Saturday, April 30, 2011

TdA Rest Day. Sesrium/Sossusvlei.

This morning we discovered why our beautiful lodge exists.

Sand. Copious amounts of sand.

Our alarms sounded especially early on this rest day in order to make it out to Sossusvlei before sunrise. Now, I've seen a few spectacular sunrises in my day, especially on this trip, and I was skeptical about whether this one could live up to the hype. Don't get me wrong, I like making the most of the day by welcoming the sun; it just seems like the sunrise thing is usually more remarkable to the type of person who hasn't been living (mostly) outdoors for three months.

When we arrived at the foot of Big Mama, it was still dark. We began walking along a small hill of sand. Walking up, and then walking up some more as the hill turned to dune. Walking. And walking.

Let me tell you, my walking muscles have atrophied quite some on this trip. I thought a lot about how good this sunrise had better be to have disturbed me from my sleep and make me hurt in this way. At least there was a good group of us cyclists in the same boat.

The sun eventually approached, taking away the darkness and slowly revealing the dunes. It was lovely. Oh my god, the colours. And it became more and more spectacular as each minute passed.

Sossusvlei is really one of the most beautiful places that I've ever seen, which is kind of impressive considering that it is essentially a wasteland.

Friday, April 29, 2011

TdA Stage 83. Must Have More Mud!

83km. Solitaire to Sesrium.

A 30km offroad time trial in the morning meant that we were free from the 'burden' of timing for the last half of the ride. After stopping for a roadside lunch, Carrie, Kim and I ditched our wheels in the bushes and climbed a hill near the roadside to take in the view.

Looking down the road from which we had come, it was a clear and perfect day. In the other direction, a storm was brewing. But, we were in no hurry. By now, the idea that riding through a storm causes excitement, rather than worry.

By the time we headed back to the road to finish the ride, the storm clouds up the road had turned from a light gray to almost black. There was still water on the road from the last storm and we figured we were going to get soaked soon anyhow, so we started the fun early and rode through every puddle and mud patch that we could find. It was a contest to see who could find the deepest, dirtiest, squishiest line.

Splaaaaat-t-t-t-t-t-t. Must have more mud!

The storm, in fact, never visited us. Still, when we rolled into camp our bodies and bikes were smothered in mud as though we had survived a monsoon. (Hmmm...maybe I could have at least wiped my chain before ditching it beside a tree tonight).

Though the campsite was reasonable tonight, I had heard that the hotels nearby were worth taking. We found a room at the Sossus Dunes Lodge. This place is normally over USD800/night, but our last minute rate of USD150/night (including meals) was right on the money. Set inside the park, each room is its own lodge with a totally unspoiled view of the landscape. No power lines. No roads. No unnatural light or noise. Just nature.

It is, by far, the most beautifully set lodge that I have ever stayed at. There is an open plain directly in front of our balcony with a perfectly clear sky above it. Along the horizon are foothills, over which there seems to be an infinite string of lightning storms. It's better than fireworks.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

TdA Stage 82. Beautiful Namibia!

124km. Game Reserve to Solitaire.
A heavy rain passed through last night, which replenished the many water bars that have developed on this road during this unusually rainy autumn in Namibia. Some were fun and easy to splash through, others had surprise deep spots or impossibly squishy mud to humble those of us who attempted to blindly ride through them all.
On the second half of the ride, we had a rather steep descent into a valley. Totally unspoiled beauty. Every mile further we ride into this country it becomes more lovely.
We escaped rain during the ride, but there are storm clouds brewing in several directions around our campsite. For the past couple of hours we have watched a clear sky grow gigantic mushroom clouds. I think that we are in for a light show!
I'm definitely coming back to Namibia.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

TdA Stage 81. Simple Life.

114km. Windhoek to Game Reserve.

We are off the pavement again and out of the flat landscape that has defined the better part of the last two weeks. Going out of Windhoek, signs of civilization quickly disappeared and we were riding through beautiful, unspoiled landscapes.

A heavy rain storm last night, combined with newspaper headlines describing the abnormally high rainfall in the region over the last few months, had me a little anxious about the condition of the dirt road. But my anxiety was for nothing as the weather today was perfect and the dirt road was in mostly good condition.

I feel as though I should have a preference for the riding that we have done through villages and populated areas. Yes, it is nice to see how people live in different places and do 'cultural things'. But, truth be told, I enjoyed today's ride a lot and I'm looking forward to the coming rides as we head in to more and more desolate areas. I really love these places that are free of development.

Clean. Quiet. Calm. Life becomes so simple.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TdA Rest Day. Windhoek.

Most of us met up for dinner at Joe's Pub. I'm a bit of a sucker for these touristy spots that serve game meats, but this was such a good choice for a night out. It was an opportunity to eat zebra, ostrich, crocodile and springbok and, of course, get geared up to check out the Windhoek night life.

17 of us jammed into a mini-bus and headed out for a club. People piled on top of people and squished together across the seats. It was a cozy ride, but we've basically been living on top of each other for the past 100 days, so this sort of intimacy is normal by now.

The driver went around and around and then stopped in the middle of nowhere and demanded some money for gas. He obviously didn't realize that we have been in Africa for three months now and have already experienced our share of taxi run around tricks. But, hey, we were having fun, so we just laughed at him and told him to keep going.

Almost immediately after this, one of the rear tires went flat. With the van loaded up over capacity, that meant for a bumpy and comical ride. Tu-tung. Tu-tung. Tu-tung. Tu-tung. Tu-tung. Tu-tung.

We eventually made it to a club. It had, perhaps, the worst dj that I've heard, but that didn't matter. Being out with friends like this, we can make our own party.

Boy, these rest days have changed as we have moved south!

Monday, April 25, 2011

TdA Stage 80. Second Breakfast.

159km. Witvlei to Windhoek.

The race lasted for only half of the day, so a group of us took it easy after that. Chatting. Taking in the scenery more than usual. There wasn't much by way of towns or people, but there were some great opportunities to spot wildlife.

We stopped for coffee at the Windhoek airport, which is about 50km from the city. Not every airport welcomes cyclists in with their bicycles; however, this one even had a security guard who was willing to keep an eye on our bikes while we relaxed.

Sure, it was only 10:30am, but there was near unanimous agreement that a beer was in order. We also ordered the half of an entire cake that was sitting in the display case by the cash register. I've tried a lot of things for what I have come to call 'second breakfast' - coke and chocolate bars, white toast and instant coffee, potato chips and fanta. I could really get used to cake and beer for second breakfast.

Getting back out on the road was a real shock, and I don't think that it was just because of our breakfast beers. There's a reason they call this town Windhoek, which means windy corner. It was a LONG 50km into town, with my favourite meat shield Scott pulling us in to the ferocious headwind the entire way.

Other than the headwind getting in, Windhoek is quite nice so far. It is the most european city that we have visited on this journey. Clean. Modern. A bit of flare. It seems a good stop for a rest day that we are all looking forward to.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

TdA Stage 79. The Local Experience.

162km. Namibian Border to Witvlei.

Today was a good example of how much things have changed as we have moved south. We still see animals along the road. It is just that it is now on a game farm, rather than in the wild. Springbok, warthogs, wildabeast, and so on. We still stop to eat and rest. It is just that it is now for apple strudel and cappucino at a german bakery, rather than white toast and instant coffee.

About 20km from tonight's camp, we met raging storm. I was fortunate to be with my tough german friends (Jorg, Dennis and Horst), who helped me to survive and power through it. There was driving rain and a headwind so powerful that our pace slowed to the low teens. I've never been so close to using my granny ring on a flat road. Progress was slow and rather painful, but the experience was awesome. At first it was like 'oh shit, this is gonna hurt'. After a while, it became 'hey, this is epic, but I can totally do this'. And that felt so good!

Rather than putting up his tent, Bastiaan went for a local experience for the night and sought out accommodation with a local family. Imagine a pale white dude measuring over two metres in height approaching an elderly black woman of half his size and asking 'can I sleep with you tonight?'. Bas is most certainly the only person that I've ever met who could get away with such a request. She said yes!

He went back to her little one room house, carrying her young granddaughter on his back. The woman's husband was there, bed ridden with illness; something respiratory. I'm not sure that it was a better rest than he could have had sleeping tentless near the rest of us, but it was definitely a story that he can take home with him (and hopefully just a story!).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

TdA Stage 78. The Wettest Desert.

207km. Ghanzi to Namibian Border.
The rain started about one kilometre into the ride. This wasn't the sort of whether that I expected to encounter while crossing the Kalahari Desert.
We quickly formed one of the largest pack of cyclists that we've had so far on this trip. It was fun to be part of such a group, but I couldn't help but worry a bit about safety. So, I broke away from the pack with a few friends.
We were making good work of the day and eventually rode into the sun. That lasted all of 15 minutes. From quite a distance, we could see the next storm coming at us. A horizon of black clouds and, combined with a menacing headwind. We pedalled on and watched the sky get darker and darker until the road ahead of us became blurry with the splash of rain. With nothing but agricultural land surrounding us, our best option was to just hammer through it as best we could. The wind was strong enough to make your skin hurt when the rain touched it. Our speed slowed to a crawl and it felt like the downfall would last forever.
Eventually, the sun came out again before long we could laugh about it. Crossing the border, I caught a glimpse of a newspaper headline 'Namibia Under Water'. I guess this is a taste of what is ahead for us. Or at least for most of us. Our sole rider from Trinidad and Tobago was turned away at the border on a visa issue (despite his prior communication and preparation for the visa). It is a real shame, too, as this guy was EFI and had effectively made it through the real tough parts of the trip. To lose EFI in this way seems so tragic.
Tonight we are staying at a place called East Site Camp. The owners have cleverly used a cross in place of the T's in the name. In the restaurant, there are little cue cards on the table with quotes from the bible. Even when we stayed at the convent in Marsabit, I didn't feel so surrounded by religion.
I decided long before arriving here that I would take a room if they still had one. They did. The room is a 100 square foot shelter with two beds on a concrete slab. Good enough for me; it beats pitching a tent on mud. And, the rain has now started again. I am so happy to be inside!

Friday, April 22, 2011

TdA Stage 77. Mobilising People.

140km. Bush Camp to Ghanzi.

While I would like to imagine that I checked my ego at the office when I set out to experience the world, I admit that it takes a certain amount of ego to undertake a 12000km bike ride in Africa. Everyone here is guilty of that.

Now, after 9000km of riding and three months of the mostly basic living conditions of bush and desert camps, the illnesses, the injuries and the fatigue, most of the egos here have been shredded and left to die along this seemingly endless road. Beating or being beaten on a given day by another rider has less and less bearing on how we choose to ride on a given day. Determination to reach the end, rather than ego, is what keeps most of us going.

I have seen few things that can mobilise and unite people as predictably as National Pride. We have observed this as we have followed the movements in North Africa during this trip. And, today, we had a chance to observe National Pride at work as we formed national team time trial.

Teams formed quickly. Racers and non-racers alike joined forces to represent their countries. The Canadians, the Americans, the Dutch, the Germans, the Brits, the Aussies (x2) and the Commonwealth battled it out for 40km. The trash talking and stereotyping started early, and it was predominantly directed at the Germans. They just make it too easy!

Though none of its four members are still in the overall race, the Dutch earned the bragging rights of being the fastest nation. Our team tied with the Americans for the runners up.

The fun continued at camp as there was an Ostrich roaming around, checking out all of the tents. We watched and laughed as it poked around and eventually tearing a hole in Steve's tent and then laid an egg. Something new every day on this trip!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TdA Stage 76. Snakes. Talent.

157km. Maun to Bush Camp.
With bush camp coming up and 825km to ride in the next five days, Scott, Luke, Terry and I hung back for one last big breakfast in town. I'm not saying that I don't like porridge, I just enjoy the opportunity to take my time eating it out of something other than a plastic bowl and with cutlery that does not fold. Not to mention how much nicer coffee tastes when it is not coming out of your plastic soup mug.
Rolling past at 40km/h as we left the city, we spotted a large snake at the side of the road. Curious to see it close up, we turned around and rode back. It was a four foot Black Mamba! My immediate thought was of all of times that I have walked through the tall grass to go to the bathroom. Let's just say that I didn't drink much water after that.
My hydration situation worsened in the afternoon when a handful of us were chatting under a tree near camp and spotted long green tree snake in the grass beside us. It was slithering toward the tree and proceeded to make its way up and in to the branches, where it then searched around from branch to branch (presumably) in search for an egg filled birds nest. Finding nothing, it slithered back down to the grass and then over to the next tree.
I was surprised that it came so close to us when we were making so much noise. The thought of getting up in the middle of the night and walking through the grass to relieve myself kept me from drinking more fluids, despite my rather pressing thirst.
At bush camp, we had another team challenge. A talent show! Realising that our limited talents of nostril flaring and tongue rolling were unlikely to impress the crowd, Carrie and I were forced to get creative. We used our energy bars as play dough and fashioned them in to a piece of art that resembled a cheese burger with fries and salad, and neopolitan ice cream (see my facebook album for stage 76 to see the finished project).
On this trip, there are a lot of occasions when there is not enough of something we want, or maybe too much of something that we don't like. To get through the trip with any sort of grace requires a talent for making the most of what you have. Our little art project was a tribute to this.
The motown boys (Steve, Scott, Young-Adam) demonstrated their talent for shot gunning beers. And the 60-something year old Peter the Plumber did a solo singing act. Not exactly your typical talent show. Then again, there isn't much on this trip that has been particularly typical.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TdA Rest Day. Maun.

Another city that I'd never heard of before coming to Africa, Maun is the most developed metropolis that we've rolled through since Livingstone. That doesn't mean that one can easily find an operational ATM machine in this place, but it does mean that we again have access to the full range of family-sized cadbury chocolate bars and pringles required to satisfy an over-active cyclist.

There are street lights being installed through the city. By the looks of it, this place is going to be visible from outer space when they are finished with the installation. I have never seen street lights spaced so closely together (no more than 50 feet between), or so close to the road (no more than one foot from the pavement). This is what happens when builders get paid a percentage of total expenditure and also get the maintenance contract. Botswana may boast one of the lowest corruption levels among African countries, but that doesn't mean things are working particularly well here.

Maun is the jumping off point for people wanting to see the Okavanga Delta. While others were busy paddling their way through the various channels of the delta, Awesome-Kim, Edmonton-Steve, Aanders, Kevin and I hired a 5-seater plane to take us over it. Elephants, zebras, giraffes, buffalos, hippos. I've seen these things already a handful of times along this journey, and it is still exciting to see them now. Nature is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

TdA Stage 75. Breaking Away.

136km. Dirt Road Camp to Maun.

Another day of flat, paved road, surrounded by vegetation. Variety is great, but I'm enjoying this stretch for sure.

Each day, the groups have grown larger and today we reached close to 25 in the group leaving camp. I do love the social part of a group ride and the physical benefit of the draft; however, at some point it becomes a bit scary to be bunched together with so many people.

I broke away at the 15km mark with Kevin and Shan, two cyclists who I haven't ridden with much before. My legs were screaming from the first 100m and I thought for sure I would have to drop, but we held it together for the rest of the day and I eventually dropped them both. I feel like my top-end power has not moved much over the past three months, but most certainly I demonstrated that my endurance is there. I don't know where. Ended up on the rankings, but today was one of my best performances in a while. I'm pooped!

Monday, April 18, 2011

TdA Stage 74. Strange is Good.

182km. Nata to Dirt Road Camp.

We woke up to pouring rain, which had been coming down for three hours already. I was glad to be one of the fortunate souls who had rented one of the few rooms where we were staying.

A small gang of us waited out the rain and took a leisurely breakfast at the campground/hotel restaurant. Not great for race timing, but a whole lot more pleasant than starting out soaking wet.

One of the striking things about Botswana so far is the total absence of people hanging out at the side of the road. The landscape is pancake flat and alternates between savanna/bush and farmers fields. The difference with the fields here is that they are clearly machine farmed, whereas most of the fields up till Botswana seem to have been managed with manual labour.

As our decision to wait out the rain in the morning had essentially taken us out of race mode, we elected to take a break at the only sign of civilization along today's route. Planet Boabab. A funky little oasis situated a few kilometres off the road in the middle of the wild. The gigantic concrete ardvark at the side of the road served as our first sign that this would be a memorable stop.

Funky architecture resembling the boabab tree after which the stop was named, combined with zebra skin lounge chairs made this place a particularly unusual setting. I had gone in with an appetite for a burger, but ultimately opted for a bacon and banana sandwich. I figured that it wasn't something that I was going to see on a menu again. Now that I've tried it, I'm sure of that. Nevertheless, worth the experience. As my favourite stats teacher used to say, strange is good!

We eventually rolled into bush camp, which was a lightly used dirt road. The brush was a bit too thick to make camping off the road practical, so most of us set up tent as far to the side of the road as possible to avoid the traffic that was sporadically making its way along the road. One thing for certain is that this trip has made me realize that I can camp pretty much anywhere!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

TdA Stage 73. Holy Wars.

146km. Road Work Camp to Nata.

To have a little fun with these last weeks, the support crew organized a bo-bo-bo-bonanza to get us through Botswana. We formed teams and each day we've had tasks for points. Carrie and I teamed up with Dennis to form the Holy Rollers.

Today's task was a water balloon fight. Partly as a defensive move and partly just for fun, we formed an unholy alliance with the Mo-town boys (Adam, Scott and Steve; each of whom have grown respectable moustaches over the last three months).

We stocked our arsenal in a secret location (the bathtub in the room that I'd rented) and then launched an all out assault on our mutual enemies. No mercy. Oh, so many times on this trip I have felt the freedom and joy that I associate with childhood. This was definitely one of those moments.

Notwithstanding the fact that I was launched (fully clothed) in the pool (we will call that taking one for the team), our alliance dominated this war.

Quite a way to enjoy a hot afternoon after a nice days ride.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

TdA Stage 72. Welcome to the Elephant Highway.

171km. Kasane to Bush Camp.

If there were a country on this trip where a single speed would be perfect, it is Botswana. This place is FLAT. I'm looking forward to the next chunk of riding; we have a lot of big days coming up, but we will have a chance to regularly ride in groups again, which is something that I have missed since we left Khartoum.

The place where we were scheduled to camp had a lot of lion tracks and a large python hanging out, so we carried on about 12km farther down the road and camped next to a work camp for a road construction crew. I chatted with a few of the workers during their lunch break. The menu? Elephant stew.

They call this the Elephant Highway. I guess that Elephants are to Botswana as deer are to the Rockies. Of course, I've never heard of a deer charging a cyclist, so perhaps that is a bad comparison. Nevertheless, it is novel to be in a place where they are so common. I hope that I get to see some (from a reasonable distance) over the coming days.

Friday, April 15, 2011

TdA Stage 71. The Breakfast Club.

96km. Livingstone to Kasane.
With just a short stage today, a few of us couldn't resist the temptation to turn an 81km journey into a 97km adventure and head back to the Royal Livingstone for the breakfast buffet.
Cappucino. Eggs benedict. Four different types of stinky cheese. Fresh pastries. These kinds of breakfasts just don't happen at bush camp.
One of the cool things at the Royal Livingstone is that a fair amount of wildlife wander the grounds; giraffe, zebra, antelope, monkeys (and not the mangey kind). We watched as one monkey grabbed some food from a briefly abandoned plate at another table. Dennis decided to teach the monkey a lesson and chased it down. Meanwhile, another monkey was already positioned to move in on Dennis's plate of food. These monkeys were smart and I have a feeling that this little routine is a daily occurrence.
Coming back to find that his food had been taken, Dennis lamented 'I can't believe that I got screwed by a monkey'. That might go down as one of the quotes of the trip.
We grazed the breakfast buffet table at the Royal Livingstone for two hours before finally getting the show on the road, then took a leisurely pace to the border, making up games along the way. 'Hide in the Bush and Surprise the Next Rider' was a fun game until Steve almost landed on his face after slipping on the gravel as he leaped from one bush. Then it was on to a High Cadence Competition. Paul won this one by briefly breaking through 180rpm. Ah, the breakfast club. I hope that we ride together again!
Our adventures turned out to be childsplay compared with Ram and Alice who got charged by an elephant at the side of the road. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.
As we approached the border, which is marked by a ferry terminal, there were cargo trucks were staging a protest. Two of the three ferries that provide the means to cross this border are out of service and each ferry can only take one large truck per crossing, a line-up had developed to the point where there is a five day wait for big trucks to cross. Somehow our trucks had sneaked through early in the morning, which is what I assume triggered the protest. Several kilometres of 18-wheelers parked diagonally across the road to deliberately block traffic made for an amusing zig zag by bicycle to the border.
I find it shocking that this type of bottleneck for transportation and trade in the south. The crossing is not long, but it passes the corners of four countries (Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia), which has complicated negotiations for the construction of a real solution like a bridge to open up transport and trade across this border.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

TdA Stage 69. Taking My Time.

182km. Oasis Camp to Road Camp.

In an attempt to rebuild my riding enthusiasm toward this trip, I took today as a relaxed ride. There were a great group of others doing much the same, so we set off together; Bas, Carrie, Funky-Kim, Five-Star-Peter, NoHomo, Liam, and Sectional-Kevin.

We stopped for coffee at the 20km mark. After almost 20 minutes, we got instant coffee powder and some hot water...and some white bread with butter. I'm not sure if that is the Zambian version of biscotti or what. In any case, it was a good way to break into the morning but it wasn't the sort of stop that draws one to linger.

We eventually got back on the road to bang out the last 162km, where we amused ourselves with a scavenger hunt; collecting pictures of various sites. Clouds that looked like animals. Cars with window stickers that included a reference to god. Roadkill. And so on.

The highlight of the day was an icecream stop at the 125km mark. Kim and I split an entire litre of chocolate ice cream, and that was after downing a coke and donut. Cycling after that was a little slow, to say the least, and that turned out to be a blessing as it gave us more time to interact with locals at the side of the road. Or at least to observe them.

We passed two young brothers in front of their house doing the typical Zambian double handed 'how are you?' cheer. As we got closer, the bigger brother whipped down his little brothers pants. Unphased, the little guy bent down and grabbed his pants and pulled his pants back up, while continuing to frantically wave with the other hand. I laughed so hard that I couldn't pedal for a while.

I've enjoyed my approach of riding hard in the morning and then hanging out lazily at camp in the afternoon, but taking a break from that today was well worth it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

TdA Rest Days. Livingstone.

A 645am game drive the next morning kept me from staying out too late on our arrival night(thankfully!). To our delight, the park was less than five minutes from our campsite. Giraffes, zebras, hippos, antelopes, wildabeast, buffalo, and a whole schwack of cool birds.
By afternoon, we were on to the next activities. A Zipline across the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, a Bungee jump and a swing across the gorge. The first was fun (and a very cool way to cross a border), but it was really the latter two that will stand out in my memory as activities to enjoy the beauty of Victoria Falls. I'd never had an interest in bungee jumping or swinging before coming here, but this setting just seemed perfect for such an activity. I can see now why people get addicted to this stuff.
Not fully satisfied that I had soaked in all of the beauty of the water fall and the gorge that it has carved, I signed up for a microflight (motorized hang glider) for my second day in Livingstone. If you haven't seen the falls and the gorge from the air, then you really haven't seen the falls.
We followed that with a breakfast at the Royal Livingstone, a high-end hotel within walking distance of the falls. If you can tell how fancy a hotel is by how ridiculously the bell staff are dressed, then this would rank as one of the fanciest hotels that I have visited (think colonial slave attire). I couldn't justify spending the money that it would require to stay at a place like this, but it was worth a visit for the buffet breakfast. Trading in my routine of porridge for breakfast in favour of fine cheeses, eggs benedict and cappucino was only part of the appeal of the breakfast. On the grounds of the hotel, zebras, giraffes, baboons and antelope range freely. I didn't know that places like this existed anymore.
My two days here have breathed life into my enthusiasm toward this trip. Although I have never second guessed my decision to do this trip, the last month has been particularly difficult for me. Persistent illness, combined with an overall feeling of fatigue had really worn on my spirits. After these two recovery days, I feel that I am really looking forward to the next month and the excitement and surprises that will come with it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

TdA Stage 70. Swimming with Crocs.

157km. Road Camp to Livingstone.

Rolling hills and new pavement took us the remaining 157km into Livingstone. I rode with the men's race group until they started attacking, and then enjoyed a smooth solo ride into the city.

Because there is really no better way to celebrate the completion of 491km of cycling in three days than by consuming junk food and alcohol, many of us celebrated our arrival in Livingstone with a sunset river boat (booze cruise!) along the Zambezi.

An early sighting of a crocodile tempted a couple of people to toss spent chicken wings in the water in the hope of witnessing a feeding frenzy. No luck (maybe it was the barbeque sauce). So, we returned to sipping cocktails and watching the sunset.

Our trip was ultimately cut short on account of a couple of passengers testing the water out by jumping off the boat. The fact that we had actually seen crocodiles in the water not more than 30 minutes earlier didn't seem to phase them (proof that alcohol impairs judgement?).

We will have two rest days in Livingstone, before we continue westward toward Botswana. There seems to be no shortage of activities in this town and I'm looking forward to experiencing as many of them as I can. I will probably skip swimming in the Zambezi though!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

TdA Stage 68. Time to Get Creative.

152km. Lusaka to Oasis Camp.
I'm not entirely certain why this is called Oasis Camp. There are no palm trees or pools of water. No views to speak of. We've cycled past some pretty nature spots in this country, but this isn't one of them. They aren't playing any Oasis music either. Maybe oasis means something different in Zambia.
And in other news, my stint of good health has been short lived. It is getting to the point at which I'm losing hope that my body will return to its full gusto while I am on this continent. Tomorrow's ride is 182km. I'm not yet at the point at which I am questioning my will to get back in the saddle, but I am finding myself searching for ways to keep my spirits up as these sick days wear on me mentally and physically.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

TdA Rest Day. Lusaka.

I'm not going to lie, I'd never heard of Lusaka until about one week ago. Beyond being an excuse to cycle every day, this trip is a lesson in african geography and regional development. In some respects, Lusaka is more western than Nairobi. The service and availability of goods seems more developed. The variety of vehicles is more broad than I recall seeing in any of the major cities on this trip; even newer german vehicles are not uncommon. The disparity between rich and poor in this area is far less visible.

Ignoring skin colour, which, by now, is normal to me, this could almost pass for a North American city. Theoretically, that means there should be more to see and do here on a rest day. Instead, I find myself disinterested in going out to deal with crowds and the same crap that goes along with every other developed city. Sure, it is still Africa. But it feels like an assimilated Africa. And I'm not ready to assimilate.

Friday, April 8, 2011

TdA Stage 67. I Saw the Sign.

104km. Jehovah Witness Camp to Lusaka.

Eggs for breakfast! A rare, but quite welcome treat at bush camp. The catch? Only some of them were boiled. I was one of the first through the line and one of the lucky who picked a cooked egg. So, I watched in amusement as each of the next person

One of the more entertaining aspects of riding through the small towns along the road are the funny business names painted on the side of the shops. Today we passed Moze and Sons Niggaz Nest, which was just a few doors down from A Place of Comfort in Desolation. Some gems from days passed include Try Again Enterprises, Highway View Restaurant and, my personal favourite, One for the Road Pub.

Since the ride was short, we had almost the entire day to enjoy the city. And what did we choose to do? Hang out at the mall. It started as a lunch stop, but turned into an eight hour grazing festival, moving from one place to another for various treats. Steak. Cocktails. Candy. Ice Cream.

Mike-without-a-bike ordered a waffle and ice cream dessert with a nut sundae on top. The waitress laughed so hard that it shamed him into ordering something more modest. It rivalled the reaction that Canadian-Dan got a few days ago when he ordered eggs and toast, with a side of seven eggs. I think that's a sign that our eating habits have stretched beyond the realm of 'normal'.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

TdA Stage 64. No Comment.

177km. Mama Rula Camp to Field Camp.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

TdA Stage 65. The EFI Disease.

141km. Field Camp to Empty School Field Camp.

The first few thousand kilometres and couple of countries of this trip were finished so fast that I sometimes wondered whether this was going to be the journey that I had envisioned. Sure, there were challenges, especially in Ethiopia, but time and distance passed much faster than I would have ever anticipated.

At some point around Nairobi, this changed. Perhaps fatigue or illness. Perhaps something else. Time slowed to a creaking halt and the two months that remained on this journey became an eternity. It started to feel more like work than a vacation.

Still, I keep pedalling each day because I am determined to achieve EFI. It is like a disease. I have had an inner battle between my EFI-dreams and my rational suspicion that a break from the bike would be beneficial for my physical and psychological health.

We had some good times in Tanzania that lifted my spirits; however, today was the first day since Arusha (three weeks!) that I felt excited about riding and about the rest of the tour. I hope that this continues as we still have another 30 or so days of cycling before we reach Capetown. I'd rather be enjoying the sights and sounds than counting down the kilometres on my cycle computer.

Paul, who is currently in second place in the race, lost his EFI today after an unpleasant and drawn out battle with malaria. Beyond the impact on his standing in the race, I know that EFI was important to him, so it pains me to see this happen.

For Paul to have reached this difficult decision point says a lot about how hard he has been struggling. I guess at some point, difficult decisions are not difficult, they are just necessary.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

TdA Stage 66. Closed Conversations.

148km. Empty School Field Camp to Jehovah's Witness Camp.

We faced another 2,000 metres of climbing in today's stage. I have long suspected that I was not built for climbing; this trip has confirmed that for me. Fortunately, many people are not built for climbing so, although I rode alone all day, I was not alone in my suffering today.

It is on days like these that the little roadside amusements can provide they key for getting through the day with a smile.

The signature comment from roadside children in Malawi is 'how are you?'. I call it a comment because most of the people seem utterly unprepared for any sort of logical response from me. You can tell by the way that some of them say it - ow-er-u, a-wa-yu - that they are just repeating the sound that they've heard from other people. I'm not complaining, in fact, I find it amusing. And, anyhow, it beats the Ethiopian 'you money' and 'give me pen'.

Some of the kids here have even turned it into a little chant 'A-WA-YU! A-WA-YU! A-WA-YU!', leaving little room for conversation. Today's chants reached an entirely new level of hilarity. On one side of the road there was a group of kids doing the 'A-WA-YU!' chant, leaving just enough time between a-wa-yu's for a group on the other side to chant 'I AM FINE!'.

I'm not exactly sure what my role in this closed conversation was intended to be, but it put a smile on my face and a laugh in my heart to enjoyably get me through a good part of the ride today.

Monday, April 4, 2011

TdA Stage 63. Mzungu-mania!

152km. Lilongwe to Mama Rula Camp.

We crossed the border from Malawi to Zambia near the end of the ride today. This is an awkward time to have to deal with some of the details of changing countries. The paperwork is one thing, and I'm pretty good at that by now. The money is another.

After having ridden 120-something kilometres on a bad stomach, I now have to do some quick fx calculations to avoid getting scammed by the money changer. These guys can smell a tired Mzungu (foreigner) from a mile away.

I fancy myself as a numbers gal, but I have limits in such a condition. Let me see, one malawian kwacha is worth about 33 zambian kwacha. And, ok, how many pennies was a malawian kwatcha worth? Damnit. I don't even know how much money I need. And there are like five guys waving bills in front of me. Agh.

I eventually decided to skip the money changing step this time, preserving my sanity but taking my chances that I could survive without money for a while.

This stress was quickly forgotten as we rolled down the last 30kms of the day. The kids in Zambia wave at white cyclists with two hands and Beatles-fanatic-like enthusiasm. MZUNGU!! They were loving us and we were loving them.

Talk about a pick me up! I think that I'm going to enjoy Zambia.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

TdA Rest Days. Lilongwe.

Lilongwe is a lovely little city for a day off. It doesn't quite have the ambience of the Chitimba Beach Camp, but it does have a ShopRite, and that means access to a range of foods that I haven't seen for a long time. Little luxuries like oreo cookies can go a long way after a hard ride.
I stayed at an awesome little boutique hotel (Kiboko Lodge), rather than the campsite to give myself some real rest and recovery. Still, I am finishing this rest stop by starting back on antibiotics. It is a bit daunting to look at the days ahead (152km, 177km, 141km, 148km and then 104km) when my body can't seem to sort itself out for more than a few days at a time. I'm hoping this stuff gets to work quickly.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

TdA Stage 62. This is not a Bicycle Race.

130km. Karonga to Lilongwe.

This is not a bicycle race; this is a social experiment.
- Sharita van der Merwe, Tour Director

What would you do if you had four months of freedom and a passion for cycling? Would you choose to pedal across Africa, the long way? Would you race it?

In the time leading up to this trip, as I told people what I would be doing in the New Year, it became clear to me that this is not everybody's first choice of how to spend four months.

Ok. Maybe it's a bit crazy. I've never claimed to be normal.

Some people choose to do this without support and over a longer period of time (now that's crazy). I met a guy who has been at it for ten months. His bike was covered in two minute noodle wrappers and his beard was ready for a ZZ-Top audition. Maybe that's what he was like before he started, or maybe that's what happens after ten months of social isolation.

We traded in social isolation for social inundation. A strange mix of cycling enthusiasts from around the world; ranging in age from 20 to 65, ranging in ability from beginner to champion. Strangers with one thing in common; the idea that our lives would be incomplete without this voyage across Africa.

So, what happens when you throw a bunch of odd parts in a crucible and turn up the heat? Human lasagna. Personality quirks are amplified by the intensity of the experience and can echo through the group. Even the slightest idiosyncrasies become conspicuous and come to define people; chatty, disciplined, disorganized, grumpy, manic, sneaky, thoughtful. Each ingredient in this lasagna brings a different taste and texture and is an essential part of the recipe. All different and, yet, somehow, all normal.

For two and a half months we have cycled together, camped together, explored together, celebrated together, suffered together. We are everything together. We have become a living organism that is moving south across the continent. Fatigue and sickness are a constant battle that we must work together to keep from bringing down the collective energy. The race element adds further challenges and opportunities for conflict. Still, for all of the challenges that we have faced and the opportunities for conflict, this social experiment is holding together remarkably well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

TdA Stage 61. I am 32 and I am not a Prostitute.

109km. Corn Field Camp to Karonga.
The highway today took us through long stretches of agricultural land; mostly corn. Sounds like it could have been anywhere, but it could not have been anywhere but here. Along with crops came adults and children lining the road, cheering us on as though we are celebrities and shouting questions directed at where we have come from, where we are heading, how we are doing, and so on. It is quite sweet and the non-violent spectator enthusiasm is a welcome change from our prior dense-population experience; Ethiopia.
And when a stranger makes the effort to ask me how I am, I do my best to respond with an answer. Even as exhausting as it is to say 'I am fine, thank you' every 10 metres for 109km, I try my best.
Off the bike, when I'm in a village or town and there is time for more than one question, it gets a bit more difficult. I'm often too tired to talk to the other riders, let alone use the effort involved in a conversation with someone who only has basic english. I try to remember that they haven't talked to a thousand foreigners that day and, to them, I'm probably special. And, I figure, hey, maybe I'll learn something.
That was the theory today, when Carrie and I indulged two locals, Kingsley and Timothy, who approached us at the restaurant by our campsite. The conversation began with the common (at least in Africa) question of 'do you believe in god?'. I find this an odd question to come from people who are, so far, unprepared for an answer other than 'yes'.
Unwilling to enter into a debate on this particular topic, we respectfully asked to change to another. They responded with another favourite question, 'are you married?'. We dodged the question by asking why everyone asks us this question. The explanation went that marriage is how a woman gets her status in Malawi. Further, if a woman is not married by the time she turns 16, she is basically a prostitute.
Now, I am hardly a feminist; I won't even join woman-specific clubs as I don't see a purpose in ghetto-izing myself on the basis of gender. I was lucky enough to be raised in a place and time where I am treated as a person, despite my apparent chromosomal deficiency or relationship status.
I would also argue that I am a reasonably open-minded person; I wouldn't be on this adventure if I weren't. Yet, it was hard not to take issue to this other point of view. Part of me wanted to understand why they thought a man had any bearing on woman's worth; part of me felt compelled to enlighten our new friends about my way of thinking. Neither of these parts of me won out.
Kingsley and Timothy asked again, 'are you married?'. I promptly closed the conversation with 'I am 32 and I am not a prostitute'. I guess that I'm not as open minded as I'd like to think. And, while I still don't consider myself a feminist, it is experiences like this that I've had along this trip that have given me a greater appreciation for support efforts directed at women.