With the festive season almost here, many people have already begun their Christmas preparations. French BMW GS rider Eric Massiet du Biest is no different and has meticulously planned how he will spend the coming weeks. He’s about to lead a nine-week ride which will take him, a support team crew and six participants from Cape Town, South Africa to Paris, France.
Eric and the rest of his group — all of whom will be riding BMW R1200GS motorcycles — will leave the South African city on December 8th and journey through countries including Namibia, Malawi, Egypt and Kenya. The riders will explore African scenery and wildlife, meet Masai tribesmen and tackle some of the country’s toughest off-road routes. Christmas Day will be spent in Tanzania and the explorers will celebrate the New Year in Libya.
Throughout the trip, photos, stories and video footage will be collected for a project called African Smiles. The aim is to celebrate the smile’s ability to break down cultural barriers between people no matter where they are in the world. “A smile is a universal passport, it is something everyone can offer even if they have nothing at all,” explains Eric. “After 25 years of traveling, I wanted to create a project about the value of smiles. I was inspired by the people I have met.”
Not all the riders taking part in this African odyssey are seasoned off-road riders, although all of them say that joining such a trip is a dream come true. The five men and one woman are all aged 50 or over. Eric has prepared them for the fact the trip will be difficult at times, with harsh conditions, unpaved roads and long days in the saddle.
He says, “One of the hardest things we will have to tackle is the sand tracks of the Sudan. The riding will be very difficult there. The Chalbi Desert in northern Kenya could also be a problem if it rains. But we will have to find a way to do it, as we have no plan B!”
Despite the challenges the journey will pose, Eric believes the sacrifice of time, effort and money will be worth it. “What I’m most looking forward to about the trip is the group experience, the opportunity to look deep inside ourselves and find meaning in our lives. It’s important to enjoy every minute of Africa. I want the group to feel as though they’re in a wonderful restaurant where they want to experience everything that’s on the menu.”
The expedition leader is also looking forward to meeting the country’s people and catching up with some old acquaintances. “I am really happy that I’ll get the opportunity to see my friend Joseph, a Masai Chief in the Amboseli Desert in south Kenya. I’ll also get to meet up with another friend, Franck Tundo, who I met during a world tour in 1989. Franck actually owns the farm where the film ‘Out of Africa’ was made.”
The R1200GS Eric will use for the 15,000 km (9,000 mile) journey is the perfect bike for the expedition — something he knows for sure as he worked with BMW France on the modification of this machine to suit the purposes of his journey. “The bike is a prototype, but it has been very well tested,” says Eric. “We have discussed the design thoroughly with BMW France, which means it is completely ready to cross the continent. Practical elements as well as technical have been considered. We have used BMW GS accessories to great effect, and the bikes definitely have all the necessary equipment needed for such a trip.”
The riders’ route will take them through a total of 11 countries, between December 8 this year and February 20, 2011. The group of adventurers is varied, including a 56-year-old who has taken part in seven 4×4 rallies but done no off-road riding; a 52-year-old who has lost nearly 45 lbs. (20kg) in weight in order to take part; and an experienced enduro rider taking the trip to celebrate reaching the grand age of 50. He is not the only one whose birthday falls during the trip — Eric’s is on December 8, making the day of departure doubly special.
“I have a slightly unusual plan to mark my birthday,” says Eric. “I have always dreamed of shaving my head, so that’s what I’m going to do! In my mind, I feel like I will only be turning 21.”
You can keep track of the progress of Eric and his group through their travel blog at: http://T3.fr.