As he lay under the stars of the Australian night sky, having ridden for days in unbearable heat, wind and dust, two things occurred to Rowland. “I thought, if I die right now, absolutely nobody will know where I am. I also realised I had never seen anything quite as beautiful as the Australian night sky.”
Finding your true passion at the age of 50 is quite something. Especially when it happens by accident. The catalyst for Rowland discovering his love for long distance adventure motorcycling was in 2017 when he decided to take a two-year sabbatical from his career of 18 years.
Having worked in the South African Police Services for 12 years, and then as a risk manager for British American Tobacco for 18 years, Rowland says the corporate world started killing him. “When an opportunity arose for me to leave, as they were restructuring the business, I took it.”
Not knowing what direction he was headed in, Rowland bought a bike and started ‘winding down’. He decided to take an adventure trip through Africa with his good friend Gareth Loagie.
“We didn’t really plan very much for the trip. We just took a couple of changes of clothes, some spares for the bikes and lots of two-minute noodles!” Over the course of two months the pair travelled over 12 500km through seven different African countries. “Africa is just amazing. We never felt threatened or unsafe. People are so friendly and welcoming and there is always a shebeen around a corner. You can always find a beer in Africa,” he laughs.
After his trip, Rowland travelled extensively around both Mozambique and SA on his bike and then decided it was time for another long-distance adventure. This time in Australia.
It was too expensive to take his bike across and too expensive to hire one, so Rowland got a friend in Australia to buy a second hand one for him there instead. Despite never having laid eyes on his ‘new’ bike, Rowland flew to Australia and climbed on the BMW GS 650.
He planned to travel the circumference of Australia, starting in Perth, then through the Northern territory, down to Sydney and back to Perth, in 28 days, which meant travelling around 500km a day. Rising temperatures and rains on the way were a concern, but Rowland threw caution to the wind, packed his clothes, bike spares and lots of noodles (again!) and hit the road.
“The first five days were amazing. The West coast beaches are stunning and loads of people live on the coast. But when I turned right towards the Northern territories, everything changed.”
Famous for its outback desert landscapes, Rowland rode for days on end, from 7am to 5pm, through absolute nothingness. “You just cannot imagine the size of it when you see it on a map. It’s mind-blowing.”
Temperatures rose, sometimes going up to 48 degrees, and Rowland remembers the soles of his shoes melting into the tar under his feet.
He rode through Arnhem Land, a vast Aboriginal wilderness, sleeping under the stars and sometimes going days without speaking to another person. “Then one day I realised I had travelled 6000km and hadn’t yet seen a single kangaroo,” he laughs.
The extreme heat caused problems for Rowland when the bonding liquid between the rims and tyres of his bike started to melt and run out, forcing him to ride early in the mornings and rest under a tree during the day. “The first morning I got up at 4.30am, I got on my bike and was suddenly surrounded by thousands of kangaroos! I had missed them because I was getting up too late.”
The trip started taking its toll, which became obvious, Rowland says, when he stopped in a small town and a woman offered him money, thinking he was homeless. “I hadn’t showered in a few days, had been working on the bike and was covered in dust, sweat and slime. She insisted I take the money and when I refused, she thought I was being proud. Eventually I took it just to make her go away,” he laughs.
After travelling around 9000km, Rowland visited his sister and her family in Sydney for a few weeks before hitting the long dessert road, fraught with harsh weather, pelting rain and wind, yet again.
One day Rowland unexpectedly found himself on a beautiful beach. “It has the whitest sand and most perfect turquoise water. As I sat on the beach on my own, I heard a noise next to me.” When he turned, Rowland saw a kangaroo sitting right next to him. “I had tried, and failed, for 13000km to take a good photograph of a kangaroo and now one was sitting next to me letting me scratch his head. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”
Arriving back in Perth after 28 days Rowland felt a sense of both sadness and joy.
He reluctantly said goodbye to his bike (which he admits he had started talking to, not unsimilar to Tom Hanks talking to the ball in the movie Castaway) and headed home.
Now Rowland is offering other adventure enthusiasts the opportunity to experience long distance motorcycle adventures with him through his new business, Adventure Africa Motorcycle Tours. He offers a variety of trips that can be custom-made to suit your needs and budget. They also supply the bikes (or you bring your own) and a back-up vehicle. The trips are all-inclusive. “I met so many incredible people on my trip and my perspective on life changed. In the corporate world you just want to earn more and buy more . . . but there is so much more to life.”
Text: Leah Shone