So it’s been a while since there was an update, all the way from Atbara what seems like an eternity ago, but was probably only about 10 days… Internet was super super sucky in Gadaref, our last Sudanese rest stop, so I’m writing this from Ethiopia now, which I’ll blog about in the next couple days. Spoiler: I get sick. Very sick. haha.
Day 1 we left Atbara and headed a few miles down the road to where there was a dirt road that just goes off into the desert, roughly following some power lines, but basically was about 60 lanes to choose from of varying degrees of difficulty on a bike. This kind if sets the tone for the first four days, though the first day had about 40k of somewhat pleasant rocky paths that would’ve been very fun on a proper mountain bike but we’re less than ideal on my road touring bike turned offroad machine.. but still enjoyable! And I was really happy to be doing something other than riding road through featureless sandlands.. haha. Anyways, it was fun to do something different than the road and spirits were high. Sadly this day was 101km long so we still had 60k to go after the 40k of Rocky bits. This is where my own personal little hell starts.
Sand, sand, more sand, loose dirt, sand, sand… sand. The first day I ran the last 5k into camp to avoid being picked up on the lunch truck. I increased my bike speed significantly by getting off and pushing it! 8 km/h was tough going in the soft sand, my speed play pedals were absolute shit in the sand, the moving parts in the cleat clogged up and it would take 400+ meters to get into the pedals and then I’d never get out of them… whether for a break or for a fall… Speaking of which, I fell 13 times by km 65 and then gave up counting. I definitely fell more than 20 times tho! Took more than 10h total.
Meal was new food again, beef with all kinds of crazy mix stuff, lots of onions and garlic, then some garlic mashed potatoes, mmm!
Day 2 was 71km of sand and started roughly how day 1 ended! Terribly! haha. There was a mass start for the race, since it was a mando(tory) day and I hauled ass on foot pushing my bike and was winning for about 2min before I ran out of steam! lol. 7 km in, over an hour after the start, I almost caught the truck to camp, I was just too disheartened, but then David G. passed and gave me the tip that let me finish… the deep ruts of the trucks that go through the desert which were unrideable the day before were the key this day. The mountain bikers were floating on top of everything, especially the girls who finished 1st, 2nd, and 4th in the top 6 (Birgit finished 2nd), and myself and David (and others that decided not to ride) were struggling… I finished in just under 8h. Ugh. The last one, actually, since most people took trucks. Meal was not bad! I had my first cheese (cheese curds), and sausage (new too) and.. beans (new kind of bean) in some sauce. Should’ve had more, perhaps. (writing this now, I’d actually forgotten about the cheese curds! wow! – have to try poutine when I get back to Canada).
The 3rd day was supposedly “mixed terrain” and the sand “ends at 22k or so”… But it was 22k of sand, then a huge patch of the softest dirt ever, then more dirt, which acted much like the sand had for the last couple days. 6-7 km before lunch I just crashed hardcore, dizziness, wasted. Took the truck to lunch with intentions of taking it all the way to camp. Birgit had tried to race in the morning (her mountain bike is doing her well) but bonked around the same place I think, just much earlier than I… So when the truck delivered me to lunch she’d been there a while already. I ate some stuff and sat around a lot and eventually was convinced to ride with Birgit cuz she wanted company and wanted me to continue… my EFI status was over tho! Oh well. I was the 5th last person with it (3 remain now, somewhat unhealthily). I rode from lunch with her (and music! I started listening to music on day 2, cuz I was alone the whole 8 hours).. just loudspeaker off phone in the back pack.. Made it to camp somehow, kind of wasted and the heat really started to get to me this day… no fly, no shirt, no sleeping bag, still kind of sweating. haha.
Dinner was a challenge again, pasta and eggplant. tho there was a salad with pineapple and I ate the shit out of that pineapple. My peanuts I bought as backup food was far too dirty to eat, and I exhausted my chocolate supply, so Jennilea shared some protein shake, and I have a few cookies left. I switched back to Nutella from Margarine (called Fat Spread here, lol) on my sandwiches too.
Other developments 3 days in were: is that we’re supposed to ride in pairs now, this area is apparently not as safe as we thought. It’s a new area for the tour in Sudan and there’s been two or three incidents with the girls now… Leah got groped by a group of young boys on day 1 of this riding stage and today one of the staff got chased and almost assaulted leaving the town we stayed in last night. 🙁 They were trying to rip her shirt off by the sounds of it.
There were bucket showers on offer by the local townspeople, and perhaps they saw too much skin of the girls and got crazy today, we don’t know. Also this area is rife with Rashida) camel trading nomads from Saudi, and though my experience passing them has been pleasant, I guess they don’t respect the law of the land as much as true Sudanese either. Alas. Ethiopia is going to be worse for this too, I guess. Sad, since it’s been so good for us til now. :-\
Day 4 was a total crap show for me. More sandy dirty crap, endless nothing in every direction, and left by myself forever again… 33k in I found Diederik being too sick to ride any further (the 4th last with EFI status at the time), and I joined him for a wait for the truck, taking it the next 70k or whatever to the end… Sadly it actually got way more interesting after lunch and I completely missed that awesomeness because of my morning woes… Oh well, I needed a break, and I’m not that ashamed I took it. It wouldn’t be my last time on the truck. At the end though, we found a sweet canal camp and some nice locals and some cold drinks, delicious! Dinner was BBQ chicken and despite my chicken intolerance in the past years, I just went for it, and it was soooo worth it. Had two huge pieces of chicken and the pain was mild and passed quickly. Not sure how often I’ll risk this, but it was so worth it that day. Felt amazing the next day!
Day 5! Started as another Mando day, and I was on fire! I felt really good and the rocky roads to start the day were perfect. However, we soon caught up to the trucks which had lost the previously scouted route due to some canal flooding and there was a bit of a shitshow finding the real route. I convinced Alessandro and Helen that I knew where I was going and they followed me all the way to the paved road.. We were just blazing through and knew everyone else was lost and I was on my way to a great first stage win… I kicked it into high gear on the paved road and was averaging over 35 km/h even with a bit of headwind, just killing myself to get to lunch at 50k. I beat the lunch truck there by 18 minutes, at which time I was told that they canceled the race behind us because so many people were lost! Aghhhhh, I was so annoyed! haha. Lunch and friends cheered me up though and we had an enjoyable casual 40k into lunch with a few nice coke stops. I skipped the pasta dinner (Mac and Cheese I think?) and had Sheep at a local restaurant for like $4. Delicious! lol.
Day 6 was a long ass day to Gadaref, all paved, and was mostly uneventful… There was a sweet camel market on the way to lunch that we didn’t get many pictures of, just cuz there was way way too many people and camels and goats and mayhem, we didn’t want to stop.. Birgit might have some on her GoPro, we’ll see sometime. Lunch was a nice stop with a coke stop, but all they had was Sprite… Another coke stop in the afternoon saw us surrounded like celebrities by the whole town who seemed to come from no where to see these crazy cyclists drink some soda. The kids were a little touchy, but it was a fun experience anyways, some good pictures!
The best part of the day came near the end when Birgit and I got our own personal 3-policeman convoy through the city complete with lights and sirens for the 5k from the highway to the guesthouse. Ridiculous! They were forcing oncoming traffic off the road for us to go through… And also didn’t realize we couldn’t cycle at the same speed as their motorcycles, lol. They left us in the dust a bit a few times… “Come back, guys!”… but it was fun and hilarious!
Another post to come about Gadaref itself. Here’s some pictures from the desert crossing! Most of them were taken by Birgit, I was far too down to take many good photos! lol.