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Final Thoughts.

It feels like I should be putting on spandex riding shorts and packing up a tent, but this morning I am in jeans in front of a computer.  My fellow riders are in the dining room behind me… a chorus of happy birthday was just sung for Tori, the woman’s race winner.  So many “final thoughts”, but these are the ones that come to me now…

Thank you to Kari.  You changed my life by sending that email about TdA three years ago.

Thank you to my fellow riders.  You are incredible, inspirational, special people.

Thank you to the TdA staff.  Without you, this trip would not have been possible.

Thank you to my friends and family.  Your emails, texts, and phone calls of encouragement brought smiles to my face and warmth to my heart.

Thank you to all the sponsors and donators.  Because of your generosity, several thousand people inEthiopiawill now have convenient access to clean water and sanitary facilities.

Thank you!

Excitement was high this morning in camp as we packed up the tents for the last time. Kim and her kitchen team made special pancakes to fuel everyone in the final 100km. I saddled my rental bike (a city touring bike with a bell) and set out for the final ride. It was a short 60km ride, full of thoughts of the experiences of the last four months. Impossible to sum up here in a paragraph or two. It is the type of adventure that will be shared in bits and pieces over a cappuccino or glass of wine with my friends and family over the next few years. A comment or picture will spark a memory and stories will ensue.

I’ve been thinking about how to answer the inevitable questions of “How was the trip?” or “What will you take away from the experience?” and what I came up with were these three things:

Each day is a new surprise and blessing

Everything I need can fit onto my back

Be present in the moment.

The celebrations started at lunch time with a gourmet food spread, local media, and celebratory pictures on the beach. In addition, the Bicycle Empowerment Network of Cape Town organized the “Big Ride In”, a festival to promote bicycle riding in the city. 500 local riders joined us on the final 40km convoy into the city and the grandstand at EcoPark. I spent the final kilometers chatting with various riders, trying to spend a few minutes with each of the other riders with whom I have shared so much.

Our group stopped just before the park and we gathered all the TdA riders to the front. As the bands played, we crossed a bridge into the park and rode under the Finish Line banner. My mom was on the left and I high-fived her as I came across the line and my cousin Chris was waiting with a hug in the family area. Bottles of champagne were popped and I was swept up in bear hugs as all the riders celebrated our journey and accomplishment!

Camp was a bit somber this morning after yesterday’s events, but today is a new day, the accident was yesterday, and there are still plenty of kms to go to our next camp. Again because of the stomach, I didn’t ride today. I haven’t been able to ride two days in a row for two weeks and I want to make sure that I can ride intoCape Towntomorrow. So, Jacque’s Happy Van loaded up and enjoyed a not so scenic ride to the nextWestern Capecoastal town ofYzerfontein.

Oh – I forgot with all the excitement yesterday, that on a late afternoon beach walk, I saw three dead marine mammals! Probably not the coolest thing for most, but for me it was quite interesting. The first was a large carcass of, I think, a Southern Right Whale. However, I await comments/confirmation from my former colleagues. It was awesome to see the jaw bone and vertebrae; the decaying fluke outline was also barely distinguishable. The second was a recently deceased seal – still fully intact and not picked apart by the seagulls yet. The third was a small whale, species unknown, still bloated with gasses and blood stains out its orifices. Maybe a bit gruesome, but I thought it was the coolest!

Back to the tour… second to last riding day and our last campsite, last soup, last dinner, last breakfast. So many “lasts” and the cameras were documenting it all. All those things that became part of our daily life – washing dishes in the 1, 2, 3 bin system… separating trash into reuse, organics, and Burn baby Burn piles… an afternoon onion based soup… setting up the tents and airing out the damp sleeping mats… looking over the bike for chain/tire/brake issues… hearing the familiar announcements of “Bicycles for the Lunch Truck” or “Open Kitchen” or “Rider Meeting”!

And of course the people… I found myself many times today just sitting back and observing the movement of people around me. Looking into their now familiar faces and trying to remember them way back inCairo. We’ve been through a lot together.

The rider meeting was longer than normal as Sharita described all the events of tomorrow and handed out our 2011 TdA jerseys. The staff went over the top on our final dinner and prepared lobster, mussels, and snook (a fish bought off the boats yesterday). Steve, the driver, finally made his bush bread and bottles of wine complimented the entire meal. After dinner, Bastiaan finally got rid of his infamous broken tent and Tori said farewell to Barbie. They were doused with paraffin and then lit by a flaming arrow shot by Scott. TdA bonfire! The antics continued through the night as a groups found the local bar and then returned to camp to hide bicycles in trees, deflate tires, and ziptie people into/or out of their tents. We were like a group of camp kids on the last day before going home!

I continually say… you never know what will happen in the day when you wake up in the morning. That was so true today. The morning started off fairly normal. We were camped on the bluff overlooking the beach. The dense fog and roaring waves drowned out the normal morning TdA sounds of tents and sleeping bags zipping open and closed, so everyone was running a bit behind. Plus, no one wanted to leave such a great spot! But, we had to move on to the next spot, so off we went.

Again, I was up half the night so riding wasn’t possible. I joined a few others in the van and we persuaded our driver, Jacques to make a morning stop in the fishing village along the bay for coffee. It all seemed like a normal, gray, cool, misty day… until we pulled into camp and heard the rumor that one of our large vans had flipped over. Unfortunately, the rumor was true. Our “green van” experienced a brake failure as it descended a highway overpass. The van flipped into the road ditch onto its roof as the driver negotiated the turn in the road. Thankfully, the only two people inside, the driver and another staff member in the passenger seat, were not injured – it was truly a miracle.

Unfortunately, the five bicycles that were on the cab roof rack (Kari’s included) and the additional ones inside the van storage area (mine included) did not make it – totaled beyond the ability to ride. Despite the luggage lockers collapsing into each other, the staff was able to rip the exterior walls of the van off and pull all the luggage out through the sides – a logistical mess. Once again, the tour leader, Sharita, and her staff did a great job with all the logistics involved in this incident. They quickly arranged for rental bikes to be brought up from Cape Town for those riders who lost their bicycles and another overlander truck arrived to take on the luggage. And of course, at the end of the day, all that stuff is just stuff; the most important point is that everyone is safe and alive.

We made it! OK, so we have a couple more days to Cape Town, but we made it to the ATLANTIC OCEAN! We left the Red Sea on January 19th and this is the first coastline we have seen since.
All afternoon we rode west toward a layer of clouds that reminded me of the ever present marine layer off the coast of San Diego. Rolling hills of scrub brush seemed endless until finally we crested the last one and saw the sea. We pulled over to the side for a picture and various shouts of excitement were exclamed… Amzaing! #$*&! Awesome! Cool! Lovely! Brilliant! (There were some Brits in the group:)
A short 10km and we arrived at the resort town of Strandfontein, the Jewel of the Western Cape. It is a newly built town situated on the most beautiful bay with cliffs extending north and south. It reminded me of La Jolla in San diego and I just kept saying… I am Home. My heart was singing and I had goosebumps of happiness. Our campsite was on a strip of grass on the low cliff just 20m from the water… Heaven!
The staff outdid themselves making seafood lasagna and caesar salad. We dined by the bonfire at sunset and then fell asleep to the sound of waves rashing on the shore. Welcome Home:)

Attack of the tummy last night so I passed the night in a cold bathroom at the camp in springbok. That solidified thed ecision to not ride so the 4 degree celsius wake up temp did not phase me as i stayed comfortable in a down jacket and wool hat. Riders were stamping cold feet and warming hands on mugs of milo and tea, delaying the inevitable… removing finalwarm clothing layers to start the 120km to Gersie.
I climbed into the van under my down sleeping bag and was fast asleep, mising the scrub brush desolate scenery wizz by. We arrived at the caravan camp in Gersie, a desolate one-horse town. Had a tumbleweed rolled by I woul not have been surprised. The community was an interesting mix of people, black,white, and colored. And the buildings and infrastructure showed evidence of the apartheid days whwere entrances were divided and the community was fractured. For so many weeks we have been riding in non descript areas that could have been any where in the world. Gersie was the first place in awhile that indicated we were in Africa.
As the riders waered in we walked into town to fill their insatiable appetites for hamburgers, melk tert (milk tart) and beer. i found a store that sold yoghurt and orages so i was happy too. We wandered back to the dusty camp to find no water in the toilets (but compared to earlier camps, toilets are a luxury). I enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing evening yoga session before attempting dinner and a glass of medicinal wine.

133 km on tarmac and a morning border crossing; all the ingredients for an easy day but somehow it didnt turn out that way…

The border crossing was easy and free – no visa fees! Immediately across the border was a little market sellingdates for 6 rand or 1 dollar a bag. Dates have not been this good or cheap since egypt. That was the first of several things today that reminded me of the beginning. The landscape was low scrub brush and desert trailing off to low mountains in the distance. The road was a fairly good tarmac and there were very few people or villages.
Unlike Egypt the road had a gentle positive grade with rolling hills throughout. By the end of the day we had subtly climbed 1500m in altitude. Between that and not eating or riding for four days, i was wiped out by the end of the day. I kept going to see that I still could. I am happy to have done it but it was miserable and the body and stomach pain were icky. I felt marginally better at camp after a hot shower and creamy yoghurt but thankful to go to bedat 7!