Zen and the art of motorcycle packing

Posted by Tyson Jopson on 23 October 2017

Somewhere in the Karoo a pumpkin tree is growing. And it’s because of poor packing.

When you take a road trip in a car, it doesn’t matter very much where you put things; luggage, padkos, your ouma, everything reacts in a more or less uniform way to bumps and bends in the road.

Sure, your back-seat passengers might get a little more lift over a speed hump than those in the front (a friend of mine has two magnificently noggin-shaped dents in his roof as proof), but on a motorcycle everything is exaggerated, especially when you’re riding off-road.

What that means is that where you put things is very important. I know this. Most adventure motorcyclists know this. But when you’re trying to take photos under a searing Karoo sun, logic has a tendency to evaporate out the top of your head like steam from a kettle.

Let me explain… I was somewhere on a dirt road between Aberdeen and Beaufort West (read the full story on page 52 of our November issue). It was the perfect place, I figured, to get one of those classic road-trip shots where the gravel road unwinds behind and the universe opens out before you. But I was alone. And when you’re alone and trying to get a shot of yourself riding along a dirt road on a motorcycle, you either need absurdly long arms or a tripod and a timer. I have laughably short arms and so it was the latter.

I set up the tripod, found focus, hit the timer, ran back to the motorcycle and rode by. As you can tell from the below image (this one was taken on Rammelkop Pass the following day), it’s not the type of endeavour that takes just one go. It takes many, and what you end up with is a sequence of images of yourself in various stages of unready until you get the one where it looks like you’re having the jolliest time cruising the Karoo in a state of unbridled bliss.

I was not in a state of unbridled bliss. The shot was just not working. I was hot, exhausted and behind schedule. I glugged down half a litre of water and chucked the bottle into the motorcycle’s top box (above the rear wheel) and raced ahead.

The top box of a motorcycle is where you keep things that can handle some jostling. Clothing is a popular choice. For some, like me, it is a place to keep emergency snacks: a packet of nuts, pumpkin seeds and biltong – the holy trinity of healthy padkos, according to my mother; things you can eat if you arrive somewhere after dark and everything is closed and you’re hungry.

I did arrive after dark. Everything was closed. And I was hungry. And what I discovered when I arrived was that not only had I not shut the top box properly but the bottle of water I had thrown in had screwed itself loose and my poor snacks had been sloshing around inside as if they were on a ride at Sun City’s Valley of the Waves. It was like discovering a murder scene; there were seeds stuck to the top of the box, the nuts were soaked and the pieces of biltong were just lying there, bloated and prone like corpses that had been dragged from a lake.

There was no hope for the soggy nuts. The pumpkin seeds – well, there were hardly any left. Most had escaped, sprinklered out from the top box en route, moist and primed to start their new lives in the vast wilderness.

But there was still the biltong. And beside the bed in my accommodation that night was also a hairdryer. And that was the night I discovered that if you’re hungry enough, hairdryer- dried wet Karoo biltong can be the most delicious thing in the world.



This story first appeared in the November 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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