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For any female adventure motorcycle rider who has a passion about women in the sport, Jo Rust, who became the first person to cycle across South Africa solo in 2010, is a goddess. In what is probably the pinnacle of male-dominated segments of motorcycling, the BMW GS Trophy competition is a team-oriented endurance test for GS riders. In 2016, Jo Rust became the first ever female marshal (referee) of the competition.
I’ve been following Jo’s rise to fame since 2011, when she decided pedal-powered bicycles did not provide enough challenge for her and hopped aboard her first BMW GS adventure motorcycle. In six short years, she has shown the world that there is nothing that a woman can’t do as well or better than a man when it comes to adventure bike riding. Recently, she took her star power to another level and started a business called Jo Rust Adventures in her home country of South Africa leading motorcycle tours with her business partner, Tim Skelton.
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I couldn’t pass up a chance to be a part of the first women-only tour in April 2017. I never had a desire to go to South Africa, but I knew it was an amazing place to ride dual-sport motorcycles. Throughout my life, I’ve done some amazing scuba adventures and I used to measure adventure by how many inoculations I needed for a trip. My motorcycle trips were tame by comparison. This was my opportunity to change that and ride with Jo Rust! I thought, “How cool would that be?” I got my yellow fever vaccine and was ready to go.
Upon arriving at my hotel in a suburb of Johannesburg, I had a feeling this trip was going to be different. My preparation consisted of little more than emailing back and forth with Jo and Tim and buying a Lonely Planet book. I thought my experiences with adventure scuba trips in Asia prepared me for almost anything so I was lazy about getting ready. Besides, in 1997 in Indonesia, I had a machine gun pointed at me and I lived to tell about it. Could anything be harder?
My hotel was comfortable and I could even drink the water from the tap. I wondered, “Was this really going to be an adventure?”I met several others tour participants at the hotel and we started sharing our life stories. I already knew eight of the 10 women on this trip, some being household names in BMW circles.
The next morning, Tim transferred us to the Cradle of Humankind (a paleoanthropological site about 50 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg), our hotel base for the first four days. The first two days we trained on our bikes at Jo and Tim’s training location. In addition to leading tours, Jo offers training as one of only four female BMW-certified off-road motorcycle instructors worldwide at the time.
Spending the time to train on the bikes turned out to be very valuable as it showed everyone what they would need to work on during the trip. The group had various levels of ability with at least one person who had never ridden a motorcycle off-road. I had taken my R 1200 GS off-road twice in Arizona and had extensive small bike dirt riding in my past but I knew I had a lot to learn about how the big GS was going to behave on rocks and gravel. I fell several times. But everyone helped out when a rider fell down. Picking up the behemoths was a skill we learned and used regularly.
After the training, the tour took us through some of the most amazing countryside in both South Africa and Lesotho. We rode to high altitudes in Lesotho and down the famous Sani Pass Road, which is on every adventure rider’s bucket list. We rode through forested areas that took us back in time and were the inspiration for the movieThe Hobbit. We saw indigenous people and went on two big game drives where we saw African animals galore. It was the most amazing motorcycle trip I’ve ever been on.
So, was it an adventure? Yes, it was! I can only say that I already want to go back. I got a taste of the African continent and a land of many contradictions. Would I recommend this trip to more women riders? Only if you want to push yourself and have a journey of a lifetime. I now call Jo my friend and know she changed my life. Her warmth and sharing were evident every minute of the trip. If you want to live your life with adventure and authenticity, go ride in South Africa with Jo.
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