Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Finish Line

We saw the ocean. First we could smell it, and then off in the distance you could see a snatch of blue. It would fade in, fade out, and then it was just there.
I rode past one of the major coke stops today - people had found incredible chocolate cake. Instead we stopped at a little shop and visited with the elderly owner who told us about how yesterday the fellow who had done our whole route solo had just passed. He was trying to get into Cape Town at the same time as us, and man was he pushing it. I envy him and his solo adventure. He was keeping the same time as us while pushing all of his gear, doing all of his own repairs, and cooking for himself.
We got to our lodge today and many of us ate at the restaurant. I got a room. It's a trend. I keep doing it because I'm tired of hanging out with folk, but then the other folk who are sick of everyone keep hiding out in my room. A cleverer person would just give up. The nice thing was it provided a warm shower with fresh towels after my dip in the ocean. I joined the crew down at the beach for the gift-giving ceremony. I had drawn Peter, the Grumpy Dutchman's name. I made a flip book for him. It was called "Not a Terrible Day." Peter was infamous for coming into camp saying "It was TERRIBLE," or "The Hills! The Hills!" So I drew a flip-book comic of a man riding up hills with winds blowing in his face, and rocks everywhere, who finally gets over the hill and rides right into a bar where a fresh beer is drawn for him. Peter's favourite pass-time. It ends with him saying that "Today was not a Terrible Day!" Most of the gifts were along that line... homemade inside jokes, nice poems. It was a perfect sum-up to all of the stuff we had been through together.
I had crayfish that night. The restaurant showed pictures of crayfish during red-tide (you can still eat them then). They evacuate the water by the millions, and people go out and wade through a beach of knee-deep crayfish, filling their buckets and eating them until they are no longer able to stomach anymore of them. Everytime I think of them being a cockroach of the see, I sit back and wish that cockroaches were that delicious. Then I would move to New York. Or Hastings.
We woke the next morning and rode through the fall chill along the escarpment on the last bit of off-roading we would do on our trip. I got off my bike and kissed the pavement when I got to it. We were going to have bbq'ed fish that night with the friends and family of the riders. There were all sorts of surprizes - Family who had come from all over the world, some telling their kids/spouses they would be there, some not. We laughed and ate and drank. The crew from the first half of the trip joined us, along with some of the South African riders from the previous year. It was a lovely evening. And we got our shirts, which we were to all wear into Cape Town.
The next morning I was stressed about riding. We had to ride 82km by 11am, and there was a head-wind, AND I started my day off with a flat tire and a slow leak. I don't think I mentioned that I was getting several flats a day by this point. I couldn't get to lunch without at least one. I repaired my first flat instead of having breakfast. I repaired my second flat on the way back to the maid hiway from where we were camped. Fortunately, TDA had overestimated the distance on the map. We got up to the top of a hill and were stopped by paul who told us "Hey guys, there's only 10 more km to go, not 20. We had been hustling up to that point in order to not have to be picked up. I think it would have taken the plague to get someone on the truck that day.
We arrived in time for a beautiful picnic on the beach - no tuna today! There were cheeses and deli meats and fruit and chocolate and... oooh the joys of good food! Five different kids of bread! None of them crumbling! And the ocean! We frolicked, we took photos, we swam, we looked out at Cape Town and sighed.
At the last minute they swapped out my wheel when I mentioned that it was starting to soften up. Anyone who stopped would be thrown on the truck with no chance to ride in with everyone. It was at that point when I realized what a dream my own wheels were to ride on. This particular tire wasn't even true.
Our solo adventurer found us and rode into town with us. I was glad that he could share in the applause. And what an applause! It was embarrassing! We rode in to the Quay - there was the fanfare of a brass band, an awards ceremony for the full tour riders, and hundreds of people looking on at us, applauding and pointing. We walked into the mall to use the washroom and heard the hushed whispers of the surrounding people: "Those are the people who rode across Africa." It felt so completely unreal. All I could think was that it was just a bike ride, and we just did a little every day, and anyone who put aside that much time could do it, so it all seemed so very over-the-top.
That night we had a closing dinner, we drank, we danced, we stumbled back to our rooms to catch some sleep in the few remaining night hours. Over the next few days I went up table mountain, did a moonlight walk up the other Cape Town mountain (not to be confused with a BC mountain), went cage-diving to see great whites (they chomped at the cage, which was frightening, but they are such beautiful animals), I rented a car and visited wineries (here I got my first room on my own, thank goodness), and I went surfing. It was so beautiful, relaxed and serene. It was the perfect way to cap off my trip. And then I absconded to Europe for a month with Rob, got home, put together a wedding, and as most of you know, I am now here, home, on Hornby Island.
It's taken a while to finish these letters off. There wasn't always a connection in Africa. In fact, connections were rare. Time was rare. This was a very strange trip. I loved it, I hated it. I will never again do a group trip (unless a really special opportunity came up), and I don't think I would like to take part in a trip where I wasn't one of the primary organizers. But it was amazing, and I am so lucky that I got to do it.
So there you have it. It will be a while until my next trip... I'm guessing about three years, but until then, should you ever happen upon a small isle called Hornby, give us a call. We'll be happy to have you around.

Chasing Endings

Waking up in Felix Unite and knowing that we would be riding in to South Africa today was incredibly exciting. Erin and I raced around the room packing up in the morning. It was still dark, and quite cold. South Africa is coming into fall now, and there are never mornings where I don’t get up and put my leg and arm warmers on. It seems that every time we see a sign we get excited. They all have the distance to Cape Town on them now.
The crew organized another international face-off over the next couple of days. It’s not getting a huge amount of participation. Or maybe that’s my perception because I’m not into it. And the Dutch have abstained. We’re too close to the end. And the whole start of the day was 900m uphill. Our first downhill was at lunch, and at that point there was a rolling contest. Get to the top of the hill, stop, and roll as far as you can go. I was going to do this, but then as I started to roll past lunch, some folk shouted, and then I realized that I was going to have to go back up the first bit of downhill I’d seen all day. Didn’t really understand why they yelled, but then I sort of wished that I had kept going, just to see. My bike is still running so smoothly!
It was a sausage lunch, but Nazi Eric was on and limited us to one sausage each, and nothing else. Some people went up for seconds, and they would pile sausages on, but for those that he didn’t like, well, we weren’t to have any extra. I would like to see him turned into sausage.
Lunches are at roadside stops now, as the landscape is completely cordoned off still. “Civilized” Africa means no room to be free. Our stop included the wheelie competition. Even on the best of days I can’t pop one. One of those things I look at wistfully, like skateboarding and whistling. I met up with Erin at lunch and we rode in together. I saw the South Africans posing just short of the border, all nekked. They were doing well with their challenge. The border crossing was neither too easy, nor too hard, unlike the rest of Africa where it ranged anywhere from the five hour wait in Sudan to the barest of glances at the Malawian border.
We got into Springbok we hit the internet immediately. It was a rampant search – there were supposedly three shops (in reality, there was only one), all of them closing in twenty minutes. Some poor shmucks went to the campsite first. They looked crestfallen when they walked into the shop and saw all of the seats full. Some even tried bribery to keep the shop open for longer. With no internet for well over a week, most of us were desperate for some thread from home. The second most popular search was for Wimpy’s – the fast-food burger joint. I joined Claire there afterwards. It tasted super-salty. When I got back to camp I raced to get my tent up while others signed up for the protein-bar eating contest. It was vile. Tom (our 18-year-old trash compactor) won, but Judy was a close second. The rest of us stood on in awe. I haven’t eaten one of the tour issue bars since the first week. That’s not entirely true. I ate them in dire emergencies. Even I had to gag them down. This tour has taken away my ability to also eat peanut butter and jam, and oatmeal. I’m less keen on tuna fish as well. And I have a small addiction to Coke (a-Cola). Eric announced at the rider meeting that he had taken all of the photos we had given him over the past few months, and instead of putting them on-line as he was supposed to, he had put them on a cd and would sell them back to us at 15$ US a pop. Jerk. Some of us complained that we had not allowed him to profit off of our photos, and he simply answered: “Oh well.”
The next morning a huge group of us women folk left without breakfast. There’s a consensual revolt against breakfast. No more peanut butter! No more white, falling-apart bread! No more OATMEAL! You can’t blame the chef. There just isn’t access to food, and it’s way too much trouble to have to find both breakfasts and dinners within a strict time-limit set by super-fast riders. We found a breakfast nook, which wasn’t really a breakfast nook. It was a lodge run by a nice old fellow who had the world’s largest collection of trucker hats. We ate biscotti and tea, and he refused to let us pay. He had heard of us on the radio. We left some money behind anyhow, and carried on. When I got to lunch I joined up with Erin. She and I skipped lunch because there was a town not to far away afterwards, which likely would have nicer options. Unfortunately, the nearest thing we could find was just a gas station that had cheese sandwiches. I wound up having the same issue the next day, when Erin and I hooked up to have lunch at the town before lunch, and only found a gas station with chips. There were also the remnant bags of the other riders who had found the same gas station. Really, South Africa was becoming a quest for food. We were starting to be spoiled by the ability to find it anywhere and everywhere. There was the challenge of being able to come into camp and say “Hey, I found fried chicken and chocolate cake 10km back, and they served us free beer while fanning us and giving us foot massages.”
Arriving in Vanrhynsdorp, I was totally exhausted. Four months of wear and tear has lead to the end of the day being the end. Pure and simple. I tented that night, close to the truck, as always. I’ve always found it to be the nicest spot, because you get your own wake-up call in the morning, and you have less distance to schlep your stuff. We had dinner, and realized that we had blown it when we walked into the restaurant for post-dinner beers and saw clever riders having their roast-beef dinners cleared away and be replaced by fresh apple strudel with ice cream. They started quiz night. It was the one part of the war of the nations that everyone got into. Afterwards, Erin, Peter, Eric (the nice guy) and I sat up to chat about anything but bike riding or bike riders. It was a late night, but a good one. The next night we were scheduled to give presents to our secret friends. We had had a week to find/make something for them for under a dollar. My present was almost ready, but seeing as I couldn’t feel/use my right hand anymore, it was a little challenging. I sat up late that night finishing it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Felix Untied

Today we rode to the Fish River Canyon. It is only a couple of days from there to the South African border. The canyon itself is the second largest in the world. Looking into its depths, I can imagine coming back here to hike it's length. Oddly enough, it made me think of the hiking trails in Alice Springs, Australia. Not for any physical similarity, but just for the sheer fact that they are two places that i will dream of walking through, but may never make it back to. Hard to say that right now, when all I can dream about is coming back. I'd like to come back with Rob, not a bunch of strangers, and to experience this land in the way that I would chose to, not as the morning map has laid out for me.
There was a break mid-day at a little lodge that served cheesecake. I bought a piece for myself, and then snuck a piece on the truck for Evelijn, whose birthday was that night. When I got to the end of day lodge, there was actually champagne there, so I bought her a bottle. There were so many birthdays on this trip that seemed to go unmarked, and Evelijn seemed to me to be a person who really loved her birthday. She, Erin, Peter and I sat up until late chatting, and passing around the champagne bottles (Peter had also had the same idea). This time we were far enough away from the campers, though I had been getting snide remarks about not putting my tent near anyone else's. I feel worn out by this whole adventure.
There was a little boy in the campsite who had mad a tin car out of pop cans. He rolled it along with the stick he had attached to it. I think of the toys in North America and how reliant we are on Hasbro or Mattel for childhood amusements. The one thing I have discovered from bike tours is that the best of the journey is the journey itself - the end is usually a let-down. I think of these kids here, who probably derive more fun from making their toys than playing with them, and I think that we're probably depriving our kids by just sticking them with the end result and not allowing them the journey. That would explain why the box is more fun.
The next morning I rode to Phelix Unite. Our last rest day. Our last day in Namibia. The following day we would be off to South Africa.
It was meant to be a rest day in the truest sense of the word. No nearby town, no food outlets other than our lodge. The road all day had been pretty bland. Hardpack with rough sections, hillish-mountains in the distance, headwinds. I was happy to get in. Others had stopped at the last grocery store. I wizzed past them. I wanted a room. I wanted privacy. I needed to be alone.
The pub that evening drew more remarks about our party. I left in tears. Peter, Erin and Simon swung by my room with a few bottles of wine and Simon's portable stereo. This time, the walls were soundproof. We danced on the beds and laughed and listened to music we all loved and had a great time. Forget the rest of the crew. They were good people, but good people can be frustrating when boredom and
close-quarters are in the mix. We had a great night. Erin wound up sharing my room, and in the morning we had a long, luxurious yoga session on the lawn overlooking
the river. We were literally looking over at South Africa. There is such a mix of emotions with the ending. I look on at the frustration of my co-riders, and can't help realizing that there is also a mix of frustration with this being the end of it. A few days left. We can make it, and it will be beautiful.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to Make Friends and Influence People

We rode 151km from Betta to Konkiep. It was more of the same. Brutal roads, lots of sand, tons of complaints. Just after lunch we arrived in a little village that had the most wonderful apple cake. I arrived just after Peter (the Grumpy Dutchman) and Hinchy. I was trying to decide which store to stop at when I saw their bikes out front of a little hotel. It was run by Germans, had a very German garden, and was the perfect place to stop. Oddly enough, the town itself had 2km of paved roads – and then back to the dirt.
Simon showed up just as the guys were leaving, so I decided to stay a little longer. We sat inside on the couches. I hadn’t sat on a couch since Cairo.
I took off with Simon, but the roads finally turned into graded hardpack, so I unfortunately left him behind. I got into the hotel and joined the crew that was already sitting around the pool drinking beer. The hotelier was this lovely old woman who baked us chocolate cake for that evening. As the evening progressed she told us more and more about her life. They had bought the place as a farm, but her husband couldn’t farm on it. The lodge was her idea, to give her something to do, now that her daughter had grown. Her son-in-law worked there, and originally I thought he was her son, which was a little creepy – he looked like a blond-haired Norman Bates – even dressed the part. The husband was frustrated because her business was doing so well, and yet he couldn’t make a go of the farm, so he was selling the place.
Before dinner Erin and I hiked up the local mountain to check out the view. It was amazing. The ground moved in rivulets, making it look as if it had once all been covered in sea (probably had). The few roads that there were looked like unending straight gashes in the land. We made bets on if we were seeing the end of the road out there. We saw Lloyd coming in on his bike – he was the size of an ant. It was a nice hike, and even same easy scrambling made me wish for the rock climbing back home.
The chocolate cake kept people up later than usual – 8pm instead of 6. Peter (Rumbutt – or Rombaut as would be proper, but less fun for nicknames), Erin and I decided that tonight would be the night to stay up late and have fun. Hardpack the next day and only 130km. Why not? There were a few stragglers from our group at the bar – the sectionals and the folk who hadn’t come for the whole tour – and we kept ordering bottles of wine. We definitely drank too much. Near the end I kept ordering water, but the damage was done. Peter and Erin tried out Hakkestraand, a liquor with barbed wire on the bottle, and so they went downhill fast. At some point we got on the topic of how lame the group was. We were frustrated by the militaristic schedule, of being hushed if we were up talking past 8pm. Wasn’t it our trip too? We decided that we were going to have a sleepover and stay up all night. Peter and Exley had a cabin, we could joke and have fun, and in the morning we could watch how fast the rumours flew. It was a silly joke that we would regret the next day.
The following morning I officially decided that I would never again join a group tour. The cabin we were hanging out in didn’t have soundproof walls. The folk who like their privacy decided that instead of camping near the rest, they would camp by the cabins. We kept them up all night. They looked at us with disdain. Erin and I rode together. Peter rode off looking as if he hadn’t consumed a thing. He said he was hungover, but nothing seems to affect that man negatively.
When Erin and I got to the cake stop, Allan blocked us from getting through the doorway and completely reamed us out. Local people were trying to get in and out, but his anger made him oblivious to their presence. Finally, he left. We sat down and Simon told us that rumour were going ‘round about usual having participated in a wild orgy. We had kept a bunch of people up because of the lack of soundproofing. We were laughing and talking in what we thought was privacy, and not one of the frustrated folk had even thought to knock on the door and say – Hey guys, we can hear you and we can’t sleep. Anyone we said this to said they were too angry, or that we wouldn’t have cared, or just gone back around to the whole “well you shouldn’t have been up late anyway” argument.
I officially have burnt out on my fellow riders. I find myself almost exclusively hanging out with Erin, Peter, Simon and the sectionals. I’m tired of curfew. I’m tired of routine. I’m tired of there being puerile unwritten rules. We’re near the end of the trip and everyone is following this work-week routine of: slog through it, get in, drink yourself silly on the first night of the rest day, see a sight or an internet cafĂ© the following day if all of your chores are done, repeat.
The ride was a beautiful one, and along the way Erin and I stopped for a nap. The timing was perfect. Right after that I was able to carry on. Erin laughed at how easy it was for me to fall asleep. We climbed up mountains and were treated to the most spectacular views. It was wonderful. Even in our muddy-headed states it was so joyous.
We got in that night and the Dutch had prepared a special event for us to celebrate their Queen’s birthday. We toasted her with a horrible orange schnapps, and they handed out beer (a few of us passed on those). It was a quiet night for our little group who had, at least for the night, become social pariah. South Africa, though, is just around the corner.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Namibia Means Nobody

Getting into Sesriem was nice. It meant getting to see some of the
world's largest dunes, and it also meant that I would be riding after
the rest day. Sesriem is the gateway to Sossusvlei. It is a tourist
set-up with overpriced campsites and lodges. Carola and Nick talked
the lodge into a cheaper price, so I shed my camping life for a day of
privacy. I didn't go back to camp once. The arguing about the road
conditions is pretty intense, with some going as far as to say that
"If you can't hack it, you shouldn't be here". I'm also just tired of
everyone. You burn out after a while. Nothing like a cozy bed with
meals included to help that.
I even signed on for a tour of the dunes through the hotel (from the
sounds of it, better than the one through TDA - it included lunch).
I've worked hard this whole way, and I feel without a little bit of
privacy I might crack. Dinner included wild game. I sampled zebra
and kudu, springbok and ostrich. I had enough little morsels of
formerly cute herbivores to make a vegetarian want to throw red paint
at me.
The sleek line snakes its way down the dune, ochre on one side, pitch
black on the other. A pilgrimage of tourists slog their way up to the
top. I followed. After dune 54, we went to big mama, across from big
papa. We were allowed to run down the side (any trace would be gone
by morning), and so I did. It was the best experience, bounding
through the pillow-like snow.
We went to Death Valley, which looks like a Gothic film-set.
Blackened trees spindle upwards looking like Lavinia, post-revenge.
The trees died thousands of years ago, but the hardened and cracked
clay formed a cement-like adhesion to the roots, not allowing bugs to
enter and start the process of decay.
We got stuck a few times on the way back. We played leap-frog with
other cars, all getting out and helping to push when someone else got
stuck. The only way in to Sossusvlei is along the sandy riverbed. We
did get out though, and i spent the afternoon swimming and eating.
On the following morning I rode. I can now personally attest to
having mixed feelings about Henry's decision to make us ride this
route. It is incredibly beautiful here. It is so beautiful that,
even though I had to walk much of the way since the sand got too deep
and the patches were too long, I still loved it. Occasionally I saw
an antelope. Zebra crossing signs were everywhere. There was an
absence of humans which made the scenery all the more impressive, but
at the same time it makes the country feel very empty. I looked out
at the antelope in the golden fields, once again realizing that
somewhere out there lurks a lion or two.
When I woke I took advantage of the hotel breakfast. I didn't race to
a start like everyone else. I'm tired of having to get up at the
crack of dawn and to hurry from point a to point b. My rash hasn't
entirely healed, and so I will take it easy, going at the pace I want,
focusing on not sweating. I took countless photos and played leapfrog
with Xiao, the Chinese Lonely Planet guy who suffered from flats all
day. He came in to lunch with Erin, who was on sweep. That surprised
me as I thought I had ditched sweep.
We got on the truck at lunch. It was packed. It was quite wonderful.
All the positive people were on the truck - the ones who had given in
to the fact that they can't keep pace with the hard cores, and are
quite happy with riding until they feel like they no longer can. We
chatted and laughed and told jokes. We kept tracking the ever
changing scenery with our shutters. Camp was another little roadside
lodge, similar to the one in Solitaire. I slept in my tent, though
the rooms were 10$ (compared to the non-reduced rate of 200$ in
Sesriem). The restaurant served amazing apple cake, and we sat on
lookouts watching the sunset eating Spaghetti Bolognaise. We seem to
be having this a lot more often. James hates cooking it, but
apparently it's good for the soul. Everyone is much happier after a
hearty Spag Bol.
I've seen almost every sunrise and sunset for four months. I think
that is one of my greater accomplishments in life.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It All Unravels

I woke up from the first decent night’s sleep in a long time. The cream made a difference instantly. Erin and I cruised around town, checking out cool venues as we went. I turns out that the film fest is in town, so we decided to check out a few flicks tonight. The funky cabaret venue next door was unfortunately featuring an Afrikaans show, so we gave it a pass. We decided to completely avoid the crew, as both of us are feeling the need for space. Honestly, I think everyone is. It’s been a long trip.
We went to the Olive for lunch – had pastries and bought wine, chocolate, sun dried tomatoes, olives, and just about everything western we could think of that we had been missing. We found a t-shirt for James (the cook). A weird Japanese-like t-shirt with a jar of peanut butter hugging a jar of jam saying, “Let’s come together”. Heh heh. Every morning James is greeted by people complaining about daily breakfast of pb&j.
I ran into Peter on my way to my room, but didn’t tell him about Erin and my plans for the evening. The other annoying thing about small groups is gossip. Because we frequently bike together, we get along, and because he is male and I am female, we must be having an affair (we’re both in relationships back home). When I told Erin about not mentioning it to him, she said, “They’re terrible, aren’t they! Well forget them, we’re inviting him.” Too true!
We went out and saw two terrible movies. They were rife with propaganda about Namibia’s environmental program. It was boring. I fell asleep through the second one. Studio 77 itself was quite cool, with woodcuts on the wall which, when you first looked at them, appeared to be a bunch of hammers pounding into the earth. Upon closer inspection I realized that it was also men in suits. We were going to go to a club beside the studio space, but it was empty and the music sounded lame. And so we decided to go out for food. We got some Paella which was delicious. Neighbouring Algeria was once Portuguese. Thank goodness.
We thought about dancing, but vegging to movies and sleeping seemed to be the better alternative.
The following day was more of the same. It may not seem interesting to you, but we were beside ourselves with excitement! Smoked salmon! Blue cheese! Champagne! Erin and I has talked about going out to the movies, but then it wound up just being a night of vegging in front of the tele. We all met up at Peter’s for a picnic. We drank the two bottles of champagne (I didn’t care, I wasn’t allowed to ride for the next couple of days anyway), and ate, and ate, and ate. I then disappeared into my room and watched another movie and slept. Sometimes vegetation is all you need.
I woke the next morning to mixed emotions. We ere meant to have pavement, but it all turned out to be dirt with headwinds. Everyone came in looking very broken. I was glad that I didn’t ride through that, but at the same time, we’re so close to the finish that it’s painful to miss a single day.
Nick, Malcolm and Simon pulled in just as the truck was packing up. All of the cyclists had left. Alex was on sweep and she was angry. Nick was still drunk. That would mean a long day for her. Everyone’s coming down hard on Nick. I can understand sweep being angry, but not anyone else. It’s his ride; let him do it how he wants. It’s not like he’s ever in a bad mood, or that he is anything but the sweetest fellow to all of us. People are really just getting on each others nerves, I think. It’s time for this to be over.
I was the only one on the truck, which was great. I had on my flowy skirt with my black, spandex biking legwarmers, tank tops and arm warmers, looking very Madonna-esque. With no one on the truck I could let the window’s breeze do its work. Speaking of which, it’s freezing here. I can’t believe how cold it is. I though Africa was warm. Namibia in the fall is not. We kept having to stop to wait for Shanny and Paul. The truck crew was pissed at them because they were: “acting like the runabout is their own personal cruiser.” Looks like the riders aren’t the only ones sniping at each other.
Our rest stop was in Solitaire. We drove through the most beautiful mountain ranges on the way there. They looked like Southwestern mesas. Solitaire was pretty much a one-horse town. It was a truck stop, lodge, and gas station with the most famous apple crumble in Namibia. I walked into the pale pink building, past the large prickly-pear cacti (they stood about 7feet) and got what was the best apple crumble I had ever had.
We left Solitaire with a full truck. Everyone was cursing Henry. The original route through Namibia was on paved roads. Because there had been so much construction in Sudan, and we had had so much paved route where we were meant to have dirt, he changed the route. He did a quick scout in a 4x4 with his mother, and declared the roads amazing. He had no clue. The dirt roads are still corrugated, and now because we’ve changed routes we are no longer doing 80-100km on corrugation, but 150-170km. Even some of the off-roaders are pissed. It’s also causing a bit of infighting between the road-bikers and the off-roaders. “You DID sign up for an adventure, didn’t you?” Statements like these cause unnecessary rifts between people. My personal favourite “It was MEANT to be hard.” Actually, it was meant to be an adventure, but adventure doesn’t mean hating every minute of it. I got to distance myself from a lot of it, because I wouldn’t be riding until after Sossusvlei. Ten minutes after we left Solitaire we had to turn around and go back. More people couldn’t get any further. My heart went out especially to the EFIers (Every fabulous inch). They had to keep motoring, no matter how hard. Over half of the riders gave up today. The staff was worried. The roads weren’t about to get better, but they would be getting longer. Word has leaked from the staff that Henry is a terrible planner in general. We all seem to agree.
Fortunately, camp was wonderful. It was our last bush camp. Shanny met the farmer when he was out scouting, and he is intending to turn the place into a campsite. He brought us a ton of kindling so that we could have a campfire. It was wonderful. We drank hot chocolate, slept under the stars, and everyone stayed up later than usual.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

There is a Fungus Among Us

Two hundred and seven kilometers. I started my ride before daybreak.
The rash had kept me up all night, had been for a while, and so I felt
really disoriented. I started my ride with Hinchy (one of the
Kitchener crew - three retirees who do tons of adventures), Tom, the
most wonderful 18-year-old I have ever met, and Helen, our Lillipudian
Chief Inspector. I love Hinchy – he always has a joke. Helen was
doing poorly that day, though she’s usually tough as nails. She
started falling behind, so I told her to get behind me and I would
pull her. There was a headwind today and it was only going to get
worse. If she got through the morning she might get through the whole
Psychologically, I sectioned the day off into five. It was 40km to
the right turn, 45km to lunch, 35km to the Coke stop, 45km to the
refreshment stop, 42km to the finish – border crossing at the end.
I pulled Helen to lunch, and then from there I caught a train – Mark,
Alex, Evelijn, Tom and Simon. We were doing between 36-40km/hr. Peter
and I pulled for quite some distance, pushing on beyond our turn right
into the coke stop. While I was in the washroom, the crew took off.
It was perfectly acceptable too do that, and if I were in better
shape, I might have even caught them. Peter later explained to me
that the way to catch up to people is to go one or two km above their
speed, so that you’re not killing yourself, and once you catch up to
them you can just take it down to their speed... it’ll take a while,
but you’ll catch up. I’ve never been able to catch anyone, but I like
the theory.
I rode with Peter for a while, and then Graham and Lone caught up to
us. I was near my breaking point. My rash was so painful. I decided
that I would hitch into Windhoek the following day and go to the
hospital. I couldn’t ride like that anymore. Nothing the nurses gave
me was working. Erin would be in Windhoek already, as she was going
ahead with Sharita, who had caught Malaria.
I stopped at the side of the road and Graham and Peter talked me into
getting on the truck. I sat for a while, and then a train came by.
Helen was in it, and she let me know that Eric was doing sweep. I let
them go, but tried to figure out what I was going to do. There was no
way I could spend more than five minutes with that arrogant jerk. I
decided to ride to the refresh, and if I could hitch a ride I would.
A few transport trucks passed, but no one who could take me. I
watched as the little side road markers clicked by. Little white
posts that told you every .2km you had gone. It was enough to make
someone batty. When I got to the refresh, the train was still there,
and so I asked if they could wait so that I could join them. By that
point I decided that I would carry on through. It was such a big day
for everyone, I couldn’t jump on the truck, no matter how bad my
thighs were burning.
We rode a decent pace – about 25km/hr. We stopped frequently. And we
got in. It was wonderful.
Everyone finished, minus Simon, who has diabetes and had a bit of an
attack. He seemed really down about not finishing. There were huge
rounds of applause as Texas John and Ernest came in – our two oldest –
72 and 69. The spirit in camp was great, and there was spag bol for
dinner – everyone’s favourite. I’m not a big spaghetti person, but
for some reason on this trip it truly tastes like mana from heaven.
I set up camp on the grassy grounds that were covered in beetles the
size of my fist. The bottom of my tent was alive with themovements of
them underneath. If it wasn’t the beetles, it was the corn crickets.
The next morning I woke up and got my stuff together to go to
Windhoek. I would take the truck until the first major town, wherfe
apparently it becomes easy to hitch from. I spoke with Shanny about
Eric. He said that Eric had already spoken to him, and that he had
intended to have a talk with me, as it is unacceptable to have anyone
swearing at his staff. I apologized for that, and then he said he
would speak with Eric. I went over to Eric and apologized for
swearing at him in front of everyone, but that I meant what I had
said. He said “Yeah, you shouldn’t have said that.” No apologies. I
started to wish that maybe one of those crazy Tanzanian drivers would
make it into Namibia and take him out. Then I decided that he wasn’t
worth thinking about.
I caught a lift from a truck driver, and laughed at all of the deer
crossing signs, but instead of deer they were alerting us to warthogs.
They cut the grass in Namibia back 500m so that you can see when the
animals are running for the road. Indeed, we did see a few warthogs
running for the road. All of Namibia is fenced in. It was all
partitioned off to farmers a long time ago. Mostly white farmers.
The landscape went from Botswana flat to hilly and gorgeous. Red
rocks and greenery. Windhoek is the first real city I’d seen in ages.
the fellow dropped me off in front of a bike shop (total
coincidence), and charged me five bucks for the lift. I went into a
coffee shop, had spaetzle – so German, and made my way to the hotel.
It was nice to be really and truly alone. I sat in the room, watched
a movie on the tele, and headed to a hospital. The funny thing was
that normally I would feel incredibly guilty for sitting inside on a
beautiful day. That disappears when you spend all day every day
outdoors. Not that I would want to do more than a day of it, but it
was nice for a treat.
I went to the Rhino Private Clinic – listed in the Lonely Planet.
They stared at me as if I had a second head, and then sent me to the
Roman Catholic hospital, where I had to go to the Casualties
Department – the Namibian way of saying Emergency Ward. I was so
lucky. My doctor was a cyclist who had ridden from Windhoek to Cape
Town. When he did it it had rained the whole way, so he recognized it
for what it was – I was moldy. Heh heh.
My prescription: “Knickers off, loose skirts, legs apart, and apply
this cream.” Mom would be proud. After a million questions about the
tour, he had one of the nurses escort me to the nearest pharmacy, out
of the building and down the block.
I went to Klein Windhoek, where the best restaurants are, had dinner -
I almost ordered a bottle of wine, and then discovered that what they
charge for a bottle is what they charge for a glass in Canada – and by
the time got back to the hotel, Erin and Sharita were just getting
back to their room. We made relaxed plans for the next day. Erin and
I. Sharita looked like death warmed over. Thank god I never caught