Just Like Chocolate Syrup

You know what I mean- warm and gooey when it’s fresh… and then just a sticky mess when it cools.

Mine cooled a bit less than 200km from the Angolan border with The Democratic Republic of Congo.  I had decided to skip the normal Matadi  route and go through Uige, up to the Banza Sosso crossing.  This route has just been mostly paved and goes through the more remote areas of Angola, so it was perfect- remote ride for interest and a good road for bike longevity.

GRBL-CRUNCH-GRBL-CRUNCH!!!!  It was my bike, making a hideous metal-on-metal grinding noise as I started to crest a small hill.  I immediately pulled over, killed the engine and did a quick check of the bike.  Everything looked fine- there were no odd smells, fresh liquids, or anything else to indicate a problem.  Thinking that maybe I had accidentally done something- maybe my foot had slipped and tried to drop a gear and it only partial engaged or something….  I turned the key to bring up the console- all fine.  I switched down to neutral- gears sounded fine.  Okay, I started the engine- and only got the metalic equivalent of a whale trying to save itself on a beach.   The engine grunted hard with the first turn of the key, but quickly lost energy until I knew there was no hope.  Time for a closer look… And, once again, everything seemed fine.  Okay, now what?

One of the problems with today’s big bikes is that many of them have done away with the kick start- if you don’t have power, you can’t start the bike.  Well, that is unless you can give the bike some speed.  Turning around to head down the hill, I pulled in the clutch, put it in 3rd, and watched the speedo.  At just over 25km/hr I popped the clutch and the bike roared to life with all it’s normal power.  Speeding down the hill I ran up to 6th and then, going back up the next hill, ran it slowly back down to 1st.  Everything sounded and felt fine.  Was this just a hiccup of some sort?  Did I just overreact?  At the top of the hill I stopped, killed the engine, and had a break.  After about 15 minutes, I tried the engine again… and this time it was simply a walrus trying to rollover- you could hear the massive effort, but the beast had enough power to do it.  Great, except that as it did, the battery light came on. Crap.  Okay, the bike is running and I have tonnes of fuel, if I head back towards Uige and spend the night charging the battery, I can then check things out tomorrow.

Thing is, you know that didn’t happen…

No, about 5 minutes later, my console started to flicker before quickly just going dark.  Okay, no power- the battery is completely dead and isn’t charging, but I can still ride and get somewhere…  Until my throttle started to falter- it felt just like I was in gear but had the throttle at zero, and within a few moments I was stopped at the side of the road.  Even with a dead battery, the bike should keep running- something was properly wrong .  But what to do- it was  getting late in the day and I was  in a valley between two hills ?  In Angola.  In one of the most war devastated provinces of Angola.  In one of the most war devastated provinces of Angola that had recently had the world’s worst epidemic of  hemorrhagic fever…  In this case it was simple; push the bike off the side of the road as far as possible, grab some branches to cover it so it didn’t show when people drove by, and pitch my tent a bit further back from the road.  It wouldn’t help with people walking by, but at least passing vehicles wouldn’t see much.  So, after a sumptuous meal of canned tuna, hot sauce, crackers, and chlorine treated stream water (my fault since at my last fuel stop I hadn’t stocked up, expecting to be able to at my planned evening stop), I hit the hay.

Thing is, you know I didn’t sleep…

I didn’t really have any choice on the stop or where I was going to camp, so I couldn’t get as far off the road as I usually like to or out of the way of the local’s little paths.  At first it was just people walking home from the fields or wherever; they would stop and talk amongst themselves, but as long as I stayed quiet in my tent they’d walk on after a bit.  Later it was the guys returning from the local hooch house and they were a lot more trouble.  They would shake my tent, hit my panniers, and generally cause trouble until I’d come out and stop them from doing anything more.  Unfortunately, that meant that I was visible and so the whole ‘strange white foreigner that doesn’t speak my language but must be rich and have booze” ritual would begin…

Morning broke, much like my bike- suddenly and loudly with the first of the big ore/lumber/oil trucks (Angola is a natural resource bonanza).  I got up and tried the bike- turning the key gave me a flash on the display and a click in the engine, but nothing more.  I needed to get to town so I could at least get some power, but I couldn’t leave the bike- what to do?

Simple, take a mini-bus!

Once in town it was time to find somewhere I could charge the bike battery and break the bike down enough that I could get an idea of where I was at.  Alas, this was not to be.  The situation (the topic of an upcoming post) was such that I really couldn’t do anything.  I wasn’t overly surprised, since riding the kind of bike I do, in the places I do, looking the way I do, means that I can’t expect to blend in or get any kind of local assistance when it comes to diagnosing or repairing bike problems (not a great thing considering my complete mechanical ineptitude).

The only choice was to find a truck on the road that was heading to Luanda and would be willing to take me and the bike without charging a completely ridiculous price…

Yes, if you look carefully, you can see my bike…

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