I’d been meaning to leave my camp at Ai-Ais around 8am. By 7:55 my tent is packed, and Anne Murray is cloaked by my bags, but I’m not even close to leaving. This over-flowing camping resort in southern Namibia has caught wind of some guy who has driving a scooter all the way from Mali.
Before I can leave, I tell my story to countless people, I do an interview for a motorcycle magazine, and I even sign an autograph for some little kid after he has his photo taken atop Anne.
For months I hadn’t seen a tourist. People I met on the road could have cared less about my journey. I was just on the road, doing my thing. I shake my head at the surreal nature of the situation. I laugh at the fact that I’m here. Today I enter South Africa.
I leave Ai-Ais with a bit of a cocky smile and an energy that can’t be explained. I shoot down a gravel road and scream a cry of joy as I peak a hill and set my eyes on the plains of Namibia. I’m surrounded by a mix of desert and shrubbery. I’m soaked with emotion that I’m done trying to contain.
“South Africa!!!” I cry out to no one but the lands ahead of me. “I’m coming for you, baby!!!”
I turn right onto the main highway and slowly float across the pavement. I received an email from a friend back home the other day with some important advice: slow down, enjoy the rest of the ride. I do just that. For the first time on my entire journey, I don’t ever look to see how many kilometres I’ve ridden today. I never check the clock. I don’t even look down at the speedometer, I just drive.
I pull the left hand off the handlebars and let it embrace the air flowing past. I begin to bob and drop my hand letting it flow like a wave in the wind. I laugh again, then need to bite down on my lip to remind myself that this is all real.
Suddenly, the highway leans dramatically into a brilliant canyon. Soon, I find myself pacing along a bright orange wall of rock; below it a flowing river, the first I’ve seen since leaving the Caprivi Strip three weeks ago. Then, some buildings: the border.
Formalities proceed as quickly as anywhere I’ve ever travelled and soon I find myself crossing a bridge and passing a sign welcoming me to South Africa. I scream out again. I bite down on my tongue this time. A new emotion is drawn from my stomach, something I’ve never felt before. It’s a mixture of pride, joy, and a sadness. It exudes in some strange mix of a laugh that shakes through my whole body, and Anne Murray with it.
Then, a road sign: Cape Town 476km.
I stop the scooter and just stand and stare at the sign. I don’t photograph it. I won’t need a photograph to remember this moment. I just stare at. I just shake my head and occasionally toss out that confused laughter.
You see, as an athlete, there is almost always a point in the most important games where you realize that you’ve either won or lost, succeeded or fail. Sometimes that moment happens with 2 minutes left, other times 2 seconds. Regardless, it’s always the most emotional point in the game. More dramatic even than when the final buzzer rings. It’s at the point that your mind drifts away from the competition and begins reflecting. You start thinking about all the decisions you made, what you did right, or what you’ve done wrong. You feel pride for the work you put in and struggles you overcame, or you think back at how you failed to properly prepare. You become thankful for the people that helped you get to where you are. You realize that no matter how much support you get, it’s up to you to complete the challenges you set before you. You start to think about how you’ll celebrate, or how you will get stronger for next time.
Either way, it is here where the emotion spills out, and as I stare unblinkingly at the Cape Town sign, I can’t help but feel like I’ve won.
I can’t help but think about all the crazy things that happened, all the help I got along the way from both friends and complete strangers. I can’t help but think about all the times I wanted to quit, and the times I nearly did. I can’t help but remember how scared I was that first day getting onto the scooter. I hardly knew how to ride it, and I was going to driving across the hardest part of Africa? I must have been insane.
But then here I stand, in South Africa. I have 476km, plus a couple detours, to go. And goddammit am I going to enjoy it.