Rough Road

We left Arusha early on Sunday morning riding past the clock tower, the midway point on the overland Cairo to Cape Town route.

We were heading into seven days of hard riding beginning with a bang, 172 kilometers on the first day, the longest day yet of the Tour. I was uncertain how I would be able to manage that; the longest I had ridden was just over 150 kms and the last ten or so kms seemed to require every ounce of my energy and will. At 134 kms I was fine, the people friendly, the kids fun, but the exhaustion was beginning to set in.

At lunch I had spoken to another of the riders and we had both agreed that we had to conserve our energy for the full week of riding. At that point, feeling apprehensive about the afternoon, I had half made up my mind to hop on the support vehicle. But when the time came I couldn’t quite make up my mind to be sensible. The prospect of doing my first century (100 miles; 161 kms) was so alluring. I pushed on only to find myself facing steep climbs for the last 20 kms. My heart sank; my thighs were cramping; my legs were like cement pillars. I kept telling myself, do what can. I stopped, drank, breathed, pushed on. Again and then again. I made it and felt proud of myself for pushing beyond my boundaries. I patted myself on the back too soon.

My comeuppance came a couple of days later. We had left paved roads behind and were on dirt and gravel roads, which seemed each day to become progressively worse, shifting from washboard corrugations to loose, flinty stones, to buckled, eroding mixtures of sand, rock and concrete. I had no experience with these kind of roads; I had ridden gravel but that gravel was like silk compared to what I was now experiencing. It was a contrast too with the lush, verdant countryside of small holdings of maize and groundnuts and wild bush.

On the fourth day, I lost it; it was the third day of the rough roads. I had struggled through and on that day had passed the 90 km mark when we came to a stretch of deep, soft, impenetrable sand that seemed to go on for kilometer after kilometer. I dragged the bike, tried to remount, fell, dragged, remounted only to fall again. I was also dead tired having had a bad night, waking at 2 am and unable to get back to sleep. I thought there is no way through this. I threw my bike down swearing at the top of my lungs. A little while later the van came by and I hopped on.

That night I spoke to some of the experienced riders and they gave me some pointers about how to deal with that kind of terrain. I put it into practice the next day and realized something important. The previous day I had fallen into a mind sand trap; I had allowed what seemed impossible to become a reality. I had made the world of the road conform to a negative world view. Yes, the long sandy stretch was there, but it was not impenetrable. There were possibilities which I had neither known nor allowed to consider. That helped me get through the next days. They were rough, they were long, daily eight plus hours in the saddle on roads that reached an apogee of roughness on the final day, but they were possible days.