Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Tour: Day 2 (of 12)

Day 2

The moment of truth is that spark that happens when it is cold and dark –
Nick van der Leek

Like all things, it is one thing to conceive something, quite another to give birth to it. What I mean is that there is a world of difference between thinking and doing. Between belief and being.

And the way you test this dichotomy is by waking up on the morning before an adventure. The ghost pulls free from the fibres of your being and lies back down on the mattress, clinging to the fizzling body warmth and pathetic electricity embedded between blankets. The moment of truth is that spark that happens when it is cold and dark.

I left my ghost in the blankets and pulled on a Technicolor cycling jumpsuit. It seemed insane to be up and about in the chill, and outside the dark was black and impenetrable.
I was part of the packing team, so I experienced the cold and dark of the first morning first hand. But gradually the light of the morning lifted over the mountains, and filled the empty streets of Ficksburg.

I had a scare when I reached for my glasses (they were meant to perched on my forehead) and they weren’t there. Fortunately I was lucid enough to guess that an errant mattress (I was also loading mattresses, lifting them over my head to load them onto the truck) must have bumped them off. When I crawled under the trailer it was there, and the nosepiece was a metre away.
I was the last person to eat breakfast, but that gave me a good vantage point to take my first picture of everyone at their bikes.

Then I met my partner for the day – Izemarie, who works at the same gym as my girlfriend – and was quite surprised when she started praying in the road. I haven’t verbalized prayers in a while, so it felt quite artificial to me, and I was reluctant to participate, but asked God to “help us to find our strength and for us to be conscious of his strength and ours on the long road ahead.”

This stretch was around 90km, with a few climbs, and we had to ride with our partners all the way. Ize was riding a black Diamond Back – a bike I think she borrowed from someone else because she wasn’t sure how to work the gears. Ize is light and strong, but the Diamond Back has all the unnecessary weight of a tank.

While still in Ficksburg, I cycled ahead of the bunch to take some photos. Then settled down to ride the more than 90km with my companion.
We rode through mist covered mountains, filled with light. The Ficksburg area is where you’ll find the first of the golden sandstone cliffs warming their backs against the sun. I stop a few times to shoot the beautiful white and yellow light burning brightly against the mist, and softening the road, the sky and the fields full of cosmos.

We stop at about 13km to chew toffees. I ask Nadia to pose with a bottle of red fluid – the sun streaming right through the bottle.
Someone calls me over to help someone else who can’t change gears. The gear shifter seemed broken (and indeed, for the rest of the trip, she wouldn’t be able to change gears).

It turns out to be a long, hard day, and the last few kilometers seem to go on and on. Fields of cosmos burst around us, and it suddenly seems like the perfect place to be doing what we were doing. The sun is shining. We stop about 5km from Bethlehem, and the bikes lean against a farm fence. We drink ice cool water or a red, sweet drink. Some of us lie on the mattresses in the truck, others on the grass, in the sun, between the bicycles. Then, when all have assembled, and this takes a few hours, we head into Bethlehem. As it happens, I am in the lead, the first cyclist behind the Barlow Bakkie (with PJ and Porter in it shouting “SINGLE FOIL”) and snapping a red flag back and forth at the 59 riders behind me.

Our new home is a big hall beside a beautiful church. The doors of the church are set back behind a number of gorgeous pillars. We catch the bus to another church, and there, after being told we’re only getting buns and salad for lunch (this after cycling for 4 hours or more!) but as we dish up we watch boxes of pizza being brought in for lunch (it’s April 1st after all, April Fool’s Day). Despite the good food, I am somewhat miffed because I put my gloves and cycling glasses on a table, between knives and forks – to mark where I will eat – and when I return someone is sitting there, apparently completely unaware that my stuff is there. I’m immediately aware of a hot anger – that this Christian guise is just that – a pretext. It pisses me off. I glare at the offending person – and decide that people are inherently selfish, and fairness is a quality only a few abide by. Then I take a deep breath and concentrate on my pizza. Wow, there’s even ice cream.

A guy sits down beside me and introduces himself as Louis. He says, as I recall, he is also studying medicine, and shares some personal information about God and Malawi, where he’s from. He also provides some insight about the people I point out at a certain table. Between chews, and fetching glasses of delicious juice, I offer some of my own insights, but somehow feel, being older, and knowing young, fresh, Christian zeal, that it is possibly wiser for me to rather listen and to empathize than to edify or attempt my brand of enlightenment.

We’re asked to leave the church hall where we’re eating, because a wedding has been scheduled. We’re called to collect money – something I am personally very reluctant to do, on the grounds that I have always hated to ask anyone, especially my father for money. It’s a sign of dependence. I am in the bus when Ize is given her instructions for where we need to collect money, and since I was told we were definitely returning to the hall (where we’re sleeping) before collecting money, I stay behind in the bus. When the bus is about to leave, Ize and a bunch of others are gone. So I jump off the bus and run around a suburb of Bethelehem. For a few minutes I am positively gloomy. I feel guilty not to be helping Ize, and wonder if God is singling me out and punishing me for not showing overtly Christian faith. After about 20 minutes I find poor Ize, knocking on doors on her own. I ask why she didn’t call me or wait for me and she says she thought I wasn’t going to do any collecting because I had another job to do on the tour (writing and photography) or something.
We quickly get into the spirit of things, and although somewhat uncomfortable, once the money thing is over, I find it quite interesting meeting the locals, seeing how and where they live.

One Oom (old guy) tells us that our destination (God’s Window) is his wereld (his world) and gives us R20. Just down the road we meet a bunch of children and their mom who have just come back from a fishing trip. The girls caught fish…none of their brothers did, which is a source of some embarrassment to them.
They have about 4 dogs, and they’re all barking at us, licking us, jumping on us.
It’s fun. I actually find I’m enjoying this, and we’re able to chat a bit more than we did on the bikes. We do quite well, collecting about R100, and it seems most of that amount came in the second period, when we worked together, which is somehow quite gratifying.

We head back to church and lay on the grass while watching the wedding guests come out into the garden in front the church. Then the bus picks us up and takes us to where we will sleep. It’s been a long, but brilliant and colorful and frankly, beautiful day.

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