Today two forms of tough were combined to create a seriously testing day for the United People of Adventure. First form of tough: endurance, as the team set out to ride what took nearly two days on the way south in just one day heading north. Second form of tough: doing that with their motivation, their morale, on rock bottom. And added to that, today Mother Nature turned the heat up, Gas Mark 8 – or at least mid-30s (degrees-Celsius), with high humidity. No surprises then that there were crashes and injury along the way.
From the start this was a hot day. The winds had dropped and the clouds had cleared to give the sun the optimal chance to hit the riders hard. The deep sand encountered first thing was tough enough, but with spirits low it sapped more energy, more motivation than it had a right to. There was little bottled water to be found in the village and with the team’s own water supplies running low the prospects didn’t look good going into the tough ‘seven bridges’ section of the route.
And tough going it was, the heat was punishing and in struggling to evaporate their sweat in the high humidity, the UPoA riders were pushing at the boundaries of heat stroke. Layers had to be stripped off and on every opportunity the riders dived under shade to find some cooling. There was no stopping though, even when some of the bigger bikes became mired in the deepest water holes, straps were attached and everyone pushed and pulled.
It was lunchtime when the group reached the river with the ferry, where they had camped two nights before. And the group were fortunate that the enterprising villagers once again offered a chicken and rice meal to all (the local chicken population will obviously never ever be big Touratech fans). Supplies of petrol, food and water – organized with the assistance of Momo back in Antalaha – arrived on the far bank in the meantime, allowing for a much needed refuel – in fact sufficient to complete the return journey to Ocean Momo.
Refreshed and refueled the group pushed on. The section of trail where they’d encountered the deep sand, long bridge and wet clay hill proved easier in reverse and in the drier conditions, but there were still falls. Elsewhere the recent rains had far from drained and in fact some trails were now in considerably worse condition than on the southward journey.
Herbert, who can usually be relied upon to stay out of the worst of trouble, was caught by a concrete post on a small bridge which propelled him into a ditch, fortunately without injury or serious damage. As his R1200GS was being extracted from there, Gunther, riding Ramona’s F800GS, made a mistake on the same bridge and put her bike into the opposite ditch. The comedy of the situation was not lost on the group. In fact the serious effort that the day was calling for was doing an excellent job of reunifying the team, this was hard work and everyone needed to help each other.
July was the day’s real casualty. In one spill he badly twisted his knee, aggravating an old injury that had been operated on barely a year ago. The pain was significant and the medical team administered painkillers and would have bandaged the knee, but July already had this supported by a sports knee brace. But when July, just a short time later, found himself again falling in a slippery section of mud ruts and mercilessly having to take his weight, and that of his KTM, through that same knee, he was very nearly finished off. His pain threshold was exceeded and while he recovered it was clear it was becoming a serious struggle for him to keep riding.
In fact by late afternoon most of the group were in trouble with depleted energy, so a halt was called. Andrea, clearly with some foresight, had brought electrolytic powders with her and was able to mix-up three bottles of energy solution which she distributed among the group. A tin of sardines was found, some olive oil and salt, and some bread, and this was shared around. After half an hour the group were revived, but July’s knee was so inflamed he was given a pillion ride, and his bike later relayed, to the camp.
After a baking hot day it was ironic that a downpour hit the group just as they were setting camp, the team having to work in darkness having finished so late. The riding kit, let alone the bikes, had taken a hammering in the mud today, so the rain just finished the job off – wet gear and wet tents again. Yet morale had been revived, unity restored and when Benjamin set about creating a spiced-tomato and spaghetti supper – another gastronomic triumph – there was a real sense of contentment among the riders. The elements might have been doing the best to defeat them, but in fact as a cohesive team they were still functioning fantastically well.
“After a day of rest this was the toughest day of toil. It was important that we pushed on and we had to dig deep to reach our goal today, but it’s necessary to make good progress north so we can keep our options open. We’ve ben tracking the cyclone and that is still threatening to strike land soon, so we need to make sure we are not without options as this comes closer.”
“The team surpassed themselves today. This was an unglamourous slog, we simply had to make the distance, to keep riding, to overcome some of the toughest challenges. I was impressed to see the effort of it all unified the team again. As much as there are some of us who want to be travelling south, right now we needed to concentrate out efforts in the now – accept what has been decided and embrace it. That’s been entirely the case and while the effort saw us hit rock bottom physically, mentally – and as a team – we are working together better than ever.”
- UPoA rider, Australia -
“When you’re riding in conditions this hot (35-degrees and 91% humidity), especially when the riding is slow going and there isn’t the wind factor to cool you down, your body looses a huge amount of electrolytes and fluids through sweat. But it doesn’t cool, because the sweat doesn’t evaporate. So you don’t lose the heat. It’s not a good situation to be in. That was our state going through the seven bridges, making it the toughest ride yet.
“Then this afternoon we were all feeling tired, and when I noticed some of our most experienced riders making simple mistakes I realised how low our energy levels must be. No matter how much water you drink, if your electrolytes are depleted you won’t retain the liquid. Luckily we had electrolyte replacement powder, 6-litres between the group seemed to do the trick and it was like we were different riders for the last few hours that afternoon.”
- UPoA rider, South America -
"I swear I picked up Ramona’s bike about 10 times today! But one particular spill I’ll always remember. Ramona had managed to stop her bike on a high spot on the road where she couldn’t reach down with either foot, so down she went. It was right in front of a muddy, slippery small bridge so I offered to take it to the other side for her. Well, the best line was this skinny ridge on the edge of the trail. I rode towards it confidently, cleared the front tire from the muddy spot but I gave it too much throttle, the back tire spun and the bike slipped down the slope upside down into the water-filled ditch. Not the most gallant of rescues. At the same time Herbert had hit a concrete post on the other side of the bridge and lost his BMW into that ditch. So here we were with Mr & Mrs Schwarz with their BMWs on the same piece of track upside down in opposite ditches. A fine mess!
“Of course there was an upside, for when it was my turn to take my bike across the bridge I took a different – good – line and so no dramas…"
|A day of suffering – July Behl’s worst day|
|“This was the lowest point of the trip for me. It was a hot humid start to the morning with most people suffering from heat exhaustion. No matter how many times we stopped and rehydrated with plain or coconut water, our bodies wanted more and more.
“I ended up coming off the bike on an uphill rut, twisting my knee as it got caught between the pannier and a rock. It was excruciating pain but, in the spirit of not holding the team back, I carried on – but not for long as I ended up twisting the same knee again, in a puddle this time while going for a steadying dab.
| By this time, the combination of the dehydration and the pain in the knee got the better of me and rendered me immobile for a good ten minutes or so.
“Had it been a new injury, I would have probably not paid it any heed, however I’ve injured this knee multiple times and had it operated on it less than a year ago. Was I fit to ride? Hell I was! But multiples injuries, on an old injury, in the same place, in the same day, can get the better of anyone and I’m only human.
“No doubt I was in pain physically, but I was worse off mentally as I was anxious and trepidatious about hurting it again (which eventually I did for a third time just a few kilometres from our camping spot for the night). This is where JB (Jon Bentman, UPoA writer) came to my rescue and gave me the mental strength, the confidence and guidance to ride on. No doubt my knee was sore, but JB did a cracking job of distracting me and lifting my spirits at my lowest point. Using the excellent Sena communications system, JB rode in front of me and ensured that I picked the cleanest lines for the rest of the day, thus lowering the probability of injuring my knee again. This was camaraderie in its finest form and I cannot thank JB enough for what he did for me on the day and the rest of the trip!
“Robert, Gudmundur and Andrea played their part in medically assuring me that nothing was broken, which in itself is a big thing. They were kind, attentive, empathetic and most importantly supplied me with the drugs my body so badly needed. They continued to look after me for the rest of the ride.”
The bikes of the UPoA Bike - Honda Africa TwinRider: Gudmundur Bjornsson, UPoA rider Europe & Kurt Yaeger, UPoA video presenter
|Gudmundur: “I really enjoyed the bike, it’s so obviously a Honda, you can sense the XL and CRF genes. The size feels comparable to the BMW F800GS but the Honda feels less top-heavy, better, and this makes it nicer handling off-road. The ergonomics are nice too, very soon you feel at one with the bike, like you are wearing it.|
“I liked the Touratech suspension on the rear but that did highlight the fact the forks are too soft – Herbert says Touratech are working on a cartridge-based solution for the forks and that’ll really make a difference. The motor is nice but being used to 1200s it does lack torque and that did make it harder work when riding up hills. It did everything,
|but the 1200s are noticeably stronger – I think this would be obvious when riding on tarmac as well. We only did a little of that, but I sense the BMW R1200GS is the better long distance machine.
The rider aids are good and I left the ABS on while I selected minimal intrusion from the traction control and this was ideal. If I have a gripe, it’s the dashboard. This needs a complete redesign, really. But overall it’s a good bike, I could see me owning one – as a second bike – and I’d recommend it for journeys such as this. I’d give it 8.5-9.0 out of 10!”
|Kurt: “I’ve been blown away by this nimble and capable bike. It had enough power for all off-road applications and was balanced well for the slow speed mud and sand. Also, I really enjoyed the steepness of the head tube and the turning radius, far better than most other bikes. The suspension was a little bouncy – wish I could have more adjustment options. The automatic shifting on my one took some getting used to. Sometimes having the automatic was better (no worrying about digging yourself into deep mud or sand, just gently throttle out), sometimes it was not (like wanting to coast into a corner, which you can't do, you're either on the gas or off it, which creates slight engine braking). Overall, it was a great bike for this kind of adventure.”|