Ride for Zambia : A Charity Ride from Cape Town to London
The idea of a transcontinental ride came to me while sitting in my residential flat at Monash University, back in ’09, where I’d been inspired by stories of other overlanders covering the world on two wheels, mostly unsupported.
In my third year at Monash I was lucky enough to study in Malaysia and live with a large group of African exchange students. By the end of the semester the thought of a big overland trip was again brewing in my head, and this time it wasn’t going away. I made my mind up, I would ride from Cape Town to London in 2014, and in the process raise as much money as I could for orphans in Zambia.
Being 22 at the time, I promised my worried-sick mother that I’d bring a friend. So, I recruited my best mate and riding bud, Michael. Michael wasn’t so keen on the idea to begin with, but my forceful invitation email didn’t really give him a choice. Two months later I bought a secondhand DR650 with 20,000km on the clock and began planning.
• Set Up and Planning
A trip like this takes an enormous amount of planning and organization, both logistically and mechanically. Around the time I had decided to do the trip I owned a WR450 and considered transforming it into a desert bike to complete the trip on. But after I sat on it for 10 minutes and as my butt grew sorer, I realized that wasn’t a smart idea.
I spent a lot of hours fixing, modifying, testing my DR until I was happy with the finished product. By far the best money spent was on suspension upgrades by Kroozetune, a 30L Safari tank and $40 on an extra inch of foam in the seat! The rest of the time was devoted to organizing permits, visas, paperwork, carnets, trying to find sponsors and holding fundraising events for the orphans in Zambia. During this planning period of over 12 months, I constantly corresponded with Vince Strang Suzuki (VinceStrangMotorcycles.com.au) who were extremely helpful with my questions regarding DR650 modifications.
A month before shipping our bikes to Cape Town, Michael and I went for a practice ride from Orbost to Jervis Bay and back. On the first day, we had mechanical issues with my bike leaking oil around the cam chain tensioner and Michael’s bike blowing a shock seal. It was safe to say we both were getting that sinking feeling that we had bitten off more than we could chew. Luckily, it was too late to change our minds and a month later our bikes were wrapped up in a coffin of wood, cardboard and strapping tape and heading for South Africa.
• Southern Africa
On December 23rd, I picked up my bike from a shipyard in Cape Town and rode it back to my hostel, with Michael flying in a few days after. The paperwork had been completed by a very efficient clearing agent and the only drama I had was the handlebars coming off in my hands as I stopped out the front of my hostel, having failed to tighten them back on after unpacking!
We departed on the 29th and began making our way north along the west coast. After only a few hours of riding we knew we had made the best decision to go for it and were on the trip of a lifetime!
Our first night was spent camping on the beach near the small village of Papendorp where we met a few locals at a bar who were only too happy to look at our maps and give advice. Over the next few days we made our way into Namibia and through the southern end of the Namib Desert. A lady at a supermarket told us our destination of Fish River Canyon was only 100km away, but after 5 km of the worst corrugations I have ever ridden I was beginning to wonder whether we would make it through the first week! Luckily, just as the afternoon heat became stifling, the road flattened out into a barren desert with softish sand and my butt was telling me that extra inch of foam was money well spent!
The first leg of the trip took us through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and into Zambia. We took just over two weeks to get to Lusaka, Zambia, and we had loved every minute. The wildlife sightings of elephants, giraffes, and zebras on the side of the road were almost daily events. One morning we were chased along the road by an angry bull elephant and the next morning found hippo prints outside our tent. The local people were extremely friendly and we were only stopped by police so they could ask how fast our bikes went. On average, we covered 400km a day with our biggest day 712km, including a three-hour border crossing.
In Lusaka, we had a chance to visit the Chainda Day Centre as well as the Fountain of Hope orphanage and school. Both these organizations are just two of many in Lusaka that are run by local volunteers who want to make a difference. The money I had raised (almost $30,000) has been donated to a small Lusaka-based charity called Friends of Tionge. This charity is operated by ex-Monash University students from the South Africa campus and works closely with orphanages and schools within Lusaka to improve resources, mainly in education. Both Michael and I really enjoyed spending time with the kids and hope to get back to Zambia in the future.
• Destination Zanzibar
After departing Lusaka, our next decent break would come on Zanzibar Island. Our toughest day of this section of the trip was in Northern Zambia as we tried to take a shortcut to South Luangwa National Park. The shortcut wasn’t paying off and a good quality dirt road soon became a jungle with mud up to the saddle bags! We had been told by a local that the road was in good condition but that we must hurry as the lions will begin feeding after 3 p.m. At 5 p.m., and almost soiling ourselves, we were beaten. Surrounded by swamp and chest-high grass there was little choice but to turn around. We got to the town of Katete at 9 p.m. and had a few locals laughing at us when I raised my fist in the air in victory. It must have been obvious we’d had a hard day!
As we trekked to Zanzibar the following week, it was relatively easy with good roads, but poor quality fuel. The lack of road rules meant I’d taken a shining to passing cars and trucks on the left-hand side of the road, or even on the footpath. It cost Michael a $25 speeding fine when he was caught twice in two days by the Tanzanian fuzz trying to keep up! Eventually my luck ran out and I put a stick through my back wheel while riding on the footpath in Dar Es Salaam. Having left a small piece of the stick inside my wheel, I was soon changing a second flat, about a kilometer down the road (along with quite a few four letter words!).
A week in Zanzibar was a perfect break from the road and allowed us to regenerate for the next leg. Michael was also shitting solid again for the first time since we left Cape Town, after not following the doctor’s orders and leaving his cholera medication out of the fridge! After leaving Zanzibar we made a beeline for Nairobi, but didn’t get far before we struck trouble. Another flat tire meant we were down to using patched or locally made tubes. After changing three in one day in 40°C heat, we were starting to question whether we’d make it to Kenya, let alone London! We managed to limp our way into Nairobi and were able to pick up some heavy-duty tubes, and a load of essential CO2 bottles.
In Nairobi we applied for Sudan and Ethiopia visas which became a bit of a nightmare with the embassies only being open two hours a day. We amused ourselves with a four-day ride to Uganda while we waited.
• Hotter in the North
Back in Nairobi, and waiting for our visas, we began researching our route north in more detail. We had been warned by locals and overlanders to avoid Northern Kenya because of tribal conflict as well as Somali bandits entering Kenya through the northern desert. If we were to pass through the north we were told it was necessary to join an armed convoy. The story of another bike rider having a hole put in his backpack by a bullet made us realize just how serious the situation was becoming. Not having much choice, we decided to forget the convoy and made a deal with each other to get to the border of Ethiopia in two and a half days, agreeing to take a “every man for himself approach” if things turned ugly.
By far this became the scariest and most exhilarating part of the trip. A day after leaving Nairobi, the road turned into a dust bowl of nine-inch corrugations that went on and on for hundreds of kilometers. The heat was outrageous and the further we went the worse the road became. After riding past burnt out villages and trucks, not dissimilar to a scene from the movie Blood Diamond, Michael got a flat front tire. I made the quickest tire change in history with Michael’s words reminding me that “we’re sitting ducks out here!” About 50km later, Michael had a fall in the sand which jammed on his kill switch. Another nervous 20 minutes passed as we tried to unjam the sand filled switch before getting the bike going again.
Not far down the road we were riding side by side and rounded a corner that came over a rise. As we rolled over the top, a Land Cruiser ute (Australian for utility vehicle) came towards us with four masked men onboard carrying AK-47s. I looked at Michael and then looked in my mirror, the dust stopping me from seeing if they had turned around. We twisted our right hands and rode as hard as we could, breaking our carry racks in the process but not stopping until we reached the border town of Moyale.
The next three weeks were spent cruising though the highlands of Ethiopia and following the Nile through Sudan. We were enjoying ourselves again, mainly happy to have just survived northern Kenya. Northern Ethiopia was spectacular with open roads and fantastic views of the highlands and the Nile River. With the elevation exceeding 4,000m in parts, our bikes were running very rough, but still unstoppable! In 10-days we had ridden from Northern Kenya to Khartoum, Sudan. Tragically, in the late 1980s over one-million Sudanese refugees walked for months along a similar path, escaping war in their home country.
In Northern Sudan we caught a ferry from Wadi Hafa to Aswan, Egypt. The bikes had to take a second ferry and the whole process of clearing them through customs in Egypt took us almost a week. We were ready to leave Egypt before we even started!
We made the trek from Aswan to Alexandria in a few days and were stopped by police multiple times a day. Following an argument, one particularly angry officer insisted we wait on the side of the road. After a couple of minutes, we decided to ride off as soon as he turned his back and we didn’t bother to look back. In Alexandria, we arranged for our bikes to be shipped to Salerno, Italy. We were keen to exit Egypt as quick as possible, which meant going to court, being granted temporary residence in Egypt just so the shipping company could handle the bikes on our behalf. All the while surrounded by hundreds of Syrian refugees fighting to stay in Egypt. Our problems didn’t compare to theirs...
Another week later and we were motoring up the Italian coast running on fresh European fuel. While we were getting an extra 200km per tank on the good juice, at over $3AUD a liter we would have happily stuck with the 17c a liter Egyptian stuff. Once again, we were spoiled for views along the Italian coast, which quickly turned into the stunning French Alps, leaving us with an amazing day’s riding! In Albertville, Michael lost the seal around his sprocket and his bike was very quickly about to run out of oil. We siliconed the cap back on, topped up the oil and kept riding towards England!
We arrived in London on April 2, 94 days, 15 countries and 20,084km later. It was hard to believe we had made it, and neither of us could keep the grin off our faces! Our trip was such an incredible experience—we can’t wait for the next one!
• Final Note
Since finishing our journey I’ve started my own logistics business, assisting individuals and groups wishing to travel through Africa using their own transport. I had the experience of a lifetime and I want to help others do the same.
For information or to donate to Friends of Tionge and support orphans in Zambia—where 100% of donations go to those who really need it—visit: facebook.com/rideforzambia