Thursday, March 31, 2011

TdA Stage 60. The Tyranny of Completeness.

124km. Mzuzu to Corn Field Camp.

Almost 2000m of climbing today puts this as one of the three greatest climbing days of the trip. Somehow it doesn't seem so hard when it is spread out over a continuous string of rolling hills in lovely weather.

I rode in fog/cloud for the first 70kms, sometimes with visibility of less than 25m. It made the experience a bit dream-like (doesn't everyone have a fog machine on the set of their dreams?). I imagine that it might have been where the Wild Things live. The fact that I rode this stretch on my own made it perfect for the deep sort of meditation and reflection that I'd hoped to get on this trip. I'm not exactly certain what I'm hoping to achieve from all of this thinking; if I've learned one thing in life, it is that searching for clarity and answers through thinking is futile. The harder I strive to find it, the farther it gets. Ah, the tyranny of completeness.

I rode the second half of the day with Scott and Dennis. By this time the sky had cleared, giving us a spectacular view of the thousand colours of green that make up the landscape in Malawi. Beautiful. We've been through so many different countries and places and they have all been beautiful in their own way.

Our camp tonight is in a soccer field that is framed by corn fields. I went for a walk down a dirt path that divides one of the fields and found a house with a shady tree out front and a nice breeze. Perfect spot for a nap. This place is so tidy (I could swear the owner must sweep the dirt path) that laying on the dirt somehow doesn't feel dirty at all. I shut off my brain and just enjoyed the simplicity of the afternoon shade. Day number five of good health. That's really all that I need.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

TdA Stage 59. Turn up the Hard.

134km. Chitimba Camp to Mzuzu.

Things just got harder for a few people. The breaking news for the day is that three riders have contracted Malaria. In two cases, the guys have been sick for a few weeks. In possibly the only way in which a malaria diagnosis could be good, at least now there is a strategy for getting better. Two of the affected riders are still EFI and have decided to continue to ride while they are taking treatment.

As if four months of camping and 12000kms of riding is not challenging enough, the sheer frequency and variety of obstacles that we face make this one epic journey. At times like this I think of how glad I am that I am not doing this alone.

Today's ride took us from the lake, up a big climb and into some rolling hills. It is hard to believe that Malawi is one of the most impoverished countries on the continent; this is among the healthy looking and most beautiful landscapes that we've been through so far.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TdA Rest Day. Chitimba.

Giving myself a hangover might not be the most conventional way to celebrate 24 hours of not being sick, but some opportunities only come once.

And I intend to make the most of them.

What started as a chilled out beach fire and grill turned into one of the most enjoyable evenings that I've had on this trip. An evening of a thousand laughs (my abs still ache from overuse) and good old fashioned irresponsibility.

Young-Adam and Nick had a duel with roman candles on the beach. It was old school style; starting with backs to each other, taking ten steps and then lighting the suckers and pointing them at the opponent. I'm not a pyrotechnics expert; however, I'm pretty sure this is not listed as a recommended application for a roman candle. But maybe it should be, because it makes great entertainment.

The Jets and I ventured out for a night swim in the Lake. This is the first natural water that we've had since the Nile; the opportunity to jump in was irresistible. It was probably the warmest lake I've ever been in (reminder to self: check for parasites when I get back home).

And, the Brams set the musical backdrop for the night, belting out dutch karaoke songs with the dutch proprietor of our campsite. Even in a rock song, the sound of dutch still makes me laugh!

Monday, March 28, 2011

TdA Stage 58. Been Caught Stealing.

123km. Rice Field Camp to Chitimba Beach Camp.

Our gang of white people with fancy bikes, combined with a couple of large overland support trucks inevitably catches some attention as we travel through poverty stricken countries. This is especially true when we camp in the more remote areas where tourists don't normally bother to stop.

Typically, this has led to crowds gathering like an audience to watch us go about our daily business; erecting tents, eating, napping. And, from time to time we encounter 'petty' theft over night, even when we hire local security to keep an eye out. Bike shoes left in tent vestibules have been a popular target (rather unfortunate, given that they would be considerably less valuable to someone who didn't have the matching pedals).

Last night, the target was something a little bit more spectacular. When the ground conditions are suitable, we drill holes in the ground and put up two tent-like shelters that function as temporary toilets. This morning, we woke up with only one. This is the first time that I have heard of someone stealing a toilet. But, then, this is africa and I have experienced a lot of firsts here.

The ride today was relaxed. Mostly flat. Morning rain to get the chamois moist and gritty for the day.

Chilling out by a campfire drinking Malawi Gin on a serene beach on Lake Malawi this evening, it is hard to believe that I was soaking in a rice field, surrounded by hundreds of curious children less than 24 hours ago. Changing places every day is exciting, especially when you get an upgrade like this!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

TdA Stage 57. Crossing into Malawi.

128km. Mbeya to Rice Field Camp.
Crossing from Tanzania into Malawi, I am struck again by the massive difference between one side of the border and the other. Based on the first few kilometres here, it appears that missionaries and aid workers have been here. The road is lined with children saying 'give me money', though these ones seem notably more friendly than the kids in Ethiopia. At least so far.
Tonight we are camping in a rice field. The first rule about camping in a rice field during the rainy season is that you should not sleep in a rice field during the rainy season. At least not in my tent.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

TdA Rest Day 16. Mbeya.

We celebrated Gabe-the-mechanic's birthday in Mbeya with a stew of rum punch, a grill of mystery meat cuts and some fireworks. And that was about the most exciting thing happening in this town.

Friday, March 25, 2011

TdA Stage 56. Redefining the Race.

116km. Bush Camp to Mbeya.
Some days you feel like racing. Some days you don't. With today being a time bonus day, there was reason to race regardless. Still, the Jets decided to take it easy today. Stopping for cokes and pictures along the way. In the end, Carrie and I settled the time bonus with a game of rock paper scissors (first three tries were draws!). Adam and Steve settled it with a race to chug two beers. I like the direction that this race is turning in!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

TdA Stage 55. The Jets.

123km. Game Post 2 to Bush Camp.

We have been cycling through a game reserve for two days and today was our first wildlife experience. Butterflies (beautiful) and Tse Tse flies (biting).

Carrie, Young-Adam, Steve and I have been riding 'easy' together for the past couple of days. Singing and doing 'tricks' on the sandy surface of the road. It was a scene from a cheesy eighties movie about childhood fun at summer camp. And it was awesome. We've called ourselves 'the Jets'.

Kim took his first stage win, so Carrie and I took him out for a celebratory drink up the road from our camp. Judging by the volume of the music and the number of patrons, the place to be seemed to be 'High Way By Night'. Upon closer evaluation, we deemed that it was actually a brothel. Something about the entirely female 'clientele' at 2:00pm in the afternoon tipped us off. One nice thing about a brothel is that the beer is cheap. So, we stayed for a while.

We've been lucky on this stretch that the rain has died down, but it has still been a long seven day stretch. Tomorrow is a time bonus day, which suggests that it will be a tough one. I'm looking forward to a rest day in Mbeya so that I can recover and finally kick this illness.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

TdA Stage 54. Lowered Expectations.

114km. Game Post 1 to Game Post 2.

All off road today. Some hard packed sand, some deep and swishy sand.

The game post at which we set up camp had some basic concrete housing for the reserve workers. My friend Paul negotiated the rental of one of the rooms so that a handful of us could trade in a rainy night in our tents for a dry night on a concrete floor. As I was sweeping the cockroach carcasses off the floor to make space for my sleeping mat, it occurred to me that I would have turned my nose up such a situation not too long ago.

A few months in conditions like this has really liberated me from the burden of 'standards'. I even turned down the opportunity to have a bucket shower today, even though I haven't showered in a few days (of dirt riding, no less). Off the bike, I've been wearing the same soiled clothes for more than a week. Lowered expectations certainly make it easier to deal with some of the constraints that we have on this trip, but it is getting to the point at which I am starting to judge myself.

I just hope that my reintegration back into western society after this trip is as swift as my degeneration into my current state.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TdA Stage 53. Reality Bites.

107km. Bush Camp to Game Post 1.

Sometimes you get lucky; today was a mix of pavement and dirt and the weather was awesome. Fast and clean(ish).

And then sometimes reality bites you in the ass. I'm not talking about being sick; though, for the record, I *still* am. For me, today, I'm talking about punctures, of which I had three (including one that was from dragging my bicycle over a thorn bush immediately after changing a flat). The reality is that I should have used those self sealing tubes that are in my luggage.

Before I let my little realities get me down, I try to consider the things that have happened to others during the day. In the context of this trip, a few punctures aren't really a big deal. Not after having had an armed robbery, a collision with a cow, an orphaned goat, an aggregate of five broken ribs, two cases of typhoid, and so on.

Today's news was that one of the riders was bitten by a dog (on the calf, while riding). It appears as though she will be ok to ride again in a week or so. I think that I'll count myself lucky again today. And maybe I'll go put those self sealing tubes in now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

TdA Stage 52. Tent Testing.

95km. Bush Camp to Bush Camp.
Although it was an 'off road' day, we got a bit lucky as the 'road' is under construction which meant a combination of graded dirt and fresh pavement for much of the day. As a further bonus, the construction areas were closed to cars.
We also got lucky with the weather today during the ride. Not too much rain, not too hot. Our luck ran out in the afternoon as a load of black clouds rolled in. Most of us had our tents up, but the sheer volume of water falling from the sky drove many out to dig drainage ditches to divert water from their flooding tents. As Scott put it, this was tent testing weather.

This is really where tent selection matters. My Big Agnes Seedhouse held up miraculously well. The rain was pounding so hard that I began to worry that the fabric would tear. But not a drop entered the tent. Pass!
The seedhouse is one of the smaller tents in the group (though I can still fit my bike, my gear and my body in here). I think that size is a critical feature in this section, where small rivers can form in the heavy rain. Location probably matters as much as tent selection, as some unfortunate souls figured out after the downpour.
As a point of reference, the most common tent is the MSR mutha hubba (3 man). I can't explain why this is the 'tent of choice'. They seem to be holding up well in the weather, but they seem a bit excessive for a single person in terms of space (packed and set up). Then again, when you are camping with the same people for several months and can hear every conversation, every movement, every fart, it's nice to have a bit of personal space.
By now almost everyone is having an issue with the zippers on their tents. I'm not sure they make a decent lightweight tent that has a zipper that can endure a trip like this. I had mine replaced in Nairobi and now feel comfortable that my tent will survive the remainder of the trip. If I had to choose again, I would pick a similarly sized tent, but one with a second entrance as insurance against zipper failure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

TdA Stage 51. Rebirth.

121km. Muddy Field Camp to Bush Camp.
I could pass on the wet sleeping bag and the persistent flu, but this is turning out to be my favourite section of the trip so far. The views are spectacular; so many shades of green and blue and wonderful clouds in the sky. The people are really friendly; smiling and enthusiastically greeting you. The riding is lovely; little traffic, great surfaces. Tanzania has everything that I could hope for in a cycling holiday, except, perhaps the hot shower and warm bed at the end of the day.
I've been feeling rather exhausted lately, but Tanzania might just reignite my excitement about cycling for the next two months.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

TdA Stage 50. Biblical Rains.

95km. Muddy Field Camp to Bush Camp.

Mostly offroad + Rain = MUD!!

Inflating 2 inch tires with a mini hand pump is not the most exciting way to start a long, offroad ride. But, sometimes you have to work with what you've got. Besides, it temporarily took my mind off the fact that I'm still sick.

Bright colours are popular here and it is not uncommon to see a man in a bright orange track suit or a lady in a bright orange dress. It just happens that bright orange is the colour of the tape that the trip organizers use to mark turns and, importantly, the finish line. To amuse ourselves, Carrie and I played a game of 'that <object> is not the finish flag'. Fun. The game ended with a round of human dominos. Pay attention to the road!

The rain was heavy for hours this afternoon, which meant that most of us came in soaked in mud and water and had to put up tents in the rain. In egypt and sudan, it was hard to imagine that it could ever rain. Now it is hard to imagine that it will ever stop.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

TdA Rest Days. Arusha.

Arusha, the half way point.

So far, time has (mostly) been flying by. I have lost count of how many times I've looked back and wondered how it is possible that we have cycled this many days, this many kilometres, and been through this many countries. But exhaustion is on everyone's face in and the enormity of what is ahead is daunting.

Even after three days of heavy rest and guacamole-bacon-cheeseburger-and-double-mocha-milkshake therapy, I'm still sick. Another friend has come ill with typhoid; an EFIer, too. He will be taking the next week or so to recover and join us in Malawi. I'm going to keep praying that I will feel better tomorrow.

My experience in Africa after my first two months here was that it doesn't rain in Africa. Over the last few days in Arusha, we've had heavy and drawn out showers several times each day. I guess it rains down in Africa, and we are about to find out just how much.

It' not that I expected this to be disneyland; this is right in line with what I expected. It's just that expecting challenges doesn't make them any easier to deal with.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TdA Stage 48. Time for a Break!

118km. Tanzanian border to Arusha.
Highlight of the day: passing two giraffes! They seemed totally chilled out as they watched us come by on our bicycles.
Lowlight of the day: waking up sick. Again.
When you are sick, it always feels like it is going to last forever. And when you wake morning after morning (after morning) feeling like shit, it becomes harder to convince yourself that things are going to get better.
I usually consider a bit of exercise to be therapeutic. But I guess there are limits. The 335km I rode in the last three days is probably not helping me to get better. Fortunately, I have three full days off the bike here in Arusha. I had fantasized about getting out to the Serengeti during this break. Instead, I will focus on getting some rest and on building up to more complex foods than gummy colas.

Monday, March 14, 2011

TdA Stage 47. Last of Kenya.

160km. Nairobi to Kenyan border.
'Paved'. Quite possibly some of the most treacherous pavement that I have experienced. The road out of Nairobi was mayhem with a lot of traffic, a narrow road, and frequent speed bumps and potholes. Things improved after about 50km, but it was still a slooooow day for me. This flu (or whatever it is) is really kicking my ass. NoHomo surprised me at the end of the day by getting me the last hotel room at the hotel by our campsite. Oh, thank god I can rest.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

TdA Rest Day 12. Nairobi.

We may eat more than any group that I can think of, but one thing that we haven't had our fill of is good meat. It's just not easy to get here. At least not in the quantities that we crave.

With a big city, came a big solution. Carnivore! Nairobi's all-you-can-meat restaurant. It's the first time that I've eaten nine different animals in one sitting (Ox, Cow, Lamb, Camel, Pig, Chicken, Turkey, Ostrich, Crocodile).

I went to bed last night with a fever and sore throat. I was hoping that it was just a meat fever, but I was not so lucky. Waking up early this morning in order to complete the ride that Carrie and I had planned to do yesterday was painful, but worth it.

We spent most of the morning riding through the city with two local racers. It was a chance to see Nairobi in a different light. Not the most restful rest day, especially with the flu and after a rough two week stretch. I think that it was the meat that got me through.

55km. Nairobi suburb to Nairobi camp.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

TdA Stage 46. Ultimatums.

51km. River Camp to (not quite) Nairobi.
What began as a 136km stage with a partial convoy to our camp in Nairobi, turned into a 51km ride to a suburb of the city, followed by a truck ride to the camp. We first got wind of this plan last night and it came as a big disappointment for many of us.
From our experience in Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa, I appreciate that it is difficult to move a group of our size through large cities. And, having been to Nairobi before, I appreciate that the city is has its challenges. Further, with the armed robbery earlier this week, I can understand the aversion to having another 'incident' this week.
Still, most of us didn't come here to see Africa through the window of a truck. As the trip organiser described at the journey, 'this is not a five star tour, we are here to support you as you cycle across Africa'.
If we wanted to ride through Nairobi, it was not going to happen with any support from the TdA.
Carrie and I were intent on riding the full stretch and, on very short notice, pulled together independent support to make it happen and to make it as seemless as possible. We informed the trip organiser of our plans (last night) as a courtesy and rode this morning stretch with the group.
Unfortunately, the plug was pulled on our plans at the end of the first 51km. We were told that we could not carry on with the group after Nairobi if we continued to cycle independently today.
I'm not a fan of ultimatums. They are for people who lack the willingness or creativity to work together to find solutions. We are a group of people who have paid for support to help us fulfil a dream. Holding power over a dream is a big job, and dropping an ultimatum like this, at a time like this, feels abusive.
So far, the support has been outstanding (except in the case of race management, but that is another story). The staff have been friendly, capable and very good at dealing with the many unpredictable challenges that have arisen along this first half of the journey. Today's intervention and ultimatum were an unfortunate (and very frustrating) hiccup.
My stubborn side spent a fair time weighing how long it might take me to find some other support to finish the journey to Capetown. But, my rational side moved that we could finish the piece on our rest day tomorrow, even if my body is in dire need of a rest.

Friday, March 11, 2011

TdA Stage 45. Eating Competition.

105km. Nanyuki to River Camp.

Nice ride. Nice camp.

This isn't like any sort of bicycle race that I've ever heard of. Sometimes it feels like I am here as part of an eating competition (or what I imagine an eating competition would be like).

We jam as much food as possible into our bodies before sunrise. Then we use our bicycles, to help our bodies make space for more food, often stopping halfway for 'lunch', which is a bit more like second breakfast since it is usually mid-morning.

We eat again at camp, often alternating solid food with pop to wash things down. Those of us who had the foresight to buy snacks on our rest day have a strategic advantage in this round.

Then it is nap time; gotta let the body digest before the next round.

Dinner is the best and most elaborate meal of the day on riding days. I eat most of my dinners from my one litre MSR dish. My 'trough'. Fully loaded (heaping), this thing can hold more than a kilo and a half of food.

If dinner comprises about 30-40% of my consumption for the day, that would suggest that I'm throwing back like 4 kilograms of food each day that I ride (possibly more on my days off and my hands and mouth are unobstructed). That's before considering calorie loaded beverages.

Over the course of these four months, that would take me close to half a tonne of food. A lot of the guys here seem to be eating multiples of what I put back. I realize that it is a mildly inappropriate observation in the context of a ride that is taking us through starvation prone areas, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find another group of this number (and weight) that can eat like us.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

TdA Stage 44. Moving in the Right Direction.

71km. Isiolo to Nyanuki.
Super fun ride today, starting with a long but moderate climb that took us around Mount Kenya, and ending with a long and fast descent into Nyanuki.
The roads and scenery and weather were stunning. At some moments it felt as though we were riding I Europe; even the peak of Mount Kenya resembled the Dolomites. From time to time, there were reminders that we are in Africa, like shops covered in corrugated tin, painted with names like 'Gender Equity Pub' and 'Highway View Restaurant'.
The campsites seem to be getting increasingly developed, with showers and toilets becoming a regular deal. This time, we are camping in the yard of a hotel that has an operational pool; the first one that we have had so far!
It is nice to slowly recapture these luxuries as the trip progresses. I think that it would be difficult to do this ride in reverse.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

TdA Stage 43. Timing is Everything.

158km. Bush Camp to Isiolo.

'They' say that timing is everything. I don't know who *they* are, but I think that today is a good example that they are on to something.

Young-Adam and I set off early, as usual, to enjoy the crisp morning air and savour the African experience. It was like a safari by bicycle. Seven giraffes crossing the road. An ostrich. A few impala. Some dik diks. All before lunch!

Meanwhile, a handful of others from our group set off later and had a markedly different African experience. Armed bandits and a half hour long hold up. Fortunately, there were no serious physical injuries, though I'm sure it will be some time before they are all entirely comfortable taking a 'break' at the side of the road.

There was also the lone female rider who had a rock thrown at her with an impact strong enough to bust a rib and draw blood. Fortunately, the second item thrown, a spear, did not make contact. This one is a particular shame as this really sweet girl has already been very sick with three or four different things in the last few weeks, suffered some nasty road rash, and had a disturbing reaction to a mystery insect bite. This was her first day back in the saddle in a long time; and, I suppose, the last for at least a while.

The road south of Isiolo is supposed to be 'much safer'. I don't know exactly what that means or on what scale these things are measured; but I know that opportunistic crime can happen anywhere. Many of us were just lucky today to avoid that danger. I hope that we can all be lucky with our timing for the remainder of the trip.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

TdA Stage 42. This is Africa.

115km. Marsabit to Bush Camp.

100% offroad. Corrugated sand, gravel and dirt.

I still cannot believe that this is part of a national highway system and the primary transport route between two capital cities. But it is more than the condition of the road that makes this stretch unbelievable.

There is wildlife. Spotting an elephant on a bicycle ride is something that you don't get to do on many roads (except, perhaps, in India).

There is culture. We were riding past people in full on tribal wear, with elaborate bead neck pieces and leg bands of the sort that I thought only existed in museums.

There is danger. Kids with bush weapons; spears and something that looks like a catapult. One wound up to fling something at the guy riding in front of me, but then paused when he saw an easier target; me.

This is adventure. This is Africa. It was like being in an Indiana Jones movie. That went on for five hours. A lot of tired faces at camp. It has been a long week; even with the rest day. My hands, wrists and forearms continue to be terrorized by what I have put them through. I can barely open a water bottle. If I had to change a flat, it might be a serious problem. Thankfully, we will be back on pavement tomorrow.

Monday, March 7, 2011

TdA Rest Day 11. Marsabit.

Most memorable thing about this town: a shop keeper asking me 'why is this man buying so many baby wipes?'.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

TdA Stage 41. Losing My Religion.

87km. Lava Rock Camp to Marsabit.

Word has it that this is the most difficult stage of our entire ride. I certainly hope so. 'Cause, let me tell you, this road is not for beginners.

The rocks and sand and corrugation were relentless. I had Gerry McCuaig in one ear telling me to 'Just keep moving' and Pat Doyle in my other ear telling me to 'Giver'. So, I just put my head down and kept turning the pedals over. Before I knew it, I had gone 20 metres.


I only need to do that 4000 more times.

Patience, young Padawan. Patience.

My 8 hour performance in patience earned me the fifth fastest time for the day and a faster average speed than the trucks that were carrying our stuff. As this was the last of seven consecutive days of hard riding, the road took a particularly hard toll on people, especially those who were sick.

Young-adam was painfully ill this morning, but set off anyhow in a brave attempt to retain his EFI. After a long, sufferous day of crawling from thorn bush to thorn bush, he was finally scooped up by one of the trucks. EFI dreams shattered. Exhausted and devastated. But alive.

One of the other riders likened losing EFI to losing your virginity. I'm not really sure what she meant by that. Was it a huge relief? Was it enlightening? Or was it just really disappointing? I will have to ask her, as I do not envision finding out for myself.

Speaking of which, we are staying at a convent tonight. Something that I had not envisioned ever doing. It feels a bit strange to be in a house of faith (when I have none). But it is also strangely familiar; kind of like summer camp. Friends everywhere. Shared toilets. Shoddy mattresses. Terrible food. And, over my bed hangs my own, personal glow-in-the-dark Jesus.

Ok, maybe that part is a little less familiar.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

TdA Stage 40. The Joys of Northern Kenya.

84km. Bush Camp to Lava Rock Camp.

Today was about patience. Rocks. Gravel. Sand. Corrugation. There was no easy way through it. We just had to keep moving and try to find the humour in it (it's hard to see it, but it's there). You'd be hard pressed to find someone who would willingly bicycle this terrain but for a larger vision of crossing Africa, inch by inch.

Even the surroundings were dismal. A sort of scenic death. Just dead trees and volcanic rock. And 40+ dry heat. A visual representation of that black hole in my soul that I came here to fill. To see this day as spiritual is the best way for me to find value in it.

On a similar note...our camp is a cartoon of an oasis. In one direction, a festering puddle of cow shit and stagnant water. In another, a mirage from the heat waves hovering above the lava rock. Framed by a few thorn trees. Yes, trees formed entirely of thorns. How lovely.

The sounds of bedtime have shifted as we have moved south. Trucks. Muslim prayers. Donkeys. Hyenas. Tonight it is the sound of vomiting. By now, I can have figured out most people's signature sound. If my ears serve me right, that would be Steve and Sarge out there right now. May you, eventually, have a long and deep sleep, dear friends. Tomorrow is supposed to be another toughie.

Friday, March 4, 2011

TdA Stage 39. Catching the Pauls-y

79km. Moyale to Bush Camp.
Rigid bicycles have a notable disadvantage on this road. Some patches of corrugation are manageable. Others leave you with nothing to do but laugh at your naive ambition. The frequency of the bumps starts mellow and you think that you can float over it if you pin it.
And then the wavelength extends ever so slowly.
bup buup buup buuup
Until suddenly your bike is slamming the ground.
And your bike starts bucking like a wild horse, which, of course, is a bit thrilling when your motor control is impaired on account of fatigue from consecutive days of riding. It was a good chance for me to test out my skin brakes. They work. I don't plan to test them again soon.
The drama in the men's race is providing a steady source of entertainment. A peloton is like a community; you give and take from it as you can and need. The collective cooperation allows the group to be stronger than the individuals, and there is a sort of unspoken expectation that every member of the community participates in both the give and the take. So, when the perception develops that someone is freeloading, the community breaks down (especially when it is the guy who is in first place). This is what has happened to the men's race.
Some men have dropped out of the race. Others have resorted to sneaking out to the road in order to avoid pulling the guy all day. None of these grown men seems prepared to deal with the issue by way of a direct conversation.
So, the 'fast group' has shrunk to two people. The first and second place riders (both named Paul). Today, the second place rider effectively went on strike and rode as slowly as he could in order to try to compel the first place rider to take a few pulls. No dice. So, they rode together. Slowly. All day.
Where the humour comes in is when the recreational riders pass 'the Pauls' and come into camp glowing that they really rocked the day. 'Dude, I love my mountain bike and I think that I'm getting a lot stronger. I passed the Pauls like they were standing still!'.
On a slightly less funny note, one of my friends found out that he contracted Typhoid and will be leaving sooner than expected. It started with being suddenly and violently ill in the market the other day. Ill enough to be taken to the hospital. Antibiotics seem to have cleared things up enough that he joked that it was 'totally worth it' just to have this as a travel story. Perhaps. But it won't be as fun without him around.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TdA Stage 38. Next, Please.

83km. Well Camp to Moyale.

Another individual time trial, save a 3km rotation with young-adam as he blew past me. The stage took us to the end of Ethiopia and in to Kenya. Egypt and Sudan went by so fast and it felt strange to leave them so quickly. Ethiopia, on the other hand, has given us our fill. The stomach bugs, the aggressive children, the injera, the endless hills. After three weeks here, we are all ready to move on to the next challenge. Kenya.

Walking into Kenyan immigration, it was clear that we had entered a new world. Despite the fact that the road immediately changes to dirt when you cross the border, you get the feeling that this country has its shit together. At least on a relative basis. A process that took five hours on the way in to Ethiopia (despite already having a visa) took just five minutes entering Kenya. Having said that, I do find it odd to enter a country that will only accept US dollars (rather than its own currency) to pay for an entry visa.

We had plenty of time to explore the Kenyan border town of Moyale. Since that took only five minutes, we had several hours to hang out in the prison canteen for a few beers. Not exactly good rehydration and recovery activity, but a great way to introduce ourselves to Kenya.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

TdA Stage 37. Everybody Must Get Stoned.

128km. Yabello to Well Camp.

I was remarking about how I had no hassle from the kids today just as Paul-from-Edmonton rolled in, remarking how he got hit with sticks by a group of teen-aged boys. I used to think that the phrase 'sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me' was ridiculous because, well, who uses sticks and stones? I had never contemplated that these were exactly the things that the kids in Ethiopia used.

Francis-the-Postman bought a coke from a local today and nearly lost an eye. It started with a warm coke being shaken and tossed around a little in transport and then left to bake in the afternoon sun. I guess that Francis-the-Postman didn't hear the champagne-bottle-like pop released by a few other supercharged bottles being opened by other riders. And I'm not sure what sort of technique it is to hunch right over the top of a bottle that you are about to open. But, when these three storms collided, it was *POP* followed by Francis-the-Postman bent over squealing and pushing his hand against his eye. I hope that he's ok! Holy shit, it still makes me laugh out loud to think of it. But, seriously, I do hope that he's ok.

Although it was not in the plan at any time during the day, it turns out that I had the second fastest time today (riding mostly solo). This is particularly exciting to me as I have been feeling like the guys have been getting stronger at a much faster rate and that somehow I have been left behind. Maybe just a lucky day, but it feels great!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TdA Stage 36. Brain Damage.

96km. Dry River Bed Camp to Yabello.

Stunning day. Red dirt. Bright green trees. Tall, healthy camels. Gigantic termite pillars. Bush people dressed in beautiful bright cloths. Some with beads. No rock throwing kids. No beggars.

First 90km off road (corrugated gravel/rock). Last 6km sweet, sweet pavement. The gravel was mostly fun; I think that I have a relative advantage on it, despite my rigid frame. Still, after 90km of it, my eyeballs were about to rattle loose from their sockets and I began to wonder what long term impact this sort of shaking might have on my brain capacity. I rode with dirty socks taped to my handlebars for a bit of extra protection and I think that it saved my hands/wrists/forearms. It was hard enough to see that I found myself saying Salam (hello) to termite mounds that I mistook as people.

Ram had a flat and lost his tire lever. He had another flat about 75km later and found his tire between the tire and the tube.

James-the-cook let me tag along on his trip to the market this afternoon. I have always had a feeling that resources have been limited based on my own exploration of mini markets. Still, I had this idea that maybe there was some sort of other 'secret market' that contained all kinds of exciting things that the rest of us didn't have access to. I was wrong. Onions, carrots, tomatoes and beets at the open air produce market. A few canned goods at the 'dry goods' store (but not even any sugar!). Yet, somehow, James-the-cook comes up with something tasty and different every day.

Mike-without-a-bike decided to leave the tour for a bit and take off to Tanzania to let his ribs heal. It made me think of the impact of compressed time and extended close relationships have on judging situations. Normally if a friend had crashed his bike and then decided to take off to another country for a while, it would probably be kind of a big deal. In Mike-without-a-bike's case, it just seemed like the right thing to do. But maybe that is the brain damage talking.