Day 33, Stage 25, 61km
Start, Farm camp
Finish, Deb Anbessa Hotel, Bahir-Dar
Today we only cycled 61km. It was like a sprint. The distance and hills between Gondar and Addis call for a break somewhere in between. Bahir-Dar is the only reasonably sized town with good amenities between the two cities. So in spite of it only being a day and a half’s ride from Gondar, we stop there. It is also a beautiful city, sitting on the lake that is the source of the Blue Nile.
I headed out around 7:30 and was at the Deb Anbessa before 10am. Vince and I shared a room again – not a posh place, but it had a bed and a shower, sort of. I turned on the hot water heater for the shower as soon as we got there. After putzing around with the bikes and kit for a while Vince and I wandered into town looking for a bike shop. He needed some new inner tubes. We met a guy in a café who told us where we could find a bike shop so we went to look for it. Follow the main road and the fork to the left until you see a fish shop. At the fish shop turn left, you will see it. We did. It was a small hole in the wall, maybe eight feet by ten, dirt floor, shelves full of tubes and parts. Three guys were sitting on chairs taking up all the inside space having their lunch. Of course they immediately offered to share. Vince, with his dodgy guts, declined. They didn’t have the right size tubes. All they had was 26” tubes. Vince needed 700cc. So we asked if they had patch kits. No. But they did have tins of glue. So after protracted negotiations a tin of glue was purchased. On the side of the road outside the shop a couple of teenagers were sitting amidst a stack of boxes with Chinese writing all over them. They were assembling Chinese Phoenix mountain bikes. A new shipment had just come in. they seemed t be the only bike available, certainly the only ones we saw in town. But there were a lot of them.
After getting the glue we found a pizza restaurant and had some lunch. The restaurant was on a second floor balcony overlooking a main street. We watched the street life, very orderly and quiet, and enjoyed a good pizza.
Back at the hotel I took the first shower. I turned on all the taps and let the run hoping for at least a little hot water. None came. Shit. I had a cold shower. I told Vince the water was cold even though the hot water heater was on. He went in, turned on the taps and got instant hot water. Of course I was very pleased to be able to make way for a nice hot water shower for Vince.
The antibiotics were working well and my infection was clearing up nicely.
Day 32, Stage 24, 117km
Start, Goha Hotel, Gondar
Finish, Farm camp
Today was an almost gentle hint at what was to come. We climbed just over 1000 metres. In the days to come we would climb much more. I felt fairly good today, after a 2 day rest. I left with Bridget and kept up with her until lunch. She left lunch early and powered on. I stayed a bit longer and cycled the rest of the way with Alex. Bridget is the leading woman’s rider and very strong. I think the only reason I kept up with her before lunch was because she had been injured the day we rode into Gondar. A kid pulled her arm as she was cycling by and pulled her off her bike. She ended up with a swollen and sprained ankle. She could barely get her foot into her shoe this morning. But she said the pedaling motion did not hurt that much. The same day she was pulled off her bike, a stone was thrown at her back wheel and cut the hydraulic cable to her rear brake. She had made it into Gondar with only one brake and a sprained ankle. Tough.
It felt good to be back on the bike though. Oddly enough, a two day break seemed a bit long. So the mood in camp was more upbeat than it had been the day before. But that may also have been because tomorrow is a half-day of cycling and the day before another rest day.
Vince was amazing today. Even though he had been sick as a dog the day before, he got on his bike and road the whole day. Not his best day, but he made it. Tremendous powers of recovery.
Day 31, rest day, Goha Hotel, Gondar
I didn’t leave the hotel today. I ate a lot. I cleaned and tuned the bike. I was able to borrow John Chevis’ and Skype Liz and the girls. It is Laura’s birthday tomorrow. She is now 9! Her party was yesterday. So we caught up and shared a bit of her birthday excitement.
Many people are sick and nursing minor injuries. Around noon Vince came back from downtown and started throwing up violently. I got him a bucket, put it next to the bed and got him lots of fluids and some drugs. He slept for most of the next 7 hours and then woke up feeling a little more human. He is a big tough guy and was completely knocked for six. For some reason people start to get sick in droves in Ethiopia. We have been on the road for a month, the body is a bit run down and defenses are low, people succumb. One of the riders suffered a knee injury a short while ago. By Gondar it had become septic. He was taken to hospital in Gondar and put n an antibiotic drip for a week. The plan is that he will rejoin us in Addis. One of the cuts I had received on my right leg when I fell on the sharp gravel on the off-road section had also started to turn septic. This morning I squeezed what seemed like an ounce of puss out of it. There was a nasty red inflammation the size of a 50 pence piece. When I first fell the wound had been cleaned and dressed by the medic. Since then I had been careful to clean it with alcohol swabs and put antibacterial cream on it in the mornings. It still became infected. It is hard to keep things clean when you cycle for 7 or 8 hours in blowing dust with sweat dripping off you. So I started a course of antibiotics and hoped it would clear up.
The group was fairly subdued this evening. Everybody knew we had lots of hills ahead. Keeping healthy was a priority. We all ate as much as we could and went to bed early.
Day 30, rest day, Goha Hotel, Gondar
The Goha Hotel is on the top a hill overlooking Gondar. The city is spread out in a series of connected valleys beneath. It is a large town with a famous citadel and a number of monasteries. Rest days have begun to take on a common character: look for internet access, eat as much as you can, clean and attend to your bike, see the sights if you have time. Between meals I spent most of the day begging and borrowing computers so that I could connect to the outside world –at least minimally – and update my blog. I borrowed Stig’s computer to do my writing and then Tessa’s to get online and upload stuff. Thanks guys. Several people surfed the web in search of solutions to my dead Mac book. We tried several things but nothing worked. It remained resolutely dead. No resurrection on the third day. I will have to wait until Dar to see if I can find a way to get it fixed.
In the evening about ten of us went into town to a local restaurant that Alex B had discovered. It looked like a large bamboo hut – by large I mean about 40 x 80 feet. When we got there about 6pm it was heaving. When we went inside we found out why. A wedding was taking place. Alex, not willing to give up, went to find the manager to see what was possible. What was possible was some tables and chairs in the parking lot. It was great, a candle-lit Ethiopian feast in a parking lot with a wedding in the background. The music was hypnotic, like 5th century church music that brought you into a kind of collective trance. And of course it drew us into the bamboo hut. While a ceremony took place on a dais at the far end everybody else was on the dirt floor facing the ceremony swaying back and forth to the music. There was no light but the waxed tapers held aloft in people’s hands. As the ceremony reached its climax the swaying turned to celebratory dancing, that curious Ethiopian shoulder dancing. By this time most of us had been dragged by the wedding guests into the thick of it.
Back in the parking lot we ate a typical Ethiopian meal with injera and various dishes made of lamb and chick peas.
Day 29, Stage 23, 107km
Start, Village camp
Finish, Goha Hotel, Gondar
2500 metres of climb today over 107km. I have not climbed that much in a single ride ever. The prize at the end is Gondar, a hotel room and two rest days. Just got to get there.
The scenery was spectacular, mountains, switchbacks, cayons. The riding was punishing, continually up for the first 35km, with some very steep gradients. I felt ok at the beginning but didn’t pace myself well enough. By km 24 I was suffering a bit as we hit yet another increase in gradient. I got off and walked for about three hundred metres while taking in a litre bottle full of fluid. I got back on and pedaled again sfor a while until I hit a really steep set of switchbacks. I walked again. By this point I was really wondering if I had cracked and if this was it. I still had about 70 km to go and I was walking. But my legs welcomed the short walk and when I got back on I carried on to the summit. We than had a glorious bobsled ride down for a dozen kilometres into a valley. This brought some life back into me. After stopping for lunch at the 60km mark, although tired, I began to feel a little more optimistic. Less than 50km to go. I set off from lunch with Jan at a pace that I felt would allow me to conserve enough energy to finish. After only 7 or 8km we came across a group of people surrounding one of our riders on the side of the road. Heat exhaustion. His day was over. The medic soon arrived, put him on a drip and whisked him into Gondar. We got back on our bikes. I cycled the rest of the way with Michael Howard.
I still had doubts about making it until we had less than 20km to go. Then I think the adrenalin carried me through. We cylced about a dozen km through town in an almost euphoric mood, and in spite of a criminally steep climb to our hilltop hotel, made it to the end. We had survived.
Among the survivors, the mood was electric. The beer was cold. The cheeseburger was huge.
Day 28, Stage 22, 92km
Start – Ethiopia camp
Finish – Village camp
The distance is shorter because the hills are steeper. And it is hot. It is now day 7 of an 8 consecutive day stretch of riding. Ending this stretch with two tough days of climbing is making most of us a little apprehensive. We are all tired. Some have fallen ill. People are now riding in the truck or being picked up during the day. It’s tough.
Today we will climb close to 1000 metres, not a huge amount, but enough to know you have been climbing. Also, the hills at the end of the day get steeper as we roll out of the foothills into the real mountains. There are three hills at the end of the ride with 10 – 12 degree gradients. We pedal, we take in fluids, we try not to get hit by too many rocks and sticks, we celebrate when we find a coke stop, we cycle some more.
Camp is in a field overlooking a canyon behind a village. The setting is stunning. Alex and I wander into the village and end up sitting in people’s houses having a coke. The building materials here are different than lower down. There are trees here so they use wood structurally, rather than mud bricks. They line the poles up vertically, rather than horizontally, like a palisade. They leave the bare poles on the outside and render the inside with adobe. The houses are very cool and comfortable inside. From the outside it looks like the forest camp of a band of trolls.
The apprehension and excitement about tomorrow are palpable. It is the last day of our 8 day stretch. It is perhaps one of the toughest days on its own, forget the fact that it comes after 7 already tough days. We all go to bed early, hoping for a good sleep and fresh legs.
Day 27, Stage 21, 99km
Start – hilltop camp
Finish – Ethiopia camp
We rode down off the hilltop and onto tarmac. Today we would enter Ethiopia. The tarmac was rough but welcome. Except for the wind, it was almost like a rest day after the off-road sections.
The border crossing turned out to easy. You get tired of reading travel stories about how hard it is to cross borders: the hassles, the time, the red tape, the guns and belligerence. We had none of it. We got our exit stamps from Sudan easily enough – 20 minutes of waiting – crossed the bridge across no man’s land into Ethiopia, took another 20 minutes to get our Ethiopian visas stamped and were in a brothel drinking cold beer within the hour. Not bad, especially since Sudan is dry and none of us had had a beer since January 21 – over two weeks. We had arrived in Ethiopia around noon. Some of the riders had more than one beer and didn’t arrive in camp until dark – muscle relaxant before the hills.
When you enter Ethiopia you notice right away that the population has increased. Sudan is relatively sparsely populated and while people follow you and call out to you, they are mostly friendly and helpful. In Ethiopia you crank up the volume by 10 and don’t assume what they are calling out is benign.
After a beer and changing some money we rode the final few km into camp. We now had to gird our loins for hills. We had been in hills all day today but they were gently rolling foothills. Things were about to change.