Today was another mando day, and a truly bloody tough day—in the morning definitely one of our hardest days so far. We (i.e. the minority of us who went all the way) climbed over 1,200 meters before we reached the lunch truck, and 1,900m in total.
It wasn’t the climb itself that made it such a hard ride (though it was challenging by itself), but the weather: heavy rain, headwind that turned into unpredictable sideway on dangerous downhills, and thick fog that translated into poor visibility—all combined with rather low temperatures (around 15-18°C, though it felt much colder in the wind and rain).
I was glad that I had learnt my lesson during our cold and rainy day climbing up to Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda and put on my rain jacket in the morning. While I got a bit warm underneath to start with, my body temperature soon cooled down to the extent that I felt just fine (little bit on the cold side) as long as I kept moving and pushing hard.
In one instance, I almost fell off my bike when the forest cleared and violent sidewind attacked me without warning. From then onwards, I’d hold my handlebar so firmly and tense my upper body muscle so tight that it would be my arm muscles that burned by the time I reached the lunch truck.
At other times, the sidewind smashed heavy rain onto my cheek (my only exposed body part) so hard that it felt like hail. Ouch!
I was sure happy to see the lunch truck today! At first, due to all the climbing, I felt just fine, but as soon as I stopped moving, my wet body cooled down instantly. “Alex, go inside the lunch truck”, Helen advised, “it’s warmer there.”
I followed her good suggestion and met a congregation of other riders—mostly those who had taken the lunch truck with the plan to ride half day but then changed their mind due to the rain.
The dinner truck came in to lunch. Usually, it would overtake me before lunch and I wouldn’t see it until I reach the next camp, but it had gotten delayed today—picking up hypothermic riders! Less than a handful of riders had resisted the temptation and were still out on the road towards lunch.
Bloody EFI—I had no choice but to keep pushing. The first 15 minutes after lunch felt miserable—cold, wet, windy, and visibility reduced to 10 meters at times. My fingers were all shrivelled from the rain and had turned threateningly white.
Luckily and unexpectedly, the sky would clear somewhat and the rain subside, making the second half of the day a lot more manageable than the first.
At dinner, most of us had put on a jacket and—if we were lucky enough to have packed those into our daily bags—long trousers. One of our new sectional riders, Fatima (also from Switzerland), was sitting in a thin summer dress.
“One can tell you come straight from Europe”, I joked.
“Oh no, I’m always like that. I’m never cold”, she replied.
“But then are you very sensitive to heat?”, I asked.
“No. When I cycled in Namibia in 50° C, it didn’t bother me at all”, she made my jaw drop, “I even liked the heat.”
There are some people who handle extreme temperatures a lot better than others. I used to be on the extreme softy side, though now it seems I’ve trained my body to harden up throughout this tour and moved closer to average. However, Fatima is in a completely different league.
While cycling, I had listened to the audiobook Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall. It explains that we humans all had amazingly strong and adaptable bodies in the ancient (or even not so distant) past, but technology and progress made us lazy, soft and weak.
Other than simply acclimatizing over a longer period of time, there are techniques such as simply exposing ourselves to extreme temperatures more often, Wim Hof’s breathing method, or building up more brown fat to train our bodies to be more resilient. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you now how any of those work as I still need to learn more myself.
However, while I have certainly hardened up more than I ever believed possible over the past two months, I’ve come to understand that there’s still a lot of potential to improve, and that gets me quite excited. Body temperature control can be learnt and trained!
Stage 52: Mzuzu – Luviri School (Malawi), 124km
Road & traffic condition:
Good road and traffic, but lots of climbing.
Terrible—rain, wind and fog making us freeze in the morning. Fortunately, however, the sun came out in the afternoon.
One of the best dinners so far—steak (tender and—for the first time—cuttable for a change), cooked vegetables, potatoes, and salad.
- Tough riding day.
- Another school camp—no shower, horrible squatting toilets, lots of kids.
- Exploring the village & market where we’re camping (Luviri)—here a few random photos:
Making it through one of our toughest riding days yet, within a decent time and in good spirits.