Ah where was I again? Oh yes I was about to go under the knife to endure a horrific, drug free surgery!
Well, In actual fact it all sounds a little worse than it really was as the procedure was complete in less than five minutes and after careful draining and monitoring of the wound over the next couple of days I was finally introduced to the insect larva that had been nesting in my knee for the past couple of weeks. Less of an emergency than we thought, but no less disgusting.
With that behind us we welcomed Cam and Sean into Dakar, as they had been riding down to meet us through-out the infection ordeal. Sean and Cam hadn’t been on easy street either as Sean’s ‘mystery virus’ had reared its ugly head again. With that news, it was Sean and I in the taxis this time, heading a further 200 kms down the road on our way to The Gambia, with Cam and Pat continuing the ride. We eventually met up again in Banjul, the capitol of The Gambia, and enjoyed a break over Christmas.
With everyone feeling fresh after the break we hit the road again, following the compass east, back through the picturesque Cassamance region of southern Senegal. Moving further inland, we rang in the new year as the roads began to deteriorate and the lack of coastal winds aloud the mercury to continue to rise. Potholes started to slow us right down, until we were lucky enough to get word of new roads that were being laid, once again, by a Chinese mining company. We snaked our way along these yet to be sealed roads for the next week, battling dust and temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius until we crossed the border from Senegal into the storied nation of Mali.
With a wealth of riding through some difficult conditions, we continued on east until we reached Bamako, Mali's Capitol. In recent years Bamako and much of northern Mali have been unsafe due to civil conflict, but while we were there, in 2011, the danger was not yet present.
We were lucky enough to visit the incredible landmarks of this unique nation; from the gateway to the desert in Timbuktu, to the biggest mud-brick structure on earth in the Djenne Mosque and even a trek through Dogon country, an ancient civilization that is still inhabited to this day. The music, culture, and most of all the people of Mali, were something to behold and and as we finally rode out the other side, into Burkina Faso, it was with heavy hearts.
Any disappointment in leaving Mali was short lived as we soon learned that the people of Burkina Faso, collectively known as Burkinabe’s, took great joy in welcoming us to their remarkable country. Since 1987 the Tour du Faso, a 10 stage UCI event, has been held in Burkina Faso so many of the Burkinabe’s loved cycling and were keen to learn all about what we were doing.
With some nice roads and smooth riding, we were warmly ushered through to the beguilingly named capitol of Ouagadougou. We were due to commence the last leg of our journey as we prepared to ride north to Accra, but we ran into trouble at the Ghanaian embassy in Ouaga. Contradicting the information we had been given about the ease of entering Ghana from Burkina Faso, there was trouble getting visas and we faced a nervous wait to see if they would grant us leniency.
To our great relief, and with the help of some locals, our visas were granted and we rode off with gusto sensing that the finish line would soon be within reach. Before crossing into Ghana, at the border town of Po, we celebrated Cam’s birthday by going on a game drive in Ranch D’Narginza. It was a wildlife experience like none of us had had before, seeing a family of elephants at a watering hole, drinking, playing and swimming for hours.
Invigorated by this we hit the road again that afternoon and crossed our last international border into Ghana. With only 1000 kms to go, we were all jubilant at the prospect of flat smooth roads all the way home. Wishful thinking though because the days riding through Ghana were some the hardest days on the bikes throughout the whole adventure. Difficult, yes, but some of the most rewarding too as the lush rain-forest and proud Ghanaian people provided a remarkably breathing, daily backdrop. The further north we rode the more the humidity increased, the roads, we thought to be flat, turned out to be undulating and the wear and tear on our bodies had finally caught up with us, especially Sean.
The un-diagnosed ‘mystery virus’ that had continually plagued Sean since Mauritania turned out to be Giardia, a stomach parasite, and to his credit, he showed real strength of mind and physical perseverance to finish the journey. So much so that he would often wake up early and start riding before the rest of us to compensate for his depleted bodies lack of speed on the bike.
But the temporary struggles of the final kilometres paled into insignificance when we made to Accra, Ghana’s capitol city. We were just half a day’s riding from our final destination of Doryumu, a small town on the outskirts of Accra, and a wave of achievement washed over us as we met our partners from YGAP and CORM in preparation for our final day's ride.
As we woke on the 6th of March 2011 it was almost all over and we shared an ambivalence about finishing a difficult yet life affirming journey. Guided by a police escort our final day of riding was surreal and as we pulled into the last kilometre on the road to Doryumu we were met by all the children that had benefited through the partnership of YGAP and CORM. To think that the money we had raised was going to such a worthy cause galvanized the feeling of fulfillment from the following day. And when we crossed the line, into the celebratory atmosphere of Doryumu, emotion over came us as we struggled to hold back tears while experiencing the greatest natural high we had ever felt.
In the two weeks following the end of our ride, we stayed on with CORM, with a great group of volunteers from YGAP. In this time we were lucky enough to see the ripple effect of what we had achieved and it made an already incomparable adventure mean that much more to us and the people of CORM.
This ride taught me to relax many of my preconceived ideas about my life and how to live it. In trying something that I thought wasn’t achievable for me, I learnt a great deal about myself and what I believe we are all capable of when the right opportunity arises. I sincerely hope that my story inspires you to go out and try something you’ve always been thinking about doing, or that you didn’t think was possible. After all, I started right from where you are now, with little more than an idea.
Bonne chance mon ami!