20 October 2008
AIDS Ride Chapter 3: In which Rose nearly collapses from heatstroke
20 October 2008
Wake just before six. Didn’t sleep very well – the mats on the floor are almost thick enough to be comfortable, but they don’t have quite enough give to accommodate my curves, especially not if I want to sleep on my side. Plus they are noisy! Everytime someone shifts, the mats rustle like a mound of plastic bags.
Today we have two sensibilisations in town, then two more 17 km away, two after lunch in Kouve and a final one in the town closest to Zafi on the paved road.
We’ve broken into two groups, my group (Team AWESOME) has taken charge of the CEG sensibilisations while the other will be doing sensibs in the marche/community simultaneously.
The first sensib goes well enough considering how little preparation we’d done. We had one person in our group who did AIDS ride last year, she was our default leader and ended up taking on a rather large part of the presentation. She was only reluctant in that she didn’t want to take over the whole things – she wanted everyone to have a significant portion of presentation. But it’s tough to divvy up responsibilities when we didn’t really have a clue what we were doing.
After the first sensib, we all felt much more confident and immediately felt capable of splitting up the explanations more effectively, making sure to give talking time to our homologues. Our homologues were initially rather self-effacing but it’s so important to actively demonstrate to people that our sensibs are not “white man’s rules” for “uncivilized Africa”, but rather an integration of cultural understanding and essential health education.
The 17 km to the second village were pretty tough, especially because th road was torn up and muddy. All the guys wanted to race each other to be at the front, but only two people knew where we were going so there was this push and pull to be first but not pass the guys who knew the way. Everyone was following each other far too closely, making the bumpy muddy bits unnecessarily dangerous. Lots of quick braking, squeaks of sliding tires and cursing.
As bad as that was, though, the ride back was worse. We were supposed to be doing a loop to get back to Zafi at the end of the day. But rains had ruined one of the roads to the point that our chase car wouldn’t be able to follow (which is pretty impressive considering the super-sturdy four-wheel drive Land Cruiser with a snorkel to keep the engine going even underwater seemed pretty much capable of anything to me.) so we had to get to our third village, Kouve, by taking the same 17 km road back.
We left the second village at 11.30, just when teh sun had hit its peak. This initial rush of flying down the first hill quickly gave way to fear as hill after hill confronted us. The best way for me to get up a hill is to get some good momentum going adn then power up. I’m much better at those kinds of sprints than the slow endurance favored by others.
The problem with my preferred method is that it is impossible to build up momentum in the valleys between hills because the valleys are pitted with holes, mud and sand traps. I had to focus much more on careful steering than on developing speed.
I could feel my entire body turning red from the exertion of climbing hills under a noonday African sun. I got goosebumps on my arms and a chill ran down my spine. I shouted out to my closest group members that I would need to stop at the next patch of shade.
I looked ahead to gauge how long I’d need to keep going before I hit the shade. My heart sank – we’d just come on to a flat section of road with absolutely no trees bordering it. All I could hope for was that around the next corner, I would find somewhere to shield me from the sun’s beating.
I’d felt this way before – at an amusement park in California int eh middle of summer. Hours of walking on black tarmac, standing in lines, jostling for space, I started to get goosebumps despite the heat and felt faint. At the park, I sand down into a chair, help my hands over my head to allow my torso to cool off and sucked on ice cubes. I stayed seated until the black spots in my vision cleared and my goosebumps went away.
I knew I couldn’t let myself get so weak that I collapsed while biking. I had to find some shade and rest before I started seeing spots. Just stopping wouldn’t be enough – the sun was so hot that even without the exertion of biking, I would still be in danger of fainting.
Finally – a patch of shade just big enough for me and my bike. I pulled up and stopped, I stretched, drank my (peach iced tea-flavored) water and accepted a banana from A (our group member who did AIDS ride last year and therefore was always well-prepared for our excursions).
I knew I couldn’t keep biking up the hill, but I decided to walk my bike until I reached the crest and could coast down the other side. I tried to bike up the other side again, but reached the point where I was picking out bushes and trees on the side of the road and telling myself “just make it to that tree- just past that big rock, ithinkican, ithinkican.” I picked a bit of shade about 20 metres in front of me and practically tumbled off my bike when I reached it. I took a seat on a large tree root and concentrated on cooling down.
By this time, the second group of cyclists had caught up and passed me. I heard the chase car pulling up, the driver got out and invited me to take a seat in the car for the final couple kilometres. I could hear the hum of the air conditioning. There was already one cyclist in the car who’d surrendered to the sun and hill. I could have joined her and made it up the hill in comfort and refreshment.
Instead I stubbornly refused, girded my loins, reapplied sunscreen, and headed back out with my bike. I finished those darn hills and met up with the group, who very obligingly cheered me on.
We rested and had a delicious rice and soja lunch in that village before doing a sensib for one of the CEGs. At 4pm when we finished we realised that we had to be 8km away to do a sensib at 4.30pm, so we powered out of Kovie, racing over bone-jarringly bad roads to get to an NGO called La Conscience (www.laconscience.org) that works with young people – providing training in various trades and general life skills.
While we waited to get set up, the apprentices started playing drums, singing and dancing, so W and I joined in. It was a new dance that I’d never encountered before – lots of kicking and foot stamping, but judging by the whoops and cheers from the watchers, I seem to have mastered it relatively well.
By the time we finished, it had gotten dark. We still had about 6km on a bad road to get home, only 3 people had lights on their bikes (4 including me, but my batteries gave up the ghost about 30sec into the ride). So the chase car followed us, high beams cutting through the darkness, illuminating the yovo circus brilliantly.
According to the car’s reading, we did 60 kilometres that day.