Today’s ride into Fort Portal was for Suubi Esther and Mukisa Stephen. These two stars are Pastor Vincent’s children who are getting an education in order to teach and inspire others to rise above poverty and be independent. Esther is the one who travelled all the way from Kampala to our hotel (4 hrs) in a rainstorm just to see me before we left for our ride. She is beautiful inside and out.
I felt like I got my butt kicked today. Well, I DID get my butt kicked today. After yesterday’s huge day both mileage wise and elevation gain, my legs were tired but today was even harder – bumpy, rutted mud roads (a lot of which was under construction) and even more elevation gain. We rode 105 kms with 5000 feet of climbing and we were in the saddle for seven hours. Everything hurts. My butt, my back, my neck, my feet and believe it or not, I was even getting cramps in my left tricep for the last ten kms because of having to do so much bike handling and braking today on the crazy downhills. I knew we were getting pizza tonight, however, and I am always motivated by good food.
The road construction we went through this morning was chaotic. They have flag ladies (always women who wear elaborate hats) who have a green flag and a red flag that they just wave around sporadically. One particular lady was dancing with her flags just having a great time and sending a lot of mixed messages. Another one was waving her red flag because there was a truck coming from the other direction but then just waved us through. You never know what you’re allowed to do so you just go for it and it seems like everyone else is also just doing their own thing and it all works out.
I made a really dumb mistake today. After a drink stop, I figured I would get a head start on John as he talked to some kids and finished his drink. But I set off in the wrong direction, going back where we had just come from but failed to recognize anything. John went the right way and after about two miles of riding I pulled over because I didn’t see him coming. I waited a full five minutes, thinking maybe he had to pump up his tire again. He never came so something prompted me to ride back. He wasn’t at the little store we had stopped in and they told me he had left in the other direction. I then realized my mistake and couldn’t believe I had done that. I chased after him in a slowly rising panic, knowing that he was probably just thinking I was feeling strong and kept going after me, not knowing I was behind him like an idiot. Unbeknownst to me, a critical intersection was only about two km ahead of our original stop. So when John didn’t see me waiting at the intersection he sped up, racing in the wrong direction to keep me from going too far out of the way. After riding about five kilometres out of the way to find me, he found some school girls and asked if they had seen me and they hadn’t so he headed back. At that critical intersection, I saw him heading back towards me and if I hadn’t seen him at that moment, he would have thought I had made the turn and chased me down in that direction. Neither of us were too happy about the wasted energy and I felt bad for being so careless. He forgave me, of course, and we pedalled on.
With a large hill looming, John saw an opportunity to grab onto the back of a another slow-moving water truck. After a few hundred metres and with the truck edging him into the ditch, he was forced to let go. But at the same time a young man saw an opportunity to ride along side of him. They exchanged fist bumps and a few brief words as the riding intensified. After about a kilometre they entered a town and the young man sprinted ahead of John with all his might to the cheers and excitement of the local bystanders. Of course, this man is on a single speed (in a picture below) and once he was out of town, he slowed his pace. As the hill steepened he got off and ran alongside his bike like a cyclocross racer. When John passed him again he quickly jumped back on and pedalled with all the force he could muster. They continued riding together side-by-side, as big trucks passed, visiting about their destinations. Eventually John had to pull over and wait for me at the top of the hill. The young man was disappointed that he had to stop but he tapped his chest and thanked John for the time they spent together. These are the kinds of exchanges that we get strength from for the day.
In one picture below you can see a young man sitting beside the gas pump. He is literally pumping customers’ gas by cranking that wheel.
After the construction area, we rode through my favourite road on the trip so far…if I ignore that it was mostly uphill. It was a tiny part of Itwara Central Forest Reserve and was a canopy of green and butterflies. There were so many different kinds of trees and plants, vines and flowers, birds and bugs, and we saw some monkeys and baboons again. John took a little side path and even saw a sloth. I was too tired to bike even an extra quarter mile, so sadly I missed it!!
We stopped for yet another drink today and this old fella came over to us and I shook his hand and introduced myself, asking his name. Instead of telling me his name, he was quick to tell us to not worry about Ebola, that it hadn’t made it over this far from the Congo yet. After he said it, the man and John both thought of what he had just said and fist bumped each other with a laugh rather than shake hands. I think I’ll do that from now on too.
I can tell we are getting closer to Rwanda and the Congo as the tea plantations popped up all over the second half of the ride today. The road really narrowed as we left the main roads and became more of a footpath for local farmers working their fields. The plantations employ hundreds of workers and it was awesome to look out across the land and see the bright speckles of their clothing against the bright green tea leaves. It was probably the most scenic ride we’ve done so far and although the hills took away a little of the enjoyment, the scenery also served as a distraction from the pain.
Our guesthouse is clean, spacious, cheap and close to a place that is known for their pizza so guess where we had dinner. We are going back tomorrow too! Our waitress, Eve, told us that she had “escaped” from her parents’ plans for her in Mbarara and moved to Fort Portal to work rather than go to school. She is happy, but thinks she will soon do what her parents want her to and attend college – maybe to take something having to do with tourism. We were the first Canadians she has ever met and she was eager to hear about our country and what we thought of Rwanda and Uganda. Most of our servers have been young women in their twenties and are so sweet and interested in conversation. For most, it’s their first job away from home and they are excited to launch – must like the twenty-somethings we know at home.
Because we have time and fit three day’s mileage into two, we are going to rest our bodies and butts tomorrow in Fort Portal. John got a head start by jumping into the shower fully clothed and with a cold drink. Oh, and this is also how he does his laundry.