I am sitting outside on my parent’s porch, drying out in the sun from a quick dip in the pool, eating ice- cold watermelon and guzzling down water by the gallons. We arrived in a very hot & dry Cape Town, South Africa this past weekend, so I am still trying to adapt to this intense summer heat. Finally I have some time to reflect upon the amazing adventure, race & overall life experience that we just returned from. The URGE Cabo Verde invitational was truly a very special humanitarian event that I will cherish forever and I feel very proud to have been a part of it.
Flipping through hundreds of Sven’s stunning photo’s, I cannot help but feel sad to be off the colorful islands with all its’ happy people. The people of the Cape Verde islands know how to live. They are some of the richest people (culturally) that I have ever met. Happily living with next to nothing. To us it seems like nothing, but they have what matters. They have their families, crops, wine, music, culture, exquisite nature, time, patience and that freedom of not revolving your life around materialistic bullshit. We can all learn from this content and peaceful nation. I love these kinds of adventures, because it really just puts everything into perspective.
If there ever had to be a huge disaster affecting the whole world, I really do think that this archipelago of Islands will remain untouched and unharmed and that the people will just carry on with their lives without ever realizing what happened in the outside world. That is how remote they felt to me, out in the middle of the big blue Atlantic Ocean.
The focus of the URGE event/race was more about the humanitarian impact that we could offer than the actual racing. We were all told to race at 85% of our ability, as we were very far away from any kind of hospital, and we had no access to a helicopter for emergency rescues and there were 1000foot drops offs backing the countless slippery switchbacks. The fact that we had no idea what the four different racetracks looked like didn’t help either. Try telling 10 time World DH Champion, Nicolas Vouilloz or current World DH champion Tracy Moseley to only race at 85% of their potential – not possible when you are dealing with racers and a timing device! I am not sure how, but somehow all 15 of us racers made it through all 4 races with no helicopter rescue needed. The tracks were insane, and some sections completely unrideable, but it was oh so much fun!
Besides the amazing races we did, we visited the school that we were raising funds for. It was the first time that I had been back in a school environment since I left it a long time ago. We spent the whole morning in various classrooms meeting the students and teachers, exchanging stories and learning about their culture while enjoying some traditional food that was made especially for our visit. Students were fluent in up to 4 different languages, some even more, putting all of us to shame. It was a real eye opener, and this visit to the school was a great reassurance of the purpose of our trip in Cabo Verde. There were so many highlights on this trip, and I’d like to share a few with you:
The ferry ride to the Volcano Island of Fogo, was most definitively not one of them. It was four hours of torture, trying not to vomit when absolutely everyone around you was vomiting. The worst part of it was that we had to get back on the ferry 2 days later and repeat the above.
Having to hike to the top of a volcano with my bike was a first. One step up, three steps down. Then having to race down the volcano on my bike was another first. The fact that I was the (un)lucky one that got to race down first and had no tracks to follow was another first. I guess someone had to show those pro guys how to do it!
Meeting Cesaria Evora was really special. I have been a fan of her music for a long time. She invited all 25 of us into her humble home for grog or punch as she called it. A traditional rum and sugar cane concoction that was rather harsh on an empty, post sea- sick ferry stomach, but drink we did. It is not everyday that you get to raise a glass with an absolute legend.
Leaving all our bikes on the back of a small pick up truck in the street in front of our accommodation for the night, with no locks, gates, guards or garages in sight. A nervous 15 riders went to bed hoping to see their beloved bikes in the morning. (Of course mine was at the end – so first to go if someone decided to steal them). That doesn’t happen on these islands. My faith has been restored. Poverty does not have to lead to theft.
The small ferryboat ride to Santa Antao was such a great experience. We were lucky enough to sit out in the open, on the floor and witness a group of incredibly passionate and talented guys practicing Capoeira, singing & dancing. The music was so infectious you couldn’t sit still, you had to move, clap and sing, and before we knew it we arrived in Santa Antao with no seasickness in sight, ready for the next adventure.
Our second race almost didn’t happen because of logistical problems with half the bikes not making it on the plane, but thanks to Fred & Manu, they rented a yacht and got the rest of the bikes to Santa Antao. It was a stressful day filled with planes, boats, taxi’s and building up bikes at breakneck speeds on the side of a road, throwing on some gear and starting our hike up into the wind and clouds late in the afternoon. The race was on. It was rather nerve racking at the top with zero visibility, howling winds, a day nearing its end, and us having to race down the other side completely blind. This was exciting. While waiting for my race run, I’ll never forget Nico’s face as he came running back up the track after walking down a ways to scope it out, he looked at me and said (in a very French accent): “Zere iss ziss rock slab, iiit iiiiss veryyy sketchy, wet, and you can die, you must not ride it, you get off your bike, ok.” When Nicolas Vouilloz tells you something, you better listen. It was a crazy track, and I just wanted to get down safe. Halfway down the track, the mist lifted and it was a sight that I will never forget. It was the most incredible view of the most amazing valley and I just had the biggest smile on my face. I loved every minute of this and giggled all the way down to the finish line. It wasn’t about the race, it was about the ride, the place, the camaraderie between friends and the people we were here to help. I got two second place finishes, but ended up in third place overall behind Tracy & Sabrina with the combined time of the four races – only 1 minute back from Sabrina!
We all received these really special one of a kind volcano rock mask trophies, hand carved by a local Fogo artisan called Tarzan. A great gift to cherish this amazing adventure and to remind me of the amazing people, hospitality and the beautiful islands of Cabo Verde.