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Most bikers dream of that one ride that defines a life, that takes you so far out of your comfort zone you become a different person. For some it’s about escaping the treadmill of getting up every morning and going to work, for others it’s about living, rather than just existing.
But very, very few of us actually take that leap, and even then it’s often a case of not jumping but being pushed.
Greg Gordon doesn’t look like your typical adventurer; he’s tall and lean, with a neat moustache, grey hair cut short and a dry, laconic wit that mocks human frailty without malice. It comes from more than three decades of teaching young children and, more recently, as principal of a primary school near Cape Town, of trying to get through to their parents.
Gordon recently turned 50; he’s been a biker since he was a teenager. He doesn’t commute on his motorcycle; he keeps it for weekend rides with his club - some of them epic trips into neighbouring countries.
THE DREAM OF A DECADE
He’s been thinking about riding the length of Africa for more than a decade, and his fascination with the oldest continent has already taken him to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
In 2007 he traded in his Suzuki Hayabusa muscle-bike for a dual-purpose DL650 V-Strom - not the textbook transcontinental tourer, perhaps, but one he thought he could handle on bad or non-existent roads, and pick up unaided if it went down.
He fitted aftermarket crash bars, hand guards, a bash plate and a top box and learned to ride it on trips with friends to motorcycle gatherings all over Southern Africa – including the notorious descent into Die Hel.
A MOUNTAIN OF RED TAPE
In September 2012 he applied for long leave, but for senior teachers the process is so long drawn-out that he had just about given up on it when he was told on 17 January that his application had been approved – effective 22 February.
That gave him less than five weeks to get through a mountain of red tape and visa applications, organise carnets and police clearance for the bike, suffer a variety of (sometimes painful) inoculations, plan his itinerary and prepare the bike – all the while working long days preparing one of his deputies to take over his duties at the school.
Most of the time he was too busy to be worried, but he admitted that he sometimes felt excited, overwhelmed and little scared by the size of the challenge he had taken on.
“I’m not doing this for anybody but myself,” he says. “I’ve been given a window of opportunity, and I’m going to take it. I want to live life, not just exist.”
“One dreams, one plans, one takes risks.”
When his leave began on 22 February he was still waiting for visas from Ethiopia, the Sudan and Egypt, but knew he’d have to get on the road by Wednesday 27 if he was to have any chance of sticking to his (admittedly rough) itinerary from Grassy Park to Gaza.
His planned route will take him through Namibia and the Caprivi to Zambia and up the length of Lake Malawi to Ruanda, where he hopes to see the famous mountain gorillas, then on to Kenya (with a side trip to Mombasa to rest and service the Suzuki), Ethiopia (including the stone churches), the Sudan and Egypt.
But, he says, it’s not about getting there at all costs; to him the journey is the destination. He wants to experience Africa first hand and he already knows patience is the order of the day.
“You meet people for the first time,” he says, “and they go out of their way to do things for you.
“One learns to be humble.”