It must have been tough. I found myself thinking of the Ethiopian lady and I only do that when it is. I remember back to cycling on a mountain pass out of Addis Ababa; I was out of shape, struggling and generally feeling sorry for myself. I desperately wanted to stop. In this state I passed a lady walking up the same hill carrying an impossibly large load. She seemed unfazed by the climb, laughing at my odd appearance and making a mockery of the struggle. It is an image that has stayed with me. Whenever I get to thinking times are tough I think of her and all the people like her who have shown us what hard work really is.
I was thinking of her this morning. I heard the alarm from somewhere deep in the recesses of my sleeping bag. I heard it and was immediately filled with dread. Once out of the sleeping bag the cold would envelope me. I was warm and didn't want to leave. I lay thinking about the day that lay ahead.
I imagined fumbling with my swollen hands as I pulled on my damp socks. I pictured holding my breath as I pulled on my filthy t-shirt. The initial forays with changing would be carried out to a chorus of heavy breathing and wincing. My mind would be off as I carried out tasks in auto pilot. Pack away the inside of the tent ,then pack away the tent before waking Maghnus. Next I would collect water, put on the stove, pack up the kayak , eat porridge and carry all my gear to the river.
I felt that if I could just not think about the day ahead until I was paddling I could get through it. I thought this but I lay still. I listened for the signs of wind, wondering if we would have to contend with head-on gusts and waves as we pushed on. Doing the maths I reasoned we had probably averaged 42km per day during the last 19 days of non-stop paddling. It was a reasonable total. If we could do this for the next 23 days we could have a day off. I thought this would cheer me up but it had the opposite effect. Why can’t we have two days off? Three days off and I could paddle to Shanghai. I hated the pressure. After 9 months on the road surely we deserved a little time to relax.
Ok- one day at a time thats all I can think here. Just get today started. Just get on the river and things won’t seem as bleak. My mood lifted. Maybe we would be rewarded by the selfless gestures we had received yesterday afternoon. We could be called aboard another fishing boat for lunch. We could be given Chinese tea, and some steaming hot rice. I pictured sitting in that little kitchen drinking tea. Yesterday hadn’t been all that bad. The locals really were coming to our aid now. It’s like they suddenly sensed we needed it. They were helping us along, helping us grit our teeth.
I thought of that Ethiopian lady. I pictured her smile and rediscovered mine. Unzipping the sleeping bag to begin another day on the Yangtze.