Granted, the Freedom Challenge is not the Iditarod, and I arrived in Rhodes feeling much more fit than I did in McGrath, minus a fully functioning set of arms. But the parallel remains ... Rhodes was the finish line for many, and there was an air of celebration that I couldn't take part in. Bruce and Ryan's family members came out to see them finish, and I sat down to have a drink with the group before the banquet dinner.
"How can you just keep going?" one man wondered. "Day after day?"
"Well, you know, you start to develop a routine," I answered. "The first week is always hard, but then it becomes your life. I don't think you actually get stronger, but it feels that way — it becomes your new normal."
Or not. As I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon chatting with families of the Rhodes racers, believing Liehann was outside installing the fork, he was actually back in frenzied phone call mode after he discovered it wasn't the right model. What arrived was a tapered steerer fork, and what he needed was a straight steerer. It was the wrong shape — there was no way he could make it work.
He held out hope that he could still have this wrong fork returned and the right one delivered farther down the trail, but the tiny town of Rhodes was the only mail stop for many days, and he still was having trouble reaching the right people. I could tell he was disappointed as we sat down to dinner to cheer for the Rhodes racers as they received their finishing prize — a small herdsman's whip.
"Why don't we get a whip?" Liehann wondered out loud. "We finished the ride to Rhodes too."
"Do you really want to carry that thing all the way to Cape Town?" I asked. "Anyway, this isn't our race." This is something I feel strongly about, actually — if you sign up for the long haul, you better be ready to hold out for the long haul. There's no such thing as a halfway finish.
"I can't do this," he coughed. "I have to go back."
And that was that. Poor Mike.
|Photo by Liehann Loots|
"I'm okay," I called back weakly. "I just need some time. Just give me a little more time."
"I just can't watch you cross gates like that," Liehann said. "One of these times you're going to rip your tights or break your ankle."
"I'm a really awkward person; I need three-point contact," I'd shrug.
The sun went down, but we somehow picked our way through a maze of sandy farm tracks after nightfall, and arrived at Romansfontein after 137 kilometers of fighting either fierce wind, cross-country portages, or darkness. "This is your hardest day," the proprietor at Jenny's Cottage had told us during our lunch stop. "It's 130 kilometers. If you're strong, and you guys seem strong, you can start doubling up now and reach Cape Town in 18, 19 days no problem. This is the hardest day."
Of course, I didn't believe that for one second.