God, Africa and a Motorbike – Part 1

This is the story of Kobus and Marina Britz, who in 2011 packed their BMW R1200GS and began traveling form Durban, South Africa, all the way to John O’Groats in Scotland.

In the beginning…
Every story starts somewhere, doesn’t it? My love of things on two wheels started early in life. The year is 1967. I am twelve years old and my pride and joy is a beautiful black bike of the push bike variety. But, my eye is on the big prize, Pa’s beloved . It’s black with chrome trimmings. The bright red Jawa with its stainless steel trimmings and spoked wheels is a glorious sight to behold. Talk about an ‘ysterperd.’ For those not in the know, this 1966 beauty had it’s origins in Prague. In 1960 the millionth Jawa hit the road with its introduction in India.

I take it upon myself to keep both our ‘ysterperde’ in pristine condition. Spit and polish takes on a new meaning. Martin Luther – King’s not the only one with a dream. Here in Africa, Heidelberg, South Africa to be precise, I too nurture my dream. I hold it close on most days. Every now and again I find somebody special to share this dream with. Never in my wildest imaginings could I know that these child hood dreams would take me across Africa and onto Europe on a motor bike ‘nogal.’ That’s another story, for way down the road.

1966 Jawa

1966 Jawa

It is only a matter of time before I would be presented with an opportunity, to not only sit upon the Jawa but to take it for a spin as well. If I have to be honest, it was not as if the thought had never crossed my mind. Needless to say I was constantly on the lookout for just such an occasion. I learnt early on in life that there is a God. And lo and behold, when for some or other reason my dad decided to find alternative transport to work one day, I knew without a doubt that this must be the Divine Providence I had so often heard about. With Koos (du Toit) my cousin, two years older than me we set off. Me, the pillion rider, feeling like ‘Piet Snot.’ Not a care in the world. No regrets for the moment. Knowing that even the dominee’s son would have considered this a gift from God, we set off.

Just imagine Koos and me trying to push the bike out of the garage without dropping it. Koos, standing astride the Jawa kicking it into life, the thunderous applause of friends and family standing on the grandstands, (Ok! I am exaggerating, or should that be totally fabricating ?) the thunderous sound could only have been Koos revving the Jawa in his excitement. I can still feel the wind in my short back and sides (remember helmets were not a pre requisite in those days) and feel the screeching vibration of an over revved bike. I often wondered if we exuded the air of confidence we felt, as we shot off and wibbled and wobbled precariously until we found our balance. What a feeling! Talk about the King of the Castle. A day to remember, for more reasons than one. Koos, full of the confidence that is so much part of a rough and tough 14 year old, decided that one last spurt of speed, before we relinquished the Jawa in all its glory, would be just the perfect ending to a perfect day. Well just there and then Divine Providence left us in the lurch just as
quietly as she had found us. Pa’s Jawa had, had enough of the inexperienced ‘laaities’, and went its own way into the grape vine trellis raining grapes ‘Hallelujah’ and churning up gravel as we wrecked havoc. Its funny how in a second, a good day can be ruined and how an hour waiting for the consequences of one’s dastardly actions can feel like an eternity.

Koos made a quick getaway and it was only me and Ouma Lenie (for protection) waiting for my dad to get home. No explanation was necessary. The evidence greeted Pa. No long stories. Just one question, “did you ride the Jawa?” Don’t even try the blame game. Six of the best later and with my Ouma banging on the bathroom door, screaming at Pa not to kill me, a contrite little boy left the bathroom clutching his behind.

After a stern talking to and a loving hug, the perfume (or should that be petrol fumes?) of my first love accompanied me to the warmth of my bed. The memory of the ‘first time’ and the loving hug and forgiveness from Pa are indelibly engraved in my heart and soul and the punishment only a vague recollection.

This love affair endured with endless happy hours spent with Pa on the Jawa. Boy I loved those times. Often Pa would give me the ‘reins’ and I really had to ‘hou kop’ and not get to full of myself. Not an easy task considering all I wanted to do was enter the ‘windgat of the year’ competition. As life would have it, the road has many paths and detours, with loads of scenic routes and it would be another love that would win my heart. A temporary distraction in my yearning for my own bike. To merely say that Marina came into my life would be a denial of my faith, for surely God had brought her into my life just as He would bless us with children and grandchildren in the years to come.

We moved back to Heidelberg where I had grown up. Here I took up the challenge of starting up my own business. Every now and again I would find myself just a little envious as a motorbike would roar past me on the highway or pull up next to me at a traffic light leaving me in the dust with the memory of me on the Jawa that very first time.

In the meantime I had taken up playing golf with the local dentist, who as the years went by, became not only my dentist, and my golfing partner but my best friend as well. I don’t quite remember in which order it all came about. F.C. Calitz unbeknownst to me would become the catalyst to getting me back in the saddle once more. F.C. owned a Yamaha F J 1100, a beautiful red and white bike that drew attention (yours truly included) whenever he rode through town. Early one Saturday morning the phone rang. F.C. wanted to speak to me urgently and asked me to come over to his house. Upon arrival he told me that he was selling his practise. Almost immediately I had this picture of myself in a white coat looking just the part when I had to remind myself that I was ill equipped for the job. As it turns out, it was his Yamaha that he was interested in selling to me with the leather jacket. It was a great jacket, red and white – real leather, gloves and helmet. Shocked, amazed, overwhelmed and ever so curious to know the reason for the decision, all that FC would divulge was that it was a long story for another time.

This time I could not be as presumptuous as to imagine that once again Divine Providence had somehow tracked me down. On hindsight my passion and need for my first love brought with it such recklessness, a sort of James Dean – Rebel without a Cause moment, that not for one minute did I consider Marina’s reaction.

Yamaha FJ1100

Yamaha FJ1100

Talk about pleased with myself. Preening my feathers, I arrived home ready to take everybody for
a spin on my newly acquired and long awaited gleaming red Yamaha. I even had the gardener
lined up.

I would love to say that Marina was just as enamoured with the new ‘lady’ in our lives as I was. Never one to rain on my parade and always at my side to share in all the joys and sorrows of my life, and especially close to me in every way, she felt that the timing was ill conceived. She was quick to point out that the reality of us taking up this new and exciting hobby with three children in tow was totally unpractical. Deep down I knew she was right but was so caught up in the excitement of at long last being the proud owner of this beautiful red and white machine. All I could do was live in the moment and hope that Marina would get caught up in the whirlwind. Not being the Lone Ranger kind of guy and with a Hollywood kind of picture in my head of bikers and their biker chicks running around in my head, the children safe and sound in the arms of their doting Ouma and Oupa we set off on our first breakfast run.

It felt like coming home, being part of the ‘biker gang.’ Harties (Hartebeesport Dam) being the perennial destination to many a biker, his chick and often his dog, even to this day. I can remember thinking this is the life and it’s mine and it’s real. It’s almost become a mantra. With the adrenalin pumping, the road taking on a veritable Kyalami kind of feel all that was left to end another perfect day was to show Marina my new acquired racing skills. Move over Agostini, here comes the new kid on the block. Well before the needle on the rev counter could reach 5000rpm, out from a clump of trees steps a blue bean bag with arms waving the chequered flag. Well that’s what I thought. But after skidding to a tyre burning halt, I discovered it was not a bean bag with arms and a chequered flag but a ‘konstable’ with a camera.

Needless to say he was not interested in my signature and relished every minute watching me squirm with the evidence at hand, of me trying to break the sound barrier in a built up area. 120km an hour in a 60km an hour area. Don’t worry about a fine pal. Do not pass GO. Do not collect R100. GO straight to jail. The sheer look of devastation on Marina’s face and a heart not hardened by speeding bikers surely played a part in keeping me free from spending a night or two behind bars. I still had to fork out for the fine. A small price to pay, for a moment of madness. With a heavy heart I knew that my biking days had surely come to an end (for the time being anyway.) Over a cup of tea back home and in a most civilised manner Marina let me know in no uncertain terms that we were bound in parenthood to our children together and that she would not be running the show on her own. That put paid to that. But with the door left open for us to pick up where we left off with our biking ways, once our youngest daughter Ilze reached 21…

Kobus & Marina Britz

Kobus & Marina Britz

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