Wednesday, November 4, 2009

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.

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