BMW GS Trophy: Africa Day 4

2010 GS Trophy: Day 4

By now the GS Trophy event was settling into routine with the international slate of competitors. The early rising, the briefings, the food-oh man, the food.

Despite our mobile village of one-man domed tents and our collecting of African dust and dirt on our gear, we were eating like kings.

Nothing is quite as liberating as burning enough calories during the day to warrant eating like a lumberjack at mealtime.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the GS Trophy is the fact that, although it is a competition, it’s not a race but rather an event based around challenges and team effort.

More importantly, at its core, the Trophy was created to unite GS riders around the world in a collective of team spirit and the love of riding.

That said, each night as the points for the day’s challenges were tallied, everyone waited to see where their country was seated.

The point spread by the fourth day was beginning to see South Africa, the U.K., and Canada consistently at the top of the roster.

A fall for the Americans in the challenging towing event had tossed a handful of essential points and moved them down to seventh place.

When we awoke to drizzle on the Indian Ocean’s coast we were assured that the dampness would pack the Mozambique sand and make easier work of the day ahead.

That said, what wasn’t mentioned was the fact that the overnight rain had created massive mud crossings on the morning’s transition to the first challenge.

The standing mud puddles were gradually deepened by the long conga line of GS machines, each bike dragging a bit of water out the opposite side to form ice rink-like traction for some fun skirting and sliding of wheels.

After slogging through slippery mud holes, goggles heavily misted with distorting drizzle, we arrived at the first challenge of the day; the "Elephant Turn."

This challenge earns its name from the practical application of being able to get a motorcycle turned around in limited space and in quasi-fast time in the event you encounter an irate elephant defending its territory.

As usual the challenge unfolded with an array of varying styles and aggression. Each team had to get their three riders through in succession, one after the other, fighting the clock.

The sound of GS 800 engines peaked at the rev limiter acquainted the early African morning.

Following the Elephant Turn challenge we resumed our trek, passing back into South Africa’s sprawling backcountry.

We soon encountered more of the flour-like white sands that had swallowed wheels and tossed riders the day before.

The trail was a little more flowing then the previous day and I dredged up my old motocross roots and actually attained a fairly smooth and rapid pace.

That is, until I lost my line and got launched off a berm. I was airborne long enough to think; this is going to hurt.

When I made contact with the ground I managed to find the one hard packed piece of ground amidst the miles of soft, cushy sand and rung my bell pretty good.

With my mouth and gloves full of sand I got up and immediately tried to right the GS. There was a bit of pain in my rib cage and I discovered I had diminished strength in my right arm.

My new journalist buddy from Sweden, Magnus, pulled over and gave me a hand. After making sure my vision was realigned we blasted on.

Just a short distance on I lost it again. The front wheel dug into one of the powdery berms and landed me on the ground. By the fourth fall I was thinking I’d lost my mojo.

Also, the pain in my ribs wasn’t going away. In fact, it was getting worse. As was the sand. The challenge now was that the road was a narrow cut through thick forest and to stay in the deepest part of the sandy groves meant you were getting a proper beating from the tree branches overhanging the route.

Also, I realized the earlier crash had twisted the front end of my GS, which was certainly contributing to some of the mishaps through misalignment.

By about the tenth fall I was actually wondering where the end of the sand was. After the previous day’s rewards, invigorating me with confidence about my exploits in the sand, today I was contemplating if I could even continue riding.

I’d depleted my Camelback of its contents and was running on empty when I fell again. I pulled my goggles off and just stared at the prone GS. I’d had it. I couldn’t go on. The first time I’d ever had to quit a ride.

The TV crew came by and radioed that I was hurting. Arrangements were made to transport me by car to the next stop. A humiliating experience for a proud motorcyclist.

I tried to justify it by reminding myself that I was, in fact, 52 years old. But for any man with an extra Y chromosome that’s a pretty vague excuse.

The drive into camp with the TV crew allowed for some friendly banter about the event and our various homes, which made the whole episode of having to retire from the day’s ride a little more bearable. Good people these motorcycle types.

When we arrived at the night’s camp at Pongola Game Preserve we were invited on a safari ride at dusk. As the daylight faded we were treated to a roaming collage of Africa’s animals. Rhinos, zebras, hyenas, wildebeests, and the big cats; lions and a lone cheetah.

This is the Africa we’d seen in numerous television programs, now paraded out before us as a living postcard of the dark continent.

The day’s riding, the crashing, and now the reciprocal pain in my ribs (which our attending doctor declared was bruised ribs) had me eager for sleep and rest.

We were assured that the electric fence on the edge of our camp would keep the big game, such as elephants and giraffes, from plodding around in our camp during the night.

But the preserve had decided to have two shotgun wielding game wardens patrol our dome tent village to scare off any wandering big cats that might wander in to have a look.

Regardless of the thought of an errant big cat with sharp teeth being in close proximity, I was too tired to give it much concern, crawling into my tent and falling asleep in a matter of minutes, immune to the surrounding chorus of snoring that acquainted the night.

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 1

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 2

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 3

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 4

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 5

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 6

2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 7

In this series about the 2010 BMW GS Trophy, follow Ultimate MotorCycling writer Jeff Buchanan day-by-day as he takes on Africa aboard the venerable F 800 GS motorcycle. Each of the 10 countries competing had an embedded journalist and Buchanan was invited by BMW North America to ride with the U.S. enduro team.