After surviving a motorcycle trek the length of Madagascar, Carmel Rubin is grateful to be touring the southern United States.

Most recently in Burton, Texas, the Bowdoinham woman first featured in the Kennebec Journal in September reflected that the highlight of the ride across the African island nation was “the realization just how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born, and raised, in a first-world country.”

Grateful for remaining unscathed, she said, “Everything in Madagascar is difficult … I am glad I did it, but had I known just how challenging it would be I never would have gone. It was the most challenging riding of my life. I hope I never forget how hard life there is, and how lucky I am.”

After logging some 2,500-2,700 miles — the odometer never worked — in 15 days on a rental bike, Rubin is back home astride her 2006 Kawasaki KLX 250, a dirt bike equipped with blinkers, horn and lights so it can be legally ridden on roads.

She took off south on that bike Sept. 16 from the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta, giving up a job with the court system to satisfy her wanderlust. She said she has no regrets except for the lack of a paycheck.

“I have been shocked at how quickly I was able to leave my work life behind and just evaporate to Atlanta, then Africa, and now to just exploring,” she said. That odometer read 11,799 at the start. Three months later, it read 17,059 — not bad considering the break she spent exploring South Africa.

The Mapless in Madagascar ride was designed for women only.

“Ours was the first international ride the length of the island,” Rubin said. “Ten women from three continents meeting on a fourth to ride: two Americans, six British, and two Australians.”

She found most frightening “the deplorable conditions in Madagascar, the infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, ferries), the lack of accessible drinking water, and the extreme poverty. Of course, having lemurs climbing on your head is an amazing experience! I wasn’t prepared for how mountainous it was … or how prevalent rice paddies would be.”

Rubin took photographs and detailed the conditions for local workers on her blog on Thin Line Ride: “Hand shoveling dirt into bags that are then heaved up, one man at a time, in a sapphire mine for 8 hrs a day, in 95+ degrees, shirtless and barefoot for less than $2 (6000 ariary) a day. Much is done (with) a hammer and tired, bent, wobbly wheels, and back breaking muscle. Pushing impossibly heavy loads uphill on hand carts or carried atop women’s heads or perfectly balanced on rickety old bicycles.

“Hand making bricks and heaving them one at a time onto trucks. 10 passenger vans packed (with) 25 people, rear doors open and people hanging out the back.”

She wrote that the good roads have 3- to 4-foot potholes every 6 feet.

Back in the United States, she retrieved her bike in Atlanta and took off again, this time with longtime friend and fellow motorcyclist Gregg Bolton of Buxton.

By early December, they and their bikes had ridden down the Florida Keys — where she was a favorite target of voracious mosquitoes at the Flamingo campground in Everglades National Park, Florida — and moved on to Mississippi.

“We were in Canton, Mississippi, holed up in a friend’s big beautiful antebellum B and B (gratis) for a few nights as the temps dipped into the 20s,” she said via email in mid December. Then she got word that a friend’s mother had died, so they diverted to Texas to help, staying in an apartment on a friend’s ranch.

“Thanks to friends and strangers, we have been put up either in peoples’ homes or allowed to camp in their backyards,” she said.

She has no itinerary or plan, just a hazy idea about spending 14 months or so on the road, depending on finances. She had $600 worth of service done on her bike while she was overseas, and had only one breakdown with the rented bike in Madagascar. It was repaired within two days, and she rode a replacement in the meantime.

“Bikes are running well,” she said in the email. “I’ve lost weight — riding gear is loose! — and probably am more toned.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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