An Aussie 990 in Africa

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by anydavenow, Oct 20, 2018.

  1. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    Darkness of Heart

    In moving to Don Jon we'd upgraded from a site to a suite and while Filippo and Valerio cozied up in the king-size bed I was relegated to a saggy trundle in the entrance hall. Ordinarily it wouldn't have bothered me: most nights I was so exhausted that I'd be gone in sixty seconds and sleep through until I woke up totally confused about where I was (that one bed-bug-ridden night in south-eastern Morocco being the exception). But on this fateful night in November I was uncharacteristically hot, bothered and restless.

    I didn't have any evidence to support my hypothesis, but I knew something was up with Roma. Like an elite sportsman, subconsciously able to predict the trajectory of an approaching projectile based on a prior twitch in his opponent's eyelid, a life of analysing what people thought of me at the highest levels of the sport told me that something had changed—even if the intuition was too subtle to describe to a casual spectator.

    I got up and (phone clasped in hand) wandered out on to the landing that overlooked a moonlit courtyard where some tired garden furniture was plonked between two majestic palms which towered over the hotel building. It was a calm, peaceful night and I could hear the soft hush of the ocean—though I wasn't soothed.

    I spent some time lamely sleuthing around the little back-lit communal space that was the screen in my hand, compulsively looking up Roma's location on Find My Friends while trying to piece together a convincing narrative based on the last-read times of WhatsApp messages and contents of social media posts. But there weren't any clues, let alone anything close to Exhibit A. This would have to be dealt with the old fashioned way.

    Having incrementally increased the intensity of its beat over the recent hours I felt my heart thump forcefully as my thumb hovered over the phone, coming to rest on the familiar green "call" button. I quietly hoped the process that little tap set in motion would yield some assurance that my generalised paranoia was just that: I was being silly and should stop worrying and get some sleep.

    No answer.

    I hadn't really considered that as a possible outcome of the bet. What to do now? Double-down with another missed call lined up behind the first one on her screen, signalling to me just as much as her that my panic was officially full-blown? Or talk myself down and wait it out with my cards clutched close to my chest?

    I tried again. And again. Each attempt fast-forwarded the parallel plot-lines in my head to their various disastrous conclusions. The fourth time I called, she picked up.

    "Hi?"

    "Hello?"

    "Hey, what's up?"

    "Where are you? What are you doing?"

    "I'm on my way to work."

    "Right. OK. What's going on? Why haven't you been responding?"

    Silence.

    I become aware of my elevated heartbeat again.

    "Who is he?"

    A gamble, out of the blue and out of character for me, but the question seemed to ask itself.

    "It's not like that, Dave."

    That short, ambiguous phrase, dripping in discomfort and guilt, told me everything I needed to know. I felt myself retracing all my assumptions, questions, doubts and delusions in that instant, like a row of dominoes un-falling in a reversal of time.

    Surprisingly, the first feeling was relief: I wasn't losing my mind. My judgement was sound. I felt briefly together with a clear understanding of what had happened and about what would—the moment between the pop of the detonator and the rumbling, controlled collapse of the building. In that infinite instant I was unfazed—not processing, somehow protected. I wasn't angry or upset—or anything, really.

    I took the phone from my ear and looked at the screen blankly for a moment, then ended the call and stared for a little while longer at that small, black rectangular portal to my life back home. I'd come to the end of a chapter in a tragedy I didn't know I was reading. The portal was closing and with it the cold reality of the distance between where I was and where I'd come from started rising up in me.

    I stared wistfully through the palm trees at the moonlit ocean with a forlorn look on my face—unable to think of anything better to do. I tried that for a few minutes but I'm sure unlike Charlie & Ewan's experience nobody hurried out to respectfully capture the gravitas of the moment. I crept back into the room and snuck a cigarette out of Valerio's personal collection, thinking that might add some wistfulness to the scene. I hadn't smoked seriously in years but I thought it was a great time dust off that old weakness.

    I fidgeted back and forth between the room's balcony and the palm-framed table and chairs in the courtyard. I may even have taken a pensive walk along the beach. I was up for hours thinking myself in knots while waiting on an imaginary platform for a metaphorical train that was on its way to run me over. As was probably typical of Senegalese trains it seemed to have been delayed. It was a long and disappointing night.

    Eventually, I gave up waiting for the pain train. Nobody was around to express outrage, incredulity or sympathy so there wasn't much point in emitting the signals that might inspire them and I didn't have it in me to open the worm-can that was breaking the news to everyone at home.

    I slumped back to the room and let myself be distracted by sleep—but not before dealing with the unfortunate outcome of the stimulative side-effect of all that nicotine. As quietly as I could, I unleashed upon the rickety toilet in the doorless bathroom beside the sweetly sleeping Italian couple.

    I was mortified to find that there was no water in the cistern when I tried to expunge my impolite output. It seemed that the next morning would impose upon all three of us the pleasure of dealing with someone else's shit.
  2. Throttlemeister

    Throttlemeister Long timer Super Supporter

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    Heavy stuff.

    After being married and divorced once, I almost can’t imagine riding away for longer than 3 months and trying to have a relationship on hold at home, your life back there is frozen while you are right in the middle of huge life changing events on a big trip. The only way for it to really work I would think is to have that significant other with you on said life changing travel sharing the moments.

    I always think that a solo traveler has the greatest opportunity to be the most changed.

    I had a goal to ride the whole of Africa, now it is just on hold as the two wonderful kids have changed my trajectory for the mean time. Maybe I can convince them to come with :)

    Thanks for sharing your trip, thinking it will be easier for you now without those close ties to your heart back home or not... it does sometimes take significant time to process a separation.

    Loving the report, keep it up man!
  3. Red liner

    Red liner Been here awhile

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    takes a great deal of courage to put down personal tragedy in a public forum, but this is what makes an adventure like this a real one. It’s not all about sitting in a beach sipping pina coladas or riding dunes across the Sahara.

    appreciate and respect. Hope you have managed to move on and ahead in your life, my man.

    hope you rode back to Veronique lolllll
  4. aspad

    aspad Empty Suit

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    Absolutely brilliant writing Dave. A compelling tale of a proper adventure ride very well told. I was mentally with you at every step on that gut wrenching border crossing and the brave solo (to start with) of the sandy railway track. Thanks for taking us into the depths of the riding and travel experience as well as the nuances of the rewards and costs of such a journey. I trust what you recounted in the last update has worked out okay for you in the long run. Looking forward very much to reading the rest of your adventures when you have time to write them up.
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  5. Essbee

    Essbee Been here awhile

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    Wow! I had to read that twice. Perhaps to remind myself that I'd been down that rocky road once, a long time ago.

    Superbly written, Dave!!!
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  6. steved57

    steved57 Long timer Supporter

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    As mentioned many times throughout this RR your stories / pic's are spellbinding - hope you are doing well and looking forward to more
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  7. Bounty1

    Bounty1 Been here awhile

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    Dave the last 3 paragraphs, must be amongst your finest output to date, dare I say!
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  8. ubermick

    ubermick Long timer Supporter

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    Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaate.
    :2cry
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  9. Cheftyler

    Cheftyler Adventurer

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    Dave, that's an absolute kick to the gut, I've experienced that while only separated by an hour, I can't imagine being that far away and being dealt that hand.
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  10. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    Haven’t much to add to the other comments above. Just want to repeat the remark about courage to write about it on a public forum. And once again, admiration for your writing talent. I wish for you that sharing it like this gives some peace and helps to move on.

    and please, do move on with the tales of your travel :-)
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  11. pitbull

    pitbull Long timer

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    Wow, I just found this RR today and spent a few hours reading it through. Dave, your pictures, stories and especially your writing are truly fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing it all.
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  12. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    Thanks as always for all the supportive comments, inmates. It's what gets me up early most Saturday mornings to chip away at this report for a couple of hours over a coffee despite the many other things in life (like a bit of extra sleep) competing for that spot in the roster!
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  13. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    Disassembly

    My serendipitous, jocular friendship with Filippo and Valerio was now burdened with a weight normally borne by stronger, older bonds. As the boys woke to my strained delivery of the news we realised simultaneously how little we really knew about each other. The strangeness made strangers of us and I could sense through the awkward back pats and attempts at light-hearted reassurance that they didn't quite know what their role was or whether they were ready for it. I don't think these first responders will ever know how crucial their presence was during that volatile time.

    In our remaining days in Saly I lived a surreal double life. Externally, superficially I participated in the scenes around me as we continued our miniature holiday in pseudo-paradise. Internally, I began the brutal, slow and to all but me predictable processing of the fact that the table on which I had started to neatly lay out my life plans had been abruptly flipped over.

    While we relaxed on the beach amongst the fishermen, footballers, tourists and touts I contended quietly with the first stages of grief. Though they came roughly in their renowned order they overlapped, waxed and waned in a horrible, mocking dance: a psychotic haka.

    Lounging on deck chairs on the sand in front of Don Jon one afternoon we became the subjects of a gregarious "life guard". Though his dark skin was slightly weathered, he was shockingly fit and full of energy. It wasn't clear whether this fascinating character was officially employed or had simply taken undemocratic control of the length of the beach as a benevolent, clean-living dictator. If so, his one-man coup would have been staged successfully with only the weapons of an amazing physique, aviator sunglasses (mandatory in any African coup) and an (also mandatory) an infectious dedication to ideology—which in his case was the "don't worry, be happy" movement.

    Our self-appointed chaperone regaled us with tales of his accomplishments as a professional footballer, prize-winning boxer and the strongest swimmer in Saly. Once we were won over it was time for an indoctrination in the ways of meditation, relaxation and generally living one's best life. He branded us "the three musketeers", Valerio being anointed with the secondary honour of being the "Minister de Mange" owing to him being furthest away from our athletic orator on the Body Mass Index.

    On learning of my personal predicament, Lt. Lifeguard seized the opportunity to offer his advice: "respect, pardon". In other words: "when it comes to women, there's only one word that matters: sorry". Ordinarily, his advice would've been amusing (and slightly touching) but at that moment I was highly vulnerable to emotional infection and his words took on more importance to me than even he probably intended. That night, my mind raced to assemble a long and detailed list of any faults, flaws and failures I could conceive of. That was it: I was going to apologise.

    As someone who constantly strives (arguably unhealthily) for self-control it was demoralising to feel myself swept up by these intimidating and irrational emotions—spending hours on the phone in the middle of the night spewing out sorries to someone who it could be said had wronged me and not the other way around, but more importantly someone who had no interest in restoring the status quo that I was now so desperately, uncharacteristically attached to (having spent much of my life trying to avoid being permanently pinned down).

    —×—
    When our bitter-sweet time in Saly came to an end we made our way back to Dakar and through its colourful chaos to the tranquil refuge of Espace Thialy, our bikes reunited with their gentle guardian in front of the pharmacy. Filippo and Valerio had accomplished their dream of making it to Dakar and it was time for them to start their journey back to Europe and the welcoming cocoon of home. I was sorry to see them go, and they were as comical as ever in their departure: Valerio rode off with a large wooden giraffe wrapped in brown paper sticking out of the top of his backpack, his bike loaded with enough African curios to send the Australian Border Force into industrial action.

    With the departure of that wonderfully distracting duo I was left to finally confront my feelings. My brave face started to dissolve as those tumultuous, internal forces pushed through and consumed me entirely. Filippo and Valerio had not only been an anchor, but I'd also leaned heavily on them to translate and manage the harshness of daily life in a very foreign environment while I didn't feel up to fending for myself. Now, I was truly at sea.

    The days were long and burdensome, spent in unhealthy isolation at the guest house while my allies in Australia slept and left me without anyone I could really talk to. Practically, it was impossible to connect with anyone in my immediate surroundings due to the language barrier. Although I'd deliberately taken on the challenge of Francophone West Africa, rather than the more easily navigable (to a native English speaker) East, I'd imagined my difficulties in communication would manifest in dealing with shopkeepers, wait staff and border officials—not when trying to express things that don't even come easy in English.

    The staff at Espace Thialy were respectful and sensitive. They knew something wasn't right, even if they didn't know exactly what it was. I got the occasional knowing look or polite smile when they came to clean the rooms or stumbled across me sitting on the rooftop terrace while chain-smoking on the phone, or when I occasionally ventured out in the afternoons to top-up on cigarettes and airtime.

    In between long, fruitless phone calls and WhatsApp message marathons I sat and thought too much about where I was and what I was going to do. Every single day on the trip so far had soaked up all the courage I had to keep moving forward to my final destination—forward into that deep, heavy fear of the unknown that lay between me and Cape Town.

    As I agonised unproductively on the phone with my ardent supporters in Sydney it became clear to me that I simply didn't have the capacity to carry two great emotional burdens at once. I began to contend with the possibility of my trip being over, and to think about what that alternative reality would look like. I simply couldn't see how I'd be able to muster the courage it would take to face the challenges (real or imagined) that inevitably lay along the road ahead.


    [​IMG]
    Postcard From The Edge

    [​IMG]
    Curio Courier
  14. Bounty1

    Bounty1 Been here awhile

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    Superb writing Dave.
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  15. anydavenow

    anydavenow Long timer

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    Deliberation

    Although it had only been a few days since my Italian supporters had involuntarily abandoned me it felt as though I had been lingering at Espace Thialy for months, stuck in limbo like an ageing songwriter living in a once glamorous hotel, unable to contend with the oppressive reality of the world outside.

    Now and then I'd meet some or other guest who spoke a bit of English and it gave me a reprieve, allowing me to engage in some good old-fashioned small talk for a moment before returning to my wallowing.

    While the internal court remained in session, deliberating on the protracted case of The Situation I Find Myself In v. What I Did To Deserve This I started developing a mundane daily routine around the drama, dealing with the necessities of life. The nightly regroup with family and friends took on some structure and a natural roster fell into place as each expert witness was consulted. The discussions weren't exactly progressing—no new information had come to light—so even those previously intense interactions began to take on the characteristic of a more casual, less critical chat (though their importance to me never diminished).

    Despite respectful but adamant insistence from my advocates that I should not abandon my trip I still wasn't able to see the way forward. Even Roma, in one of our fruitless exchanges on WhatsApp, made it clear that she wanted me to continue and that there was no point in me coming back—there was no chance of reconciliation.

    The mistake she made was telling me that she didn't want it on her conscience that she'd been the reason for me failing to realise my dream. Little did she know, that admission only allowed me to weaponise the idea of giving up: it revealed a vulnerability for me to immaturely exploit: if I gave up, it would be on her.

    Over time, I wore myself out through hours of agonising and analysis—to the point where I simply couldn't be bothered to catastrophise any more. The untamed animal that was my emotional state had lost the madness in its eye. It was weary and broken-or broken in. Perhaps I'd survived the worst of the wild ride and with me and the beast of my burden both exhausted we stood eye to eye, respecting each other as equals.

    In that calm, hollow moment I was finally confronted with my reality. Nobody was going to come to the rescue. This was only about me—my predicament had nothing to do with anyone else. It couldn't be wielded recklessly as a way to solicit attention, guilt or pity. I was facing the wolf but there was no point being the boy who cried. There was nobody to cry to and the wolf wasn't interested in the sheep, it wanted the boy. I would have to make a choice: run or face it.

    But the choice between taking on the remainder of the trip or throwing in the towel was too enormous to make. Instead I gave myself an easier set of options and asked myself whether I'd be willing to pack up my things, quietly and carefully, and ride just one day east of Dakar. Not towards the mystique of terrorised Mali, the chaos and corruption of Nigeria or the thick, threatening jungles of the Congo but just a couple of hundred kilometres down the N1 for a change of scene. I only had to be willing to try that and if I couldn't manage it I could always turn back to Dakar with my tail between my legs and return to my musty room.

    On the other hand, I could admit to the very real possibility that I didn't have it in me to continue and could choose to endure the shameful process of getting my bike and what was left of myself back to what was left of home. I could head west to the port of Dakar and start fumbling my way through a search for an agent to ship my bike back to Australia while I flew to Paris to front-up to the Qantas counter. I could go back to the ashes of a career that I had sacrificed for this trip to be alone in a house I couldn't afford filled with the echo of a relationship that had imploded, having abandoned the dream trip into which I had poured a life's worth of ambition and self-respect. I could go back and live as a failure.

    In comparison, a day out on the bike in the Senegalese countryside didn't seem so bad.
  16. steved57

    steved57 Long timer Supporter

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    Take that ride into the Senegalese countryside !!!
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  17. 531blackbanshee

    531blackbanshee Adventurer

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    great read.
    thanks for posting.

    leon
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  18. bajaburro

    bajaburro Ancient Adventurer Supporter

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    You seldom see this type of writing on this site. You have a tough row to hoe. You will triumph I'm sure.
  19. Sandino

    Sandino Been here awhile

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    Great report mate!!!, it is everyone´s dream to ride the dunes, and Africa of course!!!.
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  20. beltipox

    beltipox Adventurer

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    Amazing RR. I Was in this conditions some 25 years ago. I continue my Adventure (really different) and looking back was one of the best decision i took in my life.

    Continue your RR, please, i need to know if the heroes make it to the end in the third act