Tuesday, October 11, 2011

African Cycling - Watch out for low flying buck...

After all the disappointment of the past week, I still love Africa.  There's always something unexpected, not to mention potentially dangerous, around the corner!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Out of time, out of luck: A postponement

Several factors have resulted in my decision to postpone the expedition until next year.  The most significant is that I have yet to receive an approved letter of invitation from Luanda.  With the Angolan Consulate closing at 11.30am on a Friday, I’m left with about a day and a half to get them to issue my visa.  That’s if the invitation letter arrives in my inbox in the next few minutes.  Given my last experience, even a neatly pressed pair of trousers is unlikely to hurry them up (for those who don’t know, I was refused entry to the consulate because I was wearing shorts!).

Perhaps it is fortunate that the visa issue takes the decision out of my hands.  The weather in Angola is rapidly turning to summer.  Temperatures are scraping 40 degrees and it won’t be long before the rains start.  My original plan was to go in September while the weather was still cool.  To land in Angola from a relatively cool South Africa and then to ride 70km’s a day or more in that heat would be a big ask for this old body.  Especially if I need energy to make a video and to write.

Finally, my knee injury resurfaced after Sunday’s training ride. 

I’m very disappointed.  April seems an awful long way off.  I’ve expended huge amounts of energy in organising and training.  My spare bedroom is littered with bike touring kit (sorry Jen!).

In the interim I’d like to do a long ride in South Africa.  I was going to try for Port Elizabeth to Cape Town via the Baviaanskloof and Route 62.  A distance of over 800 kms.  But good sense suggests that I wait for my knee to heal properly first.

I’m bouncing off the walls with energy to burn.  As soon as my knee is sorted out I’ll be on the road.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity of testing kit and myself.  A local ride will be more forgiving if something breaks, including me!  It will take some of the pressure off for when I do eventually hit the road in Angola.  And hopefully, it’ll take the edge off the disappointment I feel at not being able to go to Angola next week.

*An invitation:  If you feel like joining me for some of my SA ride let me know.  The company would be good!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Empty road, loaded bike

Solo is a lonely place

So here’s a question.  Should I blog when I’m frustrated by the bureaucratic labyrinth that I am navigating to get into Angola, or about the doubts and fears I feel most acutely when I lie awake waiting for sleep to come?  Or when this wretched, niggly knee injury keeps me off the bike for a week and counting?  Ok, so I just did.

I’m being reminded of the loneliness of a solo expedition.  There’s no support team, no partner, just me.  If I fail, it’s my failure alone.  No collective sharing of the disappointment, no-one to help justify a decision to push on against sensible advice, or to pull out, postpone, cancel or change plans.  Just me.  I have supporters, to be sure, people who believe in me and in what I’m doing.  But the journey is mine alone.  And I chose this path.

So to solve the various practical problems I’ve found a visa agent who specialises in Angola visas, and a physiotherapist to work my knee back to full working order. 

I’m aiming for 10 October as a start date.  Beyond this and the expedition is off.  The rains will start and the roads will become increasingly difficult to navigate.  The heat will become a serious factor.  I think I’m already pushing the timing envelope.

On a more positive note, I’ve found a great Portuguese teacher.  We meet in a bar in Melville and I learn how to order beer in Portuguese (and a few other useful words and phrases).  If only learning language at school had been this much fun!

A Note of Thanks

Thank you to Atlantic Philanthropies for their generous and necessary donation to my expedition fund.  Thanks also to Theresa Edlmann and Adele Kirsten for supporting this donation.  Theresa’s moral support and kindness has been of immeasurable value to me over the past months.

I would also like to thank Paul Weinberg, the freelance photographer and now Senior Curator at the UCT Visual Archives.  He was one of the first to point out the broader significance of what was at that point just me going for a long ride.  Paul’s ongoing support has helped rescue the expedition and has provided me with moral and technical support.

Of course, without the love and support of Jen, family and numerous good friends I’d still be day dreaming rather than moving on this project.  I’m deeply grateful to you all.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Anniversary and Waiting

I’m sitting at my desk in Johannesburg waiting for a delivery.  The courier phoned to say he’s on his way.  It’s my new Brookes saddle and a special touring carrier.  I was going to head off for a morning training ride but now I’m waiting. 

I glance at the calendar above my desk.  The picture above the dates is of a beautiful leopard.  It’s looking up, about to jump.  It’s the 31st of August.  Twenty-four years ago today I stood in the back of the Ratel armoured vehicle and gazed out at the Kavango River as we drove in convoy along the Caprivi Strip.  Huge trees lined the river’s banks, in contrast to the acacia and bush I was used to in the area we usually operated.  I was excited and apprehensive.  We stopped for a break and someone took a photo of three of us on the high bank overlooking that wide, cool river.  We look relaxed and happy.  Being away from the tedium of base life was something we always looked forward to.  We didn’t know then, but in a matter of days, we’d be yearning for boredom again.

Not long after the river crosses the Caprivi, ceasing to be the border between Angola and Namibia, were the river turns south and heads for the Okavango Delta in Botswana, we turned left, and headed for the front line somewhere north of Mavinga.

Twenty-four years ago today I stood in the back of that Ratel waiting for the unknown to reveal itself:  tense and excited.  Today, I sit at my desk waiting again for the unknown to reveal itself.  Again it is Angola:  I wait for my letter of invitation to be rubber stamped by their Ministry of Tourism and Hotels, I wait for the courier with my Brookes saddle.  Excitement mingles with anxiety.  This time I cross the border voluntarily.  On a mission of my own.  The final leg of a journey of peace.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In Support of Educo Africa

I will be doing my Angola Journey in support of Educo Africa.

Educo Africa is a not for profit organisation working predominantly with young South Africans who are largely from disadvantaged communities.  Their wilderness based experiential learning programmes aim to “promote active citizenship”.   

I had the great privilege of being invited on one of the Educo Africa wilderness trails last year as an observer.  I witnessed the participants deepening their journeys of personal growth, finding their voices and telling their stories.  During the course of the week the young participants all found their own unique leadership styles.  As is so often the case, the wilderness environment “held” the process and provided a rich backdrop to the journey of the group.

I have chosen to support Educo Africa because I believe that they offer a deeply growthful experience to their participants.  It provides many levels of challenge yet in a nurturing and safe environment.  Such a contrast to military service in the SADF.  People who think military service is “character building” should really experience the kind of wilderness-based learning delivered by Educo Africa.

If you would like to find out more or make a financial contribution please follow the link below, or contact me directly.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Planning Update

Financial Hiccough!

While I’ve been down in Cape Town, training and hanging out, I’ve had an up and down ride of another kind, which, fortunately, has ended on the up!

I spent last weekend cycling the gravel farm roads between Stanford and Gansbaai.  Beautiful, undulating countryside, perfect for getting some hours in the saddle, with short sharp climbs and some nice decents.  The proteas are coming into flower and some of the orchards are in blossom.  The fields are green with lucerne and with the occasional yellow of canola.  Myself and my good friend Grant covered 100kms over the two days.  No single-track so I could look around without breaking my neck!

But there was a dark cloud hanging over my head called Luanda.  The expense of passing through that city was threatening to end my Angola journey before it had begun.

Thanks to some very generous sponsors that problem has been solved.  I have paid the tour company that is arranging my transit through Luanda and, most importantly, arranging for my letter if invitation – a crucial document for my visa application.

A New Plan

I’ve decided that the 30 day tourist visa is not going to give me enough time to cover the almost 2000 kilometres I had planned.  By the time I’d factored in rest days and built in a safety margin for side trips, mechanical hitches and possible sickness the daily average I’d have to cover was too high.

I want to have time to talk to people, to take photographs and to make recordings for my video diary.

I now plan to fly from Luanda to the regional town of Kuito.  That gives me somewhere between 600 to 700 kilometres to Cuito Cuanavale, and about the same again to the Namibian border (as a maximum).

A bike tour is about taking time to get to know the country, not racing to cover maximum distance.  I’m feeling a little less pressured not that I’ve changed my route.

Start Date

The start date is a bit of a moving target at the moment.  Once I get the letter of invitation and put in my visa application I will book flights.  Probably the end of September or early October.  Watch this space!