Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 4: Port Alfred to Morgan's Bay

We set off from Port Alfred at 8 AM with the obligatory police escort to the city border, which was all of a half mile away. The morning's light rain was a mixed blessing: Less dust on the trails but a greater risk of slipping into the foot-deep ruts along parts of the route. Thankfully, the rain ceased by 11 AM or so.

Team Orange, consisting of a fascinating and diverse group of 12 - 14 riders from the UK, Shanghai, Vancouver, and Washington D.C., made its way through progressively poorer communities over the course of the day. We were greeted frequently by enthusiastic school children who heard our approaching engines and ran to wave to us from schoolyard fences and in perfectly pressed, blue and grey uniforms.

Our team is expertly led by a kind and highly disciplined, retired, Afrikaaner who not only gets us safely from point A to B, but also provides us with insights into the history of the region, even showing us one of his favorite fishing and camping sites. Just before lunch at a lakeside stop, he read an amusing short story to expose us to South Africa and its cultures. These insights furthered an ongoing discussion about the challenges of addressing simultaneously the needs of all South Africans, but whites and blacks in particular.

On today's route, we traveled through several small and bustling towns. I only caught glimpses of each -- the lines of colorfully attired women 30-deep for the bank ATM, or Christian proselytizers wailing into their microphones, or the proprieter of a "Chicken and Chips" shack awaiting customers. I'm often tempted to feign a mechanical just so I can stop to take pictures. I'll talk to the team leaders tomorrow about letting me pull over as needed.

On a double-track road, I was involved in a rather unfortunate incident with a puff adder, a generic name for a venomous, triangular-headed, yellow and black snake introduced to us on yesterday's game park tour. The creature accounts for more deaths than any other snake in the region.

As my Orange Team colleagues raced along in the left lane of a double-track dirt road, I proceeded in the right track seeking improved visibility. I spotted the adder just as the rider ahead of me passed it, but the 2 - 3 footer was midway through my lane as I raced up to it at 50 MPH (or more). I tried to bunny hop over it, which is a mountain-biking technique for clearing obtacles by compressing the suspension and releasing it just as you hit the offending curb, log or snake. But with 300 pounds under me, it didn't quite work. I gave the poor thing instead a generous helping of rear tire, again, spinning furiously at 50 MPH (or more).

I looked over my shoulder and saw that the snake had assumed a defensive, coiled position for next rider that attempted to treat it as a speed bump. At the rest stop, I heard from the sweep (i.e., the experienced rider at the tail of the pack who ensures that all survive the day) that the snake remained in the road even as the final riders passed. I hoped I hadn't mortally wounded it.

After three flat tires and a mechanical on the sweep's bike, Team Orange was the last to arrive at Morgan's Bay this evening. We were covered in mud, just like everyone else. After power-washing the bikes and taking showers, we reconvened for dinner and tomorrow's pre-ride briefing.

The route now takes us into the Transkei region ("the area beyond the river"), a well-known part of South Africa for its political history as well as its rugged, undeveloped coastline. The 80-km route is expected to take 8-hrs, require 13 stream or river crossings, and offer challenging single track, wooded trails. The organizers are bringing out fuel and water trucks to meet us and keep us on track. Note that our trusty Hondas usually get about 160 km per tank - that we'll need to refuel on this short section speaks volumes about the challenges ahead.

We'll also drop in at one of TouchAfrica's school projects, which is one of the four charities supported by Enduro Africa. We'll be there for a volunteer day to help renovate one of their schools. I can't wait.

A warm word of thanks to Deborah. Mike, Hector, Mojo, Jess, Cris, Mike, Lance, Lorraine, and Elizabeth for their comments. Please feel free to send any questions about the trip. I'll do my best to respond asap.

That's it for today. Everyone made it safely and with huge grins on their faces. The adventure continues.

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Photo credits: Andrew Forsyth, Andrew Pawley, Mike Taylor


Matt Felkin said...

many thanks andrew ,yours bob and michaels blogs are so informative , i dont think i have any questions ,you seem to answer them all in your write ups ... stay safe !!!! and again many thanks

Katybear said...

I just want to know... Are you posting all these entries using just your thumbs on your Blackberry? That's pretty impressive thumb dexterity and endurance!!

Anonymous said...

from Lorraine,,,,,,Mikes wife.........enjoying reading your blog,,,,,,,,you are weaving a fantastic tapestry of sights and sounds.......I can remember the colourfull ladies, and the immaculate school children! hope you get to stop and take photos tomorrow, enjoy your volunteer day! ride strong and safe, and take care of each other! sending love to my gorgeous husband Mike mwah xxxxx

paminag said...

I can just see you careening towards that viper! i am also dying to know if you are typing this on a blackberry. Great writing - you bring us all with you. Keep riding! Keep writing! Pamina

Vic Baxter said...

I hope you're OK with me adding comments retroactively Andrew, as subsequent to my initial congratulatory email to you, I have been reading your blog daily to pump myself up for the run South next week. As someone who grew up in Kenya and cut my teeth on similar Hondas from 15 to 18 years of age, I'm returning some 40 years later to a ride that will be as hard as anything I did at 18 and I hope I show even half the fortitude and enthusiasm that is shining through your blog. Well done Andrew