One month down – three to go on African bike trip

Lynne Wolfson, a contract instructor in Carleton’s School of Mathematics and Statistics, is spending the winter semester riding her bike 12,000 kilometres across Africa — from Cairo to Cape Town — for the Tour d’Afrique Foundation, fundraising to purchase bicycles for health-care workers in Africa.

Carleton Now will be following Wolfson’s progress over the next four months as she writes about her experiences. Read more about her adventures on the road.

Feb. 16:

It has been one month and today my spirits are high! We are in Bahir Dar for a rest day on the shores of Lake Tana. After the deserts of Sudan and Egypt, the green hills of Ethiopia are a welcomed sight. Cairo seems to be a million miles behind and the rhythm of the tour has settled in.

While the day-to-day structure of life is routine and simple, the experiences here are exciting and emotional.

I had wondered how long into the tour it would be before I experienced my first “meltdown.” As it turns out, it was three weeks. The day before we cycled through Dinder National Park in Sudan, I had the most terrifying experience of my life. Whether the danger was real or perceived doesn’t matter much — the next morning I was still shaking. It happened like this:

After taking a wrong turn early in the day, I was several hours behind schedule, the last rider on the road with not enough time to make it to camp before dark. I was not really concerned, since the tour directors knew where I was and were planning to come fetch me in a truck before night. But as I was riding along and the sun was dropping lower and lower in the sky, no truck seemed to be coming. The sand and gravel road was meandering through small villages and would split into separate directions which would later rejoin. I thought, perhaps the truck might have passed me in one of these splits? Or maybe I had wandered off the route again. As the last bit of sun disappeared behind the horizon, I got off my bicycle and considered the options. I could sit down on the side of the road and wait, but didn’t really like the idea of being a foreign female out by myself after dark in rural Sudan. I could try to hitch a ride to camp, but in the dark it could be near impossible to find and I was growing less sure by the minute that I was indeed still heading the right way. Then a bus came. It was brimming with people in every available spot, even packed onto the roof and they all wanted me to get on. Camp was supposed to be near the town of Azaza and after a lot of pointing, repeating the word ‘Azaza’ and other language-free communication, I decided that I was safest surrounded by people on the bus. They hauled my bike onto the roof and gave me the seat beside the driver.

That bus was my cocoon. I felt safe on the bus but feared the inevitability of getting off. Around every half-mile, the bus would go through another village where people would get off and in each of these villages, the bus driver tried to convince me to get off as well. He seemed to be saying that Azaza was far, or maybe that the bus was not going to Azaza. Moreover, at every stop there were several young Sudanese gentlemen offering to host me for the night. It was now pitch black out and although I was watching diligently for the truck that had promised to come get me, it was nowhere to be seen. Why had it not come? Either it had missed me in a village, or I was terribly off-route. After a while, we reached a village where there was a man who spoke some English. He told me that the bus would not be going to Azaza that night, but maybe I could pay the bus driver to take me there. Hopefully in Azaza there would be a person who knew where the group of 60 cyclists were camping.

I never went to Azaza, though, because in that village there were a couple police officers who must have heard the news about the lost female cyclist riding the bus. They did not speak any English but they seemed to want me to get off of the bus and go with them. In Ottawa, I would trust a police officer with my life. In rural Sudan, I was more scared to go with them than to be on the bus. But they moved with purpose and that gave me confidence. After loading me and my bike in their truck, we set off in the direction I had been going. A few kilometres down the road we intercepted the TDA truck. An hour and a half after sunset, only three kilometres from camp I let out a huge whimper of relief.

That night, in my tent, I had the meltdown. I never expected it to be the result of stress and fear. I was expecting it to be a result of exhaustion, homesickness or culture shock. That night I had been so terrified that when I woke the following morning I was still shaking from the after-shock.

You might be reading this, thinking that it must have been such a terrible experience. Really, this is a memory of the trip that I will cherish and recount forever. This is what it’s all about — experience.

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