Prior to departure, Buck Heath’s wife, who wasn’t going, knew way more about the trip than he did. Intent on avoiding preconceived notions, he purposely did no research and asked her not to tell him anything.
No amount of study or photographs could have prepared him for the magnitude of natural beauty he experienced. “I was not expecting the sky which never ends,” he recalls. “It seems way bigger there, even than Montana or Saskatchewan. And it’s pretty cool to have to stop on the side of the road and let a herd of elephants cross.”
Buck grew into his motorcycle safari gradually, never intending to go to Africa. Co-owner of a Medicine Hat mechanical contracting firm, he and his business partner travel somewhere every year. While at the 2013 Calgary Motorcycle Show, they happened to walk past the Renedian booth on their way to the Sierre Madre booth, intending to put a deposit on a trip to Mexico. Rene’s talk of gravel roads, animals they’d never seen, and a culture they’d never experienced, changed their trajectory and they booked the Victoria Falls to Cape Town Safari for 2015.
In 15 years of riding, the pair had stuck mostly to asphalt. While they enjoyed gravel and off-road riding, there never seemed to be a suitable opportunity to try it. Not wanting to get to Africa totally unprepared, they rode 200 exciting kilometers before leaving.
“Riding the African gravel was something I was most looking forward to,” says Buck. “It was also the thing I feared the most.” As it turned out, the surface was more like hard packed dirt with some sandy sections. “Once we got used to it, we had no problem,” he continues, “but I recommend practicing before you go.”
He got his initiation on their first day of travel, along with a lesson on the mystique of Africa. “We rode 200 km of gravel and saw fewer than five cars. Rounding a corner in the middle of nowhere, we came upon a gas station that also sells apple pie and it was packed with people!”
Every day was fun and different. The first time they hit sandy stuff he asked himself what he was doing there but it didn’t take long to get the hang of it and really enjoy the feeling.
Hard-pressed to name a natural highlight, he zeroed in on Soussevlei. “The massive dunes and petrified forests were breathtaking. The whole experience was so relaxing and fun, playing like kids and running down the dunes!“
Although all the food was delectable, he really fancied Malva pudding, a national dish he enjoyed 30 days in a row.
Grandeur and exotic animals aside, it was the people who made the trip incredible. “The rural people don’t have a whole lot yet are dressed very well with children in bright clothes, their English is better than ours, and they’re proud of who they are,” he says. “They were gracious, welcoming, and happy to chat with us.”
“The people on our trip were wonderful too,” he continues. “Kibitzing, pitching in to lend a hand, and camaraderie were the order of the day.” He’s made friends for life and already gone to Palm Springs to visit some of them.
Buck was gone a month, incorporating additional days both before and after the formal portion of the trip to take in even more of Africa—like riding elephants, walking with lions, and shark cage diving.
Initial reluctance has transformed into a desire to go back with his wife, likely on the Garden Tour.
Photo Credits: Buck Heath