Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Hardest Bike Ride Ever Bike Ride!



Monday, 12/14/15 – Monday, 12/21/15
            The bike ride from Vangaindrano to Fort Dauphin, in the south east of the country, can be argued as being one of the hardest bike rides in the country.  When the condition of the road is factored in with the length of time it takes to complete it and the obscurity of towns along the way a case can easily be made that it is the hardest ride.  Before doing the ride I had known that two other groups had done the ride in the past and had completed it in just four days of hard riding during the dry season.  We, unable to find time during the dry season, decided to brave the elements and try a ride during the rainy season.  Coupled with the ride we had decided to do some malaria workshops
and surveys for the recent bed net distribution.  To work in more towns and make the ride a bit easier on us we decided to stretch the ride out to five days; it ended up taking us eight though two of the days were not spent traveling.
            The first day went well overall.  We made it to our first scheduled town and there were only a few spills towards the end when the road got technical.  Technical is being nice to the road.  The ride on the first day itself was categorized by one of the volunteers as starting out leisurely and turned grueling.  Leaving our hotel in Vangaindrano early that morning we made our way towards Manambondro, our first scheduled town.  Along the way we came across an EPP (elementary school) that was during its break and since we to were looking for short break we decided that we would stop here for a malaria activity.  We decided to teach about the use of mosquito nets by playing the malaria version of ‘Sharks & Minnows.’ After a fairly successful presentation we continued down the road to the first of ten BACs (the ferries that carry you over the river crossings).  The BAC was unfortunately on the other side of the river so after eating lunch at a hotely we all piled into a small fiberglass boat and was rowed to the other side as we took on water and slowly began to sink.  After making it safely across we continued our way to town.
            The second day is when things all started going down hill for me.  The day was started off well.  A few of us did some bike maintenance while the others did the survey.  Once we began our journey we only made it a few kilometers outside of town before my peddle became stuck on a root and I was brought down.  The fall broke my rear derailleur making it inoperable.  Unable to go forward we returned to the Catholic Church in town who we thought might have the tools to fix my bike.  This not being the case we removed the derailleur and broke the chain for single speed and after a short trip out of town realized this would not work.  So having returned to town a second time we bought a new derailleur (it was for a smaller gear set) and a new chain and was offered a room at the nunnery for us to sleep in for the night. 
            The following day we finally got back on the road again but not without any problems.  The derailleur being for a smaller gear set did line up all that well on my bike and so not only was I stuck in only one gear the entire way (this would be the case for the entirety of the ride) but the chain broke multiple times along the way because it was aligned properly (also something that would happen everyday for the rest of the trip).  Not only was there bike problems but the road turned to sand halfway through the days travels making the riding tuff.  Through all of this we were still able to make it to our second scheduled town, Sandravinany, fairly early in the day.  It was good that we made it as early as we did because we had ran out of food fairly early in the day; at one point having to each take one bite out of possibly the worlds smallest banana.  Arriving in the early afternoon we were offered by a family to eat and stay at their compound.  While two of us did bike maintenance and set up mosquito nets and mats under a gazebo, the others went into town to fill out some more surveys. 
            The fourth day is when the schedule was lost.  Leaving Sandravinany early that morning, we had every intention of making all the way to the halfway point of the trip but that was far from the case.  Having made it well into the countryside with nothing for miles around my chain became stuck and bent my new derailleur.  After hammering it back out as well I could with a rock and putting it all back together we decided that it would be a good spot for a lunch of mofo balls (bread balls) and hummus.  The day continued on with the struggle of more chain breaks and a rain that started that evening turning the sand into something the consistency of wet cement.  Having gone through a more than tiring and trying day it started to get dark with us still a long ways from our scheduled town and with nothing else in site.  After contemplating setting up tarp tents to sleep under we finally happened across the small village of Soavary.  Here we bought rice and a chicken and paid someone to cook it for us and were offered a house to sleep in for the night.
            The next day, our schedule already being off, we decided we would just ride as far as we could and see where it took us.  After passing the halfway town, we again made it into the middle of nowhere and the chain broke again.  This time we decided to take more drastic measures.  So pulling out a file we sawed off the bottom part of the derailleur and then used rope to tie the derailleur as tight as possible.  This seemed to work as long as the rope was taut and we were able to make fairly good time.  Although even with making good time we were unable to make it to any sizeable town.  As we crossed one of the BACs we noticed a treed area and had decided to pitch tent there, but when we asked the people around if it was ok for us to do so they told us we could just stay in one of the EPP classrooms instead. 
            One of the volunteers on the ride has a friend who owns a Eco Tourism place not far off the road that we were traveling and he was going to be there during the time that we were passing through and invited us to come by.  All of us being thoroughly tired, decided that it would be good to have a days rest and relaxation there and so made it our goal to make the distance on the sixth day.  This was not the easiest of tasks.  Although I had limited bike problems, the road itself was the hindrance for the most of the day.  To be fair there was a stretch of the best road we had seen the entire ride and were able to make considerable time on it.  The problem was the rest of that days travels was marred by stream crossings in which all had unfinished bridges so we were forced to unmount our bikes and wade through the water to the other side.  This took a considerable amount of time and caused an immeasurable amount of frustration on many of the cyclist.  Arriving in the small village of Sainte Luce we were greeted by a group of workers who rowed us up river in two dugout canoes.  Once we arrived at the reserve we spent the rest of the day, and the next, hanging out and swimming in the ocean.
            The final day of our ride was considerably easier as far as the rode was concerned.  Having woken up before the workers arrived we had to row ourselves back out to the village; which was considerable work in itself.  Being unable to sit on my bike due to an infection I had procured somewhere along the way, we made our way towards Fort Dauphin.  Having arrived in Fort Dauphin early in the afternoon we were extremely happy to see the nice paved roads of the town.  We cruised down the paved roads to end our trip by ceremoniously dipping our tire in the ocean. 
            Many of the things that I wrote are about the trials and tribulations that we, I, went through on this ride.  To be fair there were a lot, especially for me.  But I do not want to diminish all the other aspects of the ride.  The countryside we rode through was beautiful.  Many times during the ride we could see the ocean in the distance on our left and the mountain range in the distance to our right.  The solitude of most of the area that we covered was captivating and spectacular in a way that it is hard to find the words to explain.  Not to mention the generosity of so many people along the way that helped to feed, shelter, and simply help us with no expectation of anything in return.  We could not thank the Malagasy people we meet along the way enough for the generosity that they showed us.  
The part I was able to record on Strava.
 
The Start!



Malaria 'Sharks & Minnows"


These guys helped us fix our bikes and gave us a bed at the nunnery.


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