Today has been our longest cycling day on the entire tour—208km. Of course, this was yet another mando day.
“We start at 6.45”, Max had advised at dinner.
“Can’t we start earlier?” I complained. “I’ll need half an hour to get back out” that bloody 3km sand road that I had walked coming into camp, in fear of getting stuck and falling.
“No, 6.45 is fine”, everyone else agreed.
“Alex, you can leave whenever you want”, Rupert kindly advised, “you’ll just lose the 30 minutes bonus” that I would always get for winning the female race (against myself), and that (same as my overall time) I couldn’t are less about. Good news! Just not sure why it took me three months to learn that I could leave ahead of official start times on mando days . . .
This morning, I was the first one out of camp, at 6.30am, as soon as there was enough sunlight for me to see the bloody rocks and bumps right out of camp, before the road was covered by deep sand and I would need to get off my bike.
Surprisingly, however, I managed to cycle most of the dirt and sand road this morning—probably a factor of both fresh energy levels as well as them having prepped the road and pushed down the sand overnight.
By the time I reached the tar road, Anmei had caught up with me. She waited for me to go ahead.
About an hour into my ride, I heard the racers coming up. “Alex, jumped behind”, Julian kindly offered. My first instinct was to decline, but then I saw Anmei keeping up with the racers. So also I tagged along. With Charles, Julian, Mark and Niklas pulling the train, my speed immediately went from about 25km/h with lots of effort to about 30km/h without much effort. What a difference the train makes!
However, all of us took turns at the front of the train, including Anmei, Ed and myself. Surprisingly, I was totally capable of maintaining a 30km/h speed against the headwind when it was my turn to pull, my legs used to the faster movement and having been able to relax while drafting. Finally, I know why the guys in a group are always able to go so much faster than me alone 😉
Unsurprisingly, with our high-speed racing train, we got far ahead of everyone else. Only Bernd had caught up with us by the time I left the lunch truck. While I was the first one out of lunch, this was just to keep my muscles warm. I was going to jump behind the train again when they came past. And so I did, drafting Ed at the end of the train, for a few minutes.
Then Ed let go and the gap between him and the train increased. He waved for me to move ahead. I pushed hard to move back towards the end of the train. It seemed so near, perhaps no more than five meters ahead of me. However, the person at the front of the train also pushed hard. Five meters became ten. For a few minutes, I made my best effort to catch up, but I just couldn’t. The gap increased. Eventually, I had to accept the reality that I had missed the train. There was no way I could catch up.
While, as usual, I hadn’t even planned to join any train today, having seen the difference it makes in the morning, and with increasing headwind, and with still an incredibly long way to go (120km!), it would have been nice!
I resigned myself to listening again to Elon Musk’s biography (it was impossible to focus on my audiobook while in the train), and to truly earning that stage. And indeed, I would have to truly earn this stage, same as everyone else behind me. Ever increasing headwind and rain, combined with dropping temperatures, made this one of the hardest stages on the entire tour.
I mostly managed to keep my body temperature up while cycling—with the help of five energy bars! However, the last 10km became truly painful. I started to lose sensation in my frozen fingers, so much so that I stopped for my last energy bar just 3km before camp, in fear of potential accidents if I didn’t replenish my energy levels. When I finally reached the border to Namibia at 207km (our camp waiting just after the border), few minutes off my bike while getting my passport stamped were enough to get me into a state of near hypothermia.
Latest from then onwards, Elon Musk was of no more interest to me. The only thing that mattered: hot shower! Luckily, I managed to get the last available room at our camp. It was a room for four. “Any freezing riders coming in—send them to me”, I offered. Within an hour, we had more than full house. Those who couldn’t get a bed were taken in by the luckier riders, so at least they could put up their cots and mattresses inside our rooms.
The greater our misery, the bigger our solidarity. Everyone should be able to enjoy a dry roof above them that night, and we all made sure to make that happen.
Stage 70: Ghanzi – Buitenpos (Botswana), 208km
Road & traffic condition:
Good tar and almost flat, but increasingly strong headwind and rain—combined with the longest ride on our tour of over 200km!—made this one of our most challenging days so far.
Instead of tailwind and heat, we were confronted with unexpected headwind, heavy rain and a significant drop in temperatures. It was only about 15° C on average and got colder towards the late afternoon.
Beef stew with carrots, mushroom and potatoes; plus rice.
Our longest riding day on this tour. We all expected that it wouldn’t be too difficult given flat roads and the hope for some tailwind. With the unexpected change in wind and weather, however, this has turned into one of the most challenging days on our tour. Everyone arrived at camp hypothermic, hot shower and a dry shelter being our number one priorities.
- With almost ten hours, today has been my longest day in the saddle on this tour, so far. Unexpectedly, it wasn’t saddle sores but heavy wind and rain/cold temperatures that made this day a challenge for me. I only had one choice: Harden up and keep pushing. Eventually, I managed to reach camp as the fifth rider (excluding all those who went on the truck, as well as Rupert who stayed back to help pull others). I usually don’t feel my leg muscles—tonight I do!
- Spider alarm—I went for a pee behind a big tree off the road. When I looked up, the biggest freaking spider I had ever seen in my life was tangling in the air right in front of my eyes! That thing was more than 10cm long, no kidding. Unfortunately, I didn’t dare to go closer up for a better photo.
However, today I do have a close-up photo of a corn cricket for you, which I only dared to take since I learnt that those bugs can’t fly nor jump. This just leaves me wondering how that most disgusting of all bugs got onto Anmei’s bike in the first place?!