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.

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