#Love4Gambia On Wheels teammate John LeBlanc with an update from the first day of the ride:
We’re off! It’s 5;45am, we are on a washboard dirt road on our way to the end of the country, Koina. We got up at 4:15am, had a breakfast of boiled eggs, peanut butter on Ryveeta and an orange and then assembled the bikes. We are riding in a van with the back seats removed to make room for the bikes, which are piled one on top of the other. I’m glad I brought an old bike!
The velvet sky is punctuated by stars, the big dipper is pointing downwards and the North star is just above the horizon. The road is deserted except for goats and a man on a bicycle who was transporting freshly baked bread to market. We bought five fresh loaves of delicious baguettes (called Tapalapa in Wolof, a Gambian language) and munched away as we veered from rut to rut.
Fifty km and 90 minutes later, we reached the border of Senegal, marked by a simple stone and completely open via an unsupervised dirt road. We stepped into Senegal (I can now add Senegal to my list of countries visited, even if for only 15 minutes!) then set up our bikes at the border marker for the trek back to Banjul.
We were off! I unfortunately had to stop after two minutes because my back tire kept bottoming out and hitting the rim. The others did fine and we soon reached Koina, about 2 km away. There we were able to buy a pump that worked better than our own and got all of our tire pressures up to par. Unfortunately, this set us back about 45 minutes and the sun was relentlessly climbing above the horizon, its rays becoming more intense by the minute.
The road condition varied from sand to hard-packed dirt, sometimes smooth, sometimes like a washboard. By 11am and about 30 km later, we were spent, baking and dehydrated. We headed back to Basse, disappointed that we hadn’t made our first 50 km goal but recognizing that our own health was more important.
Recovery was slow that day; it’s not easy to get back to normal in 42 degree C weather. We slept, talked and sweated until the temperature began to moderate into the mid-thirties by 5pm. We came alive! We ate supper and strolled around town buying supplies and chatting with people. Unlike our Canadian often cocooning culture, people mill the streets, greet each other and us warmly with “How are you? and chat over lingering meals. To bed at 10pm with alarms set for 4:30am.
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