AdventureAfricaBotswana

7-2: Biking Safari

We campers rallied around 7AM – but it’s difficult to do otherwise when the rest of the wild world wakes with the sun.In the cot next to me, Matt muffled beneath layers of his sleeping bag, “Someone tell all those birds to be quiet.”

Matt’s Wake Up Call

I felt much better this morning than yesterday, though terribly dehydrated from the loss of nutrients.So I pampered myself with a quick bush shower, which was surprisingly refreshing.Also liberating, as getting naked and bathing under a tree definitely opens the mind.

The Wildlife

We set out in our separate groups and began to bike through the bush.A few of us have peasant feathers in our helmets; gifts from Davey who has an ever-attentive eye for these details.

Soon into our ride Paul called our attention to a jackal who ran away from us in order to distract our attention from her den – a surprisingly small hole in the ground.We stood around the hole, looking and in joking that the jackal was probably off the trees saying, “Dammit!Why didn’t that work?”

Later we stopped our bikes to watch a stork far to our right.It took a few minutes, but soon Israel (our guide in the rear of the group) discovered that the action was really off to our left, where a herd of nine elephants emerged from the treeline and slowly made its way in our direction.Backing our bikes out of their path, we watched them pass.This vantage point from the ground gives us a distinct feeling of vulnerability, which is always good for the human ego.Times like this remind me how very fragile and small we are in this world.

Me and the elephants

A few moments after the herd had passed, two other elephants appeared, rushing down the path after the rest of the herd.One of them trumpeted the entire way; ears flaring and trunk raised, as if to say, “Hey!!! Wait the $#**(@# for me!!”

I’ve learned a new word: anthropomorphism, which is the concept of giving animals human characteristics.I’ve done it multiple times already, and I’m quite all right with that.It makes for a fun bicycle safari.

The bad part of today’s story is that I was absolutely shattered from dehydration.Completely wiped out.I couldn’t catch my breath after the simplest of hills, a thin sheen of cold sweat covered my skin, and my head spun from light-headedness.I may not be a world-class athlete, but I’ve trained for enough marathons to know when my body isn’t running the way it should – and today mine was definitely fighting.After two hours of bounding around Mashatu I told Paul that I needed to stop.(which – ugh! – I hated)He radioed ahead to Sparks – one of the crew who was trailing the team with a truck full of spare tires – to come collect me.I was horribly cranky that I had to quit, but my body wasn’t recovering as quickly as it should and I’d only get worse if I didn’t spend a few hours properly hydrating.

Both biking groups (and me and Sparks in the spare tire truck) met under a large Mashatu tree for coffee and snacks.The sun was high in the sky and the air had become extremely hot.This is this dry season in Africa, so Mashatu is covered with dry brush and red sand.There were only a few more hours that were suitable for biking before we’d need to take a late lunch and siesta.

Sparks and I followed behind the Pan Aqua group, ready to replace the occasional punctured tire or supply new water bottles.I spent the time consuming multiple liters of water and peppering Sparks with questions about himself, the game reserve, and the animals we saw from the truck.It was like having my own personal game drive.The animals are less inclined to rush away from a vehicle, since they can’t differentiate between the automobile and the people, so we got a closer view of the wildlife – like impala, zebras, and elephants.

A herd of impala

Lunch By the River

Our late lunch and long siesta took place under huge Mashatu tree by a lovely dry riverbed.We had a spontaneous nature walk along the edge of “the river”, led by Davey and his endless knowledge of plants, birds, and rocks.He showed us a cactus tree shaped like a candelabra that has juice inside that’s slightly toxic and can irritate the skin.But it can actually be practical too – if put into a small pool of fish, the juice will poison the fish and they’ll rise to the surface, ready to eat without any harm to the fishermen.

Davey’s so smart.That’s why we love him so much.Plus, he makes us laugh and gives us treats – and that’s always a plus.Evvy and I have decided to keep him.

Davey – communing with nature

Back on the Bike Again

After four hours of consuming water, my body was finally (finally!) showing signs of hydration.It took three and a half liters of water to get there, but I’d never been so happy to pee in my life.(too much information for you but – hey – these are the things we focus on when biking through the bush)It meant I was ready to go for the afternoon bike ride and I was thrilled.The last thing I wanted was to come all the way to Botswana and miss out on the mountain biking.

We started up a hill past a nearby giraffe and an elephant with flapping ears, and we hadn’t gone more than a few hundred feet when Davey scored a wicked flat tire with multiple punctures.Install of calling Sparks to replace the tire, Paul and Israel opted to fix the punctures on the spot.This took a while, but was endlessly amusing and allowed us time for pictures, bird watching, and the observation of a cheeky baboon in the distance.

Thorny Tire Puncture

Heidi and Evvy – bikers extraordinaire

Biking through Africa is a lesson in endurance, coordination, and multi-tasking.The terrain varies from large red rocks and cragged surfaces, to solid dirt, to deep pits of sand, and each element requires strategy and concentration about speed, wheel angle, and gear adjustment.With all the deep concentration of the ground, I completely forgot to look up and spot wildlife.If it weren’t for Paul and Israel pointing out animals and plants, I’d probably miss most of the game reserve.It took me a little while to get my mountain biking legs in order, but as soon as I successfully navigated my first gully, I crested the hill with a big grin and announced to Evvy, Davey, and Matt, “She’s back!”

Sundowner

We biked for a few hours, dodging thorny bushes and sand pits until the sun began to get lower in the sky.Up a final hill was the crew’s choice spot for a gorgeous sundowner.The other half of our group was already there, sitting on the edge of a hill overlooking a giraffe that drank peacefully from a small watering hole.I can’t find a word to best describe the beauty and serenity of the moment.“Poetic”, maybe?“Potent”?Either way, it was lovely.

As the sunset and the light shifted, Davey, Evvy, Matt and I scrambled to the other side of the hill in prime position to photograph the stunning sunset and to experience poetry of a different kind.We quietly snapped our photos and compared notes on the various camera angles and exposure times.The sky changed from blue to gray to pink to a bright orange.And in this peaceful, lovely moment, Davey – looking wistfully into the distance – said, “So.I just pulled a tick from my groin.”

Without missing a beat, Evvy replied, “Let’s look for more.”

The Diet Coke I’d been sipping came out my nose.

Davey, Matty, and Evvy at Sunset

Another Night Under The Stars

After sunset we biked through dusk to get to the campsite before dark.Our site is – again – at the base of an impressive Mashatu tree.I was filthy with dust and grime from the bush, so the bucket shower had definite appeal.Especially when we saw that tonight’s shower had no enclosures.I stood beneath a steady stream of warm water, completely naked, and showered under the African stars.

Dinner was a delicious beef stew, which I consumed with a great deal of enthusiasm before crawling into bed.We’d moved our cots to sit beneath the starts rather than beneath the tree, and Davey came over with his bird book to show me the various parrots and starlings I’d seen during the day. While he was sitting there, a large thingy flew into his lap and – of course – he made friends with it. Because that’s what Davey does.

Davey’s crawly thingy

Tonight was our turn for “guard duty”.Each person stays awake for one hour to make sure no wild animals wander into our campsite and absconds with one of our campers or – even worse – one of our bikes.Really, though, there’s not much need for this since animals usually avoid the firelight, so guard duty is truly a reason to spend an hour quietly listening to the sounds of the nightlife: hyenas, owls, etc.My shift was on the earlier side – 11:30-12:30 – so Israel roused me from a deep sleep when his shift was over.I spent the hour sitting by the crackling fire, writing in my journal and hoping to hear a lion or two.But all I heard was the snores from my fellow camper/bikers.