Finishing in Cape Town


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, March 13, 2004 was originally posted on March 20, 2004.

DAY 147:  Named after its two major sponsors, The Cape Argus Pick ‘N Pay Cycle Tour is a 108-kilometer race, which takes willing participants up and down the hills, neighborhoods and beaches in and around Cape Town.  With about 35,000 participants, it is the largest individually-timed sporting event in the world — and one of these 35,000 just so happened to be in my dorm room.

Farhad, the Indian-South African teacher from Ladismith, was up by seven to get his bike ready to go.  “I thought you started at six,” I asked him, waking up with the noise and the sun.  He told me that they split up the racers into groups depending on skill level.  While the group with all the major contenders started at six, Farhad’s group — one comprised of participants who simply wanted to finish the race in any time possible — started later on so that there wouldn’t be many bottlenecks of traffic.

Farhad, in his biking shorts and jersey, got his energy drinks and gear all set to go in the hallway, looking a bit tired.  He sighed and said, “Well, this is what I came to do.”

“You forgot this,” I said to him, passing him his helmet that he left on his bed in the room.  “Good luck.”

AFTER DOING A HAND WASH and having some breakfast, I walked over to the starting line downtown, just in time to see the last two groups get ready, on their marks, get set and go.  As the countdown to their launch ticked closer, the race committee psyched the crowd up with a powered up version of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” looping the dramatic orchestral strings part over and over.  The emcee motivated the masses on the loudspeaker.  “Alright, let me hear you say, “Hohpaah!”


“Let me hear another!”


“Okay, almost there.  Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one!”

A gun fired in the air and the cyclists were off.  The music looped on the part of “Eleanor Rigby” when the Fab Four sing, “Ah, look at all the lonely people…  Oh, look at all the lonely people…”  Fans and family on the sidewalks rooted for their heroes on so they wouldn’t feel so lonely.

The 108-kilometer race route took the cyclists all over the cape, up hills and by the beach (picture above), to a finish line just about four kilometers from the starting line if you just walked over directly.  It was an unbearably hot and sunny day with no breeze at all — I was exhausted just going on foot the short way. 

While the top athletes arrived in glory in about two and a half hours, the rest of the racers were just happy to see the end whether it took four or eight hours.  Bleachers were set up by the finish line for spectators to root for their loved ones.  It was here that the drama of cycle racing came to be; some cyclists fell over with exhaustion, while others couldn’t make it without a little motivational push on the back from their fellow cyclists.  Later, I learned some guy actually had a heart attack.

For the most part, the cyclists were happy to make it in one piece with smiles on their faces.  Some teams even had little distinguishing costumes, like foam shark fins on their helmets or body paint, or, like one pair riding a tandem two-seater, costumes of the two dreadlock albinos from 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded.  Each biker was equiped with a sensor so there time could simply be recorded by passing through a gate.  After the gate, the route continued slowly to the after carnival.  Volunteers with megaphones kept up the energy up for the final leg in their African accents:

“Well done, well done, you are all champions, well done!  I know you are tired but just two more minutes and you can get your medal.  Well done, well done!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Without you there would be no cycle tour.  You are a champion!  Well done, well done, well done everybody!!!”

I swear this woman continued on like this non-stop for at least an hour without a pause — to the point of annoyance — and I’m sure it really wanted the cyclists to get out of there.

I HUNG AROUND THE FINISHING AREA hoping to spot Farhad, but after two hours looking for his group class and number under the hot sun, I just gave up.  I didn’t know what possessed me to think I’d find him — he wasn’t looking for me — and it was a one in 35,000 chance.  So instead, I wandered around the post-race carnival without any real purpose but to have some fried calamari and chips from one of the several food vendors.

THE DAY WENT BY FASTER THAN I THOUGHT, and before I knew it, it was seven — when the Rutgers cast usually got its free time from their hectic day schedules.  It was their last night in Cape Town and I needed Steph to carry some books back to the States for me and so I had to contact her.  The Park Inn Hotel, as fancy a place it was, wasn’t listed in any phone book or with information on the phone.  So I got cleaned up to walk over the eight or so blocks down the road — but not before noticing that Natasha and Charles (whom I had met through my fellow high school alumni Juanita) had left me a note at the front desk, asking if I wanted to hang out.  It was Natasha’s last night in town as well, and perhaps she wanted to finish things off in Cape Town with people other than the tightly knit scuba clique she would just see back home in Mozambique anyway.

I called Charles’ cell phone and no one answered, so I left a voice mail and walked over to meet Steph.  She and the other Rutgers cast were off to eat dinner for their last night in Cape Town and I tagged along.  Most of the restaurants were closed for Sunday, but one fancy Indian place took in our party of nine students, professors and their spouses.  For the last supper, most of us had familiar spices with a regional meat:  ostrich tikka.

Dinner ran until about midnight and I called Charles back to tell him that I would call it a night — he and Natasha already had.  I escorted Steph and the Rutgers cast back to their hotel for a final goodbye

“Oh, it’s sad,” Chris the half Portuguese, half Greek-American student said.  “It’s like we’re losing one of our own,” he said before telling me that I better not patent “When I dance with my hands in the air, that means I wanna fuck ‘em” before he did.

SLEEPY AND EXHAUSTED FROM ANOTHER SLEEPLESS NIGHT of only about four hours the night before, I stumbled into a 24-hour internet cafe to post a couple more entries before I entered the NIZ for five days.  As tired as I was, I spent until 2:30 in the morning writing — sometimes not even realizing what was appearing on the screen.  But I knew, just like the cyclists of the Cape Argus Pick ‘N Pay Cycle Tour, that if you just stick to it, you can make it to the finish line.

Next entry: The Little Green Van

Previous entry: Irish Telepathy and The Next Generation

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Comments for “Finishing in Cape Town”

  • Td0t I beat you! raspberry~  hehe

    Posted by Liz  on  03/20  at  07:45 AM


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/20  at  09:23 AM

  • Damn!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/20  at  12:26 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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The Little Green Van

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Irish Telepathy and The Next Generation


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