True confession: the night before heading off on a trip, anywhere, my sleep is layered with frightening dreams. If I'm awake and staring into the dark, I'm fretting about what the day will bring. You'd think, after two decades as a professional traveller, I would have the jitters under control. But I don't.
On this particular morning, the day starts with a shrieking wake-up at 3.30am. Shower. A jolt of coffee. Strap kit onto bike. Start. Warm it up. Gear on. Go.
It's quite a thing to head out alone on a freezing morning on a bike that I have never ridden before. But time was short. Ahead lay a fast weekend sortie down to the Free State to look at some steam trains puffing around a private farm railway.
The trip would be a chance to see if Suzuki's little 250cc V-Strom adventure bike might be the bike of my dreams.
The wake-up was fine, the coffee was sweet, dark and hot.
But I lost an hour as, with rising panic, I huffed and grunted to strap a tent, backpack and tripod onto the stepped seat behind me in such a way that I didn't lose my shelter somewhere between home and Ficksburg. I have made that movie before while chasing the setting sun on my XT500 on a lonely road in Zimbabwe, when a day of thumper vibrations loosened some webbing straps and lost me a bag of tools. Ah, did the sky above the road to Masvingo darken with profanity that blood-red evening…
It was gone 6am by the time the little Suzi and I purred onto the N3 at the Geldenhuys interchange and rode south. There was the usual maelstrom of wandering taxis, poorly driven SUVs and - as always - an ancient beat-up bakkie unencumbered by any battery chowing accessories such as taillights or brake lights. On the whole, it wasn't bad traffic for a Friday morning on the country's busiest national road.
Clear of the Germiston-Springs mishmash, I cranked open the throttle - and was pleasantly surprised to feel the bike shoot forward like a horse. To be fair, it was only a little horse - I was not expecting much grunt from a 250cc twin. Especially not one laden with an 85kg rider, a weekend's camping gear (including air mattress because I'm that sort of camper) and a sizeable top box that could double as an airbrake.