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by SS at 4:48 pm on Saturday 8th May

Riding out of Betta was a mando-day, a 153 kilometre day that was just brutally long. After the first thirty kilometres the terrain improved considerably, was generally much smoother and was better packed. I struggled though, for reasons that I'm not sure about. Perhaps it was a night of bad sleep (there was a rooster that decided to wake us up multiple times from 4am onwards) or overconsumption of PVM bars (three before lunch alone) - I started feeling sleepy at my handlebars at 8am.

I reached lunch at 10:30am and decided to take a nap, eventually leaving at about 11:30am. The nap helped considerably and my speed returned that afternoon. About 9 kilometres out from lunch I had another puncture in my rear wheel and resigned myself to a slow day. A bit further on the dirt road suddenly turned into smooth, new tarmac. Just after this was a Coke stop marked on our riding directions for the day - the Coke stop was actually a supermarket stocking all sorts of delights from biscuits (already a winner) to Cornettos to ice cold soft drinks to a whole variety of European chocolates. Amazing.

The dream had to end though and less than a hundred metres down the road there was another new road side that showed two roads meeting - a paved road and a dirt road. Sigh. Still, the tailwind from the previous day prevailed and it was easy rolling until camp at Konkiep Lapa. Dave and I held the Mystery Event that afternoon since everybody was tired from the day (for me it was a nine hour day at least). The Mystery Event was one suggested by Race Director Kelsey - each team selected one competitor and they were told that from the word 'Go' they'd have to fetch both their headlamp and their malaria medication. TDA Tour Director Sharita won this with her mobile phone (also her headlamp) and no malaria medicine (she doesn't take any!).

For a short while at the beginning of the tour riders experimented with the notion of eating PVM bars as dessert. James, our cook, doesn't prepare dessert for us and besides the generally insatiable cyclist's appetite, we also have an innate need for something sweet from time to time (where this time to time period may range from minutes for a rider like myself to days for other riders). Throughout the trip we've had different strategies for coping - some riders stock up heavily on sweets and other goodies at rest day supermarkets and there has usually been a shortage of Snickers bars in most towns after we've passed through. As we get further south though, it's become easier and at the Konkiep Lapa campsite the matron of the establishment had prepared a beautiful milk tart dessert.

I'm told by sectional rider and South African Nicola that this is a true South African dessert and that the version they prepared was one of the best she's ever tasted. The dessert itself consists of a biscuit base (like that of a cheese cake) and is topped with something similar to custard but not as thick or as yellow. The topping is lightly sweetened and similar to lightly whipped cream that seemingly disappears when it hits your tongue. The whole dish resembles a pie and I was in dessert heaven after devouring my slice of paradise.

The next day was a shorter 126 kilometres to Seeheim Hotel which consisted of roughly 90 kilometres of pavement. I haven't looked at a map yet but it seems odd that there would be only 90 kilometres of tarmac (the next day was also dirt). This was a fairly rapid day and after the previous day my legs had returned to their usual form. I raced to the tarmac, keeping my speed above 30kmph on the smooth dirt, but was caught by Adam and Paul soon after I reached the tarmac. After the smooth dirt, the tarmac definitely seemed more uncomfortable despite being much faster to ride on. We rode as a group until lunch where Adam, trying to win the stage, went ahead, swapping his empty water bottles for my filled bottle to save time.

I took the afternoon slowly after a beautiful lunch (french toast!) and enjoyed the scenery. The paved road passed through some windy roads that cut through some huge rock outcrops - some fantastic climbing and descending which eventually took us over Fish River (what a terribly unoriginal name for a river) and to Seeheim Hotel. The hotel clearly had some heritage to it, looking more like a castle than any other hotel I've ever had the privilege to visit. Their camping space was fairly mediocre and we were faced with the challenge of accommodating forty tents on two tiny areas of grass. Trying to navigate a path to the bathrooms was a challenge that involved dodging tent guylines, shrubbery and avoiding falling off the edge of the ledge that the 'lawn' was upon.

We held the eighth event of the decathlon that night, a foot down competition. This ia a competition that is apparently popular at most messenger meets and appropriately suggested by Dave. The basic goal is to be the last competitor riding your bike. Each competitor rides their bike around a circle fenced by spectators that is constantly shrinking. As soon as you place a foot on the ground, you're out of the competition and have to clear the ring. Obvious dangers aside, it was a fun event for all spectating and was won by Indaba's Gert, a consistently high ranking team in the decathlon and also a non cyclist.

Today's ride to the Fish River Canyon Lodge was another shorter day of only 108 kilometres on dirt. There was a wonderful roadhouse on the way that served an excellent cheesecake. I had another puncture shortly before lunch bringing my total up to three within the last four riding days. Hopefully it'll be better once we hit pavement again and my Schwalbe Marathon Racers go back on. Tomorrow is going to be a harder day as we cycle into our last rest day of the trip - a campsite called Felix Unite near the border with South Africa. Time has flown past.

To finish, here is my revised country ranking with one country left to go:
1) Namibia, Sudan, Kenya
2) Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana
3) Egypt
4) Malawi, Ethiopia

1 comment posted so far
anaita wrote at 11:16 am on Sun 9th May -
We are proud of you. Well done.

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