Posted by: Dana | 2010/06/27

May 25 – The Week After

I’m sitting in an outdoor garden as the sun is rising in Nature’s Valley, a tiny and quaint little town on the Garden Route along the coast in South Africa. Eythan and I are staying in a guest house, just outside of Tstitsikamma National Park, where we plan to explore today. We got here yesterday evening, after spending the past two days on a hut-to-hut hike along the Harkerville Coast Trail near Plettenberg Bay. I can’t say it’s been a particularly restful past few days, but South Africa is an amazingly beautiful country and we are enjoying our time here immensely.

It’s unbelievable that it’s been over a week since the ride ended. We had horrendous weather for our final few days of the ride, as we cycled along the western coast in South Africa, through Lambert’s Bay and Elan’s Bay. But, those last few days were complete fun. Huddled under tarps eating dinner, cycling with friends on the final stretches, and gathering at night, rain-soaked and chilled, in tiny bars along the coast that would be otherwise empty if not for our group converging there to celebrate our final nights together.

The last few riding days were also fabulously gorgeous. We came out of the desert and into wineries on the Western Cape, and then made our way to the coast. My first view of the ocean, at Lambert’s Bay, was obscured by fog and rain, but I could smell the sea as I approached and then feel the intensity of the waves as I cycled past, and it was refreshing and invigorating to be by the ocean. I rode the stretch from Lambert’s Bay to Elan’s Bay, along a dirt road that revealed a largely undeveloped coast line. It was a quiet and gorgeous stretch of coast that gave me a few brief minutes to savor the moment and ready myself for what I knew would be a whirlwind couple of days into Cape Town.

On the final riding day, I was going to set out with Cat, Annalise, and Caroline in a girl-pack. We had 60km to cover before meeting up with the rest of the group at our lunch spot, where we would gather for our final convoy, a 30km ride into Cape Town. As I mounted the bike, I realized I had a flat tire. What a way to start the final day! Arrrrgg! With help from Jethro’s brother, who had joined us for the final day, I got my tube replaced and got on the road. The morning ride with the ladies was so much fun—a little surreal at times, especially when Table Mountain appeared in the distance.

The gathering spot for lunch was a spectacular setting—and felt, in many ways, like the finish. We celebrated on the beach, uncorked champagne, and rose our bikes over our heads for those essential I-just-crossed-a-continent-by-bike pictures. The sun shone on us for the first time in days and finally gave us a chance to dry out, warm up, and simply enjoy.

As I wrote previously, the scene down on Cape Town’s Waterfront was jubilant. We cycled under a giant “finish” flag and into the crowds of loved ones anxiously waiting there for our arrival. I quickly found Eythan, and for the first time that day, I let the emotions get to me. It was truly a moment of excitement and exhilaration—but I’m not sure, even then, that I was fully wrapping my head around the fact that we were at the end of the ride.

The several hours following our arrival were filled with a frenzy of activity—first the arrival ceremony, then the retrieval of our bags from the trucks, the check in to the hotel, the dash to the mall to buy some clothes, and the banquet. And, then, POOF! It was over.

I joined many other riders the next day in the court yard of the hotel, with Eythan’s help, to disassemble my bike and jam it into a large cardboard box that I plan to take with me on the plane ride home. My bike, in dire need of a thorough cleaning and a serious mechanical overhaul, looked kind of sad as it was taken apart, screw by screw, and pedal by pedal. Eythan and I then left the hotel to check-in to a nearby guest house where we stayed for the next few days.

So…Cape Town! It is a magical city and leaves no question why South African’s take such great pride in it. There is so much to do here. Eythan and I have covered a lot of ground over the past week or more…we took a boat to Robben Island, where we toured the prison where Nelson Mandela and many others were incarcerated; we climbed Table Mountain; we walked the streets of the City Bowl, Green Market Square, and Bo-Kaap neighborhood. Along with many other TDA riders, we also caught a viewing of “Where Are We Go?,” a documentary made in 2008 about the Tour d’Afrique, which brought back floods of images from our own ride, but also a very hard to describe feeling of disbelief that I had actually just done it, myself. Yes, it already has started to feel a little like a dream.

Then we headed off to Franschhoek, in South Africa’s wine country, where we enjoyed a couple of days of incredibly beautiful scenery, a hike in the mountains, time with my friends, Erin, Ruben, and Cat, and amazing meals. From there, we headed eastward to the Garden Route where we traveled through the beautiful towns and beaches at Knysna, Wilderness, and Plettenburg Bay; ran through the Knysna forests; visited a bird habitat and monkey sanctuary, amazing educational and preservation facilities; and then embarked on the two-day hike on the Harkerville Coast Trail which took us to rocky and rugged sections of coast where we saw no other people for two days. We spotted a school of dolphins breaching the surface of the water as they swam.

We have another few days here in South Africa. Our plan is to explore Tsitsikamma National Park today, and then head west to go diving with the Great White Sharks in Gansbaai. Then we have one more full day when we’ll drive to Cape Point and explore the towns and beaches along the route. I depart Cape Town on May 28th and will land in Boston the next day. Arriving in Boston, although I don’t live there, will feel like my homecoming, because that is where I will see my mom, my Aunt Margie, Loren, Brad, my nieces, Maya and Claire, and my dog, Jackson. I just heard from my dad via email yesterday, that we will cross paths, coincidentally, at Heathrow Airport on May 29, as he leaves for a golf vacation in Scotland, so I am very much looking forward to that serendipitous reunion.

I’ll write more soon…

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