The 8 riding days between Khartoum, Sudan and Gondar, Ethiopia are known as the hardest on the tour. Not only did we have three brutal off road days in Sudan, but also the day with the most climbing.
The off road days felt something like running on the beach, in 50 degree heat, while towing a cow, with tennis balls banging every inch of my body, for seven hours. If I was lucky, I had a choice between rattling my brain on the worst corrugation imaginable, or exerting triple the energy riding through the sand. When I was unlucky, I got to feel every once of fat on my body jiggle as I braved km after km of corrugation. I must say though, I felt pretty badass on the really rugged terrain (once I got the hang of it).
Then there was the heat. Every day in Sudan was a race against the mid-day sun. It’s very difficult to describe just how unbearable the heat was, but one day in a useless attempt to record how I was feeling, I noted on my iPhone “feel like I am wrapped in sheet metal that has been cooking in a greenhouse for seventy hours, and have a giant hot blowdryer three inches from my face that is moments away from exploding.” My sunscreen curdled, lipgloss melted, chamois cream separated, water was literally as hot as tea. In the desert and plains of Sudan, sometimes the only relief was crawling under a thorny bush for five minutes of “shade”.
By the third off road day, half of the riders were on the truck. At my lowest point, between the heat and exhausting road conditions, it took every ounce of my energy to ride 1 km at 8-10 km/hour before resting, chugging water, and continuing for another km.
Navigation was tough, with our direction guided by anything from a dilapidated railroad to power lines to tape tied around some strands of wheat (?).
Sometimes, we came across locals who had “borrowed” our flagging tape. I got lost once, which was extremely scary, not to mention dangerous, when there are kilometers between villages and you have a limited water supply.
As if all those challenges weren’t enough, thorns were thrown into the mix. Many riders had 3-4 flats/day, several had 2-3 rolling their bikes around camp alone. To give you an idea of how bad the thorns were, one rider, Ian, dropped his water bottle on the ground at camp and a thorn literally punctured it. Amazingly, I had ZERO flats.
Just when my hands, bum, shoulders, back, arms and legs had had enough of the corrugation and sand, the mountains appeared in the distance. On our last day, we climbed over 2500m, or something like 200 Mount Everests. Many strong riders, already worn from days of tough riding, didn’t even make it to lunch.
Then there were the miserable, miserable Ethiopian children. This topic is worthy of a full post, but suffice it to say for now, they swarmed us from all directions, fired hundreds of stones at us (including a boulder which hit me in the hip), pulled our bikes back on the toughest uphill sections, raided our bike bags and demanded money.
Just when the riding got too unbearable and I wanted to give up, I would ride into the cutest villages…
With the cutest kids…
Then, if that wasn’t enough and I really thought I was going to die, Africa would remind me that I was still alive with a family of monkeys running across the road or a herd of camels…
Thank you Africa 🙂
This section took everything out of me, mentally and physically, but I am sooooo proud to say I actually completed every day!!!
- Two bikes, and the tour laptops and cell phones were stolen in Khartoum
- I had my first shower in a week! Imagine the layers and layers of sunscreen, sand and sweat that had accumulated and maybe you’ll understand how invigorating that was.
- A rider had to leave the tour after contracting some unknown illness in Sudan
- At least half of our riders have had gastrointestinal issues in the past week, a combination of heat exhaustion, overall fatigue and infamous Ethiopian viruses
- Several more riders have crashed, but luckily everyone is ok (though the cracked helmet count is now at 5)
- I hit a top speed of 61.4 km/hour downhill (with my brakes on)
The Challenge Ahead
- staying healthy and dodging rock bullets!