Monday, January 10, 2011

I am not Lance Armstrong Part 2

Beautiful Samoa!

My bike taking a break at the lava fields on the north shore.

The car at the lava fields.

I am not Lance Armstrong Part 2
The big day…
I awoke at 6 am expecting to hear rainfall, the way I have started my day for the past week, and was pleasantly surprised. I packed my bag full of things I thought I would need for the next few days. I attached the bag to the back bike rack, grabbed my helmet, and went out the door. I walked my bike across the wet grass, and hoisted the bike over my head to go over the fence. People in the village were going to church, and I got a few strange looks from my neighbors as I did this, since I still prefer to hop over the fence than open the gate…as you can tell injuries are just part of the game. They were a lesson learned, but it does not stop you from doing what you set out to do.
I started biking, and was surprised as to how good I felt. The hills in the villages weren’t bothering me the way they had a few days prior. I was greeted by a few different people along the way, asking the million dollar question,” where are you going?” Not wanting to hear the normal response of “Oka se mamoe!” (Wow, that’s far), which I get every time I go out exercising, I decided to do something about it. I would pick different villages that I knew were nearby so people wouldn’t worry. They still worried, and tried inviting me inside for tea several times.
When I had made it to the end of my district, I decided I had reached a perfect place to breakfast. I sat under a tree that overlooked the cliff to the ocean where you were able to view the famous “Lovers Leap”. I enjoyed my delicious Cliff bar and bottle of water in Fagafou, with a sense of pride. I already made it to where the busses turn around, so the traffic would be a lot less on the road. (Not that it was bad to begin with, but moving to the side for a passing car was how I fell off my bike on my first attempt.)
The area between Fagafou and Falelima, is like going through a dense forest. It is about 10km of rolling hills without anyone around. I used to have nerves travelling through that area, but now I know it really isn’t too bad. The hills are rough in some areas, but you need to remember you are always working towards the fun journey of going downhill.
In Falelima I stopped at my normal niu (baby coconut) shop. This family had just seen me a few days earlier and was surprised to see me riding through their area already. I enjoyed a delicious drink to myself, then had my empty water filled with coconut drink. The family came running out with a Cup of Noodles, and kept inviting me for Koko Samoa, but I refused since I knew from previous experiences that such strong coco can sometimes cause stomachaches, which aren’t good for riding.
I made it to Dana’s village and did my normal stop at her family’s store to say hello. Again I felt myself being pressured into eating with them. On a normal day I probably would, but with rain clouds in the sky, and me not sure exactly where I was going, I refused.
On the road I passed so many animals, and was pleasantly surprised that no dogs had come to bark at my wheels and chew up my feet. I had to stop twice for cows crossing, since I did not want to get in the way of such a big animal. Pigs are always crossing the road in front of you, as they are just as scared of you running them over as you are of them. I saw a few road kill pigs, and was disappointed that no one had come to clean them up, as when it happens in my village (the little piglets make a pop sound) someone comes right away to clean the road. There were also chickens galore. I used to think that chickens are only near where there are houses, I am not convinced of this anymore.
I kept riding and was thrilled when I got to the giant hill of Asau (It is actually a few villages before Asau, but everyone always considers it the hill of the biggest city). I know this hill well from Dana and my many bike trips to this area. I was happy that I was going down it, as it feels like a never ending hill.
I was not prepared for what was after Asau. I was told the road was rough to A’opo, but I thought it would be similar to the deserted forest area that I had already passed between my district and Dana’s. I knew there were hills, but, after riding for the few hours I became real tired quickly. When I was walking my bike up one of the huge hills, I realized that I had run out of water, without a village, or a person in site. I began to doubt myself, and kind of regret not waiting for other peace corps volunteers to return from their vacationing and do the trip with me.
Finally I reached a house, then another, I became excited as I was approaching A’opo. I saw a few stands outside people’s houses and bought a snack of bananas and niu to drink. I bought enough coconuts to finish filling up all my water bottles, as I asked the people about the road ahead. They told me there were still many hills, but I was happy to see after one more big one, there was a lot of fun downhill riding.
While I was riding I was surprised to be called another Peace Corps volunteers’ name. I had been confused for Dana, which isn’t the biggest surprise because we all get called each other all the time. The reason that it surprised me was because I was so far away from her village. It just shows how far away some of the amazing volunteers reach peoples’ lives. (I was also called Matt while I was riding past his village, which was the first time I was confused for a male volunteer.)
I passed the sign to Peapea Cave and Dwarfs Cave, and had a smile on my face as I passed, hoping that one day I have the courage to return to explore these caves. I passed Jim’s, another volunteer, former village, and saw how amazing his new school building looked. I hope that in a few years other volunteers will pass the new school building in my village and feel the same pride I felt for Jim.
I made it to the sandy roads of Manese, the village I thought I would say, “lava” (enough), and find a place to rest at one of the many beach fales. But I had talked with Sarah, one of the new volunteers, and she encouraged me to keep riding and rest at her house. So with my sore legs I pedaled on. Without rests, I thought the ride would take a little over an hour, but by that point my knee was beginning to hurt, and I knew there were many breaks in my forecast.
I stopped in Fagamalo for lunch. Still on my budget, I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a sandwiches. Sandwiches come two ways, regular, and for a few extra tala, you can have it toasted. After eating out a few meals by myself at different restaurants around Samoa I began to realize something. They will never let you get away with ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. They will always change your order to make you spend the few extra tala. I have tried saying my order, and pointing at it on the menu, but that still doesn’t work. They always send me a toasted sandwich. I stayed at the restaurant at the nice resort for awhile, giving my legs a nice well deserved break, and became thankful that I brought a book on my journey.
I filled up my water bottles and set off again. The next village had swimming with turtles, and I thought about visiting Mambajamba, the big turtle that Rachel and I named, but decided I needed to keep going. As I began riding through the lava fields my right knee began to really hurt. It felt like my kneecap was going to just slide off of my leg. I tried massaging it while I rode, but when I moved it to pedal I felt instant pain again. I had tears in my eyes as I continued. I didn’t expect to feel pain in just one knee, as I thought they were of equal strength. (Although now that I think about it as I reread what I wrote a few days later, the knee that was in such pain was the knee that I chipped a bone in when falling off my bike on my first attempt.)
I stopped a few times to try to walk off the pain, but it didn’t seem to help. I had to keep reminding myself that it was only a few more villages to go. I took a break at the lava field car. One time when I was visiting Rachel, she told me that the car was left from the destruction of the volcanic eruption. At first I believed her. Then I remembered that the last volcanic eruption was in 1911. Every time I pass the car with someone else, I try to see if they are as gullible as me, and so far no one is.
I finally approached Rachel’s village, the one right before Sarah’s and a huge smile came over my face. Rachel was currently in New York eating delicious food, and right after she left, there was a falavelave. A pipe exploded in her house. No one, except the people in her village, knew the extent of the damage, and I had planned to follow up on it. The shopkeeper told me that it was not bad and all cleaned up. (Maybe I should have called Rachel and told her about it…) He also confused me with Ali and asked how the ride was from her village.
While I was chatting, a boy jumped on his bike and told me to hurry up so he could ride with me. I was enjoying the nice long conversation, because even though I was a village away, I knew the villages weren’t the closest, and my knee hurt more than I could even imagine. I finally hopped on my bike, and rode to Sarah’s village. It was nice to have the company for the last bit of my ride, because otherwise I would have stopped several times because of the pain I was feeling. He kept me motivated and was my own personal cheerleader. He got me to Sarah’s house, then turned around and went back to his village.
I spent the day with Sarah, as she was patient with me and my limp, and after awhile of walking around her village, my leg was starting to feel better. That night I was awoken by a new pain, this one in my left thigh. I took some medicine, and was able to fall back asleep.
The next morning I was off again. I knew it was about an hour by bus from Rachel’s village to Salelologa (my destination), and I was a little further than her village, so I guessed that my ride would only be two hours if I didn’t stop. I was feeling refreshed and my legs were feeling great. Between Sarah’s village, and the next village is another break between districts, so there was another long stretch of nothing but trees.
After riding for about twenty minutes, the pain came back. I began to wonder if I was going to make it. I was so close to making my goal, and not sure if it was going to happen. I wanted to take a break for breakfast when I reached an area with a view of the Pacific, so I would have a nice view to enjoy my food with. I stopped my bike, and tried to reach my leg over. It wouldn’t go. I am a short person, I have come to accept that my entire life, and I knew the bicycle was a little too big for me, but I couldn’t find the strength to lift my leg that extra bit to get off. I tried lowering my bike, and finally after several attempts, and several minutes, I was able to get off, even though it hurt terribly. I savored the break, because I knew it would be the last time I would stop and get completely off my bike until I reached Salelologa.
I reluctantly got back on my bike, and began riding again. I was in a lot of pain, but soon I reached the area where there was village after village after village. I had made it to the last district of my destination. I knew I was going to pass the main hospital, and if I was still in major pain, I was going to stop in and see if I could get ibuprofen. All of a sudden my legs regained the strength I had in the beginning. I felt like a new person as I was riding. I passed a few people with bikes and they joined me, giving me company and someone to talk to during the final stretch. I passed Emi’s village, the home of the first missionaries, and wished she was there to visit with and to see another friendly face.
Finally, two and a half hours after I left Sarah’s house , I reached Salelologa. I locked my bike, and ran some errands, while realizing that I just forgot about the pain, since as soon as I hopped off my bike I felt the pain again. I saw some people in my village, and they seemed confused that I did not arrive on the bus with them. I felt like I was crossing the finish line when I reached the wharf and parked my bike inside our little office.
There was no cheering group to congratulate me for reaching my goal, like there had been for the races I did in Upolu. It was just me in the office by myself. I wanted to share the experience with someone, but no one was in reach. I then realized it was my goal, it wasn’t for anyone else. It was a big accomplishment for me, and it didn’t matter that no one else was there to say, “Good job”.
After resting in the office for awhile, I hopped back on my bike, and felt stronger than ever. I biked over to our favorite hangout spot in Salelologa, and sat on the dock and called my sister. Sitting there next to the ocean, I had this smile on my face that I could not take off. It did not bother me celebrating on my own, because being in Samoa has taught me to become a more independent, stronger person.
Over 80 miles completed on my biking goals, and next week I will have a biking buddy to conquer Upolu with. I am looking forward to sharing the experience with Jenny, since Upolu is her home, and she might have more insight into the more troublesome spots. It will be a fun ride.

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