Some days your world just comes crashing down, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. And it did today for the United People of Adventure. After five days of harmony, of unity in a shared endeavor (despite all manner of challenges and adverse weather), today outside forces took a very real hold and threw the group’s plans – and emotions – into utter turmoil.
Last night saw high winds and rain lash the coastline – and the tents. Andrea (UPoA rider, Australia) woke in the middle of the night to find her tent trying to fly away, only her own body weight was holding it there. When a lull came she quickly re-sited it to a more sheltered location. In the dark she could hear the sea crashing onto the reef, 400 metres out, with some force.
That raging sea was the leading edge of a huge weather system at that time in the middle of the Indian Ocean. When the group woke in the morning it seemed to be almost in the teeth of a gale as high winds and rain continued to lash the coast and camping spot. Again everyone stayed put in their tents, awaiting a let-up.
When the let-up came there was bad news. The morning calls to the captain of the ship that was due to collect the group in the afternoon had revealed the reason for the bad weather. Mid Indian Ocean, a cyclone – the biggest ever recorded in the region – was tearing up the seas with wind speeds of over 280km/h. And it was heading for Madagascar. No ship was going to leave port for days to come. But equally no beachfront camping spot was likely to be a safe place to see out the cyclone. The group had to take action.
What exact action wasn’t immediately obvious. More information was needed. Herbert, talking to locals, making calls on the sat phone to Touratech in Germany, was trying to get the clearest picture of the weather patterns, looking to get estimates on where the cyclone might make landfall – and was looking to see if there was any chance of a rendezvous with the ship even now, although looking at the sea this looked most unlikely.
In the meantime the UPoA riders set to cleaning themselves up. When the rain stopped the wind blew a warm air which was ideal for drying, and so washing lines were set up, boots were stripped out to dry quicker. Without pegs the wind periodically blew the clothes from the washing lines but the ever patient UPoA riders would chase the errant clothes down and lay them on the lines again.
Benjamin and July, the ever inventive chefs, joined with Ramona in buying more supplies from the local village, mostly fruit. And with time to spin out they set themselves a new challenge: to make bread!
July worked on flat breads, popular in his native India. Benjamin looked to bake loaves. July’s flatbreads were another triumph, seasoned with chilli and other spices, fried in pans. So tasty they were consumed in what seemed like seconds. Benjamin’s first loaf (bearing in mind the mixing, kneading and proving involved) was so nearly successful – just a little burnt. But learning from this, and by evening out the embers of the fire, the second loaf was perfect. Another first from the duo – home-baked wilderness breads!
Distractions over, the day’s issue returned. The cyclone threatened destruction. The group had two choices – neither attractive. Head further south to meet the ship at the southernmost point of Cap Est – a distance of 70km. But with no knowledge of the quality of the trail it wasn’t easy to estimate how long this would take. If as bad as the yesterdays’ trail this would mean progress probably of no more than 20km a day. And with nothing more than two villages along the route, probably as small and basic as the ones already seen – groups of stick huts, no electricity, no water – there was no guarantee of decent shelter if the cyclone came our way.
Or head north – effectively retreat. Return the way we’d come, over the broken bridges, the river crossings. With a push, maybe something that could be done in two days. But once back at Antalaha there’d at least be shelter, with the prospect – cyclone permitting – of heading north then west to pick up a route south along the western side of the island.
The choice of which way to travel was to be decided by a democratic vote. As the evening arrived, and the light faded, there was a now-or-never sense to the matter. The vote was evenly split. So the decision was debated further. The very real concern for personal safety swayed those who wished to travel north, although it was argued too that north offered more options for travel out and around the island. For the route south it was argued this was adventure, there were risks for sure, but this was the essence of the ride.
The second vote fell to the north argument, although not unanimously. For those that had still wished to travel south they could at least empathize with the concerns of those who favoured the northern route. The southern route was certainly risky, unknown and even if successful, who knew when a ship could sail again? The team could be left stranded. As well there was the question of fuel. The bikes had been burning fuel much quicker than anticipated. The distances travelled were short, but engine running times were long. With the boats confined to port there was little fuel to be found and it seemed unlikely we’d find decent supplies going south – and the group’s tanks were close to empty, only the excess capacity of Jan Peter’s ‘1000km’ F 800 GS with its oversize tanks was keeping the group going (our very own petrol tanker). Travel south was certainly fraught with issues.
Still the decision pleased few, even those who voted to go north. Emotionally the team was in pieces. To head north felt to be effectively ending the adventure, everyone agreed. Even with all the uncertainties, with all the risks, the route south called out to be ridden. But safety was important, probably paramount, and the team chose to consider every one in its number, to consider, too, their families and their responsibilities, even their fears. The group would, then, in the morning head north, but with regrets, with anguish even.
The mood in the camp tonight was, then, sombre and as if to dramatise that emotion the group witnessed a snake capture and consume a chameleon in the branches of the tree over their heads. It’s a reminder that Mother Nature isn’t as benevolent as we might like to imagine – she can be brutal. And with Cyclone ‘Fantala’ threatening destruction from just off the coast, perhaps running for cover was the most sensible option.
|Herbert Schwarz: “A horrible day. The news about the boat and about the cyclone was all-bad, offering very little scope for optimism. When it came to a vote to decide what we should do – go north or south – that was unpleasant too. The group was split for the first time and they didn’t like that feeling, to debate with each other their future actions sat uneasy on them, to find themselves with opposing viewpoints was distressing. The sense of harmony was destroyed.”
Ramona Schwarz: “What a challenge to be set before the group. The physical threat of the cyclone feels insignificant to the emotional turmoil created by the split in the group over which way we should go. I’m as upset as anyone. After the final decision had been made I felt like the chameleon in the tree next to us that had just been choked and eaten by a snake. Of course we’ll overcome this and I don’t doubt that everyone will pull together, but for now events have overtaken us, leaving a subdued mood in the group. To start retracing our steps tomorrow fills no-one with enthusiasm.”
- UPoA rider, Australia -
“I was definitely disappointed not to be going south. While it would have meant possibly missing our flights I was surprised that more of the team didn’t want to continue on. The change of plan did take me a little while to process. Ultimately adventures don’t always go to plan and being able to adapt to the group’s needs is all part of the journey, I learnt that in adventure travel the end destination isn’t the most important factor.”
- UPoA rider North America -
“I voted neutral. My heart wanted to go south but my brain told me I won't be making it in time to meet my wife in Tanzania if we had to wait out the storm. I decided to let the others decide and would go with the flow. Still saddened to go north.”
- Team Doctor & UPoA rider Australia 2 -
"The vote was split along choosing the predictable (go north, more options for extraction, known road) or taking a gamble (go south, limited options for extraction, unknown road). Add to this the variable of Cyclone Fantala bearing down on northern Madagascar and I was relieved that ultimately logic led us north."
- UPoA rider Europe -
“The need to decide to go north or south was inevitable. We had gone as far as any adventure bikers have gone, everybody was tired, it had been raining and the storm was brewing. A democratic vote was taken, the right decision was made, which I think everybody else appreciated more in hindsight, probably influenced by those of us with long experience in life and motorcycle travel. Fatigue was kicking in, trench feet were stinking and the possibility of catching a boat further south was not certain having in mind the African style, which for tomorrow means next week. We had gone a bridge too far.”
- UPoA rider, Asia -
“This was the first time during the trip that there were two clear factions and we were comparatively less 'united'. The time pressure to make the decision was intense and unfortunately didn't help the situation. I myself was torn in the beginning but with more time, less pressure and a collaborative discussion, it was clear – let's head south and finish what we've started. Sure there were a few uncertainties but isn't that one of the ingredients of an adventure? We would have helped, convinced and supported the 'north faction' to head south but unfortunately the decision was made and we were going to head back – north. It did bother me and left me a bit down on the subsequent day, but I didn't let that affect the spirit of the ride and put on a happy front for the rest. In life, sometimes you just have to go with the unknown and make the most of the situation. Hopefully we'll all get another opportunity to tame the RN5 and not individually but United.”
- UPoA rider, South America -
"I look at the north/south discussion as one of the most precious memories of this adventure. H&R allowed us to come together as a team to make some big decisions. There were different opinions but we were united in searching for what was best for the team. And in the end, after the vote was taken, everyone embraced the result without complaints or frustration. What a beautiful experience! You have people from all corners of the world, different backgrounds and expectations, but we are united."
|Touratech Adventure Bread!
Benjamin Myers & July Behl explain how to bake bread over an open fire…
Benjamin: “With a day of confinement to camp, July and I decided to be bakers for the day. Flat bread and two leavened loaves were on the menu. While July chopped onion and garlic for his flatbreads, I kneaded my dough for 15 minutes. I put two loaves in two different pans to let them rise. During that time, July cooked his flatbreads in a skillet. He then proceeded to fry them with a little olive oil. They came out absolutely delicious, thanks to the combination of spices he used. Crunchy and moist with a kick of heat. I put my first loaf in the fire and covered it with embers. Being the first time I attempted this I was unsure of cooking times. The first one burnt a bit but I learned from my mistake. The next loaf came out beautifully. We served it with an olive oil and garlic dip.
“The exact recipe? Six cups of flour. 2-3 cups of water, I think (can't remember exactly as I did it by feel!) 2 tablespoons of salt and one of sugar. One packet of yeast. Mix well, knead for 15 minutes. Split dough into two loads and place in pan. Let rise for 1-2 hours. Put in coals covering as much of the pan as possible. Also add coals or hot sand to the top. Bake for 20-30 min. Take out and let cool for 5-10. Serve and enjoy.”
July: “When in doubt, either cook and eat food or ride motorcycles. As we were waiting for the boat to take us south and weren't doing the latter, it made sense to do the former. Benjamin and I were bakers for the afternoon and it was brilliant. I made the poor cousin of an Indian bread called ' missi roti' which originally has two different kinds of flours – wheat and chickpea – and has garlic, green chilli and coriander and is more often than not fried in clarified butter as a final touch. My Touratech bread was made with wheat flour, salt, chilli flakes, a hint of lemon pepper and onions. All the ingredients go in the dough at the kneading stage post which one makes wee balls, flattens them and cooks them on the pan till the dough is cooked.
I wasn't sure if the bread would be well received but it went down a treat. I think a lot of that was because of my glamorous apprentice Andrea who not only helped in cooking the breads but did a cracking job of serving them as well. I absolutely loved to cook for everyone on the trip and would be happy to accompany H&R on future rides as a rider and a chef. Bon Appetite!”
The bikes of the UPoA - KTM 1190R AdventureRider: July Behl, UPoA rider Asia
|July Behl: “There’s motorcycles and there’s motorcycles – and then there's the KTM 1190 R Adventure. What a treat?! I'm obviously biased towards the bike as I own one of these beauties. I've taken my bike off-roading but nothing compared to the riding in Madagascar, which certainly did put things in perspective for me.
“Pros – it's a bulletproof bike. I dropped it a few times and despite several failure messages where water got into the electrics it kept going on and on. And unlike some of its other colleagues on the trip, the weight distribution is perfect, which lends to the manageable character of the bike.
“The 21-inch front wheel made a significant difference on some of the sections which was complimented by the 220mm of suspension travel. Having ridden a few bikes in the adventure segment, the KTM 1190 R is by far the most competent off-road machine. Having done over 10,000 miles on- and off-road on it, it's a treat to ride and if you've got the heart for it, it will easily do in excess of a 135mph even fully loaded with panniers, camping gear etc.
“Anyway, Cons – the fact that one has to reset the riding modes each time, which is not only time consuming (even if it's a few minutes) but also an extremely boring ritual. The handlebars definitely need the risers for when stood up and for long distance touring. By the way, the standard seat and suspension are not a patch on the Touratech seat and suspension. These were just lush! Other cons – the standard battery isn't the best as a few times on the trip it just died on me for no rhyme or reason. Fortunately the cons are bits and bobs that are easy enough to fix. Overall it's a cracking bike and puts a smile on my face each time I get on it.”
- UPoA writer -
“July rode the racer in the group. The 1190R is the most dirt-adept of the machines here. The 21/18” wheels allow the fitting of the most aggressive looking of the excellent Pirelli Scorpion Rally tyres (that were fitted to all the bikes) and this allowed it a sure grip in all but the slickest of conditions.
“July’s a tall guy (6’2”) and it was noticeable that the KTM was a good fit for him, the seat feels high, so too the bars. After riding the others the 1190R feels like a real enduro bike, with enduro type power – strong and lusty right from the bottom. I have a slight reservation over the turning circle, it certainly feels like a restricted steering lock. And as July says – and in common with most of the bikes (1200GS excepting) – resetting the rider modes every start-up became massively annoying. The user interface on the rider modes seems prehistoric too, all the manufacturers need to hire some smart phone technicians to revolutionise this aspect of adventure bike packaging. Great bike though, man you can go wild on this one!”