The Longest Day
At 5:00 am it was cold and dark, heaving rains poured down on the 70 plus tents strewn over the sandy ground. As riders slowly emerged from their nylon cocoons the darkness was dotted with pinpoints of light from their headlamps like fireflies in the bush. Today would be the longest day of the tour, 207 kms through Botswana to the Namibia Border town of Buentempos. Today was stage 80 out of 94 total stages on tour and though it was the longest, historically, it is not one of the hardest. The mornings weather conditions were bound to change that.
The kitchen was flooded despite Gerts attempt to dig a trench around it to channel the water. Everyone slogged thru the mud to get their breakfast. A few attempts were made to make light of the situation but no one was in the mood for jokes. Two hundred and seven kilometers thru a cold rainstorm was no laughing matter. Finally dawn began to break. the dark sky was now grey with rain clouds. The heavy rains had relented and turned into a steady drizzle. Breakfast was over but riders still huddled around the trucks, under the tarps, delaying the inevitable. One by one they picked up their bikes and began the long days ride.
Fortunately, by lunch the rain had stopped and the mood of the riders had improved as it dried out. By noon it would be sunny and winds would be favorable blowing at the backs of the cyclists. Everyone who arrived at the refresh stop we set up at 150 kms seemed to be in good spirits. Some of the lead racers didn’t even stop – just a wave hello and on to camp. The fast guys would be in by one o’clock. The last rider wouldn’t reach the border until six thirty, a full 12 hrs on the bike.
Unfortunately while it was sunny at the refresh stop the good weather would not last. At the 160 km point it began to rain again. Then it began to rain harder. Then it got cold and began to hail, truly miserable conditions. Amazingly no one quit. Every rider who started the day would finish. The tougher the conditions the more they resolved to finish the day. As I passed riders on the way from the refresh point to camp I stopped to make sure they didn’t want a ride into camp. Smiling and laughing at the ridiculousness of the weather conditions each rider refused the ride and continued on. I arrived in camp to find a mud pit. Everything was soaked and once again a small stream was running thru our kitchen. But the food was ready (T-bones and Pasta!) and the mood was good.
Shortly before dinner I headed out to check on our last two riders. It was getting close to dark and the rain had not let up since I had seen them two hours ago. I found them 10 kms from camp, They rode the to the border and then two camp, arriving just as the last rays of the sun disappeared on the horizon. The longest day on the Tour d’Afrique completed.