Our final day in Namibia after nearly 2 weeks of relaxing the pace and exploring and enjoying some of the attractions was one of the most spectacular. The dry, jagged canyons opened up to a verdant river valley, where the road lazily flowed along the banks of the Orange River. We crossed into South Africa on a 2 vehicle ferry at Sendelingsdrif, sad to leave Namibia behind. Checking into South Africa was easy enough although in hindsight we should have insisted on a TIP or some import document as it would have helped with shipping the bikes back home later.
Once cleared, we set off through the Richtersveld to complete perhaps the most scenic day of riding any of us had ever done. The Richtersveld proper is forbidden to motorcycles, but we traced the edge of it, skipping through Eksteenfontein as the shadows grew longer and the mountains caught fire in the evening glow. We never passed another vehicle despite the numerous hamlets tucked away off the main thoroughfare. We wild camped for the last time as the nostalgia began to grow with the impending conclusion to our adventure.
After a flat tire the next morning, Colin bid us farewell. We wanted to get to Cape Town to go diving with sharks while Richard and I wanted to detour through the Cederberg. We didn’t make it as far as we had hoped and camped by the reservoir in Clanwilliam for the night. With one final day to ride, Richard and I bought and drank a few extra beers, but the enormity of what we had done was difficult to grasp and the excitement to be finishing was difficult to find. It had been such an incredible experience and such a rare state of being--worrying only about what was in front of us, living with only that which we could carry on our bikes, and never knowing where we would rest our weary carcasses each day. It was a form of zen and while we were excited for what came next when we returned home, it was a state that we could have stayed in a while longer. It seemed unfortunate that it would be coming to a close. The beers helped to lubricate the emotions and the many experiences and encounters from the last 3 months that we hadn’t been able to properly process began to distill. So much had happened every single day, and the pace that we had ridden at seldom allowed those experiences to fully percolate. It was something that we wrestled with during the trip and a lot that night. Should we have taken more time?
We had given ourselves 3 months to ride from Belfast to Ireland, with no idea if that was even possible. The few that we had spoken to that had done the trip thought it was unlikely. But we had 3 months away from work, Richard’s wife was pregnant with their first child and we wanted to get to Cape Town. We had ridden by so much without stopping, but it had also forced us to stop in many places that we otherwise wouldn’t have and to find solutions to problems in ways that perhaps we might not have in other circumstances. We didn’t realize until we began, but the trip became first and foremost about riding our bikes everyday and the rest happened along the way. It took a while to realize that, but there was a distinct pleasure in that. Pleasure in the physical challenge of riding 24,000kms in a single line through an entire continent. Then there was the pure enjoyment of spending time with a really good friend, of suffering the heat and the bugs and the breakdowns along with the elation of fixing a broken rocker arm to the morning light as we raced our own shadows across the desert and sitting by countless small fires with each other and with our gracious hosts along the way. But having never done a trip in such style before, we had to wonder if had we even done it right? Was there something else that we were meant to have done or experienced?
These were the musings of two friends that were running out of the types of problems that a trip such as this throws up. We never found solutions or explanations in the mickey of whiskey that we also drank but we must have done something right to make it this far?
The Cederberg the next day begged the question of whether we were still up for adventure or instead ready to throw in the towel and take the highway to Cape Town. Rain and dense mist as we climbed into the mountains that reduced visibility to less than 50 meters and made the entire idea of taking the scenic route seem preposterous. Our persistence, however, was rewarded with a dramatic color palette as the blooming spring wild flowers accented the dark, foreboding skies. We popped out in Ceres to dry out in a coffee shop before climbing up through Bain’s Kloof Pass, an improbable road that snaked through a steep canyon awash with tumbling waterfalls and a raging torrent below due to the rain that saturated the earth and ourselves. From there it we dropped down to Cape Town picking up the freeway as my front sprocket began to skip as the teeth finally gave out. It got us up to Table Mountain, our preordained finish point. Exchanging embraces and messaging loved ones back home that we had arrived, it all felt a bit surreal. Did it really have to be over?
During the trip we had connected with Woodstock Moto Co, a community garage run by Devin Paisley, who were having a party that evening that soon doubled as our welcome party also. We rode down to the garage and cracked a and met the great motorcycle community in Cape Town. We never made it out of our riding gear til late in the evening, enjoying numerous libations while standing around chatting travel, motorcycles and life. It was a great way to come back to earth and begin to re-integrate.
The following days involved sleeping off a hangover, catching up in our journals, riding Chapman’s peak--a stunning strip of coastal road-- down to the Cape of Good Hope. From the old lighthouse on the point the Atlantic Ocean formed a moat around our desire to keep riding. We had run out of continent.
Our final day Devin took us on an awesome Cape Town tour, linking dirt tracks and twisting tarmac through avant garde districts, slums and stunning view points. Devin is passionate about motorcycles, his home town of Cape Town and community. It was a real icing on the cake to have fallen in with he and his crew. Cape Town is a real gem that is largely underrated. With the natural beauty of the coast and the mountains immediately surrounding it as well as being the gateway to some epic riding, there is no question that we will be back. We left Devin at the Cecil Rhodes statue overlooking the University of Cape Town to ride to the warehouse where we would leave our bikes for shipping, change and take an Uber to the airport. And then it was over.
In the months that have passed since returning home to daily life, the trip has continued to distill and settle in our minds into the legend that it will become for us. After first talking about it while living together in Chamonix, France 12 years ago, the belief that it has come and gone already is still hard to process. Having finally made it happen, the trip has highlighted the value in having long term goals to look forward to. In an era of instant gratification, it is rare to have a dream that captures the imagination that is largely intangible, but ultimately possible. In the wake of fulfilling that dream, the absence of a goal that that looms large and perhaps services nothing more than wanderlust has become apparent, but there will be time for dreaming up another.
As we came back to earth there was much discussion around trying to acutely comprehend what we had done exactly. Morocco felt like an eternity ago. The wet season in Cameroon that spanked us so robustly did not connect to the chaos of the DRC which did not attach itself to the vastness of Namibia. So much had happened and everyday was so intense and full of experiences that it was difficult to compile it into a single accomplishment. It felt like a year ago that we set off from Belfast, and the blink of an eye since we started planning the trip 9 months before. In reality our sense of exhaltation just didn’t seem to add up to the sum of all the parts. The only sentiment that I could come upon that captured the magnitude of what we had just done was that we were now part of an exclusive club of folks that had ridden motorcycles overland, navigating the requisite challenges and perils along the way and absorbing all the vibrancy of life on the road. Many of these characters and tales were brought to life on forums, personal travel blogs and social media feeds. Before we began the trip, we thought those folks were heroic and the most inspiring characters that we could imagine. And now we had followed in their footsteps to fulfil our vision of an overland motorcycle journey. Does that make us heros? It doesn't feel like it. But when you complete the most awesome thing you can imagine undertaking, it is a gratifying feeling.