The Toughest Section of the Tour

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).

20120211-145601.jpg

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.

20120211-145207.jpg

Navigation was tough, with our direction guided by anything from a dilapidated railroad to power lines to tape tied around some strands of wheat (?).

20120211-144322.jpg

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.

20120211-145028.jpg

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.

20120211-150122.jpg

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.

20120211-150134.jpg

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.

20120211-145647.jpg

Just when the riding got too unbearable and I wanted to give up, I would ride  into the cutest villages…

20120211-145315.jpg

With the cutest kids…

20120211-145326.jpg

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…

20120211-145413.jpg

Thank you Africa 🙂

20120211-150009.jpg

This section took everything out of me, mentally and physically, but I am sooooo proud to say I actually completed every day!!!

20120211-150031.jpg

Highlights 

  • 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)
20120211-145441.jpg

The Challenge Ahead

  • staying healthy and dodging rock bullets!
Advertisements

Sudan Tamam (Sudan Good!)

People, I freaking love Sudan. The people, the markets and the sweets are out of this world. Carla (one of my favorite riders, the one with the better blog, remember her?) is the most well-travelled person I know (80+ countries) and this is what she has to say about this lovely country:

The one travel question I get more than any other is “of all the countries you’ve been to which is your favourite”. I’ve never had an answer to that question, but I reckon it may now be Sudan.

Have I made my point yet? Ok moving on..

Watch out Japan, the people of Sudan LOVE having their pictures taken.

20120202-174009.jpg

20120202-174302.jpg

20120202-174311.jpg

Friendly Manitoba has some competition (particularly in the form of a man galloping his camel as fast as he could across the desert to wave me down and invite me for tea)

20120202-174513.jpg

I must say, I’ve had trouble grasping how such a hospitable culture can at the same time live with an ongoing genocide in Darfur (not to mention political instability with the recent secession of South Sudan). The people I’ve spoken with are “actually very sad” that the south separated. But why? Were they sad when the people of the south were getting murdered and displaced? Just how many Sudanese support al-Bashir and his actions in Darfur? Who are the Janjaweed? Are they among the men who’ve invited me for tea and pretended to be my boyfriends in their cell phone pictures? I had no one to whom I could pose these questions, until Leena.

She approached me at the mall in Khatoum (where every rider had gone to escape the heat/consume kilos of ice cream/get free wifi/gawk at boys in skinny jeans, girls without headscarves and couples holding hands under the table) to ask for help with her application to university. She had great English and was eager to talk about her favourite music (Justin Bieber, big f-ing surprise), tv shows (90210) and celebrities (Tom Cruise and Will Smith). Her parents are divorced and she lives with her mom (who supports the government though Leena doesn’t) but her dad is an anti-government political journalist. Now I was onto something. She invited me back to her house (of course) where we discussed politics, culture, media in Sudan and other girly things in her bedroom. We made an email AND Facebook account for her, but with the amount of yelling between her and her mom, with words like privacy and shameful flying back and forth, not too sure how long that will last. I worry we got her in major trouble though she kept reassuring us that everything was fine…O and the application she wanted help with? It was to the School of Government at Harvard. Amazing night with an amazing girl who I’m sure one day will change the world.

20120202-175416.jpg

20120202-175423.jpg

20120202-180213.jpg

Highlights
-o my god the heat. On the worst (or best?) day, I cycled 149 km in 54 degree heat. 41 “with the windchill” (aka still f-ing deadly hot) as us Canadians put it.
-there have been three more accidents though thankfully everyone is ok (the most seriously injured will be riding the truck for a few weeks with a separated shoulder)
-a few men had rocks thrown at them with some gestures that translated to “put some pants on!” which of course I find hilarious because I have yet to hear a complaint about us girls needing to cover up
-interacting with locals in the markets of Dongola and Khartoum has been a complete joy

20120202-180804.jpg

20120202-181051.jpg

20120202-181312.jpg

Biggest Surprise
Baby wipe showers are surprisingly effective and satisfying, even after 4 nights in the desert, 40+ degree days and 600 km of riding

The Challenge Ahead
-I am in the process of mentally preparing for the giant bugs that are preparing to crawl over my face every night
-protecting my lips, fingers and nose from the sun has become a full time
job, particularly as my malaria pills make me photo sensitive
-we are now entering the most challenging section (of 7) of the tour with rock throwing children, corrugated and muddy roads and plenty of mountains. My strategy is to just take things day by day, if not minute by minute!

As always, thank you all for your fantastic support!!!!

A Day in my Life

I. Love. Sudan.

I have always loved crossing borders. I marvel at just how different proximate cultures can be.

I apologize in advance: writing this blog on my iphone makes it very difficult to format my posts and organize/caption my photos. Alright, back to Sudan.

Sudan, though also Islamic and arid, couldn’t be more different from Egypt. I really enjoyed Egypt, but most of the riders are confidently saying they hated it/wouldn’t spend another day there/would never go back etc etc. Sudan on the other hand has entranced every single rider. In Egypt, we had to learn such Arabic phrases as “go away,” “finished,” “no,” and “shame.” In Sudan, we are learning phrases such as “Sudan good,” and “yes.“

As soon as we crossed the border, the leering men vanished, the traffic calmed, the garbage disappeared, women magically appeared, the English improved, the heat cranked up, the bugs started biting, and the demands for tips ceased. Have I mentioned we love Sudan?

Several sources (notably the Lonely Planet) promised that I would meet among the friendliest people in the world in Sudan, so my expectations were high, but I have to say I have still been absolutely impressed with the genuine displays of hospitality and pride. We are invited to tea on an hourly basis and our money is refused in the markets. Today, I was given tea, coffee, bananas, oranges and candy. Women call us over to take pictures with us, men offer to translate, children ask to add us to facebook. Many have invited us to eat and even sleep in their homes.

Again, there is so much to say that it is hard to put into words, but I’ll be honest, the long bike rides can get (really) boring when you’re riding by yourself in the desert. I thought I’d give you a little taste of a day in my life. It happened to be pretty eventful, but nonetheless typical:

WARNING: Foul Language

January 26, 2012
Nile Desert Camp to Nile Desert Camp
Distance: 148 km
Temperature: 32 Celsius

0:00-stomach is angry. I wonder if it is a result of overdosing on anti-inflammatories or not washing my hands enough
0:30-stomach still angry, time to go to the bathroom again
0:35-at least it’s a starry night
0:40-decide to be proactive and eat an energy bar and drink lots of water in case this gets really bad
0:45à1:45-sleep
1:45-wake up with numb leg from sleeping on side (stupid stupid useless camping mat)
1:50-stomach is garbage
1:55-perfecting my desert squat
1:56-loads of barking dogs, hard to judge their distance in the desert. In the end I wasn’t attacked so they must have been quite far
2:00à3:00-sleep
3:01-woken by someone snoring, check in with my stomach, just a little rumbly now, wonder how it will handle being fed
3:05ànevermind, time to go to the bathroom again. Very grateful that the nights are warmer now
3:30à5:30-sleep
5:30-wake up to sound of tents zippering. Probably just the staff but the competitive side of me figures I better get my day going as well just in case it’s the other riders. Check in with my stomach….so far so good, guess I’ll be cycling today!
5:35à6:35-hope that my stomach cooperates today. take malaria pill and anti-inflammatories. Apply chamois cream. Baby wipe face. Brush teeth. Put on leg warmers, arm warmers, two pairs of shorts, cycling shirt, scarf, headband, and wind breaker. Pack clothes and toiletries. Fill water bottles. Stuff sleeping bag into sack. Dismantle tent. Stuff everything into duffle bag. Then the real fun begins…
6:40-fight for my fucking life to get my bags to fit into my locker. It is only our second day with the lockers and things are not looking pretty. Many people have had to give up tents, tarps, mats, clothing, baby wipes, food etc. I can fit everything but it involves kicking and badly scratched hands. Today I was not so lucky and in an attempt to get more leverage, I cracked a locker door behind me in half and broke it off its hinges.
6:45-shit is in the locker. Something like 110 more days to go. Don’t know how I’ll get my bags in without a stable locker behind me.
6:46-apologize to the boy whose locker I just broke. Offer to trade, but he is happy to have an excuse for not being able to close his locker door
6:47à7:00-stuff my face with granola, oatmeal, bananas, sugar and green tea
7:00à7:15-reset my odometer, pump my tires, chat a little with other riders, apply sunscreen, wrap my knee and rush off to the road to get a head start because I’m really slow and need to stop a lot throughout the day (and may have digestive issues)
7:15/KM 0-ahhhhh
KM 1-adjust posture (repeat every 5 km)
KM 2-wipe snot with glove (repeat every 3 km until lunch)
KM 3-marvel at beauty of desert
KM 4-remind myself I’m in Africa!
KM 5-o my god I have another 110 days of this
KM 6-I’m the king of the world
KM 7-what the fuck am I doing here
KM 8-knee is hurting a little, think about making it another 2 KM before stretching
KM 9-wave at truck with pom poms and Christmas lights that is honking one tune or another (repeat every 3 KM)
KM 10-greet villagers at side of the road waiting for us (repeat intermittently, maybe every 3 KM on average)
KM 11-greet donkey driver (repeat every 4 KM)
KM 12-stretch. Get passed by 400 cyclists. Feel a little dejected. Remind myself that no one cares
KM 13-fucking knee
KM 14-life is good
KM 15-no, it’s fucking great
KM 16-not feeling thirsty, better start drinking
KM 17-see lots of people on the side of the road, uh oh
KM 18-a Sudanese man who has joined us for this section of the tour has crashed 😦 he is ok though. Time to stretch again and shed some layers
KM 19-thank god for tail winds
KM 20-cycle with some buds for a bit but tell them to carry on because I’m trying to go reallllllly slow today to see if that helps my knee
KM 21-wish someone else was injured with me
KM 22-only 56 more km to lunch
KM 23-hmmmm what should I think about now
KM 24-wonder if it makes sense to spend an exorbitant sum on tuition after cycling through Africa
KM 25-suddenly remember that my mom is dead and I am only getting further and further away from her
KM 26-think of how grateful I am for having her as my mother
KM 27-really must stop crying as my gloves cannot absorb more snot
KM 28-drink some water
KM 29-time to put on some music
KM 30-35-reminisce on happy times with help of music
KM 36-this must be the meaning of life
KM 37-shed remaining layers
KM 38-passed by more cyclists. I must be one of the last ones now
KM 39-energy bar time! Get passed by more cyclists. Do they ever fucking stop?ASDFLK@£$
KM 40-reapply sunscreen
KM 41-70-you get the point….this is fucking great but also crazy monotonous
KM 70-only 8 more km, you can do this
KM 75-I want to fucking die
KM 76-ok lunch truck should be just around this bend
KM 77-or this one
KM 78-where is the fucking lunch truck
KM 79-this isn’t funny I need some god damn lunch!!!!
KM 80-o there it is
LUNCH-reapply sunscreen, chamois cream. Fill water bottles. Stuff face with carbs. Have a good laugh with the staff and a couple riders over one of the girls who argued with cellphone customer service for over half an hour last night after everyone had gone to bed (tents have no soundproofing). Warn staff I will probably need to get picked up when they pass me because my knee is hurting again
KM 82-ummm where did this headwind come from?!?!
KM 83-holy mother fuck jesus this headwind is the worst thing of my life I will never make it up that mountain
Km 84-how am I only at KM 84 I’ve been cycling for 789 hours
KM 85-I will fucking kill you mother nature
KM 86-no, remember that mother nature is my friend. It is ok if I can’t finish this day
KM 87-molested by boy on donkey who stopped me in the middle of the road
KM 88-I’m ok
KM 89-ugh why didn’t I kick him in the balls
KM 90-ugh I hope he doesn’t get the next girl too
KM 91-why is this truck slowing down
KM 92-why are those villagers waving at me
KM 93-I think this truck is following me. Should I speed up or slow down? Why did I cycle on my own today?! Better speed up, knee be damned!
KM 94-ahhh here’s a town, I’ll be safe if I stop here until another cyclist passes
TOWN-stretch and have energy bar. Soon swarmed by local men inviting me for tea. I think they must be trying to get me off the road to steal my iphone. I make it clear there are loads of cyclists behind me and they are looking for me so I can’t go anywhere until they arrive. Ten minutes pass and no one comes, more locals crowd around me. They all look evil. Finally our staff doctor from Holland, a girl my age, is in sight. I wave for her to slow down, tell her what has happened and she agrees we should just carry on. Before I leave, one of the men takes out his iphone to ask for my email/myspace/facebook
KM 95-you stupid stupid idiot those were nice people and you were fucking rude and turned down their hospitality. Don’t let that donkey boy ruin Sudan!!!!
KM 96-I feel really bad for being in this paranoid state of mind now. I resolve tomorrow is a new day
KM 97-water water water water water water
KM 98-this country is hooooooooooot
KM 99-waaaaaaaaaater
KM 100-take more pills
KM 101à110-have nice chat with doctor
KM 110à116-knee knee knee knee knee where is the truck?? Please come soon truck
KM 117-the lunch truck passes, hallelujah. I hop on
KM 117à148-It is very demoralizing getting on the truck because let’s face it, you can’t say you’ve cycled across Africa if you do, even just once. Many people strive for EFI status (Every Fucking/Fabulous/Fantastic etc Inch), but it is often just not realistic. Already around a quarter of the riders have lost their status, and by the end of Ethiopia (long mountain passes, lots of rock throwing children, high speed downhill collisions with villagers and livestock, near guarantee of illness) most others (not a scientific estimate) will have lost theirs as well. Still, it sucks to get on the truck. BUT, I’m comforted by the words of a veteran staff member “Losing your EFI status is like losing your virginity. Once you’ve lost it, you’ll wonder what the big deal was and wish you had done it sooner.”

On the truck, I get to go on the adventure for water, which takes us through two villages over the course of no less than 2 hours. I have a new appreciation for our water supply both on the tour and at home in Canada.

CAMP-arrive at 4:30

4:35à5:30-set up tent, change, organize gear before sun sets, hear stories from the day, see our first snake, wonder if it’s poisonous, why hasn’t anyone told us if there are poisonous snakes in Sudan? Chat with villagers who have come to observe the circus that is the Tour d’Afrique
5:30à6:00-walk down to the Nile to watch sunset, bugs are too bad, only stay for 2 minutes
6:00à6:15-rider meeting (directions for tomorrow’s ride and general info)
6:15à6:45-dinner, chatting with riders
6:45à7:00-get ready for BED
7:15à10:00-sleep
10:00à10:15-I feel a little congested, I think a cold is coming
10:15à11:45-another hour and a half of uncomfortable restless sleep with lots of snores and farts in the background. At least I know five riders havent been attacked by poisonous snakes
11:45-aaaaaand now I have a cold. Can’t blow my nose because I’m out of toilet paper and only have a few baby wipes to last until the next town.
12:00-maybe these allergy pills will do the trick, or at least they’ll knock me out

Photos 1, 2, 3, 5, 6- ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa.. Words cannot describe plus I have already said too much. Please read my friend Carla’s blog again if you’re interested: carlabikesafrica.com

Photo 4-directions for the day (jan 26)
Other photos-stretching, locker stuffing, chocolate shopping, buying BBQ chicken etc (sorry will try to do a better job with captioning when I get to a computer)

20120128-064935.jpg

20120128-065003.jpg

20120128-064914.jpg

20120128-071055.jpg

20120128-064928.jpg

20120128-064851.jpg

20120128-064547.jpg

20120128-064625.jpg

20120128-064641.jpg

20120128-064606.jpg

20120128-064426.jpg

20120128-064539.jpg

20120128-064527.jpg