Hey everyone!! We figured we would catch you up on all of the fun travels we had to get to Africa. We are now in South Africa at our hotel and ready to catch up on some sleep.
To kick off all the travels, I started out in Fargo bright and early, with a phone call from mom at 5:35 asking “weren’t we supposed to leave at 5?” yes…yes we were. And like that, we were off to a great start! We ran out of the house and booked it to the airport. I checked the bike in and the American Airlines agent was in a great mood, so the bike fee was waived! DAY MADE!! Luckily Hector is one of the easier US airports to get through, so I made it to my flight just in time and departed for Dallas at 7am! I arrived at DFW airport mid-morning and found some food before heading to Alexa’s Gate and waited for her to arrive.
Alexa knocked out a huge 10 mile run at a crazy fast pace before packing up and heading to the airport later that morning from Tucson. Ayla dropped her off and after they said their good-byes, Alexa was on her way! She arrived at DFW at 3pm, met up with me, and we worked our way through the airport to our next gate.
After meeting, we found a sub shop in the main terminal, before heading to the international Terminal. At the international terminal we checked into our flight with our Passports and rerouted Alexa’s bag to arrive in Port Elizabeth, instead of picking it up in Johannesburg and rechecking it. After we had that situated, we found a set of stairs and ran up and down to get the blood flowing before the 15-hour flight.
We boarded the gigantic plane and found row 16. The plane was beautiful and had everything we could ever ask for. We had the row to ourselves, so we unpacked and got situated for the next 15 hours. Before departing, attendants brought us headphones, then some socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, sleeping masks, lip balm, and some moist towelettes! Despite its size, the plane somehow left the ground and we set off to begin our world travels! Shortly after taking off, we realized the arm rests did not go up unlike the row in front of us and after a quick walk around the plane it was clear all other rows were taken as people had spread out to sleep for the night. We were stuck with the ONE row in the plane where the arm rests did not go up to make a bed. We watched “Game Night” and had our first meal on the flight. I had some chicken and rice while Alexa had peanut curry and rice. Not bad for airline food! We caught a little sleep before having our “snack”. The snack was one of two sandwiches, I opted for the cheese, lettuce, and tomato, while Alexa went for a chicken curry sandwich. We both slept a little more and woke up to another snack of apples and ice cream!! We turned on Pitch perfect 1 &2 before getting our breakfast. Both of us had egg bake with hash browns. Just a few hours later we landed in Doha, Qatar!!
We landed in Doha at 4:30pm and after exiting the plane, we sped through customs and headed right for the tour information desk to sign up for a free city tour. Turns out, If you have over a 5-hour layover in Doha, they give you a free city tour! After signing up we went up to the 4th floor of the airport and swam in the 25-meter lap pool! The facility was gorgeous, and the water was very much needed. Feeling refreshed, we headed to the tour where we went through immigration and got stamps in our passports! :D. Once we stepped outside, the heat just hit us in the face. It was unlike anything we have ever felt before. It was 8pm and the sun had already been down for a few hours, but it was still well over 90 degrees and the humidity was so dense it almost felt like it was misting, it took your breath away…. literally. Discover Qatar had a tour bus waiting just outside the airport and once the group was on, we received cookies and water as we rode to a local marina across the bay from the Qatar skyline. Qatar is a country that takes great pride in the way their country looks and even their light poles were beautifully lit up and had the national anthem etched into every pole. Their skyline is lined with neon lights and the way the city lit up in the haze was incredible. After snapping a few pictures, the bus left and drove right into the heart of the city. We drove through the incredibly crafted buildings in magnificent colors. Each one beautiful in its own way. The next stop was a marina next to a strip of stores ranging from Ferrari and Bentley, to ______. We walked quickly to see the marina and a few buildings that caught our eye before heading back to the bus. The next stop was the Blue Mosque! The Mosque was incredibly crafted, and the architecture was stunning. The final stop was the market, where the tour guide led us in and we had a half hour to explore and embrace the culture that surrounded the market. While the rest of the city was quiet and tranquil, the market streets were the exact opposite. There was a buzz of energy up and down the streets with people roaming all around. We were drenched in sweat from the heat and humidity, so we grabbed an ice cream cone before we found a little hut to get dinner. The man running the restaurant had us sit and asked if we wanted him to bring out 4 or 5 meals for us. We were not super hungry and did not know what exactly we were getting into because the menu was not in English, so we said we would just need one meal, we went back and forth with him a couple times and ended up with what we thought was one meal. He headed into the hut, grabbed a couple tin pans, and filled them up with piles of food. He ended up bringing us 2 meals despite our request for one, but both looked really unique and delicious. We dug in. One was somewhat like a chicken enchilada, and the other was a rice with curry and chicken. As we ate, a few cats decided to join us, and the man ran over with a stick and chased them away. We finished the meal and paid the man before heading back to the bus. Qatar was absolutely beautiful, and we enjoyed every second we spent out on the city. The tour left us with a desire to come back and explore the city more. But for now we continue with our travels to South Africa.
Once back at the airport, we went back through immigration and TSA and we were amazed by how efficient they were. We didn’t need to empty liquids, or take anything out of bags, once we got to the front of the line, we were through in seconds. We had close to two hours before we boarded our next flight so we found ourselves back in the pool to knock down a couple hundred meters. Afterwards we grabbed some showers in the airport lounge, because wow we needed them. We grabbed a sandwich to split and got to the next gate for the flight to Johannesburg at 2am. They started boarding, but we chose to go last because sitting did NOT sound fun at this point. The plane boarded for almost 50 minutes before the line ended and we walked on to the plane. We found our row and once again it looked like we had it to ourselves! The best part was…. our seat arm rests went up!! The doors closed, and we were excited to get to sleep across the row until… one of the flight attendants yelled out “21?” and pointed to the extra seat, and as luck would have it, this lady emerges from the very back of the plane and sits down in our row. Unfortunately, didn’t get to spread out as much, but we made do and threw a movie on as we nodded off. After sleeping a good amount of the flight, we woke to a breakfast that neither of us really wanted, so we snacked on yogurt, apples, and pita chips to hold us over. We landed in Johannesburg and went through customs again. We stopped at the carousel to make sure our bags actually got checked through, and after not seeing them we went to our next gate. TSA was once again very fast, and we were through within a couple minutes. We found a restaurant called Airport Brewing Company (one of the 2 restaurants in our terminal) and sat down for our first non-airline food meal in days. After a quick bite we went to the gate and boarded the plane to Port Elizabeth! FINALLY we were going to be there. Little did we know…
We arrived in Port Elizabeth at 4:00 and there was a huge crowd around the door waiting for their bikes, so Alexa and I decided to use the restroom and hang out for a bit while it settled down around the carousel and the bike bag drop. After the crowd had calmed and claimed their bags, we went in to find that ours….weren’t there. I immediately jumped in line to talk with baggage services while Alexa continued looking. She had no luck, so I proceeded to the counter (with half our plane in line behind me). We talked with the man at the counter and it sounded like the airline was not prepared for every passenger to have one full bag AND one giant bike bag, so they just couldn’t keep up with the load. They ended up having to hold some back on previous flights but the demand was still there for the bags so they originally had 10% of bags held back, then 20, then 30, and now there are so many people who have nothing for days. We were a couple of those people. They told us that our bags would be on the 3pm flight the following day and shipped to our guest house shortly after. We headed out of the airport with Jamison our driver who got us to our guest house safely. We checked in to the beautiful room and passed out immediately.
The next morning, we woke up for a wonderful breakfast prepared by the hotel staff before our city tour. We met Nana, Papa Jack, and our guide Lizl outside the guest house and headed straight for the heart of Port Elizabeth. Our first stop was Fort Fredrick which was an old British fort that had been around for hundreds of years, but never fired a shot. Next up was the Athenaeum, which had some information on the 67 years of work by Nelson Mandela. We followed part Route 67 (route 67 consists of 67 pieces of art symbolizing the work of Nelson Mandela). After that short stop we went to Donkin Reserve. Donkin Reserve holds the largest flag in Africa along with a pyramid for Elizabeth Donkin and a lighthouse along with some incredible works of art explaining the history and culture of Port Elizabeth and South Africa. We walked down to the city center and saw another few key parts of PE history and a building called the Feathermarket Centre which was the home to an organ with 1500 pipes. The interesting thing about the Fethermarket Centre is that the roof did NOT match the rest of the building, and this was because the plans were accidentally switched with a train station and constricted in just that way! We took a few more pictures around Donkin Reserve before heading back to the guest house.
Back at the guest house we called about our luggage as it was close to 4pm, after checking they informed us it was still not there. They claimed it would be coming on the 6pm flight instead. We headed to Ironman village and the expo to get our mind off our stuff and get back into the race week mindset. We did our biometrics scan (picture, fingerprint, and ID scan) then checked in and received our beautiful bags. Before we left, the zipper on Alexa’s bag broke so she returned hers for a new one. The expo was the next stop before heading to the Ironman store. At the store we found a few cool shirts and hats we liked and figured if our bags aren’t going to come we might as well have a few shirts to rotate around. In the checkout line Alexa realized she left her wallet in the bag that broke so we headed back to find the broken bag with her wallet in it, easy enough right? Wrong. Turns out there was a manufacture defect and there were over 1000 bags that had been returned. We spent the next 90 minutes going through bags before deciding to call it a night. Nana and Papa Jack asked us to go out to dinner with them and The Coachman was exactly what we needed. After our bellies were full we followed them back to the place they were staying and called our Travel Insurance agents who started a claim for us to get us some money to buy clothing and necessities as we have no idea when these bags will actually pop up. We returned to the guest house and are still, not so happily, waiting for our bags.
Thank you all for the kind words and prayers for our bags and our well-being on this trip. A special thank you to all of you who are helping locate our stuff!! Tomorrow we head out on a catamaran to go see some penguins and hopefully dolphins and whales!
This year the national championship was held in Cleveland Ohio. The Olympic distance race was Saturday, followed by the sprint distance on Sunday. This weekend Alexa and I planned on racing both races, so we had the best chance to get to Lausanne Switzerland for the 2019 World Championship. Alexa and I met on the way to Cleveland and the following day headed to the race venue to get a swim in and check out the expo, along with dropping the bikes. Alexa had a brand-new bike and this one was a different gearing which didn’t match her old wheel, so we had to find a place to rent one for the weekend and ended up finding a ZIPP 808 wheel that looked incredible on her new bike. After getting that figured out we headed to swim. The swim looked rough, and really far. We dropped the bikes and ran around the expo before heading out to do the practice swim. The waves had grown again, and the buoys looked much too far for an Olympic distance from shore. We met up with Billy and the three of us planned to swim to the first buoy of the three going out, then over to the last of the buoys coming back to the finish, then to shore. After we arrived at the first buoy we all were in disbelief. The waves were inconsistent, and breathing was near impossible. With the swells it was hard to sight even the gigantic orange and yellow buoys. We continued on towards the next buoy and then to shore. I had a really tough time and knew it was going to be a long weekend with water like that. After finishing the swim and looking at the distance, we knew the swim was going to be much longer than it should have been, we hoped and prayed for some good weather as we headed to the hotel for the night.
The next morning the forecast was beautiful. Arriving at the race venue was spectacular and everyone was excited to race. Alexa went off way before me, so I helped her get ready, braided her hair, and off she went to CRUSH her competition. I then dropped our bags and started my warmup. As the morning progressed, the waves grew. My age group entered the water and as usual, no one said a word to one another. I found Billy and after a quick fist bump, we were off into the water. The normal kicking and thrashing and punching happened for the first 300yds until the group finally thinned out. After 2 buoys I had swallowed so much water and still couldn’t get in a consistent rhythm for the waves coming in. We finally turned so I could breathe to my right, but I still felt off and couldn’t get any sort of momentum going. After turning into shore, I looked up and realized that once again, I was coming out of the swim last.
Coming into transition everyone’s bikes were gone except for mine. I mounted and took off on the course. The course was full of rough roads but was a beautiful and straight course for the most part. I cruised with a fellow teammate back and forth for most of the bike, posting just over 25mph and slowly realized that I had over-done the bike.
The run I completely fell apart. I ran the first 2 at the pace I was hoping for and the next few miles were miserable, I couldn’t find the legs I usually have, and just suffered to the finish.
At the finish I was met by Alexa and we shared our race experiences, She had dominated her pack and was an All-American!! We went to the awards that night to get her All-American Award and Team USA slot for 2019 Worlds. Then back to the hotel to regroup for the next morning.
Sunday came and as we arrived at the start line again, my heart sank. The waves were huge and the boats in the lake were even getting pushed around. On top of all of this the course once again, was obviously too long. I was wearing headphones but all of the sudden everyone started walking as packs towards transition. I took them off and heard there was a mandatory meeting in transition at 7am. We all met in transition and they made the announcement that the Coast Guard had made the decision that there would be no swim today. It was changed to a 2.7K run, normal bike, 2.7k run. A Duathlon. Alexa and I had never done one, but this played to my strengths. We regrouped and made a new race plan. I braided her hair again, we warmed up, and it was time to line up for the run!
! I lined up just in front of an All-American track runner because I figured that would be a good gauge of where I was as far as everyone went because he would lay down some great splits. The first run I took off and averaged 5:12/mile. Murray (the runner) passed me as we entered transition. I hopped on the bike and once again laid it all out. I immediately passed Murray along with a few other guys from waves before me. I let no one pass me and put my head down to muscle out the best bike I possibly could. I came through at just under 26mph. back to running! Legs showed up this morning and I muscled out another couple miles around 5:15/mile. After coming through the chute, I knew I had put together a much stronger performance and had done what I could. Alexa also had an incredible day for someone who “wasn’t a runner” put out some of the fastest bike splits AND run splits of anyone her age. I missed the All-American but made Team USA for 2019! Not the weekend I had hoped for, but I have focused in for South Africa which has been my main goal all year. Thank you to everyone for all the incredible support, and to Alexa for keeping my head on straight and being the biggest supporter of all. I could not have asked for a better person to have by my side from race weeks to hiking to waterfalls. I love you so much! To my sponsors, I could never do these things without you. YOU ROCK!!!! We leave for SA next Sunday!!! Can’t wait to see what happens down on the coast and then down under in Australia!!