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December 16th, 2007 | Africa

The Journey Begins

Johannesburg to Liberty Street, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga

I woke at about 5.00am; with a queasy feeling in my gut….this was it! Finally, the time to “walk the walk” had arrived…time to start the journey I had planned. It’s was now or never, and certainly not later, when I may be too tired or too old to do it… and probably too sensible!!

On a whim, I shaved my head and got rid of the “bokkie” I had sported for years… I decided that I would not shave again until I got back… I’m not entirely sure why I did this, but I am sure a psychologist would have a clever explanation for it all!! Something like “a yearning for a complete change of circumstances…” My sister thought I looked like a hardened criminal and would probably be locked up at the first border I attempted to cross…!!

As I moved my gear into the entrance hall of the house, I couldn’t help noticing that my hands shook a little… Adrenaline was beginning to course through my veins, and the calm I had felt the night before had evaporated like mist before the sun… The caption on the photo below says it all…

Holy Cow!! Dar es Salaam seems a bit far….

At least my sense of humour was still in place, and I was going to need it… Charmaine helped me pack the final few items into the panniers, and after going through my checklist for the umpteenth time, I decided that whatever I had forgotten would have to remain so! Then there was the obligatory photo session which Charmaine insisted was for friends and family, to show them what the fully-loaded bike and a mad biker looked like prior to lift off…

It’s all makes sense now….. Piece of Cake….!!

While making a last check on all the “gadgetry” I had bought, I discovered that one of the chargers did not take the battery for the Sony camera, which would act as my backup… We had to make a dash to Eastgate to get the correct charger for this camera. I was annoyed that I had not checked it before leaving the store, but glad that I had done the old “double-check” before leaving… This done, it was back home to kit up and get going. It was already later than I had hoped to leave, but Charmaine once again reminded me that I did after all, have ten weeks at my disposal…no need to stress!! Quite…

I packed my computer into the Top-Box, slid the first maps I would be using into the “window” pocket of the Tank-Bag, and then had a final cigarette on the patio, while I thought about the first leg to Nelspruit. I decided then not to think too far ahead, but plan one “leg” of the ride at a time, think it through carefully, then do it!!

I wheeled the bike out onto the driveway, and took some final photos before donning my jacket, helmet, gloves and sunglasses and advising my sister that I would see her “on the far side”… With a confident wave, I rolled out of the driveway and rode slowly away… I had only traveled a few hundred metres down the road inside the complex, when I realized that I had forgotten my backpack!!! Brilliant start!! I turned the bike around and rode back around the corner to see my sister holding the bag aloft and shaking her head sadly… “Are you sure you’ve got everything?” were here first words, which served only to raise my stress levels even further…

With a rueful grin on my face, I put the backpack on and said goodbye for the second time in as many minutes… If I could have taken my leg off and kicked myself with it, I would’ve done just that… Not the confidence building start I had envisaged!!! This was the first of many things I had to turn back for during the course of my journey, my sunglasses being the most common victim of my eagerness to get to the next destination…

“Big Fella” fully loaded, and ready to roll…

Rock and Roll, Baby…!!

I finally left Oaklands Golf Estate just after 1.00pm and immediately realized that my GPS was not working!! Another unplanned stop at Trappers East Rand, where Barry and Vaughn sorted the problem out by removing the memory card and allowing the Garmin to function with its hard drive memory only. They had very kindly assisted me with the loading of the Africa Tracks program, which allowed me to see where the heck I would be going in Zambia and

Malawi. These two countries were not included on the Southern African Street Maps program, which is standard on the Garmin Zumo.

Fire me up…!! (Note the absence of the backpack!!)

Officially, the trip started at 1.30pm… I left Trappers and headed east along the N12, bound for Nelspruit. Traffic was light and I quickly got up to cruising speed, feeling the bike purring underneath me. I thought again about what I was attempting, and for a while fresh doubts clouded my already fragile mind…Would I make it to Dar-es-Salaam on my own? Would the bike hold up and what would I do if I had a serious breakdown in the middle of the desert in Namibia, or the middle of nowhere for that matter? I was shaken out of my reverie by a gust of wind as I passed a line of 18-wheelers, which gave me a slight wobble… just enough to remind me that I had to keep focused at all times, concentrating on every aspect of the ride, if I was to complete this journey in one piece…

I met a group of eight fellow BMW bikers at the Ultra City on the N4, just past Witbank. They were a little gob-smacked (but envious!!) when I answered their questions about my destination. We rode together until the Belfast turnoff, where they headed off to Sabie via Lydenburg. As each one peeled off the highway, they lifted their left hands in salute to what most of them thought was a very crazy idea… It felt good to be acknowledged in this way, and I realized that I would not be entirely alone on this trip… not for the first few weeks anyway… Once I moved north of Windhoek, the roads would get a lot quieter….

I rode through light rain from Belfast and through the Schoemanskloof valley, not enough to warrant changing into my rain suit, but enough to focus all my attention on the big dark clouds building up on both sides of the valley. I managed to get through to Nelspruit without any mishaps and offloaded the panniers and tank bag at our house on the hilltops overlooking the city… I have always believed that a house has a soul… and while walking through mine, I felt as if an air of sadness hung in the still air… No people, no dogs… just stillness… I imagined that I could hear my heart beating as I patrolled the passages, my footfalls echoing…

The “Big Fella” arrives “home”…

I had been invited to dinner with Guy and Jenny More in White River, and intended returning home at about 10.00pm to get a good nights rest……The plans of mice and men!! Dinner was served just after 10.00pm and Guy and I finally went to bed at about 3.00am… a number of bottles of red wine the casualties of our late night.

© 2008 TBMH

19 comments to The Journey Begins

  • Robert Barkhuizen


    Congrats on your new website. I wish I had the balls and the drive to do what you are doing! I am very pleased that you have after all the pain and suffering found peace with yourself and your two lovely daughters.. Travel well good friend and may all your wishes come true. I am sure you are aware that the relationships you have built over the last years are everlasting…….


  • Thys Eloff


    Wishing you all the best, I have been following your previous adventure and will do so again, Lived and work in Zambia some time ago and traveled the route you did. Did a 2 day stunt through the waterberg area all gravel, man the smile grow with every kilometer.

    We will keep an eye on your adventure from a very hot Ellisras.


  • Hello, left a message on your cell thinking I would get a call back in a short while to talk some business……..silence, then while doing the Google due diligence thing to see if your details have changed I get the whiff of a deranged renegade on the run. WTF! I always knew you where a bit deranged ever since you walked into my ma’s kitchen patting your new pet which you had aptly named puffy and judging by the loud hisss – ‘pet’ wasn’t this particular creatures social preference.
    This new adventure and website looks truly brilliant, I hope it takes you exactly where the extent of your smile leaves legend to your soul, old friend, peace be with you.

    Best regards

  • Hiya Neil !! Welcome on board, buddy…!! Yeah, I remember that particular snake quite well, as well as the many others we caught together !! Thanks for the wishes… I figured it was time to shake the rate race and go make some memories before I get too old, too scared, and too broke to do it…!!! Now’s the time…

    Keep in touch and take care…. There’s a lotta rats out there… R.

  • Craig Allan

    Hey There

    Haven’t spoken to you in the last 30 years since we left school but Neil let us see what you are doing – good for you!! Travel Safe and when you eventually come to the States and drive through California look me up!


  • Brian PAxton

    Hey Ronnie

    Also have’nt been in touch since school, travel safe and let the road eaze the mind, going to follow the journey

    From Brian Paxton

  • Hey Brian !! Been a long time… Glad you’re on board! If you can dream it, you can do it!! Stay tuned, Dude !!

  • Kenny Hadden

    Hi Ronnie
    Just recieved your trip info from BMW.I tought my Route 66 trip was a mission seams like a short trip compaired to yours.I have not stopped reading your page all day.I wish you all the best and many safe and fantastic miles.Enjoy and keep inspiring the rest of us.Kenny

  • Hi Kenny !! Welcome aboard the Gypsy Biker Traveling Circus !! Glad you’re enjoying the read… Take care and stay tuned… Will pick your brain over the Route 66 gig in due course !!

  • What an inspiration you are! Enjoy every minute of your adventure and I will be reading your blog.
    Monica Borrageiro told me all about your plans and if you ever come to Clarens look me up!

  • Kenny Hadden

    Hi Ronnie
    Remember I said you have inspired us well you have.I am leaving for the USA flying my bike in and riding to Cape Town via Canada.I hope all well your side I have been on site with no e-mail darkest Africa out here have a good one

  • Hi Ronnie. It was lovely to meet you but know I have the problem of trying to read your wonderful writings in-between my heavy work load. Keep in touch and rest assured we will be following you on your fantastic trip. If you ever venture this way again be sure to look us up. Remember one thing:”Loneliness is only in the mind.” We are all behind you.

  • Hi Ronnie, WOW what an amazing adventure and what an inspiring person. I really want to thank you for your enthusiasm,inspiration and wonderful tales of adventure from your incredible journey so far. Your great company, a fantastic person and it was a true pleasure to be part of your sensational and courageous life times journey. I really hope you get to see all the places that you have dreamed about in a way that you imagined.

    Good luck our new and special friend

    Simon and Monika
    BMW Endurance Guinness Champions of the world.

  • Hi Monika and Simon…!! It was wonderful meeting you and sharing your thoughts and ideas on Adventure Travel… Your own feats of endurance in this field are an inspiration to riders everywhere…!! I wish you all the very best with your future rides, and am sure they will be as action packed and adventurous as your previous ones were…!! R.

  • Thanks for taking the time to interview me in Calis, David…!! Pleasure meeting you and will keep you and your readers updated on my future rides…!! R

  • Jack Spahn


    Just checking up on you and enjoying your story. In a way it kind reflects my lifetime spent on the road, albeit mine was MUCH MORE comfortable in 18 wheelers and aircraft. As
    I traveled into Beijing yesterday from the airport, I wondered about whether a bike trip through China was something that could be done. The smog and traffic in and around the cities is terrible. Often < 500 meters visibility and bumper to bumper. Maybe you could tackle it, but I certainly couldn't. I want you to know that I have deep admiration and respect for what you are doing, but please be careful, the road is a very harsh teacher. She gives the test first and the lesson later. There is also someone I know who wants you to come home to her safe and sound. In fact, take it from this old road warrior, the best part is coming home.

    Warmest regards,

  • Thanks Jack…!! Better believe I am taking the tests and learning the lessons…!! And, yes, be doing everything in my power to get home safe and sound to experience the best part, the coming home…!! Cheers and fly safely, Ronnie.

  • Alistair

    Hi Ronnie. Some people dream it and never venture into the journey. Besides the daily updates and reading (sure you can start a career in blogging when your current journey ends and the new one starts) its an absolute pleasure reading about your journey. Strength and Faith to you and congratulations by the way! See you in person again one day or at least in spirit. Ride Well.

  • Hello Ronnie, Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I hope this inspires those of us who, like me, plan grand journeys in detail but never do them. The detailed account of the journey really made me feel I was there – beginning with your initial page where you said “Just point and ride” – I felt that could have been me !
    Thank you. Mubeen.

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