Sunday, April 20, 2014

Special Dutch

The latest section of the tour commenced on a foggy morning in Livingstone, Zambia. Nine new riders joined the escapade. Five of them are from the Netherlands, including one rider, Paul, who did the opening Sudanese section with us. Paul is an experienced TDA rider. He taught me a lot about simple approaches to gearing and to taking a wide path going up hills. Collectively, the Dutch are remarkable cyclists.

The other day, there was a team time trial on the flats of Botswana. Guess who won it? Yes, the Dutch rocked the fastest time. It was but a foregone conclusion. Another team comprised of folks from northern climates was led by a Dane, Klaus, who is back for his third TDA after breaking his leg one year and his pelvis another year. He is an exceptionally strong cyclist and obviously intrepid.


This was at the end of the time trial, bikes strewn around the lunch truck. Food!

Yesterday was the longest day of the tour. Almost all of us endured 208 kilometres across flat Botswanan terrain to the Nambian border. A new woman's record was set for this leg of the trip. Ina, a remarkably fit rider from the Netherlands, smashed the record (as she would say "with a little help from my friends"). She is a delightful person who has dominated the woman's field this year. Here she is relaxing after the victorious time trial. Well done Ina!



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Okavango

Maun is the gateway to the delta, home to much wildlife and therefore a big draw for tourists. One can do a makoro tour in a canoe or take a flight over the vast area where the river spills across the landscape. A group of us did the latter as the sun set a few days ago. This scenic birds-eye view entails a trip to the local airstrip. Here is David at the entry before we hop on the seven-seat plane.


It is an Aussie aircraft that cruises above the delta at a low altitude. Below, Kim enters the co-pilot's seat.


The pilot follows a route north from the town of Maun, passing over shrubs, grassland and wetland. 

Within a few minutes, the delta view becomes clear. It extends as far as one can see. There are elephants, giraffes, lechwe, and many animals below. They appear microscopic and yet they are visible in their habitat.


The river's course shapes the land. As you can see, it meanders through the flat and fans out. From satellite images, it is impressive as it gives the scale of this natural wonder of the world.


After forty-five minutes of aerial surveying, we return to the settled area of Maun. It is a trading centre amid the vast, dry deserts and savannahs of Botswana, a sparsely populated country.






IDiterOD

You may know that the TDA is a race as well as an expedition. When I embarked on the tour, my expectation and intent was to complete the total distance, the vaunted EFI (Every F#*kin Inch). As the tour rolled on and I lost EFI in the Sudanese sands, I was persuaded to pick up the pace and compete. 

The title of this post has the name of an iconic dog sled race in Alaska. As a cryptic crossword buff, I use this word to break down my feeling about the race. The ID stands for the premier racers this year: Ina, Dave & Dave & Dieteric. They often set out as a mini-peloton and invariably they win the day's race, referred to as a stage. Iter is the Latin word for way. OD is overdose.

Due to the sympathy of the best riders, ID, one stage was left open to the other cyclists. The clearly superior or faster cyclist opted to stop at an oasis called Planet Baobab for a dip in a pool and a cold beverage. There are other strong peddles who could have won the stage. One of my comrades, Michel, another Dutch rider, indeed beat me to the finish line. However, due to a flat that lengthened his overall time for the stage, I sneaked in with the best time. Luck. Karma. A stroke for the ego.


The ultimate winners are all of us. We have each accomplished our respective goals: to see Africa by bicycle and cooperate with our friends to make it to Cape Town with rich memories of landscape, pain, relief and experience. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maun Farewells

Two cyclists are leaving the TDA 2014 to pursue other adventures. Scott, our tech-savvy engineer, hopped on a flight to Cape Town this afternoon. Within a week, he will be back in Calgary to prepare for a triathlon this summer. Helen, an Aussie water engineer, is booked to do the Jo'burg to Sea mountain bike competition and needs to arrive in advance to embark on that excursion. They have been with us since Khartoum and they will be missed. 

Scott is primarily a runner so he presumably fulfilled his cycling saturation point earlier than many of us. Now, he can focus on his training regime from the comfort of home. A lover of snacks, access to burgers, fries and Coca-Cola will be convenient now. Thanks for his faithful help in finding the web wherever we were on this odyssey.

 All the best to him in Penticton and beyond. 


Helen has been a consistently upbeat supporter of all of us. Ever willing to engage with the locals in whatever dialect she could master, Helen always seems to have heaps of energy. That pep and her positive spirit is infectious. She is at a crossroads in terms of work or study as she has decisions to make regarding an overseas job or a doctorate. We will carry her attitude with us to Cape Town and hope for a reunion there. Rock that Jo'burg to sea race.



Gratitude

This expedition can only happen with good people supporting the riders. Ten people have enabled us to reach our current rest stop in the middle of Botswana. One of them had to leave us in Lalibela, Ethiopia in order to attend to other TDA business, including the leadership of the Silk Route, another epic ride. Our mechanic, Alex, and the race director, Gillian, are out of station so the remaining seven were the recipients of a sumptuous breakfast courtesy of the riders. Here they are. 


Left to right: Steve, Tanzanian driver, Yanez, chef, Noah, Zimbabwean driver, Justin and Bina, American logistical/communications, Hannah, British nurse and Randy, Canadian tour leader.

The catalyst for this lovely meal was David, our youngest cyclist and his riding buddy, Alessandro, our largest rider. They coordinated the purchase of the food, the collection of money and the meal preparation. They did a first-class job. It started out with a simple spread.


Sally Anne and Leah whipped up pancake batter. Maple syrup was brought in for the occasion by Robert who joined the tour with his mother Susan in Livingstone. 


The chef de mission brought us together and assigned tasks: brewing coffee, frying bacon, scrambling eggs. David is in the shade; Alessandro is in the sun. Robert, the syrup mule, is smiling on the right.


Mimosas were served. Dietie, a cook by training, contributed his expertise.


After every meal, cleanup duty is assigned to a rotating crew. Here, Michael does volunteer service at the bins.


It was an unqualified success. The effort personified the motto of Andover, David's alma mater: Non Sibi. This translates as "Not for self."






Monday, April 14, 2014

Long, Straight Road and farewell to Mosquitoes

We entered Botswana at the river ferry crossing. It was casual. A long queue of trucks were waiting on both sides of the watercourse, anticipating the opportunity to ford the Zambezi and carry on. Eventually, we were granted approval to pass to the Botswana side. The official dome were lax about our entry as they asked us what our duration was and stamped our passports and sent us on our way. Once in camp, we knew we were among the elephants by the dung around the famous baobab trees.


The road or roads here extend forever and one can see the horizon unfold. The riding is easy as the highway is paved but it is flat and tedious. The sky offers variety from the relentless terrain.


As we proceed westbound to the Namibian desert, the risk of malaria tapers off. As you can see, it is almost time to consume the last few malaria prophylaxis tablets and get on with the last section of African terrain. Here we go en route to Cape Town. The blue band is a mozzie repellent and the currency is the pula of Botswana. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Public Works

We have seen  many public servants on the roadsides cutting the tall grass. The tool of the trade is the aforementioned machete. Many young men, sometimes clad in fluorescent government issue uniforms, ride to work on bikes. One such fellow allowed me to photograph his accoutrement. 


And here is a grass cutter at work.


As in the western world, good sustainable jobs are in short supply. It seems as though the government here can make work for many youth who would otherwise be unemployed. We are told that these jobs are hard to get because one must know someone in the government in order to be considered for hiring. 

Livingstone is a town dominated by tourism. Witness the museum bearing the name of the Scottish doctor who explored these parts a long time ago. Notice the baobab tree behind the statue.


Even today, the influence of John Cleese can be seen on the Main Street of Livingstone.


The community caters to a lot of foreigners so the municipal authorities discourage the nuisance of beggars. This sign is indicative of the policy (and the poor writing skills of the sign maker).