Amageza Rallye: Losing our way & our minds among Sand Monsters & Botswana Daisies

| October 17, 2015 | Comments (0)

IMG_0162This is a story of our craziness, a story of a challenge overcoming rational adult thinking. James Cunningham, Gavin Morton and I GG Alcock, Team Zama Zama, we must be mad, no maybe stupid, you have to be crazy to ride hard every weekend, run, cycle, gym every day for the best part of a year! The race for madmen, The Amageza, meaning crazy in Xhosa. A Dakar style navigation and off-road racing event which will test endurance, brains and skill.. oh yes and madness!

DSC_0164My KTM Umshini Wami saying “we going where???”

The route, Kimberly, into the Kalahari into Botswana and then back to South Africa. 5000+ Km’s, per day the longest rally in the world after the Dakar. A daily race of 600 to 750 km’s across the most arid, unforgiving terrain in Southern Africa, the Botswana daisies (thorn trees) plucking at your arms, the sand sucking in your tyres and your last reserves of energy, the navigation like a web of lies luring you down a maze of dusty red sand footpaths!

IMG_1637Gav at full tilt

My trusty team did it last year, an easy by comparison 5 day event… Gavin Morton roaring to 7th overall, James Cunningham who found the navigation a challenge, and I coming 20th, my first ever race. Jonathan Everest is driving support, driving crazy distances across the desert with water, fuel, tents and the odd hug we hope.

DSC_0003James, Gavin, Johnny, Me

Were’ on 500cc KTM’s home built by ourselves as rally machines with big fairings, soft rally seats, big tanks, mouse tyres, roadbook, ICO, GPS .. Yes it was Greek to me before I discovered that rally racing is about navigation without a GPS, trying to ride over crazy terrain at insane speeds while keeping your eyes on the road, on the navigation kit and survive all at once… for 8 to 12 hours at a time! Many of the bikes we will race against are purpose built 450 and 690 Rally Replica rally machines with 35 or 40 litres of fuel against our 20 and huge power for those open sand roads. Would we compete, would our bikes and our bodies survive?

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Scrutineering in Kimberly is a serious affair, bikes are inspected in serious detail, checking for roadworthy, 2 litres of water on a fitted container on the bike, even a check that you have all the right riding gear.

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DSC_0012Marking our roadbooks on day 0, this is our navigation tool!

Day 1

The day arrives, Johnny our support driver WhatsApp’s our fan club “All 3 rider’s out of the Parc Ferme and their way. Focused, nervous and determined. A gentle rain fell as they left, a true African blessing. “
Day 1 & 2 are a marathon stage, meaning that there is no support, we sleep at a mystery location and have to maintain and fix our bikes over the 1500km’s of unforgiving terrain that follows. Fifty meters from the start and Gavin crashes into a pavement in the dark smashing down bruising his ego and body but more importantly his ICO, a key navigation device stops working. I catch up with him and we ride together. At the second fuel stop 450km’s in we get a WhatsApp from James “My fuel pump has expired. With Jonny.” As we get to the start of the special, the racing section, my roadbook breaks off the fairing mount, it’s the rally equivalent of a roll of toilet paper with squiggles, distances and degree headings on it, and without it I’m stuffed. Not a good start for team Zama Zama!

DSC_0021The racing section start

IMG_7487 Gav starting fast
Gavin and I start the 300km special, the actual race section, it’s a taste of what’s to come, a soft sandy river bed, seems easy enough we have trained for months on sand, except the locals have dug the equivalent of the western fronts trenches and tank traps mining sand and digging for water. I scream in my helmet as I come around a corner, choose a less ridden line and see five holes all six foot deep and the size of a grave, all they will have to do is close the hole with me inside! I’m flying and just power up and manage to fly over, the bike hopping over the holes, my heart in my mouth.

 

IMG_7537Me on the river bed

What follows is just about every kind of terrain in Africa, open gravel highways where we get some serious speed, flat open pans with tracks heading off into a distant haze, soft sandy twee spoor and long sandy fence lines with thorn scrub which rips and tears at us, our jackets and tops are ripped even riding boots! An error on the roadbook has everyone riding in circles in the sandy bush causing much swearing at Alex’s (Amageza founder and organiser) expense! At the end of the special we have an unexpected last 115km’s to Camp, what happened to the distance Alex? A sting in the tail!

IMG_3006Gav through the Botswana daisies at pace.. like always
Our beds that night are the Van Zyl’s Rus hostel, a bunch of rickety beds and threadbare blankets in one large room! The biggest challenge is sleeping through the snoring, the room shakes to the sounds, like machine guns and grenades on the western front!

IMG_9987Me at the finish

Amageza Day 2 to Kang in Botswana.

IMG_9787Me entering Botswana

40 k’s Liaison, 533 kms racing stage. We expect sand monsters, we find sand monsters. We get so lost, again there is lots of riding around in circles, trying to work out where the roadbook turn is. I’m flipping short on fuel today for these distances and here I am going around in circles. I stop at a little shack, an old woman stands in the yard, her face looks like a raisin, this place takes its toll. I ask her what the track does up ahead trying to decipher the roadbook. She asks me where I am going, I say I don’t know but does the road branch off up ahead in a Y shape. She shakes her head, there must be 300 Y branches, but where am I going. I thank her, and ride off, she gazes at me her raisin face crumples up in more creases, she shakes her head. She’s right, Amageza, mad.

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I’m so lost but keep stopping to take pictures, lovely red dunes and deadly Botswana daisies… The thorn scrub. Springbok leaping past and ostrich running alongside. Hard to believe there is so much nothing and unpopulated barren places. Lots of wild horses and cattle… Scores of donkey carts. What do they live on…? Dust? It’s beautiful if you riding by, but then living here must be terribly harsh.
A group of us emerge from the sand maze, red dunes rise up ahead of us around a village which looks like a set from Mad Max. Where is that Theron chick? All I see are raisin faces and then wait Gavin…I’d prefer Charlize but the rest of the field are there, the race is stopped, the rescue helicopter is stuck in SA.
We must do a 500 km detour by road to Kang via some spot called Tshabong. We’re all desperately low on fuel, Dave Griffin, Gavin and I are riding when Gavin’s mouse goes, his bike hops around like a frog, we call Johnny to come fetch Gavin. Dave and I ride on slower and slower until he runs out of fuel. I tow Dave and his 690 for 55 k’s then I run out and Alex in his jeep tows us the last 5 k to fuel. Dave and I ride in the dark, cattle and donkeys fill the sides of the road, we share lights a dim tunnel through the wilderness. Its 8pm when we ride into bivouac. Flip that was a long ride..815 km’s!

IMG_7533I’m so fast i’m a blur

Day 3 Kang to Ghanzi. Good news for the day, a shortened stage. After a somewhat confusing riders briefing where road books and GPS co-ords had to be adjusted and waypoints re- entered a few times its good bye to the thorns and thick sand of the Kang Bivouac, a really crappy uncomfortable camp site. Gavin starts in second, I’m 20th, and James sets off last having missed two days due to his fuel pump.

DSC_0091The start

It’s a fast very sandy start for 60 odd kilometres, the twee spoor track is straight as an arrow, the sand is thick but you get your bike up on top of it and get some proper speed. No-one can get lost today I think when suddenly a village and crowd of cheering locals appear, nothing on my roadbook! Seems strange but I ride on for a few kilometres until I find Gavin and all the top guys having a conference. Lots of swearing, lots of riding up and down, every little path into the bush gets explored by a hopeful rally rider. I make a good guess as to where the track goes and get lucky, leapfrogging lots of lost riders. This is a world of donkey carts and horse men herding great herds of cattle. A crisscrossing maze of sandy tracks with mysterious ends.

IMG_4488Me blending with the Kalahari sand
It’s another day of fuel shortage. I have a hundred km’s to go with fifty km’s of range when I come to a village. I stop at a little spaza shop I ask for fuel. I get a blank look and a shaking head. I find out later, everyone else asked and got those blank African looks. I switch to my best (not so good) Tswana and knowledge of rural people, I greet, I ask the child playing in the dust her name, I apologise for my Tswana, its Gauteng style. The gogo smiles at me, reaches into her blouse and shifting her breast from one side to another pulls out her cell phone. “OK I’ll send him” she says, directing me to 5 litres of precious fuel. I fill up and race off, blitzing past fuel starved riders including Gavin at high speeds. Gavin runs out with 5km’s to go, I return with fuel for him, he nearly kisses me but his helmet gets in the way!
James comes in late, exhausted and dispirited. The rider in front of him hit a kudu, the kudu drops dead, luckily the rider flies over it and lands, shoulder broken and bruised but otherwise alive. The ride has taken its toll emotionally rather than physically on James, he decides to withdraw. He’s not the only one. Johnny’s WhatsApp group post that night. “Estimate about 52 riders left. The morning bivouac looks like a refugee site with forlorn bikes all broken and strewn around the site. Sleep is an issue with service teams working through the night up until start each morning trying to keep riders in the race.” We are not even halfway through yet!

IMG_9300Gav in typical high speed sand slicing

Day 4 I start ahead of Gavin, my navigation and Tswana fuel sourcing sneaking me ahead. Today is long tunnels of sandy track through archways of thorn scrub. The low hanging branches whip and tug at us.

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The sandy maze splits, crosses, splits, meanders across flat featureless bush, and soon we’re all lost again, another roadbook error! Then my moose goes, I realise what my wife has to deal with after too many drinks, I’m suddenly riding a mushy marshmallow. I limp to the closest village calling Johnny and James for help. At the fuel stop my Tswana again gets some help, with a local appearing with two tyre levers and a hand pump down a dusty road. Ninety minutes later, thanks to fellow rider Terence, James and our local Kalahari bush mechanic I’m on the road again.

DSC_0115James & the bush mechanic

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My lead is gone and I’m right at the back so really irritated I start chasing the pack, my regular stops for photos forgotten. Again my navigation helps and I catch and pass most of the pack, coming across Gavin at an accident. Gav was in the front bunch flying at speed and the rider with him, Herman, hit a huge rock and flew off landing unconscious. Gav called and stayed with him till medics arrived. When I arrived about 45 minutes later the medics ask us to help pull him onto the board. As he’s being strapped to a board, bleeding, dusty and hurt he says to Gav “Is my bike OK????”

DSC_0049Gav doing repairs

Day 5, we leave Botswana and head to Hakskeenpan. It’s a 750 km day with a short 200 km special.
The special is a lovely ride down desert highways today for 200 kms of deep deep sand, the ancient ocean bed beneath our wheels.

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Some saw lions, Gemsbok, I just stood and rode my weaving bouncing 500 as fast as I could. The road is straight as an arrow but the sandy ruts twist this way and that like cooked spaghetti. My normal range is 300km’s, I hit reserve at 170km’s and splutter out at 220km’s on the finish. Gavin crawls in mad, it’s his 3rd moose in 4 days, he asked the mechanics to replace his moose the night before and at 4am found they had not. The result he’s lost huge time and his lead.
We change the tyre at the Tshabong Wheel & Tyre and take the long boring tar back into SA, finishing at the beautiful otherworldly Hakskeenpan. The bivouac is word class, with Artic style containers with showers, toilets and an international raceway for the world speed record attempt.

DSC_0143Our crew Johnny & James arriving Mad Max style

DSC_0140Blacks Like me

DSC_0138Gav Likes the Pan

DSC_0147Sunset on the pan

Day 6 , 750 k’s long racing. I suspect it will be the hardest day, ending in Springbok. I’m less than a km out and in the insane dust of the start hit a rock and destroy my ICO. It does not help that the roadbook has another error, missing a turn, Alex has given us GPS points, and we find the route.

IMG_8802Me getting ready to race

It’s a wonderful riding day. Desolate Rocky valleys with jagged red and black rock. Nothing grows. You realise that desolation and harshness like that is enjoyed most by the traveller who can relish its murderous lack of life and pass on. Those who must survive, herd or crop see reality and their admiration is of an adversary not a soul fulfilling view.

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After the rocks we enter great grassy flower covered plains with rocky outcrops. Great vistas of gold grass, delicate purple flower carpets and yellow, white and orange Namaqua daisies. Maybe my bike didn’t like me being a photographer not a racer, but in the middle of it I’m taking pics and loving the view when my chain breaks! Riders come past, most stop and Paul Bredenkamp helps me fix it, a link from one rider, a hand from Paul, a chain breaker from another, advice, jokes, and laughter. The spirit of brotherhood, camaraderie is fantastic. I’m glad I am not racing in the front with Gav, I’ve fallen back to 30th, Gavin is in the top 5, but I have photos of flower strewn plains and laughed at fate.

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Day 7 and the final stage. Long and fast 850km’s to Kimberly.

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I’m on a mission, no photos today, I pinit racing from a 30th start. Today is about great open spaces of abandoned farm houses, white roads reaching into eternity, a desolate landscape with not even animals from Springbok to Kimberly. Odd patches of flowers add the only colour and life.The Kalahari sounds harsher than the Karroo but is full of life, game and contrasts. I catch Gavin and Vincent Crosby, we ride three up sliding through corners, racing East at great speeds, the end racing towards us on a rally roadbook and ticking ICO.

Ama d7 Dutc Sm 16Me, Gavin, Vincent Crosby (look for him on the Dakar) sliding fast to the finish

Gavin and I ride in together, Team Zama Zama, overall Gavin is 7 th, GG 13 th. In our class over 450 cc Gavin 4 th and GG 9 th. Pretty OK for non pro old ballies on home built rally bikes and a photographer with riding problem.

As we ride in, our Zama Zama Girlz await us, my wife Sue and Gavin’s Mishka.

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42 of 85 bikes finished. To finish 7 days of intense, technical, fast and competitive riding is nothing short of incredible perseverance, tenacity and loads of talent. Just to finish a stage is an incredible achievement. Well done to those who started and those who finished. I am proud to have shared this with you, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt. W

DSC_0170My route, pergotary, and loving it

Along with the Comrades, the Epic and dare I say the Dakar, this event is a truly legendary event which defines endurance, skill, fitness and pure madness. I can proudly say Gavin Morton and I are Amageza. We have ridden the road, navigated the tracks, the dusty paths of Africa have torn at our jackets, Acacia thorns tasted our blood, scratched our souls, the red sands scorched our memory, the jagged black rocks loomed over us. We have sweated and cursed, laughed and gasped, we are now less crazy because we have survived, but the unknown dusty bush tracks call us still… Where next, when, what wild call must we answer… What craziness Amageza!

IMG_9132Mshini wami & I heading home

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Category: RoAfrica, TRIP REPORTS

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