They may live on opposite sides of the country but Fredericton’s Shawn Bilerman and Calgary’s Bob Bradley keep their high school friendship energized with annual get togethers. Facing their 50th birthday, the two decided to a special celebration was in order. That’s how Shawn ended up on Renedian’s Spectacular South West Africa safari.
An experienced off-road rider, Bob had been trying to get his friend on a bike for years. Finally Shawn relented, purchasing a Suzuki DR650 with the condition they do a motorcycle trip to celebrate their milestone birthday. Never ones to settle for the ordinary, the friends decided to go to Africa. Shawn’s skill level and the fact that he’d be riding a BMW 700GS was his only trip concern but it proved to be a non-issue.
Shawn is no stranger to adventure, but before last year, it wasn’t on motorcycles. In younger days, he spent a year and a half traveling around the world, starting in Vancouver and exploring Fiji and Hawaii, cycling all around New Zealand’s North and South Islands for 3.5 months, then taking six months to travel around almost all of Australia before heading up into South East Asia. He’s even sailed across the Atlantic with Derek Hatfield on the Spirit of Canada, an Open 60 sailboat Derek raced around the world in the five oceans.
While his children were growing up, the only family trip they were able to do was to take a year and sail to the Bahamas and back. Now his children are at the stage where he can travel again and he’s ready to pick up and go.
Shawn’s a property manager and summers are a busy time. They chose the SSWA safari because it worked best with both of their schedules and had the greatest ratio of gravel roads. “But if we’re going all that way,” Shawn reasoned, “we were going to make the most of it, and a visit to Victoria Falls was on my bucket list. We contacted Rene who organized a great itinerary for both before and after the formal portion of the SSWA safari.”
Shawn and Bob flew into Victoria Falls and spent a few days physically and culturally acclimatizing, while absorbing the history and beauty of a place they’d only read about or seen in documentaries. They followed that up by traveling overland to Botswana for a safari, flying in to camp at Chobe National Park.
“It was the dry season when we were there at the end of October and animals were congregated around the water holes,” recalls Shawn. “The Savuti Camp just inside Chobe, right on the edge of the Okavango Delta was pretty special. It’s not a fenced in park. Animals migrate depending on where they can find food and water. We saw leopards, lions, water buffalo, and what seemed like thousands of elephants. It was absolutely beautiful to be there to see them in their natural setting.”
“Initially it was a little unnerving to know we were sleeping in canvas tents,” he adds, “but we were reassured that the hyenas and lions that wandered through our campsite don’t see a canvas tent as food. As long as you’re in it, you’re part of the one big non-food object they ignore.”
Then it was time to join the Renedian group and pick up their motorcycles in Windhoek. In Namibia they traveled right along the edge of the Kalahari, enjoying the incredible desert, sand dunes, Namib-Naukluft National Park, and the spectacular Fish River Canyon. South Africa displays lots of contrast in wealth and scenery, with high plateaus, windy roads weaving through the valleys, apple orchards, vineyards, and charming towns. The coast scenery from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa, to Cape Town was phenomenal.
Riding in Africa has opened up new possibilities for Shawn. This summer he’d like to ride solo to Quebec’s Gaspé via wilderness back roads. And perhaps take a cycling trip to France with his wife. Sailing around the Cape of Good Hope was already on his Bucket List and seeing those waters intensified this dream. Now that Victoria Falls is off the list, that dream is one notch closer.