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Provided By: Muslim Harji

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Travel Log - From Cairo to Cape Town



 We're in Namibia!

Dear Friends and Family,

As the days counting down to the end of our Tour D’Afrique become fewer and fewer, we have become more and more aware of the fact that our days in Africa are numbered. We have now entered Namibia and have 2 rest days in the country’s beautifully modern capital, Windhoek. I have to admit to you all that the further South we go, the less and less we feel like we are really in “Africa.” If you blink your eyes, Windhoek could be Ottawa or Montreal – there are shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants and fast food chains, tons of tourists, supermarkets and all the same amenities we have at home. It is only once we leave the city limits and that we are once again in the countryside that the feeling that we are in Africa returns. There, we are surrounded by tall grasses, as far as the eye can see, open horizons and tall
mountain ranges. Namibia’s landscape has so far been a big improvement over Botswana’s, mainly because there is something new to look at.

Having arrived in Windhoek just yesterday, we took our time relaxing and walking around the city. In our last stretch, I continued my search for an elephant, and sadly, I was disappointed. Nothing to see out there at all! I did get to see some wild dogs, apparently an endangered species, so I guess that is still pretty good. My mom promised to take me to Granby Zoo when I go home, so I don’t feel so bad. There are still almost 14 days left on this tour and although we are going through more populated and developed areas, there is always the outside chance, however minute, that I may still see an elephant on the road.
I think my letdown about missing out on seeing an elephant was relieved by the fact that I am supremely proud of myself for a recent accomplishment, a first (and I think, a last!) for me. Two days ago, we had our longest day of riding on the tour. When we first started in the Sudan and Ethiopia, our cycling distances ranged from about 50 to 100 kilometers. Finishing those days was a huge thrill for me. I would compare that distance to riding from my home to Cornwall to visit my aunts and uncle and cousin and realize that it really was a huge distance to cover on a bike. The distances later on in the Tour have gotten increasingly larger and larger, now averaging between 140 and 175kms, and finishing them for me is just more than I can handle. Three days ago, our Tour Director announced that the following day, we would have a distance of 207 kilometers to cover from Ghanzi, Botswana to the Namibian Border town of Buitenpos! We were well aware of the fact that this day was coming up sometime soon and I was horrified that it had crept up on me so fast. A friend of mine on the Tour, Paul, a funny young Irish guy, and I made a pact that I would bike the entire day and finish it. At first I thought he was joking and so I readily agreed and played along. When I realized, to my utter surprise and terror, that he wasn’t kidding, I started to worry about what kind of trouble I had just gotten myself into. I tried to back out of the plan. I said that there was no way I would make it, that 207kms was beyond my capabilities. I tried to rationalize with him that at my turtle’s pace, there was no way that I would be able to achieve that kind of a distance, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I told one of our truck drivers, Douwe (pronounced Dowa), about what we were doing and he decided to join us for the adventure. Paul is a much faster biker than I am and he said that he would stay with me the whole day, keep me motivated, and make sure that I finished. I slept very fitfully that night, worried and scared. I realized that at any point, if I really couldn’t handle it any more,  I could get onto the truck or even hitch a ride, and that
comforted me, but I also knew in my heart that if I started this thing, I would want to go the whole way and finish the day. Our plan was that we would leave at the first sign of light and see how it went until at least lunch. I went to sleep in my spandex bike shorts, thinking it would save me precious time getting ready so that I could get on the bike sooner. I woke up several times throughout the night, thinking that I had overslept, and kept looking at my watch. Finally, when the truck’s generator, our usual wake-up alarm, went off, I rushed out of the tent, rearing and ready to go. At this point, the sky was still pitch-black, the stars were still twinkling and our camp was just barely beginning to stir. I had a quick breakfast and packed up all my stuff and was still waiting for the sun to poke its head up over the horizon. I was so antsy and the moment it got a little lighter, I hopped on the bike and took off. For the first time on our trip, there was a dense fog that hung over the countryside. You couldn’t see more than 5 or 6 meters in front of you. Luckily, there are so few cars on the road at 6:30 am that we didn’t have to worry about getting blindsided or hit by a car. The condensation was so thick that my clothes were soaked immediately. With all the fog and early-morning cold, I was sure that this was a bad sign and a forewarning to stop, but Paul said that there was no way we were giving up so early.
We pedaled all morning, reaching the 87-kilometer lunch stop by 10:00 am. By this point, although we had started before everyone, most people had already passed us. To give you all an idea about this, we were biking an average of 25 kilometres an hour, but the top racers are doing between 35 and 40 kms. Beyond the people that still have their EFI status (those people who have biked and finished every single day of the Tour) and had to complete the day, many other bikers said that cycling 200 kms was a pointless exercise, a waste of energy and a dumb idea. In fact, many riders, knowing my capabilities, with really good intentions, tried to dissuade me from attempting the whole distance, trying to save me from spending countless hours on my bike. I said that I would not do anything beyond what I felt was comfortable for me and so they shrugged their shoulders and left me to it. Getting to lunch was the easy part. We were still energized, excited, having fun and strategizing for the
rest of the day. Paul, my fearless leader-cum-dictator, had scheduled set break times and Douwe and I followed his rigorous and meticulous plan. After 25 kilometers, we would get a four-minute break. Paul would keep his eyes on his watch the whole time and the second time was up, we were back on the bikes. The atmosphere between the three of us was really cheerful and upbeat and even though we were pedaling, it didn’t feel like too much work. After lunch, getting to the half-way point, 103 kilometers, we stopped to celebrate with a two-minute break and energy bar boost. Although we were beginning to pedal slower than before, we were still having a fun time. Reaching the 150-kilometer refreshment stop, we were doing great. We arrived there earlier than scheduled and so we got an extra bit of time to rest, almost a full half an hour! By that point, mistakenly, I believed that we had this day in the bag and that it was going to be a piece of cake the rest of the way. I mean what was another 60 kilometers after what we had just done? Any soreness I was feeling was pushed to the wayside and with the three of us getting along so
well, we weren’t worried at all about finishing the day. We left the refreshment stop a little before 3:00, and figured we needed at most three hours to get to the Finish flag at the Namibian border. The last 60 kilometers were by far the hardest. After already having spent more than 8 hours on the road, pedaling was exhausting. We were sweaty and tired, our legs moving of their own volition but requiring so much exertion anyway. We were getting tired and sore but spirits remained high. We took several unscheduled stops, with Paul’s permission (actually, I think he was the one that suggested them because he was getting really tired too), and found cold Cokes at the most random and remote broken down, side-of-the-road stops. Nearing the 200 kilometer mark, Paul raced ahead and pulled some long grasses across the road as a makeshift marker line. The three of us had another celebration at this point and the realization that we were getting closer and closer came over us.
We still had nearly 10 kilometers to go at this point (the distance turned out to be closer to 212 kilometers overall total) and so we slogged along, slowing way down. At this point, the sky was turning a beautiful deep orange and the sun was far into its descent. Our Tour Director, Randy, can’t cross any border until all the riders are over in case there is any trouble and so when we finally saw him at the side of the road, we knew we were almost there. I finished the last couple of kilometers on pure euphoria at what we had just accomplished. I couldn’t believe that we had reached the end. At the border post, my legs were so shaky I could barely stand, let alone remember my own name to fill out on the immigration forms. I must have stared at the form for a good 5 minutes before I could decipher what the heck I was supposed to do. We biked to the camp on the other side of the border, a mere 500 meters, and it was about 6:15. We arrived completely weary and worn out, but we had made
it. People cheered and clapped and everyone was really happy for us. We arrived last, after nearly 12 hours on the road, but we DID IT! Through the pain and fatigue, I couldn’t stop smiling as people came over to congratulate us. I, Ayesha Harji, biked 207 kilometers! I will (most likely if I’m smart!) never do that again, but I can now say that I have done it! I can now visualize biking from my house to Ottawa, more than 2 hours away by car! More than anyone else’s reaction, I am proud of myself. There were so many times when I wanted to stop, but we did it! I feel like now, I can do anything I set my mind to. This was a challenge that can be used as a metaphor for anything else I decide sincerely that I want to do. I feel a new sense of motivation and drive, and it’s wonderful!
Well, I just wanted to share that great day with all of you, a day that for me, certainly, will be remembered for long years to come. Beyond that, there are fewer than 16 days to go before we are back at home. I can’t wait to see you all and share more stories and feelings with you!

Take care and lots of love,


Triumphant Ayesha after Cycling 207 kilometers from Ghanzi, Botswana to the Namibian Border town of  Buitenpos!



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