Life is Boring Without a Bit of Spark

Blog 28 by Tan: Life is Boring Without a Bit of Spark

I’m not going to lie. The blog is likely to be a boring one, which I hope people will forgive considering I rather selflessly hit a donkey in the last post in order to keep the excitement level high. This update outlines the logistical shenanigans that surrounded getting Mick’s bike fixed and us out of the country. It is boring even for us, but we thought it was a great example of what awaits anyone considering a trip like this. The fun riding, the great people, awesome sights and touching human experiences all happen within an environment of mind-numbing chores, never-ending maintenance, and scheduling and logistical problem solving. For those who continue reading, you will get the bonus of learning more of the boundless generosity shown to us by our wonderful Namibian friends.   For those seeking more riveting viewing, I understand, and bid you Good Day.

With the visa extension sorted for another 2 weeks, time was now available to sit back and listen to just how sore my poor body was. I spent much of the next couple of days lying down, groaning and just generally reveling in some therapeutic self-pity. It was great and within two days I was feeling quite good again. However, it was apparent that I didn’t get off scot-free with the donkey debacle, as with the reduction of swelling and stiffness came the realisation I had done some significant damage to my right shoulder. I could only lift my right arm from a hanging position by my side about 20 degrees before intense pain and a severe lack of strength stopped everything. I’d torn my rotator-cuff; pain was relieved with anti-inflammatory meds, the odd paracetomol and regular massage. We were able to identify that a couple rotator cuff muscles/tendons were torn to some extent, however the one connecting the cuff to the shoulder blade was the worst.

With this new information we were able to piece together the accident more precisely. We knew from the enormous deep yellow bruise slowly emerging from my right elbow that when I hit the tarmac my right arm was instinctually in front of my core and chest. My elbow took the initial impact, which then violently dragged the arm downwards tearing the muscles and tendons at the back of the cuff, before flinging my arm around to my side and out in such a way that it tore the front of the rotator-cuff and bicep. My chest plate, neck brace and exposed abdomen were then introduced to the wonders of coarse chip bitumen.

It was clear that this was going to be a very slow, laborious fix. Although I must add I am typically a very fast healer. I should have known. Past experience has taught me that when it ‘feels like’ you’ve broken a bone it is most likely tendon or ligament damage. When I broke my legs many years back (not on a bike) I was surprised to learn they were broken as they didn’t hurt like you imagine they would. Tendons and ligaments on the other hand are much worse and, for me anyway, are much more like the levels of pain you would expect from a break. I’d take a broken leg any day over tendon or ligament damage. Bones heal all on their own, but with tendons/ligaments you have to work hard if you want to see improvement. Fortunately I had Mick, who’d torn his rotator cuff about 10 years ago, nagging me daily to do my exercises, so things progressed well.

Mick tore his lifting a 20 litre oil drum after doing preliminary damage playing high school and uni rugby. It took about 4 months and doctors threats of a reconstruction to get back to full mobility, another 3 or 4 months to return to about 90% strength, and another year before it felt as strong as it did the day it was injured. It is a good thing we got our fill of off-road riding in Kaokoland because it was going to be off the agenda for some time now. We tentatively penciled in the Lake Turkana route from Kenya to Ethiopia in a couple months as the next likely opportunity to do some proper adventure riding. Mick was going to have to make do with bitumen roads for a while if we wanted to get the shoulder ‘Turkana ready’. It was going to be hard but we committed to no ‘unnecessary’ off-road until then.

While my pity party was in full swing, Mick was trying to diagnose the source of the ignition fault. Mick did the following things that have no meaning for me, but might do to those reading:

MICK: The bike was starting perfectly, and running fine up to about 4000-4200 rpm, where it would start to miss and protest. If the throttle was opened up it would rev out to 6500rpm and higher but would splutter and miss and occasionally backfire. I could see from the voltmeter that all through the rev range the stator was charging perfectly. I could also see that the ignition signal from the coil was being interrupted, as when the bike missed and backfired the tacho would drop out. These symptoms suggested that the initial theory of interference or breakdown of the ignition signal was still sound and the best place to start.

I isolated the stator, pulse coil, and ignition coil and then hooked up the battery to them one at a time trying to find where the leak was occurring. If there was some sort interaction, I would be able to read it on the other coils. While it did point out that the pulse coil seemed fine and there was something fishy going on with the pulse coil power supply, it was largely inconclusive. However, I did find that my stator had far worse winding insulation than Tanya’s with about 3 times the leakage. This was understandable as my stator had come out of a hire bike with a fritzed pulse coil and who knows how many kms. With the leakage idea not pointing to the problem, I started doing some more rudimentary diagnoses techniques by swapping CDI, ignition coil and reg/rec from Tanya’s bike. None of those was the issue. A good example of where having the same bike as your riding partner is the way to go. From there I did some resistance checks and everything was in spec apart from the pulse coil power supply, the black and white wires from the stator. They read massively over spec, like 800 ohms when it should have been 0.3 or something like that. I then pulled the stator out to check the resistance readings at the source and found the high resistance was in the windings itself and not in the loom, so stator f@cked is the diagnoses.

Hazaar! Mick was now certain the stator had died. As parts were no doubt going to be shipped from South Africa, given our tight timeframe we had to be confident we’d diagnosed the problem correctly. We wouldn’t have the time to ship one thing and then find out later it was something else and then ship that. Now that he was certain, Mick went to the local bike shop to order a new stator along with a couple other bits and pieces. We were sure they would have stator’s in stock in South Africa and that for the extra cost of air-freighting, we would receive it in time. Mick could then fit it in no time and we’d make our visa window.

This old picture from Kaokoland shows the ¼ turn fairing fasteners we were using. Note the missing fastener, the constant vibration meant that they would drop out periodically. They were good to look at and convenient to use but not up to the task.

And this is what we are running with now, 6mm bolts and body washers. Simple and effective. Oh, and ugly…..

With the problem on its way to resolution Mick did some further chores, which included getting my bashplate re-welded and our fairing mounts modified. Mick had used a fastening system for the fairings that made it quick and easy to attach and reattach. However the ¼ turn fastening clips had proved more aesthetically pleasing than robust, and despite carrying a couple spares we were now out. We needed to go more simple and utilitarian, more ‘Africa’, so we changed the assembly to 6mm bolts that were easily replaced and very strong, if a little ugly.

The Suzuki dealer then contacted us with the quote for the new stator. For the stator, freight and tax it was going to cost us nearly N$15,000, about US$1500 at the time. We couldn’t believe it and nor could he, telling us that he nearly fell off his chair when he read the quote. We figured it would be more expensive than aftermarket spares, but we weren’t expecting that sort of price. Heck, my complete bike cost less that $4000.

Mick stumbled upon this Honda CBX1000 while at the bike shop and immediately lusted after it. The guy running the shop was given the bike as a farmyard wreck but soon had it running after a small amount of work and restored it fully with some spare parts from another cheap bike. Unlike in Australia, these highly collectable bikes can still be found here reasonably commonly and for very reasonable prices i.e. cheap. So cheap in fact that there is a burnout squad in South Africa that goes from bike rally to bike rally competing in the burnout competition with a team of CBX1000s. They then redline the bikes while off the saddle and spin them around producing smoke. Doing that to an air-cooled classic bike is a crime against humanity according to Mick

With that not even being close to an option, we jumped online to source a cheaper stator. There were countless secondhand stators available on ebay from Oz and the States for prices between $120-200. However, we figured the safest bet was going though Procycle in the US, which we had only ever experienced excellent reliability and service from and we hoped they would look out for us given their previous years’ profits must have had a lot to do with us in the lead up to our trip. Mass money went from us to them. Bulk gear went from them to us. Sure enough the Procycle guys quickly got us a quote for a new high output stator and express shipping to Namibia and agreed to ship it the moment the payment came through.

For a princely sum we paid to get the part from the US to Windhoek in under 7 days though UPS. From there, our friend Johan in Windhoek could pick up the parcel, pay duties in cash and get the part to a courier. We’d receive it in Grootfontien the next day and be able to leave the duty money with his brother Dirk. No credit card and complicated international bank transfers required. It was a great option with room to move, even at 7 days delivery we would be left with 5 full days to fit the part and leave the country.

We got the tracking number from Procycle the following day and were horrified to see that UPS had added another 5 days to the delivery date; it was now scheduled to arrive the day our visa expired! Checking the tracking every day (in fact every couple hours), we could see they left the package at their US facility for 3 days before it headed to Germany on its way to Namibia. We paid US$170 to get it in a week or less and then as soon as they have your money they say nearly 2 weeks! UPS and donkeys – my least favourite entities at this point.

Lynn making vetkoeks ‘fat cakes’ which were deep fried dough later filled with curry. Unfortunately we very foolishly took no other photos of our Grootfontein guardian angels

A day or two later the scheduled delivery date came forward one day, however this still meant the parcel was set to arrive in Windhoek the day before our visas expired. All we could do was hope it arrived faster than expected. It was now just a waiting game. Dirk and Lynn were so amazing to us and offered their house until the bike was fixed. We were soon spoilt with wonderful home cooked meals, good wine and even better conversation.

Dirk and Lynn proved to be an amazing couple to meet. Lynn was the head nurse at the private hospital, and Dirk the minister at the local church. They were long time Grootfontein residents, and knew everyone it seemed.   When driving around in their spare car, we had many people wave at us excitedly only to look very confused when they saw who was in the front seat. Dirk told us many great stories about his time as a travelling minister in Bushmanland helping the San people around the turbulent times of independence. It became obvious to us, from his rapport with the community, his concern for his parishioners to the constant effort he put into his work, that he was one of these very rare humans who invested 100% of his energy into the improving the wellbeing of everyone around him – dirty Aussie bikers included.

Views of the waterhole at Onguma lodge. We stayed in the campground at night and right here all day

In order to recuperate and get our minds off the troubles we decided to go camping for a few days at Onguma Lodge in Etosha National Park which was only a couple of hours away. Dirk and Lynn ascended the generosity stakes by loaning us their spare car to take on our camping trip. Not just that, they filled it with firewood and enough meat to feed an army and all their braai equipment. The next few days were spent lounging by the waterhole, reading, blogging, drinking fantastic South African wine, braaing and tracking the movements of one highly anticipated parcel around the planet.

Last time we were treated with a large group of giraffe, this time zebra


Mick getting his braai on. For those unaware a braai is essentially a bbq but no South African will approve of such a comparison. They are so passionate about their braais that if you ever wanted to wage war on the country all you’d need to do would be to take control of firewood and charcoal supplies and you’d bring the country to its knees

The next week was spent enjoying the company of Lynn and Dirk. Spending mealtimes with them became so normal and comfortable that it seemed like we had always lived there and started to joke with them about being their surrogate wayward Aussie biker children. Mick spent time doing various bits of bike maintenance and repairs, and we tried to get some spare ignition keys cut. Our bikes use round security keys which are not susceptible to being jammed open with a screw driver like normal motorcycle ignition barrels are. Turns out getting keys cut for them is also difficult, as the only machine in Namibia that could do it was broken. Oh well, we resolved we would have to careful from now on. And before we knew it we found ourselves in the painfully familiar situation of having a broken bike, a long way to go and a visa about to expire.

Finally on the Friday (5 days until the visa expired) some good news came our way. We received a phone call from Johan and Jume that the parcel had arrived in Windhoek and they were on their way to pick it up and pay the duties. Yahoos all round! It would then go in the overnight courier and even if we left the following morning we still had 3 days to cover 800km. Easy. Just as we start to celebrate and get ready to pack however, we hear the most unbelievable news. The customs computer system is down and the package cannot be cleared.

Despite the extensive efforts of Jume and Johan over the next two days there was no luck. The system was down and until it was repaired, nothing but emergency medicine was getting cleared.

We were racking our brains to come up with alternative plans of action. If there is one thing we have learned from this trip, it is that everything is fixable. There are always options, many options usually, that simply vary in terms of convenience, cost and risk. For us now it was just a matter of evaluating those pros and cons and determining which was the best course of action to take.

With the visas expiring on Tuesday, as of Saturday night we determined the best options were either to ride 2 up on my bike to the border of Botswana about 4 hours away and exit and re-enter Namibia. However, we worried that we might not get granted another tourist visa after 2 entries and 2 extensions on the last visa. We would then find ourselves separated from both the package and the bike. Another option Johan was pushing for was for us to leave with both bikes (Mick would ride with his stator unplugged, and then we would stop and charge from my bike) to the Botswana border then they would do the 600km round trip themselves and cross into Botswana and hand deliver the parcel to us. The generosity of these guys simply knows no bounds.

An unexpected social occasion with Johan and his family

Naturally there was meat

However, the option we went for in the end was to borrow Dirk and Lynn’s car again and drive the 450km to Windhoek on Sunday afternoon and pick up the parcel in person on Monday when we were feeling pretty confident the computer problems at customs would be sorted out. It was a gamble, but the system couldn’t stay down forever. We had to do this in person as we would not be able to get the parcel couriered to us in Grootfontein in time. So Sunday night we found ourselves socialising with Johan and his family in Windhoek yet again, which was excellent. First thing the next morning we were at the UPS office and discovered their system was up and running and they were in the process of getting the parcel. The Windhoek UPS guys really worked hard to get the parcel to us, with the manager of the depot going down personally to customs early that morning to ensure they cleared it straight up. A few hours later it was in our possession and it was high fives all round.

And drinking. We had some more of the sour cherry shooters that Johan and Jume introduced us to when we first met

Traditionally drunk with the cap on your nose – why? Why not!

Johan’s new purchase since we were last in Windhoek, a low mileage XTZ660 Tenere with Leo Vince pipes. He did well, it was a good deal. We suspect our invitation into the household had something to do with getting Johan’s wife comfortable with the idea of the new bike and the possibility for Jume to join Johan for road trips as a passenger. Johan has already taken the bike on a road trip up in Damaraland!  

We said a very fond farewell to Johan and his family who had been beyond generous to us. It was a special and unexpected opportunity to make such firm friends with them and their extended family after the simple offer of an address to ship stuff to. Before we left town we dropped in on our friends Tony and Freidel again. We explained the events of the last few weeks and told Tony just how thankful we were for his recommendation of the neck braces. Before doing this trip we never imagined how it would come to involve so many people beyond the two of us. Really we expected our trip to be an insular type thing. We expected it to be just the two of us, all the time. Of course we hoped to meet people and make new friends but never did we imagine we would have the incredible fortune to meet as many great people as we have and to have built such strong friendships in the process. That has been the greatest gift of the trip.

The long awaited arrival

It’s so perfect in every way

Thanks Procycle

After covering the 450km from Windhoek back to Grootfontein we arrived at 7pm on the eve of our visas’ expiry. We spent the night installing the new stator and packing and didn’t get to bed until 2am. After 4 hours sleep we were up and on our way, with both bikes running like clockwork. We made good time and were in good spirits despite our lack of sleep. We had the excitement of things being right down to the wire and felt comfortable that we would make it. We ended up travelling the necessary 800km and arrived at the border town of Katima at about 4.00pm.

Installing the new stator by night

An easy fix when once you’ve got the part

After an excellent 2 ½ months we were leaving Namibia and crossing into Zambia. The crossing involved a lot of paperwork and a long list of fees; visa, insurance, road tax, carbon tax and council tax. Frustratingly, the visa and road tax had to be paid in USD, where as the insurance, carbon tax and council tax had to be paid in Kwacha, the local currency. Anyone entering Zambia with a bike be warned, it is an expensive place to bring one. Due to the amount of VAT claiming paperwork in Namibia and the run around we got in Zambia, we were the last to make it through the border before it closed at 6pm. From there we travelled 50km to Mwandi where we found a campground for the night. We didn’t bother to eat before crashing out and claiming some much needed sleep. We had made it!

Riding through the Caprivi Strip. We saw the tell tale signs of elephants all about but didn’t see any. With the Pirelli MT21s lasting longer than expected we were carrying the new tyres with us

Riding around the world – a fantastic and massively rewarding experience we recommend to all. However, on extremely rare occasions it can be just a little bit shit. But really only a little bit…

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