Monday, February 28, 2011

TdA Stage 35. I'm a Ferangie.

100km. Arba Minch to Dry River Bed Camp.

A mix of pavement and gravel (~40%) made for a fun day and a nice opportunity to test out my new tires (2 inch specialized captains with self sealing tubes. Thank you, Erik!). Heavy and slow on the hills, but comfy and secure on the downs.

It was as though we crossed in to a new country today. Instead of chasing donkeys and goats off of the road, we are now chasing baboons and cows. Hairstyles and clothing are different (plain vanilla corn rows and brightly coloured togas). Fewer naughty children at the side of the road.

The popular phrase for the locals to shout today was Ferangie, which is ahmeric for Foreigner (rather than a throw back to Star Trek). It was said in a nice way, though. If there is such a thing. I wonder how well it could go over if I went back home and pointed at different coloured people and yelled 'foreigner'.

Reflecting on the contrast between the Ethiopia that I have pedalled through over the last three weeks and this new, unspoiled area, it is hard not to come away with the feeling that missionaries and foreign aid have destroyed this place. One of my objectives in coming here was to better understand how I could be helpful in improving conditions in struggling economies. What I learned from Ethiopia is that the consequences of getting it wrong are severe.

I rolled in to camp to find Mike-without-a-bike laying on his back, high on painkillers and sporting some nasty road rash. In a duel between a speeding bicycle and an energetic three year old running onto the highway, it turns out that the three year old wins. Not sure how that kid is doing. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be a 'you break it, you buy it' policy in effect. (A lot has changed since my dad was in the circus?).

Sunday, February 27, 2011

TdA Rest Day 10. Arba Minch.

I'm not going to lie to you, this is the worst rest day that we've had. Not much going on in Arba Minch and the internet has been difficult to find. I'm hopeful that my blackberry will work again once we are in Kenya in a few days. Hard to believe that internet and mobile phone access was light years ahead in the Sudan!

Taking a break from chores, Carrie and I went on a mission to find ice cream in town. We aborted the mission (after a long search) once we realized that it was unlikely that we would find frozen goods in a town that lacked reliable power. So, I settled for apple juice that I thought would be nice for breakfast tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I have already mixed it all with gin in an effort to entertain myself this afternoon.

And...the tent zipper is still broken!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

TdA Stage 34. Race Heats Up.

105km. Bush Camp to Arba Minch.

This was, by far, the most bizarre day of riding that we have had so far. Instead of kids with rocks and sticks, it was kids with stones, foam balls and machetes. I saw a bull fight in the middle of the road. There was a child with a baby monkey on the end of his arm waving it in our faces as we rode by. There were adolescent boys cheering naked by a stream. There was another group of adolescents with their pants down at the side of the road masturbating.

It was a fun mix of pavement and off-road, which meant that the relative strengths and weaknesses of the other riders was more pronounced. The first and second place spots are held by two guys that have very different strengths and very different backgrounds. There's an age difference, which could go either way in terms of advantage/disadvantage. Youth is good for recovery. Age is good for endurance. There's also an experience difference; a roadie and a mountain biker. So far, the terrain has favoured the roadie. But, we have three time bonus days coming up and I think that all of them are off road. I could see the possibility that the guy in second place takes all three time bonuses and closes the gap. It should make for a more interesting race if he can do it. It could be a turning point for the race!

Our camp is well situated on the grounds of a hotel overlooking a red lake and a blue lake (names yet to be determined). Unfortunately, the campsite is crowded with baboons, and the hotel doesn't appear to have electricity or water. I had initially envisioned getting a bunch of chores done today so that I could take a taxi to a nearby town to see Nancy and Bob (family friends in a nearby town). But, at this pace, it will take all of today and tomorrow to gear up for what is supposed to be one of the hardest weeks of the trip - heading into northern Kenya.Oh, and the zipper on my tent has finally completely failed. That aught to be handy with the baboons and mosquitos.

Friday, February 25, 2011

TdA Stage 33. Flying babies?

119km. Quarry Camp to Bush Camp.

Long climb to start, followed by a looooong and super fun descent. I was by myself again for most of the morning because of the hill but managed to catch some friends for the afternoon. We have become more comfortable with riding past kids throwing things; you can usually spot it in your peripheral vision...the swinging motion one makes as they wind up to launch something at you. Realistically, most of the time they don't get you, so it's better not to react much and just carry on pedalling. But, we all flinched when we caught a glimpse of a lady swinging a baby out of the corner of our eyes. Michael Jackson style! As far as I can tell, the baby did not actually leave her hands.

Our campsite was at the bottom of a 25km hill (super fun way to end the day). It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, but there was sure a lot of action. Even into the night. I hung out with James on the side of the road after the sun went down, and it was shocking to see how many people walk around in the dark at night with no lights or anything. I have no idea where these guys are going...but then, they probably wonder the same about us.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

TdA Stage 32. Luck and Toughness.

130km. Bush Camp toQuarry Camp.

There was 'big news' this morning from the men's race. Apparently, Horst (who is currently in second place) has dropped out of the race. He and Paul Wolfe have been going very hard from the start, racing every inch together, apart from the final sprints on the time bonus days (which Paul has won), and the Blue Nile Gorge time trial (which Horst took by a whopping five minutes). Whatever the reason for his decision, it's a shame. The race will not be the same without him. Nice guy. Fantastic cyclist. I hope that he enjoys the rest of the journey as a recreational rider.

For the first time in a long while, I rode all day with friends (young-adam, jorg, and luke). It feels good to enjoy these roads with good company. Rolling hills and a nice tail wind for much of the day made the 1700m or so of climbing manageable. And having friends around allowed me to spend more time focusing on the scenery than on the kids throwing various dangerous objects at us as we rolled by.

We arrived at camp to find that we will be staying in a dust bowl/quarry for the night. So, a crew of us escaped into a nearby town (Hossana) to find some trouble and some (hopefully clean) food.

Back at camp there was some disappointing news. Hendry will be leaving for a week or two in order to recover from a bad infection. He hurt his elbow in a collision with a pedestrian about a week or two ago. He hasn't been able to recover, even after a visit to the hospital in Addis. It is really difficult to see such a tough guy suffer so much.

I've been pretty lucky on this trip so far. We have faced a lot of challenges, and it would be easy to look at how I feel and think that I've come this far on my own mental and physical toughness. Today, Horst and Hendry remind me that even the tough will fall and that I'm really very lucky to still be rolling along.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TdA Stage 31. Bubbles.

106km. Addis Ababa to Bush Camp.

I'm just getting slayed on these hills, which has been making for some lonely riding days lately. Being away from the group during the day and then back in to it (especially after my vacation from my vacation at the Sheraton on Addis), really makes me think about this bubble that I'm living in. I'm back in a world in which pedaling a bicycle from Cairo to Capetown is an entirely normal thing to do. It's funny how the specialness of this journey can somehow be diminished when you are surrounded by others who are doing the same thing. Case in point, someone mentioned that there are about 30 of us that are still going for EFI status (from a starting pool of 63). The practical side of me says that cycling 98% of this route (due to illness/injury) should be no less of an accomplishment than doing every inch of the journey. But, the slightly less practical (and much louder) side of me insists that it isn't the same at all. It is this impractical side of me that is very focused on EFI. It's the side of me that went to the trouble of going to Alexandria and pumping out 248km on a bike to Cairo before this trip began so that I could *really* EFI.

So, I shouldn't be surprised when I find that others in the group have found ways to measure their journey in a way that makes it special for them. There's EFC (every fucking campsite), for those who feel that bailing to a hotel when they are available is cheating. And EFCS (every fucking coke stop), for those who feel that grabbing a coke or macchiato in every little town will offer them a larger window into this great continent. EFBB (every fucking bush break), a slightly less attractive option for those who have been plagued by chronic diarrhea.

We were laughing at dinner about what other combinations one might come up with. Among the more challenging ideas we came up with...OFC (one fucking chamois) and NFS (no fucking showers).

I think I'll continue to keep my eyes on EFI.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TdA Rest Day 9. Addis Ababa.

After deeming my Racing Ralphs totally inadequate for cycling offroad in Africa, I sought Erik's assistance in getting some new rubber (and a few other goods) before the next off-road section. A priority DHL to Addis Ababa seemed to be the swiftest, most hassle free solution (at least for me). I booked a room at the Sheraton (not cheap, but extremely lovely after a month on the road) thinking that I could have the package delivered there, further streamlining the process. Unfortunately, deliveries in Africa don't work quite the same as in Canada. The short story for any future TdA riders shipping stuff to Addis Ababa:
- you will still need to go to the airport to get your package
- after about two hours, you will find out how much import tax that you owe
- the import tax is around 66% of the value of the goods that you have shipped
- you have to pay the import tax in CASH at a bank outside of the airport
- the bank does not have an ATM. Neither does the airport.
- after the cash transaction at the bank, you have to go back to the airport and find someone who gives a shit and can help you find your package.

Total time to pick up my express package from DHL: 5 hours. Enjoy the $700 of shipping charges that you earned for that!

On the bright side, it beats the prospect of dealing with 10 flats a day in the blistering sun through the next offroad section?

My other order of business for my day off was to get a new digital camera, as I have broken the two small cameras that I brought with me (lost one to sand and the other to water). It seems that the digital revolution has not yet hit this city. Of the 8 camera stores that I visited, only two had digital cameras available for sale. The first of those could not offer me a charger or a box for the camera. Thankfully, the second offered both.

Monday, February 21, 2011

TdA Stage 30. Routines. Rocks.

105km. Breathtaking Ridge Camp to Addis Ababa.

Cycling through Africa isn't exactly routine, but routines are an important part of making this journey happen.

My daily routine consists of  waking up, usually to the sound of Francis-the-postman taking down his tent. As far as I can tell, he wakes up at 4am, even though sunrise doesn't start until 6am and there is nothing to eat until 630am.

I wake up at about 530am. Somewhere between 536am and 537am, my body reminds me of the sheer quantity of fuel that it has processed through the night. Serious clockwork. Get dressed. Take down the tent. Then it is coffee and breakfast around 630am.

Dennis is invariably the last one to take his tent down. This was initially surprising to me, given that his tent is, by far, the largest of anyone in the group (think mini-theme-park), which one would expect would encourage him to start early. I recently learned that he packs up late because he doesn't have room in his locker and he sneaks his tent into a secret hiding spot on the truck. I can't wait until someone finds out and plays a trick on him...

By 7:05am we are rolling. And this is where the routine breaks down because every day is different. Different temperatures. Different roads. Different hill profiles. Different riding companions (lately I haven't had any on account of the hills).

Today we had a convoy during the second half of the day. Carrie and I arrived at the convoy meeting point early and had a lot of time to kill. She taught me a new game, which we called Bird. It involved throwing a large rock in the air and then trying to hit  it with other small rocks. After some time we realized that we were not getting any closer to hitting our moving target. So, we changed the game to a stationary target and renamed the game Rock. All that I can say is that a career in front of a computer has not prepared me well for any task that requires throwing skills.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TdA Stage 29. Body Talk.

90km. Medical Camp to Ridge Camp.

Camp is along the ridge of the gorge today. The view from my tent is the sort that you'd expect to find on a postcard. We ventured into town for an afternoon meal, though people are increasingly reluctant to stray fromthe food that is available at camp. Yes, the camp food is excellent and, somehow, James the cook pulls off a refreshing variety of meals despite having very limited resources. But it's not the quality or variety that guide us, it's that we've established a level of trust in camp food and a certain skepticism toward 'outside food'. Once you've been sick in Ethiopia, you don't mess around anymore.

In a town that seemed to be little more that some people selling crosses and various other useless nick-knacks, we stumbled upon the Etiho-Germany Restaurant and Hotel. Even if we were not so sure about the local food, we all agreed that we could trust the germans to clean and cook things properly.

Back at camp, the vibe among the riders is returning to the pre-Ethiopia level. People are talking more. Smiling more. Though there are still a few who are suffering, many(like me) have recovered from being ill and are taking every healthy day as a celebration. There is a certain twinkle in the eye that conveys 'hallelujah, I'm not sick!'. The conversation has even shifted from diarrhea and vomiting to more traditional cyclist topics like saddle sores and blood flow to the genitals.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

TdA Stage Stage 28. Gorge-ous

89km. Forest Camp to Medical Camp.

We are passing into agriculturally successful territory. It is nice to see people busy at work in the field. Walking up and down the roads with gigantic bails of harvest over head. It seems more prosperous as well and people are becoming more friendly as we move toward Addis. In between the 'you money' and 'pen pen pen' calls, there is an increasing frequency of 'welcome' and 'hello'.

With development and prosperity, the level of english is also improving. One man asked me the usual 'where are you go'?, to which I replied 'addis ababa'. He responded with 'addis ababa? I appreciate that!'.

The big event for the day was going through the Blue Nile Gorge. The stretch leading up to the gorge is lovely rolling hills. The descents are a bit sketchy, with the tarmac having buckled to the point that riding is a two handed affair.

As for the gorge, it's 1400ish metres of vertical over 20kms from top to bottom. And then back up again. Think of crossing the Grand Canyon. The coolest part was that there was a view of the gorge during the entire journey down and then back up again. One of the most memorable climbs that I've ever done!

Friday, February 18, 2011

TdA Stage 27. Why You Black?

117km. Bush Camp to Forest Camp.

Best story of the day goes to Sarge, a Trinidadian rider in our group. While most of us were dealing with the 'you money' calls from children, Sarge was facing inquisitive children asking 'why you black?'. Odd, seems like they would understand blacks more than whites. But perhaps that's just me.

Holy Jesus, we are at the best camp so far. In a beautiful forest. Surrounded by vegetation. By life. The shade is, of course, also very nice. I took a three hour lay down in my tent, watching the trees above. If there is a way to get high without taking something, this is it.

Everyone seems to find their own way to make a great day. For some, it is riding in the truck for half of the day. For others, it is pedalling easy and stopping for a coke in every town. For me, it is pedaling my brains out and then laying in the shade and doing nothing. It is absolutely blissful.

We watched the full moon rise through a clearing in the trees while sitting on the bench that Bastiaan carried up a hill to camp on his back while cycling. Loving this trip.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

TdA Stage 26. Stoned in Ethiopia.

162km. Buhir Dar to Bush Camp.

Stunning ride. Beautiful weather. Beautiful scenery. AND one of the best camp sites so far.

Ram, the only hindu on the trip, hit a cow this afternoon. He seems to have survived without too much damage, but his wheel is in rough shape. I'm a bit surprised that this is the first accident of this sort this year. It is chaotic through many of the towns that we pass through. Cows, tuk tuks, goats, children. It's not enough just to be on your toes, you have to be a bit lucky to get through unscathed!

The medical staff was busy this evening tending to stoning injuries. I was grateful to not be included in the group of casualties, now that I'm riding more or less near the front again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

TdA Rest Day 8. Buhir Dar.

If I told you that I disinfect my hands no less than three times an hour, would you think that i was obsessive compulsive?

By now, the vast majority of us have been taken out for at least a day or two (or ten) by a severe, gut wrenching, bowel shaking illness. It has changed the way that we take care of ourselves and the way that we interact with people. There is no 'five second rule'. No touching if you've got the plague. Obsessive, meticulous hand washing and disinfection. It all sounds very obvious, but you realize how sloppy people normally are about this...once they become obsessive about it.

Buhir Dar was a great spot for hanging out with friends and getting a feel for ethiopian life. We saw a few sights, but opted out of some others in favour of exploring the town on foot and enjoying the abundance of fresh fruit juices and outstanding coffee. I feel that I'm getting lazy on my days off!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

TdA Stage 25. Party time.

61km. Field Camp to Buhir Dar.

I know that there was a time in my likfe when a 61km ride felt like a good day's work. Now it feels like I've just gone for a spin to the grocery store. I love this new lifestyle.

Tonight we have a costume party. The theme is 'where are you go?', inspired by the statement that many people shout as we pass by. Carrie and I scoured the market for costumes and ended up with cocktail dresses (can you say blue sequins?). I guess the answer to where are we go a party?

We have a full rest day tomorrow, which means that there's a good chance that our party tonight will turn in to an exploration of small town ethiopian night life. I can't wait.

Monday, February 14, 2011

TdA Stage 24. You Money.

117km. Gondar to Field Camp.

Mechanicals happen. I took a bike mechanics class before I came here so that I could be prepared to deal with them. I was feeling pretty good about that. Until today.

My mechanical woes this morning consisted of a screw rattling loose from my seatpost during the first bumpy descent. I'm not going to lie to you, I wasn't prepared for that one. I was fortunate to eventually be able to resolve the issue, though it put me in the unusual position of being the last rider leaving Gondar. And, let me tell you, the world feels a bit different at the back. Mostly, the kids are prepared for you when you come by...and they have been practicing their aim!

Carrie was still quite sick today. So, when I caught up to her, I decided to ride with her as support. When you are urgently relieving yourself at the side of the road while a gang of seven year-olds pelts you with stones, it is nice to have a friend near by. There were no mobs of kids, but there were some nasty ones nonetheless. I found out later in the day that Beate got whipped by a bull whip NoHomo had a rock thrown at him that almost fatally dented his rim. We found that talking to the kids in a really fast and happy way as we approached them got them confused enough that they would sometimes drop the rocks in their hands. Or at least it would distract them long enough to make a fast get away so that rocks didn't cause too much damage when they hit you. The 'you you you you you' calls have turned into 'money money money money' and 'you money'. All of the time you hear it.

You money. You money. You money.

I have these visions that big caravans of white people have come through before us and handed out stacks of money.

Other than the kids, the ride today was outstanding. Scenery was stunning and the roads were great. We seem to be moving in to a more inhabitable area (read: more amenable to agriculture) and the temperatures are more comfortable here than what we experienced in the Sudan. In some ways, things seem to be farther up the development chain here. At the same time, people are dressed in an almost tribal fashion; wielding large sticks and wearing blankets. It makes for an interesting contrast. At camp tonight, we had crowds of these guys standing around and watching us. It's like the universe flipped around and we are on the other side of a national geographic feature.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

TdA Rest Days 6 and 7. Gondar, Ethiopia

8:20: Fever gone. Appetite back. Celebration!
8:30: Cornflakes, white toast, rehydration salts. Amazing.
9:30-14:00: black hole.
14:00: Advancing food intake to pasta with red sauce and pepsi. mmmmmm.
15:00-18:00: approaching a light at the end of the tunnel.

By dinner time I felt like I was almost human and I decided I could take the chance on a trip into town for dinner. There were six of us, a perfect number for a tuk tuk race down the steep hill into the city.

Mango and avocado juice was the choice drink to accompany our dinner of injera bread and lamb tibs (small-pieces-of-meat-that-may-or-may-not-be-lamb-and-may-or-may-not-be-a-particular-part-of-the-animal-but-are-never-the-less-delicious). The food here is AWESOME. A kid walked in selling books and tried to sell young-Adam (from Newcastle) a 'spoken English' book. Maybe not the best audience for that.

We must have arrived at the time that the place turned from diner to disco, as our waiter changed attire into a red silk t-shirt and was busting a move at every opportunity. It was a good segue into our apres-dinner coffee turned into perhaps the greatest spectacle of the evening. An elaborate ceremony involving:
- setting up a coal-fired-hand-operated coffee roaster on the floor in front of our dinner table
- roasting the beans (fanning the coals by hand while shifting the beans on the pan)
- grinding the beans with a mortar and pestle
- brewing the coffee in a metal kettle over the coals

The suffering of the day before was something that I had expected that I would experience and brought me some strange sense of satisfaction, along with the pain. But getting back into 'life' and the experience of Africa was really a sweet feeling.

Seeing the town by day was fun, too. It took a while to get comfortable with kids walking around. I found myself watching their hands for sticks and stones. We have 21 more days in Ethiopia and we are not through the woods yet. I hope this doesn't put me off one day having children!

Ethiopian money looks and feels extremely dirty by western standards. And when you see that the waiters don't even want to touch the money, you realize how dirty the money must really be. I suppose there are many ways that bugs spread around here, but that would seem to be a very good one.

Having two days off has been good. A number of other riders have become ill, but at least they are not having to ride in that condition. And the extra time has offered an opportunity to catch up on stories that I've how Kristjan the photographer stopped to take some pictures a few days ago and was guilted into buying something in exchange...but the only thing to buy was a baby goat. So, he rode with a baby goat strapped to his back by inner tubes until someone from the support crew found him and insisted that he couldn't keep it, even as a contribution for dinner. And then there was xxxxx, who accidentally took vicodin instead of his antibiotics. And then Francis, who lost a tooth to the toffee-like pvm energy bars. He went to the dentist in Gondar today and seems to be happy with the outcome. Then again, his mouth is still frozen, so time may lead to a different conclusion.

At the time of writing, I'm feeling reasonably well again (it's all relative) and I'm quite excited to get back on the bike tomorrow.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

TdA Stage 23. Hell on Wheels.

107km. To Gondar.

The memory of this ride stings so sharply that only now can I speak of it.

It started with midnight fever and chills, mixed with a handful of urgent sprints out of the tent and through a potholed paddyfield.

After staring through my breakfast for ten minutes, I realized that I would have to actually get some of it in my mouth if I wanted it to be useful for the ride. I felt like I was in a zombie movie. Under any other circumstances, I would have stayed home or gone to a hospital. But there was only one thing for me to do. Get on the bike.

I am going to EFI.

I avoid counting down the mileage on my rides, as I cycle for pleasure; however, this was a countdown ride from the moment I got in the saddle. This is the challenge of the EFI. Yes, having support and companionship makes the journey *much* more comfortable/safer/enjoyable in many ways. One luxury that it does not provide is flexibility in time. If I want to EFI, I have to do it on the same day as everyone else. Regardless of what supremely inhuman things my body is doing.

'Epic' is an appropriate word to describe the climb that started the day. At 5.4km/hr and a bathroom stop every few kilometres, the mileage passes painfully slowly. Carrie rode with me as (fortunately?) she was also ill.

Doing basic math at the top of the first climb, it began to sink in that we may not have enough daylight to finish the ride. I decided to keep that thought to myself, though it continued to torture me as I re-calculated with every up and every down and every mile that passed.

We stopped for lunch and the dude beside me commented on the amount of body heat I was kicking off. No hiding a fever.

As the ride progressed, the children became less friendly and more aggressive. It started with throwing rocks (some approaching the size of tennis balls) and sticks (imagine a two or three foot pool cue). It seems that these kids have a lot of time to practice their aim. Slightly more troubling were the mobs of kids that would slap/punch/pick-pocket as we passed. One group almost got Carrie off her bike. We were glad to still be together at that point, though I still wouldn't like our chances against a devilish crew like that.

We eventually learned to 'go easy' at the first sight of children, so that we could 'sprint' through the danger zone. Unfortunately, the 'danger zone' was usually near the top of a hill and a 'sprint' in our condition barely registered in the double digits. And, hey, those kids can run! We had some kids carry 17km/hr for what seemed like an eternity. If there is such a thing as bitter admiration, that's what I felt.

I made it, only with the Carrie's unbelievable support. Peter-the-Plumber made it, too. By the hair of his chin, but he did it. Thank god that we have two days in Gondar to recover.
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Thursday, February 10, 2011

TdA Stage 22. Kids and Cows.

95km. Matema Parking Lot Camp to Random Farm Camp.

Now that we have crossed in to Christian territory, our days of waking up to the morning prayer call are officially over and its back to the biological clock. It also marks the end of not worrying about petty crime (penalties under sharia law seem to be quite effective in keeping instances of petty crime at bay).
Camp this morning looked like a bit of a war zone. Many people had warned that Ethiopia marks the beginning of the widespread gastrointestinal illnesses, and they were right. There were a few cases before this, but it is now starting to hit a much larger group. Miraculously, I have been spared so far, despite my culinary adventure last night.

The hills started today. Some nice rollers. Though the road is amenable to group riding, many riders started out on their own this morning. Myself included. Maybe everyone got used to going alone when we did the off-road stages. Or maybe the thought of groups on hills was intimidating. Or maybe we just needed a bit of solitude after almost a month of living together around the clock.

I don't mind riding alone. In fact, I often quite enjoy it. But, when Jorg and a local rider came by, I hopped along for the ride (I have a feeling that there will be plenty of opportunities to ride alone over the coming months, whether I want to or not). Eventually, a few of the other racers joined and we eventually got a bit of a group going. I got dropped on the last hill (12km), but I think that I had the sixth fastest time for the day, which I was pretty happy about (even if it is because some of the others are very sick). Oh, and I actually used all of the gears on my bike today, which gives me some sense of satisfaction for having opted for maximal flexibility.

Besides being notably more hilly, the route was much more populated than what we experienced in the Sudan. And, mostly just kids. Kids everywhere on the side of the road. Holding a hand out to wave or say hello. Most of them screaming 'where are you go?' or 'YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU'. As a side note, one of the riders who speaks the language asked a girl why she says 'you' and the girl said it was because she heard someone else say it. Awesome. You wouldn't believe how many kids scream this. Some kids thought the idea of running in front of a speeding bike was funny. That part was not awesome.

Our campsite would be perfect, if it weren't for the fact that it is situated on a cattle farm. Don't get me wrong, I love cows (especially with a bit of heinz 57), but I could do without the two guys tossing hay right up wind from us.

A few resourceful kids figured out that they could make some money selling us cokes and beer at the camp (saving us from having to descend and the re-ascend a 12km hill to get it ourselves. Business was booming for several hours. I guess that it is good for some local family but, I'm wondering, should we feel bad about buying beer from a 4-year old?

Peter-the-plumber had a rough day. I saw him barfing in the morning and knew that he would still ride. He was totally smashed when he came in to camp this afternoon. That is one tough guy. There are some at camp who think he is foolish. And there are many of us who think he is an inspiration. No limits. I hope that he sleeps well and recovers some tonight as I know there will be no stopping him from getting on that bike tomorrow.

A solo bike tourist from New Zealand rolled into camp while we were hanging out in the afternoon. He is going in the other direction and it has been 10 months since he left Capetown. His final destination is Denmark, which puts him at about half way. Kind of made me feel like a lightweight for doing a supported ride. But a happy lightweight. I think that four months will be enough for me.

Tonight, the donkey eee-awes have been replaced by moooooooos. And a few snores. Seven consecutive riding days is taking a toll on people.
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

TdA Stage 21. Beer and Brothels.

96km. Doka Bush Camp to Matema Parking Lot Camp.

Great ride today. Back on pavement and 90kms to the border. I rode mostly with Jorg and we celebrated the smooth, fast progress that we could make on the tarmac. It felt so good to let the legs burn. And the heat is a lot less stifling when you can generate a breeze by going more than 10km/hr.

There is a dutch dude (Robert Knol) riding Cairo to Capetown solo right now; aiming to do it in under 80 days, which would be a world record. He left Cairo on January 24th and is somewhere close to us now. I kept expecting that we might see him today, but no luck, yet. Maybe tomorrow.

I had only one flat before the border. Possibly as a result of a thorn from another day working its way through. There were no clues. I was hoping that would be the end of it, but I got two more flats just in the area between customs and immigration. I have a feeling this might plague me until I wise up and switch to a new set of tires.

Entering Ethiopia was a process in itself. Visible differences include the abundance of commerce, the availability of beer, and the fact that the women wear braids, not burqas. The immigration officers process everything manually and seem to have a first-in-last-out policy, which meant that those of us who hustled to the border early to 'beat the rush' ended up with the longest wait times. Fortunately, we are back in the land of beer, so hanging out and waiting on a sunny day like this was actually rather fun.

After reaching camp and realizing that it was little more than a hot, dusty roadside parking lot with a few locals selling overpriced beer, four of us headed back to Matema in search of cheaper, colder beer. What we found turned out to be a gay bar, if the enthusiastic local with the camera was any indication. He asked to get a picture of and with each of the guys and was full of compliments. His eagerness became a little much and the guys eventually asked the local to leave (Bas's comment 'if you *really* want EFI, it's going to hurt' might have been lost on him, but I think that he got the point).

We ordered some 'food' and got what might be the Ethiopian version of nachos. Bright orange cheese-like sauce with chilis, poured over something that simultaneously resembled pancakes and skin. Oh, and, no utensils or napkins. Welcome to Ethiopia; start the countdown to getting ill.

It occurred to us that a shower might also be possible in the town. Hey, if we could buy a tank of water on a donkey in the desert to get a shower, surely we could find a way to clean ourselves in this little border town.

Our bartender walked us over to a nearby brothel that had two private stalls, each with a bucket of water in the corner and a hole in the middle. I think that might also have been the toilet. Whatever, it felt great to 'shower' after a ride in the heat.
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TdA Stage 20. Pleasure and Pain.

85km. Dinder Bush Camp to Doka Bush Camp.

Wow. (Except for the pain) Today was awesome. One of my favourites so far for terrain and scenery. The arms held up better than I'd expected, though my impaired motor control resulted in a little crash that left me with some gravel rash along my right side (lucky Carrie got to pull rocks out of my, uh, back side).

One of the first towns that we went through was a mining town. Old school mining with random hand dug holes in the ground. I felt as though I was transported to another century!

A bunch of us missed a turn in the morning and got some 'bonus mileage'. I think that a few people were annoyed by this, but I thought it was awesome. It's more of an adventure when there is some uncertainty (though I reserve the right to change my attitude on this as my four month adventure continues).

Our detour took us through a cool little village. Rustic. With huts and donkeys and narrow dirt roads. The sort of place in which you might expect to run in to Bilbo Baggins. We are getting in to National Geographic style Africa!

Carrie and I finished together today feeling fabulous. We might have been the only two, as there were some long faces - getting heat stroke, getting lost, getting rattled. Sometimes I wonder how much thought some of the people here put into this trip and what challenges they would face. Yeah, my arms hurt like hell and I've had some small pains along the way, but I feel like there are much harder things to come. We have been so lucky with how smoothly this first fifth of the trip has gone.

Hopefully me and my bike are up for what is to come. Certainly, the bike has held up well so far(thank you Craig, Pat, Shawn, Erik and Bow Cycle). Considering how much rattling my bike has been through in the past few days, I'm shocked that nothing seems to have come loose. I hope that I haven't missed anything...

We are back on the pavement tomorrow. I'm hoping that means that the feeling will return to my fingertips and the intense pain in my forearms will subside. I can't wait to feel my legs burn again!

We also cross into Ethiopia tomorrow afternoon. I'm excited to see this country for the first time. At the same time, I'm sad to leave Sudan; I've really enjoyed it here.
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Monday, February 7, 2011

TdA Stage 19. A Few Firsts.

95km. Dindar Bush Camp to Village Bush Camp.

Corrugated dirt all day. And only one flat! Switching back to the schwalbe marathon tires was a good call. I lost a bit of control in the sand, but it beat getting loads of flats.

Only the first half of the day was a race (and I feel like I rocked it). The second half was 'casual' and I had some fantasies about how we would have a laid back chatty ride, but that fell apart quickly as the corrugation and sand separated us by bike type and technical skills. Young-Adam and I rode it together on our rigid bikes. We were hydrated (despite the intense heat), and our legs were fresh. But we just crawling along on account of our rattled arms. It was definitely not a stage for rigid bikes. 50kms of it, no problem. 95kms...different story.

I've had some long hard days on a mountain bike and done some bone rattling rides, but never have I felt the sort of pain in my forearms like I felt today. Every bump, every vibration was a shooting pain. It felt so strange to have the body and legs feeling so good and yet be almost unable to ride. My first tears of the trip came today. I'm sure that they won't be the last.

The stage took its toll on a few more people and the number who will EFI (that is, ride Every F'n Inch) continues to decrease. We have one more day of this before we get back to pavement. Then the hills begin! I hope that my arms can make it through tomorrow without long term damage. Really, I think it is beyond discomfort or strain; it is at the point of injury. They are swollen and it hurts to touch them. Agh! I wish that I knew how to make them better.

Having said that, I'm still really happy to be here. I knew that suffering would be part of it. That's one of the reasons that I chose this instead of a solo tour in the south of france (though, come to think of it, that would be a fabulous way to spend a few months after this trip is over).

The landscape has changed again and we are now out of the sandy desert and into the dirt and long dry grass. And there are small granite hills all around. It is beautiful. But, then, most of the camps have been beautiful in their own way.

One of the truck drivers bought a tank of water on a donkey from the village so that we could take mini showers. It was the first time that I've bathed under a hose connected to a donkey. All of the kids gathered around to watch, but we were too focused on washing up to care.
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Sunday, February 6, 2011

TdA Stage 18. Reality TV

87km. Bush Camp to Dinder Bush Camp.

Washboarded dirt roads! My legs were on fire today and my new thudbuster seatpost was a really good call. Unfortunately my schwalbe Racing Ralphs were not. Sure, the tread was nice to have and the extra width helped in the soft sandy bits, but these were not built to withstand Sudanese thorns.


Small ones like tacks. Big ones like nails. The thorns were everywhere. I felt like I would just look at my tire and it would go flat.

Psssssssssssssssttt. Jesus.

After my tenth puncture, I stopped taking my wheel off and just nursed the slow leaks. Psychologically, I just couldn't take it. Somehow getting off of my bike every kilometre or two in order to restore some air was less defeating.

The afternoon kicked up to the high 40's again; a type of heat that I'm not sure that I will ever adjust to (and, to imagine, it's winter here!). Keeping up with hydration is so hard when it is like this. I was so thirsty and wasted that I stopped and drank from the filler spout on my camel back because I thought the hose was busted (turns out it was just 'locked'). By the time that I finished, there were no fewer than 40 locals in a circle around me. Misery does not love spectators. But, it was so funny that it made me laugh. And then they laughed, too.

The day was actually supposed to be 100km, but it was shortened to 87km for some reason. Thank god for that. I was out of tubes and out of patches. And also out of the patches that another rider had given to me when I had run out earlier.

Bush camp is on some arid dirt in the middle of nowhere. There is a rural village called beside us. It has no shops to speak of. Just a lot of curious people. We were basically reality tv for the rural village of Dinder. There are no shops to be found here. Just mud huts. And a lot of curious people. Somehow there was actually a television crew, too. I was interviewed again. The guy who spoke after me said something about how surprised he was that women could do this. I think that it was a compliment, though part of me feels rather offended by the remark. I think that I would have really struggled if I had been born before women were recognized as 'people' in the western world.

I've started simplifying my daily routine (lowered expectations?). I've stopped bothering with a sleeping mat. I've stopped using a fly over my tent. I've replaced my blow up pillow with a bag of my clothes. I wonder what will go next...
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Saturday, February 5, 2011

TdA Stage 17. Who Let the Dogs Out?

155km. Desert Camp to Bush Camp.

Started with a fabulous group this morning. Carrie, young-adam, peter-the-plumber, henry, Jorg, Bas, Steve. Peter-the-plumber treated us to a little song on the ride. Who Let the Dogs Out. It's not the type of song that you would normally expect to hear from a man in his mid-60s, but it was awesome (and so is his new moustache!). I will forever think of his 'WHO? WHO? WHO?' when I hear that tune again.

I mysteriously flatted and Jorg helped me out. Checked the tire, but it seemed that the culprit escaped. As soon as we were caught up to the group, the gravel/dirt began and we dropped the rest. Peter rode with us for a bit and then dropped.

Things heated up a lot again in the afternoon. Hydration was really tough when the temperature climbed over 40 degrees. But the winds were fair and it was manageable and we tried to be mindful to take care of ourselves. And the scenery was cool. We went through a few little towns. There were signs of life outside of the towns. It felt like we were seeing more of Africa. And the road conditions were variable, ranging from corrugated dirt to near-perfect tarmac and that was cool, too, because it kept us on our toes.

I ended up with a second flat (other wheel). Again, no culprit to be found. Jorg helped me (again) and we were quickly on our way. We eventually caught Scott and Henry and shared the load for the rest of the stage. While this group normally would have had regular rotation for pulling, that simply wasn't an option today. Everyone was hurting a bit. We would just take what we could and then pass it to the next person. There was no talking. There was no need for talking. At some point, body language, cadence, etc. told us everything that we needed to know. Sure, I like when we can chat. But I also really liked this experience today. We shared the challenge together and we needed each other and it felt good. It was real.

And, for the record, it is really cool to ride with guys who are ok with a girl contributing equally or sometimes less or sometimes more. It seems so obvious that this should be the case, but it is not always that way. I'm really grateful to have such respectful riding partners here.

For the second day in a row, I rode a bit with Dennis (currently 3rd place). Although most people would take that to mean that he's having a bad day, I prefer to think of it as an indication that I'm having a really good day. And I felt like it was a good day. Despite two flats, I really enjoyed today's ride. Not everyone did though. The heat took it's toll and a number of people jumped in the sweep truck. One guy had to take three intravenous rehydration bags. Ouch!

Bush camp is nice. It's like desert camp, but with a few thorny bushes and less sand. It is still in the middle of nowhere. There is an irrigation canal right next to camp, which saved a few of us from near sunstroke. It is the sort of water that I wouldn't dream of going in at home. And it probably would be cleaner at home. I guess this trip is helping me to chill the f'k out. Or maybe I'm going to get some kind of parasite and go home early.

I put on a new seatpost and I'm excited to try it tomorrow. It's a cane creek thudbuster, which provides suspension at the seatpost level. A few people here have them and swear by them. Tomorrow is mostly offroad (corrugated dirt), so I figure it will come in handy!
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Friday, February 4, 2011

TdA Stage 16. Carnage begins.

145km. Khartoum to Desert Camp.

Leaving Khartoum felt like we were entering another country again. So long nice, wide roads. So long no traffic. So long mostly favourable winds. Hello intense heat, vicious crosswinds and interpersonal tension.

There was little efficiency to gain from group riding today, owing to the crosswinds and absence of a shoulder...and the inevitable irritability and that arises in such conditions. But, it would have been a heinous day going solo, so a lot of pairs and threesomes formed. Carrie and I rode most of the day together, picking up 'tourists' for brief visits (mike-without-a-bike, then yound-adam, then dennis-the-teddy-bear).

There were a lot of casualties for the day. A number of those riders who had hoped to cycle every inch of the journey didn't finish the day. The sweep truck was over capacity with folks who had succumbed to the heat and wind and packed it in. Serious carnage. I'm not going to lie to you, it was a hard day. The kind that takes patience and strength to carry through. Still beats sitting inside at a desk. And day one of La Ruta.

At camp, one of the riders with a fancy bike computer said that it was 48 degrees in the sun.
I spent the afternoon resting under the truck and watching shattered rider after shattered rider come in. Dehydration, fatigue, sun stroke. I heard a few people say it was the toughest day that they've had on a bicycle. This is more like what I expected from this trip.

I really enjoyed the first 2000 wonderful kilometers of the journey, the great times that we have had together and the friendships that have developed. As the road and conditions get much tougher now, I hope that we will overcome some of the petty interpersonal tensions and let the adversity bring us closer together. It is now that we need each other the most, if we want to avoid more carnage.
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

TdA Rest Day 5. Khartoum.

Wow. This is a wonderful city. Considering the population and GDP per capita and the media attention that this country gets abroad, I have to admit that my expectations were not good. It goes to show me the value of seeing things for myself.

There are a lot of regular city things here and then there are a few things that serve as reminders that Sudan is not the most popular kid on the block. There are ATMs, but none of them appear to be compatible with foreign cards of any sort. As far as I can tell, credit cards are useless here as well. Petty crime and scams don't seem to be a problem here, though there are apparently warnings about terrorist attacks. Having said that, I have not seen the security set ups (car and people scanners) that are so popular in other 'at risk' big cities (Bombay, Delhi, Cairo, Nairobi, etc). Really, it feels quite safe here.

Walking down the street or sitting down for lunch, it is not unusual to hear someone say 'Welcome to the Republic of the Sudan'. Seriously, the hospitality here is touching. People There are people in the group that have randomly been invited into people's homes for lunch. Mike-without-a-bike and I asked a guy for directions today and he walked a few blocks with us to show us the way!

Every television that I see is tuned in to Al Jazeera or BBC and showing live coverage of the situation in Cairo. It is hard to believe that we were there just a few days before things started to deteriorate. I'm so grateful to have had the chance to pass through when I did. I really hope that this is the start of a new and positive era for the country.

My legs feel better today than they have since I started riding from Alexandria. Maybe there is something therapeutic about an 70kms of easy spinning that work a bit of the fatigue out of one's legs. Unfortunately I seem to have contracted the plague that has been going around camp. At least it is a rest day. Hopefully better by tomorrow?

We've got a stacked schedule over the next week. Eight consecutive days of riding, I think. Six to the border with Ethiopia, and then two more to Gondar. I have no idea what to expect in between. But, if it is anything like the last couple of weeks, I think that I'm going to like it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

TdA Stage 15. Finding White Castle in Khartoum.

104km. Desert Camp to Khartoum.

Today was a fun ride. A 20km time trial in the morning (ouch!), followed by a few hours of easy riding and then a 40km police convoy around the outskirts of Khartoum and into the city. Entering a city of 8 million on a bicycle by police convoy is a strange experience. A chance to see and smell things slowly. We made our way through neighbourhoods of mud houses to a more developed 'downtown'. On the surface, the city is much nicer and much less chaotic than I had expected. For a relatively closed economy, people seem to be living well. And most of the infrastructure seems to be relatively new, so there is less of a 'run down' or 'former glory' feeling than some of the other cities that I've been to in this 'category'. Whatever that means.

Although I have come to love my tent and the feeling of sleeping outside, I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a hotel room for the night. To use a shower that does not double as a toilet. To use toilet that flushes! Amazing.

I headed out with Die-Hard-Nick and Mike-without-a-bike for dinner. I felt a bit like I was in a cheesy spy movie, with a muscly guy with a shaved head on either side of me. The plan was Korean food but, when we got to the restaurant, the place was closed; boarded up with a bed.

Plan B, thai food.

We hailed a taxi but the driver didn't know the restaurant that we were looking for. He seemed to understand what street that we were hoping to find, so we rolled the dice and jumped in the car.

We got dropped off on a dark street in front of a watermelon stand, with no sign of a restaurant in either direction. We arbitrarily decided to head 'left' and try to find someone to ask for directions. We found a convenience store called 'Seven Heaven' and asked the only white dude in the store if he knew of the Thai restaurant near by. In a thick eastern european accent, he mumbled something about it being illegal and said he didn't know where it was. He told us instead about a restaurant called Solitaire. Plan C.

After an epic 40 minute of walk in the dark on dimly lit, sandy, potholed 'sidewalks' and asking no fewer than six more people for directions, we finally arrived at Solitaire. Judging by the vehicles parked out front, it's a popular destination for the UN folks in town. I felt like Kumar at White Castle. Dinner with a real knife and fork (my spork is wonderful, but it is just not the same). And napkins! And no sand in my food!

So far, Khartoum is pretty freakin awesome.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

TdA Stage 14. Good Hard Fun.

148km. Desert Camp to Desert Camp.

Carrie woke up with the cold that has been going around camp (and which I have miraculously averted, so far). I planned to take it easy and ride with her for the day. And we found a nice group, too. But then Scott and Bas rode by after about 20km and I realized that they were probably working on a stage win, so I jumped on with them with the idea that I would help out and take some pulls until I burned out and then I could drop back and work with Carrie.

The flaw in this plan was that we were bigger and faster than I expected. We picked up a few more people (young-adam, peter-the-plumber, and henry-the-hardman) and we dialed it up over 40km/hr. So, I ended up a lot farther ahead than I expected and there was no 'going back'.

Peter eventually dropped. Then Henry. Then me. I suffered the last 45km on my own into a demoralizing cross and head wind. Somehow, I still managed to finish before the pack of men's racers (who left at least 20 minutes after me), which I found quite satisfying. Scott ended up with the stage win, but it was a tie with Dennis, a nice german guy who started and finished at a different time but coincidentally rode in the same time!

Three days of >140km before noon. Not bad. This was the hardest consistent effort that I put in. I rode hard all day. I know it's not for everyone...but I really, really like riding hard. It is so satisfying to finish a ride feeling exhausted.

I have few pictures from the last two days owing to a number of factors. 1) riding too hard. 2) the scenery is the same as the prior days. 3) my lens cap is broken. 4) the lens is jammed with sand. I did miss a couple of pictures today though...herds of camels on the countryside. AND a huge convoy of army trucks and tanks moving in the opposite direction. It is so strange not having the news. I don't know whether these things are just going back home or whether they are on their way out somewhere. I'm just happy that they were going in the opposite direction!

On riding days, we get soup in the afternoon. Amazing soup. Today was something that tasted a bit mexican. Best soup yet. The chef is James McKerricher. The food so far has been really impressive. One day I will learn to cook like James.

Carrie rolled up to camp about a half hour after me. We took a nap/rest in the shade under the truck and told stories of our first boyfriends. It is funny how alone you feel in your experiences and perspectives on the world when you are fifteen considering how similar they are to everyone else your age. Maybe its not just at fifteen, either.

Before dinner, the cooks auctioned off a bag full of lost and found items. It was pretty funny to see how much people were willing to pay to get their own dishes back. Nothing speaks louder than an empty belly. Correction. One thing does. The bag of toilet paper commanded the highest premium at the auction.