Highs and Lows

Since the last update and the trials and tribulations that paddling on the Niger River entailed, I’ve hit the bottom and (fortunately) bounced right back….

Having hung up the paddle and sold the pirogue in Kouroussa, Guinea, we (that’s me and Lars Bengtsson) cycled towards Bamako, Mali. The two weeks on the river had taken their toll and once the adrenalin I’d been solidly running on for those two weeks finally left my body, I got ill. I was more tired than I’d ever felt. Mentally and physically. My head could cope but my body didn’t – my stomach which had been dodgy, on and off for months, rebelled. I felt awful. For the first time I was tempted to stop cycling and get a lift. I’m glad I didn’t.

Cliffs en route!

After a much needed rest in Bamako, I was beginning to recover and the ride on to Djenne was more bearable. No easier mind – the harmattan wind was blowing hard against me. But at least my stomach didn’t hurt any more and the bloated, 5-months-pregnant, look had subsided.

In Djenne a friend came to visit and I hung up the bike for a few weeks. A chance to explore Mali, travelling as the locals do, was the perfect medicine. A month later and I was feeling revived, rejuvenated, invigorated, raring to ride….

I looked forward to the solitude of the road – for the first time in five months I would be on my own – and to camping out under the stars after an exhausting day’s cycle.

Donkey in the way!

The five days it took to reach Burkina Faso’s capital were great! I loved it! Loved it despite the wind changing direction and trying it’s hardest to blow me back to Mali and when that failed, whipping up dusty tornadoes that swept across the road and deposited sand and dirt over my sweaty body. I was thriving on the challenge of the bumpy tracks and monotonous surroundings of the Sahel. I was enjoying engaging with the Burkinabe (as the locals call themselves), at the border, in the bar and over a breakfast coffee.

Paddling down the river

I’ve been enjoying every day since I started cycling again and I haven’t been ill either. I can’t help but think the two are inextricably linked. Of course, I’m going to enjoy myself more if I’m not ill. But I also think that part of the reason I was ill in the first place was not just due to physical tiredness, but mental exhaustion too.

So over the past few weeks I’ve learned a lot. But most importantly, I’ve learned that I need to continue to take regular breaks and do different things besides just cycling. Not only do I need to rest my body, my mind needs a break too.


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