This is turning into one of my all-time great scavenging tours, right up there with Oman when I returned with a couple dozen team water bottles and half a dozen Tour of Oman course markers. With all the fabric I've been gathering along the road, this may exceed that one in volume and as well as weight, not to mention novelty. I've long been at capacity, but I keep spotting another dazzling piece that I can't resist, and manage to stuff it under the bungee cords securing my tent and sleeping bag and day-back atop my rear panniers. My load of piled fabric flapping in the breeze has to cause no end of befuddlement. I am a site akin to the occasional salesman cyclist I encounter draped with legitimate merchandise.
I can't wait to hand my booty over to Janina and see what she makes of it--both literally and figuratively. Many of the patterns simulate her painting, which features drifting and floating squares. She'll be fascinated by all the networks of squares and triangles and circles and may well have an explanation on their meaning and how they were derived. Whether she turns it all into a quilt or sash or some article of clothing or wall hanging, all the dazzling colors and patterns will make it an Amazing Technicolor Dream Something or Other. Hopefully she doesn't throw up her arms and exclaim, "What is all this? You've got to be kidding." But she has a scavenging gene as well. Her garage and breezeway are full of bolts and wire and oatmeal boxes and sundry unimaginable items that she has collected, many from the roadside, with hopes of making art of it some day. I'm eager to see what all this fabric inspires in her.
Each piece has a personal and significant story. One can only imagine it's previous life before being discarded and not repurposed. It is certainly a statement on the culture of Senegal that all this fine fabric has gone to waste with no one recognizing it's possible reuse until an American riding his bike around their country rescued it. It took a while too before I realized what a bounty there was. I was overlooking the fabric, as it was dominated by all the plastic. But once I realized amongst all the refuse was cloth that Janina would appreciate I turned a more keen eye to all the litter.
The fabric was often only revealing a fragment of its beauty through the dirt that had engulfed it, but I became adapt at spotting the diamonds. I'd only gathered a token five or six items until my 500 mile jaunt up from Dakar to Mauritania where the litter was in great profusion. I could have gathered a truck load of garments if I cared to. I could be selective enough that if I saw a woman wearing a distinctive patterned dress that I hadn't seen before, I kept my eyes peeled for a similar design along the road. Some of the garments have enough wear left in them, I suspect that a woman just grew tired of wearing the same dress day after day and no longer wished to be identified by it and wanted it out of her sight. I have noticed that women don't seem to have much of a wardrobe and repeatedly wear the same dress, which at first look seems something worn on special occasions, but is actually one's every day dress.
On my home stretch run back to Dakar, the baobabs began appearing again 100 miles south of St. Louis, distracting me a bit from the litter.
What I was most on alert for though was women along the road with packets of cold water to keep hydrated in the intense heat. The thermometer on my watch registered 108 degrees, the hottest yet. They were easy to spot with a large cooler and a sample bag on top. Even in the searing, 100-degree heat, they can keep the packets cold with ice packs in their containers. Frequently I'll drink one immediately on the spot and then buy a couple more to fill my thermal water bottle. Sometimes there are two or three women at the same spot each selling the water at ten cents a bag. Once when I tried to spread my business around between them, the young woman who'd I'd bought my first bag from grabbed the coin I was about to hand to an older woman and said I was her customer. She was quite adamant about it.
My Camelback thermal water bottle that holds just less than a liter of fluid may be one of my most prized possessions on this trip, keeping water cold that would otherwise be instant soup in this heat. Cold water going down my throat as I'm bicycling along in this ovenish heat is an unimaginable pleasure. But I recently learned that I shouldn't be so enamored by Camelback, as it is owned by Vista Outdoors, the largest manufacturer of ammunition in the United States, and maker of the MSR 15, an AR 15-style assault rifle. Vista also manufacturers Bell and Giro helmets. Bicyclists have been called upon to boycott these products. Though it'd be handy to have a second Camelback, one is plenty adequate, so I won't be tempted to support an ammo-manufacturer.
Riding back to Dakar on the same road I biked up I was looking forward to a woman selling slices of watermelon for a dime and the lone shop I'd come upon in this stretch with frozen packets of water. I bought four of the packs of ice, which hadn't fully melted after even five hours, though they had thawed enough after a couple of hours to break up one by one and put in my Camelback. Knowing I had ice cold water on hand made the heat much more endurable. It was positive bliss to be sitting under a tree in the semi-desert with ice cold water going down my throat. I could savor it inch by inch as it flowed to my stomach.
Twice in the last week I have awoken to a front flat tire after picking up a thorn as I've pushed my bike across fields to camp. I should have replaced my front tire when I passed through Dakar last week, but I feared by lingering in the city I'd have a hard time escaping its sprawl that night to camp. So that will be one of my projects on my final day in Dakar so I don't have to worry about a flat on my forty-mile ride to the airport or my sixteen-mile ride from O'Hare back to Janina's. That ride home in thirty degree temperatures will be a shock to the system after the extreme heat here. But as always it is a ride I'm looking forward to.