Greatest Lesson

The final and greatest lesson I learned while bicycling 1,200 miles across Namibia and South Africa.

It’s been a week now since we rode victoriously into Cape Town. I’m currently sitting in the airport lounge (such as it is) in Hoedspruit, South Africa. Feeling is slowly returning to my palms and wrists. I no longer whence when sitting. I still have limited use of my right hand due to a pinched elbow nerve that was battered by bad dirt roads. The late night leg and shoulder cramps are dissipating and I’ve gained back 5 of the 25 pounds lost.

“What is my take-away?”, I ask myself. In broad strokes, for me the ride started as pure unmitigated torture. First of all, I joined a group of seasoned riders who had already pedaled 6,300 miles from Cairo, Egypt. The average age was around thirty. This was their 8th and final section and they were anxious to finish. Keeping up was an elusive impossibility. Next, 1,000 of the 1,200 miles we rode were sandy, wash-boarded (labeled corrugated by the locals), dirt roads totally ill-fitted for bicycles. That’s right, 1,000 miles – as in from Phoenix to the Canadian border on a dirt road. Add to that, 112-degree heat and brainless drivers roaring by within a foot or two showering rocks, their contrails bathing you and your lungs in fine gritty dust. Had I any idea I would have at least brought my mountain bike. Instead, I rode the entire route on a hybrid hard-tail (no rear shock) with drop down handlebars. Our final 7 days (of the 15) were back-to-back averaging over 150 kilometers and 3,000 vertical feet of climbing each. (One day we climbed over 7,000 feet.) Unable to secure consistent momentum or traction, my miles per hour were compromised. Consequently, I averaged 8 – 9 hours of riding (actual “on the bike” hours) per day. This left me little time to clean up, wash my cycling gear, work on my bike, set camp, eat dinner and wash dishes for we were usually in bed by 6:30, up at 5:30 and riding by 7:00. The full tour riders said it was arguably the hardest section of all. It was brutal. It was unforgiving. It was relentless. For me, it began as true torture.

On several occasions I became despondent. My world centered around me and my travails. It was a myopic, self-centered view and I swore I’d catch a bus to Cape Town and fly home. At 62 years of age “I” didn’t need this.

But I pedaled on. Here’s how: I was able to shift the context of my ride into an arena much larger than “me”. I reminded myself that I was helping my friend Mike Hobin (who began his 7,500-mile ride in Cairo) raise funds for Rancho Feliz. Suddenly the ride wasn’t about another feather in “my” cap of grueling endurance adventures. I started to think in terms of my pedal strokes equating to scholarships. It was about people pledging donations for every mile we rode. It was about forever changing the lives of children not born into our same fortunate circumstances.

This shift in perception, in consciousness, imbued my ride with purpose. It was a purpose much larger, richer and more rewarding than a personal achievement. Suddenly I was energized. A new optimism surged thru my veins and I rode stronger – more determined. Sure I still suffered, my legs were just as tired and my bum just as sore. But it seemed a small price to pay as I visualized the young lives my efforts, my pain, would forever change.

The ride and all its tribulations suddenly expanded far beyond “me”. It was as though a door was opened and I stepped into a much larger reality. I could enjoy the scenery, the new friendships, the different cultures and even the dirt roads. I found that things suddenly started going my way. I could relax a bit and trust that it would all work out. It’s said that Spirit reveals itself to those with a higher purpose. I know it sounds crazy but just when I couldn’t pedal another inch the hill would crest and I’d have 15 kilometers of downhill. Or the 157-kilometer day was miscalculated and I’d arrive at camp 6 kilometers sooner than expected. And the examples go on and on.

So again, what’s my take-away? Simple, to bring the greatest meaning and joy into my life I must have a purpose larger than myself. I must elevate my focus from my individual concerns and their constricting nature to the greater global good and its expansive possibilities. In other words, the best way to serve myself is to serve others.

It works and here’s the proof: I finished the 1,200-mile ride and “Team Rancho Feliz” raised over $60,000.

This was my final lesson. Gil

Special thanks to cycling coach, Jeff Lockwood (, for training me for this ride and to Kaolin Cummens and his crew down at the Flat Tire Bike Shop in Cave Creek ( for their help in preparing and packaging my bike for its long trip to Namibia and back.

Dead-dog tired

Though we have finished the ride, I have a blog post that I was unable to get on-line due to the remoteness of our route. I would like to share this post with you now.

More lessons I’ve learned while bicycling across Namibia and South Africa. (Preface – these are my personal lessons learned. I speak for none of the other participants as everyone’s experiences are different):

21) Shammy Butter works. 9 hours of repetitive pedaling mandates it’s generous application. On hour 7 a slathering of Lanacane (benzocaine topical) is pure bum and sanity salvation.

22) As observed by Kevin Johansen, “When negotiating rough and sandy dirt roads it’s important to realize that there is a male side and a female side. The male side is on the left and the female side is on the right. The male side is rough though rideable and predictable. The female side is fluid but fickle. It can switch from smooth and rideable to rough and impossible without warning.” Though rather sexist, by and large I found Kevin’s theory accurate.

23) Women can suffer more and better than men. Our fastest and toughest riders are women.

24) The effort of the day is exhausting. We are typically in bed by 6:30. The coolness and beauty of the African mornings has us up at 5:30. Couple this with malaria medication and dreams are prolific. However, as stated by Troy, the day-long deplorable dirt road riding conditions fosters twisted dreams of violence and maniacal torture.

25) At the end of blistering heat days (112 degrees F) the only drink that bounces me back is a syrupy concoction of Sprite & Beer.

26) The endurance riders who have been out for 4 months “just do it”. They don’t question road or weather conditions. They don’t continuously internally auto-negotiate. Like the Nike commercial, they “just do it”.

27) No nationality is inherently better at bicycling than another. Our international group includes riders from England, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, Holland, Angola, Greece, USA, Canada, Austria, South Africa and Belgium. All tough and relentless riders.

28) While riding you never, ever think about the end of the trip or even the end of the day. You just concentrate on your next stop – and then your next – and then your next…..

29) 70 seems to be the cut-off age. You seldom find cyclists on these endurance rides aged 70 or older.

30) Don’t fight your present condition. If it’s hot just be hot. If it’s raining just be wet. If you’re tired just be tired. Waging internal battles you cannot win just zaps your energy and frustrates your fragile frame of mind.

31) Everything changes. Bad riding conditions will change to good and visa-versa. Don’t get caught in the trap of hope. Just pedal.

32) Never, ever, under any circumstances ask, “How can it possibly get any worse?”

33) Riding with an overall sense of gratefulness makes your journey much easier.

34) Never give up and on yourself.

Day 14 of 15 and I’m dead-dog tired and sore as hell but still pedaling. Tomorrow it will all be over. Gil

bike under sand

11 Days in…

We did it….. on Saturday, May 14th at approximate 1:00 pm “Team Rancho Feliz” hit the Atlantic Ocean on the tip of Africa! Mike Hobin completed his mind-boggling 7,500 mile ride from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa and Troy, Kevin, Eric & I completed our 1,200 mile section from Windhoek, Namibia to Cape Town. 80% of our ride was on dirt roads in very poor condition making this final section a true test of will. An overwhelming sense of relief, joy, gratefulness and exhilaration has captured us all, coupled with a tinge of sadness as this life-altering odyssey wound to its climatic end.

Though we have finished the ride, I have two blog posts remaining that I was unable to get on-line due to the remoteness of our route. I would like to share these blog posts with you. Here is the first one.

More lessons I’ve learned while bicycling across Namibia and South Africa. (Preface – these are my personal lessons learned. I speak for none of the other participants as everyone’s experiences are different):

16) People are people. Wherever you go in the world people respond in kind to a smile and a compliment. Our border crossing into South Africa was seamless. Everyone on the streets waves to us and today on the road when I passed a group of 20 or so workers they all stopped what they were doing and cheered and clapped for me. People are people. Most of our perceived dangers are in our own minds.

17) Meltdowns. I have witnessed 3 not counting my own. This type of extreme endurance pushes participants to their limits. And suddenly something snaps. It’s usually caused by a blindsiding realization that the perceived event/obstacle is greater than the will to proceed. Be it another monster hill, another brain-bouncing jolt of corrugated road, a relentless and battering head wind, a mechanical failure (which includes countless flat tires), the 713th careless speeding driver roaring by way too close, another endless section of sand that feels like riding with two flat tires, or just one more friggen buzzing fly trying to lay eggs in your ear as you pedal. This irrational explosion is nurtured by frustration and often has much more to do with your frame of mind than with the event itself. Meltdowns manifest in the vain screaming of profanities at no one or no thing in particular, the hurling of objects such as your bike, your day pack, water bottles or bike pump. Calling your friends assholes and telling them to f-off. Pleading, tear-infested howells and closed-fist gesticulations skyward towards God, Buddha, Allah, L. Ron Hubbard, Zeus, or Obama…. anyone who will listen. And lastly there is the just sit on the side of the road and sob – shoulder shaking sobs. When witnessing a Meltdown it’s best just to back away and let it run its course. Words of solace or encouragement are simply fuel to the fire so just shut up – it will pass.

18) Endurance bicycling is all about marshaling your energy. Accordingly, you must fuel and hydrate the body/engine to meet the circumstances. In the Namibian desert I would drink 6 – 8 liters of water and 2 liters of energy drink per ride. I’d shove energy bars and peanut butter sandwiches down my gullet on the hour. You make yourself do this whether or not you’re hungry or thirsty. It has nothing to do with hunger of thirst – you are simply fueling the engine. For if you get behind the curve it’s too late and you will “bonk” pretty much ending the day’s ride and shattering your frame of mind. Remember, caring for your frame of mind is just as important, if not more so, than caring for your body.

19) Momentum is energy. Anything that slows your momentum (sand, washboard, wind) is stealing your energy. This includes hitting your own brakes. Every time you touch your brakes you are robbing energy from yourself. You become extremely aware of, and sensitive to, this fact. Accordingly, when you finally crest a hill or mountain pass you just fly down the other side at speeds you would never entertain on a regular ride. This also explains the extreme frustration of having your momentum compromised by crummy road conditions such as sand, bumps, brainless motorists and on and on and is often a major contributor to the Meltdowns described above.

20) It’s possible (though not advisable) to wear the same cycling jersey 4 days in a row without washing it. However, never wear cycling shorts more than twice without washing them. The consequences are too dire.

Day 11 of 15 and I’m still pedaling. More to come! Gil

Still learning

More lessons I’ve learned while bicycling across Namibia. (Preface – these are my personal lessons learned. I speak for none of the other participants as everyone’s experiences are different):

9) It is possible to sit on a bicycle seat for 9½ hours as I did yesterday for 172 kilometers (not including lunch and water breaks) on dusty, bum-pounding, dirt roads though the anatomical carnage is truly horrific.

10) The grandeur, desolation, solitude and sheer immensity of the Namibian desert can evoke a flood of tears from seemingly out of nowhere.

11) Relentless headwinds can suck the soul right out of a cyclist.

12) It takes 13 hours for feeling to return to the palms of your hands after a day of cycling pounding, washboarded, dirt roads.

13) After burning 5,000 to 7,000 calories you will gleefully consume anything and everything that happens to be placed in front of you. For instance, my lunch sandwich: 2 slices of bread each soaked with mayo, mustard, steak sauce and hot sauce, 3 pieces of salami, 2 scoops of tuna fish, spaghetti sauce from the night before, ham, shredded cheese, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and salt – lots of salt.

14) Friends like Mike Hobin, my brother Troy, Kevin Johansen, Eric Brandenburg and the other endurance riders are worth their weight in gold in keeping your spirits up and recognizing the daily/hourly signs of overwhelming despondence. Though our group joined in on the 8th and final leg of their 7,500 mile journey, this international collection of cyclists has welcomed us with splendid camaraderie.

15) Your biggest challenge by far on a bicycle ride across Namibia and South Africa is not the washboarded and sandy dirt roads, not the careless drivers speeding by way too close showering you in dust and gravel, it’s not the mind numbing never-ending straight roads, it’s not the grinding, topless hills, it’s not the spirit sucking, sweltering heat nor the battering and relentless head winds – it’s none of these. Your biggest challenge, your most formidable enemy, is your own chattering mind. It’s your self-talk to which you have to be most vigilant. For it will defeat your faster and surer than all the physical obstacles combined.

15) Having a single purpose goal and getting rid of all superfluous distractions forces us to face ourselves. It forces us to recognize our core being. And many times what you find is very different than what you were expecting.

Day 8 of 15 and I’m still pedaling. More to follow! Gil


[Rancho Feliz ~ in the hands of Mike Hobin!]

Lessons learned…

[Gil getting some price quotes]

Ok – lessons I’ve learned while bicycling across Namibia:

1) Never, and I mean never, jump in with a group of seasoned, hard-core cyclists for the last 1,200 miles when they’re on the final stretch of their unfathomable 7,500 mile ride and expect to keep up.

2) Namibia is a friggen desert. My Garman thermometer registered 112.5 degrees mid-day. Hydrate is the mantra.

3) Most of the roads in Namibia are dirt, wash boarded, full of sand and very dusty. Momentum is a concept – not a reality.

4) People in Namibia drive very, very fast and have little, actually no, regard for cyclists so you better get the hell out of the way.

5) Namibian flies can actually keep up with you at any speedy and repeatedly attempt to nest in your nose holes.

6) You can actually bruise your bum on a bicycle. I mean black/blue bruise. (I wear 2 pair of cycling shorts – seriously.)

7) After being “in the saddle” for 8 hours you can go to bed at 6:00pm and not wake up until morning.

8) It’s possible to wash all of your riding gear in an 8 x 14 inch sink. It takes approximately 6 hours for a pair of padded cycling shorts to dry.

Yes – these first 7 days have been quite a learning experience. A little more than I bargained for perhaps. But I’m still here and I’m still pedaling.

More to come! Gil


About that quote…

[Photo: Troy, Kevin, Gil & Eric on our first rest day in largest sand dunes in the world ]

I do remember mentioning that occasionally one should put oneself in a position to ask “What in the ever loving world have I gotten myself into!”

At this very moment I cannot recall the exact thought process behind that sentiment.

I have just come in from the 7th day of riding ALL DAY. The 1st 6 days on rough sandy roads. Today we rode on a little pavement – that was very nice. All days have been in 112 degrees heat.

You might wonder what that does to a person. Here is a small idea:

It is 6pm. I am about to go to sleep for the night. After the days ride, covered in dirt and a little fatigued, I drank 1/2 gallon of water, a beer, 3 cokes, and some energy drinks.

OK!! I am out of my comfort zone. Let the comfort zone expanding begin.

Goodnight, Gil