DREAMING OF A BIG SKY

“The old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man’s heart away from nature becomes hard”

Luther Standing Bear – LAKOTA SIOUX.

Photo Credit: Hougaard Malan

At this time each year, I start experiencing a “hardness of heart”. Deep from within my very soul a yearning takes root. My wife understands this, and recognizes the signs. She says I go quiet, and start poring over my map book. She gets a wry smile, nods knowingly and says “you need a road trip”. I am not quite sure what triggers this state. Perhaps it’s the cloudless blue skies, or unlikely rain in Gauteng, as the winter imperceptibly starts to weaken it’s stranglehold.

I yearn for wide open vistas. The sun shimmering off the Makgadigadi pans. The silhouette of a Baobab, painted pink by the setting sun. The intoxicating, unforgettable smell of a “hardekool” fire.

The ritual of erecting my tent, sorting my bedding and getting coffee water on the boil. Ladling ground coffee into my Coleman plunger and savouring the rich coffee aroma. The glug from my hipflask, to put that “renoster” into my coffee. Sitting back, sipping slowly as harsh daylight softens to a pastel glow. Listening as the jackal announces his presence to the creatures of the night. The guinea fowl and pheasants, clucking and screeching their way to their roosts. The onset of another African evening, seemingly unchanged since time began.

My bike bears testimony to the long haul. Dusty and bug bespattered. To my mind it never looks better. I study it for the umpteenth time. Check the chain, for lube or slack. Prod here, pull there. No loose nuts or bolts. Bungee cords and luggage straps hang from the bike like the tentacles of a drunk octopus. Like me, the tension drained from them.

Thoughts turn to food. Out comes the Trangia stove. Fantastic piece of cooking kit. Compact and devilishly simple. Runs on methylated spirits, or “blou trein,  to some of you. Hee hee. First night of the trip means fresh meat. Left home frozen and wrapped in newspaper. Now nicely thawed. Lamb stew. Brown the meat with garlic and onions, cover in beer and left to stew slowly. Time to cut up and cube the ‘taties and butternut, and a handfull of green beans.

The hipflask contents, mixed with a dash of water, help to get me stewing slowly too. All is well with my soul. Add the veggies, and salivate as the wonderful aroma of cooking wafts from the Trangia. It’s going to be good nosh.

The planning stage starts to build the anticipation. Work out a route. Check the distances. Invariably I feel the pull of Botswana, like that of a moth to a flame. The vastness, the emptiness, the friendly people, the wildlife. I always say that for me, Botswana starts when I see the first Ilala palms. In the early days I used to write the distances, and directions, on a small piece of paper, with an asterisk next to fuel stops. The paper would get stuck on my tank with raceface. A kind of stone age GPS. These days, I know the distances between towns off by heart. I just don’t ever seem to tire of the place.

The bike prep is part of the whole build up. Out comes the ATG dry bag. All my camping kit lives in one place, but I always make a “new” list. Resist the urge to take “belt and braces”. Travelling to remote places, the “what if” factor kicks in. Easy to get lured into taking the proverbial “kitchen sink”. Over time, I have wised up, and tend to be very minimalistic. Essentials, rather than nice to have, pretty much like how we should live our lives.

Bikes are pretty reliable. Since the ‘70’s we have been able to venture far and wide without being plagued by mechanical, or other maladies. Must be honest, I am a bit concerned by modern electronics. Where in Africa is my bike going to stop “reading” it’s key, or is a sensor going to stop “sensing”? Let me not go there. Suffice to say, I have just acquired a KLR 650 Kawi for an extended African trip I am planning for next year. Simple and basic, like God intended.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira

It is, in my opinion, so important to do these little adventures as often as time, and circumstances, allow. Nothing quite recharges the work and world weary batteries like a road trip. On your Pat Malone, or with a good bud or two. Just keep it simple. If you have never ventured far on your bike, just do it!, I dare you. I started this chat with an old Native American saying, so let me end with one too. It reminds us that we only get one life, and that it is up to us as to how we live it.

“When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes, they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home”.

Chief Tecumseh.