Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Final Countdown

I did it!

After 4 months, 12000 km, and 10 countries, we finally made it and rolled into Cape Town for our finale. What an adventure. We’ve been stoned and beaten with cattle whips,  had malaria, typhoid and lots of fractures, been charged by elephant and held up at gunpoint.

We’ve had hours of glorious cycling in the broiling heat, pouring rain and freezing mist. It has been through mud, along smooth pavement, up mountains and down down down massive descents.

TDA 2011

 Of course, though, it has been the friendships and the sharing of the experience with like (and not so like) minded people that has defined it all.  The hilarity, difficulty, joy and pain have all been intesified by the camaraderie and pleasure of being with such a great group. I won’t miss the constant farting of fifty men with dodgy stomachs though…. 

Mike and I – the riding buddies

The South Africa stage was always going to be about the end, and we all started to really talk about and think about what was coming next. The Final Countdown became our breakfast theme tune and at least five times every day someone would come up to me and say… only four more/three more/two more days to go..

Nick prepares to celebrate

The stage itself was fun. We saw the sea for the first time since Cairo – that was a big moment. There were lots of rolling hills and a couple of dirt sections – where I managed to take a massive fall and really hurt my arm. It also got cold, really cold on one morning where we left and rode straight into a valley of freezing fog.  The Western Cape is laid back, friendly folk and felt like a good place for the last few days riding.


Dutch Love

And then it WAS the last day. And this was going to be all about celebration and enjoying the acheivement and the company.  Cheese, wine, smoked salmon for the lunchtime beach party, with our team photos and cyclists coming in to join the final big ride in.


Cycling through Cape Town on the Big Ride In

We set off again from the beach onto the new cycle paths that have been built by the Cape Town municipality. It was mayhem with so many of us and unfortunately we had one crash and a pelvic fracture for Linda. But we continued on and for the last part of the celebrations we were joined by even more cyclists, skate boarders and Cape Tonians for a general celebration of all thing non-car.

We rounded off with the medal awards – with plaudits for our 17 fantastic EFI (every fabulous inch)ers and our amazing race winners – Paul, Dennis and Adam for the men and Tori and Carrie for the women. Lots of friends and family – including Jeanette for me!! – had made the trip over for it which was great and then in the evening the celebrations continued with eating, drinking and some very dodgy dancing.

Happy Days

Time for real life again. A life not necessarily changed by this experience but most definitely enhanced and enriched by it. Read the rest of this entry


Namibia: Mud, sweat but no tears

Here we are, overlooking the Orange River, ready to cross into South Africa tomorrow and the final part of our epic adventure. Namibia has been beautiful and tough.

The scenery here is mesmerising. Wide expanses of grasslands with fairy tale blue mountains in the distance. The extraordinary red dunes of Sossus Vlei which live up to every picture you have ever seen and bring on thoughts of Beau Geste and the foreign legion. Then, yesterday, mountain passes that could have almost been the Lakes or the Peak district, with long climbs into golden moorland. The springbok bounding across the road gave it away though.

The riding has been hard. Lots of days on the dirt. An epic about half way through the section which typifies the TDA (Tour D’Afrique) experience. The rain had been pretty constant all night, and I woke up with a groan at the thought of taking down the tent in the wet and mud. But, it all got done and it was time to set off – still raining. The day was 31km in the dirt, followed by around 100km on tarmac.

I was feeling quite perky, thinking that a little rain never hurt anyone and that the conditions were pretty similar to home. Fortunately, I hadn’t factored in the fact that the road was going to turn into thick glutinous mud which required massive pushing power for every pedal stroke. I found that out though, as I climbed the tiny hill out of camp and almost fell off when the bike came to a complete standstill.

It was one of those experiences where you don’t quite know what to think or how to approach it so you just keep pedalling. My intial speed was around 5km per hour in some parts, and trying to rationalise 6 hours to cover 31km is quite difficult.

This is where the TDA camaraderie on the road really really comes into its own though. As I got passed by the speedy boys, there was lots of advice shouted on the best line, the best gears, the easiest way to spin, and generally just a bit of human kindness in a wet, cold, hard, muddy world.

Apparently, I looked as though I was trying to strangle my bike at one stage… actually that was just me trying to drag the pedals round.

The tarmac, when it came into view, was the prettiest thing I had ever seen, and even better there was a shop with hot coffee and hot pies just there, and a big group of fellow riders to share with.

Then it was just a long slog into a head wind with lots of rolling hills to keep us interested. But after the morning epic, it felt good and my energy was high. I even managed to be first woman into camp. To make the day even better, we were camping in a hotel that looked like a castle and I had a shared room – no tent! And they had real coffee and syrup cake. Rewards are not always in heaven…

Mando day… an idiot’s tale

Mando days are always the hardest day of any section. They are the days that the racers HAVE to race and can’t take as a grace day. I always look forward to them – but with a bit of trepidation.

Elephany Highway Mando Day wasn’t going to be difficult in terms of climbing or being on the dirt but it was very long – 207 km – longer than any day’s riding I had done before. Me and my On-One mountain bike were not totally convinced that doing this distance on fat tyres on pavement was a good idea, but nevertheless off we set.

The routine followed its usual path. Me, Sam, Amy and Mike got on the road about 6.30 after a good breakfast. The sun was coming up but it was pretty misty, really reminded me of home in Autumn. Angela was going separately as she had a faster pace.

The four of us rode on at about 23km/hr for 45 minutes or so and then the rain started hammering down. We were all soaked within minutes but at least it wasn’t freezing cold. And really, when you know you are going to be on the bike for at least 9 hours, there is no point even thinking about it because there is nothing you can do.

About half an hour later, a big peloton came past and we hopped on the back. It was going about 32km/hr so would pull us to lunch really quickly. This one was a strange mixture of erstwhile racers and speedies like the Brams and Bastiaan and then us. The rain was still hammering down, so hanging on to the wheel in front meant getting a constant facefull of spray. After about twenty minutes, I had had enough. I was having to try too hard to keep up and was worrying that if there was a sudden halt I would go straight into Daniel, who was the wheel in front of me. So, I dropped off and left Amy and Mike to it – Sam had gone a bit before, muttering imprecations.

Congratulating myself on the fact that I would now have a nicer ride, if a slower one, I kept on at about 25km/hr. The next landmark for me would be the lunch truck at 79km. Always something to look forward to, not just because of lunch but because it means you have acheived a chunk of the day.

The scenery was the usual Botswana fare, dead flat, scrub trees on both sides, cows and a great sky. By now, the rain had eased off but it was dull and overcast.

By 10 am I was getting really hungry and no sign of lunch, also wierdly no-one had passed me for a while and I was expecting both Nick and Christine to have overtaken.

Anyway, I pushed on. Upped my gears and the pace a bit as the hunger pangs gnawed. By 1030, I decided to stop and check the route instructions on my camera – maybe the lunch truck was at 89? Checked them – no – there it was, 79. So, upped the pace again and on I went.
At 11 am, I realised that something was really wrong. Even if I had been doing about 15km/hr I would have hit it by now. So I got the camera out, checked again, and saw “Right turn at Namibia sign, 47km”

This was not a good moment in my life. I had missed the only turn on the route and done roughly an extra 60km out of my way on the longest ride day of the Tour. IT was raining again and I only had two pvm bars and a coke.

But you can never tell how you will react to these things. Bizarrely, instead of ranting and throwing my bike to the ground and kicking a tree, I was actually pretty cheerful and just turned round (into a headwind obviously!) and started back.

Two hours later, the lunch truck found me. They had realised what I had done and had both saved me loads of food – thank you Gabe and Claire – and come back to get me.

Now I had some choices. Should I just go back to camp in the truck having done about 147km, should I go to the refresh stop and do the last 50km or should I catch up with the sweep and do as much as I could. I chose the last option – fuelled by a desire to do the distance and also the vast quantity of cheese sandwiches I had just consumed.

We caught up with Nick, the sweep, with 90km to go. I got out and started cycling as hard as I could to see if I could catch any of the other riders. About 3/4s of an hour later, Ram, Phil, Ribka and Aman rolled into view standing under a tree. Ribka was waiting for the truck as her knee had gone but Phil and Ram were ready to roll on. Joy! A petit peleton and company for the last 70km. By now I was absolutely determined to make it.

Our fabulous three cracked on. We got to the refresh stop where Martin the mechanic and Brian from TDA were waiting for us. Brian warned us that unless we did at least 28km/hr for the last 60km he would sweep us up in the truck. We had to make the border crossing into Namibia by 6pm.

Martin joined us, and the four of us formed up and decided to do 1km pulls at the front. It was sore but it worked like a dream. We all pushed, dropping out if a pee break or flat occurred and then catching again. I was on my own at about 15km from the border when hunger struck. I stopped and stuffed down a cheese sandwich, saved from the truck, and the others caught up. We plundered Ram’s PVM stash and on we went.

The story has a happy ending. At almost exactly 6pm we hit the border crossing. We had made it! Whoo Hoo. We felt fantastic.

Of course when we got to camp I was roundly (and rightly mocked) for missing the only turn of the day. I worked out that all in all, I had done around an extra 25km over the 207km distance, but I had had one of my best days of the Tour.

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