We spent a long time in Ethiopia, longer than we will spend in any other country on the Tour. It has not been an easy place to like – from a cyclists perspective. While the country is beautiful and the landscape spectacular, the people in the rural villages that we have cycled through have been a pain in the ass. There is an excellent book on the history of the countries and trade around the Indian Ocean called the Empire of the Monsoon (I think – read it a while ago). The book tells about the Portuguese trekking inland in the 17th century looking for the mythical Prestor John and being stoned as they tramped through the hills. Throwing rocks at strangers is nothing new in Ethiopia. It has always been a place apart in the hills that did not easily welcome strangers. For the 500 years before the Portuguese arrived East Africa was a major trading partner for the Middle East. And one of the commodities the Middle East traded most regularly was slaves. It is no wonder they weren’t in the habit of welcoming strangers easily. But this is 800 or a thousand years later. Why are they still throwing rocks?
The cities are different. There is a growing cosmopolitan feel and sense of progress. People are friendly and helpful. Bahir Dar is a lovely place. Addis is big, bustling and busy. But progress outside the cities is slow.
The bike is holding up but it is taking a beating. So far I have had to repack the headset, replace the front derailleur, replace the chain, replace the bottom bracket and unbend the rear derailleur (it needs replacing but I didn’t bring a spare – have ordered one and will pick it up when I am in Dar). I have had the wheels trued a couple of times. The bar tape is getting torn and ratty. I have used a lot of dry lube. The Schwalbe marathon tires continue to perform well. After almost 5000km I have not had a single puncture (touch wood). The Avid BB7 brakes have been excellent. The frame and set up continue to be good. I have had no aches and pains and strains caused by the bike. I think if I were to change anything on the Croix de Fer I would put on 105 components rather than Tiagra, I would have a front shock option, I would have more spread on the rear stays so that a larger tire could be fit, and I would possibly add a third chain ring on the front (I don’t really have a granny gear; the best ratio I have is 34 on the front and 32 on the back; many with a third chain ring go from 27 on the front to 34 on the back; good for those long, steep climbs).
I think the reason I have been able to keep going is that I have stayed healthy. Not many of us have. Although I went through a period when I was feeling run down and not recovering adequately, now that I have started using ORS regularly, I feel less run down and am recovering much better. My ass has taken a bit of a beating on the off road stages but it has also recovered well. No boils or open sores. Tough as leather. I brought two big tubes of chamois cream and haven’t used any yet. I have also now lost some weight. The hills in Ethiopia took a lot of effort. While I didn’t really lose much weight during the first 3 or 4 weeks, I have probably lost 5 or 6 kg in the last 3 or 4 weeks. This makes the hills a little easier. So far, so good.
I miss Liz and the girls but will see them soon. We are almost at the half way point. But there is also a very congenial group of riders that I am happy to ride and spend time with. And the group is large enough that there is lots of variety. In Nairobi we will pick up an additional 19 sectional riders. It will really be a big group then and the dynamic will undoubtedly change a bit. We have settled into an easy rhythm and some people are already wondering what it will be like to leave this self-contained and very focused world in a couple of months. For we have almost reached that point where we start counting the days left rather than the days completed.