The journey of 7500 miles starts with….7500 miles?!?! dear god I'm screwed!

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle. -Ernest Hemingway

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The final countdown

Hey look, I just made it to Cape Town! Took a wrong turn at the border and…. kidding. Sorry about the hold up. Life happened, but on the plus side, at least I know people are (were) reading!

For the final few days of this trip, I decided that I would push myself to ride as much as I could, without sacrificing the fun of the past few weeks. Also, I decided that it was now-or-never time for the little photo project I’ve been contemplating for the previous, oh, four months or so. Not the smartest idea on my part to procrastinate so long, but when has that ever stopped me before? The little project became a slight obsession, a logistical nightmare, and total distraction over the past week, but in the end, I think the results will be well worth it. What is the project? You’ll just have to wait and see – I need to get home and use my MacBook – the Eee PC just isn’t up to the task. But, I digress… Read the rest of this page »

Orange River Reflections

As I sit here this morning, post breakfast, overlooking the Orange River, there is a certain heaviness setting in. On the far side of the river lies South Africa – country 10 of 10 – five serious days of cycling and then the ride into Cape Town signifying the end of the journey. Thats it. Fin. Klaar. Done. To look back to January 2010 when I stumbled across a Lonely Planet article while laying on the couch, out of commission with a broken ankle, it has been a long journey. That crazy seed of an idea that was planted in my head, that grew over the next month until I was having dreams about cycling through Africa, and finally pushed me at 2am to place the deposit so that I could just get some damn sleep. And now, six more days and nearly a year and a half of focus and effort will be over.

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Nudity sets in

Day 1 – 114km – As this little expedition approaches its close, there is one thing I was pondering over last week that never happened to me: a repetitive use injury. Think about it – cyclists usually average 60-90 pedal strokes per minute, times 60 minutes in an hour, times 5-8 hours a day, times 80-something days. Even factoring in my time off, the LOW end is over a MILLION pedal strokes since January. I mean, that is a ridiculous number by itself, but think of the impact to ankes, knees, hips, etc. Well, my body decided to wake up this morning and get with the program. Sore knees over the past few riding days have manifested into a right knee that spent the morning locking up on me, and intensely painful. However as the day started, I knew I needed to keep going. It was a perfect morning – outside of the 4km stretch where we passed the Windhoek garbage dump. Cool temperatures and an invigorating 400m climb out of the bowl of the city lead us to a plateau with rolling grasslands and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Under our tires was some of the best dirt roads you could imagne – hard packed and smooth, allowing speeds on the downhills of 60+. Thanks for getting me there, ibuprofen!

The 60 km to lunch took a lot longer than expected, as we were all constantly getting off the bike to take photos of the terrain – but after the lack of Botswana pictures, it just felt like making up for lost time. Things changed a bit after lunch with the roads deteriorating and decent head/cross winds, but still made camp by 1. We were informed that we’re out of bush camp territory at rider meeting this morning (which now means daily showers & cold drinks!), camp tonight is at a horse farm – with a delicious dinner of grilled lamb. However, due to the return of the GI bug (sigh) I’m being antisocial and calling it an early night. What this has proven to me is that there will be a visit to a proper hospital in Cape Town to get lab work and perhaps even proper medications soon enough. Cape Town. Scary close.

Day 2 – 124km – From the get-go today, it seemed as though the KMs were flying past, but two hours in, I looked down to see that I’d only crossed over the 40km mark, which was followed shortly by my first flat tire on a Schwalbe since Ethiopia – and the realization that my pump no longer worked. Mike and Heather caught up to me and lent me the necessary supplies for the repair, and we made it to lunch – which came 12 km earlier than expected due to some impassible terrain. Continued on after lunch, through sections of deep mud at the low spots in the road, which at points turned into small to medium sized streams making passing difficult. Climbed up through a mountain pass before reaching one of the most amazing views I’ve ever laid eyes on.

The whole of Namibia stretched out beneath us – a large, flat plateau in the middle, flanked by mountain ridges to either side – it was unreal. Took some photos before beginning a harrowing decent on a 12% grade. Over the course of the 4km decent we lost over 550 m – which was less descending, and more of a controlled fall. Managed to keep the bike upright over some pretty crappy dirt and rock surfaces before proceeding to a coke stop where a nap nearly did me in for the day.

Finished up the last 30km to camp in a little town called Solitare. The town is so small, that the hotel doubles as general store, gas station, bakery – practically the entire town. But speaking of the bakery – should you ever find yourself in Solitare, Namibia, or hell, anywhere in Namibia you MUST stop in. Moose, the owner and baker makes the perhaps the best apple pie I’ve ever tasted. And really, people do come from all over to sample his pie. After two huge slices, a shower and taking the whip to bike shop to get the rear derailleur fixed, I had a small dinner – thanks in large to the pie – and am now off to an early bed again. Trying to kick this bug, it’s taken a lot out of me this time – enough that if tomorrow were any longer than 86km I’d be on the truck.

Day 3 – 86 km – Was excited to get to bed at an early hour last night, but dismayed when I was woken up by a downpour at around midnight. With this type of rain it becomes deafening inside of my tent – not to mention the thunder and lightning accompaniment. Things died down after a little, and I was able to fall back asleep, but it wasn’t a restful sleep or a particularly easy morning to get up. That was until I heard Sarge yell “Honey, I’m home!”, and burst out laughing. We had been without him since the border crossing as he was surprisingly told that he could not enter without a visa – costing him his EFI in the process. His unique mix of reggae, Bee Gees, Celine Dion , and Journey blasting from the bike I did not miss – but its funny how any one person can be so missed in camp and on the bike after just a few days.

Decided to try our luck at the bakery again for breakfast, and was rewarded with a large piece of that delicious apple pie and coffee. As Christina and I lounged and had breakfast, we didn’t realize that everyone else had taken off, with the exception of those riding the truck. So, nearly two hours after the others started, we pulled out of camp with sweep. It was a much longer day that it should have been, judging by the distance alone – we fought headwinds, and a brutal stormfront which decided to settle right over us with it’s gray, menacing darkness and lightning. The rain here is something of an anomaly – there has been more rain in the first three months of this year, than the last three years combined.

Just prior to the dark clouds settling in though, we got in one of TdA’s trademark events: the naked mile. Prompted by Jorg and Kendra, the three of us stripped down till we were wearing, well, nothing but our helmets, and went for a ride. It was really more like the naked ½ mile, in all actuality – but we did manage to hit every puddle along the way. And for inquiring minds: yes, there are photos. And no, you’re not going to see them online! Between the puddle splashing and the rainstorm we finished the day absolutely filthy. The rest day tomorrow is in a little town called Sesriem, which is made up of four hotels and a gas station. Seriously, thats it. And although the place TdA booked us into is a bit of a hole, we managed to walk to the hotel next door for an amazing buffet dinner of game meat, stir fry and, well, more game meat. Add Springbok, Ostrich and Eiland to the list of animals I’ve consumed on this trip!

This morning was an early start as we headed off to see the infamous Namibian sand dunes. Climbed the massive sand structures for well over four hours before calling it a day. The sheer magnitude of the dunes is incredible – taking most of us well over an hour of walking along the spine of the dune to make it to the top of “big daddy”, the world’s tallest dune. Tons of great pictures of the desert landscape when I get better internet connection….for now, off to clean the bike and enjoy another HUGE buffet dinner!

Elephant highway, part 2

Day 1 – 157km – Knew it was going to be a good day from the moment we rolled out of camp with a tailwind. Was able to knock off the whole, nearly 100 mile day in under 5.5 hours of actual riding – I put it this way because, once again, I settled into a comfortable chair at a coke stop and fell asleep for about 45 minutes. Not sure if I bonked again towards the end, or if the fact that I ran out of water 20 km before the finish got to me – but I still finished strong. Running out of water is a big psychological factor that all of us who have done it will gladly confirm – and once again my own dumb fault for not filling up my Camelbak all the way at lunch.

It seems the racers are now learning the dangers of many of the experienced racers achieving a degree of parity with them. Kristian caused a crash today as he was trying to stick with the #1 group today, resulting in some road rash to him, and some stitches to Dennis – currently our 2nd place rider. I guess I shouldn’t use the term “parity” – there is no way Kristian, myself, or any other non-racer could keep up with these guys at their best. But rather we try to catch the draft of a quick moving group and hang on for dear life as they ratchet up the speed – and once again the truth of the situation is that you need to learn your limits.

As the racers learn, so do I. My issue has been eating lately – and not breakfast, lunch or dinner. Rereading some blogs, I’ve noticed my increase use of the word “bonking” of late (which, if I haven’t explained, is simply to hit the wall and have a blood sugar crash from lack of nutrition on the bike). For several days I kept wondering why this was happening, even though I hadn’t changed a thing about my daily, on-bike snacking regimen. Each day I bring a TdA supplied PVM energy bar (yech) or one of my own stash of granola bars, plus an energy gel. What I failed to account for is that with more than 100km between towns, I’m not getting the two or three cokes each day that I’ve gotten used to. As I set out the next day’s allotment ahead of time, this should be all good to go from here on out – 12 fruit squares (dried, sugar coated fruit), an energy gel and a granola bar…plus one scheduled drink break.

Day 2 – I started out today with a decent plan of attack – only ride the first half of the day, in order to keep my legs fresh for the 207 km day tomorrow. Took it pretty easy with Kari and Paul as most of the others had decided to take place in a 40km team time trial today. Despite everyone flying past us in proper race form, we pulled into lunch on the early side of things – I felt pretty good and was taking a decent amount of ribbing from the others for bowing out early. So, after most everyone left, I decided to press on – there were two good stops coming up and I figured at the worst I could break the remainder of the day up into three manageable sections. Having not planned on riding, I never took a picture of the directions this morning – and upon asking another rider was misinformed of the distance of the coke stop. Sure enough, Murphy’s Law set in and since I left by myself I was faced with a headwind. Now miserable, I crawled on at what seemed like a snail’s pace and ended up missing coke break which was at a lodge not directly on the main road. 10Km after where I thought the stop was, I found Shona under a tree, having suffered the same fate. Took a quick lay down and energy bar break there, and then, again, decided to press on alone. After what seemed like ages, I finally made it to town, exhausted. Found a gas station where I demolished two cokes and an ice cream before making it the last little bit to camp.

As today is Easter Sunday, it wouldn’t be complete without an Easter egg – and sure enough one was delivered to us, thanks to the camp’s resident Ostrich which layed an egg on Steve’s tent. Spent the rest of the night changing a flat and watching a movie before heading back to my tent. The last thing I do before bed at night is get my gear set for the next day – tomorrow being a big day without stops, I decided to bring a liter of mango juice with me. In my hustle to get everything set, something in my bag caught the spout and ripped it open – the end result: mango juice all over nearly everything I own.

Day 3 – 207km (125 miles) Started this mando day, the longest day on tour early with Patrick and Andre. Got picked up by a large peloton at about 8km which grew to 20+ people and carried us to the 40km mark where the group broke up and I stopped to fix a loose front wheel. After that I rode alone to lunch, which once again was enjoyable after being in such a large group this morning. Left lunch with Patrick, still feeling pretty good and optimistic about the day when we encountered an armageddon cloud – we were hit by freezing rain, hail and whipping winds before encountering the most timely coke stop ever where 15 TdAers ate, drank and waited out the storm. Rode with the girls for a bit, before Patrick and I split off and plowed on to the border & finish at a good clip. The only downside to the day was the timing of our arrival at the border behind a large group of South Africans returning from Easter holiday, and holding us up for well over an hour. In all honesty the distance wasn’t as hard as it could have been – keeping up riding at a good pace, with well times stops allowed me to feel like I could continue on for another 30km.

Day 4 &5 – Decided before this section started that the next two days would be days off after the long start to the week – and it was a well placed decision, as both days involved climbing, headwinds, pelting rain and marble-sized hail.

Day 4 was well timed – and a surprisingly nice ride as Mike played guitar until lunch. Afterward Kristian and I decided to have a bit of adventure & got dropped off in Gobabis, the first decent size town we’ve encountered in Namibia – complete with an amazing German bakery where we destroyed apple tarts, cheese cake, and coffee for several hours until the bulk of the riders began to pour in. On our way out of town, we decided to make a special sign for Alice instructing her where to turn, as yesterday she took a detour 80km out of the way by missing one. She found it hilarious, and posed for several pictures as we watched from a hidden distance. To get to camp we hitched a ride with a local cattle farmer on his way to Windhoek. He was extremely nice, offering us an extra cup of coffee he had purchased and talking openly about Namibian politics, history and such.

The day into the rest day I had considered riding, but I changed my mind as there was a lot of work to catch up on. Had a delicious breakfast after arriving at the rest day hotel, and got to work cleaning up from the great mango juice incident of 2011 as well as doing some much needed bike maintenance. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I feel organized and settled for the upcoming week – everything is sorted and ready to go, allowing for a great relaxing dinner at Joe’s Beer House – a local institution with a rather crappy beer selection, but a superb game dinner of Zebra, Oryx carpaccio, and Kudu steak.

And for now, back from the mall to camp to get everything charged up and ready to go for our three days off-road to the next rest day – as well as break out the cold weather gear. As we continue south, and into the desert again, the temperatures keep dropping. Back in the sleeping bag with a hat on at night, and freezing cold tent poles in the mornings. Will get caught up on old blogs during this short stretch of cycling, and finally have my ever-growing Malawi/Zambia/Botswana post up!

I’m a bum, here’s two weeks in one…

It turns out I’m susceptible to peer pressure. Highly susceptible. Not two hours after writing and posting the last blog, Megan planted an idea in my head, which Patrick grew and supported – and before you knew it the three of us, plus Ruth, were on a bus to Livingstone. Every time I’ve thought of breaking away from the tour I’ve had second thoughts. I mean, this blog is titled “PedalCrossAfrica” not “follow Chris as he bounces from rest day to rest day”. Saying that, the goal IS to pedal across Africa, and has been since day one – I usually enjoy the cycling, but on an adventure of this length I don’t feel the number of rest days is adequate for my tastes.

The pictures I’ve posted of Victoria Falls and the activities there describe the rest days so much more concisely than I could put into words. The four days I spent there were appropriate and allowed for touring in a unhurried manner – as opposed to cramming everything into two days as TdA had allotted for. Unfortunately, we arrived at high water flow – meaning that the falls were obscured by the mist rocketing up from the violence of the plunge over the falls. As well as canceling white water rafting and several other plans. It really is a breathtaking sight to see – and one I could not get the full appreciation for until we saw it from the air. In addition to some of the activities we did prior to the arrival of the rest of the Tour, the Zambezi sunset cruise once everyone got in turned into a spectacular night of drunken revelry – complete with countless shots, beers, and a cab ride back to my hostel that I barely remember.

I really am grateful that I left to go to Vic Falls ahead of time – it gave me the opportunity to let one of my most highly anticipated moments of the trip be a true highlight and one that I do not regret at all.
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Winding up the distance

Day #1 – 155km – Rode out of Lilongwe feeling great, refreshed, and ready to go after the two days off. This week looms large in front of us with some big days, and today was no exception. Had a good plan, and made almost the entire ride with Heather and Mike to keep things interesting.

The 155 km (nearly 100 miles) felt longer than it actually was, due to the border crossing 30km from the finish. The crossing went rather smoothly, and the immigration officer only cheated the first handful of riders out of their money – those that unwittingly passed over the full $150 TdA had told us the visa was going to cost, when the true cost was $50. The cheating didn’t stop there however – the kids outside that were selling cokes while we waited in line also pulled a quick one on some riders, giving them the wrong change. Tonight we camp at a nice little overlander spot called Mama Rulas, where our awesome lasagna dinner was made all the cozier by a driving rain, forcing everyone to keep close under shelter.

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The 2/3 Blues

The last two days have been hellish – not due to any illness (surprise!), but rather just due to my general mood of late. Long rides, one of which being a mando-day, with tons of climbing. I think I may have found that lull that I’ve heard previous riders speak of – and go figure, it comes in the same place. We’ve reached that point now where we’re a majority of the way done, roughly a month and a half from Cape Town. The novelty has long worn off – we’re pros now: long days on and off-road, climbing on and off-road, we’ve seen it all, and the riding has grown a bit stale. We’re still two weeks, and two countries away from Victoria Falls – our next highly anticipated stop. It has poured rain on us each night this week, leaving us to pack up wet tents and sleeping pads every morning – with the lovely addition of making everything in my tent reek of mold, no matter what I do to clean it. And to boot, they’ve changed our times so we now get breakfast at 5:30. 5:30AM! I mean, there is a reason I like working overnights….no early mornings!

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