The elections were last Friday. The official Peace Corps instructions were to
not goto polling places --- we maintain our objectivity by not getting
involved in local politics. Originally were were planning on going to take
pictures on election day, ride our bikes to the wharf, take the ferry over to
Savai'i, and ride to another volunteers place. We were going to stay there
Friday night and ride back on Saturday. Such are the best laid plans of mice
and men in a developing country. We couldn't really determine when the ferry
was leaving --- election day is a public holiday. A few volunteers showed up
at our place. After hanging out until four, we determined that the Savai'i
trip would have to wait. I had a long bike ride in my head, and that is
something that is difficult for me to shake. I started looking at the map of
Upolu (the second largest island that I live on).
Upolu is a long skinny island about four times as long as it is wide. There is
road that more or less encircles the island running along the coast. There are
three cross-island roads; as the name suggests, they cross the island across
the thinner dimension. There is one which bisects the island close to my
house. The other two cross island roads are about two thirds of the way from
the road by my house to the outer points of the island.
I looked at the map on the wall and plotted my course. I'd start by going up
and down the cross island road closest to my house. After I reached the road
encircling the island I'd go west up the coast. Even though there is a break
in the encircling road on the map, another volunteer assured me that there is
a road that can be taken there. He also mentioned that there is a bit of a
hill. I should probably have asked about how to find this adjoining road. So
the plan was to go around the western tip of the island and circle back to
I left around 7.30 Saturday morning with 116 oz of water, a candy bar, a
package of cookies, my camera, a change of clothes and some money. I made it
to the cross island road fairly quickly and started riding up it. I must be
getting old because it took me for ever to get to the top of the hill. I think
it took me three hours (with a 0.5 hour break at the Baha'i temple) to ride the
2.5 miles --- that's right, I was averaging one mile per hour. It was amazing
at the peak of the road. This is a picture of a farm at the top with a storm
sweeping in from the north:
While it took me way to long to get up the hill, it only too me about 20
minutes to make it down the other side.
I took a right at the tee and rode for a while. It's very surreal riding
around here. Villages a laid out all along the road and everyone greets you as
you pass. It was getting close to noon, and it's just not smart to ride around
at noon. I decided to find a place to rest for a couple hours while the heat
of the day passed. I rode up on a village playing kiki, the Samoanized version
of cricket. I believe the village was called Sataoa. I took a seat in front of
a closed falealoa to watch the game. I should probably mention that I ate all
of my food at the Baha'i temple. At this point, I'd gone through about 70 oz of
water --- I still had 30 oz in my bladder and 16 in reserve.
I sat for a while watching the game and chatting with the kids that invariably
gather around strangers. I entertained them with my broken Samoan, and watched
the kiki game.
After a while, a teenage girl told me her mom across the street
wanted to talk to me. I walked over there where they had chairs set up for me.
She asked if I wanted to play, and I told her that I was resting. She asked
where I was going, I told her that I was going to Vaivase (the area where my
house is located). She asked me where I was coming from and I told her
Vaivase. I explained to her that I lived in Vaivase and I was out for a ride.
I don't know, but I think she thought I was insane.
She asked me if her son could borrow my bike to pick up some rice and turkey
tails. This made me a little alert, not that she wanted me to let her son
borrow my bike, but that I may be invited to eat. I would normally be excited
to get food, but that comes with a time commitment I couldn't make. I let her
son borrow the bike. She explained that they had games every Saturday: kiki,
netball, rugby, etc. There were two teams in the village: The New Testament
and The Old Testament. I asked her if the Old Testament team was particularly
vengeful which she found pretty funny. When her son returned, I told her that I
needed to get going. This was around two in the afternoon.
I headed up the road and it turned inland. Some storms passed and were quite
refreshing. I began riding uphill for a while, and at some point, I started
to get hungry. I was down to the reserve water, so I need to pick up some
fluids pretty soon. It's ironic, because as I was going down the cross island
road there were people selling niu everywhere. Niu is the name given to
immature coconuts which have between 500 and 750 ml of potable fluid inside.
They are about one tala each and are cheaper than water. Now that I needed
fluid, there was none to be had. Eventually, I came up on a falealoa, and
pulled over --- I could smell baking bread. I got a large coke, two liters of
water, and a German bun. The latter is doughnut dough wrapped around a
semisweet coconut/coconut cream mixture. I know that coke dehydrates you, but
I really wanted the sugar. I was starting to get really tired. I sat in front
of the store, ate, drank and read part of the "Life of Pi".
After a little while, I took off up the hill. I approached a road that appeared
to be the continuation of the encircling road --- this is where it would have
been prudent to get better directions from the other volunteer. The road I was
considering went down a hill for a while, and I really didn't want to go down
and have to come back up. So I decided to take the cross island road closest
to the western coast. The new plan was to ride up the road to the top of the
mountain. On the top of the mountain there is a road that goes along the ridge
back towards Apia. So I was going up the mountain and turning right on the
ridge road back home.
This is the point where I started to get tired. I'd go about a mile and pull
over. I'd drink some water, wring out my shirt and go another mile. I was
really wanting the rain to come back. As I made it to the top of the mountain
my legs were starting to cramp. The ridge, it turns out, is pretty hilly in
it's own right. After an hour or so of riding, I would normally ride standing
up for 10 minutes or so. This would allow feeling to return to certain parts
of my body and give my arse a rest. It now became difficult to ride standing
up because my legs were beginning to cramp. At this point I stopped the bike
and sat there for a couple minutes. I decided that I needed to focus on
something... pizza. Yes, I'd have pizza for dinner.
The ridge was steadily increasing in elevation, but it did so as rolling
hills. So I would go as fast as I could down a hill to milk as much momentum
as I could from that hill to get as far as possible up the next hill. Then I'd
drop down into a really low gear and use whatever energy I had to get to the
top. Then I'd repeat the process all over again.
While I had plenty of water, I think I had sweated out all of the salt. I took
a couple potassium supplements before I left in the morning, but I didn't have
anything salty to eat. Normally I get this stuff by drinking niu. Instead I
was just drinking water. Next time I'm going to take the hydration salts from
our medical kits.
A Wall Lacking Substance
To me riding like this is more a mental challenge than a physical one. Riding
somewhere is normally hardest for me when I'm not familiar with the terrain.
Since I'd never been on this ridge before, I didn't know when it would end.
From the map, I thought I'd been on one end of this road once before, however nothing
looked like it was leading to familiar terrain. For me the largest challenge is
in my head. Once I find something familiar, I know how far I have to go. I
tooled along for what seemed like forever (in reality it was probably only an
hour). So, as soon as I saw some familiar roads, it was like a cloud had been
lifted from my head --- it didn't hurt that it was more or less downhill from
then on. I only had to deal with my sore ass and the lack of feeling in other
The good news is that it next time it wont seem very long at all. Living in a
small country is really amazing though. I like the idea that I can ride a bike
pretty much anywhere in a days time. We have a break week after next, and
Bryan and I are planning on circling the island. I think it will be easier
because we're going to do it in three and a half days and we wont be hitting that many hills at once. His host father is having a 90th birthday party, and we're
going to spend a couple days in Falevao. It should be interesting.
Pepperoni, onion, mushroom and olive.