“It always seems impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter/Politician
There comes a time when we must make decisions in our lives. Crossroads present themselves in a sea of uncertainty. Sometimes decisions are quick and without thought. Others linger for weeks and plague mental patterns day and night. If we value change or growth, these moments come with some frequency. These decisions mould us, shape our present reality and the roads which bring us to the next junction. We are never the same person twice. The goals which we once had years, months and even weeks back, may seem like frivolous bothers in the present. They look like minor deviations from the whirlwind of our daily lives. However, everything culminates during daily micro-decisions to bring us to new avenues of opportunity.
Letting worry take over and cloud your modern reality is a needless distraction to the bigger picture. I’m sure we would find it hard to look back and remember with fondness on our most recent worries. It is much easier and positive to look back on moments of nostalgia, even if they weren’t that great at the time. On a bicycle journey, there is a surplus of time to think. I’ve put in a great deal of time contemplating and arrived at a few conclusions. They are apparent in my present state. If you want something bad enough, you’ll chase after it, I know I have. The end is not reached with the rabbit, but only leads to another series of holes. Enjoy the hunt.
“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.” ~ Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country
It was an early morning entrance to Botswana. Another country with new sets of rules and geography. For the first time in months it was flat. I entered from the Plum Tree border station and rode on fumes to Francistown. Relaxing in the shade I made a forward plan towards South Africa. With the wide shoulder and a relatively uninteresting section of road ahead, I decided to make my break. Putting in my longest day in Africa of 176 kilometres from Francistown to Palapye I arrived after dark. Setting up my tent on some crusty ground, I cooked some tasteless pasta and it was lights out. The next day, it was up early again as I skidded off towards the South African border. There was no service stations until I reached the border over a hundred kilometres away. Drinking orange Fanta out of coolers from the side of the road, I spent my last bit of money on a fly covered bun with warm cream inside.
If you are wondering, why all the hurry? It was because I was running behind schedule for an important meeting on the horizon. My girlfriend and family were coming to visit. They were due to arrive in Johannesburg in just a matter of days. Every moment counted to get me there on time. I returned the bottle of Fanta and slugged my way to the border. Crossing into South Africa felt like I was returning to civilization. There were functioning stores in each town with a wide selection foods and affordable delights. South Africa is the most developed country, given most respects, in Africa. I quickly felt at home and the welcoming nature of the people. I saw the first McDonalds since Egypt and to say I didn’t order up the ubiquitous ‘Big Mac’ meal would be a lie. Sometimes on trips like this, that little bit of familiarity can go a long way to make you feel at ease. When everything is always new and unknown, those little pieces of the known go a long way.
Rolling into Lephalale, I was searching for a local campsite when a man almost backed his truck into me. After he saw me and we chatted a moment, he asked where I was headed. I explained my plan of action and he invited me to stay in one of his guesthouses for free. It ended up being my own apartment with hot water, kitchen and laundry. Cycling dreams are made of this magic. My new friend, Victor, introduced me to the welcoming nature of South African people. After I was rested up he invited me for a breakfast before I was off riding again. We had an instant connection and some inspiring chats. The local newspaper showed up and an impromptu interview took place. They sent me sailing with a happy first impression and a bag full of food. That night I slept on the soft green grass of the local golf course amid warthogs and skittish little monkeys.
“Travel is more than a seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard, Author
On route to Johannesburg a friend I had met in South Korea named Dene, had arranged for family members of her husbands to host me. They picked me up and took me off to their farm. Jaco and Jessie gave me the first taste of true South African ‘Braai’. You can read more on the process and style HERE. It is basically barbecue, but treated with a sport like seriousness. They even have a ‘Braai Day’, which I will get into on a following post. In any case, my first experience was a beautiful appreciation for food, as I slowly began to put on weight. One of the most amazing things they did for me while I stayed with them was returning my shoes, that were nearly headed for the garbage bin, looking brand new. At this point I only had one day to make it to the airport in time to meet my girlfriend. Jessie offered to take me most of the way into Johannesburg. I left feeling like I was part of the family and a warm energy bubbled inside. I made it to the airport with 20 minutes to spare. Cutting it close to say the least. I rubbed my burley face wishing I had time to shave.
Seeing a familiar person on a trip such as this can do more than you know. I didn’t need to introduce myself or be that guy on the bike. I was simply able to be me. With my family and girlfriend, Eliza, it was just like old times, only we were in South Africa. After a day of rest we went out on safari. Something I had only done by the seat of my bike all through Africa. Now I was the person that rolled past people in the big vehicle as hundreds of white kneed tourists had done to me throughout Africa. Only this safari was more than about just seeing herds of zebras and spotting lions. All down Africa I had thought about it carefully. On the top of a mountain just after sunrise I asked the love of my life to marry me. Slipping the ring onto her smooth trembling finger I felt all the world coming together. Looking up to see the tears in her eyes what I saw was my soulmate. The woman I would spend the rest of my days with. I am not sure what I said as the morning sun swallowed us up on that rocky outcrop. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Without the careful planning and help of my parents I couldn’t have pulled off the proposal. I am so glad we were able to share in it together.
“You must regard this deviation from plan as part of the adventure that you sought when you decided to embark on it in the first place…Absence of certainty is its essence. People…who choose to shun the mundane must not only expect, but also enjoy and profit from surprises.” ~ Adam Yamey, Aliwal
After a few days of wonderful wildlife, relaxation and full stomachs, a tearful goodbye was on the horizon as I prepared to get back on the bike. I knew saying goodbye to my parents would be tough, but seeing my new fiancée off was going to be even more difficult. I wanted to quit. I said that I had come far enough. That the end of Africa was achievement enough. I had accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I should pack it all in and call it a day, when I reached the southern edge of Africa in Cape Town. Eliza said that there was no way I was quitting. As hard as that may have been for her to say, it wasn’t what I wanted hear, but what I needed. She could have been selfish and let me take the easy way out. I could have quit right there at the airport and boarded a plane anywhere else. But I returned to my bike knowing I wouldn’t see her until I reached the finish line back in Canada, thousands of kilometres away.
Knowing everything I already do about life on the road, it would have been the easy way out. Returning to a life of comfort with vegetables in the crisper and 600 TV channels, would be ideal for a time. But, that route would have haunted me in years to come. Like a puzzle missing the final piece, I would only see that hole. The rest of the picture would be forgotten. Eliza could see this. As much as she may have wanted me to quit, she supported my dream without a doubt. This is what every man wants. To feel the support and understanding of his mindless plight. To be there for him when the future he presents is a bit hazy. She looked into my eyes and beyond the shadowy thunder that is my mind, she saw something more. On first day I ever met Eliza, I told her that I would ride a bicycle (which I didn’t even own at the time) around the world. She never thought I was joking and she stuck by me through all of those distant nights. If I were to quit now, it would be breaking the very first promise ever I made to her. Now, that is something I could never live with.
*The rest of the South Africa story will continue in the next post along with adventures through ruggedly beautiful Lesotho and eventually to the stunning coast of the Garden Route towards the end of Africa in Cape Town.
**Please continue to help support funding for the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. We are less than $1,600 away from reaching our goal. Which is so amazing! Thank you for the surprise early donations from some of our supporting schools back in Eastern Ontario. You guys rock! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***To follow along with daily photo updates from my phone through the South American section of the journey link to my Instagram by CLICKING HERE.