Good Training and a Bit of Blind Luck


As the torrential rain relentlessly pounded the slippery dirt road beneath my boots, I watched in horror as the BMW F800GS in front of me dived into some deep water, churned and ground its way forward, then spat a submerged rock from under the front wheel causing it to lurch sideways. Desperately trying to use forward momentum to right the bike, the rider found himself stalling out in thigh-deep water, left leg submerged and sinking into the sand with his right leg stuck over the bike as it attempted to push him down under the fast-flowing water. With the two of us alone, now long separated from our group, I had to act quickly as I had no idea how long he could last in such a precarious position.

Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa, and for close to a week I had been riding with a group of international journalists through the parched, dry landscape with our BMW Motorrad hosts. Dusty, washboard-gravel roads and massive sculptured sand dunes induced a sense of awe as we rode through such a vast, unpopulated country that hadn’t seen rainfall in months. We had visited the capital city of Windhoek, been on safari, and were now making our way home when the skies turned black and the temperatures plummeted, foreshadowing the unexpected rain that would soon fall.

Within minutes the dips in the road that had previously required us to slow for the thick sand lying in the bottom were now small rivers. The sudden, torrential downpour was hammering the arid landscape and turning everything around us into slippery, porridge-style mud, so our GS motorcycles were now spending more time going sideways than straight. Our world was black, dark and foreboding, with lightning ripping the skies all around. And in the treacherous conditions our group began to get strung out as rider after rider fell in the ever-thickening mud.

Our world was black, dark and foreboding.

A couple of hours into the storm I found myself riding alone with then BMW Motorrad CEO Hendrick Von Kunheim. As he is the better off-road rider, he was on point and would tackle the more difficult river crossings first while I waited for him to get safely across. Coming across the widest, deepest and fastest flowing river to date, I had a quick laugh in my soggy helmet thinking about the previous day riding Husqvarna dirt bikes (Mr. Von Kunheim was the man responsible for acquiring Husqvarna for BMW back in the day) in the massive Namibian sand dunes under a cloudless, blue sky. How different could one day be from another?

And then it happened. There was Mr. Von Kunheim pinned beneath his F800GS a hundred yards away in a rising river with only yours truly available for help. Slowing my mind, I thought back to the training BMW had sent me to a couple of weeks previously at the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I quickly visualized the numerous passes in the sand pit and gravel traps that gave me the techniques needed to safely navigate all the hazards we had encountered so far and then started my engine. But this was different. This time there was no opportunity for a re-do if it didn’t work out. I took a deep breath, clicked the bike into gear and pulled forward. Standing on the pegs, I leaned back as I slowly and steadily opened the throttle. With my eyes pinned on an open area on the far bank to the right of the nearly submerged BMW, I was hoping I had chosen my line well as my GS bucked and weaved beneath me. Aware of the engine’s spinning up as the rear wheel lost grip, and before regaining traction and propelling me forward, I’m not sure whether I was even breathing as I tried to focus, stay calm and execute all I had learned. Diving down into water deep enough to wash up over my thighs, climbing up and then back down small sand banks with the bike bucking side to side at times, my eyes stayed locked on my prize.

Focus, stay calm, execute.

Finally, spinning and bucking I hit my mark, dropped the bike and ran back into the river. In the near waist-deep water I got myself under Mr. Von Kunheim and pushed for all I was worth to right both him and the bike. Mercifully he must have stalled instantly, and the water hadn’t made it into the air box as the bike fired right up and we were able to push/ride it to safety before collapsing from the effort. Sucking air, I realized that I had just lived through the longest minute of my life and was feeling immensely relieved we had both made it.

Thankfully the rest of our ride was less intense, the rain eventually subsided, and the vast desert quickly started to dry. We caught up with some other riders, each with their own stories to tell, and much later at the hotel bar there were a couple of quiet glasses raised to our “incident” and some laughter shared.

Moments like this define us as motorcyclists. The ever-changing conditions can catch the best of us in a heartbeat, every time we ride. This time it worked out. Dumb luck or good training, I guess we’ll never know. What I do know however is that these adventures are why we ride- so that we can feel truly alive, and to create bonds with our fellow riders that non-motorcyclists will never know or understand. As the Road Dirt guys like to say, relationships are everything.

Got a story of perilous adventure? Leave us a comment below, and/or email us at!


Cover photo by QuickImage

*Check out Neale’s foundation:

Wellspring Outreach


NE Ga Motorsports


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *