AdventureAfricaBotswana

7-3: The World According to Mountain Bikes

I woke this morning to a bright light flashing in my eyes.My first thought was, “Why is someone wearing their head torch after sunrise?”When the light flashed again, I realized what was going on.Davey had located my camera and was happily snapping away as we slept.He was particularly cheeky this morning, taunting Evvy and me with a secret stash of biscuits and making us giggle so hard that our eyes teared from the effort of trying to be silent so the rest of the camp stayed asleep.

Davey’s pic of me, alseep

Evvy had to leave this morning for LA and I was so sad to lose her smiling face and sharp humor.We’ve become joined at the hip over the last few weeks and our banter has reached a level of a well-timed comedy act.We use the same phrases and voice inflections – most of them derivations of “François-isms”.I’ll miss her, but we’re already talking about Indonesia next year so plans are afoot for another adventure soon.

With the loss of Evvy, a few other travelers, and a few injured bikers, the groups were small enough that we biked as one large group today.It was a bit awkward at first since there tends to be a cluster of oddly-spaced bikers at awkward moments – like down steep hills or in an out of gulleys. But we eventually figured it out.


A group photo at a huge Baobab Tree

Aside from each other, we had had to be attentive to the terrain which was especially rocky and at times quite steep. There were also tire-puncturing elephant thorns and – as we discovered the hard way – tiny but painful thorns in seemingly innocent bushes.Amy was terribly scraped by a bush whose African name I can’t recall, but it translates to “Wait a Moment” since, when you come into contact with it, you have to wait a moment to de-thorn yourself.

A deep sand pit in a riverbed

Naturally most everyone wants to be in the front near Paul since he’s the one who spots the wildlife – and what fun is a safari if you don’t see any animals? But the clusters were a bit dangerous through the rocky terrain.Since each person traveled at different speeds we’d usually end up getting off the bikes and walking up or down difficult hills, so I positioned myself at the back of the group where distance gave me room to play.

Discovering My Inner Mountain Biker

Today was a glorious, wonderful, incredible day.I felt like a long-time mountain biker, taking on challenging hills and sandpits with a crazy enthusiasm I didn’t know I had.Nic told me that the best way to get through tough terrain is to take your weight off the handlebars and use your back wheel for balance – a concept I put to the test and discovered it worked quite well.Davy, Matt and I alternated our biking sequences, sticking to the less congested back of the pack and lauding each others’ biking prowess with cheers such as “Nice balance!” or “Great recovery!”

There was a point on the ride where I sped ahead of Matt and Davey but was far behind the rest of the group, and I found myself in the middle of Botswana with no one in sight for a quarter mile in any direction.It was a lovely moment of silence and serenity. I stopped to listen to the nothingness around me, taking in the culture and the solitude of the moment.

African Silence

For the entire day, the foremost thought in my head was, “I need at least one more day of this.”It’s too soon to leave. I’m just now getting a groove, and the thought of going back to a cubicle makes me want to cringe.I need more time to grow tired of the life and the people.But I’m not there yet.

My Botswana Story

The entire group reconvened at the top of a long, gradual hill so Paul could brief us for the next half-mile.“It’s very steep.”He said in his South African lilt.“Mind your speed.Stay off your front brakes.And leave plenty of space between you and the bike before you.” Davey, Matt and I sat at the top until the bulk of the group was a safe distance ahead.

Then we flew.

There were some hair-raising sections where large rocks popped up or where wheels got stuck, but I recovered well and sped down the hill with a huge grin and a light heart.I was flying around a curve when I saw one of our bikers checking his wheel.

“You okay?”I called out.

“Just got a flat.”He replied

I nodded and glanced at him as I passed.Slowed a bit.

Caught my wheel in sand.

Skidded.

Slid.

Swerved.

Then I was airborne – flying through the African breeze for a few split seconds before landing solidly on my stomach on the African ground, wondering how the hell I got there.Oof.Nothing was broken – just banged up and scraped.And proudly so.By the time I arrived to meet the group, word had already spread of my acrobatics

“Heidi!” Davey’s face was concerned. “Are you okay?”
Are you kidding? I’m great!Look!” I held up my arm and pointed to the long scrape on my forearm. “Botswana! Can we do that hill again?”

War Wounds (so proud!)

I’ve discovered something new about myself.I was a bruised, scraped up, filthy mess with dirt in places I didn’t even know existed.And I was brilliantly happy.So it seems I love speed… adrenaline… extreme activities.This realization considerably changes all future vacation plans since I doubt I’ll ever again be content just sitting on a beach when I know I could be doing something crazy.

Our Last Sundowner

Our last campsite was in elephant country, so we were in an enclosed area but still in open air.And this final site had – get this – RUNNING WATER.Oooohhh.Luxury.I indulged in a long steamy shower where I washed all the pieces of Botswana out of my body.My injuries run the entire length of my right leg and up to my stomach, and these war wounds make me smile each time I look at them.

The crew arranged coolers of drinks for a sundowner on a rocky outcropping, where we climbed up boulders for a stunning vantage over the valley.We sat on the rocks, sipped our beers, and enjoyed our last African sunset.

Heidi and Davey

Nic and Davey

Sunset

Dinner was a traditional braai – barbequed chicken, lamp chops, and sausage, and maize with tomato sauce.This time it was enjoyed around a campfire, where we shared stories of the last two weeks and looked at the stars. I finally learned how to read the Southern Cross. Paul got down in the dirt to show me, drawing a diagram to demonstrate the line and angles and how they connect to the horizon. It’s a bit complicated (or perhaps convoluted) and difficult to remember. Nic asked me later to explain it and I did all right until I needed to determine which direction we were facing. Still a bit of a gray area there. I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t often find myself in the middle of Africa without a compass. Or a Paul.

Most of us fought bedtime since going to sleep meant the trip was over, but little by little people drifted away from the fire and into their cots.Soon there was only a small handful of us remaining listening to sounds of jackals and hyenas.Paul can imitate most of the birds and animals we’ve heard and mimics a spotted owl hoot to perfection.He pointed out that most of the sounds we heard tonight were warning cries, indicating that predators were prowling.When I finally succumbed to sleep, the low rumble of lion could be heard in the distance.