2010 GS Trophy: Day 6
We’d racked up roughly 1,400 kilometers thus far in our trek through Africa. The daily routine of rising, eating, riding and competing had become a welcome detour from our various lives back in our various homes.
I didn’t realize it but since we departed Johannesburg the previous Sunday I hadn’t seen a TV, read a newspaper, or heard a radio. I had been sublimely removed from my usual bombardment of bad news, economic woes, and the ever-present overload of pop-culture.
I had been happily and contentedly removed from the stresses of life in favor of the self-indulgent whims of a motorcycle event, and loving it.
Shortly after departing our camp on the morning of the 6th day we encountered a herd of giraffes. I don’t know what it is about these regal creatures, but they have a beauty and grace about them that is hard to appreciate unless you actually see them, in close proximity, moving through the trees.
They are the one creature that even after all the television nature shows I’ve seen in my years still strike the senses with a certain awe.
We traveled over more of Africa’s dramatic landscape en route to the first challenge of the day; a train tunnel that ran through the base of a mountain. We entered the tunnel and pushed deep underground. The daylight was quickly replaced by pitch blackness.
A few minutes in the groups were stopped and presented with a mental test. Riders had to try and figure out, whether by smarts or pure guessing, how long the tunnel was.
Some merely threw out numbers, however, the Americans took note of the signage in the tunnel and quickly ascertained the sequence of measurement and nailed the distance, earning some much needed points.
After the tunnel event the riders were presented with a physical test. They had to push their bikes-dead engine-up the slippery incline of a water drainage tunnel.
The moss that covered the cement floor was like an ice rink. Teams had to hustle, en masse, against the clock, pushing their GS machines into the darkness. Most impressive were the Japanese.
Not for their time necessarily, but the fact that one of their riders had broken his foot two days earlier and was continuing to compete. A second team member had twisted his foot.
So two of the three Japanese riders were walking wounded and still trudged through the slippery physical stage. The Brits and South Africans, with their brute size, manhandled their bikes through in short order to distance themselves further from the field with regard to points.
After the stage we pressed on through myriad dirt roads, two-lane highways, and gravel service roads until we arrived back at the sprawling off-road haven of Country Trax, the off-road academy playground.
At the far border of the 690 hectares that comprise the property, a local kid was hired to open and close the gate so that riders could pass through without any of the cows getting out.
Our group stopped and gave the kid the leftovers we were carrying from our lunch bags. The kid’s arms were quickly filled with small boxes of apple juice, protein bars, candy, apples and oranges.
Later that night we found out that every rider that came through must have done the same thing because the last person in our group of 93 that went through that evening reported that the kid had a respectable cache of snacks hidden behind the fence. They topped off the kid’s good fortune by adding a GS Trophy hat to the bounty.
Back on the familiar grounds of Country Trax the teams were gathered for a slow race. Teams pitted their riders, one at a time, against the other countries in a display of slow riding ability. Here, the stopwatch rewards accumulated seconds as opposed to punishing for it.
The idea is simple, ride a motorcycle as slow as possible over a determined stretch of real estate, aiming to get the highest time. The three rider’s times are totaled for the team. Stall the bike or put a foot down and the clock stops.
America won this stage hands down. The other teams were already across the finish line when Iain Glynn was still creeping along at the mid-point of the grassy course. An exhibition of balance and control, Glynn would move a few inches, stop, balance, creep a little more.
Next up was Bill Dragoo, the senior member of the Americans, who did America good with an equally impressive display of slow trials riding. By the time the third American, Shannon Markle, dropped the clutch he only needed to put twelve seconds on the clock to nab the challenge stage.
Markle did better than that, adding a significant amount of time to put the Americans on top for the stage, adding a good number of points to their tally and moving them up the ranking a few slots.
The teams took advantage of the Country Trax complex to shower, shave, get cleaned up and settle in for some genuine South African hospitality. Country Trax, aside from being a professional off-road academy, is built to entertain.
There are several buildings specifically for eating, gathering, and talking. There is a huge, open walled, half-timbered dining hall where a spectacular spread of food was put out. Several fire pits spread around the property were lit for guests to warm themselves by as evening came on.
Plenty of South Africa’s wines and a selection of international beers helped coax some bench racing out of the riders. A slew of stories and recollections about the day, and the trip in general, delivered through a number of languages and accents acquainted the night.
The Brits were sitting on top of the roster with a fairly comfortable lead, however, there wasn’t a lot of concern. The Trophy was doing exactly what it was intended to do; bring together off-road enthusiasts from all over the globe for some good spirited fun and to share in a once in a lifetime experience.
There was the unspoken reality that we were on the eve of the final day of the Trophy. No one said anything but we were all aware that the fun was coming to an end. Maybe that’s why the riders stayed up later than usual, talking and laughing late into the night.
2010 BMW GS Trophy: Day 6
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.