Any long distance, whether riding or running is as much a mental as physical exercise. In marathon running we talk of hitting the wall and I guess in riding 18,000km from Cairo to Capetown there was bound to be a tough week. For me however it was activity around me as opposed to my own mental block that would make for a hard time.
We had just passed half way. It was March 16th and John had now been unwell since February 27th on leaving Yabello. While some of this time we were all being bused through Kenya due to elections it does not take away from how hard it is seeing fellow riders leave camp each day on their bikes while you have to take the truck. With much of the evening chat being about the days ride there is just no getting away from what you are missing. With this is mind some people have skipped weeks, joining us again at a later date but with a heat rash that you always hope will clear in the next day or so then making a decision to temporaily leave the group is much harder. john stayed with us but unfortuanatly his heat rash stayed with him.
Quite understandably this became more and more frustrating and unfortunately as the person closest to him on the trip I felt the brunt of this. While unintentional it became difficult for me to ask him how he was feeling. One night I noticed he was not eating dinner but on asking him about food and in later offering him a Snickers (not a bad thing here in Africa) it seemed my offers were not welcome. Given I was also watching him speak more amicably with others I found this even harder. The next day I avoiding him at breakfast and dinner. Enough was enough.
Doing this was, for me, just as difficult though. We were in this together and when I care about someone it’s hard to ignore them. Perhaps I fuss too much but that’s just who I am. I woke the next morning and tears were building. John noticed and came to ask me what was the matter. While initially a discussion regarding how I was feeling led to further upset I eventually left the camp having cleared the air and we both now had a better understanding of how we were both feeling. It’s not easy when individual experiences on the same trip are so different. I had struggled in the very early days and it was hard on John now. I just hoped he got better soon and we would be back to the more usual banter. It was also encouraging to see how kind and helpful others on the trip were at this point. It would be support I would also come to need later that week.
For those who have followed this trip from it’s early days you will be aware that the return of breast cancer for my mother put a second planned trip on the back burner and was the primary reason a year long tour developed into five month stages and trips back home. As it happened that has worked out really well and has been a fantastic way to travel - no time for traveller complacency or lethergy yet, my ma has been better in her health than the initial diagnosis and I have enjoyed catching up with friends and family on visits home. I knew however, following a last appointment in December that the three month checkout in March could be a critical appointment.
While growth was not quick or aggressive it appeared initial hormone treatment was not making a significant difference and chemo was looking like the next likely option. Naturally we were both nervous and while there was still a chance to try a different hormone based option the doctor was clearly keeping expectations low regarding its possible success. March 22nd would be the check-up date.
I woke that morning upset and tearful. I was preparing for news I did not want to hear. It’s so hard being away from home at times like this. I felt I was not even able to call and wish her all the best. There was no cell phone reception at camp.
I started out on my bike but as I found myself biking alone and unable to concentrate (something much needed in off road Tanzania) I decided to ride the truck to lunch. As it passed I displayed a thumbs down and soon my bike was loaded. I turned my phone on – anxiously awaiting a signal. As we pulled into lunch three bars appeared and I was able to call home. It was around 8am in the morning and I was able to call home. With at least that done I felt able to ride again. Irin was now at lunch and once my puncture was fixed (3rd one – from thorn trees as truck drove past them!) we set off.
The appointment was late in the day and with time differences, the fact that we go to bed very early and I had so little phone battery I had to turn it off it was the next morning before I found out the outcome. No need for chemo. I was overjoyed.
That day I set off for one of our mandatory ride days – so called because they are so tough. We had 111km to cover, 2052 metres to climb and it was all off road with the exception of 6km downhill at the end of the day. I rode for 11 hours 58 minutues that day making it into the hotel just before dark.
A fantastic ride; an amazing achievement and the best news I could have received. John was also now back on his bike and despite hurting his shoulder and ribs falling in deep sand I was hopeful that the emotionally tough week was coming to an end.