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Monday
Aug082011

Breakaway

Denverites are no strangers to the “epic” vacation and adventure. A lot of Denver residents moved here for a smaller version of that—available in the proximity to the mountains, national parks, and other adventure attractions in the West. 

Scott DeMoss, an IT manager for TeleTech, an outsource customer care firm headquartered in Englewood, lives in the Highlands and is an avid biker, runner, fisher and hiker. He recently found his epic trip in Africa. Through the organization Tour d’Afrique, which hosts bicycle tours around the world, he spent five months riding across the entire continent. From Jan. 15 to May 14 of this year, he rode from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa, passing through ready-to-erupt Egypt and the newly formed country of South Sudan along the way. 

He sat down with the VOICE to share a bit about his bittersweet experience on the road.

 

When you were going through Sudan, what was it like? Did you hear any discourse because of the upcoming election?

I think there was a more palpable energy in Cairo. We left there and then [a few] days later, that total upheaval took place, so we got out of there just in time. For a while they thought we might have to leave Egypt altogether, but we had a security detail; not that we were ever [in trouble]. 

 

So what did you see in Egypt?

There were just a lot of people milling about in the streets. I wouldn’t call it an organized rally or anything like that. We were in the Vodacom shop, which is [a] mobile phone thing, trying to get sorted out on a phone, and they’d ask where are you from, and once they found out you were from America, ‘oh Obama this, Obama that.’

 

Really? In positive ways?

Yeah, for the most part. And [they’d say] ‘Hey, we want to be like America. We’re gonna get rid of this guy [then-Egyptian-President Hosni Mubarak], this has been going on too long.’ And you got the sense that [there was] very open speech about [the issue]. And these were mostly the 20-30-somethings, younger people. 

 

So you didn’t really see much of anything happening in Sudan? There was no indication that there was going to be an election? 

When we arrived, the vote had already taken place, and they said it would take anywhere from two to four weeks to tally the votes, so we were [there during] the holding period. 

I think that country, of all of them, surprised me because people were so welcoming. From the people in the city to the people on the ferry to—ya know, I’m out in the middle of nowhere, probably 100 miles from the closest real town and there’s this cluster of grass and clay-mud huts over there. And I’m just sitting under the shade tree getting some water and this guy in a robe comes up and is like, ‘You! Tea.’… I thought he was inviting me to tea. He was. So he leads me back into the village and all these kids come out and we’re sitting in this hut and it was very shady and cool—so it was nice. It was probably about 120 degrees that day. He makes me tea and speaks a little bit of broken English and he brings other important people from the village over to meet me. 

 

Ha! Did you feel like a king? 

Well, it’s kinda weird because you are in your biking clothes and they are in these long white robes with headwear and the kids keep coming to poke their head into the hut, and everyone wants their picture taken with you. Yeah, you feel like a bit of a celebrity I guess. 

Then he asked me if I wanted some water. And I said no, and he said, ‘No, you must drink this water,’ so I said ok, yeah, this is probably going to come back and get me. It definitely tasted a little off, and I did get sick a few days later, but I don’t even know that it was directly attributed to that water. Probably was. But I would say within 10 days of that little encounter, half the camp was sick anyway. 

 

Oh, that’s rough—especially while riding.

Yeah, that did a lot of people in. That was the first point for a lot of people where they would end up getting on the truck. There’s a special award you can earn if you manage to ride what they call EFI—every F-ing inch—so that means you ride the whole way, every day. You don’t use the trucks ever. 

 

Did you use the truck?

 [The EFI] was my big goal going into that. I wanted to do that. And usually it’s only 15-20 percent of the people who can manage that. 

We left the roads of the Sudan and had three or four days off road. That was pretty cool. Little dirt paths going through the villages and stuff, and I crashed twice on the first day. Really dinged my ribs up pretty good. … Then it started getting really hot and that was when we saw temperatures approaching like 135 degrees and you’re just riding through the middle of these vast tracks of emptiness.

So when we finally got back on the pavement, I started to feel pretty crappy. That was the day we crossed into Ethiopia and the whole first half of that morning— it was about 35 miles—I thought I was going to vomit the entire way. It should have been a nice easy stage and I’m suffering horrendously. 

I got to lunch and my buddy Paul, he’s feeling the exact same way, and he said to ask them for this pill [because] it kinda helped him. So I take this pill, it kind of squelches the nausea, and I carry on, get to the border but by the time I got into camp I was steadily [going] downhill. The next two days, I think, were probably two of the more miserable days I’ve ever had in my life. Just waking up, can’t eat, don’t sleep at all, getting up to use the bathroom four or five times in the night.

 

Did you have bathrooms?

No, no, that means you hike into the brush with a shovel. No shower either. They are rationing water so you can’t bathe yourself. …[But] No truck riding for me. I am an official member of the “EFI Club”. There were only 12 of 62 who did it, so I am particularly proud of that achievement. 

 

What would you compare the bonding experience to? I use examples like this trip or, more dramatically, like a traumatic experience, bringing people together. 

Trauma’s a little strong, but I would say the first few weeks of that trip, you were continually hit, sometimes gently sometimes harshly, with doses of reality. … You just realize the tour goes on—you’re either with it or against it but it’s dragging you on. I think we bonded over that, if there was a particularly taxing day on the bike, or there were some bad things—like there was a hold up in Northern Kenya where there were some guns and shots fired. I wasn’t personally involved but some of the people were. 

 

What happened? 

We were in this area, didn’t seem particularly dangerous but it’s really been stricken by drought, so food’s not growing; people are desperate for employment and just water. There were two guys on the side of the road, and one girl [as part of the group] rode by and they kind of just acknowledged her. He’s got a rifle in his lap, actually an AK-47 assault rifle. They made a motion for her to stop; she decided that wouldn’t be prudent. They yelled and the guy fired some shots over her head. The other guy threw a rock at her and it hit her in the ribs and right as the thing hits her in the ribs, the guns going off so she doesn’t know if she’s been shot. …

I don’t think they were actually trying to hit her. I think they were trying to stun her into stopping so they could rob her.

 

Was she by herself? 

She was. There was a group of people behind. They heard all that; they stopped and waited a half hour and didn’t see anyone down the road. One of the riders needed to stop to pee, she goes into the woods and two minutes later the guy whacks her in the side of the head with the gun. … So they had six of them on their knees, putting on a show, shooting over their heads, taking money out of their wallets. They drained the water out of the camelback hydration packs and the bottles. Left the packs behind and left their IDs behind. 

 

You had talked about wanting and needing a change in your life, and that this was part of that.

Yeah, I mean look, we only get this one crack at life, and I’m only 36 so I’m not a sage or anything like that. But I think … you have a certain idea of what it means to be successful ... and I thought I’ll work hard and earn lots of money and get promoted. And the truth of it was I wasn’t really ambitious about being promoted. … But it’s like a lot of corporate America—you don’t screw up so you get rewarded. 

… And that was all well and good, but it kind of felt like my days lacked a meaningful challenge. … And I certainly wasn’t getting that in my life. I largely felt like that at work, whatever I did largely didn’t matter. 

I needed to know more about myself. … I was restless, a little unsettled internally. I thought [during this trip] you’re going to get to find out in a non-lethal environment, but definitely a very tough environment, what you’re made of. I think at the end of the day, that was the big take away.

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