Mark Middleton’s communications posts with the Canadian Military had him spending long periods of time in Alert, Nunavut, As the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, 817 kilometres from the North Pole, it’s about as remote as it gets. When he retired, his world changed.
A month long trip to Europe for the Italian MotoGP got him started. Then he set his sights on Africa. He’d been fascinated with it after reading The University of Gravel Roads and Long Way Down. He knew that if he kept putting it off, he’d never do it. It was time to go, so he took the step and placed his deposit with Renedian.
Adventure fuels this man. He could have chosen a trip to Victoria Falls, but chose the Spectacular South West Africa (SSWA) trip instead. “Everyone knows about Victoria Falls,” he says. “They don’t know about the Nambian desert. That’s where I want to go.”
He arrived in Cape Town a week early, booked into a B&B recommended by Renedian, and quickly learned about the kindness of Cape Towners. Walking to find the BMW rental outlet and obviously lost, a man walked over and helped with directions. It was the wrong BMW dealer but they then steered him in the right direction and he picked up his F800GS.
Mark has zip-lined 261 metres from the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas and walked around the outside of the 356m-high CN Tower in Toronto. Simply following a roadmap and cruising the countryside was awesome, but not quite enough to feed his appetite for adrenaline.
One of his first destinations was Bloukrans Bungy, five hours east of Cape Town. At 216 metres, it’s the world’s highest commercial bungee bridge, attracting celebrities like Prince Harry—and Mark Middleton!
He was surprised South Africa was so mountainous. “In the summer I’d gone up to the Yukon and down through central British Columbia and I thought that was a lot of mountains,” he recalls. “In Africa, there are mountain ranges everywhere! You know you’re not in Canada because there are so many ostrich farms.”
Of course with all those wind currents, he had to take advantage of the paragliding opportunities, taking off on a tandem paraglider from Lion’s Head Mountain. He’d hoped to go swimming with sharks but the logistics didn’t work out.
Admittedly a “bit of a loner”, he was repeatedly impressed by the friendliness of people. Around gas stations, they’d want to talk with him. Often drivers would pull over onto the wide paved shoulders to let motorcycles pass by.
Back in Cape Town, he enjoyed the sights, rode some backroads, and cruised the famous Chapman Drive. Driving on the left took a bit of getting used to, as did the practice of filtering through traffic. With his wide panniers, he decided against the latter. The bus was a good alternative in town because he could hop on and off wherever he pleased and not have to think about his motorcycle.
Mark’s been riding since 1983 and been across Canada from his home in Ottawa numerous times, but always on pavement. Prior to the SSWA trip his off-road experiences were quite limited. He prepared by taking an off-road course with Clinton Smout but the African gravel roads were another adventure for him. Although his greatest concern was holding up the more experienced riders in the group, in the end it all worked out.
“You can look at videos on YouTube and read travel stories but the biggest highlight of actually being there was the new appreciation and perspective from another part of the world,” says Mark.
Altogether, Mark was in Africa almost a month and with Renedian helping him with arrangements before and after the formal tour, he made the most of it. In addition to his other adventures, he climbed the Big Daddy dune at Sossusvlei, visited Etosha National Park, and had his picture taken at Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.
Mark’s been to four of the world’s great oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic. He’s not sure if he needs to see the Antarctic Ocean too. He’s seen enough ice and snow to last a lifetime.
“Ushuaia sounds intriguing, though. I’ve been as far north as you can go. Maybe I should as far south as I can. Life’s all about balance.”
Photo credits: Mark Middleton