Evan Firstman wasn’t interested in traveling to Africa. Sure he’d heard people call it the trip of a lifetime but he was dubious. After all, the term is relative and he’d traveled the world—rock climbing in exotic destinations, fishing in Venezuela and Patagonia, and enjoying annual expeditions to the Amazon. Liza Firstman had been around the world twice—once in each direction. Each of their trips could be categorized as the trip of a lifetime. Now, having returned from Renedian’s Spectacular South West Africa motorcycle safari, they concur that NOTHING beats it.
“This was her trip,” recalled Evan, a 20-year rider. Every time he caught himself wondering how bad or boring it could be, he’d remind himself that he’d be on a bike in a foreign country having a good time, and ultimately, it was time for him to stand back. This was Liza’s trip.
That they were even going was a surprise. In April 2013, Liza entered a draw for a Renedian motorcycle safari at their local BMW retailer in Reno, NV where they’d gone to hear Rene speak. Intuitively she knew she’d win when she learned the draw was to be held on June 28th. It was birthday of her best friend who she’d met on that day 20 years ago. So having her name drawn was a mere formality.
Twenty years earlier at age 27 she’d overlanded through Africa on her own. She longed to revisit places she’d traveled through, camping, cooking her own meals, and visiting game parks. She’d visited Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and South Africa, and was eager to return.
Then in June, Evan separated his shoulder after flying off his bike and meeting the ground. For six months they questioned whether they’d actually take the trip.
Another potential hitch was that Liza wanted to ride as Evan’s passenger or in the support truck. She’d ridden a Suzuki Intruder for a few years between 2000 and 2002, but dropping it in a parking lot scared her off, and she gave it up, preferring to ride pillion on Evan’s BMW LT.
Rene strongly encouraged Liza to ride her own bike. That started a year long journey getting comfortable on a 650 BMW, which she’d always felt was too big and bulky. At the time, it was important that she be able to touch the round with both feet. While trying on a new 700GS in February of 2014, they spotted a used 650 with a custom lowered seat off in the corner of the dealership. Sitting on it, she deemed it a fit and purchased it, forgetting to take the platform shoes she was wearing into consideration.
The dirt road they lived on was perfect practice material and she was out there immediately. Panic set in after she almost landed in the ditch negotiating her first U-turn. In spite of Evan’s encouragement she became disheartened, and with no hope of catching on, she’d decided she couldn’t ride that bike.
Three weeks later while having Evan’s bike serviced at the KTM dealership, a Honda 230CRF caught their eye. “It was like a glass slipper,” she exclaimed, and they bought it.
Surrounded by public land with lots of sand and dirt trails to practice on, she spent every weekend in March, April, and May on that Honda, learning technique, understanding how to manage it, and gathering confidence. After a week-long off-road trip with friends, all on BMW’s, she was back on hers, practicing on it for June, July, and August. She loved it!
By the time they were ready to leave, she still had reservations, in case the road conditions were extreme. As someone who’d only been riding for five months, she says that as long as you practice and can handle a fairly well-maintained dirt road with bits of sand, you’ll be fine.
They both say their Renedian adventure has been a profoundly life-changing experience. They’re ready to sell everything, pack up, and travel the world by motorcycle.
Was it the trip of a lifetime? So far, but only time will tell.
Photo Credits: Evan and Liza Firstman