While in Africa I wrote several stories with the intention of creating a book of short stories about my trip.
Rather than leave it as an unfinished book, here is part seven in a blogging mini series…. “Shane’s shorts.”
Having spent two weeks with Linda touring Nambia by car I was desperate to once again sleep in my tent and enjoy the cool night air rather than a hotel room or share my tent, my legs also needed to be turning the pedals once more.
It had been great to see Linda again, combining her two week holiday with visiting me had been a breath of fresh air after the quiet months alone in the desert. Though we had officially ended our relationship four months earlier when I boarded my plane to Cape Town we decided a little intermezzo couldn’t do any harm and picked up our relations up where we’d left off at home.
I wasn’t looking forward to riding the busy road between Windhoek and the border to the east which would become the Trans Kalahari highway. Luckily I’d left the purist in me in the desert a month previously so got Linda to drop me off 120km from the border at the town of Gobabis saving me two days looking over my shoulder for trucks on their way to South Africa.
I pedaled off into the sunset so to speak feeling sad to be leaving Linda again knowing that this time really was the end of our relationship, hoping that we could keep our friendship but at the same time very happy to be moving on, Africa and adventure awaited me over the horizon. I cycled 80km that afternoon and evening on the infamously long and straight Trans Kalahari highway. After dinner and a dance I camped 30 metres from the road and was overjoyed to once again be able to look at the stars from within my 5 million star hotel, the next morning I cycled to the 40km to the border in time for a second breakfast of pie and chips.
I’d just received my departure stamp out of Namibia when I heard the well known Nokia peep peep to say I had an sms, once outside I went to check my phone and to my horror couldn’t find it, the peep peep was from someone else’s phone, “Where was mine then?” Then I remembered only half an hour earlier while putting my phone on top of the toilet roll holder thinking, ”Whatever you do, don’t forget the phone!!!” What now? Forget the phone, it may be gone by now anyway? Go back into the border office explain the situation and hope they’ll let me back in for a few minutes? Or just run the gauntlet and hope nobody hassles me?
It was 2pm and very hot so most border staff where inside enjoying the shade and air conditioning, so I went for the gauntlet. One minute into the 1km sprint to the petrol station I thought “Here we go, the phone is long gone by now and in an hour I’ll be in jail for illegally entering the country.” Once again luck was on my side. The cleaning lady looked a little disappointed to see me cycling to collect her new prized possession and five minutes later I was filling in my customs form at the Botswana side, a little warm and sweaty but very relieved.
When Silver told me his name 20 minutes into our journey I asked if his older brother is called Gold, he didn’t understand……once again one of my fine humour moments was wasted or lost in translation.
While riding on the Trans Kalahari highway I was very concerned that I may get hit by a truck. The road was often narrow without much of a shoulder and all it takes is a moments lack of attention by me or a truck driver or him grabbing a coffee, new CD etc a little twitch of the wheel and goodnight Shane. Unlike the developed world these guys don’t have compulsory rest periods. Silver later told me he’d driven from Angola (1200km) and had only slept for 2 hours in 2 days and hoped to drive another 600km to the South African border before sleeping again( this probably explained why the cabin smelt like he’s lived in it and maybe missed his pee bottle from time to time).
I often loved to be back on the tar roads, smooth going, 100km a day but would soon hate the extra traffic and risk of being hit. Later in the trip I would grow to find tar roads not only dangerous but boring and monotonous. Often longing for the adventure and challenge of where dirt roads would take me.
I’d met Silver in the customs queue as I checked into Botswana, together with other truckers that were laughing at my plan to cycle part of the Trans-Kalahari highway. Their banter was refreshing in one way, for the last months people I’d met (South Africans) when hearing I camp near the road they said I’d be murdered, now it was “you’ll get eaten by a lion!!”
Trucker : “you’ll be eaten by a lion.”
Shane : “do you drive this road often.”
Trucker: “yes, every week.”
Shane : “how many lions have you seen on this road?”
Shane: “thanks for the useful info………!!”
At this point Silver offered to give me a lift as far as the “turnoff”, 160km further where the road branches and 95% of the trucks head south towards Gaborone and South Africa. The idea of saving 160km knowing the scenery was the same for the next 1200km was quite appealing. At the same time it felt like cheating, I wasn’t sick so had no real reason to take a lift. But to miss out on a day travelling with someone like Silver could also be cheating myself out of a unique experience. During a long trip I think the meetings with people are often more memorable and interesting than many other elements of a trip so decided to take him up on his offer.
Born in Mozambique he’d escaped to South Africa 15 years ago during the troubles. Now his boss uses(abuses) his Portuguese language skills by sending him to Angola a lot, he’d just spent 2 months on the road in Angola doing shuttle runs from the border to the capital and after just 2 days off with his wife and kids in South Africa would once again be heading to Angola for another 6-8 weeks.
Six hours later we arrived at the turnoff after a few stops for truck problems and an hour transferring cheap Angolan fuel from his extra tank. That evening I cycled for an hour on the now quiet road and camped in the bush about 20km outside of Ghanzi.
I had a different idea of how the road would look, it’s called the Trans Kalahari so I was expecting the big red dunes and desert I’d seen during the South African Kalahari. Instead it’s a tar road with 15m grass left and right then camel thorn trees and bushes which you can’t see past, nasty headwind only added to the tedium of the two weeks riding from Windhoek to the Zambian border via the Okovango delta and Caprivi strip.
At the time I found this part of the trip a big waste of time and rather uninspiring. Though motivated myself with the thoughts that any pilgrimage, journey or voyage of self discovery also has its moments where body and mind try to resist their environment, these too are obstacles and challenges to be overcome even if they are less obvious than a mountain or desert.
At the time the Midwest during my America trip also seemed like a waste of time, but with a few years reflection I now realize this was an important part of that trip. In this time I learned my inner strength and determination. Only by repeatedly waking up with tired sore legs, wondering how I was going to cycle 100km then once again doing it did I learn to trust my body and know that I will always get there in the end, no matter how I feel.
In hindsight I can also look upon these tedious two weeks more reflectively. Though the cycling was boring and I had a tough headwind to deal with, Botswana and the Caprivi strip in Namibia had some of the easiest wild camping of the trip. Making the mornings and evenings before and after cycling much more pleasant. Now back at work a few months I find myself wishing I was once again cycling the Trans kalahari which at the time I so hated.