So this weekend, I returned to the Groot Marico to visit the folks and do some Qhubeka-ing (cycling the Buffalo bicycle, with intermittent moment of having to get off and push up some of the more steep, rocky hills). The great news is that our wife/mother/back-up driver, Maggie, has been lured out of the car and onto a bicycle.
She’s been doing some massive rides despite only having started training about 2 months ago – three consecutive 70km rides in the recent infernal heat. This weekend we rode a hilly 70km on Saturday and a less hilly 50km on Sunday. Fortunately the heatwave has abated and we had some lovely overcast weather both days. Recent rains have left the Groot Marico awash with shades of green. After a personal absence from the area for over a year, it was fantastic to be out riding the familiar dirt roads with family.
Hitting the roads I have so often ridden (not literally, for a change, although I did have one wobbly moment through a particularly tenacious mud puddle) got me thinking about my cycling “career”.
I have been riding bicycles for as far back as I can remember. I learnt to ride a bike at the same time as my sister, who is two years older than me (this was due to my eagerness, not her developmental delay). I was constantly on a bicycle throughout my childhood. During high school, the daily routine would be horse riding, homework, and a late afternoon cycle with my father after he was home from work. My father has also ridden bicycles his whole life and done a significant amount of racing. We did mountain biking in its earliest days in South Africa; back then it wasn’t all high tech carbon fibre full suspension bikes and lycra, people would just chuck knobblies on whatever rigid steel frame bike they had and go out and ride. However, with me heading to varsity to study medicine (I would like to blame intense studying but it was more intense socialising) and the folks moving permanently to the Groot Marico, cycling fell off the map for both of us. Things didn’t improve when I graduated, the challenges of being a medical intern and trying to juggle horse riding and some vague semblance of a social life meant there was no time for bicycles.
It was a rare moment of self-awareness in community service at what is probably one of the worst state hospitals in the country that I realised I had to start taking care of myself. I reached the metaphorical bottom and found it to be made of rock. Rather than despairing and start drilling down to the core of the earth, I started going to gym daily and eating more healthily. I cut down on the booze. On one visit to the farm in 2010, I asked my father to go cycling with me so I could maintain the fitness while I was on holiday. We hauled our dusty mountain bikes out of the shed and went for a ride. I think we did about 17km on the farm roads and took two hours. We were both stuffed at the end but the bug had bitten again. Silently vowing to out-ride each other on the next opportunity (yes, Dad, I know this happened in your head!), we both put more time and effort into our cycling again. Much training followed, Colin heading out daily on his Giant and me on that accursed torture device, the stationary bike. It was the following year in 2011 we did our first 1000km in 10 days on R10 a day ride, from Groot Marico to Groot Drink. It was a challenge for me as I had only ridden one century prior, a few weeks before departure. Since then, we did another 1000km in 10 days, circuiting North West through the national parks. This was our last adventure on geared bicycles, we both subsequently picked up Qhubeka Buffalo bicycles which have been our trusted companions since. Then followed the 300km ride to Botswana which took 21 hours and lots of swearing. Our epic 9 Peaks Tour in 2015 was next – 3000km across South Africa in about 6 weeks, with a bit of hiking thrown in because cycling across the country on a 25kg singlespeed bicycle isn’t tough enough. For those who have been following us for a while, you already know that the start of that trip was delayed due to my parents being assaulted in a farm attack the week before, resulting in prolonged ICU admission for Colin and a long recovery. It is a miracle of medicine and their tenacity that we were able to leave for the trip after only 6 months.
Unfortunately, many close friends have lost loved ones in recent years or have been personally involved in near-misses. Working in an emergency centre, I encounter on a daily basis people in life-or-death situations, whether medical or trauma related. These people are usually accompanied by anxious relatives, agitating outside, ignoring the vending machine and waiting for news. And here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter if you’re 20 and involved in a car accident, or 90 and in cardiac failure, it is always too soon. Ask the relatives what they would have you do in the event of a poor prognosis, and the answer is very often, “Whatever you can, doc, please try.” I may roll my eyes at struggling for 2 hours to get granny stable enough for ICU with little hope of discharge, but we try. Sometimes granny will get to see her children again, sometimes they just need the chance to say goodbye or just hold her hand when she departs. Mortality and morbidity sometimes creep up on us, slowly and stealthily, or sometimes they ambush us in the night when no one was looking.
If there’s anything the last few years have taught me; it’s get out and ride. Ride when you can, while you can, with the ones you love as often as possible. Don’t put off your epic adventure or even that walk down the road. Everything you hope can start today, if you just put one foot in front of the other. To all those who have lost their loved ones, know that they live on in you and the things you achieve. Make them proud.