Thursday, January 22, 2015

10years ago today... memories from BigSky Adventures

Ten years ago, my wife and I climbed aboard our blue Land Rover Defender 200Tdi and headed South from the UK towards Cape Town on an overland adventure called 'BigSky Adventures'.

Although the finer granular details of our trans-continental overland travels have faded into memory, there are moments which have kept that year alive throughout the last ten years.

Here are a few thoughts from these last ten years...

My trans-Africa trip was a dream come true and a dream that is cherished today.

I had made the decision to complete a trans-Africa trip back in 1994 - eleven years before I actually departed.  Time dragged towards the departure date, with moments of pure excitement and nervous planning yet in comparison, these last ten years have vanished.  I fully acknowledge that the planning phase is as important as the actual travel.

Planning extends the travels as the dreams are expanded, the journey researched and the excitement shared.

The internet was young in 2005 and was a struggle to publish content compared to the social media options today. BigSky Adventures was my way of sharing the journey.


In hindsight I would have done a few things differently.  My methodical approach to planning the trip was way to detailed and time constricted.  As a result, my lack of spontaneity to change the plan lead to personal conflicts within the informal overland group we traveled with.  Looking back, I get embarrassed at my behavior and future trips won't be planned as much.  Follow the map, listen to the local knowledge and don't be dictated the theoretical spreadsheet!

I love the spirit of overland adventure which brings the unknown, the chaos of border crossings, the dusty streets, the random encounters with people and those wonderful bush camping spots.  My senses come alive.
Pull starting the truck called 'Suicide Mission'
I treasure the experiences gained... experiences like negotiating a road checkpoint when the guard is holding an AK47, or when buying tomatoes at the local village with no ability to communicate in the local dialect.

Or bush camping with an audience...



My favourite memories revolve around West Africa - a combination of the first few months of travel, learning the way of overland travel,  foreign language skills, visa paperwork and the thrill of adventure travel.




The country that had the biggest impact on me was Kenya.  Nairobi, Mt Kenya, Masai Mara, Lake Turkana, the list of places goes on and on... Plus Swahili was easy to learn!  East Africa has a very different 'feel' to overland travel in the West, possibly due to the popular tourist routes, the abundance of campsites and tourist opportunities, like rafting the Nile, trekking to the Gorillas and the usual national parks.

Lake Turkana
I remember how I used to calculate the worth of US$1 based on the number of eggs I could buy.  In Ghana it was eight fresh eggs whilst in Nigera it was only two.
I wish I had been bolder and spent time with more people.  Vehicle based overland travel has benefits but it is also a fast way of traveling which means you miss much along the way and only interact when stopping for the night, refueling, buying food and following the tourist route.

I don't recall how I got to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro.  The last hour to the summit is a mystery.  I do recall how cold I was.  It was a great trek up and worth the effort.

My blue Land Rover Defender, named Maggie, filled all my dreams of overland travel with the way she looked, drove, smelt (EP90!) and effortlessly covered the terrain.



"Remember those who follow" has become my personal motto for the overland community.  There is nothing worse than arriving at a bush campsite to find rubbish left behind by the previous campers, or driving a track and seeing vehicle tracks bounding up a sand dune when the emphasis is to minimise impact.  It is a simple practise... remember those who might camp or drive here in the future.


There was not enough 'adventure' during that year... Adventure in the sense of re-establishing old overland routes (like Frederick and Josephine), bad road conditions causing major delay or even raft building to cross the Congo like overlanders had to do in the early 1990's.  I did get stuck a few times which required a rescue and had a few mechanical issues to deal with...
A slippery road into a ditch

Cresting a sand dune did not end well...

Replacing wheel bearings
As the years have passed, I have constantly pondered completing another trans-continental overland trip and someday I hope to take the family abroad and spent time together overlanding across the continents.  It's not an immediate goal but one that bubbles away in the background of daily life.

I recently heard a good answer to the question 'Why?'.  Rather than the usual 'Because it's there', the answer was 'Why have you not done it'?  Why are you conforming to society and not doing it?

It was a good answer and one that pushes the emphasis back on the person asking the question.  And it is a valid question:  Why have you not done a trans-continental trip?