So we have finally reached some flat terrain in Botswana. For most people this would excite them. Nice long days with pretty much no elevation; well not for myself. I couldn’t prefer anything less. The terrain during the day was slow changing and the road continued straight as far as the eye could see.
Our longest week on tour was here with 800km in 6 days and the longest single day on tour, 208km.
So what do you do when the rides get long, you form a peleton, help pull turns into the headwind and keep each other entertained. However, my first day in to Botswana the rider next to me and I hooked handle bars (I am on a cyclocross bike and she is on a mountain bike with climbing bars on the ends). In the moment I knew what had happened but she was unaware, so we were unable to unclip before it was too late. Both of us hit the tarmac at 30km an hour. She broke her helmet and had concussion. I took the weight of the fall on my hip, removing skin from my elbow and hip area. Both of us were lucky to walk away from the accident, my bike not so much with my front wheel quite badly buckled. But with some love from the TDA mechanics she was good to go again.
I wasn’t injured too badly all in all, but have had quite a sore back since. I was also quite shaken up by the experience, but after a few days decided to brave the peleton again. On this day we had to ride 160km into strong head winds (I keep wishing for the head winds on Beach Rd!), so we formed a peleton of about 16 riders, sitting two wide, each rolling a turn for about 5mins. This meant we shared the load only rolling about one turn each hour. I was sitting about mid pack when the rider next to me touched wheels with the rider in front of him. As you can imagine at this point in the tour everyone is tired and concentration isn’t what it should be, especially with the wind gusting and creating a sagging effect further down the line. I watched in horror as the two riders next to me took each other down. I managed to swerve out of the way and as I turned back and watched rider after rider hit the ground piling up on the tarmac like a crash scene from the Tour d’ France. We all pulled over and ran back to pick riders up off the tarmac and to assess the damage. Amazingly everyone walked off the road and injuries weren’t too serious. We had one broken helmet, sliced open elbow and some skin off for the rest. Not too bad when you consider what the outcome could have been.
Since this was my second crash in a few days, I was shaking like a leaf in the wind. So, as everyone rode on I sat with the injured, helped dress their wounds, pulled myself together and then got back on my bike and faced the wind for another 130km.
The next couple of days were less eventful. In fact the slow change in scenery is mentally challenging. I would rather off-road riding or hills over flat straights. But with these boring roads came a nice surprise, elephants! Elephants would pop out of the bush unexpectedly every now and then to cross the road. Sometimes just two at a time, but every now and then if you were lucky you would get a whole family huddling around some calves as they crossed right in front of you. And as quickly as they appeared, they would disappear again into the bush.
I have seen elephants many times in my life before but have never been so in awe. The elephants here are so big and animated with expression, you can’t help but be amazed! We also had a local elephant guru, Darryl, join us for both safety and educational purposes. A few of us took advantage of this opportunity and we did some elephant tracking in the area and visited an elephant graveyard, learning so much about them and their behaviour. When you stand next to the femur (leg bone) of an elephant, you truly understand how large these animals really are.
Botswana is home to the world famous Okovango Delta, and is home to some of Africa’s most amazing wild life. But we only had one rest day and were three hours away from the Delta. So we took a day off riding and headed on an overnight camping trip into the national park with our expert Darryl. This has been one of my favourite experiences on the trip so far. We got to see the back country and dirt roads of Botswana and camp in the the real African bush. While we were preparing dinner around the fire we could hear lions roaring in the distance and elephants snapping branches only metres away. There isn’t anything more beautiful than camping beneath the African stars in the middle of the bush and we had great friends and wine to share the experience with as well.
One of the truly wonderful things about a trip like this is that you get to meet people who share the same zest and adventure for life as us! We are lucky to say that we have been lucky to share some of our wonderful experiences with people that we will call friends for a long time to come. Maybe even take on new adventures together in the future.
But the danger of camping in the bush is always there, and we were reminded in the morning with wild cat and hyena prints just outside our tent. As Darryl had said, “If you go to the toilet during the night, check for yellow eyes with your touch. If you see some, just stay in your tent”. We loved how calm he was about this too.
Botswana is truly amazing and I am glad that we got off the main road and into the bush of the true Botswana. Sometimes the pace of TDA hasn’t allowed us to really see some of the areas we travel through to the extent that we would have liked, and it is really easy to focus on riding to each days destination and not take in the journey, especially at this stage of the tour. You can understand that riders are tired and that sometimes all you want to do on your afternoons or rest days is sleep. But we decided that a few days off the bike here and there are worth the amazing experiences we have had. After all we would hate to ride across Africa and not actually see Africa!
This approach has also been great for our health. With the long km’s in Botswana, saddle sores were very common amongst the group. I was in a lot of pain after the 208km day with my saddle sores breaking open and after 20km on the bike the day after decided to hitch a lift; some of the other riders chose to ride through the pain. Unfortunately, the only way to heal saddle sores is to not sit on a saddle. One rider ended up in hospital after their saddle sores became infected. A swollen thigh and two rounds of antibiotics later, they went back to hospital to have an absis surgically removed.
Every day on this trip you have to choose what is best for you and your health. Some riders have put their health last to ride as much as they can and I admire their determination. But Chris and I have chosen to put our health first and if that meant that we have taken some half or full days off riding then that is what we did. It is nice to know that we are near the end and that we are fitter and stronger than when we started our little African adventure