Wednesday, July 02, 2014

From the ends of the Earth

Re-entry into the real world after three weeks of single focus and nearly complete disconnection is always a difficult adjustment. I promised Beat an update on my own blog so I'm attempting a quick post. My friend Liehann and I finished the Race Across South Africa just after 10 p.m. on Tuesday, July 1, after 21 days of riding, pushing, shoving, and carrying our bikes along the rugged contours of the country. It was an incredible experience to explore South Africa in depth and visit corners that very few people see. The route was brilliantly and sometimes diabolically devised to keep riders as far off the beaten path as possible, and for an American in South Africa even the beaten path feels far away. It was culturally dynamic and physically challenging in ways I didn't expect. Our days were generally (but not always) shorter than I'd become accustomed to in past multi-day endurance events, but the daily challenges were more mentally strenuous and sometimes brushed against the limits of my physical abilities. Not working on upper body strength or practicing carrying my bike up steep, loose terrain was the biggest mistake I made in preparing for this event.

Liehann was a great riding partner, usually upbeat and patient with me in the areas where I struggled the most, which were (unsurprisingly) navigation pressure and fear of being lost in a foreign country, and (quite surprisingly to me at least) the hiking portages. The middle segment of the route featured a seemingly endless string of three-meter-high game fences to hoist our bikes over, and for that and many other reasons there is no way I could have completed this route without his help.

The Freedom Challenge is well organized and makes it possible to ride this remote route with fantastic support from Native villagers, farm houses, and a few hotels. We met many wonderful people and spent time in fascinating places, one of the most unique being a night spent in the village of Vuvu inside one of the villager's huts. Commercial services are few and this route would be a difficult thing to complete fully self-supported, so the race organization has created a great opportunity with this tour.

And of course Beat was at home monitoring the tracking page and updating my blog. His support from afar was fantastic and his device worked great. Although it couldn't help much on the many cow paths, farm road mazes and off-trail bushwhacking, the gadget was consistently accurate at gauging intersections on even small dirt roads, which was frequently reassuring.

I've been off the grid for so long I'm not even sure where or how to begin re-entry. I'm in the Cape Town area for a few more days, hopefully enough time to visit the coast and see a penguin, and then it's back to California finally on July 5. I'm looking forward to coming home.

There will be more to come. Thanks for checking in.