This past weekend, we were invited on a mountain biking trek of 56 km (35 miles) from Blantyre, our home city, to Majete, a nearby game reserve. Hearing the words “mountain” and “bike”, Kate quickly declined. I, however, thought it sounded like a good way to spend a Saturday, especially noting that the ride would be mostly downhill, changing from an elevation of 1000 meters in Blantyre to 200 meters at the game reserve. Little did I know, the trip would be 800 meters up and 1600 meters down, and a very difficult workout.
We left Blantyre at 6:45am on Saturday morning. While I am rarely awake before 6:30, in Malawi the sun rises at around 5:00 this time of year, so 6:45 is mid-morning and most people are out of the house and already a few hours into their day.
We met at 6am, organized our bikes and set off – ten of us with our helmets, gloves, and water bottles. The trip wound through small village after village on a long dirt road that seemed like it was created just for mountain bikers. The people living and walking on the path, however, looked at us like we were aliens. As they were spending their Saturday carrying huge bags of maize on their heads, walking miles and miles, we were riding through the rocks, climbing the steep hills, and sweating in the 100 degree heat, for nothing but exercise and enjoyment. They must have thought we were absolutely crazy.
The trip, however, was breathtakingly beautiful and so much fun. The heat and length of the trip made it difficult, especially considering my lack of mountain biking experience. We had to constantly stop to drink plenty of water, eat nuts and fruit to keep us going, and even take some pinches of salt to make sure we wouldn’t get too dehydrated.
There were a few “bumps” in the road. Over the 7 hours on the bike, between the 10 riders, we had 7 punctures, about 3 wrong-turns, 2 river fords, and one experienced rider who cramped so badly that he had to walk back to a village and wait to be picked up. We passed and dodged goats, cows, and children, and saw so many beautiful rural parts of Malawi that we would never have otherwise come across. The final destination, which couldn’t have arrived soon enough, was a very nice lodge overlooking the Shire River, where we enjoyed a fantastic lunch and the most refreshing swim of our lives.
It really was an incredible experience. Senator Bill, to your question: Yes. I was phenomenal on that day.