Since my return to South Africa, I have been itching to make contact with the many people who assisted me before I left to start my journey, and who in various ways assisted me during my travels.
Having spent a few weeks down on the coast with my parents, I was now able to start making contact with my sponsors and supporters, and once back in Johannesburg, began making plans to see them.
I made a series of calls, and heard voices of people that not only brought back very fond memories, but also allowed me to express once more my appreciation and gratitude to them all, for the interest they had shown from the outset, and the many ways in which they had assisted me.
I spoke to Rakesh from Kayama Printing, who had not only printed all the flags that today adorn my panniers, but also the branding stickers that have featured on my windscreen. Over the years, he had printed flags of countries that I never planned to visit before I left, and sent them to me.
When my windscreen was shattered by a crow in Australia, he had reprinted these stickers too, and when my new windscreen was fitted, the Big Fella and I were able to resume my “identity”… And then there was the cards that I handed out as I went, over 3 000 in total, and which most certainly contributed to the popularity of my blog that has today seen over 328 000 visitors…!!
I also made a call to Marius Wannenburg, the South African agent and importer of Caberg helmets, who, a week before I left, and without ever having met me, called to offer me their top of the range helmet to wear on my ride. I had wanted to start my journey with a brand new helmet, and Marius made that wish come true !!
I rode the Big Fella to Pretoria, and stopped to say hello to Roger Smith of Bavarian Motorcycles, the BMW dealership that had very kindly fitted my Ohlins shocks and had them repaired the first time they gave up on me. I spent a short time with Roger, drinking coffee while I brought him up to date on the last few months of my ride.
I also had an opportunity to chat to Lenny the service manager, who had also helped with the set up of the shocks and advice that at the time added to my growing confidence that I could handle most problems that might crop up during my ride.
Barely a few hundred metres away was the new premises of GPS4Africa, owned by my good friend Pauli Massyn, who had helped me in so many ways before I left, that at one point I felt it would have been easier to pitch a tent on his front lawn, than ride to and from his house every other day to have another accessory fitted to the bike.
Pauli was responsible for fitting the panniers and their frames, my crash bars, my GPS and installation of the maps that would see me safely from South Africa through to Algeria. He also installed my spotlights and many other bits and pieces that I had either purchased from him or bought elsewhere.
Being the accomplished rider that he his, and riding the same bike that I was, I gained valuable confidence from Pauli and his experiences riding off-road. We sat chatting until well after dark, sharing a few beers while we filled each other in on our recent adventures. One of Pauli’s life changing adventures involved his wife Joy giving birth to twin girls !!
I also visited Auto Alpine in Boksburg, where I had bought the Big Fella in June 2007, and met with George Ludeke, manager of their motorcycling division. Although there were many new faces working there, the guys I did know all came out to ogle the bike and congratulate me on the completion of my journey.
I also met a number of customers who I recognized from the few months before I left, and who had followed my journey around the world. It was a good feeling being reminded of some of the things that had stuck in their own minds and moments which had stood out for both them and myself.
Yesterday I was finally able to hook up with the doyen of BMW motorcycle maintenance in South Africa, Mannie Koutsoudakis, who had endured many late night Skype calls from me to assist me with little niggles I thought were troubling the Big Fella. I remember Skyping him from the Alto Plano in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, and being a little worried about the fact that the bike was not performing very well…
He managed to explain how to bleed my clutch, and put my mind to rest by reminding me that I had been riding at 15 000 ft above sea level, and a drop in performance was to be expected… I had felt a drop in my own performance too, so had to give the Big Fella the benefit of the doubt !!
Mannie had been the service manager at Auto Alpina when I had left, and had very kindly given the bike the once over and final pre-trip service, before sending me on my way with much advice on what to expect from the bike and when to ensure that services were carried out properly… Many of his predictions were spot on and whenever I was about to have the bike serviced, I would email Mannie and enquire what I should be requesting they check…
Mannie is now the manager of the brand new Clearwater BMW dealership on Henrik Potgieter Road on the West Rand, and when I made contact with him he was as eager to see me as I was him !! Once we had got the handshakes and hugs out of the way, Mannie surprised me by saying,
“I gave the Big Fella his farewell service, before you left on your epic ride, and now I’d like to close this particular chapter of his life by giving him a “welcome home” service too…!! You will no doubt be needing him to carry you on more adventures !!”
I was very grateful for Mannie’s kind offer, and set about showing him the few things I needed looked at. I was also able to hand over the very same spares that he had provided me with before I left; coils, accelerator cables, the potentiometer switch etc., none of which I had ever come to need. I figured we might as well put them into the bike and get him as close to “good as new” as possible, considering that he was now at 205 000 km, getting a bit long in the tooth !!
Without fail, almost every person who saw the Big Fella while I was visiting my supporters, commented that he was the best advertisement for a BMW bike that they had ever seen. They shook their heads in wonder as they walked around the bike, pointing at the various stickers and asking me to elaborate on my visits to the places they depicted.
All of this served to remind me how lucky I was to have had so many wonderful experiences and have traveled so far on this bike. It had hardly skipped a beat throughout the journey, and considering some of the accidents we had had, and the roads I had ridden on, I am totally convinced that there is no other bike that I would want to do long distance rides on…
And I am fairly sure that there will be many more long rides we will do together. Some might be fairly tame compared to the one we have just completed, but there is one more “Big One” that I hope to take on in the next few years…
Good friend and fellow adventurer, Michel Jongens, who has ridden from Amsterdam to Katmandu, and the whole way around South America, has developed yet another itch that he needs to scratch !! He is putting together a ride both he and I have talked about often : Taking on the “Road of Bones” to Magadan in eastern Russia, and preferably not adding ours to the pile !!
There may well be many adjustments to the current route which is about 16 000 km long, as I want to ride as many of the ‘Stans as possible, something Michel has already done as I recall. And being the “extreme” personality that I am, I hope to start the ride from the extreme western point of Europe at Cabo da Roca in Portugal, and travel as far to the east of Asia as is possible, perhaps even beyond Magadan and on to Vladivostok !!
Only time will tell if I get to make this ride, and for the record, Patricia has not yet given her stamp of approval to the idea !! In fact, she knows precious little about these plans, so for the time being, let’s keep it amongst ourselves, shall we !!
Mum’s the word !!