We have now finished the first of ten countries – all but, we have to cycle 17km to the ferry tomorrow – and our first 1000km. Some random thoughts:
The bike: I am very pleased with the bike. When I arrived the front derailleur was seized. I replaced it with my spare and put a new chain on. I took the seized derailleur to the TdA mechanics and asked if they could bring it back to life. Thanks to a little WD40 and some elbow grease, they did. So I now have a spare again. I hit a big pothole on day one. It knocked my front wheel a little out of true. Once again the mechanics were great. They trued it that evening and I haven’t had a problem since. On day four I stopped using my front disk brake because I thought it felt a bit odd. Back to the mechanics. They adjusted it, tested it and told me I was crazy. No problem now. After we finished stage 8 I took my bike to the mechanics again. Nothing was really wrong; I just wanted a once over to make sure all was o.k. They cleaned some gunk out of the derailleur cables; there is a lot of sand and dust here. They trued the back wheel, which was just a touch out – there seems to be a speed bump every 2 km and we have ridden some rough roads. And they fine-tuned the gears. Every day I have cleaned the drive train and checked the bike over. There is a long way to go and moving parts can wear quickly. Perhaps the greatest surprise is that I have had no flats. I had so many flats in the last couple of months in Dar that I became paranoid and brought about 20 spare tubes. Fingers crossed. So far so good. Now ready for the Sudan.
Health: I have felt really good. No health problems. I have hydrated fairly well. I have eaten fairly well – although, as always, I am not hugely hungry after a lot of exercise. But I am trying to eat more. I think I have lost a little weight but not a lot. I was fairly fleshy at the start, having had an enjoyable and well-fed Christmas holiday. I am trimming down a bit. I have had the odd beer – perhaps one a day. My legs are getting into shape and felt really good until stage 8. Perhaps I pushed it a bit hard on stage 7. The bum is o.k. so far but starting to feel a bit tender. I haven’t used any creams yet. I think I will start now that the weather is getting warmer and we are likely to sweat more.
Egypt: The landscape has been spectacular. I especially enjoyed the ride down to the Red Sea and then back to the Nile at Qena. Traveling along the Nile-side canal from Qena to Aswan was much busier and the landscape different. We passed through many towns and the roads were rougher. So were the kids. I had rocks and a handful of sand thrown at me. I had a guy sitting high on top of a truckload of sugar cane spit on me. I had kids standing across the middle of the road daring me to ride through them. I had a three-wheeled motorcycle cross into my lane from the oncoming lane at speed and head straight for me. I had a kid on bike wait for me on the road and not let me pass as he nudged me into oncoming traffic. In each case I found that the best response was simply to stare into their eyes as directly as possible and not flinch. I kept my line as best I could and they always backed off. I am not sure if they are just playing games or if there is some deeper animosity – the need to challenge what is different. I never really felt threatened but I did feel harassed.
The group and the race: The group is really good. The riders are travelers, cyclists, interesting and interested people. There are some fantastic stories behind their participation in this tour. By now the race dynamic has established itself. There are a half dozen men and a half dozen women who are clearly superior. There is then a good-sized group that is not too far behind, any member of which might possibly challenge on a given day. I was not going to race but have found it hard not to challenge myself a little. So I got my race button and time in and out every day. I have had a fifth and a tenth. But generally I seem to place in the top 20 – with a couple of crap days thrown in. I know I will get fitter as I ride but so will everybody else. My original plan was to take it easy to build up fitness and ensure good recovery time. This is still a good plan and as the terrain gets tougher I think I will have to stick to it.
Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.