Saturday, February 25, 2017

Anjoma, Madagascar

Though my preference would have been to ride some sort of loop around Madagascar, having to double back the four hundred miles I rode to the baobabs has some advantages.  I know what awaits me up the road--how long it is to the next food and water and what treats there may be, the memory of a cold drink or a good meal. I now knew I had a stretch of forty miles and another of twenty-five without any food or water, which in the extreme heat was vital information. 

Knowing that frozen packets of yogurt for twenty-five cents awaited me in Morondava filled my thought for two days as I wilted in the heat.  The final fifty miles there wasn't a cloud in the sky and barely a tree to be found for shade.  It was in the high nineties by eleven.  It was dead still, so when I did find some shade to sit in, there was no breeze to dry my sweat.  It just kept oozing.  Shade was such a precious commodity that dogs trotting along with bullock carts stuck to the shade under them with their tongues hanging out.  

While I lingered in the shade, if I was lucky, one of the vans, piled high with parcels and sometimes a bicycle or two, that provides local transport, and is the most common vehicle on the roads, would pass and I could arch my back and try to get the full benefit of its breeze.  The water in my water bottles was scalding hot, even the translucent one.  None of the small villages offered anything cold to drink nor had spare water to pour over me.  If this had been Latin America I could have counted on a cold soft drink from small stores along the road. Soft drinks are an extravagance here.  There is no need for Coke and Pepsi to clutter the roadsides with their propaganda.

I thought I had come upon someone selling the cold juice that goes for six cents a glass and that I was craving when I saw a thermos and three small glasses on a table in front of a shack. Normally the juice is in a slightly larger barrel-shaped cooler large enough to hold a hunk of ice.  I was so excited about the possibility of a cold drink I didn't ask the woman if it was juice.  When she poured the liquid it was white and piping hot, a bitter disappointment.  One wouldn't believe what pleasure a six cent glass of juice can bring. 

I was trying to stop every fifteen or twenty minutes to get out of the sun and not overheat.  I was baking.  My arms were a rash of heat blisters.   For the first time I broke my vow not to distract myself with podcasts on this trip.  I needed to divert myself and try to make the miles pass without being fully aware of them.  I had several cycling podcasts to listen to, including one I had just learned about--the Warren Cycling podcast by my friend Randy and his brother Dean.  They are both racing aficionados.  Randy is a masters national champion and fully certified coach.  About a year ago he moved from Chicago to Asheville, North Carolina, where the year-round cycling is a little better than Chicago and where he gets to occasionally ride with Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie.  

His brother, who I've never met, lives in Colorado, but gets to travel the world as a flight attendant for United, enabling him to attend races all over.  His son is a top-level national rider.  Once a week or so they get together for a discussion of national and international cycling.  I've had many such a conversation with Randy myself.  Eavesdropping on he and Dean transported me back home, at least momentarily.  They have a natural rapport and enthusiasm for cycling, sharing what they know without trying to upstage or impress the other or trying to be cute or funny, as all too many podcasts are prone to.  

I was particularly looking forward to the frozen yogurt packets, as that is where I would turn inland and climb back up into the highlands out of the ovenish coastal heat.  If I hadn't had those frozen yogurts to look forward to, I might have just collapsed under a tree for several hours hoping for an afternoon shower.  I had been fortunate the past couple of days to have the seering sun blunted by patches of cloud. It made a remarkable difference not to have the sun blazing on my skull.  This was by far my hottest day, here or just about anywhere.  I could remember a similar day in Venezuela, but at least there I had cold drinks to save me every hour or so.

When I finally arrived at the restaurant with the freezer full of yogurt, I first drank a couple of glasses from a liter-and-half bottle of water out of the refrigerator, the first cold drink in over one hundred and fifty miles.  Then I started in on the yogurt, only taking a break to pour some water out of the barrel of rain water over my head, my first dousing since taking a swim in the ocean three days before.  It was two p.m.  I was utterly depleted, but not prepared to committing to a hotel.  If an afternoon rain moved in and cooled the temperatures, I would love to get a start on the climb.  

I had two days of climbing ahead of me back to Antsirabe.  It would be good to get a leg up on it, so I would be high enough the next day when the day started to heat up, for it not to be overly hot.  The restaurant was a genuine oasis with cold drinks, water for washing and WIFI.  I was slowly getting revitalized.  By three I could call Janina without worrying about waking her, as it was seven a.m. in Chicago.  That further revitalized me.  And as we talked, the clouds moved in and the afternoon shower hit, plummeting the temperature, just what I needed.

By four I was back biking and for the first time all day it was a genuine pleasure even though it was the start of a long climb.  I was thrilled with every mile I gained.  I considered each a bonus mile.  Better to be doing them now than at six the next morning expending energy I would be happy to have later in the day.  As dark crept in I had gained 1,200 feet.  For the first time in days I wasn't sweltering in my tent and concerned I would sweat more during the night than I had water to replenish myself.  It was another well-spent day on the bike.  I could now start anticipating the supermarket in Antsirabe with yogurt drinks in a pouch and where I could replenish my couscous.

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