Tim and Bruce are cycling for charity in the Tour ‘d Afrique from Cairo to Cape Town, 12 000km’s in 120 days. The money is all going towards the building of 2 classrooms for a rural school in the Eastern Cape. So far they have raised R84,000 and their target is R180,000 so please go donate on their website www.cycle2learn.org
10 February, Day 29
165km Bahir Dar to Bush Camp
What a day! Today was the day of the tour for me. It started poorly, I woke up feeling average despite the 2nd consecutive day of 11 hours of sleep and antibiotics. Once on the bike I felt worse, there wasn’t one thing in particular that was sore. My tummy was fine, I didn’t have diarrhoea and I wasn’t nauseas – I just felt lousy and couldn’t keep up with Tim. After 20km I was struggling, and then, as if a switch was flipped, I started feeling better and made it to lunch without too many concerns. I also had an appetite for a change and ate plenty. The race was from lunch (70km) to the refresh stop (125km). I rode alone and in my own world cruising happily with an incident free morning. As I approached the town at 120km (can’t remember it’s name – sorry), I was climbing a steep hill and school had just come out… there were hundreds of kids lining the road and by the time I had got there everyone of them had a stone… with little to do I simply put my head down and grinded away taking the hits – mostly small stones not thrown too hard.
Next a seemingly local rider came up behind me and passed me up the hill – a little embarrassing given he was in long pants with a bike that creaked loudly with each crank and a wheel that wasn’t completely round. I quickly realised that the kids calmed down considerably with him nearby, so I stuck to his wheel like flies to dung. After a number of kilometres and many screaming kids/locals, I eventually decided to unleash my frustration on my knight in shining armour by asking why these #$%&^&* kids kept harassing me and pelting me with stones – I hadn’t done anything to upset them! I expected the rider to not understand me at all so when he replied ‘stick close to me and you be fine’ I was a little shocked to say the least… The two of us rode on together for some time chatting.
My knight’s name was John (Johen in Amharic) and he was from Dongola (my favourite town in Sudan), he moved to Ethiopia a number of years ago to seek a better future for himself, something I found very surprising. John had studied history and teaching in both Gondar and Barhir Dar – our previous two rest day towns, and John was one switched on cookie. I asked him if I could buy him a coffee and he said he knew a place. We pulled over and shared two coffees, taking in the town and watching the occasional harassed TDA rider pass by. The clouds were looking ominous so I asked John if it was going to rain – he assured me it wouldn’t. After coffee, John asked me if I’d like some ‘makoni’ – not entirely sure what this was and given that my stomach was feeling better and ready for another assault from Ethiopian food, I agreed, thinking you got to give everything a go. We headed deep into town to John’s place – it was a modest single room house but clearly his pride and joy. By now I had realised that John was cut from a different cloth to everyone else I’d met in Ethiopia, this guy was an entrepreneur feeding himself with his local produce and selling the extra at the market, as well as filling in at the school when a teacher was sick and he had his own regular extra curricular class he taught and was in the process of publishing his very own English/Ahmeric phrase book/dictionary for grades 4 to 12.
I spent a while paging through John’s photo album, filled with pics of his family, graduations and his girl friend. John set about preparing the ‘makoni’ (which I realised by now was actually macaroni), he boiled the pasta, fried the onions, garlic, peppers (all from his garden) and served up a treat. Now it started to rain, John felt like a bit of an idiot after assuring me it wouldn’t, and he suggested we have one of those layered fruit drinks I like so much. Back on the bike in the rain, we headed to the juice stand – no juice except avocado… so we had a beer glass full of avo juice with a strawberry squeeze sauce – it was great!
Still raining, John asked me if I wanted to meet his girlfriend, her house was round the corner. I was a little hesitant as the macaroni had taken a while to make, serve and eat and with the juice I was starting to run a little late. John assured me that his girl friend’s friend was worth the trip and that I should definitely come meet her – I quickly agreedJ Mista’s place was also a single room house, inside was a bed and a set of small Ethiopian coffee cups and small portable charcoal fire for the kettle. I met Fatima – soon to be my wife I was told – and she was stunning, so I wasn’t backing away from the idea in too much of a hurry.
At a TDA rider meeting we’d been told that the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is quite long… I can now vouch for this. First Mista had to get the charcoal, light it, wait for the coals to form by fanning the fire, then fill the pot, boil the water, serve the coffee and sugar into the many cups, and serve. This is repeated a further 2 more times – apparently the Ethiopians have three coffees in one of these sittings. The coffee, though from a sachet, was lovely and I had a fantastic time chatting with John, Mista, Mista’s sister, Mista’s land lord, some random and Fatima. Not sure Fatima was keen on the idea of our pending marriage and I was still out with the jury, but John and Mista were convinced they’d found the perfect match!
After coffee I told John I seriously needed to leave, the girls were sad. Digits/email addressed and of course the cycle2learn website address was exchanged (Fatima if you’re reading this hiJ), hugs given and I said goodbye to the girls. John cycled with me out of the town and on for a fair amount further ensuring there were no more little brats sporting freshly picked up stones. We said goodbye, shook hands and made our separate ways… I looked at the time, past 5 and I still had 35kms left… thoughts of not making it to camp in daylight filtered through my head, so I pulled finger and rode like the wind. To my seemingly endless luck of the day, it turned out the last 35km were pretty much all downhill. I passed a frantic TDA van coming towards me with the medic, Alex, Miles the chef and oracle of the TDA, and Tim – all very concerned for me. I felt terrible, I was due in camp at least three hours before and no one knew where I was. I said I was fine and cycled the rest of the way, as I entered camp I received a loud applause and told my story to everyone at dinner. The story went down and a treat, and guess what…. Unbelievably it was none other than macaroni for dinner!
11 February, Day 30
118km Bush Camp to Forest Camp
Hell’s bells there are lots of people in the country. Wherever we are, they just seem to appear from nowhere to watch the circus roll-on through. There are hardly any passenger cars at all on the roads, just people trekking from village to village with donkeys, cattle, goats and chickens. Needless to say, we cause quite a stir in our cycling kit as we whiz through. But if you’re wise – like we naturally are – you leave early in the morning and aim to be amongst the first riders to be seen for the day, this ensures you are just gawked at, rather than stoned and harassed for money, which is what happens if you’re at the back of the pack.
Aside from the teeming population here, we can also confidently confirm that Ethiopia has mountains, and lots of them. Today we gained about 1800m in elevation, descending 1320m, and we’re camping tonight in a pine plantation at an altitude of 2500m above sea level – the high altitude alone caught us sucking on a bit of gas this morning, I mean we’re beach bums back home!
Like yesterday, today was a beautiful but challenging ride with some big climbs, with the legs now just a little tired and right on time for tomorrow’s Blue Nile Gorge challenge – the nasty bit being a 22km climb with an elevation gain of 1600m – let’s just hope we’re ahead of the pack and the stone-throwing masses.
12 February, Day 30
89km Forest Camp to CPAR Camp – Blue Nile Gorge Day
(CPAR – Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief)
A little over 20kph on the rolling hills in the morning, 45kph plus down the gorge and about 10kph up
Because today was such an epic day – we’ve both described it from our own personal view points – ENJOY!
Blue Nile Gorge… KLAPPED IT! What a great day. I’ve been dreading this day for sometime now, camp site rumours of a 1.5km ascent over some 20km spread like wild fire and when the worst was confirmed true I experienced shear panic. South Western Australia (where I did all my pre-tour training) just about has it all – beautiful beaches, warm weather, vineyards, breweries, etc just about all except hills. In saying that hills may not of helped cause today I climbed a mountain.
Going down the gorge was scary due to the steep descent and of course, given this is Ethiopia, countless people on the narrow steep roads with screaming kids and the occasional dog chasing our rear tyres. I had a great time climbing, I paced myself beautifully sitting in granny gear ticking along checking out the breath taking view. Switch back after switch back we climbed. Towards the top I read messages of encouragement from the TDA staff written in chalk on the road surface which kept me going. With a few hundred meters to go, but still a steep climb, I saw Erin the medic – she shouted support and gave me a quick push up the last switch back – an awesome moment. I cross the line feeling great and most importantly like I could do it again if I needed to. It took a while but it’s finally dawned on me that this is a very, very long journey and the name of the game is pacing yourself… At camp we had a really treat – a game of table tennis! Also two of the best cups of coffee and finally a shower. Ending the day with a braai of sheep shoulder blades, knuckles, necks and ribs and one of our last hot chocolate mixes (we treated ourselves on a big day – thanks once again Collin and VivJ). Tomorrow is another big day with a 500m climb in 10km, we reach the highest point on tour, a little over 3100m before descending back below 2700m… looking forward to it!
Below and to my left is the Blue Nile, and just up ahead is another steep 180-degree switchback. As I look down at my tanned chicken legs spinning, sweat falls off my face and cools my knees.
The happiest I am on a bike is directly proportional to the size of the mountain I’m climbing. The bigger the climb, the broader the smile, and today was a perfect ride! A fun and challenging 18km descent into the gorge, followed by a 22km time trial climb out of it. Pacing is the key for a climb like this, and my goal was to get to the top and NOT be tired. Mission accomplished! I had so much energy left at the top that I even put in a sprint finish just for fun for the timekeepers. It was a tremendous feeling for all who rode the day. Everyone had a different story to tell, everyone went at a different pace, and everyone shared the euphoric feeling at the top of having climbed a beautiful bit of mountainside. Afterwards an ice-cold Pepsi was had at the local village, followed by amazing coffees, and even a braai for dinner. Good times!
13 February, Day 31
90 CPAR Camp to CPAR Camp
(CPAR – Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief)
We climbed to 3200 metres above sea level today, the highest point of the Tour, and yes, the lungs were most certainly burning for most of the day! With lungs longing for air, we just took it easy and rolled along pretty leisurely for most of the day, even stopping in at a local village for a seriously strong cup of coffee! It’s been great staying in the CPAR camps as they afford you a little bit of space from all the inquisitive eyes. The added benefit of today’s CPAR location is that it is just around the corner from a ‘hotel’ which is perched on the edge of a beautiful ravine. Needless to say we hit the place up for a beer, sat right by the edge, and just enjoyed the serenity of the view and the many birds soaring on the thermals.
14 February, Day 32
105km CPAR Camp to Addis Ababa
Rolling hills for most of the day then a fast convoy down the hill into Addis
I had an awesome birthday today! I’m not a cycling purest, I chose to come along on TDA because I wanted to see Africa, have unique experiences and meet some interesting people, but yesterday I understood why some people, the cycling purists, love nothing other than to cycle. It was a great morning’s ride through the rolling hills with spectacular scenery and a festive mood for the rest day ahead. We made our final climb then had to wait for the all the other cyclists to arrive for the convoy into Addis. There were a few shops selling soft drinks and cookies, but despite asking everywhere there was no coffee available for sale. Next minute one of the ladies Tim had been speaking to motioned us into her shop for coffee. We sat there for well over an hour enjoying the authentic Ethiopian coffee ceremony – the lady roasted the beans, crushed them in a mortar, and then brewed the coffee with incense burning – all in her tiny little stall on the side of the road. It was simply the best coffee I’ve had and a fantastic experience. After arriving in camp and setting up tents we headed out for birthday drinks. Amongst the many beers a samoosa, doughnut, pizza and even a piece of cake was had! The rest of the evening was spent bar-hopping playing drinking games and ending at a local night club dancing the night away. What a great way to bring in your 27th birthday.
- Cycling from Cairo to Cape Town, why?
- Cycling from Cairo to Cape Town for charity – Days 33 to 36
- Cycling from Cairo to Cape Town for charity – Days 38 – 44 (cracked ribs and all!)
- Cycling from Cairo to Cape Town for charity: Days 45 – 49
- Cycle2Learn – Lilongwe to Victoria Falls
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