Heading into South Africa, the final country

21 05 2010

So After nearly 4 months of trying to stay on top of writing every day so that thoughts were fresh I am now sitting in a hotel in Jo’berg on May 21st trying to remember what riding a bike 10 days ago crossing the border was like.  To be honest 10 days can seem like nothing or an eternity on this trip.  I remember the lava rock road like it was yesterday, the ride to Lake Melawi sitting on Jenn’s wheel and getting into the rest day early so I could get an extra hour or 2 off the bike.  Then there are days that seem like they didn’t even happen this year, Tony and Juliana’s birthday party, I remember everything, but it seems like it was years ago.  Day 3 out of Cairo where there was the first real climb and I couldn’t peddle up hill without my knee hurting.   Anyway, I am sorry for not writing each day, but I will do my best to track back through my pictures and memories and figure it out day by day.  After that maybe there will be time for a trip summary, or at least a Cape Town one.

6 DAYS TO GO

We crossed the border after a fruit sunday at Wimpy’s leaving me as one of the last riders in the group.  I spent the morning with Jenn, it was her birthday and we talked about all kinds of things.  The trip, what we missed, what we will miss, what we are looking forwards to getting back to.  But most importantly we just were there in the moment stopping to take pictures, saying hi as we passed people, sharing an energy bar that was not a dreaded PVM bar.  We had a blast, and even though the pace the conversations more than made up for the extra time in the saddle.  At lunch because it was her birthday we had grilled cheese, one of my favorites since I was little in Mantua having grilled cheese and tomato soup and Nan and Bob’s.  After lunch I rode with Lynn, and we picked the pace up a bit simply because it was cold.  We did stop in at a store and found several other people enjoying worm tea.  We had a pot and watched as Gizzy stuffed her bike jersey with newspaper to stay worm.  I was just in my jersey and arm wormers, but decided that the risk of paper cuts was too high to copy her.  We rode on into camp in Springbok and stayed at a caravan park.  An immediate worm shower as soon as the tent was up and I was back to normal.  Jenn had sprinted ahead in the afternoon and managed to find some wine and cheese and even cut up some pears and apples.  It was like a fancy birthday party in the middle of nowhere and everyone really enjoyed it.  I finished the night watching a movie and falling asleep in the still brutally cold weather.

5 DAYS to GO

I awoke in the morning and as of late had a slow start to the day packing up.  It does make things a bit rushed but having a few extra minutes to lie in a worm sleeping bag while hearing people outside packing up is a nice feeling.  Rubin and Erin were on a mission in the morning and the plan was for them to go out and get stage wins.  Mission accomplished!  The both won by nearly half an hour, with Rubin doing all the pulling for 148 kms of hilly terrain.  The West Coast of SA is rocky and dessertish.  There are small plants and loads of lizards and little else.  The road has a shoulder and is easy to ride and the cars are quite nice about honking to let you know they are coming and avoiding you and not coming too close for the most part.  Anyway, the story goes that Jenn was supposed to help pull Rubin and Erin but couldn’t catch up to them.  Rod and Juliana did some great pulling for them before lunch and after lunch when everyone stopped the 2 of them kept going and dominated the day.  Several hours later I too ended up in Garries and once again did the usual routine of tent up, princess cot put together and sleeping bag laid out.  Grabbed my shower bag, had a worm shower and went into town to the coffee shop.  I had a milkshake, hamburger and a few Stoney Ginger Beers while watching “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” with a few other riders that beet me to the place.  It was ok though, I have seen the movie a few times so I didn’t need a recap of the beginning like many many other people did as they arrived.  We headed back to camp in time for the rider meeting where we all found out that the dream team power couple had taken the stage and everyone clapped and recounted the day while we ate something that I can not remember but I am sure was good.

4 DAYS TO GO

This day blends in a bit for me.  I remember I wanted to take it pretty easy knowing that tomorrow could be a tough day and that there wasn’t much we were riding to.  We saw the Atlantic for the first time on the trip and it was pretty cool.  I think it was raining, but I am pretty sure it rained most of the last days.  Other than that all I remember is having a milkshake and calamari in town when I got there and meeting Andre’s children who came to ride part of the last days with him.  It was a pretty cool town called Vanrysnsdorp and all the shop owners knew who we were and what we were doing at were quite impressed by us.  That felt nice.

3 DAYS TO GO

So historically the last 2 days of the tour are non-race days.  Due to my sickness before Livingston I had 3 12 hour days in the second half and I was in last place for the men going into this day by an hour.  Now my thoughts on this as a race are all over the board but I never want to finish last in anything I do and even with 11 people dropping out of the race since the start I thought maybe I could push and pass Dan.

There was a Wimpy’s at 25 kms from camp and a lot of people were taking about stopping there for a snack before lunch.  It was a 112 km day with about 60% dirt in the middle.  I decided that morning that I would see what happened if I went as hard as I could until someone passed me.  I thought Stu and Gizzy would blow by me in the first 25 km and I would be able to cool it and get a milkshake, but as I approached Wimpy’s I passed Gerald and Jos 2 strong riders who I thought may be going for a stage win on the last day.  Then going into Wimpy’s town I passed Jethro on a hill.  Jethro is the best hill climber on the tour and even though his race position was set and he was taking it easy, his easy pace is normally quite a bit faster than my hard pace.  With him in the background I knew I had to go all out for the rest of the day, or until Stu caught me.

At 30 something Kms we turned onto the dirt and it was a giant loose sand and gravel hill in front of me.  I peddled as hard as I could and while growing tired kept the taught of people catching me from behind in my head.  I was out of the saddle quite a bit on the first hill only to see many more hills when I got to the top.  This was not going to be an easy day.  I rode hard and passed Bill who left about 30 mins before me.  I asked if there were people going fast in front of me, he said yes.  I had to ride faster!  I saw a black figure on a bike up ahead.  I decided I had 2 kms to catch them.  It was Laura and I caught her in 1.5.  I passed her at the top of a hill and then rode down with no breaks through the corrugation and into soft sand.  I had a wobble but peddled through it and rode on, never looking back.  At 60 kms I got to the lunch truck.  Paul Porter was there, I asked who was in front, just Tim and Peter.  Tim was my worry and Stuart who was behind me, how far no one knew.  I skipped lunch and with 45 seconds to stop with a foot down and breathe I pushed on.  Paul Porter started a fair bit before me so when he passed on the dirt I was concerned, but knew if I could stay within 15 mins of him I would be fine.  Tim started way before me as well, but crunching the numbers was too hard as I was peddling on the dirt with the 28 mm tires.

From the second to last hill I saw the road we were turning right on and I saw Paul at the bottom of the last dirt hill heading towards the road.  Once again I headed down the hill with reckless abandon.  I didn’t use my breaks all day to this point and I wasn’t going to use them now.  I peddled all the way down the hill and was out of the saddle most of the way up it.  When I hi the tar I immediately got in the aerobars and tried to catch my breath.  I was peddling as hard as I could when I lost sight of Paul, too many curves going through town, but I was close and with 40 kms left maybe I could do this.

I rode through 2 small fishing villages and then ended up facing a second dirt road.  I didn’t remember this from the rider meeting…… I didn’t go to the rider meeting.  What do I do.  I stopped to check the camera.  It is a race, and going to be a close one and I had to stop to check directions.  30 seconds later and I saw a yellow jacket coming on a  bike.  Screw the directions, I either go the right way or the wrong way, but no one passes me today.

The yellow jacket was gaining on me, I peddled harder, still gaining.  I looked back and it was Tim.  He was supposed to be 20 mins in front of me.  He says “Why did you stop?”  I told him I had to check directions and what was he doing behind me. He said he was having a coffee, saw Paul go by then saw me and didn’t want to miss it.  Paid his check and came to watch the race first hand.  I told him I have time on Paul but I was worried about him.  He asked where Stuart was, all of a sudden I was racing the clock because I don’t know when Stu left and how far back he was.

Tim rode the rest of the way pushing me to ride harder than I had all trip.  It was flatish somothish hardish packed sand and we were blazing down at 36-40 kph.  Everytime I stopped peddling to rest Tim would yell at me from behind.  18 k to go, push it out.  I was out of the saddle for every hill, in the aerobars when I could just to try and breathe.  Riding over corrugation and taking the abuse with my body all the time getting abuse from Tim.  14 k to go, you have to catch Paul.  I couldn’t see Paul, but I couldn’t imagine he was going this fast.  It was bordering on unsafe.  I peddled faster, who knew who was behind me.

We had one more right turn to make onto a road, I saw it up ahead and there was 2 yellow gates in the road, one on the left and one on the right with a space in the middle.  It was a slight downhill and I was pushing 40+ I think, my spedo just stopped working in the rain.  I unclipped my left foot thinking I would slow to a stop and walk through the gate.  I grabbed a handful of break and the back wheel locked up on the sand.  I was not slowing down and now staring to fishtail and I was getting closer to the gate.  I clipped back in, I now had 3 options, lay the bike down and slide under Dominincan style.  Not a great option, but I would not die.  Jump the gate, all I really had to do was clear the handle bars because me and the rest of the bike would fit through the gap no problem, but jumping on a downhill at that speed is difficult, maybe impossible.  Third option, do nothing…….. I headed right for the hole in the gate, it was at the exact height of my handle bars.  I watched as I cleared each side by less than an inch, back end fishtailing in fright.  I made it through, checked back and Tim was rolling slow much slower.  He Yelled go Right.  I did, dodging the car that I had not noticed, still carrying my speed.  Camp was close, I had to give it everything I had.  We passed a building and then another.  Flagging tape heading towards the beach.  I got air going into the camp, landed on soft sand and rode to the truck.  Threw down my bike and ran to the timing thing on the trailer.  It never works in the rain and I ripped it off the trailer and yelled for Paul.  After several attempts and Tim beeping in first I timed in, and almost collapsed.  I have never been that tired in my life.  I held myself up on a pole for the kitchen for a while, then headed into the truck to sit down and eat some candy.  I got my things out and then saw Stu.  I had no clue how long it had been, or when he started. I asked him his riding time, he didn’t know, I guess we would have to wait for Kelsey.  I set up my tent by the edge of the fence overlooking the cold wet rainy ocean and headed to the bar.  The truck riders were already there, everyone was surprised to see me.  I had a milkshake, clamari, fried fish, 2 cokes, and a bottle of Red Wine.  Jenn came in and we headed over to another bar, I had a few beers, then back to camp for dinner.  It was chicken, quickly in my stomach then off for a few more beers.  Kelsey wasn’t going to check the times until tomorrow, I had no idea what happened, 1 or 2.  I quickly forgot about the importance of the situation and just enjoyed hanging out with friends celebrating the end of the race.  We partied very late ( for us late is about 9 pm, very late is 9:30) and stumbled back to the tent, still wet and rainy.  I woke up and packed up for the second to last time.

2 DAYS TO GO

146 kms into yzerfountain.  Non race day.  It was cold.  I rode with Pete and Lynn, we had 2 hot chocolate stops before lunch, and even a hotdog stop.  Lunch was burgers and even though I was full, I ate my share.  We peddled slow to camp, with Lynn leaving us on a hill when she was fed up of our pace.  She didn’t give yesterday everything she had though so I guess she had more legs than I did.  She is also a pretty great racer finishing 2nd for the girls the last 3 sections and 5 or 6 over all.  It was a long day, but on the way into camp me and Pete stopped off and bought some champagne.  I rode into camp and popped the cork.  It was Party time.  Rider meeting started and after Stu and Gizzy got section plates for the last section, I was called up for my Stage winner plate.  I popped another bottle of champagne and did a little spraying, but enjoyed the moment.  James and Indaba were preparing Snook (fish on the bbq) for dinner, I had a shower and got the tent up and had dinner.  We sat around late reminiscing and then headed to a hotel where a bunch of people were staying to reminisce some more there.  It was another late night, but again it was fun.  I got congratulations and hugs from everyone for the stage win, and although I tried to keep it low key, I was excited.  To win a stage with the amount of quality cyclists on this tour is something special and I think I belong to a group of less than 12 that did it this year.

THE LAST DAY

There was an air of excitement as everyone packed up camp for the last time.  The trash bins were full of dishes that people decided not to wash on the last day and instead just get rid of.  I guess 4 months eating out of the same bowl gave me some sentimental value so I washed it and kept it.  Anyway, I couldn’t break the routine of the last 4 months.  I was wearing my arm wormers and my new TDA 2010 jersey and headed to my bike which had been cleaned and shined up the night before.  We rode 60 kms to a beach for lunch.  Some peoples families had come, the lunch spread was amazing and we had great views of Table mountain.  I can not capture my emotions in words.  It was pure joy, so many hugs, pats on the back.  Bottles of champagne being passed around, like we had won the Super Bowl.  It was amazing, and exhilarating, it was perfect.  We got read for the convoy, and after some excitement with Stuart getting a flat, and me, Jethro and him all pumping in record time to fix it, we got going.  Most people had sun glasses on because for the first time in days the sun was out.  It was a good thing, because it would have been more obvious that we were all crying under our sunglasses if there was no sun.  We passed people and they cheered, bike going the other way joined the end of the convoy.  I\t was like we were back in Ethiopia, people waved at us and we waved back, it was soooo cool, and every bit the experience I wanted.  We pulled into the waterfront past the BP office and I saw Mom holding a sign, Welcome to Cape Town.  1 last turn, bike against the fence and it was 70 people dressed in lycra and spandex hugging, high fives, beers all around, champagne again.  It was a sight, and it was amazing to see.  Families reunited after 4 months, sisters and brothers, mothers and daughters, random people walking by who didn’t know who we were and asked where we came from.  We answered with a small smile and they walked away, not sure weather to believe that we really could have just crossed Africa top to bottom by bike.

We had a ceremony, we got medals.  And the whole time we were looking at each other, clapping for each other, cat calls, nick names, we didn’t care that other people were there.  That the mayor didn’t understand our inside jokes.  It was our day and we took it, and enjoyed it the way we wanted to.  It was great and amazing and fun and epic and monumental and complete.  We made it, as a group, as individuals, and as friends.  I am not sure how long I will stay on this high for, but 6 days later writing this it still brings me chills.  I remember every detail from that part of the day, for now it lives on my mind like a movie playing on a loop, and it is truly one of the best films I have ever seen!

Later guys,

See you soon

Ricky

Tomorrow I am heading on Safari, hopefully I will have time to write about the post Cape Town events, but to give you the highlights: Awards dinner where I got “Most Improved Male Rider” Post Awards celebration at the Dubliner pub on Long Street.  Jumping out of a plane with Cape Town in the back ground.  Seeing the TDA movie “Where are you go” and reliving the places even though the movie sucked.  Climbing Table Mountain and having the scare of my life even though everything worked out ok.  Cage Diving with Great Whites up to 4 m in length.

Not a bad few days in Cape Town huh??


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2 responses

22 05 2010
Nora & Andy

Ricks Many, many congratulations on this fantastic accomplishment. A memory that will live with you forever. We are really proud of you and how fab to have a medal for most improved male rider and to top it all to win the last raceday stage. Can’t wait to see you and catch up first hand on your adventure. It has been great following your movements over the last four months the last of which brought tears to my eyes. Hope you, Mona and Nadia had a fab time in Kruger National Park and rest of your stay in SA. We will continue your celebrations when you are over next week. luls n & n xxx

27 05 2010
eric olverson

Hi Rick,
This is the first time I have looked at any other rider’s blog since finishing the Tour. I was so worn out, physically and emotionally, hat I have found it hard to dwell too much on what has happened. But I have enjoyed reading your feelings over those last few days. I feel less embarrassed now to know that I was not the only one with tears in my eyes.
I was so delighted that you got that stage win after watching you improve steadily over the 4 months.
One of the most telling moments of the whole journey , for me, was in Dinder, at the lunch-break, when I was completely blottoed; you came over and whispered words of encouragement, at a time when you must have been feeling bad yourself- everybody was! That was the mark of a most generous spirit and will always stay with me.
Enjoy your travels, and thank you for your company!
Best wishes,
Eric.

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