Day 48, stage 37, 127km
Start, Yabello, Yabello motel
Finish, bush camp
Today was billed as a difficult off road day – but with some sections that might be better because the Chinese have been building a road to the border. We left the motel on the dirt road, ready for a tough day. Shortly after we headed out we saw the road bed the Chinese were working on – packed and graded dirt. It was not that much different than the dirt track we were on but it was much smoother. After about 3 1/2 km I asked myself what the hell I was doing riding on a rough track when there was a smooth track 20 metres to my left. So I carried my bike through the thorn bushes and set off on the Chinese road bed. I love the Chinese. John and Gus, who I had left Yabello with, soon joined me. It was a great ride. And after about 5 km the hard packed dirt turned to hard packed fine gravel – the next layer of the road bed. After anther 5km we rode up onto the next layer, rough tarmac. And yes, after another 5km we were on the finished road, new, smooth, hard and fast tarmac. The best thing about it was that there were no cars and trucks. The road was not yet one to traffic. Every 100 metres or s the road was blocked across its width with large boulders and dead thorn bushes – bad for cars and trucks, but not so bad for bikes. There was always enough space to sneak through.
It was great while it lasted but it ended well before lunch. We were then back on the pre-Chinese road surface – some dirt, some bad old lumpy and potholed tarmac. We rose steadily all day, culminating in a 6 or 7km climb to a high plateau that was spectacular. The head wind though was a killer. It had been with us throughout Ethiopia and wasn’t about to let us forget it as we were leaving. It swept across the plateau like a gale. But the views from the top were amazing. And at the summit were the ruins of an ancient mud brick prison. A bleak and lonely place.
What goes up must of course go down. I skated down steep 5km descent to a small town where I stopped for a coke. As I was leaving John Chevis joined me. We raced the last 25km of rolling hills into camp at a pretty good pace. We got into camp early and had a lazy afternoon. Tomorrow we would be in Kenya.
As advertised the kids had not been bad today. In fact they were hardly noticeable. There was a definite change in the feel of the place. It was more sparsely populated and less influenced by the outside world. It was peaceful.