The Final Turn of the Pedal

 

Ethan and Xiao Bar cross the line

Ethan and Xiao Bar cross the line

 

 

As I write, heavy early-afternoon clouds have just obscured Cape Town’s Table Mountain. After two brilliant days of sunshine, the threat of rain is very real. If indeed it showers, the drops will be the first I’ve encountered since I left Windhoek more than two weeks ago. (All in all, the Tour d’Afrique has been very lucky this year, especially during the stretch in South Africa, where cold and wet are seasonally appropriate.) But even if there is rain, it won’t matter. I’m no longer in the saddle and don’t yet miss it. Yes, as suddenly as it began, the Tour d’Afrique 2009 has rolled to its finale, a long long long road from its first day in Cairo.

Picking up the saga where I left off on the Namibian-South African border, after a welcome day of rest, the group crossed into the Tour’s final country and then spent six consecutive days doggedly ticking off the remaining 750km to Cape Town.

At first the land was much like what we’d experienced in Namibia — vast stretches of relatively arid emptiness. I don’t know why I imagined crossing to South Africa would suddenly usher in a change in terrain. Wishful thinking, I guess, especially after the nerve-rattling pummeling over dirt and gravel in Namibia. I confess that the continued monotony was a bit disappointing, but at least there were a few more towns along the way, most with more services (especially Wimpy fast food restaurants). And, hallelujah, we were pedalling on pavement, a fabulous relief!

Of course, there were still plenty of challenges: long days (an average of 125km per day), long slow climbs, unremitting rolling hills, a chilly night of frost, several early mornings of thick drenching mist, 70km more on enough-already corrugated gravel roads and, for the final two days, sapping head winds. In fact, as several people commented, there was just never an easy day. Some combination of factors always brought with each new sunrise a new promise of tough trials.

But Xiao Biar and I endured. As everyone did, with growing determination, especially the EFI riders, their target inching tauntingly closer each day, road signs counting down the distance to Cape Town.

And then, on Saturday 9 May, on a brilliantly sunny and warm afternoon, all the riders converged on a beachside assembly point just 30km from the finish. Table Mountain — could it be the world’s biggest finish line — beckoned in the near distance, adding to a sense of growing excitement that, believe it or not, after four months and almost 12,000 kilometres, the Tour really was almost over.

Two by two in a 70-rider police-led convoy, we then rolled without mishap to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront and a thundering, triumphant welcome. The music of local minstrels could barely be heard over the roar of (sometimes teary) well-wishers gathered to celebrate epic determination. A public ceremony ensued — medals presented by Cape Town’s acting executive to riders who had started in Cairo, special honours showered on the race winners (all from South Africa!), Tour d’Afrique Foundation presentations of bikes to local charities — and then… and then…

Finisher's photocall

And then the Tour d’Afrique actually really was over. Just like that. I was only involved for 1750km and two weeks and my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction was huge. I can only imagine what the riders who’d been on the road the whole way felt, many showered with accolades from friends and family who flew in from all over the world. All the hardship, the physical discomfort,  the mental knocks, the healing wounds — all of it suddenly a memory, a fabulous and enduring memory.

That evening — which lasted well into the next day’s early morning — riders, staff, family and guests enjoyed one final Tour dinner. More awards, more recognition and a slide show drummed home the grand qualities of what the Tour riders had undertaken together, had supported one another through, had come together around. It also made me realise just how much I had missed.

But I am honoured (and a little humbled) to have been a part of it for the short time I was, to have been one of two to carry the Lonely Planet jersey across the finish line. I just hope I did justice to the strength of will and thigh of all who participated, as well as the vision of the man who enabled us to join this great adventure. 

So, to all of you — the Lonely Planet riders (Scott and Sharif who went from Cairo to Khartoum, David E and Quentin who slogged from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, Jim and Carlo who conquered the ‘roads’ between Addis Ababa and Nairobi, Martin and Rana who loved Nairobi to Iringa so much they stayed on with Tony and Fiona from Iringa to Lilongwe, Nate and David N who took on Lilongwe to Victoria Falls, and Tom and Mara who after Vic Falls to Windhoek passed the baton to me and Xiao), the other riders and the staff — congratulations and many many thanks.

Who knows where next we may find our wheels spinning. Silk Roads 2010 anyone?

~ Ethan Gelber

The Final Turn of the Pedal
As I write, heavy early-afternoon clouds have just obscured Cape Town’s Table Mountain. After two brilliant days of sunshine, the threat of rain is very real. If indeed it showers, the drops will be the first I’ve encountered since I left Windhoek more than two weeks ago. (All in all, the Tour d’Afrique has been very lucky this year, especially during the stretch in South Africa, where cold and wet are seasonally appropriate.) But even if there is rain, it won’t matter. I’m no longer in the saddle and don’t yet miss it. Yes, as suddenly as it began, the Tour d’Afrique 2009 has rolled to its finale, a long long long road from its first day in Cairo.
Picking up the saga where I left off on the Namibian-South African border, after a welcome day of rest, the group crossed into the Tour’s final country and then spent six consecutive days doggedly ticking off the remaining 750km to Cape Town.
At first the land was much like what we’d experienced in Namibia — vast stretches of relatively arid emptiness. I don’t know why I imagined crossing to South Africa would suddenly usher in a change in terrain. Wishful thinking, I guess, especially after the nerve-rattling pummeling over dirt and gravel in Namibia. I confess that the continued monotony was a bit disappointing, but at least there were a few more towns along the way, most with more services (especially Wimpy fast food restaurants). And, hallelujah, we were pedalling on pavement, a fabulous relief!
Of course, there were still plenty of challenges: long days (an average of 125km per day), long slow climbs, unremitting rolling hills, a chilly night of frost, several early mornings of thick drenching mist, 70km more on enough-already corrugated gravel roads and, for the final two days, sapping head winds. In fact, as several people commented, there was just never an easy day. Some combination of factors always brought with each new sunrise a new promise of tough trials.
But Xiao Biar and I endured. As everyone did, with growing determination, especially the EFI riders, their target inching tauntingly closer each day, road signs counting down the distance to Cape Town.
And then, on Saturday 9 May, on a brilliantly sunny and warm afternoon, all the riders converged on a beachside assembly point just 30km from the finish. Table Mountain — could it be the world’s biggest finish line — beckoned in the near distance, adding to a sense of growing excitement that, believe it or not, after four months and almost 12,000 kilometres, the Tour really was almost over.
Two by two in a 70-rider police-led convoy, we then rolled without mishap to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront and a thundering, triumphant welcome. The music of local minstrels could barely be heard over the roar of (sometimes teary) well-wishers gathered to celebrate epic determination. A public ceremony ensued — medals presented by Cape Town’s acting executive to riders who had started in Cairo, special honours showered on the race winners (all from South Africa!), Tour d’Afrique Foundation presentations of bikes to local charities — and then… and then…
And then the Tour d’Afrique actually really was over. Just like that. I was only involved for 1750km and two weeks and my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction was huge. I can only imagine what the riders who’d been on the road the whole way felt, many showered with accolades from friends and family who flew in from all over the world. All the hardship, the physical discomfort,  the mental knocks, the healing wounds — all of it suddenly a memory, a fabulous and enduring memory.
That evening — which lasted well into the next day’s early morning — riders, staff, family and guests enjoyed one final Tour dinner. More awards, more recognition and a slide show drummed home the grand qualities of what the Tour riders had undertaken together, had supported one another through, had come together around. It also made me realise just how much I had missed.
But I am honoured (and a little humbled) to have been a part of it for the short time I was, to have been one of two to carry the Lonely Planet jersey across the finish line. I just hope I did justice to the strength of will and thigh of all who participated, as well as the vision of the man who enabled us to join this great adventure. 
So, to all of you — the Lonely Planet riders (Scott and Sharif who went from Cairo to Khartoum, David E and Quentin who slogged from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, Jim and Carlo who conquered the ‘roads’ between Addis Ababa and Nairobi, Martin and Rana who loved Nairobi to Iringa so much they stayed on with Tony and Fiona from Iringa to Lilongwe, Nate and David N who took on Lilongwe to Victoria Falls, and Tom and Mara who after Vic Falls to Windhoek passed the baton to me and Xiao), the other riders and the staff — congratulations and many many thanks.
Who knows where next we may find our wheels spinning. Silk Roads 2010 anyone?As I write, heavy early-afternoon clouds have just obscured Cape Town’s Table Mountain. After two brilliant days of sunshine, the threat of rain is very real. If indeed it showers, the drops will be the first I’ve encountered since I left Windhoek more than two weeks ago. (All in all, the Tour d’Afrique has been very lucky this year, especially during the stretch in South Africa, where cold and wet are seasonally appropriate.) But even if there is rain, it won’t matter. I’m no longer in the saddle and don’t yet miss it. Yes, as suddenly as it began, the Tour d’Afrique 2009 has rolled to its finale, a long long long road from its first day in Cairo. Picking up the saga where I left off on the Namibian-South African border, after a welcome day of rest, the group crossed into the Tour’s final country and then spent six consecutive days doggedly ticking off the remaining 750km to Cape Town. At first the land was much like what we’d experienced in Namibia — vast stretches of relatively arid emptiness. I don’t know why I imagined crossing to South Africa would suddenly usher in a change in terrain. Wishful thinking, I guess, especially after the nerve-rattling pummeling over dirt and gravel in Namibia. I confess that the continued monotony was a bit disappointing, but at least there were a few more towns along the way, most with more services (especially Wimpy fast food restaurants). And, hallelujah, we were pedalling on pavement, a fabulous relief! Of course, there were still plenty of challenges: long days (an average of 125km per day), long slow climbs, unremitting rolling hills, a chilly night of frost, several early mornings of thick drenching mist, 70km more on enough-already corrugated gravel roads and, for the final two days, sapping head winds. In fact, as several people commented, there was just never an easy day. Some combination of factors always brought with each new sunrise a new promise of tough trials. But Xiao Biar and I endured. As everyone did, with growing determination, especially the EFI riders, their target inching tauntingly closer each day, road signs counting down the distance to Cape Town. And then, on Saturday 9 May, on a brilliantly sunny and warm afternoon, all the riders converged on a beachside assembly point just 30km from the finish. Table Mountain — could it be the world’s biggest finish line — beckoned in the near distance, adding to a sense of growing excitement that, believe it or not, after four months and almost 12,000 kilometres, the Tour really was almost over. Two by two in a 70-rider police-led convoy, we then rolled without mishap to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront and a thundering, triumphant welcome. The music of local minstrels could barely be heard over the roar of (sometimes teary) well-wishers gathered to celebrate epic determination. A public ceremony ensued — medals presented by Cape Town’s acting executive to riders who had started in Cairo, special honours showered on the race winners (all from South Africa!), Tour d’Afrique Foundation presentations of bikes to local charities — and then… and then… And then the Tour d’Afrique actually really was over. Just like that. I was only involved for 1750km and two weeks and my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction was huge. I can only imagine what the riders who’d been on the road the whole way felt, many showered with accolades from friends and family who flew in from all over the world. All the hardship, the physical discomfort,  the mental knocks, the healing wounds — all of it suddenly a memory, a fabulous and enduring memory. That evening — which lasted well into the next day’s early morning — riders, staff, family and guests enjoyed one final Tour dinner. More awards, more recognition and a slide show drummed home the grand qualities of what the Tour riders had undertaken together, had supported one another through, had come together around. It also made me realise just how much I had missed. But I am honoured (and a little humbled) to have been a part of it for the short time I was, to have been one of two to carry the Lonely Planet jersey across the finish line. I just hope I did justice to the strength of will and thigh of all who participated, as well as the vision of the man who enabled us to join this great adventure.    So, to all of you — the Lonely Planet riders (Scott and Sharif who went from Cairo to Khartoum, David E and Quentin who slogged from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, Jim and Carlo who conquered the ‘roads’ between Addis Ababa and Nairobi, Martin and Rana who loved Nairobi to Iringa so much they stayed on with Tony and Fiona from Iringa to Lilongwe, Nate and David N who took on Lilongwe to Victoria Falls, and Tom and Mara who after Vic Falls to Windhoek passed the baton to me and Xiao), the other riders and the staff — congratulations and many many thanks. Who knows where next we may find our wheels spinning. Silk Roads 2010 anyone? ~ Ethan Gelber
Advertisements

One response to “The Final Turn of the Pedal

  1. From one of your relay team-mates: Well done Ethan for capturing the essence of the last few days on Tour, and well done to you and Xaio for turning those final pedal-strokes and carrying the LP baton across the finish line.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s