Updated: Jun 27
As a woman, riding the Freedom Challenge has taught me many lessons. I will share one of them with you: the contents of the 2 litre ice cream tubs. I rode my first RASA in 2010. I was forty years old. Naturally my mother was concerned about my safety, health and future fertility. What made her feel much better about my "foolish behaviour", as she politely put it, was that I was riding with my husband Anthony. Somehow that made it completely acceptable, even praiseworthy. As with most married (and unmarried) couples our respective RASA preparation tasks followed the natural course of our day-to-day household chores.
Anthony was tasked with the onerous job of sorting out maps, tools, spares and our bicycles. My womanly task was far simpler but very nurturing: nutrition and hygiene. Anthony suggested that we share a 2 litre "support station" ice-cream tub. Of course I agreed, delighted that my task was now halved, and far simpler. My packing strategy was ingenious: essential toiletries, batteries, and the next day’s maps, narratives and snacks would all go into the 2 litre container.
However, what really flummoxed me was sorting out my 'essential' toiletries. You see, I was still in the honeymoon phase of my marriage. Ah yes, that magical time of any relationship when you believe that your significant other, or wife, has fresh breathe, super smooth legs, a hairless body and seems to be able to look great with very little effort. I was now faced with the mammoth task of trying to keep the illusion alive. An illusion that was going to be particularly difficult when cycling for hours and hours in bitterly cold weather with little sleep.
I made a list. I needed shampoo, conditioner, a comb, face cleanser, moisturizer, night cream, eye cream, face serum, body lotion, butt cream and sunscreen. Oh, and a toothbrush, tooth paste, mouthwash and dental floss. And tampons. And vitamins. And a razor and nail file. And saline for my contact lenses. And extra contact lenses. It soon became apparent that a 10 litre cooler box was going to be more suitable than a 2 litre ice cream box.
I made a plan. While most of South Africa was gearing up for the festivities of the 2010 World Cup Soccer I painstakingly decanted all the stuff I would need into small plastic containers, including toothpaste, clothes detergent liquid, sunscreen, butt cream and saline, and counted out my daily vitamins into small plastic bags. Every small container and packet was marked. My labelling strategy was as cryptic as possible. Sp for Shampoo, Oo for Liquid OMO, CrB for body lotion, CrF for face cream, Cr for conditioner and Pt for tooth paste. If anyone dared to raid our sacred tub then at least I would be comforted knowing that they were hopefully rubbing butt cream onto their faces and washing their hair with OMO liquid. Hee hee. Once all my toiletries were packed into the boxes there was just enough space to pack copies of the printed maps and narratives for the next day, a spare set of batteries for our headlights, and one chocolate bar. Oh, and Anthony's disposable tooth brush.
I could then cast my attention onto another very important task: my personal toiletry bag. Yes, a toiletry bag that I carried in my very own backpack. This bag of tricks held my comb, tooth brush and razor. And other essential daily items such as thyroid medication, pain pills, anti-nausea pills, anti-diarrhea pills and yes, let me just say it, my contraceptive device. Because, dear friends, as a fertile female I was hoping to one day have a child called Brooklyn or Phoenix, and not Ntsikeni or Rouxpos.
Well, I bet you are now just dying to hear if I managed to uphold my illusion of "natural hotness" during the 2010 RASA. What became very apparent was that my adrenal cortex did not give a continental shit about my sense of illusion, and was more concerned about pumping out cortisol to keep me alive. Alas, no amount of serum was going to take away my cortisol-induced facial puffiness. By the fifth day of riding, the Benoni inside of me started to break free. I stopped shaving my legs and armpits. Partly because I had left the razor at Masakala and partly because nobody really seemed to mind or give a damn. Sadly, the contents of our 2 litre tub no longer gave me joy.
I could not eat eye cream or face serum. The one measly chocolate bar was completely insufficient, especially as I had to share it with Anthony. I resorted to raiding the boxes of riders who had pulled out of the race. I felt no shame or remorse. By the time we reached Romansfontein, on day 10, I was true to my roots and was living the life of a wild woman from Benoni. On occasion I simply did not wash my hair, or floss my teeth. I ate everything in sight, even the wrapper on the muffins was not spared. Cuss words flowed freely from my lips. I threw stones. I even shouted at the cows.
I am sure that Anthony must have noticed the decline in my appearance and my behaviour. If he did, then he was either too polite or too scared to comment. A wise man indeed. Did I learn a lesson? Yes, of course. I learnt that inner beauty is far more important than outer beauty. Nah, I didn't learn that. I did, however, learn that RASA is flippen hard, especially for women. Unlike men, we have a front bum AND a back bum. And both get punished by the saddle. As for all the cosmetic products. Don't bother. Stick to the basics. Chocolates and snacks are more useful. Oh, and the contraceptive device. Well, in hindsight, I have realized that the only horizontal action to be expected during RASA will probably be when your partner applies duct tape to your buttocks.