Oxygen - Ride One - Day Four - Hope Ride 19

Today saw us leaving Shikwaru around 8:30 against the rugged backdrop of the Waterburg Mountain Range. The weather we usually encounter was nowhere to be found. The day began twenty-five degrees warmer than last year, so we packed away jackets and leg-warmers, knowing that we were in for an unseasonably hot start. We started with a gentle headwind, never a good harbinger. We also felt the extra elevation as it seemed that our lungs could not quite pull in enough oxygen. Somewhat undeterred, we pushed along on a gradual downhill for seventeen miles before taking a hard right and into mountainous terrain… did I mention we couldn’t get enough oxygen? We took a quick break at twenty-five miles and took on necessities for the one truly difficult climb on Hope Ride North, the Kloof Pass. Some people have a love/hate relationship with the pass. I just hate the thing. 

Climbing the Kloof as temps were reaching toward 90 was a whole new experience. I posted the highest heart rate I’ve recorded in the past few years.  It’s not hard to describe the experience, but you really have experience it for yourself to appreciate it – or not. Your lungs just don’t draw enough oxygen and your muscles scream for it in the only language they know, pain. The upward grade is relentless for a five- mile stretch. The heat makes you want to toss your helmet. By now, your insulated water bottles have failed and you are drinking tepid water or hydration mix. Just as you think you’ve reached the last corner, another corner is revealed. It’s a brute of a climb, and I was glad to wheel into the pullover at the top for another break. Everybody made it up the climb, and I felt a bit of a cramp upon arrival… more on that later. 

The support team had plied us with banana’s, PBJ’s, refilled all bottles, checked on everybody’s fuel supplies and we were off with fifty miles remaining and the heat slowly baking us to a crispy texture. About ten miles down the road I felt a tiny twinge that threatened to grow into cramp… just about that time Brian had a mechanical, so we were stopped again. I was happy for it, to let the legs recover from the Kloof. We hit the road again and clearly felt a strengthening of the headwind (headwind, as opposed to the tailwind we had ordered).  We just got five miles in before the cramps started in the quads, hams, abductors, and a half-dozen other muscle groups I didn’t know I had. I was managing my efforts in hopes of pushing through to the finish. We got to our rest stop at 75 miles and took time again to hydrate, fuel, and then we remounted for the last push. We had just passed 77 miles when it happened… all my cramping muscles decided to lock up like an untrained choir singing in unison. It was a sad, painful, pitiful song. I’ve ridden 5000 miles in Africa, including four days on a broken pelvis, but I have never had to get off the bike. Yet with temperatures reaching even higher and the winds refusing to back down… I had to make the call: I was out – my day was done. The rest of the team finished well – though a little bit haggard for the reasons I have previously outlined. No one suggested that we tack on a few more miles for good measure.  

So, ride one was a bear. ride two awaits as we take our rest at the Machauka Lodge in Lephalale. 

Having taken every precaution to control all the outcomes of Hope Ride, I am humbled by how little in life we truly control. I made my plans, trained my miles, took my rest, and followed protocols, but I couldn’t set the temperature, dial down the winds, or make vice-gripped muscles release their grip. I was powerless – not unlike the kids we’re riding for. They possess a fraction of the opportunity afforded children in the west. Many of their births and deaths go unrecorded. Think about that: to live and die and leave no trace. For those kids, I want to do all I can – I want to do my best – and tomorrow, we’ll give it another go.