A Tale of Two Years

I’m catching up on news from the relatively cushy confines of Nairobi. Drinking a latte and eating a binge level amount of food in a mall the could just as easily be Highland Park Illinois instead of Nairobi Kenya. Only days ago, I was rationing toilet paper and hunting for bottled water and Dairy Milk bars in villages.

With the stream of news, I see that the Texas Hill Country 600 is happening this weekend in what appears to be terrible, wet conditions. Best of luck to all the racers. Exactly one year ago I was in Texas doing that event to kick off my season of racing. Shifra suggested I compare San Antonio to Nairobi, instead Im going for a more meandering comparison of the events and some reasons why I’m crossing Africa and later the US.

As Ive had a few more years doing long distance races, I found that signing up for an early season race helped keep me motivated over the dark winter months to stay on the road, trail and/or the computrainer. For a number of years, the Sebring 24 hour race filled that slot. Its been a good routine. The Texas Hill Country 600 was a nice switch and brought me back to an area of the US that I love.

Last year however, was the first time where I felt like it was that, a routine. Beyond Texas, I was doing the same loops in the same places and it made me consider why I loved riding a bike and racing. I started biking for fun and transportation and than for travel. Later I was introduced to racing long distances and being a competitive sort, became hooked on racing.

Ive found I miss the days of riding across a new country just to experience new things, rather than getting that one extra lap or saving another 10,20,30 minutes. 2012 is my attempt to reconcile the two mindsets. Race, but do it in places that I would love to slowly pedal through and if the motivation turns from racing to tourism, so be it.

There are some similarities between the Texas Hill Country 600 and this section of the Tour d’Afrique.

  • Early in the year – It never fails, I always feel unprepared for the early races. I don’t think it matters much how many miles I have logged.
  • Hot and Dry – Apparently not this year, but last year it seemed quite hot and dry as I was climbing some of those hills in the heat of the day.
  • Terrain – Rolling hills and a fair amount of sand
  • Seemingly collapsed buildings in small towns that are left standing and in some cases still in use. This is very similar. Small towns in Texas have burned out buildings or collapsed roofs that they leave standing. Similarly in Ethiopia.
  • Animals Ive never seen before – Texas had the hundreds of small deer at night. Africa has, well everything: baboons, monkeys, warthogs, many new birds, camels of course, and more to come.

Differences are more extreme.

  • Time – Length of the race in total (very long long – 4 months), the length of each days stage (very short relatively), and the completely different view of time in Africa well described by Ryszard Kapuściński in The Shadow of the Sun “Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even nonexistence, if we do not direct our energy toward it.”
  • Separation – originally my thought was isolation, but it isn’t really isolation as I am spending most every day with a group of 40+ people, but it is the separation from friends and family that makes the race unique.
  • Comfort and Convenience – While a 600K race is hardly comfortable, it is when compared to bush camps, baby wipe showers, water shortages, and no spare parts. Last night I walked into a convenience store for the first time in 2 months and it was overwhelming.
  • Follow vehicle – I definitely miss the support of my crew and getting a cold bottle of Infinit, Coke or a Turkey Wrap (Thanks to everyone who has sat in that vehicle or waited between loops over the years – Shifra and Carmichael at Texas last year )

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