by Vuyi Mpofu
Agreeing to venture out to Lesotho on my newly sponsored Honda NC750x DCT was the best and worst decision of my life. Best, because it taught me motorcycle fundamentals which no one could have prepared me for and worst, because it taught me motorcycle fundamentals which no one could have prepared me for. Many a time I have been asked if I would have done things differently had I known what lay ahead and my answer remains the same each time. No. I would not have changed even the tiniest detail.
Any other person with my motorcycling experience at the time, would have wisely opted not to go on the trip. But not me. I am a proven all-in or all-out kind of person and that’s the prevailing attitude that governs my life.
There were many junctures during the Lesotho expedition which presented me opportunities to either turn back or call my-little-twin-sister, Bongiwe Didiza to come and rescue me.
The first of these opportunities occurred a mere 500m from my doorstep and I should have interpreted it as a message from my ancestors that I was about to make them work overtime. Clearly, I misunderstood the assignment and blissfully continued with the long-distance outing.
But let me start from the beginning…..
To prepare for the journey, I went on a shopping spree. First, I erroneously bought an oversized rain suit (which made me look like the Michelin man’s bitter ex-wife). Next, I acquired an adventure helmet. Lastly, I made my second error, by purchasing cute pink gloves which I later found didn’t offer anywhere near the type of protection one needs.
Next, I spent numerous hours learning how to pack light. Truth is, when it comes to travel I’m the type of woman who takes everything except the kitchen sink. A motorcycle generally doesn’t accommodate what I consider necessary luggage so it was an excruciating experience and I had to make peace with taking only 1 pair of jeans, a few tees, flip flops and a pair of sneakers. I was not happy.
Fortunately, the Honda NC750x range comes with a ‘boot’ which is a cavity where the fuel tank would normally be. The space is big enough to store a full-face helmet but for me, it became the storage area in which I packed my stuff. Although what I needed fit well into the ‘boot’ old habits dictated that I should have a carry-on bag ‘just in case’.
Being a brand new motorcycle with only 123km on the odometer there wasn’t a need to take it for a pre-road-trip service/check. Once again, old habits kicked in and I did my own pre-trip check to satisfy myself that all was in order. This included brakes, front and rear lights and indicators.
As departure day neared, I was understandably nervous but ecstatic. Not only would this be my maiden voyage on a motorcycle and my first time in Maseru; but the adventure would be taking place within the wettest period of the year.
It had been raining non-stop for 5 days prior and experts predicted that the downpour would continue for a further week. This should have been the second sign for me not to proceed but once again, I misconstrued my ancestors’ memo.
Reality fully kicked in on departure day. Having barely slept, partly due to nerves but mostly praying the rain would subside, I launched into an intense dialog with myself which started with querying my level of sanity.
This was quickly followed by other rapidly fired questions mostly related to why I thought this was a good idea and why I was putting myself through the ordeal. At that moment it dawned on me that the thin line between madness and insanity was as faint as the lines on any South African road.
Tumelo arrived and engines revving, the rain at a gentle but steady drizzle, we made our way out of my residence.
My heart racing and with the start of a feeble smile forming under my visor, I confidently prepared to pull into morning traffic and simultaneously kissed the ground. That’s right folks, I stumbled off my 830cm high motorbike onto the hard concrete to the dismay and amusement of motorists and Tumelo alike.
That could have been the third sign, but as you know by now – not for yours truly. Unflustered and more importantly unhurt, I brushed myself off and watch Tumelo pick up my 230kg metallic horse. I climbed back on, steadied myself and successfully rode off.
It never occurred to me that the motorcycle was too tall for me. I just thought I was doing something wrong each time I stopped. Well, I was doing a few things incorrectly but what I should have done was have the bike lowered to a comfortable height. Also, I had not mastered the art of reading the level of the ground to determine which leg to put down each time I needed to come to a full stop. Instead, I used kerbs (whenever I could find them) and rode excruciatingly slowly towards red traffic lights in the hopes the light would turn green before I reached it. Mostly, I prayed. A lot.
Our route took us from Midrand to Helibron via Vanderbijlpark, then onwards to Senekal, Ficksburg and Ladybrand. What may have ordinarily taken Tumelo a much shorter period to ride turned into a 9-hour ordeal for both of us. The rain was relentless; the wind was unforgiving; the potholes were menacing and stray animals decided to further challenge my reflexes and resolve. Oh and let’s not forget the fuel stops and that my riding speed (or crawl) determined Tumelo’s speed.
At one point I almost ran out of fuel because I forgot I wasn’t in a car. At another point, I almost ran over Tumelo on his Africa Twin Adventure. The Africa Twin is a very big and tall bike so had I succeeded, it would be have been a frighteningly remarkable feat. I lost count of the number of times I fell off my bike. More often than not the wind blew me out of my lane and either into the lane of oncoming traffic or the bushes.
All the while my hideously oversized rain suit worked as hard as all my guardian angels and their relatives to keep me dry and in one piece. I owe Tumelo the cost of a psychologist for the trauma and emotional scars I unwittingly inflicted upon him. Uxolo bhut’.
As mentioned the ride was both the best and worst decision of my short motorcycling life and could only have had two outcomes. Either I would have returned with a view to hang up my helmet and never straddle a motorcycle again or; returned brimming with confidence and overflowing with experience.
As I am still happily riding motorcycles you can deduce that I returned from Lesotho unwavering in my pursuit to become a more experienced rider.
In Part 3 of this series I will share the highs and lows of this rather testing ride.