The loneliness of the long-distance biker

Motorbikesfeature/Kilkenny to Cape Town: Biker Hugh Bergin is setting off on the long and hard road to South Africa - going through some of the world's hottest and poorest lands. Patricia Weston reports on his odyssey.
Biker Hugh Bergin is single-handedly travelling on his BMW F650 Dakar motorcycle on his way to South Africa. He was waved off on his way by a host of supporters and the Mayor of Kilkenny last Saturday as he mounted his bike to take his solo voyage to Cape Town. His expedition will raise funds for Self Help Development International, an Irish charity working in Africa. "I chose this charity because I feel very strongly about their approach to development aid. They help people become self sufficient," he said.
Inspired by memories of his childhood, Bergin hopes to reawaken happy youthful reminiscences on his motorcycle journey. He was born in South Africa and left when he was 10-years-old when his family moved to Ireland - this is his opportunity to return. "I'm looking forward to reviving childhood memories because I have wonderful memories of the sunshine and of playing outdoors in South Africa," he recalled.
Bergin is no stranger to expeditions and varying terrain, having worked as an expedition leader for a travel company aptly named Exodus. "I used to drive a truck full of people through Asia and South America," he said. He plans to be in the saddle for about six to eight hours each day unaided. "Biking is a solo activity anyway," he said. "I'm not looking forward to dragging the bike through muddy tracks alone, but I'm used to spending hours on end on the bike and when I stop there'll be plenty of people around anyway," he added.
He chose the F650 bike because of its reliability. "I've been planning this trip for 10 months and BMW has been great in helping me prepare. I'll be wearing a BMW Ralley suit made of a lightweight, wind-proof and breathable material because the climate will be very hot and the suit will let moisture out," he said. The bike has been given a full service and if he needs any parts he can ring BMW and have them couriered to him wherever he is on his journey. Mechanic Dion Byrne of Blakestown Tyres in Blanchardstown has been preparing Hugh's machine. "I don't claim to be a mechanic," says Bergin, "But I have got a working knowledge of the workings of the bike and Dion has been a tremendous help."
And a German outfitting company has modified his machine to extend its capabilities. "Touratech has fitted an expansion kit to the bike that has increased the tank's capacity from 17 to 39 litres," noted Bergin. He will also have to keep his supplies to a minimum to ensure the bike remains as light as possible. "I'll have lots of essential spare parts and tools," he said. Aboard his desert equipped BMW, Bergin will travel down through mainland Europe and cross the Sahara desert through Morocco and the sparsely populated, disputed territory of Western Sahara. "I'll go through the largely desert country of Mauritania to my first destination, the 'forbidden city' of Timbuktu in Mali, a country of ancient empires going back to the fourth century," he said.
The second stage will take him south through Dogon territory, across the Sahel of Burkina Faso and Niger, two of the poorest and most drought-prone countries in the world. "I'll then go into the Muslim north of Africa's most populous country, Nigeria, then into Central Africa and the Cameroon. It's like 'Africa in miniature' with its geographical and climatic diversity. Then he'll roll on to Gabon, which is noted for its efforts to preserve the natural environment with what may be the largest area of protected national parks in the world. The final stage south will take him through the lush equatorial rain-forest of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo Angola then through the massive sand dunes and empty spaces of Namibia and finally to Cape Town in South Africa.
This concluding stage is through a volatile region so he can only be guided by information available about the political situation before he left Ireland.
"Sure, I'll see what happens," he said, as he prepared to ride off into largely unfamiliar terrain for his two-wheeled adventure.
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We will be writing about Hugh Bergin's progress down through Africa in the coming weeks