A Tale of Two Years

I’m catching up on news from the relatively cushy confines of Nairobi. Drinking a latte and eating a binge level amount of food in a mall the could just as easily be Highland Park Illinois instead of Nairobi Kenya. Only days ago, I was rationing toilet paper and hunting for bottled water and Dairy Milk bars in villages.

With the stream of news, I see that the Texas Hill Country 600 is happening this weekend in what appears to be terrible, wet conditions. Best of luck to all the racers. Exactly one year ago I was in Texas doing that event to kick off my season of racing. Shifra suggested I compare San Antonio to Nairobi, instead Im going for a more meandering comparison of the events and some reasons why I’m crossing Africa and later the US.

As Ive had a few more years doing long distance races, I found that signing up for an early season race helped keep me motivated over the dark winter months to stay on the road, trail and/or the computrainer. For a number of years, the Sebring 24 hour race filled that slot. Its been a good routine. The Texas Hill Country 600 was a nice switch and brought me back to an area of the US that I love.

Last year however, was the first time where I felt like it was that, a routine. Beyond Texas, I was doing the same loops in the same places and it made me consider why I loved riding a bike and racing. I started biking for fun and transportation and than for travel. Later I was introduced to racing long distances and being a competitive sort, became hooked on racing.

Ive found I miss the days of riding across a new country just to experience new things, rather than getting that one extra lap or saving another 10,20,30 minutes. 2012 is my attempt to reconcile the two mindsets. Race, but do it in places that I would love to slowly pedal through and if the motivation turns from racing to tourism, so be it.

There are some similarities between the Texas Hill Country 600 and this section of the Tour d’Afrique.

  • Early in the year – It never fails, I always feel unprepared for the early races. I don’t think it matters much how many miles I have logged.
  • Hot and Dry – Apparently not this year, but last year it seemed quite hot and dry as I was climbing some of those hills in the heat of the day.
  • Terrain – Rolling hills and a fair amount of sand
  • Seemingly collapsed buildings in small towns that are left standing and in some cases still in use. This is very similar. Small towns in Texas have burned out buildings or collapsed roofs that they leave standing. Similarly in Ethiopia.
  • Animals Ive never seen before – Texas had the hundreds of small deer at night. Africa has, well everything: baboons, monkeys, warthogs, many new birds, camels of course, and more to come.

Differences are more extreme.

  • Time – Length of the race in total (very long long – 4 months), the length of each days stage (very short relatively), and the completely different view of time in Africa well described by Ryszard Kapuściński in The Shadow of the Sun “Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even nonexistence, if we do not direct our energy toward it.”
  • Separation – originally my thought was isolation, but it isn’t really isolation as I am spending most every day with a group of 40+ people, but it is the separation from friends and family that makes the race unique.
  • Comfort and Convenience – While a 600K race is hardly comfortable, it is when compared to bush camps, baby wipe showers, water shortages, and no spare parts. Last night I walked into a convenience store for the first time in 2 months and it was overwhelming.
  • Follow vehicle – I definitely miss the support of my crew and getting a cold bottle of Infinit, Coke or a Turkey Wrap (Thanks to everyone who has sat in that vehicle or waited between loops over the years – Shifra and Carmichael at Texas last year )

Some Photos From Low Bandwidth Days

For more than a week I was unable to post any photos from Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya.

Lunch In Ethiopia

Lunch In Ethiopia - Everywhere we stopped a crowd would gather to watch the traveling show

Ethiopia Bush Camp

Ethiopia Bush Camp

Flowers On the Edge of The Gorge

Flowers On the Edge of The Gorge - Someone called them Desert Roses. Are They?

Beers On The Edge of The Gorge

Beers On The Edge of The Gorge

Kali Protectives Helmet

I'm wearing helmets from Kali Protectives this year.

Talent Pharmacy

Who knew it was a matter of just finding the right pharmacy.

Ethiopia into Kenya – So Long and Thanks for all the …

I’m wide awake in a hot tent in the desert of northern Kenya. Unable to sleep, dirty, tired, sore, hoping for a rain shower like last night that cools down the evening to comfortable temp. My stomach gurgling as my body and antibiotics do battle with a final stomach bug manifested the last night in Ethiopia. Wondering when Ill have to run to the hill, since one hill behind the campsite is the only cover for a bit of privacy on this wide open desert of lava rocks. Its described as desert and the heat bears that out, but visually it bears a great deal in common with the midwest plains of the US. Wide expanses and shimmering waves of heat showing on the horizon.

It has been a week of ups and downs as I finished racing in Ethiopia with one of my best days. I felt strong all day and suspected I was on my way back. In the night the trouble began. Barely able to stand up, I managed to get some bike clothes on. Jon and Jurgen packed up my tent. I set off figuring it would only be worse to sit in a truck all day.

The ride to the border was the longest day I can recall. 20kmh was a struggle and each pedal stroke slow and labored. Jon, Jurgen, Jay, and Rosalyn spent most of the ride with me even though it was so slow. Due to my dragging, we arrived at the border just as Ethiopian immigration closed for lunch, forcing a two hour wait at bar nearby. Even sprite was difficult to swallow. I did my best to sleep in a chair as a local hounded me to convert money with him.

I am only just able to eat again, grabbing the blandest food items I can manage from the very limited options. The water supply has taken on a disconcerting taste since Yabello, that causes me to get queasier with each swallow, but I have to drink more. The last 2 nights I managed to stock up on bottled water, but today I was forced back to the truck water. The hot afternoon’s post ride entertainment was trying to figure out some sort of masking agent to allow me to drink. Sports drink mix? No, even worse. Powdered Milk? Yes, but tough to drink in quantity. Tea? possibly. Emergency shipment of Infinit? If only.

Tomorrow’s stage is one that is notorious in the TDA history for knocking out riders. The “road” is a terrible minefield of fist sized rocks, gravel, and trenches dug in by years of trucks flinging down the same tracks. Passengers hanging to the top. It isn’t really riding so much as persevering abuse. It is a mandatory race day, but for me Ive clicked over to survival for these stages as my body and these roads teach me I’m not invincible. In past years half the riders get on the truck. Some because they cant take the poor conditions, some due to the inevitable crashes and falls that occur. Even today, many riders came in with bleeding knees, elbows, and shins from low speed crashes trying to find some smooth bit through the rubble.

Let’s see about that sleep again.

Meltdown Madness Begins – Addis Ababa to Yobello

I am posting through a cell phone at speeds that make me reminisce about the good ol’ days of 9600 baud modems so images are not doable until we get somewhere else.(Actually this and the next are past posts that I am just now able to post over a slightly faster cell phone in kenya)

Packed up and left the comfort of Addis with warnings of the deteriorating road conditions and to expect even more kids running to meet us and surrounding the camp site.

The projectile count increased immediately and the yells turned to a nearly unanimous “money, money, money”.

I reached my fırst snapping point after getting hit by a large number of items. I spoke with one rider who took some days off because she found she was getting very angry at the kids and didn’t want to be that way.

Every day and all day in Ethiopia we have large groups of people surrounding us. Not my comfort zone certainly and it affected my experience. When I get to the next city should be able to post some video of a lunch stop.

The Gorge Section Finishes in a Choir of Squealing Brakes

It seems like we’ve been on the road for many days since Gondar, but its only been 9 days. The terrain has changed as we finally get some hills. I’m starting to see animals that aren’t domesticated such as monkeys and baboons. Trees and vegetation are becoming more and more plentiful. Hopefully, my red blood cells are increasing as we have spent a number of nights at altitude.

A series of days where we climbed quite a bit has altered the race and dwindled the racing group to predominately Raffael, Christian, and I. Others pick their days to race hard. While sprint finishes were common the first month, it is more and more common to have splits in the group.

Various illnesses and a plague of gastro and coughing descended on the camp. It is rare soul who came through untouched. Many have lost multiple days to the truck and as a result EFI status.

Ethiopia has been beautiful countryside. Navigating the hordes of people on the roads has been the primary obstacle or pastime depending on your perspective. Thousands of children each day running to meet you screaming: “you, you, you”, “where are you go?”, “money, money, money”, and an occassional “I love you” or “welcome”.

Stones thrown often and sticks being used to swat riders on the back or arms, items stolen from back pockets and saddle bags, children feigning a jump in front of you as entertainment. This is especially worrisome at 50KM/hr.

The gorge time trial was centerpoint of the section. Only 20K but record time was 1:19 so a stiff effort. I managed a decent 1:28. Sectional rider Paul from Norway did 1:17 to win the day.

We also crossed the highest point in the tour. In a departure from racing we all stopped and took some pics at the top as a group.

The ride into Addis was one of the better days. The race was only to lunch, so it was on from the start and fast. After lunch, relax in the shade than an easy ride, complete with layered juice stop, to a meeting point for a convoy downhill into the city. The screeching of brakes drowned out the sound of trucks as we had a melllow descent as a group to rest in the city.

My first time stepping on a scale since the start of tour revealed 10 pounds lost already, so nearly all my time in Addis Ababa was directed toward eating, sleeping, or being a layabout.

The Crash and Double Rest Day in Gondar Ethiopia

Corrugated Gravel "Roads" of Sudan

Corrugated Gravel "Roads" of Sudan

3 nights and 2 rest days overlooking Gondar Ethiopia are the reward for a difficult 8 days. It began in the Sudan desert. We traveled off road through sand pits, washboard truck paths, portaged bikes across abandoned railroad bridges in disrepair, and finished with 2500 meters of climbing for the most vertical ascent we will see on the Tour d’Afrique.

It always strikes me how my mind prepares my body for just enough to get through the job, so while some weeks Im fine riding 100+ miles every day, or in the occasional case 300+ miles every day, averaging 62 can feel just as taxing.

Its been an eventful 8 days for me. On the race side, the notable news was my first up close meeting with pavement. What happened? Every so often we have what are called Mandatory days. These days are always included in your total for the tour, so no slacking off and using one of the 5 grace days. Also, time bonuses are up for grabs: 30 minutes for first, 20 minutes for second, and 10 for third. While TDA has only just begun, there is a greater intensity on these mando days.

On the eventful day it was a combination of a number of bad choices that had my front wheel to the right side of another’s wheel as he quickly swerved right to avoid a collision himself. The end result was road rash on my knee, shoulder and arm, some misaligned cockpit items, an inflamed mood, and most importantly an incredibly sore inner knee.

That knee is still troublesome and sore these many days later after nursing my way through some of the toughest days of the tour and ones I had hoped to make up some ground on. This is Africa.

3 days of getting bounced around on corrugated roads and banging my knee didn’t help the recovery, but each day the knee is getting a bit less sore. So I’m hopeful ill be back on form soon.

My Hosts For A Pepsi Stop

My Hosts For A Pepsi Stop

Aliens Invade Ethiopia Border Town and Draw Crowds

Aliens Invade Ethiopia Border Town and Draw Crowds

Checking Out The Visitors

Checking Out The Visitors

Aswan Egypt to Khartoum Sudan on the Tour d’Afrique

Many days and many changes. The traveling carnival continues. A week in review.

Egyptian riders left at Aswan After pulling the peloton along much of the time, the Egyptian riders headed back to Alexandria when we reached Aswan.

Egyptian Riders

Egyptian riders road with us from Cairo to Aswan

Crossed Aswan Dam to the sound of Robert playing harmonica and making up blues lyrics about going to Sudan. Actually it was more of a limerick than song lyrics, but it was original. No photos allowed.

“Shit-storm” of a ferry crossing (actual term used by Sharita to describe process)
The ferry was an eye opening experience for me. Overbooked, packed full of every type of person and package you can imagine. Nearly every human yelling and smoking. My claustrophobia was kept just at bay by holing up in my cabin and listening to music at quite loud volumes to drown out the cacophony.

On the upper deck. Last beers before entering Sudan

On the upper deck. Last beers before entering Sudan

Camped in an abandoned zoo in Dongola. A very pleasant camping area, but a sad zoo. Had excellent chicken dinners and tea at a stand around the corner.

Camped near a large number of dead camels appropriately named “dead camel camp”

Dead Camel Camp

Dead Camel Camp - Yes there were many dead camels

3 longish hot days riding through the desert. 40 deg celsius Im told. We followed the route camels are brought up to Egypt for auction. Story around camp was camels do not outwardly show illness and commonly drop dead as they are walking.

Traffic Jam in Sudan Desert

Traffic Jam in Sudan Desert

Individual Time Trial A human pyramid of Zorros cheered riders on in the first few kilometers. Why Zorro? I am uncertain.

A Band of Zorros

A Band of Zorros - They formed a human pyramid on the road when each rider went by in the time trial.

Convoy into Khartoum The toughest rides of trip. Hot temperatures, safe speed, and rather un-scenic route through the city.

Preparing to convoy into Khartoum

Preparing to convoy into Khartoum

Hotel with shower and clean clothes I never knew I could be so dirty and not notice it. I’m getting used to desert camping.

Tomorrow we begin eight days in the desert. Two days on tarmac than road surfaces deteriorating to off road.