Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Few Photos for my Faithful Readers

Windhoek, Namibia - In case anybody is wondering who Hungry Hyena is, I met him and his mate when we were driving across Chobe National Park.

And for all you Botswana birders out there (all two of you), here is the lilac-breasted roller you requested. He's a beauty, isn't he?



Friday, April 24, 2009

Bikes for Everyone

Windhoek, Namibia - When all was said and done, I managed to raise more than $4000 for BEN-Namibia. This is thanks to the incredible generosity of my family and friends and a few strangers too. I was so grateful for this outpouring of support, and it was one of the things that kept me pedaling all those miles and miles!

Right before I started the ride, I received this note from Michael Linke, the director of BEN-Namibia:

Michael Linke wrote:

Hi Mara,

That's amazing! You're an incredible fundraiser, and this news has made my day! I'm cc'ing Clarisse here, as I'm off to Canada today so it would be best to communicate with her if you need to do any follow up before you arrive. We can allocate more bicycles with the money you have raised (TDA is funding 60) we should be able to deliver around 44 more. This includes assembling the bikes with the healthcare volunteers and providing them with tools and training in bike mechanics.

We hope to have representatives from the organisations receiving bikes attend the handover ceremony (though many are more than 1,000km from Windhoek). The bikes themselves are still on the way from China, but we'll have a few of the same model on display on the day. We'll certainly give you reports and photos so you can feed back to your supporters.

Thanks again, and enjoy the ride!


PS we can certainly find a good home for your bike, thanks very much.

As Michael mentioned, the Tour d'Afrique foundation also provided some funding to donate bikes to BEN, so there was a small "ceremony" in Windhoek. It was actually more of a meeting, as there were only a few people present. But it did give me an opportunity to meet a few representatives from the organizations that will be receiving the bikes. These NGOs operate in the distant corners of rural Namibia - one providing outreach and support for disabled individuals, and another providing treatment and education for HIV/AIDS patients. I am pictured here with the two NGO reps, as well as Henry Gold, the founder and director of the Tour d'Afrique.

I also said goodbye to my own trusty bike. It was a rather sentimental moment, as my baby Bianchi has been with me for about 15 years. She was one of the first gifts that Jerry ever bought for me when we first started dating. And now she had carried me almost 1000 miles across the deserts and deltas of southern Africa. But I could think of no more fitting finish than to turn her over to some volunteer or health care worker, who will continue to ride her for years to come.



Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 10: Witvlei to Windhoek

Windhoek, Namibia - The last riding day. Ten out of ten. Although we had another long day - 159km (another century!) - today was the first day that I felt confident I would finish. I was so sure that I could do it, just because it was the last day, and I have already done so much.

Life is full of irony though, isn't it?

For starters, I was operating on minimal sleep, due to the hurricane that had swept across the Kalahari the night before. My wet sleeping bag did not make for the most comfy quarters. I was not a happy camper - literally.

Fortunately, it had cleared by morning and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. Probably because I spent most of the night willing that to happen (please don't let it be raining tomorrow, please don't let it be raining tomorrow...) And in fact it was not raining but the wind was brutal. Apparently the prevailing winds are from the east, so they should have been at our back, but these were 30kmh crosswinds. I rode with Viv and we struggled all morning.

About 40km outside of Windhoek, we rode past the airport. We had been warned to expect an increase in traffic and a change in terrain. There are gorgeous rolling hills in the outskirts of the city - but apparently Windhoek sits atop a sort of plateau, so that means more ascending than descending.

The traffic did not seem too bad at first, and I was even enjoying the changing landscape. You can see the top of a hill and it's usually followed by a cool coast down - both of which make it much more manageable than the incessant fight against the wind. What I did not like was the ominous storm cloud that hung over our heads. As we surmounted each hill, we could see the flash of lightning in the distance, and the thunder gradually got louder and louder.

Then the rain started. Of course I had left my water proof gear in the truck since it had been such a sunny morning. I was soaked within about five minutes, and it was cold.

Then the hail started. I could hear the pitter-patter of ice pellets hitting my head and I was grateful I was wearing a helmet.

Meanwhile, the traffic had increased as we got closer to the city, and the cars were wizzing by on the narrow highway at top speed. The sky was so dark - with pouring rain and steamy window - I'm sure the drivers could not see us until they were already past. For the first time I felt like I was doing something really risky - not just challenging but potentially dangerous. Plus I was drenched. And freezing.

Viv and I pulled over when we spotted some other riders huddled under a tree. Having ridden every inch since Cairo, they were going to wait for the weather to clear then continue. But I had no interest in shivering under a tree for a few hours. I had reached my limit.

So Viv and I flagged down a truck who gave us (and our bikes) a lift into camp. My odometer said 125km. 

So in the end I did not ride 1547km across Africa, but only 1512km. I came up about 22 miles short. Still that's about 940 miles by my calculations, so I think I can live with that.

Within 10 minutes of getting in the truck, the sky cleared and the sun came out. I was kicking myself.

Then 10 minutes later it was pouring raining again, and I was so relieved to be sitting in the safety and comfort of the truck. Upon arrival at camp, I celebrated with a hot shower - the first one in about three weeks. I stood under it for about 45 minutes so I think I made up for lost time. 




Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day 9: Botswana Border to Witvlei Namibia

Witvlei, Namibia - They really don't make it easy. After riding 207km yesterday you would think that we might have an easy day or two. But no... I had to complete two more centuries before I am done.

Today's distance was 162km. It was tough - really tough. Usually the morning flies by quickly but today I was struggling before lunch. I was temporarily revived by lunch, and I enjoyed a really nice ride to the town of Gobabis (cow capital of Namibia - moo). There we enjoyed a long break, complete with chocolate milkshakes. Alas, after Gobabis we had to make a turn and it felt like the wind was against us for the rest of the day.

But it's fun to be in a new country and the landscape is definitely changing. Today as we rode into Witvlei we could see mountains in the distance. And we even had a few hills to climb (more promised for tomorrow). I never thought I would say it, but I actually enjoyed that climbing and coasting.

We received a very warm welcome in Witvlei, complete with dancing provided by the local children.

The owner of the lodge promised us a peaceful night... which was ironic considering the storm that hit in the middle of the night! My tent was blowing all over the place and I had to go out twice to restake. Meanwhile, the rainwater collected on my groundcover and slowly but surely seeped into my tent. I was protected only by my air mattress, which kept most of my body off the wet ground but everything else - sleeping bag, tent and clothes - were a soggy mess. Not exactly what I expected from the Kalahari Desert!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day 8: Ghanzi, Botswana to Namib Border

Botswana-Namibian border - Today was the longest day ever. I don't mean it was the longest distance I have ever ridden. I already did that last week. Twice. But today was not only the longest distance I have ever ridden - but also the longest distance I will ever ride again. In fact, it was the longest distance in the entirety of the Tour d'Afrique: 207km. That's 129 miles if anybody is counting.

There was a palpable excitement in the camp for the extra long day. Breakfast was served early so we could get on the road before sunrise. It was really amazing to watch the sun come up over the desert as we pedalled. I rode with my girls - Sonia, Isabelle and Viv - but our pelaton grew throughout the day, which was great. The more people, the more power to the pelaton.

We slogged it out for almost 10 hours. And at the end of the day, we crossed into Namibia. Our camp was just over the border, and other riders were there to cheer us as we entered camp. 


Monday, April 20, 2009

Day 7: Bush Camp to Ghanzi


Ghanzi, Botswana - Apparently some of the riders have been complaining about the monotonous landscape, so the TDA staff decided to add some excitement to our lives by creating a Battle of Nations. Basically it was a 20 kilometer time trial that each team would ride. Each person on the team had to lead the group for at least 1km, and the time was recorded for the first three riders over the line. To add some spice, we were also encouraged to take creative photos and complete other tasks for extra bonus points.

What I really loved about this experience is that there are only four Americans on this tour - not nearly enough to compete with the dozens of Canadians and many Brits and South Africans. So the four of us were placed on a team with some other randoms - one Australian, one Dane, one Belgian guy - and together we made up Team World.

I thought it was so cool to be on the World Team. Everybody else had to sing their national anthems. We decided to sing "We are the World". Indeed, this was really my main contribution to the team, as I was the only one who knew all the lyrics so I could write them out for the rest of the team. We are the world, we are the children...

Alas, in the end, Team World could not compete with the Canadians or the South Africans. But we were just happy that we were not in last place. That would be the Dutch, and they had to make tea for the Canadians as their punishment.

As for the creative photos, you can see my contribution: me doing a helmet stand. This was not quite as entertaining (read: risque) as what the other teams came up with. Check it out on the official TDA blog

By the way, after we were done with the fun and games, we rode an additional 122km, for a total of 140km (88 miles). 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Day 6: Maun to Bush Camp

Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana - After one decadent day, it was not so easy to get back on the bike, especially since there was another long ride on the agenda. Today we rode 157km - just short of a century.

Alas, the rest day served me well, because I had a fantastic riding day. I rode all day with a threesome - Sonia, Isabella and Viv. Last week I was not able to keep up with them, but today I was. I think I'm getting stronger!

The road continues to be straight and flat. The landscape is mostly scrubby brush, with cows and donkeys and horses instead of wildlife.


But there is evidence that we are getting closer to the Namibian border, as we passed many people of the Herero nation, easily recognizable by their fancy dress.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hooray for Rest Day

Maun, Botswana - Wow, today was so chill. It was everything a rest day should be. I slept in until 7:30. (That's right, I said "slept in"). Then I had a huge breakfast. Then I had a deep tissue massage, courtesy of a big bosomy Zimbabwean woman. Then - as promised - I spent the entire afternoon reading my novel, with the occasional cooling dip. I'm a little sad that it's almost over.

By the way, if my adventures are a bit too tame for your tastes, check into the Lonely Planet TDA blog to read about how my teamate Tom missed the turn into camp and "accidentally" rode an extra 107km to Maun. That's right, folks, we publish travel guidebooks.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Day 5: Bush Camp to Maun

Maun, Botswana - Today was the probably the toughest day yet for me. It wasn't the longest day... We rode 135km (84 miles), which is so short compared to yesterday's ride. But it was tough.

For starters, after four days of riding, I am beat. My legs are worn out. My butt is sore. And I am suffering from the same woes that eventually befall all cyclers: saddle sores. Ouch!

Second, the scenery is lovely but it is monotonous when you are riding through it for 6-8 hours a day. This Elephant Highway could do with a few more elephants to add some excitement. (Alternatively, they could change the name to Cow Highway, which would also be an apt description.)

Plus, it was the last ride before a rest day. I think I started to let my guard down, looking forward to taking a day off before I actually finished. the morning was fine, but after lunch I still had 2-3 hours of riding. It was HOT and I was BEAT. Plus the tailwind we had yesterday had disappeared. If anything it felt like a headwind.

It helps a lot to take short breaks, stretch the legs and eat a power bar. But I reached the point where I was stopping every hour, then on the half-hour... At one point I started to cry, as I still had at least 90 minutes of riding before I reached my destination. I hadn't seen another rider since lunch and I feared I might be last... I dreaded the idea of the sweep sneaking up on me.

Then on the horizon I saw a few riders in the distance who were taking pitstop. I was overjoyed to see that it was a group of women I had ridden with - for short stints - during the last few days. I confesed to them that I was beat and Sonia offered to let me draft off of her. We formed a paceline that pulled me into Maun. It was amazing really... Just when I started to think that I was really never ever going to make it, these three strong women rallied around me and pulled me in. Again, the collective energy is so much greater than the sum of the parts.

I have not actually made it to camp yet, since I stopped at the internet cafe in town. But I am looking forward to spending my rest day poolside. Five days down, five to go!

By the way, I have a speedy connection here so I'm going to try to post some photos from our safari. Please peruse past posts to see some of the highlights that I was not able to post earlier.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day 4: Nata to Bush Camp

Makgadikgadi Pan, Botswana - The longest day yet! Each day presents a new challenge. Just because I did it yesterday doesn't mean I can do it today. But I did! Today we rode 175km - that's just about 109 miles.

We started extra early in anticipation of the long day. And it was actually chilly this morning at 6:30am. I've been wearing a jacket in the morning anyway. But this morning the crisp morning air was cutting right through it and my fingers were freezing. I was remembering those many winter mornings back home - trying to remind myself that this was glorious riding weather compared to those sub-freezing temperatures I enjoyed in February!

The morning went by so fast - partly because I was able to hop onto the back of a line of riders. We had the wind at our back anyway, which was nice. But the paceline is fantastic - the lead rider blocks the wind and pulls the rest of the group.  It takes some work to keep up, especially since you have to stay right on the tail of the rider in front of you. But when it works, the speed of the ride increases signficantly. I'm sure there is some sort of geophysical, biological explanation... but it has to be more than just having the wind blocked. It really feels like the collective energy of the group pulls you along - pushing you to speeds you could never do on your own. Thank you Coach Rich for teaching me the basics of pacelining so I could participate in that!

Otherwise, the highlight of the day was the afternoon Coke stop at this wacky lodge called Planet Baobab.  The Baobab tree is the massive fruit tree that is all over southern Africa. The grounds were littered with these lovely shade trees, not to mention a relaxing bar and an extremely inviting swimming pool. (Alas, the prospect of riding in wet biking short deterred me...) But my favorite feature was the gigantic aardvark marking the spot.

This will be our second night in a bush camp. It is what it is: we set up our tents in the bush and there is nothing around for miles. We eat very well, thanks to the hardworking TDA staff, who know how to feed 60 hungry riders (and we are hungry!)


So far, I have been lucky in that there is no shortage of water, which means we are welcome to take water bottle showers.  Again, it is what it is. But I quite like the al fresco shower, so no complaints there. I don't love the al fresco toilets but it's better than an outhouse!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day 3: Bush Camp to Nata

Nata, Botswana - I had really mixed feelings about the ride today. On the one hand, I was pretty pleased with myself for completing my first century. Now I know I can do it - today's ride of 150-ish km should be a piece of cake! On the other hand, it would be my third day of straight riding, my second long ride in a row. My legs might rebel.

But I stuck to my plan: Slow and Steady. The landscape can be a bit monotonous, since it is so flat. Not that I'm complaining! My knees love flat. But there are not a lot of distractions as you look around.

Every so often, you come across some other riders. Actually, in my case, it's more common that they come across me, as they probably got a later start than I did, but they are riding faster then I am, so they quickly pass me by. Or sometimes we are able to find a compatible pace for a while, which is good for a chat.

I also find that I am able to keep up my pace a lot better when I am cycling with somebody else - as long as I don't have to talk too much. For some reason when I am riding by myself it feels like it consumes more energy and my pace really lags.

I have a lot of admiration for these riders who have been going since Cairo. They are hardcore! The cycling is tough. But besides that, they are sleeping in tents, living in a communal setting and following an extremely rigorous routine. It's takes a lot of mental discipline and human compassion to do that for twelve weeks.

Anyway, the highlight of day three was the elephant sightings. First, we saw a massive carcass at the side of the road. Or should I say we smelled a massive carcass at the side of the road. That thing stank to high heaven. 

We had been warned that there was an elephant watering hole shortly before the lunch truck, and in its vicinity I saw three different elephants who had come down for a drink. After lunch there was another one crossing the road right in front of my. Elephant Highway, indeed! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 2: Kasane to Bush Camp

Nowheresville, Botswana - I think I was the first one up this morning, I was so nervous about the long ride. We were supposed to ride 160km - that's officially a century (100 miles) - farther than I have ever ridden before. Plus, I knew I had to pack my bags up and take down my tent and wolf down my breakfast before starting.

It's important to get an early start because it's nice and cool in the morning so you want to get in as many miles as possible before the sun gets high and hot - which is about 10am. So I was up at 5am, eating breakfast at 6am, and on the road before 7am. 

I was definitely operating according to the old truism: Slow and Steady. A few hills and a steady crosswind added a bit of challenge, but for the most part, the route was flat and straight. Good for the knees. I honestly felt like I could go forever at that pace!

The landscape varies from agriculture to grasslands to scrubby growth. But it's all flat. I was riding with the video camera so I stopped to do some filming for LPTV. I also did some filming when I got to the lunch truck. The problem is that I was really taking my time. There were a lot of other riders phaffing about the lunch truck, but I didn't realize that they were not going to cycle the second half of the ride. They were waiting to hop on the truck. This is perfectly legitimate for somebody who has been on their bike for three months, as most of these riders have been.

But I am only here for 11 days and I certainly wasn't going to hop on the truck on the first long day of riding! So I was actually the last rider leaving lunch, followed shortly by the sweep. That's the staff member who rides last to make sure that everybody makes it. Of course the sweep caught up to me pretty quickly and I felt bad that he had to ride at my dawdling pace for a while. 

Fortunately we caught up to some of the other riders who were making a pit stop, so I was able to "speed" on ahead. And I was not last coming into camp!

All in all, it was a pretty good day, although I learned my lesson about dawdling. Slow and steady is fine, but don't forget the steady part.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 1: Vic Falls to Kasane

Kasane, Botswana - One down, ten to go! Day one was a wonderful way to start. We had beautiful blue sunny skies, a smooth paved road and a relatively short route: 82km.

I was pretty excited and nervous this morning - packing up my bags and scarfing down my breakfast so that I would be able to get an early start. Having just completed the previous leg, LP team member David Nelson was on hand to see us off. And so Tom Hall and I set off before 7am to take advantage of the cool morning air. Unfortunately, the first few miles were rocky dirt roads and Tom promptly got a flat!

But after that inauspicious start, everything went smoothly. When we rode through villages, the children would come to the roadside to shout greetings and cheer us on. The roads were paved and smooth - certainly better than the roads in Lincoln Mass! There were a few hilly spots but just enough to keep you on your toes.

Because it was a short ride, we had an early lunch break. I pulled in somewhere around 10am, which is sort of funny, but of course I was hungry.

Aside from lunch, the highlight was the border crossing from Zambia to Botswana. The border is at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers, and during the cross you can actually see four different countries: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe all meet here. After getting our exit stamps from Zambia, we rode a ferry across the river and disembarked in Botswana.

But you're not in yet! After getting your Botswana stamp, you have to ride through a puddle of murky grimy water as a precaution against foot & mouth disease!

Since we had a relatively short riding day, most of the cyclists are taking a sunset cruise on the Chobe River this afternoon. I have opted out of this activity, since Jerry and I took the same cruise last week. But I will take the opportunity to post a few photos, since I wasn't able to earlier.

It was indeed a lovely way to spend an afternoon, watching hippos and elephants frolicking in the river, spotting the majestic fish eagle and the spry fisherkings perched in the trees along the shore, and admiring the cranky crocodiles who were glaring out from the water with their beady eyes.

But the undeniable highlight was watching the white-fronted bee eaters. This is one of the reasons we came to Botswana. It was like being dropped into the middle of a National Geographic special, as the boat was able to pull up close enough that we could observe the birds feeding their chicks in the funny nests they make in holes in the river bank.

Tonight  I'm going to eat as much dinner as I possibly can and then go straight to bed. Tomorrow we have to ride twice as far as we did today. One cyclist reassured me that it will not be so bad... "It's just like today but we do it twice," he said. I agree that does not sound so bad, except that the second time we do it is in the hottest part of the day. And it is HOT. 

Of course it's hot. This is Africa.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

T Minus One

Livingstone, Zambia - I can hardly believe it, but tomorrow commences my 966 mile journey from Victoria Falls to Windhoek! 

Jerry and I arrived here on Friday - just a few hours before the TDA riders started rolling in. Everybody was looking forward to two days off from riding, not to mention the comfort of a camp with showers and flushing toilets. There are about 65 riders and staff and we pretty much took over the Livingstone Safari Lodge.

I got my bike put back together right away, thanks to the highly efficient TDA mechanics. It has been great to talk to riders who are actually doing this thing, as opposed to the speculation that has been going on in my head. I also met up with several members of Team Lonely Planet. I watched Nate Cavalieri and David Nelson roll over the finish line. David's finish was particularly dramatic as he had suffered a pretty nasty fall on his last day of riding. But both of them were in excellent spirits, having just completed the ride of their life.

The next day, I was pleasantly surprised when Fiona Siesman walked into camp! She is another member of the Lonely Planet team who had completed the previous leg, from Iringa, Tanzania to Lilongwe, Malawi, then she took off on safari in Zambia for 10 days, then met up with the riders again at Vic Falls. Yesterday, my riding partner Tom Hall showed up. So Nate and David passed us the virtual baton so we can continue the LP ride.

Jerry left me this morning to return home. He was doing a very good job hiding any signs of envy about the bike ride! We will be off bright and early tomorrow morning. The first day is relatively short: 80km (50 miles) from Livingstone, Zambia to Kasane, Botswana.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mobile Safari

Chobe National Park - First of all, I needn't have worried about a lack of ammenities in the bush. We are traveling with a crew of three people. Yes, we are only two people but apparently we need three people to take care of us: the guide/driver, the cook and the camp assistant. This means we do not have to set up tents; we eat loads of food, all of it cooked over the open fire; and somebody heats water for our bucket shower. If I had known that this was what camping was like, I would do it more often!

The wildlife has been amazing. One day was lion day (two sleeping males plus three carousing females spotted).

The elephant families are not shy here and have blocked the road on more than one occasion. When this happens, you basically just stop the jeep and wait for the elephants to continue on their way. They are not to be rushed.

We also witnessed an incredible zebra migration - thousands and thousands of zebras moving across the plain.

The landscape here is much different than the delta. There is not as much water and therefore not as much greenery. It is more of the wide open savannah that we have all seen on the Nature Channel. It makes for spectacular sunsets.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Pom Pom Lodge

Okavango Delta, Botswana - Our trip to Botswana went so smoothly it was almost spooky. Aside from a little skirmish with the customs officials who were overly interested in my bike-in-a-box, the trip was smooth sailing. We flew in a tiny five-seater across the Okavango Delta, which was amazing, and then we were greeted by the staff of Pom Pom Lodge, singing a traditional Tatswana welcome song.

Don't ask me why it's called Pom Pom Lodge. It seems like an unfortunate choice of name, but it's really wonderful. Ten luxurious tents (I know that seems incongruous but they really are lovely) set around a lagoon that is teeming with hippos.

There are game drives every morning, with plenty of animals but also a coffee break. Afternoons are devoted to siesta (which we desperately needed after our 24-hour commute). And evening game drives, centered around sundown drinks. It's all very civilized.

I can't possibly recount all of the adventures, but it has been a thrill to see the herds of zebra, impala, red lechwe and wildebeast grazing in the grasses.

On our very first day, an elephant wandered into the camp and startled two women when they emerged after their siesta.

That evening we spotted a gorgeous leopard as she was waking up from her afternoon nap.

Now we are leaving the life of luxury to set off on four days traveling across the Botswana bush.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Off to Africa!

Somerville, Mass - In about six hours, I will be getting on an airplane and flying off to Africa. Six hours! I can't believe that this moment has finally arrived. I feel like I have been preparing for this for AGES (and pedaling for ages) and yet somehow it went by so fast. Isn't that always the way it works?
As you might imagine, these last few weeks were more than hectic. Thank you for noticing that I have not been posting as often as usual - it's nice to be missed, Mom! Aside from riding my bike 3-5 hours a day, I was also finishing not one but two manuscripts about Boston - the last of which I turned in at 2:30 this morning!
Yes, it wouldn't be a real trip without at least one all-nighter leading up to it.
But the moment is now. My bike has been fitted with extra water bottles and new "flat-proof" tires. My handy new handlebar camera bag gives me easy access for when I am whizzing past the elephants and I want to get a photo.
Now my baby Bianchi is all packed up in a giant box in the back of my car. She and I have had a love-hate relationship over the last few months, but we have come a lont way. And I know I can trust her to carry me across Africa - as long as my knees hold up!
My bags are packed with extra tubes and energy bars and enough chamois shorts to make Lance Armstrong jealous. I even practiced setting up my tent. Jerry and I ate left-over lasagna for lunch in the living room - inside the tent. Then I took it down.
Jerry and I are going to spend 10 days on safari in Botswana before I start riding. This is a lifelong dream for both of us. We'll spend three days at a lodge in the Okavango Delta and four days camping in Chobe National Park, before we finish up at Victoria Falls. And that's where I get on my bike. (At least it sounds like I will be riding downhill to start.)
Thank you so much to everyone who has shown me support over the past few months. I am so grateful to the Charles River Wheelmen and the small group of biking maniacs who have kept me company all winter long. All I had to do was show up, and somebody (usually Chris!) would lead me around the rolling hills of Boston's beautiful western suburbs. I got free nutrition counseling,  tire changing and some tale telling.
Most importantly, I had the comfort of being surrounded by cyclists who think it's perfectly normal to ride a bike across a continent. Many of them have already done it themselves.
And I cannot talk enough about the generosity of friends and family (and a few strangers!) who have donated almost $4000 to the Bicycle Empowerment Network. It feels really good to know that so many people are supporting me. This show of support means so much to me. It's like having my own personal cheering section - rooting me on and sending good vibes - as I pedal across the miles.
This chunk of change also gives so many people access to transportation, health care, education and income opportunities. This is far more than I expected to raise and I am really looking forward to meeting the BEN volunteers and beneficiaries when I sail into Windhoek at the end of 11 days on my bike!
Incidentally, the BEN-sponsored bicycle team is going to be riding with us across Namibia. Or more accurately, in front of us.
I will end with one final plug for BEN. It's not too late to donate!
On that note, I'm off to Africa...