Posted by: Dana | 2010/05/03

April 30 – Completely Drenched and Wrecked in Botswana

We are back on dirt roads in Namibia, inching closer to the magnificent sand dunes of the Namib Desert, where will we have our next rest day, two days from now. The terrain changed as soon as we crossed over the Botswana border and into Namibia―with rolling hills that seem to grow in size as we pedal along. The ride today was relatively short in distance (111km) but it took me a good eight and a half hours from start to finish (including lunch, but with no other stops) because of deep sand, in sections, and headwinds. We will be on dirt for the next six riding days.

Last week was the big week. We cycled five consecutive centuries (100+ miles per day) with the longest day being the middle day when we covered the longest distance of the tour in one day―207 km or 129 miles. The roads were completely flat and straight which made this section not only a huge physical challenge but a mental one as well. I had heard about this killer week at the start of the tour and I was determined to pedal every mile. I did it, but I was challenged like never before.

After the first two big mileage days, with legs already feeling the strain, the third day started off in the most inhospitable way. Through the night we had horrendous rains, thunder, and lightening which subsided in the early hours of the morning. But, two minutes before my alarm sounded, at 4:58AM the skies opened up again with the loudest crashes of thunder and bolts of lightening striking all around. Over the roar of the storm, I shouted to my friend, Cat, camped close to me. “Cat, are you awake? What should we do?” She responded that she was going to sit tight and see if the rains passed. With no luck, a few minutes later, we continued to shout back and forth to one another, and other riders chimed in from their tents. A new sectional rider who had just joined the group a few days earlier was looking for guidance. “Haven’t you guys dealt with this kind of weather before?” she shouted. Annalise, my friend camped on the other side of me, responded from her tent, “We have, but it never gets easier.” With that, I laughed to myself and at myself at this most ridiculous scene. I reluctantly stepped out of my tent, got soaked the minute I did, packed up my dripping wet tent and my saturated duffel bags, loaded the trucks, ate breakfast in the most horrendous storm, and set out on the roads for the longest ride of my life.

The day didn’t get any easier from there. We dealt with intermittent storms throughout the day, cold spells, hot spells, hail, headwinds, and just as I approached the Namibian border with only one kilometer left to go, the lightening cracked ferociously all around me. I took my time at the immigration office hoping that the lightening would pass and when it didn’t, I got back on the bike, and rode the final kilometer through puddles up to my ankles in the heart of the storm.

Camp was completely flooded and the tents already set up were swimming. I was lucky to get a room at the campsite which was a stand-alone prison-like room covered with a canopy. Anything was better than setting up my wet tent in another storm, until I realized that the canopy roof leaked and the room was infested with bugs. But as I lay there in bed with my head on a damp pillow being sprayed with fresh rain, I was grateful for being even partially sheltered from the storm.

These are the conditions that completely test us. As if the riding isn’t hard enough, we dealt with rains almost every day in Botswana which were so frequent we didn’t have an opportunity to dry out our tents and our clothes for days at a time. I have to say, I’m happy with the attitude I adopted which is different from how I reacted earlier in the trip. I remember the rains in Kenya stressing me out, causing endless worry about the riding conditions and when and how I would dry out my belongings. Now, with a giggle and a shrug, I realize that there is no sense in worrying about what I can not control, that there are worse things than stinky clothes and a moldy tent, and this is all part of the experience. The sun will come out again, and indeed, after several days of rain, it did.

I felt better on the fourth day of the five day stretch than I would have expected, and was distracted by interesting conversation with a Canadian sectional rider who lives in Addis and works for Canada’s government aid agency. But, I bonked in the afternoon, with about 40km left to ride. I had nothing left to give. When I finally arrived at camp, more than a few people commented that they had never seen me so wrecked. In my memory of the past few months, I don’t remember feeling quite that bad. With less than twelve hours to recover before we started the fifth and final day of the stretch, I knew it was going to kick my butt.

TDA staff decided to start the fifth day off with a team time trial. We were grouped in teams of 4 or 5 or 6 riders and basically sprinted the first 20km of the 160+ km ride. Groups had to cross the finish line (at the 20km mark) together as a team. This was meant to be good fun, and if we hadn’t cycled over 400 miles the previous four days, perhaps it would have been. I was the only woman on my team and the only one who had cycled from Cairo (my teammates all happened to be sectional riders). I pushed as hard as I could so not as to slow the guys down too much, but I knew that at the end of the 20km time trial, I would be cooked.

With my nose pressed into the wind, I did what I could to keep my legs moving through the rest of the day. Headwinds made a bad situation worse. I can not really describe how shitty I felt without sounding like a whiny complainer. My leg muscles felt like they were ripped to shreds, my crotch burned, my back hurt and my shoulders collapsed. I rolled into camp after another nine plus hour day on the bike, shed a few quick tears, and lay on my bed (I got a room for the rest day!) until I regained my composure. The big consolation was knowing that I had just completed the longest stretch of the tour and that I had a rest day in Windhoek, the capitol of Namibia, to recover.

Somehow I got a second wind that evening, and joined about 30 other riders and TDA staff for a fabulous dinner at a very well-known Windhoek restaurant called Joe’s, to send off two sectional riders who had been with us since Addis. Joe’s is a place that specializes in game meats, and I ate an animal I had never heard of called a gemsbok, an antelope-like animal that tastes delicious and is pictured on the Namibian currency!

The ride into Windhoek finally took us up and over hills, breaking up the monotony from the straight, flat, and excruciatingly boring roads of Botswana. And our ride today out of Windhoek got even more beautiful. We could see mountains in the distance, as we rolled up and down hills along the gravely dirt road.

Striking is the number of Caucasian people here in Windhoek. It has a large and vibrant community of people with German roots, as this was not so long ago a colony of Germany and an important German post in WWII. Many of the roads have German names and restaurants serve German fare. There is also a very strong South African influence here with many South African chain restaurants and stores around. So, Windhoek feels very different than places we’ve been. White people generally travel one or two people to a vehicle (as opposed to the packed cars, trucks, and vans we have seen everywhere else we’ve been) and homes are secured with barbed wire and security systems once you get into the city center. In Windhoek we found our first real bike shop―equipped with all of the gear and clothing that riders needed to replace things lost and broken―and a modern mall with every type of store one could want. In anticipation of our arrival in Cape Town and meeting friends and loved ones, a few of the women on tour got their hair cut and dyed and bought new outfits for our final banquet. As lovely as they looked after their primping, I have to say that I am happy to reject the beauty regime for as long as I can but also have to admit that their prettiness made me feel really scrubby. I have worn the same four riding jerseys every day for four months and when I’m not on the bike, I rotate between two different t-shirts. While minimalist is the way to go on this tour, I look forward to brushing my hair and putting on new and fresh clothes once I get to South Africa.

I guess that’s all of the bitching and moaning I can do for one night! Thanks to those who are still reading and indulged my need to vent a little about the past week. In just a few days time, we’ll be playing in the beautiful sand dunes and will hopefully get there in time to see the sun rise (no rest for the weary!). I’ll write more when I can and will post when I get to internet.

Some friends have asked what I have planned once I get to Cape Town on May 15th. First and foremost, we have a huge celebration at the waterfront. We ride, en convoy, into Cape Town, where we will be greeted by hundreds, if not thousands, of friends, family, and other curious and supportive folks. Apparently, there is a lot of pomp and circumstance (and alcohol!) surrounding our arrival―the Tour d’Afrique is well-known in South Africa and, I think, our second largest contingent of riders is from there. We will have a banquet that night with an awards ceremony and slide-show.

Eythan is meeting me in Cape Town on the 15th and will be amongst the family and friends there greeting us. We’ll spend nearly two weeks together in South Africa, mostly staying in and around the Cape Town area, with a jaunt to wine country and possibly a ride (by car!!!) through the Garden Route along the coast. I plan to fly to Boston on May 28th, the day after my 35th birthday (holy crap!!!) where I will spend a few days with my sister and her family. My mom will be there, too. Over the next week or so, I will make my way to Rhode Island and Connecticut to see friends and family, including my dad who, by then, will be back in the country. Eventually I will make my way back to Washington, D.C. where I am scheduled to begin working again on June 14th.

I’ll write more about my feelings about the tour coming to an end and returning to the States in my next blog entry. At the moment, it’s just too overwhelming to attempt to articulate how I feel. For now, I’ll just say that I will certainly be ready to get off the bike, to spend time with Eythan in South Africa, and then to be back home with my loved ones. As the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end, and in just two weeks time, my Tour d’Afrique will be history. Amazing. For once in my life, I am speechless.

Sending lots of love to friends and family at home and a big dog-kiss for Jackson!! I will write again soon. xoxo


Responses

  1. At least shave your legs before you get to South Africa.
    ILY
    AM

  2. I’ve enjoyed your blogs, yet this is the first time I’m responding. I have to tell you that what you’re doing is wonderful!!! I would love to see the beauty that is Africa someday. At least I can see it a little through your eyes.

    Thank you, too, for your efforts toward supporting melanoma awareness.

    Cheryl

  3. Incredible, D. Wow

  4. I just want to thank you for your fantastic journal entries. I’m a friend of Jim Cavanaugh’s from Portland. He isn’t posting much but I’ve been getting a great feel for the highs/lows of the trip from your journal. Thanks!

    GK

  5. killer riding dana, nice work, great posts…enjoy the home stretch…..

  6. Dana,
    You should be very proud of your accomplishments! It has been great reading your blog. I learn something different as I follow your blog and Erin’s. You are almost to the finish line…enjoy every moment. Great job.
    Gerri Sprague (Erin’s mom)


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