What a long strange trip it's been, as Robert Hunter once wrote.
This past Saturday morning we started our final day in nice calm crisp, but bitter cold weather. Soon enough the sun made an appearance and warmed us just in time for our arrival at our last lunch stop which was on the beach across the bay from Table Mountain. What an amazing backdrop for us to enjoy a gourmet spread and hold our bikes high in the air for the camera!!
From lunch we had a 30km convoy along the bay, and through downtown Cape Town, for an arrival at the V&A Waterfront. The expected elation I described previously, which had been building over the past few days, speeded the convoy up as we neared the finish. The finish line came quickly and so did the smiles, hugs, handshakes, jumping up and down, more smiling. Behind all of that, you could sense everyone experiencing a very calming satisfaction....we did it!
The rest of the day and night allowed us to roll in our accomplishment as awards were given, speeches made, beards and hair shaved, families and friends received, bikes donated, champagne bottles popped.
During the evening we had an awards and celebratory dinner, at which a slide show was shown - 500 pictures documenting the last 4 months. We had just crossed Africa, and yet most of the pictures were of us...the TDA riders and staff. That's what this journey was about...us. Yes we rode our bikes, and we saw a lot of 10 African countries, and we met and talked to a few African people, but this trip was defined by the interaction between the TDA people.
One day in January, 70 strangers all met at a hotel in Cairo, and for the next 4 months, lived within a few feet of each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our privacy was revealed. Alliances and friendships were formed...even a little love. Enemies made. Love and hate was displayed as was good and bad moods. And the only thing we all seemed to have in common was that our interaction for 4 months happened in Africa...oh, we also each brought a bike with us. And as quickly as we came together, we all went our separate ways. A lot of friendships will endure, but many of us will never hear from each other again, and yet I believe that the essence of our nostalgia for this safari will be the TDA riders and staff.
At the end, our race winner summed up his experience as "These were some of the simplest days of my life, riding from one camp to another, enjoying the day. Now it's back to the reality, back to the real world". All we had to do was wake up, put our tent in the truck, ride our bike to the next camp, eat and go back to sleep, while enjoying each moment of the experience. If riding on any given day was unappealing we hopped on the truck. All one had to do to get the most out of this trip was to accept Africa for what it was and accept TDA for how it operated. My experience left me with 2 disappointments. I was disappointed in myself for not being able to leave out my western expectations when dealing with vendors of all sorts in Africa. I was also disappointed in the TDAers who were unable to embrace the expected inconveniences of this trip and chose to display their perceived victimization through regular complaining.
The latter was fortunately overshadowed by an ongoing feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment that this trip provided...each ride, each starry night sky, each photographic view, each taste of a new cuisine, each healing, each challenge, each welcome, each laugh(lots of those) and the list goes on. I believe all of these individual experiences will slowly blend together and be remembered as one giant TDA moment...a memory that will be jogged by the most expecting occurrence.
And now what? As our chef pointed out the day after our arrival - once the celebrations have subsided, our feelings can turn to confusion. Waking up and realizing we don't have to put our bag in the truck and get on the bike, but rather deal with the choices and complications presented to us back in the "real world", can be confusing.
Once the confusion subsides, I will play back the slide show and enjoy the rich memories I have of the time I spent with 70 strangers riding bikes across Africa.