This was my second long-distance cycle trip this year, and ever. This time a handful of friends and I decided to cycle 1000kms through Botswana.
We made a list of what we needed: water and food. Naturally everyone packed superfood powders, massage oils, sarongs, pillows, eye liner… It‚Äôs human nature. We gather, collect, treasure things we think we need. That‚Äôs just what we do.
While writing this I googled it and found this nugget on www.newscientist.com:¬†‚ÄúPossessions define us as a species; a life without them would be barely recognisable as human.‚Äù
The section of the route I was most excited about was The Makgadikgadi Pan, a massive salt flat in the north-eastern savanna land, and one of the largest in the world. It‚Äôs a magical piece of the earth that turns from a harsh and virtually lifeless salty desert into a breeding ground and migration pit-stop in the rainy season. We weren‚Äôt going to be there during that time though. We got it at its toughest.
This thing of human nature and possessions has been on my mind for a while, and earlier this year I started letting go of things I don‚Äôt need or love. It‚Äôs been a process that I sometimes find traumatic and at other times exhilarating. When packing for this trip, I had a good idea of the things I wanted to take, and then only packed half of that.
On my bicycle I carried a small tent and a sleeping bag that I fastened to my handle bars. I had two medium-sized panniers at the back which I filled with cooking gear and clothes. To be precise, I had a small gas cylinder with a burner, 3 shirts, 1 pair of pants, a pair of cycling shorts and a bicycle repair kit, a fold-up pot, an enamel cup, a spfork, water, potatoes (lots!), a box of Rajah. My camera bag was the chunkiest thing I took.
500+ kms into the trip we hit the pans though, and I realised that I still had too much stuff.
The idea was to cycle to Kubu Island just inside the pan, and then B-line straight through. The pan hadn‚Äôt seen rain for months and looked dry as hell. But it wasn‚Äôt. The sun forms this thin salt crust of about 4 or 5cm, but below that is the slimiest clay mud in the universe. (Should be officially called that, I think.)
Our bikes were too heavy (thanks superfoods, massage oils, extra camera lens‚Ä¶) and peddling through the goo was impossible. We had to head to the edge of the pans where it was a bit drier and no too slimy. To get there though we spent a whole day pushing our bikes, ankle deep in mud.
This was one of my favourite memories though, one I‚Äôll always reflect back on when thinking about the human nature of gathering. When you spend endless hours pushing a bulk of ‚Äúessential‚Äù belongings through sludge and you have nothing to do but stare into the hundreds of kilometres of flat earth around you, each of these items become strikingly unnecessary. And once you‚Äôve realised how unessential they are here, they don‚Äôt really have much value anywhere else.
Apart from water, potatoes and Rajah, humans don‚Äôt need to own much to be happy or to stay alive. If you ever want to appreciate this, go cycle through The Makgadikgadi Pan.