Lest anyone feared that I had given up entirely with documenting this grand adventure, I am providing you this update to reassure you that my passion for prose as it were is still alive. Internet connectivity has remained spotty (though admittedly sufficient for posting these updates) in our rest day destinations and camps. Quite simply, I have chosen to forego fighting queues to get online in favor of enjoying fully the simple pleasures present in each moment of this journey. It must also be said that my motiviation for the effort associated with posting updates waned considerably somewhere in Botswana as we cycled 900+ miles in 10 days of riding. Rest assured, I have continued to write, and the updates will trickle in, but then again, some of the story must remain untold. After all, people will need a reason to read the book…

All that said, this update is being written poolside as I look out onto the swift currents of the Orange River. I am in Namibia and can see South Africa on the far shore. South Africa, the last country, will provide just 6 more days of riding before the finish line in Cape Town. Where did the time go?


I am sitting in my tent in the small town of Solitaire. Dinner has come and gone, a surprise desert of chocolate brownies providing a luxurious finish to the meal. The ride was long today, 135+ km on gravel roads, so the bakery located adjacent to the campground was a welcome treat upon arrival. Moose McGregor is the baker in charge and the flavors in his creations are equal in proportion to his large frame. Apple pie is the house specialty and after two large pieces I can confidently attest to its stature.

An incredible sunset was enhanced by the presence of a gigantic storm cell hovering on the eastern horizon. The sun set in its languid but determined fashion and illuminated this collection of cumulonimbus clouds with the last rays of daylight. Brilliant. The aspiring professional photographer amongst the group was there to capture it all. Dennis, myself, and Luke were there as well though our results were varied. I gave up early and instead became a model of sorts for the others as I posed in the tall grasses and attempted various acrobatic feats before the cameras. I’ve not seen the results myself but I am told the photos are noteworthy.

The next day was only a 30km race stage in the form of an individual time trial. After a 15km warm-up we started two minutes apart in reverse order. My body had been behaving rather unpredictably as of late, no doubt the side effects of too much effort and not enough rest. In short, there are some cracks forming in the armor. I started in the fifth position and was ready to ride it easy after a 5km uphill start into a sever headwind. However, this was to be my final race effort of the trip and honor forced my hand: I killed myself. I passed several riders who started before me and rolled across the finish line to surprised faces and raised eyebrows. I had posted the fastest time with just 4 riders remaining. Adam, Jorg, Dennis, and finally Paul Wolfe rolled across the finish line and my time held up. Not just another stage win, this one meant a bit more as the individual time trial is considered one of cycling’s more macho disciplines. I rode the rest of the day with a smile.

Sesriem was the location of our next rest day and serves as the gateway to the famous Sossosvlei dunes of the Namib Desert. I arrived there, of that there is no doubt. My body was far from whole and hurt in ways it had yet to do on this trip. For once I was happy that my father had chosen to ride the trucks directly to camp – this would mean that he could secure a room. The prospects of a bed and not having to deal with my tent were very appealing. Instead, I arrived at the campsite to learn that he had passed on the rooms. A little waiting, a lot of frustration, 3 beers, 3 hours, and 2 phone calls and we had a room at the Sossosvlei Dunes Lodge. It was paradise in the middle of absolute desolation.

The resort was something very special in its construction: a line of individual bungalows stretching nearly a mile end to end built into a rocky hillside and all connected by a raised wooden boardwalk. Views of the desert on the horizon, springbok feeding nearby, fields of wheat-colored grass shimmering in the fading light of the day, and a warm plunge pool embedded in the rocks added to the ambiance. I did not know it when I arrived, but this is exactly what my body and mind needed. We booked a sunrise trip to the dunes for the next day and were rewarded with one of the most exhilarating landscapes I have ever seen. This rest day was quite possibly perfect.

The five days riding out of Sesriem to our present location on the Orange River were a bit of a surprise. Mentally I simply was not prepared for the length and difficulty of these days. The region has received more rain this season than at any other point in its recorded history and the typically fast, smooth dirt roads were less so. Coupled with distances of 130+ km, a distinct absence of towns, shops, and people, this stretch would not be a swan song for the end of the tour. However, 70km into the first of five days riding I came to terms with what lay ahead and embraced the beauty of the amazing landscape and endless low hills and mountains. We cycled through a number of nature reserves and were rewarded with views of a landscape that due to record rainfalls may never look this way again in my lifetime.

I rode the first of these five days to the town of Betta with a small group consisting of Torrey and multi-bike Mike. We picked up Dennis at lunch and rode comfortably into camp. I would ride the remaining 4 days mostly alone – partly by plan, partly due to some mechanical misfortunes.

Day two saw us awake to the continuation of heavy rains that started shortly after midnight. As dawn arrived, it was clear that the rains were going nowhere on their own and our only hope was to ride out of them. We started the day on a nice dirt road. The day before we pedaled the final 20km at speeds of 38 km/h. Thanks to the rain, we would average only 16km/h over 31 kilometers. The hard packed surface had become a loose, sticky surface of mud approximately 2 inches deep. The mud, sticking to the drivetrain on the bikes caused a symptom known as chainsuck and required some tactical shifting and cleaning to keep things working somewhat properly. Midway through the ride I had what I thought was a shifting problem. At 25km while trying to power forward through a stretch of particularly deep mud I nearly came off of my bicycle when my pedaling efforts were met with no resistance. In short, the ratchet/pawl system in the rear hub had failed completely so the chain could not “bite” against the rear gear cluster to propel me forward. This was a very serious issue as it renders the bike completely useless and is not something that is repaired along the roadside under most circumstances. This could certainly be an EFI ending event. Fortunately, the shite weather and tough riding conditions had persuaded a few riders that a truck ride might be a little nicer. Young Canadian Steve was willing to power through the messy slop that had become our riding surface but did not hesitate to loan me his bike. Severe illness in northern Kenya had taken his EFI status but he was as determined as I was in the moment to keep mine. Tour Director Sharita happened upon us with the runabout vehicle and like that Steve gave me his cycling shoes (he uses a different pedal/cleat system) and his bicycle. Wet, very muddy, and wearing shoes three sizes too small I was underway again on a bicycle built for a someone considerably shorter than me. However, I was moving forward and that is all that mattered.

The mud gave way to pavement at 31km and the balance of the ride, apart from sore feet and smashed toes, was relatively pleasant. I rolled into camp at the Seeheim hotel to applause from fellow riders and was encouraged to see that master bike mechanic Martin was already making a plan to sort out my wheel. We replaced the spring and pawls inside the hub and it immediately sounded and behaved much better. In short, it looked like I was back in business! It appeared that careful planning around spare parts had paid off significantly.

Day 4 was a relatively short day – just 92km offroad – but offered a few challenges as we pedaled towards our camp near the Fish River Canyon. My bike seemed happy but my body acted as if it had been flogged severely. No matter, just get through the day. The road surface was in decent shape but broken up continuously with sections of deep sand, mud, and water where excess rainfall ran across the road surface. I got a reprieve at just 26km when the road approached what is likely a small stream. Today it was a rushing torrent of a river and was in no way crossable. The race day was canceled and tour director Sharita scouted a route across the river by making use of a railroad bridge. Once on the other side of the river, Dennis decided to undertake a naked mile and stripped off his clothes before jumping on the bike. Look at him go! Eeek, that was one large, white rear end. He enjoyed himself so much he carried on for 12km. I rode easy with UK Paul and Dutchman Peter (Pretty Pete) and arrived into camp at the Canyon Roadhouse feeling well thrashed. Apprehension was settling in at this point as well as camp was moved 12km closer meaning we faced a 171km day in the morning, 126 of which was dirt. Paul and I managed to abate many of my fears by eating like savage animals upon arrival. Lunch consisted of the following: 1 liter beer; 1 toasted ham/cheese sandwich with chips; 1 plate of pasta; 1 portion of mixed schnitzel with chips; 2 slices of Amarula cheesecake. OK, I admit it, sometimes I eat because it makes me feel better. The afternoon nap also helped.

Day 5 was upon me. We were fortunate in that the sunshine from the previous day held and the roads continued to dry and harden. My body actually felt pretty good at breakfast. That is to say that my legs no longer seemed to ache. Off I went, just a few minutes ahead of the lead race pack who, thanks to a gentleman’s agreement, had decided to make this the last contested stage of the tour. I rode easy until they caught me and decided to jump in amongst them. We rode steadily, everyone content to keep a moderate pace due to the length of the day and the relative uncertainty around the quality of the road surface. My rear wheel was showing some renewed signs of trouble and at the 71km mark as we climbed a slight rise, the hub gave out again. Good fortune was with me again as we had overtaken Bastiaan earlier in the ride and he was now offering me his bike. Another shoe change and off I went. We arrived at lunch, and though I was feeling very good and eager to participate in this race, I decided that would be selfish. I waited at lunch for him to arrive on my broken bike, the plan being to give him his bicycle while I waited for my father to arrive at which point I could use my father’s rear wheel to finish the day and maintain EFI. Bastiaan agreed to wait with me and we wasted no time in making ourselves comfortable at lunch which is tour-speak for gorging oneself to maximal capacity.

After about an hour, fellow rider James arrived and eager to contribute to my EFI effort, loaned me his bike. We made a few adjustments and were underway again. This time I was riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bicycle with 26″ wheels and big knobby tires. It was the perfect bike for the day and all things considered was quite comfortable. Bastiaan and I rode together and our course soon led to a turnoff onto a “D” road which denotes a lesser or minor road in Namibian highway nomenclature.

The road wound through epic expanses of empty desert flanked by low, red hills and mountains. Stunning is not quite an adequate description, but it will have to do. If ever I was inspired by a landscape it was today. Borrowed bike or not, the landscape and the gentle rolling of the road exhilarated me such that I was inclined to ride this section really hard akin to a wild horse steaming through the open plains. Eventually the effort proved too much for Bastiaan and he urged me to slow down. I did.

The ride culminated with 45km of tarmac to our rest day camp just 13km from the South Africa border. Instead of a reprieve, this tarmac section would prove the most difficult on the day due to a steady, strong headwind. Bastiaan and I set off together, but he soon slowed to accompany Peter the Plumber. I caught another South African, Andre, and encouraged him to ride in my slipstream for the remainder of the ride. He was grateful, and thankful to be able to pay it forward so to speak, I set a steady pace for us as we cut through the wind. We reminisced about some of the tour’s more defining moments and for a few minutes let ourselves talk out loud about what it will mean to finish this adventure. We both agreed that it might prove challenging to fully describe the significance. But, that my friends, is putting the cart ahead of the horse. For now, dinner beckons as we have another 133km to ride tomorrow.

Stage: 70
Day Total: 151km
Total Time: 4:17
Avg. Speed: km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 114bpm
Total Climbing: 491m

Song of the Day: Maxwell – Get to Know Ya

The previous two days, long as they were, proved enjoyable. The steady pace, cooperative riding partners (primarily Steve and Luke), and clear roads made the 100 mile per day average manageable. Thus, with one day to go and the shortest of the three riding days from Lusaka to the town of Livingstone, home of Victoria Falls, I felt pretty good and was ready to ride with the “race” group to ensure a fast passage into our two rest days. The course featured a net descent and local knowledge had made us aware that the pavement would be immaculate.

The plan for the day was to ride on behalf of Australian rider Terry in an effort to net him a stage win. At 55+, he is remarkably fit, experienced, and very determined. A stage win would net his charitable effort – raising funds to purchase tandem bicycles for blind cyclists –
and that was all the motivation I required to sign up as a work horse for his mission. The race group was meant to ride moderately hard to lunch and then take it easy into camp. A certain arrangement had also been made between Terry and the race leaders such that if he did his work and stayed with the group, he would earn the stage win.

The group set out, bloated to a size we had not seen since the early stages in Egypt. As the kilometers rolled by we picked up additional riders and by 25km we had a group of 16 that was working cooperatively and moving swiftly. I encouraged Terry to stay behind me to maximize the benefit of drafting and as the morning passed, he seemed to be in good condition. As we approached lunch, Luke suggested that we consider skipping lunch, the rationale being that with a group this large it would be inevitable that the egos of the race leaders would take over and a hectic pace would ensue to reduce the size of the group by the finish line; such a maneuver could result in Terry getting dropped and the bid for a stage win decimated. So it was that Terry, Luke, Horst, and myself agreed to bypass lunch. Normally this would not be advisable on a stage so long. However, the current pace ensured that the stage would not last too much longer and for the sake of the win we could take the chance.

As the riders at the front of the bunch pulled over for lunch, we rolled steadily past the lunch truck and resumed our previous pace. After 3km we elevated the pace to take Terry to his limits to ensure there were no issues or surprises down the stretch. Horst, Luke, and myself alternated time on the front of the bunch with Terry always sitting on my wheel. It was very liberating to be punishing myself for the benefit of another, particularly Terry who was giving all he had to hang on for the win.

With 15km remaining we looked behind us, and as Luke and I had feared, the pathetic egos of a few had prevailed and riding in excess of 50km at their limits, they had chosen to close the gap to us. I will not hold this against them. However, instead of sitting up and joining the back of our bunch, as was agreed prior to the start of the ride, they accelerated past to open a gap of roughly 500 meters. This left me at the front to close it down and Terry almost falling away from the group. In truth, I found this to be an extremely classless act and was quite disgusted that the alleged “leader” of the race with whom the agreement had been reached opted not to call of the chase out of respect to Terry. Today’s stage win attempt by Terry was never meant to be a challenge to anyone’s ability or position within the race – Terry could not be less concerned about such things – but fragile egos can be irrational.

We managed to close the gap and put Terry on the front of the group to roll to the stage win. It was a proud moment for him and even more so for his charity. I was proud to be a part of the effort, and ever gracious, Terry was quick to buy beers for his “horses” in appreciation of their contributions.

Camp is at a hotel/campground area called “The Waterfront”. In a nutshell, it is beautiful. Hot – not just warm – showers are available, two swimming pools, and ample riverside seating with the mists of Victoria Falls rising in the distance. With a cheeseburger already in my belly and a third beer on its way I am feeling very relaxed. Two days off of the bike means plenty of time to relax, recover, laugh, and be on vacation. I cannot wait!

Stage: 69
Day Total: 182km
Total Time: 6:34
Avg. Speed: 22km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 121bpm
Total Climbing: 749m

Song of the Day: Radiohead – I Might Be Wrong

A cloudless sky allowed the moon to illuminate the campsite as the sleeping hour approached. This same cloudless sky encouraged me to leave the rainfly off of the tent as well in hopes that I could take advantage of cooler temperatures. My nascent meteorlogy skillset did not fail me on this occasion and I enjoyed a lovely night’s sleep and I awoke feeling victorious in advance of the 182km of riding scheduled for the day.

A quick scan of camp during breakfast allowed me to determine who would be riding in the “race” group today, and after very little thought, I knew it would be at best a moderate but unsteady pace they would be riding. No thanks. That said, I rolled out of camp with Luke and Canadian rider Steve, aka Hanson (this nickname being applied in reference to one of the twins in the infamous hockey movie Slapshot). The order of the day, so eloquently phrased by Luke, was simply to “tap it out”. That sounded good to me and was exactly in line with the approach I need to take in order to continue to improve my fitness. Riding with the lead race group daily will only tear me down and leave me needing several weeks recovery upon arrival in Cape Town.

We picked up a number of additional riders during the first 75km to lunch and as the wonderful white truck appeared on the horizon we had a total of 7 in tow. It was a cooperative ride at a very steady pace though I was relieved to be at lunch as my backside was aching just a bit. Lunch was a glorious affiar due to the presence of copious amounts of real cheese and I needed no encouragement to partake in abundance. Three delicious cheese/tomato/tuna/cucumber sandwiches found their way down my gullet with a grapefruit wedge serving as dessert. For the record, my weight is down nearly 4kg (about 8 pounds) for the trip despite my very earnest efforts to eat nearly everything in sight. I don’t have a problem and I can quit eating like this whenever I want (as long as I stop cycling).

Lunch seemed to function as some form of elimination round for our happy peloton for as we rolled away from lunch only Luke, Steve, and myself remained from the original group. We did acquire three Dutchmen and on the whole we were now a significantly faster bunch. The roads were generally flat with small rolling hills providing occasional vaiation. Steady winds from the side or rear aided our progress through a landscape that has varied little over the past 3 riding days. Of note is the continued presence of bicycles – everywhere. This seems to be a country using this form of transport intelligently and upon inspection one can notice that slight modifications to simple bikes have enabled them for use as taxis and the transportation of large quantities of wood and charcoal.

One of the more enjoyable moments on the day came when Luke suffered a mechanical failure in the form of a failed bearing in one of the small pulley wheels on his rear derailleur. Normally this is only a noisy nuisance, but in Luke’s case, the wheel seized and he could no longer pedal. Sending the Dutchmen on their way, Steve and I joined Luke on the side of the road to have a crack at an improvised repair job. After disassembling the wheel we quickly realized that a key metal housing on this small part had failed catastrophically. After picking out the shards of metal and reassembling the piece (minus the two destroyed rings that hold the bearings in place), we carefully filled the entire assembly with some lubricant and screwed the pulley wheel back into place. To our surprise, it held in place and continued to spin with only minimal friction. All things considered, this was a victory that became even bigger when it held up for the final 50km of the ride.

One final stop was planned for the day in the town of Choma. No seriously, it was planned from the start. Situated 138km into the route it was the perfect place for a food break of some sort before riding the final 44km to camp. Hoping for pizza, we rolled into the town ready and willing to eat just about anything. We ultimately settled on meat pies, a coke, and some gummy bears. Sitting on the steps in front of the shop watching life in the town unfold provided time to reflect on the past few weeks and the little time remaining on this journey.

We picked up two other riders for the final 40km to camp and set a frenetic pace. With great cooperation the group averaged just under 38km/h which was sufficiently hard enough to remind me that I had just ridden a long way. In truth, my backside is aching, presumably from just being on the bike for considerable time. A cold shower and an even colder beer have me feeling much better as I write this, though the now perpetual hunger has moved in to threaten my afternoon of content. And with that, I bid thee adeu to resume to my regularly scheduled grazing.

Stage: 68
Day Total: 158.2km
Total Time: 6:34
Avg. Speed: 22km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 121bpm
Total Climbing: 749m

Song of the Day: Aerosmith – Dude Looks Like a Lady

After a memorable, fulfilling rest day in Lusaka, I arrived back at camp at 5:45am ready (not necessarily willing) to hit the routine again. Much to my benefit, Jessica agreed to drop me at our base of operations, the Great East Hotel, and within minutes I was stuffing my face with oatmeal and bananans. Truth be told, I started eating with even greater gusto once I learned I would be riding 158km today, 182 tomorrow, and 151 the day after. That’s an average of 101 miles per day for the 3-day’s ride into Victoria Falls. Let’s just say I’ve never ridden that far in 3 days and leave it at that.

The “racer” group in camp were discussing options for the day and seemed keen to incorporate as many riders into the bunch as possible to make a long day slightly easier. I decided to oblige and rolled out of camp with a group of seven others. Early morning traffic in Lusaka was not terrible but escalated as we left the city center and started rolling through the countryside towards Kakfue. This seemed to phase the bunch not at all and the roads combined with favorable winds led to a very swift pace early in the day.

I continue to be amazed with the beauty of the countryside in Zambia. Its vast expanses of undeveloped land populated with healthy trees and vegetation are stunning. The highlight of the morning was the crossing of an unamed river. The scene seemed tailor-made for game and wildlife and I half expected to see a hippo lazing on the beach. My time spent in blissful daydreaming quicly ended when the incomprehensible tactics of the the group ensued and the pace quickened to ludicrous speed in short order. This continued for the next 30 minutes and if not for the size of the group ensuring that there was ample rest between turns on the front I would have gracefully bowed out for lunch.

As it were, the kilometers ticked away and with 2km remaining until our lunchstop at 78km a steep climb greeted us. The dynamic Dutch duo of Bram and Bram set a rapid pace up the slope which left nearly everyone reeling. Knowing that we would be stopping at lunch I settled into the climb to simply ride steadily while everyone else matched the Brams’ acceleration. The surge proved too much and as the remainder of the group drifted back towards me, I accelerated to pass them all swiftly. None of this mattered with the lunch stop only minutes away, but I did it anyhow to prove that the senseless, eratic tempo set in the morning comes at a cost. This is easy to do when you know you have a choice to not ride with them after lunch. This is the freedom of not racing!

The race group had the typical quick lunch. Having already made up my mind to ride without them for the balance of the day, I was free to analyze the activity around the lunch truck. Everyone who is still concerned with the race was present in our group and as such, there was nobody to chase up ahead. Still, they insisted on a very rapid, short lunch break with some carrying food as they rolled off on their bikes. Why? Odd.

I rode out of lunch with multi-bike Mike, the two of us riding steady but easy for about 10km until we made a coke stop. It wasn’t that I needed it, but the place looked interesting and photo worthy. Tori was already present eating chips and soon after Gary rolled in and ordered fried chicken. Sometimes I am confused as to whether this is bicycle tour or an eating tour. The two seem to form a mutualistic relationship so often.

As I departed the coke stop, two of the Australian riders, Luke and Terry, rolled by and I tagged along. I immediately noticed that Luke had shaved his mustache. Having been nicknamed “the gay Latin pornstar” by Terry and “the Castillian” by myself, he appeared to be man without an identiy. Well, at least to us it seemed that way. I made comment of the missing facial hair and he quickly laid into me about my “Amish chinstrap” of a beard. He addressed me as Abraham and wanted to know if I had spent my rest day fabricating wooden furniture and backing bread pudding.

The smooth pavement, favorable winds, and flat terrain enabled a steady, quick pace and we covered the distance to the town of Mazabuku with little effort. I sat on the front nearly the entire time which earned me another nickname – Farlap – in homage to the famous Australian race horse. We stopped for cokes at a place that also served pizza and once Mike arrived, the pizzza was ordered. Not bad at all, this pizza stop thing.

One last stop in town at the Shoprite store was required for Terry and Luke for the TDA-sponsored competition being run over the next 10 riding days. The competition, consisting of a “special task” on each of these riding days, fantastically called Bo-bo-bo-bonanza, pitts teams of three against each other with a popular vote deciding the winners. Terry and Luke needed additional accesories for the opening act of the competition, a team costume contest, and were hopeful that a grocery store would fulfill their needs. I waited outside with the bicycles discussing the merits of our trip with a local man who seemed to be imbibing in his favorite spirit during the noon hour. To his credit he seemed vaguely familiar with both Cairo and Cape Town but was unwilling to believe that we had ridden bicycles from Egypt to his town. This did not prevent him from asking us for some money, and when that did not work, our bicycles. I explained to him that I had an appointment to get to and he apologized for delaying me. Luke and Terry returned shortly thereafter and we rode the final 20km into camp.

Camp tonight is in the “Oasis” campground. I searched – in vain – for anything resembling an actual oasis. It did have flushing toilets and a working shower which is good enough. The resident canine Spencer made the rounds, introducing himself to anyone willing to scratch his ears. He is officially dog #37 on the list of animals I would love to take home with me. Dinner was a delicous South African dish, bobotie, consisting of rice, minced beef, spices, and egg. The concoction is then baked in a large pot under coals and the end result is something approximating the perfect post-ride meal.

All things considered, the body feels pretty good. Two long riding days await, tomorrow being 182km, the longest ride of the tour thus far. I have been asked if these things make me nervous and the answer, at this point in the trip, is quite simply “no”. 182km is only 5km longer than the 177km ride we survived last week, and at a modest pace, will take no more than 7.5 hours. That’s still less than a day in the office. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective…

Stage: 61
Day Total: 107.6km
Total Time: 3:28
Avg. Speed: 31.0km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 127bpm
Total Climbing: 504m

Song of the Day: Jane’s Addiction – Been Caught Stealing

After yesterday’s dismal outing – a failure in the sense that it turned into a very unfocused training session – I decided a steady, moderate-hard effort today would be productive. With young Canadian Steve in tow, I rolled out of camp. After 1km we were joined by Paul Wolfe. He indicated he would be riding hard today and wanted to know if we would tag along. Sure, why not. By 3km we were redlining it. By 30km we had closed a 5-minute gap to Dennis and Adam. By lunchtime I had 50 good kilometers under my belt and was content to “let the racers race”. Declining their invitation to come along for what I’m sure would quickly become an eratic hammer-fest designed to take time on Jorge, I remained at lunch in favor of a lunch break longer than 3 minutes.

The afternoon then became a solo effort into camp, though I eventually overtook fellow riders and rode peacefully into the outskirts of the town of Kusungu where we would camp. Ryan and I stopped at a coffin workshop where for only 14,000 kwacha one can have a low-end coffin. Interesting work.

Still struggling to find my mojo and battling with a bit of fatigue, I am happy that there is only one more day until our arrival in Llongwe. Due to the route changes through Malawi, we will have an extra rest day in Llongwe to eat, sleep, and recover. For today, the hotel campground meant immediate breakfast on arrival and thanks to Paul Wolfe, my breakfast was free. Our conversation during our meal was oriented around the evolution of professional cycling and the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs. I spent a good chunk of time this afternoon simply wandering around this confused little town, shaking hands with the abundant people standing idle under trees. What can I say but simply that sometimes it is enjoyable to do nothing.

Stage: 62
Day Total: 129.1km
Total Time: 4:24
Avg. Speed: 29.3km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 120bpm
Total Climbing: 848m

Song of the Day: James Brown – I Got You

All cylinders were fired this morning in preparation for the day’s ride. Some wanted an early arrival to the Malawian capital city of Lilongwe in an effort to lengthen the rest period. The Dutch contingent were intent on arriving in time to view the live broadcast of the Tour of Flanders, that grueling and dramatic one day classic bike race. I simply wanted a quick passage and the promise of an air-conditioned hotel room was enough to cement that motivation.

A cooperative group rode well early on and with 6 strong riders we made good time through to lunch. A 5-minute respite allowed sufficient time to finish my sandwich and this simple reality put a smile on my face. The pace quickened shortly after lunch and with 40km remaining in the stage we lost 3 riders: Bastiaan riding off of the front, Tori and Steve falling off of the back. I struggled to understand why this acceleration was occurring, but it most definitely was, and with flashbacks of stages in Egypt ripping across my mind, Dennis – aka “the Furnace” – took a massive turn to keep things moving. The furnace continued to fire and once it was obvious that for once we were really just racing against each other for the fun of a competition, I let go and got involved.

With 5km to go Dennis took the front again and started to get away through the traffic. Fortunately for us, the course turned 90-degrees right and immediately started climbing again. We were all hurting, so I moved to the front in an effort to keep a hard temp up the hill and take away opportunities to recover. With 200 meters to go on the climb I threw everything I had into it and surged ahead of Dennis by 30 meters with Adam right on my wheel. I was gasping, but so was Adam and as we approached the final roundabout I surged one last time to get some separation and sprint across the finish line. Did I win? I don’t really know yet. I was first across the line but rolled 20 meters past the entrance to the camp and ended up arriving at the timing station behind Adam. Oh well, I’m not racing anymore anyway.

Not much else to say. Malawi continues to delight with open expanses of low grasslands and small forests. I will not say it is a featureless landscape though it is so reminiscent of the Midwest region of America that I fail to get as excited as I did when we carving through the back roads of Tanzania. Lilongwe appears to be a quaint but modern city. The presence of a large number of South African establishments which I recognize from my time in Cape Town is promising for it means there will be an abundance of tasty post-ride snacks available for purchase. Of note as well is an ice cream establishment which means my new weight-gain program can begin in earnest!

Stage: 60
Day Total: 124km
Total Time: 5:30
Avg. Speed: 22.5km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 123bpm
Total Climbing: 1914m

Song of the Day: The Postal Service – The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

A full day on this tour can teach new lessons and reinforce the old. Today was such a day as “Mando” race days tend to be. While no longer formally racing – I clock-in and clock-out each day mostly for time recording purposes – I felt compelled to race this mando day in an effort to assist Jorge in his battle against race leader Paul Wolfe. Instead a lesson initially taught by the cinematic sage of karate, Mr. Miyagi, was drilled into me: “You karate yes, OK. You karate no, OK. You karate sometimes – squish, just like grape.” I was not involved in a martial arts competition today (though in the end I felt like I had been kicked in the head a couple of times) but the message is the same and today I did not fully invest myself. For that I would suffer.

The morning was cool and overcast as we got underway. The rider meeting indicated this would be a stage of significant climbing and on queue the ascents started early. A steady pace was set early, but only 12km into the stage Jorge began escalating the tempo up the hills. He would take a hard turn, pull off of the front, and another rider would reign in the pace. When Paul Wolfe took the front and slowed the pace after one such effort, Jorge was not pleased, rode past him and surged ahead of the group. Not interested in chasing, I let him ride away and Paul Wolfe would surge to close the gap. This cycle repeated itself roughly 5 times and finally Jorge exchanged words with Mr. Wolfe, effectively accusing him of sandbagging when he took the front. In general I would agree with those sentiments. However, on this day it was Jorge whose riding style was senseless and irritating. I support his protest, my own recent experiences providing ample justification for those judgements, but Jorge’s riding style was an unusual approach to making a statement and akin to one attempting to combat poachers by killing all of the animals so the poachers have nothing to hunt. Odd.

With Jorge’s words having no effect, we all rode together the remaining distance to lunch. A slight downhill brought us to the lunch truck and Adam used this to open a small gap and continue on in an effort to surprise the others. Discontent, not committed, and generally disgusted – again – by the antics of the small group of racers (5 including myself), I opted to stay and enjoy lunch. Dennis opted to do the same so at least I had some company.

After a long lunch, I rolled out of camp with Dennis and Tori. We rode steadily but not hard and I was able to immerse myself for a while in the sights of the roads. The cooler temperatures accompanying the gain in elevation as we rode up to 6500 feet brought distinct changes to the vegetation. Pine and eucalyptus forests seemed to rule the area and there was no shortage of lumber companies of varying sophistication on hand to harvest the trees for profit. Some used electrical, mill-grade tools while a number of planks were seen being cut by two men with a long two-handed saw.

The road rolled on and up but steady conversation kept momentum constant. We had a few laughs over a very direct roadside advertisement: “Vasectomy: for men who love their spouses”. Interesting.

A long gradual descent followed by one short, sharp climb guarded the approach to our camp at a small school. Truth be told, this stage stung more than it should have. There can be no doubt that my vascilating contributed to the hurt and moving forward I will be “all in” or not at all. Go big or go home.

Stage: 59
Day Total: 135.4km
Total Time: 6:06
Avg. Speed: 22.2km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 120bpm
Total Climbing: 1692m

Song of the Day: Built to Spill – In Your Mind

For reasons unknown I am quite tired today. The morning featured a very nice climb of 10km featuring sections with a stabbing eight percent grade. My intent was to ride comfortably up this hill, but once I had ridden away from Liam and Bastiaan I decided to “give it stick” (an Aussie saying) and chase down Dennis. I caught him 7km into the climb and after we summited together it was time to stop and enjoy the views. The long descent brought us to the floor of the valley where the road snaked parallel to the river. And then it rained. And rained some more. And just a little bit more. Just before lunch it ended and after a couple of delicious sandwiches I was back on the road on my own. I rode the afternoon alone, trying to come to terms with my shiny new, non-competitive identity. Perhaps it was the relatively featureless ride that left me feeling apathetic and uncertain or maybe it is cumulative fatigue.

Today’s camp in the city of Mzuzu presented unexpected opportunities for cultural enrichment. Arriving relatively early into camp we set off into town in search of food and locally famous Mzuzu coffee. Luke and I found sustenance, and the coffee too. Unfortunately for UK Paul, his illness has continued to plague him and at the recommendations of the medical staff he spent the afternoon at the local clinic undergoing a battery of tests for malaria, cholera, and typhoid. Upon returning to camp he told me he now knew the cause of his illness: malaria. He and two others actually have it. The upside is that it is treatable and there is a known source of his degraded performance. For the moment, he and one of the other malarials will continue to ride, much easier than normal, in an effort to preserve their EFI status.

Stage: 58
Day Total: 119km
Total Time: 6:58
Avg. Speed: 17.0km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: ???bpm
Total Climbing: 594m

Song of the Day: Arcade Fire – Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)

A wet blanket of heat and humidity smothered my mojo last night as I lay in my tent. Sleep came with effort and was interrupted frequently by the local hired security and their insistance on shining their flashlight on my tent. Perhaps this would not have awoken me, but considering I had opted to leave the rainfly off of the tent for the night, the 9-million candle power flashlight the man was using illuminated my tent like floodlights surrounding a maximum security prision. Surely the man realized I was sleeping – in the nude at that – so his continued passes with his lamp confounded me.

There was also confusion in the morning about what the actual time which meant the Super-Earlies, that group of campers who insists on waking at least 2 hours prior to breakfast so that they can have a one-hour session of “coffee talk” prior to eating, was up even earlier. Argh. What in the hell do they talk about?

We rolled out of camp with a not-so-familiar friend named Light Rain. Our orders were to cycle the 30km to the next town where the trucks would be waiting at a small grocery. Our rest day tomorrow in Chitimba Beach would be at a lakeside campground that we were told would not be prepared to accomodate all of the food we would likely consume. This stop was to allow us to stock up, load the supplies on the truck, and carry on to Chitimba Beach.

UK Paul and I rode steadily as the rain steadied its rate of fall. Donning the rain jackets we carried on, our departure early and our pace quick to ensure that there would be food remaining in the store, and no long lines, upon arrival. Well, our plan mostly worked, though there was little that we would want to eat as a “meal” in the coming day. So we did what we always do: buy a lot of crisps, biscuits, and Cadbury chocolate. This has proven to be a reliable combination that may not provide maximal levels of satiation but definitely outperforms in the happiness category.

Groceries bought and loaded onto the truck it occurred to us that we were hungry and we were in a town and it was early. This could mean only one thing – a proper breakfast. A quick run down the road we had just cycled revealed a suitable restaurant. After some hefty deliberations with the staff we had fried eggs, toast, and coffee on order. Once delivered and expertly timed so as to avoid confusion, we ordered a second round for everyone. Paul, Bastiaan, Liam, and myself would each eat 4 eggs, 4 pieces of toast, and 4 cups of coffee. It was brilliant, and now we were ready to cycle the balance of the distance and into our rest day.

We rode fairly easy, time not being an issue for us, and enjoyed a couple of cokes in addition to scenic stops on the shores of the lake. Today was about sightseeing and conversation and simply relaxing. With no race pressures, why not?

After what seemed like an eternity we finally arrived at the beach. Bastiaan, James, and myself carried on past the town to scope out potential eating alternatives. After some happy conversation with the local alcohol specialists and one more orange Fanta to round out the day we headed back to camp.

Camp is a beautiful spot with a grassy expanse giving way to a sandy beach that meets the shores of Lake Malawi. I have a wonderful spot under some trees that will provide strategic daytime shade and shelter from any rains. The bar is expansive with lake views and ample cold beers and comfortable chairs. With no bike repairs required and no laundry to be done, this should be a very restful non-riding day indeed.