Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Tailwinds

My strongest riding day on the Tour was a century–100 miles–in Sudan where my pace line could not be stopped.  In the morning we averaged slightly over 30 kilometers an hour, with long stretches at 35 km/h.  I felt great and very impressed with myself for keeping up with such a blistering pace.  I assumed there was probably some tailwind, but I credited myself and my line with most of the effort.  When I got off my bike at the lunch stop the wind that had been pushing us along nearly knocked me over it was so strong.  It was only then that I realized how much of the day’s success could be attributed to this natural advantage.  Not that we had been coasting along–we were pedaling hard and fast–but that silent helping hand, firm on our backs, had been keeping up our spirits and turning a good effort into a great success.

And that’s the thing about tailwinds–you often don’t notice them.  That extra push that brings your loftiest goals into reach often goes unnoticed and unacknowledged.  You are sailing along, thinking your PB&J was especially potent that morning or all this training has finally kicked in, but it is not until the wind dies down or you turn a corner that you realize your previous advantage.  Even then, sometimes it just feels like the world has turned against you; that neutral has changed into your disadvantage; that the speed you have become accustomed to should not cost you this much effort.

It is much the same in life.

Sometimes I entertain the foolish notion that I rode across Africa on my own, that I mustered my resources and completed this Herculean task by myself.  But I know this is not the case.  I may not have ridden a tandem bike, but the help I received from friends and family might as well been another set of legs pedaling along behind me.  I would like to take this moment to thank the tailwinds that blew so strong for me all the way from Cairo to Cape Town:  There were my friends on the Tour who, from the day we met, blocked the wind, taught me how to pitch my tent and change a tire, laughed with me (and sometimes at me), and generally kept me sane in the midst of the craziness that is the TDA.  And of course my friends from home who helped me prepare for this trip and cheered me along via email, Facebook and blog comments.  My iPod is filled with mix tapes and playlists from my amazing support group and I would often pick my music by deciding which friend I wanted riding with me.  Last but not least, I want to thank my family.  Throughout my life they have been a steady presence behind me; the extra push I need to turn my dreams into reality.  I could not have done with trip without them.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you are blessed with some powerful tailwinds in your life as well.  No matter how difficult life may seem at times, we have all won life‘s lottery by being born into the wealthiest society in history.  These advantages, often unnoticed, are a great gust of wind that blow you past formidable obstacles like hunger, lack of education and basic health care, the most insidious forms of gender discrimination, and the list goes on and on.  We are so accustomed to this push that we may not even notice it, but if you stop for a moment, step out of your life and put yourself in the midst of those without, the power of your advantage will knock you over.  Throughout the Tour I met women who spend each day fighting headwinds that threaten their very existence.  But they continue to struggle, to push forward and to make progress for themselves and their children.

So next time you find yourself riding strong, feeling that everything has suddenly come together and you are accomplishing more in your life than you ever thought possible, take a moment and look over your shoulder to say “thank you” to the tailwinds at your back.  And if you are so inclined, take another moment to consider what you can do to pass on the advantages in your life to those who spend much of their time riding into the wind.

I am very thankful for all of you who have joined with me to try to turn the wind in favor of women and girls throughout the world by supporting The Global Fund for Women.  This is my last blog post and the last time I will ask you to please make a contribution to this wonderful organization.  Donations can be easily made through the secure server at www.firstgiving.com/catonabike.

Thank you and enjoy the ride of your life.

New Photos!

Hey all-

First I wanted to thank everyone who attended the fundraiser in Olympia.  We raised $1,700 for the Global Fund for Women, which was amazing.  Thanks to everyone for being so generous.  And thank you for your patience with the long slide show.  I hope you all enjoyed it.

Second, I’ve finished the photo gallery in the Facebook group if you’re interested in seeing my best pictures.  The photos are in reverse chronological order–so start from the back.  You can find them at:  http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=212257773520&v=photos.

Finally, I’ve uploaded pictures into a lot of the old posts to add some color to my storytelling.  If you’re not into Facebook and can’t view the whole gallery there, check out the new pictures in the old posts.

Thanks,

Cat

My family is hosting a fundraiser for The Global Fund for Women at my parent’s house in Olympia, WA on Tuesday June 1st at 6 pm. If you are in the area, please join us for drinks and snacks as well as lots of pictures and stories from my trip. We will also have a small silent auction and prints and cards of my photographs for sale with all proceeds going to The Global Fund for Women, so bring your checkbook or credit card If you would like to attend, please email my sister at corie.hardee {at} gmail.com to RSVP and for directions to the party. Hope to see you there!

If you are not from the Puget Sound or otherwise engaged, please consider a donation to my campaign for The Global Fund at

www.firstgiving.com/catonabike.

Odds And Ends

I warned you guys there would end of the trip lists . . . and here’s another one! Please enjoy the top ten things that didn’t seem to fit in any post but are interesting or amusing (or totally vulgar and unnecessary, but I feel like including anyway):

10: Did you know that I managed to keep a relatively decent pedicure on my toes from Cairo to Capetown? The one I had done the day I left New York, lasted until Addis, then I found a spa in Nairobi and another one in Lusaka. I missed getting one in Windhoek in favor of a haircut so I could roll into Cape Town in style. Yes, I am prissy, even on a bike.

9. In Egypt our police escort often took cell phone photos of us during lunch and in camp. In fact, I am pretty certain that one officer got a picture of me using the ladies room behind a bush one day. He and his friend then asked to have pictures taken with me and inquired into my marital status. No thanks dude. The prevalence of cell phones, with their attached cameras, made for an interesting twist to traveling abroad. Rather than being the one behind the camera, I often found myself being shot by several onlookers at a time riding through even the most remote of villages.

8. The soda wars are alive and well in the north, with Egypt pretty evenly divided between Coke and Pepsi, but in the south, Coke has creamed Pepsi and left nary a shop selling the alternative cola.

Brave soldier in the fight for soda supremacy.

7. We had a camp in Botswana on the grounds of a hotel that had an ostrich walking around the camping area. It seemed most interested in rain flies and poked its head under quite a few.

6. I have a confession to make: I eat cute animals. In Sossusvlei our lodge had a game meat buffet and I tried all the adorable antelopes and other critters I had admired on earlier safaris. Since then I have taken every opportunity to partake in springbok and ostrich and other game meat. It’s gotten so bad that on one of my game drives here in South Africa with my parents we heard a kudu barking in the bush. When our tracker identified the call as a kudu, my mother asked what that was. I said it was a large antelope to which she replied, “Oh yeah, that’s the one that looks more like pork, right?” Right, but so very, very wrong.

5. There are a large variety of peanut butters available throughout Africa that vary greatly in quality. After eating PB&J for one to two meals a day for several months, I consider myself a bit of a peanut butter connoisseur. None of the varieties locally available compare to Jiff or Skippy, but some came close. Others were just awful. The dreaded Mr. P was the worst as it was completely separated upon opening with the peanut oil on top and the crusty peanut paste on the bottom. If the first person to open the jar did not take the time to mix the oil all the way to the bottom, you were looking at a good day or two of very dry peanut butter for breakfast.

The dreaded Mr. P.

4. The last night of the Tour a group of us stayed in a cute little B&B adjacent to the camp site. It was run by a kooky Afrikaans couple who seemed to be entirely overwhelmed by the presence of customers. When I ordered a hot chocolate in the restaurant, the wife looked at me and said, “My husband does drinks.” and walked off with a look on panic in her eyes. Back in the room, Annalise and I were admiring the photos covering the wall of an elderly couple strolling down the beach with a tiny white dog in tow. And by “admiring” I mean we were making fun of them because they were truly awful. They looked like the pictures that come in 5×7 picture frames from Target, except they were blown up and mounted in giant driftwood frames. Upon closer inspection we realized that the couple in the photo was the couple running the hotel. Sensational! We visited friends in another room and discovered that they had a separate batch of Sears Photo Studio pictures of the proprietors, this time posing awkwardly in a forest. The whole thing was so odd that I had to take a picture of their pictures in our room. Enjoy!

I have no words . . .

3. Alcohol is illegal in Sudan. We assumed there would be a black market for alcohol in Khartoum but it was impossible to find. Apparently the Chinese who run the hotel we stayed at, and are allowed to import booze for their own use, would sell it to longstanding clients of the hotel. One of the riders got a price quote of ten dollars for a single beer. Unfortunately as one night customers, we did not qualify.

2. I’m not sure how to put this delicately, but when you are living out in the bush with sixty people and no modern “facilities,“ you cannot just go to the bathroom and walk away. When you do a Number Two, you need to bury it so it does not pose a health risk to the camp or the nearby community. To facilitate the burying process, the TDA provided shovels, located at the back of the trucks, to take with you when you went to the “ladies room.“ For convenience sake, the “shit shovels” as they were affectionately known, were kept at the back of the trucks–right in the middle of where everyone congregates after the ride and where dinner is eaten. There is no way to walk into a crowd of people, pick up a three foot long garden shovel and walk away nonchalantly. Everyone knows what you have and what you plan to do with it, which created an instant and bizarre familiarity with the digestive habits of your fellow travelers.

Because it was so public, the shit shovel and the activities related to it, were much discussed amongst the riders and all stigma was quickly removed from conversations regarding, as a friend from home calls it, “the brown word.“ All in all the shit shovel played a crucial, but sometimes complicated role in the social life of the Tour. For example, one of the riders, who wishes to remain anonymous, asked me near the beginning of the Tour, “So, if the guy you like asks you where the shit shovel is, that means he’s not interested. Right?” Under normal circumstances, I would say yes, but in the world of the TDA, that could be considered flirting.

1. I cannot believe that in all these posts I have not talked much about my bike. Her name is The Tortoise (slow and steady) and she is a steel frame, front suspension, fixed-tail 29er mountain bike. Specifically, a Rocky Mountain Hammer. Other riders who have gone for a spin on her have described her as “riding on a cloud” or as a “fluffy tank.” Ideal for the rough African roads, but maybe not well suited for Route 9, I decided to leave her in Africa. At the end of the Tour, I donated her to the TDA Foundation. She will live out her days in the loving care of a local health care worker who will use her to increase health care services to remote areas.

The Tortoise.

Love/Hate

I think if at the end of any trip you say, “I love everything about this place!” you probably have not dug too deeply into the culture or pushed yourself out of your comfort zone.  Likewise, if you leave thinking an area has nothing to offer, you almost surely missed out on the hidden gems that make a country special.  The TDA was definitely an opportunity to see up close the good and the bad along the road.  Additionally the organization itself provides a unique opportunity but also a massive challenge, exacerbated at times by the company’s inefficiencies and  cost-cutting.  In short, there was plenty to love and hate about the last four months.  Often times the hardships and the drama enriched the experience by providing a low to serve as a counterpoint to the many highs along the way.  In the grand tradition of end of the year lists, here are seven of my love/hate relationships on the TDA:

(1)  Rock Throwing Children:  Enough said I think.  They suck. 

Our Littlest Fans:  The bulk of the children from Egypt to South Africa were our biggest little fans.  They lined the road in droves to cheer us on and lift our spirits, even in the pouring rain.  In Malawi I think I may have sprained my thumb returning enthusiastic thumbs up from the masses of children who congregated along the route.  The thing I missed most once we hit the no man’s land in Botswana was seeing the reaction of the villages’ youngest sports fans to our expedition.

(2)  Roughing It:  I am not a camper.  I have never pretended to be. The tent was all right when things were dry.  I even enjoyed having my own little space to organize and set up to my liking every night.  But once the constant rain started up, it was miserable to try to sleep with thunder and lightning all around, worried that your tent would flood or start leaking uncontrollably.  And don’t get me started on the fun that is packing up a soaking wet tent (often in the rain) only to have to pull in out that afternoon and hope there is time to dry it before the rain starts up again.  When it was hot, the tent was stifling, when it was cold, the tent was freezing.  And unfortunately some of the hotels weren’t much better.  In Yabello, Ethiopia, Erin and I shared a hotel room that let more insects inside than it kept out and flooded overnight.

Funky Fun Homes:  Although most nights were tenting, there was some great lodging along the way.  I enjoyed the few luxury hotel options in the big cities, but my favorite lodgings were the quirky little places that were fun to call home (at least for a night).  I bunked down in a convent, a tiny cabin with a bizarre 70s decorating motif, little round hotel rooms called roundavels, shacks overlooking the beach, and all manner of B&B run by some of the most interesting characters of the trip.   Basically I’d sleep anywhere that kept me out of the tent, which earned me and my friends the EFH (every fabulous hotel) award at the end of the tour.  My favorite abode was definitely at a caravan park in Namibia where Annalise and I shared a beat up trailer with lacy curtains and a table with a map of southern Africa so old that it still had Rhodesia and Southwest Africa labeled.  We ran into the nearby town for KFC and cheap white wine and invited friends over for an awesome trailer trash party.

Britney Spears would love this party!

(3)  Women of Africa:  One of the most difficult aspects of the trip was seeing firsthand the treatment of women throughout Africa.  I learned a lot about the life of women and girls in Namibia from the women I met at Sister Namibia and the Women’s Leadership Center and some of the stories the women in the WLC’s anthology had to tell were shocking even to someone who has worked with women in developing countries for years. Additionally, riding along country roads gave me an intimate, albeit limited, view of social structures in the community and there was a lot that was disheartening about what I saw: many more little boys in school uniforms walking home than little girls, very few women driving cars or out and about at night.  The most frustrating for me, however, was watching women work.  Everywhere we went women were carrying firewood, waiting for water at the well, walking with large jugs of water balanced on their heads, doing laundry at the river, and all manner of farm work and house work.  Obviously this would not be a problem except for the fact that most of the men we saw along the road were sitting around drinking or playing ping pong on outdoor tables in the small villages.  At one Coke stop a friend and I looked around at the village and noted that every male in sight, young and old, was just messing around–sitting at the bar drinking or hanging out outside of houses and shops chatting and smoking.  In contrast, every single woman in sight was hard at work, often with a young child strapped to her back.  It reminded me of a New York Times article a friend sent me before I left about the efficacy of giving cash support to women rather than men.

Change is In the Wind:  While much of what I saw was quite disheartening, there were rays of hope that make me believe that change is on its way.  I was surprised by the number of women police officers we saw directing traffic in Kenya and further south.  The two women’s groups I met in Windhoek are doing amazing work and are finding active partners in the women of even the most traditional communities.  Women throughout Africa are anxious for change and are working hard to achieve it.  I am proud to be playing even a small part in helping them achieve their goal of full equality and I am honored that so many of my friends and family, and total strangers, have joined me in this effort by donating at www.firstgiving.com/catonabike and supporting The Global Fund for Women.  If you have not yet donated, please consider taking a minute to make a donation now–we are making a difference.

(4)  The Schedule:  In these pages I have outlined for you the TDA schedule and alluded to the tediousness of following the same routine with military precision day in and day out for four months.  By the time I packed my locker for the last time and had my last PB&J breakfast sandwich, I was definitely ready to be done with the dreaded schedule and get back to having more control over my days.

The last time I will ever eat a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast!


Freedom
:  Despite the rigid TDA schedule, having all day to ride my bike and watch the scenery or daydream was an amazingly freeing experience.  Hours a day to just be inside my head is a luxury I have not had since my days swimming.  Without the hassles of every day life to worry about, I had the freedom to just worry about myself and what I wanted to get out of that day.  In the modern world, that is a luxury you cannot put a price on.

(5)  Climbing:  I’ve never been much of a hill climber.  The area of my biking I had the most hope of improving on this trip was hill climbing.  With an 800 lb. steel bike (approximate weight), however, the hills were brutal and never seemed to get any easier.  The first climbs in Egypt almost killed me, Ethiopia was grueling, and the dirt hills of Tanzania a nightmare.  I remember reading somewhere that the TDA climbs the equivalent of eight Mt. Everest’s and it certainly felt that way.  I am still holding out hope that when I get on my light road bike that I will shoot up hills easily due to all this training, but I have my doubts. 

 The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music:  Despite the grueling climbs, the mountains were easily my favorite scenery.  Looking through my pictures, I have endless photos of spectacular views from various peaks and valleys along the way.  I also love the isolation the mountains provide and some of my favorite riding days were on the hills in Tanzania, winding through the mountains on my own with my iPod just taking it all in.  In the end the effort to get up the hill was almost always worth it.

So Worth It!

(6)  The Customer is Never Right:  I used to think that nothing could be worse than New York customer service, but I was so very, very wrong.  Along the way we have dealt with rude waiters, shopkeepers who don’t know what is on the shelf behind them, and incompetence that borders on comical (average wait time for a drink at a bar was about 30 minutes in some countries).  In the worst places, riders took to just walking into the restaurant’s kitchen to bring out food ordered hours before.  In one restaurant we were told for literally hours that french fries, chips in Africa, were not available despite being on the menu, only to have our waiter serve them to the table next to us. This led to the following exchange:

Rider:  “Waiter!  You said you don’t have chips.”
Waiter:  “We don’t.”
Rider:  “What are those?” (pointing to the chips the waiter just served)
Waiter:  [blank stare]
Rider:  “Ok, I’ll have a plate of those, whatever they are.” (again,
pointing to chips)
Waiter:  “Oh, we don’t have those.”
Rider:  “You do have them.  They’re right there.  I can see them.”

At that point the manager was brought in and he agreed that yes, those were indeed chips that came from the kitchen and promised us four orders of fries ASAP.  They came three hours later.  (We were in a rest day in the rain with nothing to do but sit around the one restaurant in town all day chatting, so we were there for the five full hours it took to get fried potatoes.)

Open Doors and Open Hearts:  While customer service may leave something to be desired, the hospitality up and down the continent was almost overwhelming.  People opened the doors of their homes to us and if you were too tired to ride there was almost always some driver willing to pick you and your bike up and take you to the next TDA truck.  One day in Ethiopia I rode down a steep hill and heading up the other side when a crowd of pedestrians ran into the road in front of me gesturing wildly.  They were pointing behind me and screaming so I stopped to see what the fuss was about.  Another rider had fallen on the way down the hill on the wet road behind me.  I pedaled back to him and several of the locals climbed back up the hill to make sure my friend was ok and waited with our bikes while I patched up his various cuts and scrapes.  In the end, the warmth of people we encountered more than offset the wait time for a Coke.

(7)  Snailnet:  Reading this blog, you probably noticed large gaps where I seemed to have ridden off a cliff, never to be heard from again.  Or you just assumed I was too lazy to blog.  Either way, you would be wrong.  The internet in much of Africa is frustratingly slow or non-existent.  Even “high-speed” internet connections could take ten minutes or more to load a single picture.  Forget about trying to get into WordPress.  There were a few places where I could get a connection fast enough to Skype with my friends and family and upload pictures into the Facebook group, but most of the time it was sitting in an internet café praying that my gmail message would send before the power went out again.  The only reason this blog exists is due to the enormous amount of work my friend Kadinsky has put into it.  I send her a text email with notes like “can you google the spelling of this” or “please find a picture of this bug on the internet” and she turns my scribbling and notes into the blog you all are enjoying.

Kadinsky

(I keep telling her it’s my pleasure because how bad ass is Cat for doing this? — k)


Catonabike
:  Despite the difficulties in getting my posts out, I have loved keeping this blog.  Writing up my travels has given me the chance to reflect on them more deeply and enriched my experience on the road.  In addition, writing for fun rather than work has reminded me how much I enjoy having a creative outlet and motivated me to continue writing when I get home.  And finally, the comments I have received both here and in emails from friends and family about how much they enjoy following along with me on catonabike made me feel less alone out there in the bush.  For that I am incredibly grateful to all of my loyal readers.  The aforementioned slow internet prevented me from logging on to WordPress and replying to your comments, but believe me I read them when I had access and enjoyed each and every one (you guys write some great haikus!).  I hope you enjoyed reading this blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

North and South

Now that I have reached the end of this odyssey, I think it is an appropriate time to reflect on the journey and my impressions of Africa. The trip was really divided in many ways between the north and the south of Africa. Although every day, every region, every country was unique, similarities between the top and the bottom half made the Tour feel like two separate trips.

The north is predominately Muslim, which colors every aspect of life there from the pre-dawn call to prayer to your dinner at night. Even the smallest villages have one or often two or more mosques with minarets housing the loudspeakers used to call the faithful to prayer five times a day. The morning prayer was especially loud as competing callers shout over each other to raise the population from their beds (or tents in our case). We did not see bacon or any pork products until well into Kenya. In Egypt liquor was difficult to find, in Sudan, where it is illegal, it was impossible. Even Ethiopia, which is almost entirely Christian, had a very limited selection of wine and a few beers as alcohol was not imported all the way from South Africa and their northern neighbors did not produce any. The Muslim countries were also distinguishable by their dress with most men in the traditional long white gown and women in burka or veils with long black dresses. Women were also less visible in Egypt and Sudan, with men occupying most of the public sphere.

Women in Egypt.

Even as the Muslim influence switched over to the Christian nation of Ethiopia (the second Christian nation, only behind Armenia), the lack of amenities and western goods continued. All through Ethiopia, riders went to battle over the few Snickers bars to be found in any given town and the first half of the ride consisted almost entirely of bush camps on the side of a dusty road. Despite the austerity of the north, it was an amazing experience to ride through such a different world. The deserts of Egypt and Sudan and the hills of Ethiopia are so far off the beaten path that even the most intrepid travelers are unlikely to make the journey, making your presence there feel like a special privilege. Without hordes of tourists, you never felt like people were putting on a show for your benefit. For better or for worse, the local population gave you a glimpse of their true lives as you cycled by. In some cases that included hurling rocks, but in many others it was a local chief buying you a warm generic soda at the local café and chatting in broken English about his cousin who visited Ohio or gang of shoeless children happily playing a rambunctious game of soccer with a ball made of tied together rags.

Making friends in Sudan.

After we hit Kenya there was a drastic switch from the north and it all started with Cadbury. In southern Ethiopia we hit a few fancy shops that had miniature Cadbury chocolate bars. I think TDA riders bought them all as we were not sure how long they would last. When we hit Kenya, all of a sudden there was Cadbury everywhere–more chocolate than you could ever eat, even with a cyclists’ appetite. And then there was the wine: South African wines in boxes (very convenient for locker storage) in nearly every bottle store. No more “berry cola” or “orange fizz drink” either, it was all Coke and Fanta (and Sprite and Pepsi). Not only were Western foods imported, but hotels and restaurants of increasing quality started popping up not only on rest days but even on riding days. All these luxuries kept increasing as we headed further south towards the booming South African economy, which was exporting these expensive goods up to the tourists and expats living in Kenya and Tanzania.

It is not fair though to distinguish the south merely by its movie theaters and chocolate bars. The landscape is also dramatically different, with much of it looking like the “Africa” that comes to mind when your frame of reference is National Geographic or The Lion King. The grassy plains with the easily identifiable flat top acacia trees are home to the animals that represent Africa to most of the world.

Oh yeah, that's what Africa looks like.

But like the north, the landscape is not homogeneous. While Tanzania is famous for its sprawling national parks with amazing game drives, it is also home to tree covered mountains that rival Ethiopia and Namibia’s deserts are as vast and unforgiving as the Sudan’s. There was also an artificial divide in southern Africa created by the route the TDA chose. After we hit Botswana, the Tour generally took us through largely unpopulated areas. In Botswana we went through a national park and on a large highway, in Namibia we went straight through the desert, in Cape Town down the wild coast. Gone were the villages and their gaping onlookers. Coke stops were giant supermarkets in a random isolated town rather than a tiny shack store in a small community. Instead of interacting with the African locals, the only people we saw were the Afrikaans and Germans who ran the RV parks or hotels where we stayed and the wealthy South Africans on holiday with their campers. I hate it when people say that something is not “real” Africa–as everywhere is real to those who live there–but the parts of these last few countries that we saw were certainly not representative of the population as a whole. From what we saw you would think that the population of southern Africa is largely white and middle-class, which certainly is not the case.

The only local population on our route.

Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful to have hotels or caravan parks with nice accommodations every night. In fact, I slept in my tent only once after Windhoek, which was fabulous. Plus we got to see some of the big draws in Namibia, like Sossusvlei and Fish Canyon. Our food improved immensely as well with lots of hot lunches and real dinners instead of the dreaded stews–although that might have had more to do with our cook trying to impress the big boss who joined the Tour in Windhoek. However, it all felt a little detached from Africa. Other than the Afrikaans accents, we might as well have been traveling through the Southwest deserts or the Oregon coast. All in all it was a nice way to ease back into the familiar, but I still felt as if we missed much of the south in favor of hitting the tourist spots.

It is definitely a good thing that the Tour goes from north to south as the more tired and homesick we became, the more comfort was available to us. I cannot imagine hitting the endless bush camps in the sand of the Sudan after three months on the road. However, I would not give up any section of the Tour as each provided a different perspective of this vast continent. In the end, the differences along the way make it clear that there is no such thing as “African”–African people, African culture or African way of life. Every country and every region has its own distinguishing characteristics, making the continent a fascinating place to travel through at a snail’s pace.

The Finish Line

After nine countries and well over three months, we finally crossed the border into the final country of the Tour–South Africa. We were all giddy with anticipation: the final country, the final week, almost there. To be honest, South Africa was a bit of a disappointment at first. In keeping with our horrible luck with weather, it was rainy and cold the whole week. To be fair, that is actually normal weather for the west coast in winter, so this was not the abnormal meteorological event that has characterized much of this year’s Tour. The landscape the first few days as we made our way to the coast we bland and unimpressive, mostly brown expanses dotted with low, pale green brush. Not particularly inspiring riding. To top it all off, I started off from our last rest day with a bit of a cold–probably a result of riding in the rain in Namibia. It felt like my body had decided the trip was over a week in advance.

After a few days of riding, we finally hit the ocean, which improved the scenery immensely (although it did nothing for the weather). The west coast is the wild coast of South Africa with huge breaking waves and rock cliffs dropping straight into the ocean. Our last few nights were spent in tiny resort towns down the coast. Ghost towns during the winter off-season, they provided a perfect place to let loose and enjoy our last days together as a group.

For our final day into Cape Town someone finally turned off the sprinklers and the weather miraculously turned from wet winter to clear and sunny. I rode the sixty kilometers to lunch with a few of my best girlfriends, chatting, reminiscing, and of course, gossiping. About 30 kilometers from lunch, we climbed over a hill and Table Mountain came into view. It was breathtaking, but what really blew me away was a few kilometers later riding into our lunch spot right on the beach. Without even realizing it, I had been working the last four months to get to that very spot. Much more than the finish line downtown, this beach is the end of the journey. It is spot where TDA riders of years past stood on the big rock and lifted their bikes above their heads in triumph for the quintessential Tour picture. That picture is even the TDA logo.

Finished!

It was also the first time since Safaga in Egypt that I put my hands in the ocean. It was momentous to look back and think that four months earlier I was at the beginning of this journey, on this body of water literally half a world away. And now after so many kilometers on the bike and nights in the tent, countless muscle aches and saddle sores, new friends made and relationships forged, endless smiles and tears of frustration, it was all coming to an end.

Before we could really celebrate, however, we needed to cover the final 30 kilometers into town. A convoy of bikes straight through one of Africa’s biggest cities is not an easy task. Our first convoy to the pyramids in Egypt took forever as we inched through Cairo’s busy streets with our police escorts’ sirens’ blaring. But if we have learned nothing else as a group on this trip, we have at least learned how to ride in a convoy. Instead of slowly pulsing forward in fits and starts with a constant barrage of “Slowing!” “Stopping!” we trucked into town together like one organism with a singular mission–to get to the beer tent at the finish line.

The finish line was in the Waterfront area of Cape Town, a beautiful shopping district right on the bay. My mom was there to greet me with signs made by my sister and little niece (dad was in the hotel with food poisoning). The deputy mayor and several ambassadors showed up for the festivities and medals were distributed with much pomp and circumstance. Then it was off to do some quick shopping for something to wear to the banquet that is more my style than the faded clothes that have been my wardrobe the last four months. I found a stunning red dress that matched perfectly with the heels my mom brought over. It was nice to feel like myself again! The banquet was fun and the after party even better. The hardest part of the day was saying goodbye to friends that I may never see again.

In the end though, it all felt a little unreal–like it was just another rest day and we will all be back on our bikes in a day or two. The fact that many of us were sticking around in Cape Town, in the same hotel even, made it less of a goodbye more of a “see you later” in many cases. A bunch of us had dinner and drinks a few days after the finish and only the people who lived in Cape Town said they felt the trip was over and really felt the enormity of what they had just finished. I imagine it won’t hit me until I walk into my apartment in New York. I think it is then that I will realize that this amazing journey has come to an end.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.