As I got involved with more and more rides during the year, my confidence kept growing and I wanted to get more and more involved in this Adventure Riding thing. September 2008 offered me this opportunity in the form of the BMW GS Challenge.
The GS Challenge is an annual event organised by BMW Motorrad South Africa where GS Enthusiasts get to ride their GS bikes on three different routes depending on difficulty. Some of the tracks cannot be ridden any other time as they are on private land and permission had been obtained specifically for this event. Every year the event is held in a different part of South Africa, and 2008 was held in the tiny town of Leydsdorp in the Limpopo Province.
Please note that not all pictures in this post was taken by me, I would like to thank Bruno Gila, Kim Swift, Garth Bell and Pieter de Koker for the use of some of their photos.
Needless to say that I was very excited for my first GS Challenge (and my last – I will explain later). I had my bike packed up, all my kit ready and I was ready to take on the road north into the unknown yet again.
Our route took us via some great scenery on the way to the little town of Leydsdorp.
Finally arrived, ready to settle in for some drinks. For the non-Afrikaans speakers, this sign reads “Watch out! Big-ass bend!”
GS Challenge Day 1
Interactive map of Day 1’s route[map style=”width: auto; height:400px; margin:20px 0px 20px 0px; border: 1px solid black;” kml=”http://etiennexplore.com/wp-content/uploads/EtienneXplore_2008_GSC1.kml” elevation=”no” download=”no”]
The next morning dawned and the campsite grew alive with activity as everyone got themselves ready for the respective routes. There were three options, Green for novice riders, Orange for the more adventurous and then Red for the hardcore guys!
Some of the Red Route boys, they know a thing or two about off-road riding….
The first part of the day took us via the most beautiful, quiet, almost peaceful tracks through old forestry, logging and plantation roads. It was a cool windless morning and the cool air and fresh smells were just wonderful!
All too soon the coolness of the forest canopy came to an end and we were making our way on some gravel highways and rocky farm tracks. This is me and my friend Bruno Gila on this 1150GSA. He took lots of the pics in this post.
GS Challenge Day 2
Interactive map of Day 2’s route[map style=”width: auto; height:400px; margin:20px 0px 20px 0px; border: 1px solid black;” kml=”http://etiennexplore.com/wp-content/uploads/EtienneXplore_2008_GSC2.kml” elevation=”no” download=”no”]
Day two started out with a farm track next to a beautiful farm dam. This is one thing that is nice about this event, the organizers get the commitment from the private land owners, and we get to ride in places and on tracks that would normally completely off-limits!
There was even a bit of dry river sand to contend with…..
Two up on a 1200GSA battle ship… RESPECT!
I seem to getting the hang of this sand thing…..
We even ran into a typical farm road traffic jam!
GS Challenge Day 3
Interactive map of Day 3’s route[map style=”width: auto; height:400px; margin:20px 0px 20px 0px; border: 1px solid black;” kml=”http://etiennexplore.com/wp-content/uploads/EtienneXplore_2008_GSC3.kml” elevation=”no” download=”no”]
The previous night around the campfire we were listening to the stories of the RED Route guys who did a long section of a dried up riverbed. Now everyone that has ever ridden sand know that dry river sand is the worst as it is very coarse and very loose, so traction is terrible! We also learned that we (Orange Route) would be doing a section of this RED Route on day 3……we were nervous…..and were had right to be, you will see in a moment!
It always inspires confidence when you see someone else’s bike look this when you wake up in the morning and you know you are going to have a rough day………….NOT!
The morning stared out with some very good, all be it dusty, gravel roads.
Then it was on to the first obstacle of the day. This was a rocky, sandy riverbed that we had to cross. It was not very long, but as you can see, you could not just gun it through. There were big rocks and boulders all over the place, so you had to pick your line carefully as to not damage the bike. All in all not too much of an issue.
The next installment in our day of adventure was a section along a game fence. It was a fairly steep downhill with a sandy ditch at the bottom, then up a steep slope on the other side. The main issue here was that you could not just go flat-out up the other side as there was a huge drainage ditch dug about 80% up the slope, so you need to slow down for this ditch. See what I mean:
Some struggled to get up the steep slope
Some struggled to get through the sandy ditch at the bottom….
Then some took the Tiger Line over the stones and rocks to avoid the sand. This was actually a very good option, provided you are comfortable on loose rocks, and you commit!
Then it was on to the big scary one for the day. Both the Red Route and the Orange Route had to cross this dry river, but the Red route had a different exit route from the river than the Orange route. Here are some pics of the exit for the Red Route guys… As you can see this exit was in very soft powdery sand and the photos does not nearly show how long and steep this is!
We had to first enter the river, then head across the river for about 200m in thick sand, then exit up the other bank, which was in this deep, loose powdery pouf type of sand!
This was just in the 200m part crossing the river….
It was absolute carnage on the other side trying to get up that sandy embankment. All these pics were taken by Bruno Gila
Even I managed to make it up without a fall or a push, it was not pretty, but hey I made it up!
The Red route guy’s route took them back into the dry riverbed and took them about 3km upstream, while all the time staying in this river sand… RESPECT!
Some pics from the guys on the Red Route
We were knackered after this ordeal, it was very hot, very tiring work. We spent a lot of time there helping riders getting up the embankment. After about 90min of this, we decided to head on as we still had the rest of the route to complete. But first things first, about 4km after this river crossing there is a small village called Macene, and as all small villages in Africa, they have a shebeen:
This is just the place we needed to refresh ourselves….
The Black Labels can even make a white man dance to some Township Tunes
The local village kids tried their best to get the ball past our farmer, come motorbike riding goalkeeper. Note the container with sweets for everyone that can score a goal! When you look at the style and form of this one boy, you cannot help but wonder how much talent just never gets the opportunity to develop….
On the way back to Leydsdorp we crossed another dry riverbed just after the town of Ka-Mushiyani where Bruno had a big fall, but luckily all was fine, just a bruised ego!
Luckily there were no shortage of helping hands!!
We got back and watched the skills challenge where guys could compete on closed track doing all sorts of challenges to score points and win the main prize…
The marshal was not too bad either….
This was a tough day, but we were very happy and we closed it off with a huge party, way too many drinks and a proper African bonfire….
My last notes on the GS Challenge:
As I mentioned earlier this was my first (and last) GS Challenge. Make no mistake I loved this event and it was great to be a part of it. It did wonders for my confidence and the friendships and camaraderie was second to none! But what I did not enjoy was the sheer number of people and bikes. It was crazy! I came to the conclusion that I am not a fan of riding in such large groups. I prefer smaller, closer knit groups. We did have our small group that stuck together through these days, but we were one small group among many other small groups, all being part of one massive group. I did not enjoy that. This made it clear to me to stay away from these type of events. But the friendships, memories and experiences of this trip remains, and will always be with me….
Thank you very much for reading, please feel free to comment and share!