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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
Individual Time Trial A human pyramid of Zorros cheered riders on in the first few kilometers. Why Zorro? I am uncertain.
Convoy into Khartoum The toughest rides of trip. Hot temperatures, safe speed, and rather un-scenic route through the city.
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.
Follow along as I negotiate the traffic in Egypt. Kind of like Chicago but without the concern for lanes. No closed course for TDA. From Jon at http://more-erratic-wanderings.com who has some great pics of the tour so far.
First 4 days of Tour d’Afrique are over and its been more about becoming accustomed to the daily routine than anything else. I have already gained a great appreciation for toilets and showers. Cleaning up with baby wipes isn’t too bad. Washing up in the red sea was a bit chilly(before the military arrived telling everyone to get out of the water). A hot shower today made my day. I have been freezing since I arrived in Africa.
The day is very simple. Awake, eat, bike to lunch fairly easily, bike hard to the finish, set up tent, eat some soup, lay around, eat dinner, and off to bed often at 6 or 7 pm.
The racing has been fast. A large group usually to the lunch break than the pace picks up and the group gets whittled down to 4-6 riders. Always 2 Egyptian riders who are quite strong and using this first week with us to prepare for the Tour of Egypt.
Nearly everyday there has been some sort of disagreement about where we can set up camp.
I’m a few hours from landing in Cairo for the what I hope will be one of my greatest adventures. Nervous would be an understatement. Ive biked far and long, probably further than most anybody you’ve met. Ive biked further than most people have driven a car in one stretch. I’m not nervous about biking 7300 miles. I am nervous about giving up everything I know and the many possibilities of what can happen. No home, no job, no beers at the regular haunts or workouts with friends, no more of my routine that I’ve practiced and honed over the last 5 years. I say 5 years, because that is when I last shook things up by doing Race Across America.
Why am I going to Africa? That’s a tough one to completely determine. Part Raiders of the Lost Ark fantasy, part adventure in one of the last places not consumed by corporate chains and parking lots. Its because I don’t know much about it and it intimidates. It’s the scale of it. Bring on the longer, steeper, more extreme races.