Monday, November 9, 2009

Andrus Enduro Africa Slide Show: 12/7 @ 6:30 PM Harp & Fiddle

It's been just about a month since I returned from my Enduro Africa trek and I'm still buzzing from it all. After a 3-day respite to recuperate from the ride, I returned to South Africa and traveled on to Morocco for work. I've been home for about a week now and have been struggling to catch up with the pile that has overtaken my desk.

Since returning, I've watched several amazing developments come in via my RSS feeds and Google Alerts, including last week's UNAIDS report Women and Health, an inspiring Lancet story of health care delivery in rural South Africa, and many other intriguing items.

My latest obsession is with Sachs' incredible book, 
Common Wealth, which ties infectious diseases, population growth, climate change, and economic development into a coherent whole that has helped me put everything I witnessed in rural South Africa into perspective. It has been hard to sit on the sidelines and not blog about these things, as I might have before the trip.

Next steps
Here's the plan for the rest of the year, as regards shutting Andrew's Enduro Africa down. First, I'll finish editing and adding links to my "trail side" accounts, which I posted each night from South Africa. Although I'm tempted to edit them, I'll just reformat the accounts so they appear in chronological order and I'll fill out the story with links to relevant material.

Second, I've got a slide show and pub quiz night scheduled at Bethesda's Harp & Fiddle December 7th @ 6:30 PM ET. We'll show videos and pictures from the event, reveal the winners from the "How many falls will Andrew take" contest, and provide an insider's view on the trip. Please join us.

In the meantime, here's a great 6-min. video compilation by fellow Enduro Africa rider, Nick Stubbs, which captures nicely the anticipation, excitement, and heartwarming aspects of the trip.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone for your generous donations!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day 11: Durban and flight home

So, for me, Enduro Africa is over. I'm now in the Durban airport about to leave for Joburg. I had a fantastic time and learned to become a much more proficient offroad rider. I'm sore, but otherwise unscathed. With help from my generous sponsors, I expect to turn over $10k in donations when everything's said and done. Thanks to the many recent new donations, which will go to the four amazing charities providing HIV prevention, education, and support in Southern Africa.

Along the way, I got to meet incredible people - fellow riders and South Africans alike. Foremost among the former were members of Team Orange, whose sense of humor, advice, and assistance helped me to enjoy the ride even more. And many thanks to my team leaders, who patiently educated us about the country, its people, and wildlife. They never failed to step into the breach and fix a tire, adjust a bike component, or pull us out of a ravine.

I'll miss the short stories by South African writers they read to us on our longer breaks. My only hope for them is that they practice their proficiency with their GPS devices, although the downtime needed to locate ourselves did offer us more chances to take pictures!

Later today, I'll head home to my family, rewarding job, and affluent life, at least by national and global standards. It is not lost on me that I pulled a winning ticket in the lottery that gave me American citizenship and the incredible opportunities that middle-class life there affords. Time will tell how I convert this experience into something tangible. 

But I'm determined that this will be the end of a chapter and the start of something new. Not more adventure tourism, mind you, but something that has an even greater impact on the lives of the global poor than the HIV prevention science that I've devoted my life to thus far.

And soon, dear readers, I'll shut down this blog. But not before I backfill these rider accounts with pictures and links, and add a bit more content aimed at future riders (e.g., 5 top things to pack - and leave behind) and follow-up with the winners of my recent poll (How many falls will Andrew take?). I'll leave the blog up for a year, in case future riders are curious about what they may face.

I'm tremendously grateful to all who made this possible, including those friends, family, and new friends who donated, or sent encouraging notes, comments, and questions as the trip progressed.

For those on the next leg back to PE, I have only this to say: We thrashed your bikes. Nothing personal. We really thrashed them. Enjoy your ride, be safe, and be sure to take in as much of the country as you can. You'll miss the best parts if you focus only on the ride.

Photo credits: Andrew Forsyth, Mike Taylor, Andrew Forsyth

Day 10: Mbotyi to Port Edward

We departed at 7:45 AM Sunday in light rain and with dark clouds overhead. The final push was to be a 200-km run toward Durban, with a few technical sections thrown in for good measure.

We immediately encountered more of the slippery goop that did me in the day before. But I'd learned overnight that it had also caught Red Cherry Adventure's Mike Glover offguard. The seasoned, ex-champion enduro racer was said to have broken toes in the tumble. The slop would claim scores of others before the day was out.

After staying in several 1 - 2 star venues along the route - including one that took the area's name, "Hole in the Wall," as a quality benchmark to strive for - Enduro Africa riders dismounted Saturday night at the spectacular Mbotyi River Lodge, with it's manicured lawns, lighted palm trees, and fantastic food.

One of the part owners was a kind middle-aged woman with a warm smile who recounted her years working in HIV prevention in the region. She even made an invited visit to the Bush Whitehouse for her work on the Mothers2Mothers project. Hands down, the lodge was the nicest, friendliest place we would stay on the trip. It didn't hurt that it also was home to a pleasant pitbull mix that made the rounds to ensure that guests were sorted. Visit, if you have the chance.

We made our way into the hills and up through the low hanging clouds. We came across large, shoddy schools and pristine police compounds in seemingly deserted mountain communities. From the saddle, the contrasts suggested a ranking of funding priorities out of step with the need.

The once familiar goat paths and open fields were now soaked and had turned rather formidable. This was particularly true as we slid our way down a steep decline to a shallow stream crossing. By turning the ignition off, we used the clutch to work first gear to control the rotational speed of the rear tire. Pull the clutch in and the tire rolls; let it out and it eventually locks up.

This strategy, when combined with careful control of the front brake, freed our feet to stabilize the bikes in the slippery muck. I dropped and lifted the 300-lb bike a dozen times (but rarely fell myself). All of this exacted quite a toll: Dressed in full protective gear and a rain jacket, I sweated more profusely than at any time in my life.

The entire group of ~80 riders eventually made its way out of the valley with the help of a narrow, gravel road. Miles later, we stopped to regroup by the roadside and immediately drew a small band of 4 - 8 year old boys, barefoot, and dressed in ripped clothing. Some played with tops in the dirt and debris. Two smaller boys deftly climbed a fence wrapped in rusted barbed wire for a better view of the bikes. One of them, with big eyes and quick to giggle, goofed with me as we made each other laugh by the roadside.

Only one of their lot spoke a few words of English. I pleaded with him to work hard in school and to study. He translated. I pointed to a few and asked "Mandela? Mandela?" in the only way I could think to suggest that they -- like their former President before them, who arose from very humble roots - could have a bright future and contribute meaningfully to their country. Admittedly, it was a long shot and a weak effort. Still, they shook my hand excitedly as I left, seeming to appreciate the impromptu mentoring even more than the chicklets others had given them. I shook the hand of the little boy with the bright eyes twice, just for good measure.

The rest of the ride was unremarkable. We eventually made our way to the camp grounds that would serve as our final base. We dismounted the mud-caked bikes and were greeted by a traditional Zulu dance performance. Had I not destroyed my camera during my last fall, I'd have taken pictures. We checked in, cleaned up for dinner, and began to get organized for our flights home or onward.

As the evening events started, I finally identified the slow, burning tension that had come to a head. Enduro Africa had attempted to strike a fine balance from the beginning between two competing factions. On the one hand, the event is an out-and-out testosterone-fest, complete with the drunken hooligans among us wreaking havoc at all hours. And on the other hand, the place is crawling with more pensive people genuinely interested in the speeches on opening night by representatives from the event's selected charities. I wanted the group to end on a similar highpoint as that first night, one that emphasized less the ride and more the remarkable charitable work that we'd make possible.

But tonight, the testosterone faction was clearly in control. The closing ceremonies thanking all involved ended with an Enduro Africa tradition: Two of the bikes were ridden by team leaders who, stripped to their skivvies, circled the pool several times before plunging them into the water.

The goal was to see who could get the water cleared and the bikes restarted and running faster - the team leaders, or the extraordinary mechanics who had kept us all going. It took all of 3 minutes for the first team to remove the water, reinstall the spark plug, and ride the dripping bike out to the parking lot. In a surprising upset, the team leaders beat the ride mechanics to restart their bike. 

But the outcome said less about the competitors than it did about the hardiness of these incredible Honda CRF230Ls. I didn't envy the camping grounds staff, who would have a sandy pool floor and a fuel slick to contend with in the morning. 

Photo credits: Mbotyi River Lodge, Andrew Forsyth, Mike Taylor