Category Archives: Sudan

Wasted Day

Day 21 rest day Khartoum

I spent the morning getting laundry done and then at the Blue Nile Sailing Club cleaning and tuning my bike. I then went back to the Bouganvilla to update the blog and hopefully skype with Liz and the girls. But it was not to be. This was the day my computer died. No idea why or how. There was wifi at the Bouganvilla that nobody had any problem connecting to – except for me. After I tried a few things I fell back on the tried and true answer to every computer problem: reboot. The trouble was, it would not reboot. It would not start. I was not a happy camper. I spit the dummy. I did manage to get onto the wifi with my phone and post a short ‘pissed off’ message but that was it. Fortunately my phone was working so I was able to talk to Liz and the girls. But as you may know, Sudan is completely dry, so I could not even go out for a couple of cold ones to take the edge off my frustration. And since I had spent so  much time trying to figure out what had happened to my computer, I didn’t get out to see much of Khartoum. An all but wasted day I’m afraid.

The day did end on a slightly more pleasant note. About eight of us went out to a good restaurant called the Babylon and had a very nice meal with good fresh fruit juices and ice cream for dessert – a last treat before the eight grueling days to come.

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Into Khartoum

Day 20, Stage 15, 90km with 25km individual time trial

Start – Desert Camp

Finish – Khartoum, Blue Nile Sailing Camp, Bouganvilla Guest House

Today was to be a short day. It was a cool morning. The desert storm had blown in a cool front. We would start with a 5km warm up ride, then do a 25km individual time trial, then do another 40km into the lunch stop on the outskirts of Khartoum. After that it was a police led convoy through Khartoum to camp at the Blue Nile Sailing Club.

I still felt good and decided to do the time trial. I was not going to kill myself but I wanted to push myself a bit beyond my normal pace to see how I felt. In the end I felt good. I did the 25km in somewhat over 42 minutes. Not fast in the scheme of things but I was happy with it after a week running on low. Pascal, the winner of the time trial did it in a whisker over 30 minutes. He won by over three minutes. Very fast. Bas, one of the young Dutchman, pushed himself very hard, did it in something over 33 minutes and then puked his guts out. He was fine immediately afterwards. It was good fun.

Alex and I headed out as people were mulling around the finish line and set a good brisk pace to the lunch stop at 70km. To out surprise, nobody passed us. We were the very first riders to arrive at lunch. That position is usually reserved for the fast racers. It was a good day.

Convoys are always a bit of a pain. You have to stay in a relatively tight formation. You have to follow the police escort. There is a fair bit of slowing and accelerating and slowing again as they try to keep the group together. The advantage is that it gets us through busy areas painlessly and without having to fight unruly traffic.

Liz had found a nice guesthouse for us in Khartoum. In the end about 256 of us stayed there. So after arriving at the Blue Nile Sailing club we shifted into tour guide mode, gathering people and bags together, arranging transport, counting heads and counting again. We all got there. It is a lovely place. A great break.

I also called Phyllida’s friend Katya, who is based in Dar with the WHO. We arranged to have dinner together. Vince came along as well. We did the full expat thing- big hamburgers, fruit juice and ice cream. It was great after ten days in the desert and on a packet boat. We slept well.

Appetite is back

Day 19, Stage 14, 146km

Start – Desert Storm Desert Camp

Finish – Desert Camp

In spite of having to dig out from under a sand dune I felt much better today. The recovery day seems to have been the right thing to do. The sand storm was not yet over. Breaking camp and getting on the road was a challenge. Because the visibility was so low and because the wind was often a side wind and there was the danger posed by wind and increasing traffic, the race was cancelled for the day – we still rode the distance but were simply not timed. We cycled single file and kept our distance from one another. Riding through a sandstorm is an other-wordly experience. You can’t see far; the wind is blowing sand across you; the sky is dark. It’s a four horsemen and the end-of-the world feeling. It is also somehow very comforting, almost womb-like.

I rode well today. Once again I rode with a group before the lunch stop. I didn’t stay long and left on my own. My experience of the last week or so had suggested that my energy level would be lower after lunch. I decided I would keep my own pace again. But I felt good and rode well. With about 15km to go Vince, Bridget and Wayne – all fast riders – caught me up. But instead of letting them pass I rode with them and had a good skate for the last 15km. I had energy in reserve again. I was happy.

We arrived in camp early, went through the routine and went in search of cold drinks. The sand storm had died by this time. The mutated date palm pollinating fruit flies had buggered off. All was well.

For dinner we had spaghetti. Perfect. I was hungry – for the first time in a long time. And for the first time since the tour began I had a second helping. The appetite was back. There is still a long way to go before I catch up with some of the others though. John Chevis has been having three helpings of everything since day one. He has no shortage of energy. Something to aspire to.

Recovery Day

Day 18, Stage 13, 143km

Start – Dead Camel Desert Camp

Finish – Desert Storm Desert Camp

The day before I forced myself to eat my soup and then my dinner. I went to bed early and drank as much as I could. I needed to get my energy back. I decided that today would be a recovery day. It was very hot. It was another long day – with another long day to follow. There was no point pushing too hard and not recovering. So today was a recovery day. I left on my own and cycled on my own the whole day. I did not want to and probably could not have kept up with anyone. I found that I still had lots of stamina – I could keep going – but the power in reserve was not there. So I left around 7:45 and finally got to camp around 2:30 in the afternoon – a long day – a good couple of hours after the people I normally ride with arrived. I stopped at every stop and drank as much as I could. I even stopped at a coke stop before the lunch break. Normally we ride straight through to lunch and only stop for coke on the second half of the ride. Not today.

When I got into camp though I felt better than when I had left. I had some hot soup, set up my tent, had some dinner (not a huge portion but a reasonable one) and went to sleep – or at least tried to.

The wind had started to pick up after noon and by the time we were setting up our tents was blowing a full gale. We were in the middle of the desert in the middle of a real desert storm. Setting up tents was difficult. Many didn’t even try. They just put down a thermarest in the lee of one of the trucks and slept in the open. I set up my tent but did not put the fly on. My thinking was that if I put the fly on it would only give the wind another sail to uproot the tent with. With just the webbing exposed the wind would blow through and leave the tent standing. I was then hoping the wind would moderate a bit after dark and I could put the fly up. I was partially right. The tent remained stabled and the wind did blow through. But of course in a sandstorm the wind carries its freight. By the time I was thinking of going to bed there was an inch of sand covering everything inside the tent. And the wind had not moderated one bit. So I struggled to put the fly on in the full gale and hoped I would not end up in Oz looking for Toto and a yellow brick road.

It was an uncomfortable night but I did get some sleep. By morning the end of the tent facing the wind was covered in 6 inches of sand. I had to dig it out. Visibility was less than 200 metres. Amazing!

A Paved Road on Mars

Day 17, Stage 12, 140km

Start – Dongola, Zoo Camp, Olla Love Hotel

Finish – Dead Camel Desert Camp

About 6am, still dark, we broke out of the love hotel and looked for a tuk tuk to take us and our bags back to Zoo camp and the start of another day of cycling.  My day of eating hadn’t been a total success but I felt better than when we arrived. I left early with Alex from Ottawa and three others. We kept a good pace and did the 75km to the lunch stop in about 2:20. I felt all right but not great. I did have the better part of a whole chicken in me, as well as some breakfast, and my farts were still dry, but I didn’t feel full of energy. I stopped longer than the others at lunch, ate what I could without enthusiasm, and headed back out on the road on my own. I wanted to make my own pace not have to keep up to anybody. I did, and I stopped at most available coke stops. It was a steady but not fast afternoon. I did the 65km to camp in about 3 hours (including stops), much slower than the morning.

The landscape continued to be awe-inspiring. The rocky grey-brown desert of Wadi Halfa was becoming rusty-orange-tinted plains of blowing sand. There were frequent abandoned and almost abandoned mud brick settlements. And for mile after mile we saw dead, desiccated camel corpses – not dead for that long because hide still covered the bones. It must have been a very difficult summer. There were also many still living camels being herded across our route. The feeling and mood of the caravanseri surrounded us. The heat and the heat haze gave it an almost mirage like effect at times. If only I were a good photographer. James was in our group in the morning. He did take several photos. I will have to try to get some.

Camp was really in the middle of nowhere, an unremittingly bleak landscape.  We set up and I hiked back down the road with Claire and Pascal looking for cold drinks. We ended up in a small shop in a mud brick building in a mostly abandoned settlement. Finding a cold drink in the desert is a joy that is hard to describe and has become a bit of an obsession. It sounds impossible but it isn’t. Sometimes you almost feel as if you have landed on Mars and found that the Chinese had already built a road and left a freezer chest full of cold drinks every 40km. All you can do is say: ‘Thank You!’

Life at the Love Hotel

Day 16, Rest Day, Dongola

We should have looked more closely at the Olla Hotel signboard before we checked in. Next to the hotel’s name was a big white heart, and inside the heart were profiles of two people, a man and a woman, in silhouette. In between the two, in pale yellow, was the word ‘love’.  About a dozen of us stayed at the Olla. Half of us were unfortunate enough to be rather close to the commercial wing and had their sleep interrupted hourly. We were booked in for two nights. Those whose sleep was interrupted decided not to stay for the second night’s performance. Vince and I stayed of course.

It is now the season for the pollination of the date palms. This is done by small little fruit flies that swarm in the billions. Their genetic programming must have mutated though because they seemed to ignore the date palms and swarm around us. They had been with us for a couple of days. However, in Dongola there was an answer. Street vendors were selling netted hats like bee-keeper hats to keep the little blighters away. You had a choice of lilac, pink or banana yellow. So not only did we show up in neon-coloured spandex, we now wore lilac bee helmets. Not a pretty sight.

First thing in the morning we went out looking for breakfast. Little was open. Things start late. But I found some oranges and yoghurt and Vince found a just-opening café that served decent coffee. Today was supposed to be all about eating. My appetite had not been great for a few days and I needed calories. I had also not felt very strong the last few days. I was determined to eat. So about 8:30 we met up with some of the others and went out for a second breakfast. I had a big falafel sandwich and then all of a sudden felt a bit of a gurgle in my guts. By 9:30 I was flushing my system into the squat and grunt fixture. I missed lunch. But by 2:30 I managed a dry fart. The small victories of travel are not to be sneered at. And by 6pm 3 of us were in a small restaurant devouring 2 whole rice-stuffed chickens between us – complete with bread and trimmings – all in all a successful day.

The only disappointment of the day was the lack of ice cream. Three or four shops advertised ice cream but none was to be had. Oh well, it is the desert and it is 42C.

Team ‘All Africa’

Day 15, Stage 11 – 113km (with 25km team time trial)

Start: Desert Camp by Nile

Finish: Dongola, Camp at Zoo, Olla Hotel

I knew we had a 25km tram time trial today and was a little worried about recovery time. So were many others. I think 14 teams signed up but only 8 ended up racing. We put together the ‘All Africa’ team: myself from Tanzania, Bridget and Tessa from South Africa and Ahmed from Egypt. In the end I woke up feeling better than I deserved to. We decided we would race after all and left early. The idea was not to kill ourselves but to keep a steady pace of around 30kmh, which we did. About 10km from the end we were caught by the German team led by Tobias, who is running 2nd overall in the men’s race. We latched onto their tale and rode with them for the next 5 or 6 km. At this point Ahmed thought there was only 1km left so he pulled out at about 40kmh and started a sprint and the ‘All Africa’ team followed. It was way too early. Tobias knew this so happily let us pull until about 800 metres from the end. He then pulled out at speed and it was a free for all to the finish line. I sprinted forward and came third in the pack of ten. Team ‘All Africa’ ended up coming 6th on the day in a time of 50:19, or almost exactly the 30kmh we had set out to do.

After a few minutes rest we cycled at a fast pace in a large group of a dozen or so the remaining 40km to lunch. Once again I was not hungry. Racing and then working in a fast-paced group, I had not had enough to drink. I did not eat lunch, just a couple of oranges and a banana. There was only another 45km to go but I took it slowly and stopped three times for a drink. I really noticed the lack of energy. I ended up doing the last 15 or so km into Dongola with Stig from Norway and another 4 or 5 people. I felt pretty good, certainly better than yesterday. Vince had come in earlier with the fast boys and had already arranged a hotel room for us. We sorted our gear and headed into town to the Olla Hotel, pretty basic stuff and probably a brothel. But it had running water, most of the time, and electricity. For £4 a night it worked.

Dinner was a feast: flat bread, onions, tomatoes, greens, platters full of fried fish, a half chicken stuffed with rice for each of us. I ate it all, trying to make up for my calorie deficit. And drank three bottles of mineral water to wash it all down.