Falling in Love…
It’s a strange thing to fall in love with a country. It’s like falling in love with a woman. It sweeps one in a completely unexpected manner, unpredicted and for the most part against all odds. It can happen in the oddest places, under the most trying conditions and defy everyone else’s expectations. That is what happened to me today in Ethiopia… and today was a day when many people were seriously questioning why they even came on an expedition like this.
This morning we left “Mountain Camp”. Gazing upon the sun burnt hillsides surrounding our rocky enclave last night everyone knew a tough day lay ahead. This supposition was confirmed in yesterday’s rider meeting when we were shown an elevation graph of what today would hold; the line that inched up disturbingly and constantly was punctuated by a massive spike early on. It didn’t take long to discover ourselves ascending a mountain side, navigating agonizing cutbacks, eating dust and expelling what little moisture our bodies still retained with every breath. Yet, despite the difficulties, everyone was treated along the way to an endless, breathtaking vista of stratified hills and verdant copses of trees clinging to the rocky edges.
We had all been warned beforehand that the children of this country are a handful, but before today we hadn’t fully borne the brunt of their energy or their enterprise. Shortly after lunch the ambushes started; riders were pummeled with rocks, hit with sticks and constantly accosted for money. During one particularly difficult uphill climb I was surrounded by a group of about 20, despite my best efforts to win them to my side by answering all their questions about my name, destination, country of origin, blood type, Social Insurance Number, whether I wore boxers or briefs (briefs by the way), and whether I was so inclined to give them all the money I had (no); I felt a sharp tugging at the back of my seat. Fearing for my life I kicked it into high gear and made my way halfway up the hill, happy to let the rider behind me enjoy the “local hospitality”, One of the guys who had already found his refuge where I was now bunkered asked me if I had once had a bike light behind my seat. Whipping around I discovered that that tugging I described earlier was actually a snatch and grab effort and I was short one light. I was quite furious at what had happened and resolved to write an update of a far more negative tone.
I rode kilometer after kilometer stewing over what could make children act in this way, whether it was events like LiveAid and people like Bono and Bob Geldorf imploring the West to dump money into countries like Ethiopia that prevented real development and created a culture of dependency and despondence. I thought about whether it was a religious issue, in Muslim Sudan a couple hundred kilometers north never did we have to deal with issues like this. I still don’t know what the answer is, but what I do know is that as the day progressed I found the climbs almost exhilarating as the descents, the people increasingly friendly, the hour spent at an oasis of a brewery with Malcolm Campbell beyond refreshing and the group of riders clustered in our current camp, cresting another mountain top, cheering every rider as they arrived uplifting in an almost biblical sense.
It has been posited that it is through our greatest hardships that we form a bond that transcends sense and logical description, a bond stronger than words can ever hope to codify. Perhaps that is the best explanation for why today I fell in love with a country that tortured me from daybreak to sunset. Or maybe I just have Stockholm Syndrome.
Dedicated to Mr. Lloyd Strong, EFI for life.