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Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books

laurabook

Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books.

On January 11, 2013, exactly 1 year ago today, the 2013 Tour d’Afrique began in Cairo.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Laura surprised me by giving me a book for Christmas that compiles all of my blogs from the ride plus a collection of photos she gathered from other riders.

It looks great and brings back many good memories.

You can have a look at it and order it you wish by going to:http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/invited/00b0ee2f7acef00d2b7b2e686e5bd9690b8ec534

Yesterday the 2014 Tour d’Afrique riders left from Khartoum. I hope they enjoy their ride as much as the 2013 crew did.

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Egypt Redux

We have now finished the first of ten countries – all but, we have to cycle 17km to the ferry tomorrow – and our first 1000km. Some random thoughts:

The bike: I am very pleased with the bike. When I arrived the front derailleur was seized. I replaced it with my spare and put a new chain on. I took the seized derailleur to the TdA mechanics and asked if they could bring it back to life. Thanks to a little WD40 and some elbow grease, they did. So I now have a spare again. I hit a big pothole on day one. It knocked my front wheel a little out of true. Once again the mechanics were great. They trued it that evening and I haven’t had a problem since. On day four I stopped using my front disk brake because I thought it felt a bit odd. Back to the mechanics. They adjusted it, tested it and told me I was crazy. No problem now. After we finished stage 8 I took my bike to the mechanics again. Nothing was really wrong; I just wanted a once over to make sure all was o.k. They cleaned some gunk out of the derailleur cables; there is a lot of sand and dust here. They trued the back wheel, which was just a touch out – there seems to be a speed bump every 2 km and we have ridden some rough roads. And they fine-tuned the gears. Every day I have cleaned the drive train and checked the bike over. There is a long way to go and moving parts can wear quickly. Perhaps the greatest surprise is that I have had no flats. I had so many flats in the last couple of months in Dar that I became paranoid and brought about 20 spare tubes. Fingers crossed. So far so good. Now ready for the Sudan.

Health: I have felt really good. No health problems. I have hydrated fairly well. I have eaten fairly well – although, as always, I am not hugely hungry after a lot of exercise. But I am trying to eat more. I think I have lost a little weight but not a lot. I was fairly fleshy at the start, having had an enjoyable and well-fed Christmas holiday. I am trimming down a bit. I have had the odd beer – perhaps one a day. My legs are getting into shape and felt really good until stage 8. Perhaps I pushed it a bit hard on stage 7.  The bum is o.k. so far but starting to feel a bit tender. I haven’t used any creams yet. I think I will start now that the weather is getting warmer and we are likely to sweat more.

Egypt: The landscape has been spectacular. I especially enjoyed the ride down to the Red Sea and then back to the Nile at Qena. Traveling along the Nile-side canal from Qena to Aswan was much busier and the landscape different. We passed through many towns and the roads were rougher. So were the kids. I had rocks and a handful of sand thrown at me. I had a guy sitting high on top of a truckload of sugar cane spit on me. I had kids standing across the middle of the road daring me to ride through them. I had a three-wheeled motorcycle cross into my lane from the oncoming lane at speed and head straight for me. I had a kid on bike wait for me on the road and not let me pass as he nudged me into oncoming traffic. In each case I found that the best response was simply to stare into their eyes as directly as possible and not flinch. I kept my line as best I could and they always backed off. I am not sure if they are just playing games or if there is some deeper animosity – the need to challenge what is different. I never really felt threatened but I did feel harassed.

The group and the race: The group is really good. The riders are travelers, cyclists, interesting and interested people. There are some fantastic stories behind their participation in this tour. By now the race dynamic has established itself. There are a half dozen men and a half dozen women who are clearly superior. There is then a good-sized group that is not too far behind, any member of which might possibly challenge on a given day. I was not going to race but have found it hard not to challenge myself a little. So I got my race button and time in and out every day. I have had a fifth and a tenth. But generally I seem to place in the top 20 – with a couple of crap days thrown in. I know I will get fitter as I ride but so will everybody else. My original plan was to take it easy to build up fitness and ensure good recovery time. This is still a good plan and as the terrain gets tougher I think I will have to stick to it.

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania

The Magic Mountain

For the past week the riders who will be participating in the 2013 Tour d’Afrique have been gathering at the Cataract Pyramids Resort just outside Cairo. It is a large, rather isolated place. You could live inside its walls and never leave. In a way it reminds me of the Swiss Sanatorium in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, with its microcosm of society, and its own culture, relationships and routines.

It seems a fitting place then to gather. The more than 50 riders and a dozen TdA staff will spend the next four months closely bound together. The resort has been our incubator. Over the past week it has seen our society and unique culture begin to develop. And, as in the Magic Mountain, that culture and society are being shaped by a common set of interests and concerns – not TB, but something almost as foreboding. It’s not all massages, fizzy drinks and sweet cakes. We know shit will happen.

The risk is that we use our bubble as insulation. This happens all over Africa in expat communities, which become ingrown and inward looking. We will, in effect, be a mobile expat community. There is no avoiding it. We travel as a group. We all wear neon-coloured lycra. We ride bikes that cost more than the annual income of many people we will meet. We speak different languages.

The challenge will be to use our community as a platform to connect rather than disconnect. We need to break out of the sanatorium.

Three Days to D-Day

2012-12-30 11.51.07The bike is set up and tuned, last minute purchases have been made and my laundry is done. The dominant mood among those I had dinner and a beer with last night was: ‘we’re here, we’re ready, let’s go’.  But we know that impatience is a negative emotion. We know that when you are impatient you cut corners and stop thinking clearly, that you fall back on intuition and prey to irrational emotions. We are a patient lot.

We are mature and experienced. We know that impatience was the real reason for the fall of man. We want too much and we want it now – Just one little apple. We know that impatience makes us ignore the present in anticipation of the future. And we want to enjoy the present. So we are ready to go now but we are a patient lot.

As Oscar Wilde put it in The Importance of Being Ernest: “If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.”

Stationary bike?

stationary bike

The good news is that the hotel I am staying at in Seoul does have a gym. The bad news is that it is closed for renovations.  However, when I got to my room I found a little note in a drawer saying that a temporary gym had been set up on the 6th floor and that I was welcome. Well, sort of. I went there and found out there was an extra charge to use it. OK. There were a few stationary bikes there so why not. I got up on a bike and turned on the computer that ran it and started to pedal. Boy was in uncomfortable. I am not very tall but the seat was too low for me. I tried to raise it but it was as high as it would go. And the seat was about a foot wide. My ass may be big, but not not that big. Next to it was a different type of stationary bike – more of a recumbent. It had a a kind of bucket seat that looked like it been reclaimed from a 1960s Lada. The pedals looked like the rubber blocks you put on a kid’s bike when their legs are too short. I adjusted the seat as best I could, sat down and started to pedal. What a chore. I stuck it for half an hour then gave it up. I didn’t think I would need chamois cream for a stationary bicycle  in a posh hotel. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow. Maybe not.

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania

Gentlemen of the Road

An interesting bit from Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines:

“. . . migratory species are less ‘aggressive’ than sedentary ones. . . . The journey . . . pre-empts the need for hierarchies and shows of dominance. The ‘dictators’ of the animal kingdom are those who live in an ambience of plenty. The anarchists, as always, are the ‘gentlemen of the road’.”

Certainly on a long journey there is a greater sense of common community and a willingness to engage with on an equal basis and to support others. What is it about being sedentary that turns us into corrupt, class-obsessed, fortress building hoarders who objectify and dehumanize those who do not serve our greed so that we can eliminate them physically, socially or economically without tripping our conscience? Will, as Chatwin suggests, a culture of ‘journeying’ and an acceptance of impermanence change us?

Taking some sort of journey, migration or walkabout has long been part of growing up and maturing, a necessary rite of passage between school and work – the gap year, backpacking around the world. It would be interesting to study the different paths taken by those who have gone walkabout when young as opposed to those who have not. Do they retain a greater sense of common humanity or do they revert to type once they become part of the sedentary masses?

It is also a cliché for those in the throws of a mid-life crisis to quit their job, buy a Harley and hit the road. Does the midlife crisis happen when the conscience kicks in after being sucked into the culture of ‘getting and spending’ and the ambitions and ways of living that that the sedentary culture seems to demand? Is the journey a way to let the conscience breathe? To heal itself?

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania

 

5 reasons to ride a bike

I google’d ‘why do we ride bikes’ in a brain dead moment after finishing and sending off a long report. According to David Fiedler there are 5 reasons:

1. For Your Body

There are health benefits for people of all ages

  • increased cardiovascular fitness
  • increased strength
  • increased balance and flexibility
  • increased endurance and stamina
  • increased calories burned

Can’t really argue with that. Although I don’t really think too many car drivers get cyclist’s palsy in their hands (that tingly feeling) or have to slather on chamois cream before a hundred mile ride.

2. For Your State of Mind

It is a proven stress releaser. After a ride you feel relaxed, energized and happier about the world and yourself. And it is fun so it keeps you from taking yourself too seriously.

So no more Prozac for Mr. Fieldler. That’s good. I like that. I’m happy now. No stress.

But is a sixty-year-old man cycling through a sub Saharan desert in canary yellow or bright pink spandex taking himself too seriously or not seriously enough? Your call. Depends on what kind of fun you are having in your canary yellow spandex I guess.

3. For Your Community

It’s good for the people around you – one less car on the road. No noise. You are able to interact with people. It does not harm the environment: no polluting exhaust, no oil or gas consumed, small material inputs.

I like this. Makes me sound virtuous, which of course I am, if a bit dull. Are the material inputs for 8 bikes less than the energy and material inputs to make 1 small car? Possibly.

But not so sure about the people interaction bit. The roads can be mean. Kind of hard to toss off a friendly ‘Hi, how’s your day been?’ when somebody’s just pulled out in front of you and sent your over the bars.

4. For Convenience

There is an undeniable convenience factor: parking spaces are guaranteed, traffic jams are irrelevant.

Absolutely. And so easy to throw into the back of a pickup. Did you get the license plate #?

5. For Your Pocketbook

When you start multiplying cost per mile to operate a car by the distance you ride, you can easily calculate how much money you save by riding a bike.

daily round trip commute = 10 miles.

operating cost of car per mile = 30 pence

Cycle to work 150 days in a year

Savings = 10 * 150 *.3 =  £450

Makes sense?

Cycling shoes =  £120

Cycling shorts * 4 = £240

Cycling jerseys * 4 = £240

Rain jacket = £80

10 inner tubes = £50

2 pairs of cycling gloves = £30

1 new chain = £30

Yes, perfect sense!

Don’t forget to donate to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania.

ChipIn: Sickle Cell Foundation of Tanzania