In December last year, I undertook a solo trip around South Africa on a motorcycle I hardly knew. It was immensely challenging and equally rewarding. I blogged about it on my adventure blog. There were so many many fears and challenges to face. It gets like that when one does things alone.
My trip started in Cape Town. In 15 days I had covered about 4000 tough, tough, tough, kilometers. I had been riding in rain for 3 days. That’s three wet and cold days, not seeing the sun. Finally, approaching Port Elizabeth, the sun peeked its pretty little face through the clouds and warmed my whole soul. It could only get better from there, I thought. It was about 1000 km to go for home, and all tar (Much of my trip had been on dirt). I had covered about 4000 km in total, when, in the region of Port Elizabeth, this happened:
My chain snapped, hitting a hole in the engine casing, causing all the oil to pour out of the engine. I was not sure what I could do . I was glad at least that the chain did not get stuck in the wheel (which is a terrible terrible thing), and also I was glad that I did not slip in the oil as I made my way to the side of the road. Another thing I was grateful for was that my engine still sounded ok when I switched the bike off. No loud bangs or other metallic knocking noises. At times like these, its good to remember what there is to be grateful for.
It was about 40 minutes before sunset. The police cars I tried to flag down just drove past. Stranded on the freeway, I did not know anybody in PE, I did not have any roadside assistance, my cell phone battery was on half full. I hoped that would be enough.
I called a roadside assistance service which I was not a member of. I was about to allow them to approve my immediate membership which would cost me a ton of money on the spot, when I thought to check with them how long they would take to come. When they said it would be at least two hours, I decided to take a breath and think about it first. In the meantime, I called to the police hotline, and after much struggling and about 3 calls to them they finally understood that I needed somebody to come and stand by me while I waited for some roadside service in the dark on the freeway. It was too dangerous alone.
By the time the two man police team arrived, I had called another pickup service. There had also been a man kind enough to stop and offer me help. He had gone to organize a pickup truck of a friend, and they would take me to the nearest police station. This was as far as my mind could function. What I would do after that I was not sure. But I was sure I would be several thousand rand poorer than I was before this experience.
While waiting on the road, I started calling and messaging people back in Cape Town to ask if they had any contacts of mechanics and other people who might be able to help me. One guy, a motorcycle dealer, a ‘friend’, who I was sure would have lots of contacts, got back to me immediately. But he was not very encouraging. He didn’t give me any contacts, but did ask me how I thought a mechanic would be able help me. I just told him not to worry about me, and thanks. In my mind I was swearing profanities of course. One can always tell a good friend from those who are just in for the good times in situations like these. Another guy, one of my good friends, a mechanic who was actually looking after my cats while I was away from home gave me a bit more hope. He asked me to send him a photo of the broken stuff, and after seeing it, he assured me all I needed to do was get some steel putty to plug the hole where the oil came out, and fix the chain somehow. Then I would be good to go again. Now that’s a friend. That was what I needed to hear. Worst case scenario, I could could call a listed mechanic and ask him to come collect the bike from the police station for fixing.
The policemen were really great. They told me their life stories (which is a story for another day) and then they asked me about what the pickup service was going to charge me, and after they heard how much it was they said no, people are crazy, and they would get their police salvage vehicle to come pick me up (for free), and take me to their police station. That was the start of my good luck. We waited long, but eventually it came, and we loaded the bike on the back and drove off (no ropes!). The police station was not very far. The guys assured me that the chief of the station who would be in the next day knows a lot about mechanics and would be able to help me. Then they took me to a hotel, which turned out rather scruffy, but it was a roof over my head for the night at least.
Next day, I was still very unsure of what I was going to do, but I bought a coffee and when to drink it by the river. Two chaps on a motorbike also came to the river and were smoking some ganja. I asked them if they knew anybody who could fix a chain, and they said, well, they’d fixed their own bike’s chain the night before. They were so kind to agree to go check out the bike at the police station before they went to work. After seeing it, they said, it was not complicated, it could be fixed. I didn’t even need to buy a new chain, they would get a spare link themselves. I myself had to hitchhike a ride to police station as there were no taxis from the hotel. I spent much of the morning laying on the grass at the police station and then it struck me to go and check with the chief of the station. Just in case he could help me as the guys of the night before said. My word, in two ticks, so to speak, my bike was fixed. The chief and all his deputies were getting their hands dirty, driving around getting parts and putty for my bike on the tax payer’s money. Everyone at the station was kind and friendly. Before 3pm, I was on the road again, And the whole experience cost me less than a Macdonald’s happy meal.