The Wobbly Road to Zambia
It’s November 2011 and I hear the words “We’re sorry to say your job is at risk...” Except, what I actually hear is, “You’re up for redundancy. You’ve been here eight years, so we’re going to pay you to go on the bike trip you’ve been waiting for.”
To some this might not seem the most rational response to the situation. But since when has logic been a good start to a mini adventure? I’d been in the potential redundancy situation before, so I knew my plan. But where? How? Was it feasible to get a taste of adventure without a GS, a big beard and a TV crew as back-up and with only eight months on my bike license?
Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself because at that point not only was my license new, but I hadn’t exactly been a natural on two wheels. I started trying to ride just after my 34th birthday and I was hopeless. I’d never been on a motorcycle. I didn’t even make it through my CBT the first time, let alone start heading off somewhere around the world on unpredictable surfaces.
But I got through the full test with the help of a very patient instructor and found myself a 2006 CBR600F. With a taste for easy touring, now it was time for a new challenge.
I’d read about Riders for Health but I didn’t know about Experience Africa. It’s the chance to ride off-road in Zambia and see the work the charity does to get health care workers where they’re needed in rural Africa—providing reliable motorcycles where once health teams had to walk along country tracks or borrow off-road vehicles when they could.
The bikes, Yamaha AG200s, might not initially excite those used to more powerful machines, but the point is that you ride the same bikes as the local health care workers, seeing the trails between villages from their perspective. It sounded like a fantastic experience to try out a new kind of riding and see a totally different way of life. It was also priced fairly— quite a big investment to pay for my trip and a commitment to raise £2,000 for Riders, but I reckoned I could just do it on my overgrown gap year redundancy budget. Fundraising for a great cause seemed exactly the kind of thing I should be doing with my time off.
After I reserved my place with Riders for Health, a mate I’d met on an overland truck in India a few years ago said she was going to trek up Mount Kilimanjaro with her gym. I’d fancied doing that for a long while too. Turned out it was a couple weeks before the Riders trip. Perfect. One flight fits all and a great way to make it a double challenge big enough to raise the funds for Riders for Health. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for, but the plan was coming together.
After signing up for Zambia, I knew I’d need some training. So at the Bike Show I also signed up for the BMW Off Road Skills course. In September I headed off for a wet and muddy Wales. For some that would be perfect conditions, but I was aware that any significant injury could rule out both the Kilimanjaro and Zambia trips.