As I stated in previous posts, this past week Candice, John H. and myself were planning on biking the island of Savai'i. We have been planning this trip for quite a while and it was definitely going to be a memorable experience. Little did I know how memorable it would be. On Wednesday night, Candice and I biked over to John and Bryan's house so that we could all leave from the same place together early the next morning. We planned on leaving from their house at about 5:30am/6:00am in order to catch the 8am boat to Savai'i. That night Skye (a volunteer from Group 73) invited us over for a carbo loading dinner and that was just a good time to hang out and relax before the big adventure the next day. Also, that night I borrowed Bryan's bike rack to use on my bike so that I would not have to carry a lot of weight on my back and instead put it on the bike – this was the first time I had ever used a bike rack, so I didn't fully understand the concept of it, I just knew that my back wouldn't hurt as much after long hours of riding if I put my bookbag on the rack instead of on my back.
So we got up on Thursday morning and made sure that everything was packed and ready to go. Once we were sure that everything was ready – Candice, John and myself (along with Skye, who was only going as far as the wharf and back to Apia) we got on our bikes and tried to start our journey. When I got on my bike for the first time with this rack, I fell off my bike because I wasn't use to the weight. That should have been a sign. But I'm stubborn and was focused on getting to the 8am boat so we got on the road and started off in a nice line formation. Close to John's house is a very steep hill which is pretty fun to go down but not a lot of fun to bike back up. One of the things that John told me before we got on the road was "do not make sharp turns" because my bike would not respond the way it usually does when there's no weight on the bike. Once we hit this hill going down, I had a lot of momentum pushing me downward and I didn't know how to respond to it (do I push my breaks, don't I push my breaks, etc) so I ended up flying by Candice, Skye and John which would have been fine except that while I was going down there was a taxi coming up the street. So being the safe person that I am I decided to swerve in to avoid the car – big mistake. When I swerved, apparently that counted as a "sharp turn" and I lost control of the bike. I almost regained control but I my bike was swerving on gravel and that didn't help so I skidded a bit on my bike and my head hit the ground pretty hard. Luckily, the Peace Corps requires us to wear helmets when riding our bikes and I'm a firm believer in that philosophy now. Had I not had my helmet on I probably would have cracked my school or messed up my face pretty bad. 'Fortunately' the only damage I had was an open wound on right hand, some scars on my left shoulder, left arm, left leg and left/right foot plus a very sore shoulder. So we turned back around and went back to Bryan/John's house to give me some First Aid attention and I had a choice – I could choose not to go to Savai'i or I could still go and just deal with the pain along the way. After getting over the initial shock of the fall and the injuries, I decided that I would probably not get another chance to do the Savai'i trip again so I better do it now – for better or for worse (plus, it makes for a more interesting story now). So once I was all patched up and got an energy drink from Skye (to make up for all the blood I had lost) we were on our way (at about 7:30am) to catch the 10am boat.
The ride out to the wharf wasn't that bad – except for the injuries to the hand and shoulder – I was feeling pretty good about things. We made it to the wharf at about 9:00-9:15am so we had plenty of time to get a few snacks and catch the boat. It's an hour and a half boat ride to Savai'i so that was enough time to just relax and let the body rest a bit before taking on the Big Island. (BTW, bikes only cost $5 tala to take on the boat – I was once told it was as high as $20 tala). Once we got to Savai'i, we made our way to Saipipi which is where Amos (Group 73) lives (it's also where I did my volunteer visit during training). We got there close to noon time so we just rested there and chatted with him for a bit (of course getting a lot of water). He decided not to join us for our round the island tour, so we left at about 2pm to make it to Manase which is on the northeast portion of Savai'i (once we passed Amos' house, I was in unfamiliar territory). The stretch between Saipipi and Manase was not bad at all and gave me a false sense of accomplishment ("Oh, if this part was so easy, the rest of the island will be easy as well"). We stayed the night a Tanu's Beach Fales at Manase (a beautiful place and if I get visitors, that would definitely be the place I would take them on Manase). We stayed the night there and met a very nice couple from Australia who were there basically to relax and do nothing (the complete opposite of what the three of us were doing). Before we went to bed, I had to put my arm in a makeshift sling (using a lavalava) in order to keep my arm from moving to much in the middle of the night because I was expecting it go be sore the next day.
The next day (Friday) came and my arm wasn't all that sore – in fact it felt much better then it had on Thursday, which was surprising. We got up at about 6am to get all of our things ready to go and we left Tanu's at about 7:30am (before breakfast, which was served at 8am). So…yeah, Day 2. That was a very rough day for myself – it just proved that I am not a natural biker by any means. We went from Manases (Northeast) to Asau/Vaisala (Northwest) in about 4 hours – going up and down various mountain slopes. The false sense of accomplishment I had going from Apia to Manase was gone, replaced by a feeling of "can I really do this?" We kept going up and down from sea level, but when we were above sea level and I saw Asau in the distance my body was so happy that we were close. When we got to Asau, we past it to go eat breakfast (that's right, breakfast!) at the Vaisala hotel. We got there about 11:30am, ate breakfast and then John and I took a nap from 12 to 1pm. Once we were done, then the hard part of the journey began. From Vaisala to a village called Papa, there's a big mountain that just seems to slope up forever. Everyone who has ever biked this mountain has said that this stretch was the hardest part on the entire island and you know what – they were right. So we tackled it and it was slow going – and my legs just had to keep spinning and spinning to go up this mountain. This was where I had my first mental defeat because the mountain just seemed to go on and on forever – it was quite discouraging. So when I had this mental defeat (and there were many on Day 2) I just had to get off my bike for a second and just get my head back into the game. We thought it would take us like an hour to get up the mountain, but it only took 30mins but it was a very hard fought 30 minutes. So we made it up to Papa and rested for a bit. Then we went pass Papa and down to Falealupo which is the western most point on this side of the time zone (meaning the same side as North America). While we didn't do a lot of sight seeing down there (like stop at the Canopy Walkway or the Rock House) we did stop on one of the beaches there and took some photos of us standing at "The End of the World" which was pretty neat. We also found out that there are beach fales down there that only cost $40 tala a night (compared to Tanu's which costs $50 a night) and you couldn't find their info in a Lonely Planet book or the Samoa Tour book, so it was an insightful trip in that regard. But once the sightseeing was over, the journey back up began. My body and legs had just enough reserve juice to get me back up to where we started on the loop – but I would pay for it later on. Once we finally got out of the Falealupo loop, we stopped at a store and picked up some food and water and rested a bit. I thought that as soon as we were pass the Papa stretch it would be all downhill because we were pretty high up and there was nothing that I could think of that would put us back at high elevation. So we went down hill for a bit and then we started going up again, at that point my right leg just could not do the "power up the hill" bit anymore. I had to get off my bike and walk quite a few times at this point because my right thigh was not giving me anything and my mind just could not take the possibility that we were not close to our next destination. When we finally got up to an elevation where the road started to level off we encountered "Lovers Leap" which I had totally forgotten about (it's a very high cliff on the southwest part of Savai'i). So after that we started going downhill a bit and at this point we were just trying to make it to some beach fales (all my mental defeats had put us back a bit timewise) so we were heading for the village of Faiaiai which supposedly had some beach fales there that were cheap (according to our Lonely Planet book). Once we got there though (at about 5:30pm) some of the villagers told us that the beach fales don't exist anymore and that we could have to go another mile or so to the village of Satuiatua. At this point my body decided "Alright, we're ready to finish this" and I got my second wind for the day (or night) and was just booking it to Satuiatua. My left leg started to cramp up but my mind was saying "No, you will not cramp up!" and before my body completely failed we made it to Sauiatua and a place to rest for the night. The food was very nice and the owner was more then happy to help us out and let us rest because she saw how tired we all were. It was a little more expensive then Tanu's ($65) but the food was in bigger portions which is what really counted for us.
So Day 3…not as bad as Day 2. We woke up later (meaning 7am) and ate breakfast at the fales. We didn't leave until about 8:30-9am but when looking at a map, we didn't have that much to go. At this point my body was just running on fumes here…knowing that we didn't have a long way to go but also knowing that I would have to pedal each and every inch of that long way. My legs had recovered from the previous day but not a lot. We made it to Taga, which is where Sara (Group 72) lives and she was riding with Julya in the wrong direction (meaning opposite of the way we were headed). So they turned around and we stopped at Sara's house for water and a little break. After leaving Sara's house, it was an hour and a half to get to Satupateia (which is the village that Julya lives in and would began the second stretch of Savai'i that I know well). While it wasn't necessarily hard, it was just a long stretch of land just seemed to go and up down for no reason (which makes me appreciate that in Tennessee we just blow through mountains instead of building roads over them). Once we hit Satupateia, it wasn't that far until we came to Palauli, which is Josh's old village. It was also the last village with a volunteer so I stopped there to get some water and rest from Laura (Group 72) – had we done this trip earlier in the week, she might not have been there but thank goodness she was. So I got some cold water from her and some beef jerky (good for salt!) and left to meet back up with Candice and John who were on the road talking to some village folk. When I stopped by Laura's she gave the right boost in confidence that I need – we were only 30 minutes away from the wharf. So at that point my body was just so excited and to keep me going I just kept telling myself "One More Time, One More Time, One More Time" – a wise man once said this to keep people motivated when their energy was low, and my energy was below empty at this point. But we ended up making it back to wharf in time for the 2pm boat.
I had successfully bike the Island of Savai'i. Sounds strange just reading that. I've biked half of a country!
Once we got on the boat, I went outside (I can't stand being inside on these ferry rides) and we straight to sleep. It was the best sleep I had during the entire Savai'i leg of the trip. I looked back at the island of Savai'i and felt a sense of accomplishment.
Once the boat docked, my false sense of accomplishment faded a bit. While I did successfully bike Savai'i and was glad to be back on Upolu, the wharf was not my home – my home is in Apia, which means I would have to bike back to Apia – a 2 hour bike ride. So running on nothing but sheer willpower and fumes I took my ever loving time getting back to Apia. It was tougher going back to Apia then it was coming from Apia for some reason, then I realized that the wind was blowing against me now that I'm heading towards Apia. When I was going away from the city, the wind was with my – see how quickly things turn around. So not only was I tired but any momentum I gained was quickly lost because of the wind. Once I got to Faleula (which is Holly's old village) I stopped and took a break for a bit – had to get my mind right for the last leg of my journey. Stopped at a shop and met a nice Samoan shop owner, Lance, who struck up an interesting conversation with me about computers and life in Samoa. It was quite different from the conversations I had with many of the Samoans on Savai'i (which mainly consisted of hearing 'Bye Bye' over and over again as I was riding along on my bike) so it was good to get that positive reinforcement from him. From there I biked back into Apia and it never looked so good, let me tell you – I was so glad to finally be home! I was to tired to try biking up to my place, so instead I went back to Bryan/John's and stayed the night there. And when I woke up the next day, my body was so excited because it didn't have to bike anywhere today.
So, according to Bryan we biked 140 miles and had about 22 hours of actual travel time but it felt like a lot more. Thankfully, my injuries healed up enough for me to start and finish this adventure and oddly enough, my shoulder was never as sore as I thought it would be (until we had finally got back to Apia, then it became sore) and it was a great personal accomplishment for me. At times I kinda felt like I was holding Candice and John back, but they were good bike leaders and kept pulling me along. Would I do the whole thing again if I knew how painful it would be? Probably. Would I do it again now? Nah, once was enough for me – I'll always remember Papa. Will I still bike around Upolu? Probably not – the best bikers in Peace Corps right now say that Upolu is harder than Savai'i and right now I'm just not feeling that. Fortunately for me, and for you, what I thought on Thursday morning after my fall was true – this makes quite a heck of a story! L8r.