Monthly Archives: April 2013

KNIGHT RIDERS

Day 101, stage 77, 142km

Start, bush camp

Finish, something lodge Ganzi

The five days from Maun to Windhoek would see us ride more kilometres than any other five days on the Tour. We would do a total of 825km in those five days. Tomorrow will be the longest day on tour at 207km. So to give us a bit of a break today we would not race the whole day, instead we would only do a 40km team time trial. What this means is that we cycled about 30km to the start of the time trial in a more or less causal way because we were not on the clock. We would then do the time trial, have some lunch and then cycle the final 72km to camp also in a casual way.  That’s the theory anyway.

We put together a team of five called the KNIGHT RIDERS. It consisted of Bob and I and the three top women riders: Bridget, Lizzie and Rosie. This time trial was not a pure contest against the clock where the fastest team wins. It was a time trial with a twist. Each team had to set a target time for the 40km ride. They then had to hand over all watches and cycle computers and, without the aid of any data, set and ride at a pace to arrive at their target time. This gives teams who are note necessarily the fastest the incentive to compete. Otherwise we all know, after three and a half months, who the fastest people are and who will win.

We set a target time of 1h36m or 25kmh. there was still some headwind and we didn’t want to push too hard. We wanted to be steady. At the end of the day we didn’t do too badly. We came in at just over 1h32m and came in third. We would have done worse but we had to stop once for a Lizzie wee break. We figured that if we had stopped for one more wee break we could have won.

As we left camp that morning we still did not know where the camp would be that night.  The lodge they had used in years past had shut and they needed to sort something new out quickly. They had identified a couple of options and left early in the morning to sort things out. By lunch we had instruction about where to go. We were told to turn left a couple of km after Ghanzi and follow a dirt road for about 3km to a nice camp. After battling a fair bit of a head wind after lunch we rolled through Ghanzi and found the dirt road. Only it wasn’t a dirt road. It was deep sand. Easily manageable in a 4-wheel drive Hilux but not rideable on a bike – especially one with road, not off-road, tires on. We could do nothing but walk our bikes in. Needless to some very pissed off people arrived in camp after their 45 min walk. Getting to camp was one thing. Waling a bike through 3km of calf-aching, heel blistering, 6 inch deep sand before getting on your bike to ride 207km was not a prospect many appreciated. After several people talked to staff it was agreed that they would shuttle people and bikes to the tarmac in the morning and that the race would start from there. So we went to bed mollified if still anxious about the long day tomorrow. What would the wind do?

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Peloton crash

Day 100, stage 76, 160km

Start, Sedia Hotel, Maun

Finish, Bush camp

I rarely set out in the morning with a fixed plan of whom I will ride with. I usually leave fairly early and set off with whoever is starting around the same time. We will often ride at different paces and separate fairly soon. After ten or twenty km I often find myself with one or two others or a small group riding at a compatible pace and work with them until lunch. After lunch I repeat a similar process. Other people set off in the same or similar bunch every day – the racers do this, and the second peloton that clusters around Ali and Lizzie also do this. I have cycled with this group a few times but after a while I usually their pace is just that bit too quick for me and I drop off. This patter has changed a little since Bob arrived. We typically set off together, often riding together for quite a while, usually until Bob decides to stretch his legs a bit more and he takes off. Today we set off at a fairly good pace and at about 20km came up to the Ali and Lizzie bunch. We tagged on the end and joined the growing peloton. There were about 12 or 14 people in the peloton. The leads pulled for 5km and then peeled off. This was great. It meant you could work hard and pull for 5 and then draft for 30 or 35km. You can save a lot of energy that way and travel at a much faster pace.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens in a large peloton, people lose concentration and wheels touch. Italo touched Bob’s back wheel and went down. A half dozen riders behind him also went down. It was a bit of a mess. Italo landed on his head, cracked his helmet and then skidded and lost a lot of skin. Alex B landed on top and got a deep wound above his left elbow. Stig, who had just returned to the Tour after breaking his collar bone ended up in the pile as well. Fortunately everybody was more or less ok. We cleaned and bandaged Italo and Alex at the roadside. Neither had concussion. Others had landed on top of people and had not broken skin. Alex did have to go back to the hospital in Maun however. His wound required internal as well as external stiches. He met us at camp that night though and was back on his bike the next day. Good powers of recovery for a 65 year old. Italo kept cycling after we patched him up. He is only 64 so didn’t need any time off.

After the crash we put the peloton back together and started off again. Bob and I stayed with to lunch and then, very much against patter, left with it after lunch and stayed with it to the end of the day. With the wind, it was a good day to ride in a bunch.

The only downside to the day is that my crank sounded and felt like an eggbeater all day. When I gave it to the mechanics for a tune on the rest day they had over cranked the bottom bracket and ruined it. So the first thing I did when I got into camp was give my bike to the other mechanic and get him to sort things out, which included putting on yet another new bottom bracket. This was my third on this trip so far. I hope it holds out.

No bricks in the cistern

Day 99, rest day, Sedia Hotel, Maun

I didn’t sleep much last night. Alex B, Bob and I had rented a two-bedroom chalet at the Hotel. Alex took the smaller bedroom on the main floor. Bob and I took the larger one on the first floor.  It was a nice enough place. It also had a large sitting room, a kitchenette and a large veranda outside. But nothing much worked. There was no remote for the AC so we could turn it on. There was a big screen tv and a satellite dish but the tv didn’t seem to work. The toilet almost flushed but if you are eating 6000 or 7000 calories a day you need a toilet that really flushes. No bricks in the cistern please. And I don’t think the chalet had been rented in a while. All the windows were shut and curtains closed. There were no towels in the bathroom. But the power was on and the fridge worked.

I didn’t get much sleep because the day before we had simply chucked our stuff in the room and gone off shopping and eating. When we got back we simply went to bed. The main floor was ok but the first floor was full of mosquitos – no mosquito nets either. If the AC had worked we could have turned it on and frozen the buggers out and pulled on the duvets. Instead I tossed and turned until about two in the morning and then pulled the sheet off the bed and went down and slept on the sofa in the lounge. The sofa of course was about three and a half feet long. So I could either curl up like a pretzel or dangle my legs over an arm, in which case all the blood would leave my feet so that at least they would go to sleep. But I did eventually fall asleep for about three hours.

We finally got some towels and were able to clean ourselves up. They brought us three different AC remotes. None of them worked so the cryogenic strategy was not going to work. And they sent over somebody to fix the tv. And he was successful. I turned it on and began to flick through the channels. Our tv was programmed for no less than 71 stations – and every single one of them was a god bothering station. It was unbelievable. We could not get anything else. We had every flavor of American, African and Middle Eastern evangelical and fundamental nonsense – all of them asking for donations. Who would do such a thing?  Another rider found that his tv was programmed to receive only 3 stations, all of them showing football. This was obviously a themed hotel, like asking for the Elvis Presley room or the pickup truck room. I guess the upstairs bedroom was where they played out the plague years.

Since I didn’t sleep very much I spent the day doing very little but my chores. I cleaned my bike and gave it to the mechanics to tune. I did my laundry. I read for a while. I had a nap. I wrote my blog. But then of course the wifi – advertised prominently at the entrance of the hotel – did not work so I could not upload anything. Maybe the god bothering stations were sucking up all of the bandwidth.

Bob on the other hand went on an hour-long flight in a small plane over the Okavanga with Darragh and a few others and saw some great wildlife.  He did get home a bit late though. They had to thoroughly clean the plane before Bob and crew could get on. A couple of people on the flight before theirs had lost their lunch.

Ready for the glue factory

Day 98, stage 75, 135km

Start, Bush Camp

Finish, Sedia Hotel, Maun

Today was the shortest day since we arrived in Botswana. At dinner the previous night we were all confidently telling each other it would be a doddle. The wind would sort itself out and be behind us. It was flat. And we would arrive in the big town of Maun at the end of it all.

What a load of old socks. It was the toughest bitch of a day yet. The wind started in our faces and got stronger and stronger all day. We passed through no towns. There were no coke stops to relieve the slog. There were elephants, as promised, to relieve the boring monotony of the landscape. All I saw was a few cows and a dead donkey on the side of the road. I think he was the lucky one. At least he knew he was dead. I just felt like it.

Once again I had a thankful ride with a good peloton before lunch but after lunch it fragmented as people went off individually and it pairs I went off with Bob. But he soon went ahead on his own. Getting to the outskirts of Maun was possibly the toughest 60 km I have don on this tour.  I slogged my guts out to maintain a speed of 19 or 20kmh. I drank every drop of liquid I had with after only 50 km – it was 40C. Nobody passed me. So everybody was feeling it. It was relentless. I don’t think I free wheeled once in the last 4 days. I was knackered – ready for the glue factory, legs still pumping but with about as much power as a 1962 Lada.

I finally reached the edge of town and saw Rosie and Italo at a gas station. They had been in the same peloton in the morning but had left before me after lunch. So we were on a similar trajectory. I went into the shop and downed a litre of coke in about two minutes and was back on the road. 2km later I came to Bob who was waiting for me at the next gas station. There was also a supermarket next to it. I went in a bought a 2 litre bottle of orange Fanta. I filled one of Bob’s water bottles with it and then chugged the rest in record time. And then we drank some more.

Bob and I rode the last 8 or 10km to camp with Alex B who had joined us by this time. We took it easy. We knew we would make it. We were done.

As people continued to come in through the afternoon it was clear that the headwind had taken a lot out of a lot of people. We were all beat up. Ali, who is a young and strong rider, admitted that today’s ride had shaken his confidence a bit. What would happen in a couple of days when we had to do 207km if the head wind was till against us? Best not to think about it – yet.

We took a cab into town – no more cycling today – had a bite to eat and I bought a nice bottle of wine. Bob and I took a chalet with Alex. We sipped wine and read books on soft sofas. And tomorrow is a rest day.

Camping in a gravel pit

Day 97, stage 74, 185km

Start, Nata Lodge

Finish, Bush Camp

Life didn’t get better. The wind switched form southeast to northwest. What the F…? Who is in charge? We had been living with the southeast wind since the Sudan. The day we turn the corner the wind decides to turn as well? Not possible. Well yes it was. And today we had to do 185 to a camp in the middle of the bush – so no Whimpy’s, no Botswana bonus.

So we fought the wind until lunch. But it was still morning so it wasn’t full strength. But after lunch we got lucky. The wind started to help us. It became flukey. It wasn’t a steady, prevailing southeast wind, but it wasn’t a steady, prevailing northwest wind either. We started to get thermal winds. It would be behind us for 10km then across us, then into for 15km. It played up but it wasn’t a total disaster. In the end I think we had slightly more favourable winds than unfavourable. This was good for the legs and good for the morale.

What wasn’t so good for the morale was that we had another accident this morning. Claus, who is in his sixties and did the Tour last year, until he crashed in Kenya and broke his hip, had another accident. About 8 or 10 km out of camp this morning a big truck pulling a trailer brushed Claus and he hit the deck. It appears the truck’s trailer had swayed a bit in the wind and that is what brushed Claus. Unfortunately the driver ran. He didn’t stop. But a woman in a nearby petrol station saw what happened and went to the police station that was conveniently just across the road. The driver was caught and is probably still in jail. Claus was taken to the hospital in Maun for Xrays. The fear was that he had broken his hip again. But fortunately he didn’t. He was still in a lot of pain, with a fair bit of soft tissue damage. He is still in a wheel chair but mending well. We hope he will be able to rejoin us in Windhoek. Some people have all the luck.

Camp was in what looked like a gravel pit in the middle of nowhere. ‘nough said. There was a small collection of houses a couple of km down the road however so many of us cycled there in search of a cold drink. We found one small shop and raided it. We no longer have one or two cokes at a coke stop. After days like today we now have 4 or 5. The poor girl in the shop had to write down the details of every individual sale in a school exercise book – item code, item description, price paid. When you sell a dozen items a day that is probably manageable. When TdA descends and clears your shelves, it becomes a bit shambolic.

 

Fun with wind

Day 96, stage 73, 146km

Start, Bush Camp

Finish, Nata Lodge

If you haven’t ever cycled 150 or 170 km into a headwind I suggest you don’t. It isn’t much fun. And the type of headwinds you get here get worse as the day goes on. The winds are lightest before 8am so you try to leave early and get in as many kilometres as you can before the nastiness starts. At around 8am it starts to pick up and to be a bit more of a pain in the ass. But you struggle on and get into lunch around 9:30. You feel like you’ve pushed hard but you aren’t dead or ready to throw in the towel yet. After a half hour break you get back on your bike. You immediately find that somebody has turned the wind up a couple of notches. What was tough but manageable can now make a grown man cry. It is relentless and it is going to keep going for another 80 or 100 kilometres. You want to scream at somebody – but who? and it will be a waste of energy and you know you will need all the energy you have. Beside which, your legs are already doing enough screaming as it is. Head down. Keep the pedals moving. It’s always better if you can join a peloton into a headwind. But one is not always available. Or the one that is available is too fast and you just can’t stick on the wheel. When you get one you can work with though, it helps a lot. Drafting can save 20% of your energy. But the catch is you have to spend your turn pulling. And this takes more energy than cycling on your own. I was in a good peloton until lunch but then they left before I was finished eating and I spent most of the rest of the day on my own.

The carrot was that at 137km there was supposed to be a Wimpy’s Hamburger Bar – with milkshakes (remember this is Botswana, not the Sudan – and even though you only get a town every 150km, not every 10, you do get KFC and Whimpy’s). And it existed. It was like finding an oasis.

Once again though, this was not the end of the day.  The final kicker was a short 9km ride directly into a 40km headwind. Every time you stop, somebody turns up the dial a notch or two. But once again we had an all services camp site – all the mod cons and a good bar. At least we could recover. And tomorrow we headed west and hoped for a tailwind. Tough two days but life would get better. We hoped.

Gut slog

Day 95, stage 72, 172km

Start, Thebe Rover Lodge, Kasane, Botswana

Finish, Bush Camp

Before we headed west into Namibia we had to head southeast towards Nata. This was because we had to go around a big game reserve without adequate roads through it. From Kasane to Nata is about 320 miles. I think there is one other town between these two. So not a lot to see – except this is part of the elephant highway so we expected to see some wildlife. Taking this route also meant that we would be heading into a head wind for the whole distance to Nata. So a long day into a headwind. Great. And then added to this was about 150 km of road works in the middle of this – in fact, our camp tonight was in the bush next to the road works camp. The only thing that kept us going was the expectation that this headwind would turn into a tail wind when we turned west. But we had to get to Nata first.

It was simply a gut slog, a 10 litres of fluid day, a double dose or ORS and heavily salted soup day. We did see a few elephants at the beginning. Big deal. Vast empty spaces of nothing. There were long stretches of industrialised monoculture farms – I clocked one a 9 kilometres long. I don’t know how deep they were, but probably as deep as they were long. At any rate there were no trees in sight and therefore nothing to break the relentless wind that we cycled into.  It was tough. It was boring. We had to do it again tomorrow.

The road works camp was interesting. It was in the middle of nowhere – the middle of the stretch of road works actually, but still the middle of nowhere. There was the formal part of the camp with trailers used as offices, heavy equipment everywhere and people doing things that looked like work. This was all fenced in. Beyond the fences and next to it was a more informal camp – the camp followers as it were. Here we found a little shop where we were able to buy a cold drink. There was a place where for a few Pula you could have a shower. There were a number of camping caravans parked inside compounds surrounded by mosquito netting where people had set up transient households – road works gypsies. They paid little attention to us but gave us free access to everything. A strange nomadic existence. Three or four years here and then off to another camp and another road construction project. I think you need a really good relationship with big machines to be able to live this kind of life. I am not sure if this is healthy or not.