The Race of Halfmensbome, Malmokkies & Malmense

| March 24, 2016 | Reply


The West Coast Baja pronounced Baha is run by the same crazy guy Alexanda Nel who runs the Amageza (crazy people) race.  I quote from his website “A Baja is a motorbike offroad event normally over 2 days and is intended to prove the skill and endurance of riders, and the reliability of their machines. The terrain consists of natural landscapes including mountain, rocky sections, dunes, rivers & dry riverbed & navigated using a roadbook.”


The West Coast Baja is based in Port Nolloth and racing is in the Richtersveldt and surrounding terrain.  I know a couple of key things about this area, one there is sand, there is red sand, white sand and dusty khaki sand, all dotted with camel grass humps and dunes all of which are flipping hard to ride over. Two there are rocks, sharp red, Richtersveldt rocks rising in koppies and high mountains jutting out the sand like warts on a sand skin, ready to cut tyres and, smash bikes. I know with great trepidation that both the sand and the rock have the same desire, the desire to grab my bike and throw me off or slide under my tyres bringing me the rider smashing face to face with the sand or rock.
Even the vegetation is of a zombie nature, the only trees are called “Halfmensboom” meaning ‘”half-person tree” and the name comes from the tree’s resemblance to the human form; its top consists of a grouping of thick, crinkled leaves, generally leaning northwards, which can make it look almost like a human head.  These trees are revered by the indigenous Nama people as the embodiment of their ancestors, half human, half plant, mourning for their ancient Namibian home.

We come to tame this land, half-human, half-bikers, my riding buddie Gavin Morton and I join the RAD KTM team led by Dave Griffin for the 1400 km trek to Port Nolloth.

1aThe RAD KTM Pits

2Gavin & I School of Hard Rocks members!

The bikes are strapped down on a huge trailer, asleep, awaiting the moment when they will roar to life flying like dancing side stepping tap dancers across the sand and rock.  As we cruise tiredly into Port Nolloth, the tiny town is alive with bikers, nervous energy transformed into bravado as we compare bike specs, connect with old riding adversaries and friends and pour back bottles of Namaqua wine, our last cheer to three days of alcohol free racing, our only drug petrol and speed.  “Two day behind bars” grins Gavin gazing fondly at his kitted out rally 500 KTM.

Day 1 is a long but essential list of scrutineering inspections, safety equipment, bike equipment, survival equipment, signing indemnities freeing the organisers of liability for our stupidity and recklessness for believing we can tame a land as tough, arid and harshly unforgiving as this land of the halfmense and the gritty tough Nama people.




To set the starting order of day 1’s race we have a short prologue around the local pan.  We line up in a long convoy and motors revving and nerves on edge we leave the bivouac and follow the blue light police escort to the pan where the local town seems to have gathered in an exited jabbering photo and selfie indulging orgy.



We feel like riding gods, we smile, we wave, we pose, we talk too loud and rev too often hiding our nervousness. Lining up two by two we race across the pan and a short 3km track.  I shoot off determined to get a good time. I can’t get out of third gear, my rev limiter kicks in, I pray no one is videoing me as my opponent thunders off into the distance, Kyle our support mechanic is videoing, showing my pathetic attempt at drag racing. Gavin does better whipping team mate Johan across the pan.


On the other end I try and make up for my drag racing failure racing through the thick sand, comfortable in this element, only to overshoot the turn and drop my bike as I try to turn.  The overhead gyrocopter captures my pathetic stuck attempt immortalised on camera.


Gavin and I are racing using roadbook and ICO’s for navigation. Three things determine the route, a line drawing, a distance travelled counter called an ICO and a cap heading or compass degrees showing the selected track is right or wrong. It’s how the Dakar is navigated and it’s a frustrating but hugely fun and challenging form of navigation, no flat out racing here, skill and thought as important as speed and endurance.

19Roadbook, Cap heading & ICO

7Loading Roadbooks like a long roll of toilet paper


Day 1 dawns a thick fog surrounds us, rolling off the Atlantic its heavy dew soaking us.  “With water so scarce, life in the Richtersveld depends on moisture from the early morning fog. Locals call it ‘Ihuries’ or ‘Malmokkies’ and it makes survival possible for a range of small reptiles, birds and mammals.”


We ride through the malmokkies shivering a little from the cold, the wet but more truly out of nerves although we pretend it’s only the fog and the cold Atlantic breeze.  Two by two like animals entering the ark we line up, a sand track stretching ahead through the low coastal scrub, dust mingling with the cold malmokkie fog. Tensely we watch the marshal’s fingers counting us down and then roar off bikes jumping and shuddering, slithering, leaping across the sand.  We all fall, curse, get up, settle down and race through each other’s dust and fumes alternating between watching the crazy squiggles of our roadbook and matching these with the crazy squiggle of sand track stretching out ahead of us.




Today’s ride is 257 kms of desolate wild places the ground alive with succulents and tufts of hardy golden grass. The ochre red dunes roll like waves around and ahead. If the sea was red this would be it. Red sand gives way to jagged red and black rock ripping at tyres putting your teeth on edge. The bikes go from rocking up and down flying from one sandy wave crest to another trying to throw us off or over the handle bars to rattling and banging off a moonscape of rock.


Riding a motorbike through sand is one of the hardest forms of riding and the nemesis of most riders.  Like riding a jet ski in the sea a bike on sand is no different the bike bucks and jitters the back hopping around like a bucking horse needing huge confidence to ignore.  The front tyre is perpetually trying to wash away or follow a rut suddenly changing direction off the track and throwing you off.  To ride properly the only way is to stand (which means standing for hours) and have speed getting up on top of the sand like a boat on the water.  The twisting turns of the Baja are the worst, each turn needs supreme confidence and technique powering through the turn when your instincts are to tap off and go through slowly, but slow inevitably results in the front washing away and a face plant! Or the bike just won’t turn stuck in the thick sand and you go farming, the bushes and succulents grabbing at you bike and and inevitable large clump of sand stopping your short off-track excursion with an overhandlebars flight!

22aThe results of farming


16Gavin at full speed

Heading back from the halfway mark red sand gives way to white sea sand as the Atlantic beckons in the distance! Thick, thick deep sand tweespoor tracks snake in crazy S” s as if trying to lose us. Miss a curve and you launch into the surrounding clumps of bush often flying into innocuous bushes which hide large sand humps bringing the bike to a sudden stop, rider flying.




The starting order meant our 500’s started at the back so the first 100 k’s was frustrating overtaking made worse when we got stuck behind quad bikes and worse 4 wheeler side by sides which billow a sand storm of dust.  Gavin and I both tried to overtake through the bush resulting in near death flying over hidden humps!

25My trusty steed

Trying to navigate and stay on track is almost impossible and following tyre tracks in front of me at one stage resulted in me doing a 10 k detour.  Cursing I stuck to the roadbook and ignored the tantalising tracks of the guys ahead, sometimes true sometimes tantalising false leads. For most of the day I am alone, sometimes overtaking sometimes being overtaken, but I relish this solitude, I stop often taking pictures of vistas of sand and stone and emptiness… if emptiness can be this full of endless desert.




Kyle meets us at the service point fussing around each of us as we arrive swopping old for new roadbooks, cleaning our dust dimmed visors, refuelling and then waving us cheerily on the next stage.

23Joey Evans trying to call race control on his cellphone to assist an injured rider


Our friends follow the race, Seamus updating everyone on the WhatsApp group on our GPS trackers status. The commentary afterwards says it all..

My friend Pierre, Enjoy……gee die windhond wind 😜😜……

[09:59, 3/19/2016] Seamus O’Brien: looks like Gav is running about 4th

[09:59, 3/19/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Gg in about 20th at the moment

My daughter Consi in frustration scolding me [10:07, 3/19/2016] Consi: Daddy, stop taking as many photos, and race for a little bit too😉😂❤

[11:20, 3/19/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Gav looks to be in second and has done 214km

[11:22, 3/19/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Gg in 21st place on 166km

[11:22, 3/19/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Looks like Gg may be stuck in a pack and in dust or just taking toooooo many pics LOL

[11:22, 3/19/2016] Kyle: Photos are definitely GGs down fall

[12:14, 3/19/2016] Seamus O’Brien: looks like Gav is finished

[12:16, 3/19/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Looks like Gg is off course 😁

[12:19, 3/19/2016] Khonya Alcock: Good luck from msinga hope you not too lost

[12:28, 3/19/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Ok he is back on the route and about 45km to go

We’re finished day 1 ….bikes surprisingly whole despite the abuse and happily reflecting on a race across a sea and a moon of sand and rock.


Our team from Rad has mixed fortunes. Dave Griffin has a breakdown an hour in and gets towed out by his mechanic Torren and gets disqualified for his troubles! Seems like he should have waited for race control to tow him out. Gavin and I plead his case, just let him ride on day two, not for a position but for the experience and fun. The answer is a harsh no, he takes it on the chin and runs around helping us and the other team members, miserable and frustrated but his team takes precedence. We feel his pain.  Johan V Rensburg races in ahead of me despite me leading him down the wrong road and his unfair share of punctures.  David Hepburn on his first event and riding the GPS enabled Lite class comes in late, tired but elated, it was a hard day but one he’s proud of.  Bruce comes in later, also complete but he’s had his race, his first proper off-road ride in years, one day is enough and a hard day.  Around the bivouac frenetic activity on broken bikes and towed in survivors tells a story of grit, adventure and camaraderie.

Day two dawns, the malmokkie fog is gone, but we have been warned at race briefing by Alex of the furnace and the rock monster in the Richtersveldt. “Don’t go in there if you are vaguely uncomfortable on rock”, he warns.  The wise heed his words, the rest of us race into rock infested hell.


31Seamus follows the trackers..

[09:06, 3/20/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Gav is running in second place today having done 169km and 74km to go, he is low flying

[09:07, 3/20/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Gg is taking photos

[09:10, 3/20/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Gg looks to be running in 22nd spot and looks to be in the traffic again

[10:01, 3/20/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Eish Gav took a wrong turn and had to double back, but he has caught up nicely and is lying in the seventh

[10:04, 3/20/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Gg is looking good, in about 20th for the stage

[10:09, 3/20/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Gav now in third!!! low flying is an understatement


I finish and send pics from the finish line!

[14:47, 3/20/2016] Seamus O’Brien: Holy crap!  Insane terrain

[15:51, 3/20/2016] Khonya Alcock: Iesh looks pretty ugly..



It was insane, it was ugly. It started about 20km’s in with a massive red dune.  At first I thought we were lost, the four wheeler came bounding and roaring down the dune followed by a stream of bikes.  A Honda pulls up next to me, I curse, “fuck where did we go wrong?” He groans and stares at his roadbook.  The four wheeler makes a U turn at the bottom, roars and revs and then makes a run at the dune. He’s not lost its his second attempt at cresting the dune.  Bouncing spinning sand flying in clouds of red dust the four wheeler shot up the twisty track up the huge steep dune only to stop three quarters of the way up. One by one like darting geckoes, the bikes try and fail spinning flailing, falling and then riding down to try again. I take my turn and make it halfway before I spin off the track and land in a heap of red sand spitting sand out of my helmet blinking it out of my eyes.  I go halfway down do a big loop to pick up speed hitting the steep part at speed and roaring up and over screaming self-motivation to myself in the confines of my helmet.





Then the rocks, the Richtesveldt hell comes at km 71, at first little riverbed sections of loose round rocks.  Three of us join up at one of my stops to take pictures. The guys laugh at me, my reputation preceding me, wait for my happy snaps and then we ride taking turns to lead.  The road cuts like a snake across raw red rocks, halfmense and little halfmense rise around us, almost jeering at our bouncing progress up steep mountain faces.  What follows is ugly, savage, hard almost like a survival course, torture. I curse myself for coming here, it is some of the toughest riding of my life. It is fucking hot, the track is not what normal people would call a track but it is very beautiful. High up the vistas surround me, waves of heat rise off spectacular high ridges, tracks twist and turn like serpents from one ridge and valley to the next.

37Thinking about the climb!

38MUCH steeper than in the pics and going down therrerereere



Vertical climbs test our climbing ability and worse on the other side dizzying descents consisting of loose marbles of stone wash away our front tyres. Gavin flies over his handlebars, smashing his peak, he remembers suddenly as he shakes his head to clear it that he should film this. The video is like a rocky vertigo inducing extreme game.  I crash twice once bending my rear brake so I can’t reach it, the same one I need so desperately to control my slipping sliding fall down the cliff face Alex has chosen as a track.   Never has such beauty and such harshness combined to test my endurance.  I stop, take pictures, the raw savage beauty is breath-taking, it fills my senses, it surrounds me in 360 degree splendour, I savour it fearing though the next corner, the next climb, the rocks trying to rip me and my KTM to shreds.


And then at the end of a steep descent I realise I have climbed into hell and climbed out of it, my shoulders ache with exertion, sweat fills my stinging eyes, I gulp thirstily at my hydration pack and glance nervously at my roadbook, maybe there is more. But there is not, only a hundred more km’s of red sand, but what is red sand, white sand, it’s nothing its soft and welcoming even if I dive into it thrown off my bike as happens a few times, its sand. I stand up and ride the sand relishing this awesome place where Alex has painted a canvas of navigation, his roadbook suddenly alive with roads and stories and beautiful landscapes where this morning there were only headings, squiggles and distances.

40Gavin smelling the finish!

Sadly the prize-giving is late as a bunch of riders complain and whine about getting lost… these were GPS riders! We sit in a cold tent, the cold wind rushing through waiting, there is not even a drink on offer for free or for sale. the Ricoffy and urn have a queue for lukewarm coffee. I leave with a couple of others for the local pub where we all started a huge sign welcoming the West Coast Baja Riders, we party and celebrate our victory here.

Gavin came 2nd overall, the GPS riders weeded out, and 1st in his class.  In the same category I came somewhere around 15th overall and 6th in my class. Johan was 3rd in class and Dave Hepburn 4th in GPS lite class.  I “won” the riders photography class hands down despite my daughter’s pleas to race and not stop for photos. But then I have pictures of the spectacular route to treasure along with my memories of halfmense and malmense!


Gavin and I and our fellow riders came as halfmense and malmense and rode away with the the red sand engrained in our pores, the fog of the West Coast Baja clinging to us, an invisible cloak of endurance, challenge, memories and experience! Malmense might do it again…. keep those tracks open Alex!


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Category: South Africa, TRIP REPORTS

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