Tag Archives: Travel & Touring

Traveling by bike and biking information for various cities and locales i have biked in.

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.

4 Days Down in the Tour d’Afrique

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.

Jet-lagged and approaching Cairo

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.

Wrigley Field Road Tour

Wrigley Field Road Tour

Wrigley Field Road Tour

I’m doing a 100 mile ride from Wrigley Field in Chicago to Miller Park in Milwaukee WI. All proceeds benefit World Bicycle Relief. I have great memories of spending every friday riding from Chicago to Milwaukee and back again when I was preparing for RAAM. If you are able, throw a few dollars toward a good cause at my donation page.

Race Across The Alps 2009

“…I believe that if someone starts out on a challenging activity, completely confident that they’re going to succeed, why bother starting? It’s not much of a challenge.” — Sir Edmund Hillary

When possible I pick my “A” races each year by looking for something that is so difficult in some way that I do not know if I will be able to complete it.  I also prefer it to be somewhere where good beer is served. So 540 KM and 45000 feet of climbing in the Alps with a start in Austria covered both requirements well.

In 2006, while spending the winter in Austin TX to prepare for RAAM, I visited Rick Kent. He had a poster on his fridge for a race called Race Across The Alps. I remember thinking I wish we still had races like that in ultracycling. I had assumed the race no longer existed. Fast forward a few years and I hear of another American doing Race Across the Alps , David Haase. I immediately added it to my “list” of races to do. In 2009 RATA made it to the top of the list. This is no leisurely jaunt doing one climb a day with lunch served at the top. There are no massages after 5 hours of racing. It is eleven alps passes in one race, one stage, 540 KM, 45000 ft of climbing. I wondered if I this is the race I would be broken by. I had so little idea how I would react to the excessive climbs and descents. Ive done races that had large amounts of climbing in them, but this is different. Its the alps.

Start Line

The Stelvio, the Gavia, the Mortirolo are names that are famous to cyclists. The 47 switchbacks of the Stelvio are the location of some of the historic battles of the Giro. Coppi cemented his victory there in 1953 against Koblet. The Gavia is remembered as the pass where Andy Hampsten fought through blizzard conditions in a decisive move on his way to becoming the only American to win the Giro. The Mortirolo was described by Lance Armstrong in this way: “It’s a terrible climb…it’s perfect for a mountain bike. On the hardest parts, I was riding a 39×27 and I was hurting, really hurting. (Mortirolo) is the hardest climb I’ve ever ridden.”

I arrived in Europe 3 days before the start with my crew Dave and Carmichael. As a warm up, I rode the the course out to the top of the Stelvio. 47 switchbacks once you get to the point where they start keeping track. It was a hard climb, but not too bad I thought. I had a big smile plastered on my face all day. My confidence was good.

There was the usual rush to get last minute details sorted: Food, water, GPS unit setup. Austria seems to be a bit stringent on the hours you are allowed to eat, so we were consistently relegated to the a small pizza and kabob place lined with smokers(Pretty good pizza though). Dave spent many hours trying to get the route converted to my GPS unit.

The race meeting was in German, so we listened in on a translation from Christiane, the organizers daughter. Had a great time catching up with Shanna Armstrong. A good dinner and I made an attempt at sleep.

Race Day(s)

Relaxing before the start

I arrived about an hour before the start and found a seat in front of a cafe to relax until it was time for the riders to line up. Met a racer and crew from England and they joked about getting a kettle for tea working in their follow vehicle.

The race began fairly easy but quick. I tried to stay in the middle of the front pack to conserve some energy until the first climb where I assumed the group would blow apart. Spent quite a bit of time weaving my way through support vehicles as i worked my way toward the climb.
Stelvio Climb

The Stelvio – 9045 feet, 7.4 %, 15.1 miles
I made good time up the first pass, moving up a few places here and there. Already having done this climb I went a bit harder than my pre-race ride and made good time to the top. There I put on an extra layer and proceeded into my first alps descent. It was freezing cold and a bit tense. Short free falls followed by quick braking and hard turns through the switchbacks.

Gavia – 8700 feet, 7.9%, 10.7 miles
The Gavia is often described as one of the most beautiful climbs in the alps. On this climb I started to realize what I might be in for. A light rain started to come down and fog rolled in. I had a good conversation with another racer as we climbed at similar pace and occupied my mind by reminding myself that if another North Dakotan can win the Giro on this pass I can at least put in a strong effort. At the top I had to stop and put on some warm clothes, a common theme. Luckily, Dave had a warm rain jacket that I co-oped around this time.  Fog and rain made me more cautious on the descent than I would have liked.

Aprica – 3852 feet, 3.3%, 9.3 miles
The Aprica came to be known in my mind as the recovery climb. Compared to the others this seemed like a flat road. Everything is relative.

Mortirolo – 6056 feet, 10.5 %, 7.7 miles
The deciding climb of the race. Not as high or as long as the Stelvio but steep and seems to go on forever. I was told after the race that this is the point where riders usually blow up and drop out. I didn’t consider dropping out, but I was painfully slow on this climb. It became apparent to me at this point that my goal was finishing rather than a particular placing.The follow vehicle could not follow behind me up the climb. It would stall at that slow of speed, so the support vehicles would jump ahead, wait, than jump ahead again. This could get a little dicey on what is basically a one car wide road or better described as a path. Along the climb I encountered a shrine to Marco Pantani, my first thought was yeah you’d have to be doping to climb this fast.

Aprica – 3852 feet, 3.3%, 9.3 miles
My favorite recovery climb again, though i could have used a nice Chicago overpass by this time.

Bernina – 7637 feet, 7.5%, 10.9 miles
Entered Switzerland to begin the longest climb. A hard rain during this period. I crashed, fell over actually, while crossing railroad tracks just before the start of this climb. This is where my memory starts to get a bit fuzzy as to which climb I was on. In my mind I was trying to to do the countdown of how many climbs I had left, but I couldn’t remember if there were 11 or 12 passes in the race. In hindsight I should have just asked my crew, but it never crossed my mind.

ClimbingAlbula – 7565 feet, 6.6%, 5.9 miles
Fluela – 7870 feet, 6.4%, 8.0 miles
Fuorn – 7050 feet, 3.1%, 13.4 miles
Umbrial/Stelvio – 9045 feet, unknown grade and distance
My remaining passes calculation was easily solved because from here on out it seemed like one big climb with an occasionally short downhill. There was a section on the Umbrial that was gravel during resurfacing, so I spent my time pretending I was riding the Giro back in Coppi’s era. After a great deal of climbing, I eventually reach a point where I can tell I’m back on the Stelvio. While there is one more climb near the end, this is the last monster. We were told by the bartender in a bar at the top of the Stelvio that it is easier from this side, but I dont think that considered the 300 mile warm-up I had just done. I slowly pulled myself to the top. I was ecstatic to have crested the last summit. Now a long descent and a fairly flat ride in to the finish line. I had plenty of time to get there under 30 hours.

The descent was not easy. Upon exiting each switchback I pressed the backs of my fingers against the handle bars and the joints would click back into place from their frozen position clinched to the brake levers. I had to stop because my hands were so tired from the braking required.

At the bottom of the descent is a left turn and 30k to the finish. I was feeling great. The race was over. Than an unwelcome surprise, a very strong headwind. I don’t know what the wind speed was, but at that point it seemed like a hurricane. I plodded along at a very un-race like pace, until my crew came up to tell me I was in danger of missing the 30 hour cutoff at this speed(I think they said 9km/hr). 2 riders were about 5 minutes ahead. If I could catch them, we could work together through this wind. I struggled to increase my pace. I couldn’t come all the way to Europe only to be a DNF. Eventually I saw the other racers and inched myself up to them. I offered to take the first pull. 40 seconds on the front and I motioned for them to pull through. They were gone. I sat up and looked around. They were long gone. Solo to the finish it is. I had energy again and thankfully it became a slight downhill.

Awards CeremonyI pulled into the finish cross-eyed from trying to get in under 30 hours. Race staff helped me off my bike and led me into a big tent. This is not like an ultra race in the states. Hundreds of people drinking, eating, and cheering for each rider as they arrive. I was brought up on stage for a quick interview and a good beer.

At the awards ceremony, I found out the cutoff is 32 hours to finish officially.

Official Time: 30:04

20th Place

2nd American to ever finish

Official Results
RATA website

Las Vegas – Tips

Hoover DamThis year I have spent 2 weeks in Las Vegas. 1 week in January escaping the chicago winter and building base miles and 1 week in September attending Interbike and perparing for the Furnace Creek 508.

In January I was able to ride with 2 of the local cycling clubs, the Las Vegas Bicycle Club and the Green Valley Cyclists. Both clubs were great to ride with, but had different cultures. The Las Vegas Bicycle Club was a relaxed social group, while the Green Valley Cyclists were a younger more agressive group pushing a pretty good tempo for a full century.

I was happily surprised with the quality of riding around Las Vegas. Primarily I rode the Red Rock Canyon loop and circled a portion of Lake Mead.

A tip that is often not found on local cycling websites is how to navigate from the Las Vegas strip to Red Rock Canyon. Here is the route i took most recently while staying at the Frontier.

  1. Exit the Frontier parking lot onto Left(West) onto Stardust Road
  2. Right(North) on Industrial Road
  3. Left(West) on W Oakey Blvd
  4. Right(North) on Durango
  5. Left(West) on Charleston.

Charleston will take you out to Red Rock Canyon. Be sure to fill up on water and grab a few calories near the Durango Charleston intersection as food is hard to find once you get out of the city.