BEFORE THE WORLD IS PAVED…
Rob Jones took an inspirational and emotional journey through the heart of the African continent
“Do you have a death wish?” My mother’s a strong woman, but I can’t imagine the courage it took to ask her youngest son a question with such weight. We had just dropped my ’08 Road King off at the dock in
In truth, I don’t have a death wish; I’m not that extreme or cool. When I purchased my Harley® five years ago, I couldn’t even ride a motorcycle. That summer I learned to ride by criss-crossing the
Harleys are machines capable of riding anywhere… but
The riding in
At first, it was a little unnerving to be an American riding a Harley® through
I had one run-in with the Sudanese military after Rick and I both got a funny feeling at a checkpoint; we exchanged subtle head-nods and rode off – unfortunately, the third biker in our group, Rob Roy, didn’t understand the gestures and was stuck with guns drawn on him. After 20 minutes we rode back to collect him; the officials were rightly angry and searched our bags. Upon seeing my
When I started planning the ride from
Okay, so a bit of worldly ignorance is innate in most Americans, but every assumption I had about
At times riding in
Riding in Ethiopia does have its perils: I narrowly missed several children running into the street, fresh tarmac would suddenly wash out, and kids throwing stones at bikers seems to be a national pastime! But my biggest concern was the animals wandering free in the road. On my first day in
Word quickly spread throughout the village, and I was surrounded. One guy was shouting, but seeing that I was mildly banged up and that the donkey had walked off finding shade under a nearby tree, he helped me drag the bike off the road. Fortunately the engine guards worked as advertised and the bike started up. A few well-placed kicks to the fender gave the front tyre space to roll. I asked the villagers about the condition of the donkey; no one spoke English, so I made a donkey noise while giving a thumps up gesture. One woman laughed awkwardly; the man who helped me lift my bike looked at me like I had severely damaged my head. Rob Roy rode up and suggested it was time to go.
The day got progressively worse; on a 60km section of poorly maintained gravel road, I hit a pothole and both hose lines to the rear shocks blew, spraying hydraulic fluid everywhere. Without suspension, the fender rattled loose; when I stopped to strip it off, a group of Ethiopian children lifted a few things from my bike. After sunset, I dropped the bike and trapped my foot between the saddlebag and a rock, spraining my right ankle and knee. That night, I was grateful to put that day behind me and crawl into my sleeping bag.
I woke with a stiff leg, but I was looking forward to getting on the bike and seeing more of the country. The ride around central
It was time to see what
The mud eventually gave way to sand. Against my intuition, and apparently physics, a 350kg Road King® with a low centre of gravity and five inches of ground clearance is a kick-ass machine on sand – I looked forward to deep bits, where the aluminium skid plate I hoseclamped to the frame became a sled and the rear road tyre pushed me through. The low ground clearance became a lifesaver, but it was my inexperience riding sand that almost killed me. It took hundreds of miles riding in sand and gravel to learn to stay on the throttle, even when the bike gets squirrelly, making for some hair-raising moments.
After the long section of Kenyan sand came the washboards – any screw that wasn’t factory installed eventually rattled free. I chalk a lot of this up to user error; I should have inspected the bike more frequently. Finally, the bolt that held my suspension sheared apart – the weight of all my baggage pushed the rear fender onto the tyre, and the friction caused the seat strapped to the top of the fender to melt. I was relieved it was just the seat melting and nothing electrical. Later, without suspension, even the ‘maxi-fuse’ that leads to the fuse box rattled apart on the heavy corrugation – it didn’t blow, but actually shook apart, killing the electrics. I think the bike was sending me an SOS. That’s when I discovered oil dripping from the small hole torn in the sump. I was probably a hundred miles from the nearest mechanic, and goodness knows how far from the nearest Harley® dealership with oil leaking from the engine – this was bad.
I am not mechanically inclined, but on the road I’ve learned to diagnose problems on the bike. I carried a spare maxi-fuse, plus a quick application of liquid steel that Rob Roy brought plugged the leaking sump, and later an extremely helpful mechanic somehow found a matching bolt, solving my problem.
Back on the tarmac, in western
I wish I had had more time to explore
We spent five incredible weeks riding through southern
I’ve loved riding my Road King® around the planet, it has taken me everywhere that I’ve wanted to go, without limitations. Sure I’ve been banged up along the way, loads of bruises, spraining ankles and knees, and a fractured scapula in
I can finally answer my mother’s question – I don’t have a death wish. I’m simply searching for the rare moment I only experience on my bike, a head clear of thoughts and worries, when I feel I’m exactly where I’m meant to be – connected to everything at once, while riding towards somewhere new.