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.


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