Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TDA 2011 - Ethiopia


10 February 2011 – Doka to bush camp– 95km
First bit of climbing on the trip and the first bit of Africa (or so it feels to me). Finally, lost of bush veld, mountains, villages, people selling stuff, less Arabic and more African etc….Just the kids seem to be more grapping here, and they get very close to the riders to ask for money (which is very annoying). But our celebrity status continues, as the whole villages line up as we cycle through them! And their love for you taking their pictures also continues. Got my first flat, but thanks to Sarge and the one Bram, was very quickly up and going again. In general, most of the riders seemed to enjoy today. I got in at 13:30, which gave me lots of time to relax a bit, clean some things etc. Had agreat chat to Stevie, who is one of the SA guys on the support crew – he had a military background so we got along very well and told me some interesting stories – he is also an artist and the day before he was playing guitar and singing various songs for the whole group while we had dinner. But such a good oke and a real SA boytjie! I also met up with a Kiwi, Pete, who is cycling from Cape Town to Denmark (yes) unaided on his own. (basically doing the same African route as us, just the wrong way around). Feels good camping in the bush, but really looking forward to the rest day. The last few days have been physically and mentally very tough and I am longing for a nice hot shower (and my girlfriend J ). Tough day tomorrow, mando stage, which are considered the toughest stages on the trip and the racers have to cycles this stage. Saw the rider board and there is lots of climbing to be done! It was also a bit weird in that it was the first night that I did not have cell phone reception so I could not sms Stephanie.

11 February 2011 – Bush Camp to Gondor – 107km
Okay, this was one hellevu tough day! The climbing was insane! Apparently this is the steepest that we will climb on the trip. Also combining it with the previous 7 riding days was mentally exhausting. The rest days were so close, yet so far away. First we had to go to the top of these damn mountains, were Gondor is located. The bad ascent started from about 20km and went all the way to 33km. Some good downhill after that and I had a top speeds of 65km/h! Lunch was at 60km, and the stretch just after lunch till around 80km was very tough for me. There was just more and more climbing. Going at 7km/h up a hill is not a joke, doing it in heat is tough and then have little kids run next to you and keeping up very easily even worse (and the one little bugger stole my Marie biscuits off my bag!). Again, there were some casualties and more people lost their EFI. Also some bad incidents with the little rascals throwing rocks at the riders (I was hit twice on my bike, but it was nothing serious). It was a great feeling to finish, although there was a crappy little section of climbing of 2km to get to the Boha hotel in Gondor (where we were staying). After everyone had a shower, the riders were in high spirits. Lots of smiling faces and lots of beers on the tables. This was the longest stretch of riding days on the tour, and definitely one of the more difficult ones as well. So glad it is over! I had a lot of beers in the evening and also took the upgrade to the hotel (no tent for me for at least 3 nights). The one thing about climbing is that it is tough, but also very rewarding, as you get the best views from the top. There were some amazing views that we saw along the way, really moments to cherish and some nice photos taken. Gondor is also described as Africa’s Camelot, high up in the mountains with lots of old castles and a very interesting history (the name still reminds me of something out of a Lord of the Rings movie). Did the beers taste good after this ride!

12 February 2011 – Rest day – Gondor
It was a pretty chilled out day with just the school uniform donation planned for the morning. Each of the riders had the choice to donate USD20 to a school in Gondor (that has been helped restored by a previous TDA rider, Tony, and also arranged this trip). There about 25 riders signed up to donate the money, but only about 15 made it to the school, which was a little disappointing, although some of them that did miss it was sick. We had a tour around the school area, and then a football match (I almost scored a great goal at the end) before we started with handing out the school uniforms to the kids. For them it is a big deal, as it almost represents a status symbol in the city, they are receiving an education. So all of us had turns to hand out and shake the kids hands as they received their uniforms, and the appreciation easy to see n their faces. Then we were treated to a traditional Ethiopian lunch, which was delicious and had some beers afterward s as well (yes, they keep them at the school). The afternoon was just spent updating my blog and cursing the slow internet speed at the hotel because of all of the problems I had updating my FB pictures. Mentally this day is making such a big difference, knowing that we do not have to be on the road again tomorrow (as on our previous rest days of only one day). Slept like a baby.

13 February 2011 – Rest day – Gondor
Ah, so nice waking up with the feeling that we have another rest day! (2 in a row is a rarity and very gladly excepted by the fellow riders after 8 grueling cycling days). Took the tuck-tuck down to town to have some coffee and cake and then Chris, Daniel, Sam and myself headed to one of the hotels in the piazza to have our lunch (unfortunately the food service is very slow in Ethiopia) – although we spent a bit longer than we would have hoped for. Chris and myself then went to see the castle in Gondor that dates back to the 1600's (there is some pretty old stuff in Ethiopia). You can sense that the riders are not so much enjoying the sights of the city (although there is not too much), but rather just the 2 days off. Nice to catch up on admin work, relax, call etc. We stayed in the Goha hotel on the top of a mountain, overlooking the whole city with constant eagles flying above our head. The hotel was also hosting a wedding that evening, which we all saw, although the funny thing was that it only lasted for about 3-4 hours. Weird. I down graded myself out of the room to the tent for the night – I enjoyed my 2 nights sleep but there was really no sense in me sleeping over another night at US57 a night. Also the number f riders getting sick from stomach bugs etc over the last few days has been staggering. Vomiting, no bowl movement, too much bowl movement etc, all was happening. I was feeling pretty fortunate that nothing had happened to me thus far. I spoke to my mom for the first time in over a month and had a great Skype chat with Stephanie for over an hour and a half, great just to chit chat about everything (made a Skype to Skype call, so it was free).

14 February 2011 – Gondor to bush camp – 117km
Valentines day! (my first one in a while and I am missing it). At least I had arranged that flowers be delivered to Stephanie's work, so that it slightly make up for me not being there with her. We met up with some of the kids with their new uniforms in the piazza for some pictures and then it was back to business as usual (it was just sad that a lot less kids turned up than TDS hoped for, as they wanted to get a big group photo of the kids and the riders). Great day of riding, with some great views, nice climbs and even better descending (we were at lunch at no time at all)!Some of the riders got speeds of up to 70km an hour on the one big downhill! As goods as the kids were in the morning, they were terrible after lunch. I got thrown with a cabbage in my face (I probably looked hungry) and almost got hit with a stick. Too say I was fuming when I got to camp is an under statement! I was so annoyed and really hoping that it would not be my lasting memory of Ethiopia, the annoying kids screaming and yelling as you cycle past. Some friendly,m but some real pain in the back sides! And they are also real sissies, they wait till you cycle past and then try and throw you, they will not do it when you are looking at them! My bum was a bit sore when I got into camp, nit sure why. It was a pretty happy atmosphere in camp, as we all knew we had a very short ride in the next day and that we would be having a dress up party with the theme “Where do you go” - which is one of the favorite phrases of the Ethiopian kids, although they shout it! Also managed to get some very nice sunset pictures as well.

15 February 2011 – Bush camp to Bahir Dar – 61 kmShame, 3 of the riders had some bad stomach problems last night and we all vomiting outside the camp, but it sounded like they were dying! Everyone heard them and everyone felt pretty sorry for them, glad that it was not them. Nive short ride into town right next to Lake Tana, to which the Blue Nile flows into. Had two challenging climbs, but nothing compaed to Friday, and then two gret ascends! Really makes such a mental difference if you know you have such a short ride, there is a sense of excitement and relaxation in the air. Strolled into town crossing the bridge flowing over the Blue Nile (I have seen this river now a few times and a soldier very kindly reminded us that it is not allowed to take pictures of the bridge – stupid). Bahir Dar is a lovely town and a lot nicer than Gondor, it is cleaner, feels more modern and trendy, has more shops ot buy goods from, lot of palm trees along the main road which adds a touch of glamoer to the city (although still do no expect Miami, this is Africa after all). I decided that I would “go local” as my theme, although local as in woman local. So I bought this traditional Ethiopian dress at the market, with a hood/cape thing. This hood/cape thing made me look more like a Shepard with my beard than a local lady, but I still think I looked good. Terry also had a great outfit, dressed like a lady with make up and all and Kendra dressed in traditional Arabian dress, where you can only see the eyes. The Bram's (surprise, surprise) also dressed like 2 Sheppard, just more the male version of it (although they planned to do it). The party was great and good to see the people let loose a bit and chill out. Also first time that all of us were tother having a few drinks. The music at one stage was a bit snoring, until I got hold of Ruth's Ipod and played Bon Jovi, Living on Prayer, always a crowd pleaser, especially of the crowd is in their 30's! It was a great night!

16 February 2011 – Rest day – Bahir Dar
We had this pre-arrnaged tour through TDA that about 30 of the riders signed up for. It included a visit to an island to see 3 monasteries and then go and see the Blue Nile Gorge Waterfalls. The day started pretty badly with not getting all of our breakfast (their service is terribly slow here, like in very slow) and then just got worse from there! The portion sizes are also a problem, as they are just very small here in Ethiopia, and then all of the riders are used to pretty big portions, so it does not make for a nice restaurant trip and you end up eating loads of bread to compensate for the small meals you get (although it is very cheap). The arranged trip was a disaster and in the end, a big rip off and money wasted! The boat ride took 1.3 hours to get to the island, and then the monastery trip was something like 10 minutes and then took the same amount of time to get back with the boat again. We also did not see 3, just 1 monastery. The one that we did see was very nice though, the structure was made out of wood from the 14 century and the painting inside from the 16 century. Very funny to find old churches/monasteries here in Ethiopia. Then after that the chaos of the day, the lunch at the restaurant. I am not going to go on about it, as I will just get worked up about it tying it now again. The only thing that I will say was that it was shocking, and one of the worst restaurant experiences that I have had in my life! They messed up orders, did not get all the orders, wrong food, too little food, bad food, way too long etc.... So many people were ticked off with this, that they did not want to go on the second part of the trip. I decided to go with the afternoon session to the waterfalls, which was slightly better, but nothing spectacular or worth the USD25 that we were paying (especially for Ethiopian standards, which is a lot of money!). The only nice thing to wonder about was that how long it took the water from that falls to reach the Mediterranean see? The origin of the Blue Nile was 167km away, but still very nice to see the Falls from this side, also since we have cycled net to a long part of  he Nile for a while, almost following it down from Cairo to Khartoum up until the split. The dinner was better than the lunch and breakfast combined and at least it was filling and quick (ordered pizza at a restaurant). I was really missing Stephanie a lot today, thinking a lot about her.

17 February 2011 – Bahir Dar to bush camp – 162km
Mando day (no 3 of 12 for the trip)! It was a tough riding day, but very rewarding. Scenes were great and the bush camp we stayed at amazing! The best one thus far of the trip! This felt like a true African bush camp, just the right feel to it. It was also full moon tonight, what a lovely sight, the bush and full moon in Africa, what a great combo! The ride was tougher for me than last week's 8 days of riding, although it should not have been. My right knee was getting a bit sore at 120-140km mark, which as always starts playing negative thoughts in your head. Is this going to last the whole trip, will I get there etc.... The scenery today was great and as long as you do not have any problems with the local kids, is then great (which I managed to avoid today). It feels like the kids are definitely less active in the morning than in the afternoon, not sure if they then finish with school, chores or something, or maybe it is just hot and they start getting cranky As is now the standard in Ethiopia riding sections, all of them have hills in it, and lots! There were some tough ones today, but all manageable. The trick with them is just go low gear and keep on peddling (gentle pressure relentlessly applied.....). So we had some hills, but then a great descent at 140km all the way to camp. I rode with Pieter the whole day and I think it is fair at the end that we both wanted to get the stage over and done with, just give our back side some breathing space. Time ridden was 7 hours, 1.5 hours less than my day 2 time, which was 168km (although a slightly different road etc, still I think a big improvement and proof that I am getting a little stronger and better in this riding thing). Ram rode into a cow today, he probably saw a “free internet” or “Wifi zone” sign so he stopped looking at the road and lost concentration (he lobes computers :) ). Oh, and I had to wake up late at night to go to the toilet, which for the first time, was very thankful. The view of the full moon was spectacular, and it lit up the whole camp site, it looked like a cricket stadium lit up with spray lights for a day night game!

18 February 2011 – Bush camp to forest camp – 117 km
Great view again today, but unfortunately for me a tough day at the office (this was more my won fault than anything else). Felt very good this morning and at our coffee break at 25km, just drank some coffee and did not eat anything with it. Then some more hills and at about 50km, I was starving and ate 2 Energy Bars. But it was already too late, I had no energy when I got to the lunch stop at 60km, and was exhausted. I had to stop for over and hour at lunch to get my energy back, my longest stop to date. The first part after lunch was pretty lonesome and quite tough. You then again start getting those thoughts in your head, maybe just give u today, it is not worth it. But then you just stick to it and continue, which luckily I did and then actually as the day wore on, I got stronger and stronger, to the point where I could cycle the last tough uphill section to camp all in one go. Everyone was however unaware that today would be a tough ride, as the mando was yesterday. We actually did steeper climbing today than we did yesterday. Camp site was great, surrounded by lots of trees and no need to look for shade to lie or sit under. Lindsy got hit with a rock against his helmet today by one of the kids, not cool! I need lots of rest, big day tomorrow, the famous Blue Nile Gorge section was coming up tomorrow.

19 February 2011 – forest camp to CPAR – 89km
The Blue Nile Gorge section, probably one of the most famous sections of the whole trip, one for its amazing scenery and the other for the climbing that you have to do to get up there! You are basically cycling down one side of a canyon and then up the other! The ride involves rolling hills from start to 49km at around 2400m, then down to about 800m for 20km, then up again to 2500m for another 20km. So you finish the ride with it, and it is TOUGH! It is the biggest single climb in the trip. Again, with a climb, it is very tough, but very rewarding with the views. The scenery at the top and along the way as out of this world and reminded me of the Grand Canyon, just on a smaller scale. Juts vast amount of rock formations, truly a sight to behold! The descent part was great, but unfortunately over in an eye wink. The ascent took me over 2 long hours to do, consistently just climbing with the bike. It was 3 tough days of riding, but truly amazing. I also found at that you walk at around 4.2 km/h, as there was a part on the ascent where I juts had to walk, could not keep on riding for such a long stretch. Also some places along the way that I stopped for a few pictures, but |I needed the break as well. Funny incidents for the day was that Megan hit a sheep, so she could not ride the uphill part and Marelie was stuck in the toilet at te camp site! So funny, so she had to climb over the door and ad a whole audience as we were trying to kick the door down. Also the camp site had some showers, and although cold, was welcomed by the riders, as we were all smelling. I also had a great moment while riding the hill, that I was listing to Aerosmith, Living on the Edge, and it was such a great song for that moment that I was in and also what |I was seeing and how t re4lated to the song.

20 February 2011 – CPAR to CPAR – 90km
Climbed to our highest point in the tour for today's stage at 3200m. There was unfortunately more climbing (after yesterday's marathon climbing section), but once that was over just after lunch, it was pretty easy and also downhill for the last 15km into out camp. And the climbed seemed relatively easy after what we did yesterday (it gives you a lot of confidence and you really start to back yourself). I also made it into camp at 12:50, a new record for me and great way to relax a bit. The camp site was spectacular, right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the canyon. Amazing!Some of the locals were selling beers there, so I had to saviour the moment and had a few "sort of cold" ones! I think everyone is looking forward to the rest day tomorrow. Great sight that I had was at around 9pm, I woke up to go to the toilet, so had to get out of my sleeping bag and tent (which is normally a pain!). But once I got out, i saw the full moon shining over the caynon, as if it was just lighting it up. I was then extremely grateful for my toilet break! Great view!

21 February 2011 – CPAR to Addis Ababa – 105km
Last day before the "George" section would be complete (from Khartoum to Addis). Certainly one of the best sections of the trip because of its scenery, but also some of the most difficult sections to ride. There was more hills again (surprise, surprise) but in the end, nothing what we had for the previous few days and also nothing what I was expecting (which was great). We all rode to 92km, and then rode into Addis in convoy with no police escort (quite different from the Khartoum one). The good thing about this convoy was that it was all downhill, so no peddling, just holding onto the breaks! Seems a bit surreal that we have now just covered over 3500km! Felt like just the other day that I was in |Cairo! Felt pretty surreal cycling into Addis, did not realised what we had achieved, not the people that were looking at us, but it was still a great feeling! I decided to not go for the hotel upgrade, even though the camp site was pretty crap. I needed to save om some cash somewhere! We had some beers at the camp site and then I went with some of the older riders (Len, Pieter and Bob) to have a pizza. I can safely say this was one of our best meals on the trip and the pizza was as good as what you would get at any good Italian restaurant according to SA standards. Great! Was slightly annoyed with the staff, as they were having a staff party in the evening but made it very clear it was staff only! I thought it would be a good way to interact with them over a beer. The SA members of the crew also slaughtered a billy goat and they were having spit for the evening - I did not get one piece, not impressed! Maybe we should in future just have riders drinking beer together!

22 February 2011 – Rest day – Addis Ababa
I just want to relax today, do nothing and actually rest. The most ironic thing to date about the rest days was the fact that we have been getting very little rest, in between trying to do the sightseeing, walking around etc, then trying to do internet, updating this blog, easting, washing etc, there is very, very little time for rest. This time I wanted to change it. Was woken up by the 4am morning prayer they have in Addis. It is Christian Orthodox, but it reminded me about Egypt and Sudan with the Muslim morning prayer. At least it forced me early out of bed (okay, my tent) and I could do my washing and charge all of my electronic equipment. I am still very annoyed with my cellphone, I cannot get access to the network. It had worked everywhere in Ethiopia before this, in the bush camp, Forrest camp, on the canyon but not in the capital city! How ironic was that! What the rest of the day turned out to be was an eating fest and spending time on the very slow internet updating my blog. We ate like men that were starved for 5 days. They have proper size food portions in Addis, so we were climbing in. I cannot recall having ate so much in one day! Breakfast was french toast and egg sandwich (big with lost of bread), then to the juice bar for fresh juice and smoothie, then hamburger and juice for lunch, then a few beers, then pizza and coke for dinner and to top it off, my second stint of ice cream. I ate all of the dishes with nothing left on my plate afterward! And the truth was that I could eat more..... In the end, I did not wander more than 500m up one street in Addis, but from the feedback that I received from the other people, I did not miss anything.

23 February 2011 – Addis Ababa to Gogetti – 106km
Start of the “Meltdown Madness” section from Addis to Nairobi. We were joined bu 2 new sectional riders and then Bastian's girlfriend also joined us for 2 sections. I have to also mention something bout the kids and there 3 favorite sayings, which is “you, you, you, you: in a screeching voice, “money, money, money” and then the “where do you go” to which they have no answer if you actually tell them, They actually do not know what they are asking. But this what you hear day in and day out though eery village and whenever you pass a kid (and a grown up for that matter as well). Sometime you laugh, and the later the day, the longer the ride and the hotter it gets, the more annoying it gets. But that is Ethiopia, kids are part of it and if you want to survive this section, you just have to get use to it and not le it get the better of you. No serious incidences with the kids for me today (and nothing from the other  riders as well). It was an easy-is ride in, with the standard hills and standard fantastic scenery! You actually get quote accustomed to the climbing and cycling the hills, just as yu get used to the kids (sort of).  Pieter Prins was sick the nighr before and throwing up the whole evening, so he sat in the truck and missed out on his EFI (and I would have had money on him for getting it – he is a very good and strong rider, but it goes to show you, good health is key to this trip). Henry had worsened his infection in his elbow and for the first time also decided to not ride. Funny incident of the day was me and Prick and a local lady getting very excited trying to cross the road in time before we cycled bye, and the in process basically lost her whole top! We kept on laughing for the next 5km there after.

24 February 2011 – Gogetti to Hosawa – 130km
No real news for the day, except the standard hills (again) with beautiful scenery (this time we saw more and more of these huts that the locals stay in, some of them beautifully decorated at the entrance). News of the day was that 1) Henry was leaving the tour for a while to fly back home and get treatment for his infected elbow and 2) Horst (the German machine and my bet for winning the race) quit the race and he is just now a normal rider (like most of us). He had had enough of the racing stuff and said that he wanted to enjoy Africa a bit more, he was on holiday! The funny thing was all of us that stopped at the 25km Coke Stop and had coffee and cake, and the utter shock on everyone;s face when they saw Horst sitting there (including me). These type of stops are a no go for the racers and they would normally not even look at these. It would be a waste of time for them. We had our standard makiato at the Coke stops, local Ethiopian coffee which is almost like an cappuccino, but it is delicious and also very cheap. Very popular with the riders and their Coke stops. I rode with terry most of the day – he was struggling a bit after not getting enough sleep and just feeling a bit off for the day. Terry is such a great guy ad I get along with him really well. He is a typical Ozzie bloke, full of fun and he really share the same sense of humor. He also works with kids, so he is very in tuned with the young people (not that I am young), but also very young at heart and lots o fun to have around. We normally have various jokes during the day and really helps to make the trip lost of fun!. The trip for me was also a bit touhg, the distance just seemed far and I think my body needs a rest. It is getting to that stage where it needs more than 1 rest day to recover. Unfortunately we are not getting it until around the 14 March. Ouch! One of those days that if I was not on the EFI thing, I would seriously consider to get on the truck and just relax for the day. Terry and myself also cycled with the racers for the first 15km of the day, and boy, do they move. I was pulling out all of the stops to try and stay with them and I was breathing very heavily when I left them after 15km. They barely broke a sweat!

25 February 2011 – Hosawa to Bush camp – 116km (NOT SURE ABOUT THIS ONE)
The day's riding was to start with a climb from 13km to 30km, and then after that great descent from 30km to 50km. After that it was lunch at 70km, and then all of the riders had though that it would be a pretty easy ride in to camp. But were we in for a surprise. From lunch until 90km into a town, it was uphill again and the 20km took us nearly 2 hours to ride. What my riding day pretty painful was that I got an infection in my back side form the riding, and sitting in the saddle was not fun and at times a bit painful. I had to stand a lot more on the bike that I normally do to compensate for the pain. Not great and I would need to see the nurses in the afternoon – I did and was put in antibiotics for 7 days. The camp site of the previous day was pretty crap, and too close to town, so there was lots of locals watching us camp out. Unfortunately some of these also got long fingers and 4 riders were left with no shoes when they woke up the next morning – not cool and a big problem if you ride with cleats. Luckily some people had spares so they could ride with these, although still not ideal, but better than nothing. All in camp all are looking forward to the upcoming rest days. Me included! And this cellphone still not working is annoying the crap out of me!