Thursday, October 8, 2009

Day 7: Mazeppa Bay to Hole in the Wall

We began our 12-hr, 140-km ride from Mazeppa Bay to Hole-in-the-Wall with a long climb into the Qora gorge and down to a river crossing that left most riders with flooded boots, myself included. That's right: We had soaking wet socks, heels, and toes for the rest of the day. But we didn't care.

The day was especially hard on the bikes, as there were many trying sections on the route. At least 1 motorcycle was "drowned" at a river crossing, one clutch was burned out in our group, and there were plenty of flat tires, crash damage to the controls, and burned out headlamps.

My own bike got a rear flat that had to be nursed regularly with fix-a-flat gel for the rest of the day. And after bending a rear brake lever, it took hours and two near accidents on sharply turning, gravel mountain roads before I got the brake adjusted to give me better control.

Today's ride also brought a seemingly endless parade of impoverished villages, emaciated livestock, and curious children who lined the roads again. I've learned that while everyone smiles and waves, they don't do so necessarily for the reasons we attribute to them. Very often, enthusiastic waves and big smiles turned into sad expressions and requests for money, candy, or food, if you stop long enough to investigate.

And word had it that several bikers got pelted by stones in a few places. Others encountered makeshift barriers in the roads or strategically positioned boulders along especially challenging sections. Admittedly, these incidents were very rare. And frankly, I could imagine several explanations for these antics, without condoning them of course.

These incidents seem to offer the counterfactual to some riders' contention that villagers are happy with their impoverished, diseased, and low opportunity lives, speaking frankly, and do not seek anything from our merry band of adventure tourists than to give us heartfelt greetings from the roadside. But then again, I suspect that I carry a genetic predisposition for cynicism.

If nothing else, this aspect of the trip has been an eye-opening experience that has raised many difficult questions about what the developing world needs and how best to provide humanitarian assistance. In short, how best can we use international aid and charity resources to bring sustainable changes to quality of life, reduce preventable diseases like HIV and TB, and close the gap between the haves and the have nots, if only a little? I'm not convinced that we are achieving as much as we could with existing resources.

The post-ride briefing for tomorrow was encouraging: We'll have a "mellow" 140-km trip and it will contrast sharply with today's punishing route. I won't say how many spills I took today, but let's say that it was a record for me.

All for now. I'm falling asleep while sitting upright at a table and texting. A first for me. Stay tuned - the adventure continues.

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Photo credits: Andrew Forsyth, Mike Taylor


Daina said...

Record number of falls, eh? Is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle get up helpful in keeping down the number of bruises?
And kudos to you for such long posts typed out on a Blackberry! :)

Andrew said...

Actually, that protective armor saved me from much worse than bumps and bruises. I shudder to think what my elbow and arm would have looked like without it esp. when I had the one wipeout on the muddy road. Coulda been quite a different outcome.

And I just couldn't stop writing, despite being all thumbs. There seemed so much to say. Glad you didn't mind, dear readers.