Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Road Via Hell

The Scenary I 
It had rained hard the previous night as a result the conditions of the road had changed.  This implied that the riding strategies would equally have to be adapted.  It was the first time I was going to ride in these wretched circumstances: mud, rain, sand, hills and valley coupled with distance, loneliness, fatigue all fermenting in the same pot at the same time.  Unbeknown to me, the balance of the odyssey, my courage, endurance, physical fitness, was going to be tampered with: stretched and, tested beyond anything I had experienced in a novel way.  It is for this reason I called it the “Road from Hell”.  The real difference is that I emerged from this hell shaken but grateful to be alive.

The Sun was glorious waking up from its sleep; its golden arrows streaked the Eastern skies making it glow in a melange of beautiful strange orange-golden colour.  The problem with this east at Mitumba was that it was not the one at Jozi.  It was a relative east, to borrow from Einstein.  Yet I knew it was east since the sun always rises from there, and nothing in recent science had suggested that this thesis had changed.  But what kept me wondering even more was whether our sense of direction has something to do with the Circadian Rhythms?  As I pondered these matters, I brushed my teeth and doused my face with cold water.  This was inevitably the third day I was doing without a bath; it was alright.  

In spite of the experience I had gained over the days packing the bike, it still took me about an hour to tie-down every pieces of luggage.  As usual the local citizens were milling around me.  I know I can start a conversation with any one and talk about atoms, politics, the laws of supply and demand, enzymes, cooking or my favourite theme ―bikes, yet there were instances when I would give preference to being a monk ― a few moments in the morning.  It helps shuffle stuff in my mind: meditate or whatever name you give to it.  Right now I was thinking about the road ahead, yet it was impossible to avoid my hosts.  Rashid was here to introduce his wife to me: Huyu ndio shemeji, he said (It is a complicated to translate a local language directly into English since some of the words have no equivalent.  In this case, the literal meaning was brother here is our sister-in-law).  In the way he had said it, he regarded me as a brother, member of the family, and thinking about it later I was amazed by the extent of the inclusivity of our African languages, of which I speak ‘treasurably’ but modestly a good many of them and understand by extension the various dialects.

It was time to go ― the chief.  I had to request his permission to depart.  After a while, I found him among women who were sorting rice, either for a big feast or for the eating house.  I said to him I had slept very well. I inquired how he had slept.  After exchanging salutations, I said I was very grateful that he had hosted me.  I prayed that he will be kind to many more who come his way, and that I was asking for his permission to continue my journey.  He said indeed he rendered me his blessings and that I should travel with Allah.  As was my custom, I slipped a gift secretly in his hands. He said he accepted it and was very pleased.  I said I would come back one day, nearly letting a tear roll down my cheek.  I had already been warming the motor for about ten minutes and with a crowed to bid me well, I rode off in a very jovial mood saying Asante!  Asante! (Thank you).

The Scenary II
That was my first mistake.  Riding off in a jovial mood, now that seems odd to say.  It was not a bad thing in itself.  The problem was it clouded my immediate judgement to details of the changed road conditions.  This might seem a contradiction but it is how it happened.  But I rode off in same attitude I had ridden yesterday: speed, not exactly understanding that the rain has made the terrain a dangerous place.  It was the volcanic soil that is as slippery as oil.  As I began to breathe in the air, I began encountering pools of water on the road.  My good senses advised me to slow down: I climbed from 120kms to just below a 100kms.  This portion of the road evinced recent road improvement activities.  The road had a convex shape and my idea was to ride on highest part of the convex presuming it to be hard, safe and would provide traction.  In the middle of the road I pushed on desiring to cover as much distance as was possible today. 
It happened without warning.  My second tumble came to pass this moment.  Replaying the scene in my mind later, it was like in the movies, the frames had been slowed down a thousand times, the bike turned vertical from travelling horizontally, and begun to lean to my right at the same time sliding to my left and reducing the 180 degrees faster than I could blink. I separated from the bike and was thrown clear into the middle of the road.  I heard my screen snap, and then silence for even Scorpion had switched off.   I lay there waiting.  I don’t know what I was waiting for, just waiting fully conscious.  I was still in the vicinity of human habitation but it was early in the morning about 10kms from where I spent the night. 

The Road Continued after my Second Tumble
In times of tragedy, and I think this is true of Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, one of the sweetest sounds you can ever hear or long for is the human voice.  I don’t remember whether my eyes were closed or open but the voiced said “pole” (I sympathise or emphasise with you) and she held my muddied gloved right hand.  Slowly I sat up.  No pain, good I thought!  I moved my legs and hands no pain, good! I leaned forward and supported by her I stood up.  All this was happening in silence.  I was covered in the red mud from the top of my helmet to the toe of my boots.  It was like someone had soaked me in the red mud.  My riding gear is normally impressive, at least in the photos.  The red colour had replaced the black and yellow.  I could not stifle a chuckle.  Then I burst out laughing thinking that even my own mother would not have recognised me in my new outfit.  I said to the Angel Lady Asante!  I remember mumbling something like “journeys are sometimes like this”.

I inspected Scorpion.  It seems she has sustained some damage.  The screen was broken from the fame holding it into several pieces: it was irreparable.  I retrieved the road licence which was stuck some place on the inside.  I stood Scorpion on her feet.  The evidence was clear: the aluminium panniers had absorbed most of the shock and had acquired a new shape.  In addition, more reflectors had fallen off.  Scorpion herself was unscathed.  I stood her on her side stand and waited for her to take some breath then hit the Start black button.  She roared into life without hesitation.  That sound was really uplifting, the second sweetest sound I had heard that day.  I could not hold back a tear that decided to roll down my cheek.  I realised our bond was a very special one. I was glad the helmet was on to shield my face.  I had removed it temporally to clean the mud off the visor.  I shuddered to imagine Scorpion not starting; what would happen?  I mean not start in a serious way. I was about 3500kms in the middle of nowhere.  I believed at that moment that I sat on Scorpion, waved and rode-off.  That was the first of the more than fifteen falls I would experience that day on a stretch of about 280 kms.  I normally cover 100kms in 50 minutes.  Today was a new experience; I would spend exactly 15hours and 17 minutes on this stretch of road, for hell had just broken lose, but and it is a big one, I knew that the Lord was travelling with me as pillion.

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