special: 179km

Day 1 of the race dawns! This is what we came here for, a last check of the bike, nervous handshakes and we ride off, the liaison an easy gravel road for 80km’s … flat sandy scrub stretching around us, teasing us, pretending this will be easy, the red dunes and sand monsters hiding just out of our visors sight.

The start, James and I line up, we’ll take it easy, James will follow my lead. The countdown like I’ve seen on the Dakar, the officials hand counting down 5,4, 3, 2 ,1 and I blast out of the start. The sand is soft but straight, the roadbook promises the first turn in about 10km’s. I stand, a surge of adrenaline pumps through me and the 500 screams in delight … soon I’m flying over the sand between 100 and 130 km’s an hour, bikes appear as a dust cloud, a dim shape and then I blast past ignoring the rear kicking about like a bucking horse, keeping the handlebars loose and watching the tweespoor flick around ahead of me like a video game.

Apart from an endless number of farm gates which we must open and close its easy riding, thick sand but straight flat tracks. The gates are the worst, stop, try and get your side stand to not sink in the sand, run to the gate, open it, push your bike through the gate and thick sand, run back to the gate, bike falls over, curse, close gate, pick up bike, jump on trying to stay on as you fishtail away in the soft sand and previous bikes tracks. I don’t know where James is but I soon catch up with Kieron. He opens a gate for me, I disappear ahead of him. He catches me throwing his big Dakar bike around like a 250 mx bike.

We meet at the first dunes, the start of planet dune… little tracks crossing over at first small dunes, then more and more, bigger and bigger, sand looser and looser. The worse is that for some reason as you cross the dunes the track twists left or right straight afterwards… “deliberate” I curse as my front dives and twists and I land fucking hard on my head metres from my bike. “Keep on the power” shouts Kieron, he’s right but when you brain is screaming slow down, stop, it’s hard to do the opposite!

I scream up one particularly high dune, “stay on the power, stay on the power”, then I see the Landcruiser full of farmer’s kids and local farmers, all with cameras held out. Too late I crest the dune and space opens up below me… fuck I’m dead I breathe but hold onto the throttle and land at full power the power keeping me going and upright. Soon the sign of a bukkie says “watch it” cheering happy locals cameras ready at some death-trap!

I stop to take pictures; there is a local with a horse at the top of a dune. He looks like a bushman but waves and greets me in Afrikaans as I stop. I take a pic of him, he walks up and I ask him to take a picture of me. “Ja meneer”, he draws out the eeer almost like a snarl. I explain how to take the photo with my phone. “Juslaaik it meneeeer I know how to use a cell phone”, he scolds me. Sorry ! I thought out here he would have a poisoned arrow and an ostrich egg full of water, but he takes better pics than I!

I lose Kieron while doing selfies with the San in the Sand…. And start overtaking people who have run out of fuel, I’m on reserve, I can’t help. I’m getting tired and start falling, as I come over one dune I see a video camera, I stare at him and crash down next to him, he grins and apologises! Fuck how much more of this is there … then suddenly it’s the last dune with a warning on the roadbook, I do two attempts and I make it, it’s the end of the special. Gavin roared through an hour ahead of me, in the top 10, I am 20th … Kieron gets lost and then his bike runs out of fuel and James… he arrives hours later, cursing me!


ASKHAM TO KAKAMAS
4 November 2014
328km – Team Supported Race Stage
Liaison: 196km
Special: 132km

Amageza Day 2: Huge 5 storey dunes, red sandy rolling dunes stretching into the distance and salt pans full of last night’s storm. Epic falls off dune cliffs and hard technical riding…

I lost James yesterday, today we will ride together. Yesterday’s finishing order cannot be confirmed due to the internet in Askham.. not that I am surprised, Askham is the furthest point possible from Silicon valley in every way!
On the easy liaison yesterday’s storm has filled the pans, this huge one stretching for miles to the horizon. A herd of camels is probably a warning of what’s to come but we point excitedly and cruise to the start.

The start is basically straight up a 5 story dune, I stop and stare from the bottom, bikes roaring up, crashing down, spitting up sand in high red streams at a standstill, and do crazy wide U turns back down to try again.


Gavin making it look easy

There seems no technique except stand and gun it hoping the momentum will keep you up and over. I choose a less rutted sand track off the main track.. the first thing I find is the soft golden grass clumps are like brick walls and each one I hit throws me up and in the air or off to one side, I have to swerve around and among them losing precious speed. Up, up, up, I scream motor roaring, I’m nearly there, I’m.. I’m.. shit a bike gets stuck ahead of me, I slow down, I sink and slowly roll over to lie panting on my side. The other rider comes over like a sleep walker dragging his boots through the thick sand. We drag my bike up the dune, then to his… it’s a 690 it’s heavier and on the softer side, we struggle, pant, curse, fall, and get it over!


Made it! Look how high this thing is!


Gavin cruises over the top…

The dunes stretch in a red wave into the horizon, soft golden clumps of grass wave gently in the wind, a track, ok a wriggle of tyre tracks, follows the Namibian border for 100km’s.

Dunes rise and fall, some small 6 feet high and some double or triple that, the technique to cross them is to stand and power up the soft sand dodging the pretty but brutally hard grass humps, and at the top the dune disappears in a cliff face of varying steepness which you desperately brake or slow down as you crest. Too slow or brakes generally result in you landing head over heels and often under your bike in an undignified sand puff as your front wheel digs in.

Soon we realise the only way to survive is to slow down slightly as the front wheel crests and then power down the other side hurtling suicidally down the steep side. Easy to know the technique but totally counter intuitive as your mind and body scream and try to brake instead of accelerate especially when as you crest tree tops appear below you, dwarfed by the dunes!

And the gates again….never ending, its an energy sapping routine, dune, dune, crash, lift bike, gate, dune, dune, grass hump, crash, lift up bike, gate, dune, dune! “Fucking gates, fucking dunes” James curses “will these fucking dunes never end?”


James thinks twice about going over the top

We stop and munch something on the top of one particularly high dune with a beautiful but tough vista stretching away in red dune hell! James is tired, I open the gates let him through, catch him at the next dune, overtake, open the gate.. I wait and wait… I walk back about a km, a rider comes up. “Yes bru saw your mate; he’s mobile but looks fucked”. James comes over the dune he’s not enjoying this, he’s not getting into the rhythm but there’s no exit plan here, we ride on. I begin to get the technique; I’m enjoying the dunes now, well ok, dealing with them.


Another gate!

There is relief in some beautiful pans, white shiny salty, in the centre full of shallow water.

Next week the Kalahari will be green, now its red sand, white pans, golden soft grass. Like a foreign army through it come these specks of Amageza crazy riders sometimes flying, zigzagging, falling, following the roll of hieroglyphics and compass headings. We laugh, wave, open gates for each other, check we ok, help pick up bikes at the bottom of dunes, confirm we are not lost. We share dry wors and energy bars and the insanity of this challenge and the elation of victory when we finish the special.

Johnny meets us with fuel and cold cokes, then it’s a long hall home, to Kakamas, where local school kids crowd us like Dakar heroes, but heroes called “oom” for autographs. Gavin cruised in hours earlier than James and I, his hardest day and as full of falls and crashes as us all.

Kieron’s bike has failed him at the start and he’s been towed in by another big bike, an HP2, and now the great Dakar machine looks like a savaged skeleton as Kyle and Kieron try to get it going, but sadly it’s the end of his race.


Kieron reverting to Dr Google for answers!

 

KAKAMAS TO SPRINGBOK
5 November 2014
522km – Team Supported Race Stage
Liaison: 270km
Special: 252km

Amageza Day 3: Pofadder to Springbok… Rugged Rocky koppies rising out of light gold plains of waving grass. Great herds of black sheep scattering ahead of roaring motorbikes. Tracks twisting and turning along riverbeds cutting impossibly through from one grassy plain to a red sand plain.

A boring 200km+ liaison gets us to the town of Pofadder. We fill fuel up to the brim, the special is 252km’s and that’s if we don’t get lost.
James and I start together and almost immediately get lost along with a whole bunch of others. Following tracks is fatal, just because everyone went one way means nothing, just that everyone is lost. I regain the track and decide to ignore tracks. The rain has washed away most of the road and we cross a flooded riverbed, the bike ahead of me sinks and crashes. I power across my front wheel skimming the sand, James follows, I hear him behind me for km’s until I stop for a turn, it’s not James it’s another bike. I wait, James arrives, he went right over the handlebars in the river. He’s less than amused when i ask if anyone got a picture…

Today a farmer has locked a gate on our route, everyone diverts, tries new routes, finds more locked gates, diverts again. We find our way twisting among rocky Koppies of volcanic type rock down riverbeds and onto immense open sandy plains with golden sparse grass stretching out to the horizon speckled with dark volcanic Koppies.

James and I lose the track in a riverbed, we put in the rescue waypoint on our GPS and head towards the point 2 km’s away. BIG mistake, we climb a steep volcanic rock koppie and hit a fence, no problem we follow the fence down into a gulley, Koppies rising in jagged rock cliffs on either side of us. The gully should lead us to the waypoint we think. We are not the only ones to make this costly mistake, a rider walks out from the koppie waving for help.
“Can you help me recover my bike?
“Where is it?” He points up the koppie.
“I thought I’d find a shortcut and got stuck!” It’s hot as hell, we are tired, James shakes his head, he hasn’t the energy for this. I climb off my bike and climb with the rider, up and up and stuck in a bush, jammed between some rocks is a KTM… his gear stashed under a rock in sparse shade! We wrestle the bike out, lifting it and dragging it out of its trap, the battery is flat, the owner kicks and kicks, its starts. I walk down, he rides or basically crashes down the hill.
The rider suggests he knows a route, up the gulley. Advice from someone who had jammed his bike in a crevice up a koppie would never have been good.. but we ride up the gulley, me leading. Over and over we end up on dead ends, cliffs of rock, James is suffering from the heat and exertion, we rest and then ride out the gulley fighting over rocks and drop-offs.
James decides he’s had his race; he puts Springbok in his GPS and heads off. I find the waypoint and ride on alone. It’s an afternoon I relish, alone powering along miles of twee spoor and single track in a world of tufty grass, plains and flocks of predominantly black sheep herded by lonely herders with rangy skinny dogs.


Hard to see but the dots in the distance are herds of sheep.

I run out of water, but the route is incredible and the navigation now relatively easy. It is late when I end the special, climbing and descending over an incredible mountain pass, or is it a goat track, twisting and dropping to the finish with spectacular views.

Gavin came third overall today, no mean feat racing against serious Dakar racers like Rian Van Niekerk (12th in the 2014 Dakar) It’s been a day of really hard navigation and beautiful Kalahari vistas. James decides he’s had enough, he withdraws from the race, he’s not that crazy after all.

 

SPRINGBOK TO SUTHERLAND
6 November 2014
561km – Marathon Stage (no team support)
Liaison: 390km
Special: 171km

Amageza Day 4: Springbok to Sutherland 540 kms. Dry desolate and broken jagged mountains. Tracks twisting and turning through the crags before opening out onto flat arid never ending Karoo roads.
Today starts with a long 200 + km liaison, first down the highway and then turning into the mountains and through beautiful fynbos covered mountains along tiny farm tracks.

Emerging at the other side it’s the flat karoo, and the special starts on straight 120 km/h plus farm roads. Screaming along this section I am looking out for a triple caution we have been warned about when I see a group of bikes. Brian on a 450 Dakar machine had a faulty ICO, meaning his distance measure was not there. If I was doing 120 he would have been doing substantially more than this, and he lay almost 90 meters from his bike and the huge drainage ditch and hump in the road. He was helivaced out of there later with a bad hand break, a lucky guy.


I’m lovin it

Easy riding today, with the odd triple caution on the road book and a lot more wash aways and dongas not in the roadbook. Fast, twisty but technically easy, today was fun, until Calvinia. From here another liaison section took us to Sutherland down a flat straight boring district road for 150 km’s. so straight and flat in parts you could see you pension coming!

Calvinia was out last stop with our support crew, today & tomorrow was a marathon unsupported stage to Cape Town. I caught up with Gavin and the team in Calvinia, lucky for me Gavin glanced at my rear sprocket … well what was left of it. Hard riding, sand and stone had done a good job!


Smooth sprocket .. Thanks RAD for the parts.. its a long walk to Cape Town!


Kyle & Kieron

Gavin and I slept that night in Sutherland boarding school dreaming of the end on the beach, our special women, Mishka & Sue and that cold first beer…..that is our dreams filled with the soundtrack of Gavins mind boggling snoring!

 

SUTHERLAND TO CAPE TOWN
7 November 2014
372km – Team Supported Race Stage
Liaison: 286km
Special: 86km

Day 5 done! Amageza finished yeeha! Today a great fast 100 k special with a drop down the precipice from Sutherland to the valley below. Quite exhilarating riding a bike down a goat path too fast. The end a finish on the beach with Table Mountain behind!

The special today weaves through fynbos, its very pretty, twisty but flat and easy and fast riding although the odd cutaway or donga tries to catch you out.

We reach the top of the mountain range and the vista drops away incredibly to the finish of the special far below. Whooping with glee I rocket down the pass, an easy although steep path almost vertically down the mountain. Gavin flies rather than rockets down…


Down where!

Gavin gets a smiley, a dent in his rim, and is losing air from his tubliss tyre but rides on determined to stay with the top riders and finish’s well in the top group.
Then the long liaison home at legal speed limits, its hot and the girls and beer awaits, it’s a looong ride to Cape Town.


My back on the Amageza, end of day 5 racing!

Amageza Finish, that mountain in the background! 2000+ km’s of brutal specials, Kalahari sand and hectic navigation. I came 23rd overall, but most importantly I finished. Gavin comes in 7th overall, 3rd in his category, an awesome result and well deserved.

[u][b]The Amageza [/b][/u]- Dunes desert rocky koppies flat red sand plains and twisty mountain passes… an amazing mix of South African terrain and vasbyt spirit! We are Amageza comrades, we have pushed and pulled bikes up dunes, fallen and lifted bikes together, opened gates, shared fuel, raced each other, got lost together, cursed the roadbook, waved thanks & sweated and at the end stood proud under the finish arch. You would be crazy to do this again. That’s why its called Amageza, Crazy
I remember when,
I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so special about that place
Even your emotions have an echo in so much space
And when you’re out there without care
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly

And I hope that you are
Having the time of your life
But think twice
That’s my only advice
Come on now, who do you
Who do you, who do you, who do you think you are?
Ha ha ha, bless your soul
You really think you’re in control?

Well, I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
Just like me

.. see you next year at the Amageza

But until next year, we drink, we celebrate and enjoy life

Thanks to Dutch Rally Press, Amageza, Kyle & Zama Zama team for the pics
And again to RAD – thanks for the spares, the passion and the support, Hydr8 for the water, in the desert its like gold, Motorex for all the oil, lube and that kind of stuff to keep our bikes going, Mitas for some awesome hiking gear and Bike SA & Offroad & Adventure SA mags.

Category: TRIP REPORTS

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  1. Steve Parsons says:

    Hello GG – i am testing

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