Tag Archives: Sudan

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


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.

Exit Sudan

This is the first time I have ever been to the Sudan. It seems a buttoned down kind of place, friendly but not overly expressive. Law abiding but gun toting with a history of conflict. It is a strict Muslim country. It has a dormant oil-based economy with typical African sings of international commerce – big shiny office buildings, good hotels, pockets of western affluence and shops. Our experience here was good. But foreign workers can’t travel outside of Khartoum without a permit. It feels like a country in purgatory – paying penance, keeping its head down, trying to do better than natural inclination would normally allow, in order to get somewhere else.

The bike

The bike has performed better than I have. It has been sturdy and reliable. I have kept the drive chain clean and lubricated and had the gears, brakes and wheels checked frequently. The Schwalbe Marathon tires have been great. After almost 3000km I have not had a flat. In Khartoum the crank seemed a bit loose and I thought the bearings in the bottom bracket might be gone. The mechanic tightened everything up and it seemed ok (five days later the same symptom appeared, the bottom bracket was gone and had to be replaced). The one disappointment is the seat post bag. The seat post cantilever attachment broke the first day off-road. So I had to remove it and borrow a small backpack to carry my essential spares and other stuff. It was an expensive Topeak post bag but not worth the money. Live and learn.


Guts are good. I am a bit run down but recovering adequately. I am learning to hydrate better and feeling better for it. I have started taking Larium. No problem. I have cuts and scratches from the fall in the sharp gravel but nothing serious. Many people have fallen. Many have more serious cuts, scrapes and bruises. OK so far.


Still there. Still excited – but tempered by the reality of it. Lots of time to think while you ride. I have been reading a lot to relax and divert the mind. I usually read murder mysteries on my kindle for an hour or two before I go to sleep. Have gotten through quite a few. Probably focusing too much on the ride and not enough on the countries and cultures we are riding through.

Cold beer

Day 27, Stage 21, 99km

Start – hilltop camp

Finish – Ethiopia camp

We rode down off the hilltop and onto tarmac. Today we would enter Ethiopia. The tarmac was rough but welcome. Except for the wind, it was almost like a rest day after the off-road sections.

The border crossing turned out to easy. You get tired of reading travel stories about how hard it is to cross borders: the hassles, the time, the red tape, the guns and belligerence. We had none of it. We got our exit stamps from Sudan easily enough – 20 minutes of waiting – crossed the bridge across no man’s land into Ethiopia, took another 20 minutes to get our Ethiopian visas stamped and were in a brothel drinking cold beer within the hour. Not bad, especially since Sudan is dry and none of us had had a beer since January 21 – over two weeks. We had arrived in Ethiopia around noon. Some of the riders had more than one beer and didn’t arrive in camp until dark – muscle relaxant before the hills.

When you enter Ethiopia you notice right away that the population has increased. Sudan is relatively sparsely populated and while people follow you and call out to you, they are mostly friendly and helpful. In Ethiopia you crank up the volume by 10 and don’t assume what they are calling out is benign.

After a beer and changing some money we rode the final few km into camp. We now had to gird our loins for hills. We had been in hills all day today but they were gently rolling foothills. Things were about to change.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Day 26, Stage 20, 86km (plus 7km)

Start – two mountains camp

Finish – hilltop camp

Everybody was pretty beat up from yesterday and we had another tough off-road day in front of us. It was more a ‘cracked earth’ day than a ‘washboard’ day, with lots of gravel and sand thrown in. After getting lost and doing a bunch of extra km yesterday I felt pretty beat up. I left early and travelled slowly.

By the end of yesterday, with all the pounding, the ulnar nerve numbness in my right hand and arm had really flared up. My left arm and hand were also numb. I had little strength in my hands. Gripping buckles, snaps and zips to set up my tent was almost beyond me.  But I could still grip the handle bars. I was trying to hold them as lightly as possible, just guide the bike, not wrestle it. But without shocks this didn’t make much difference. So I strapped in and set off.

It was a very hot day. I wasn’t the only one taking it easy. Although many of us rode alone today, several others were always within sight. It was really a clear the head, don’t think about it and keep the crank turning kind of day. It was also a take plenty of fluids kind of day. By the end of the day I had taken in at least 11 litres of fluid – probably 7 or 8 during the ride and another 3 or 4 after arrival at camp. Arrival at camp however was once again delayed. I stayed on track all day until the last bit of marker tape that identified the final track into camp. I was tired, had my head down and missed it. About 3 or 4 km later I found myself in the middle of a cattle market, well past the mileage I should have to reach camp. So for the second day in a row I swallowed my pride and got out my phone. This time all I had to do was back track a few kilometres to the marker and head into camp. One other guy wasn’t so lucky. He got so lost he had to be hunted down and picked up in one of the trucks. He didn’t arrive in camp until after dark.

Over the last few days people had been dropping by flies. Today half a dozen were felled by heat exhaustion and required treatment. One guy was put on a drip.

But I made it, had two donkey showers – because it was the best way to cool down – and then wandered into the nearby village with Vince for some well-earned cold drinks. Tarmac tomorrow.

Falling and getting lost

Day 25, Stage 19, 102km (plus 15km)

Start – canal camp

Finish – two mountains camp

I was feeling a bit depleted this morning. The rough roads take more out of you than you think. Today was longer than yesterday so I went out on my own at a steady but comfortable pace. The roads were pure torture. Yesterday times two. The washboard was worse. There were great patches of loose deep and sharp gravel. And the thorns were still there. At about 35km I came off my bike in a deep patch of sharp gravel. I wasn’t the only one. By the end of the day most people had come of there bike at least once. Many came off several times – scrapes and bruises for the most part, but lots of work for the medics. Shortly after I came off we came across a TdA truck and were told that we had to take a detour because of standing water on the planned route. The 15km detour added 4km to the day’s ride and was the worst washboard we had ridden on. The sorgum fields we cycled through rang with curses and, yes, tears.

Lunch was about 55km. By the time we got there we all needed a good break. I left lunch with a group of others but stopped in after only a km or so because I saw a shop selling cold coke. I should have stayed with them because I then took the wrong route and got lost. They didn’t.

After the village where I had stopped for a coke we had to cross some rail tracks and then turn left. I took a sharp left rather than a more casual left and followed a track for 30km in the wrong direction. I hadn’t turned back because I thought I was going in the right direction. Instructions said to head for a village at the base of two mountains. That’s what I did. But nobody else was there. Wrong two mountains. Wrong village. Fortunately I had copied down the telephone # of the TdA tour director. I called, had and interesting chat and soon realised I was about 15km north of where I should be. It was suggested I go back to where I had made the wrong turn and get back on track.  No! That would add 60km to the day. I told the tour director I was going cross country and would keep in touch. Not sure he was pleased. I found a cross road and started traveling south. It was hot. I was not traveling on cracked earth – farm land that had dried leaving foot wide patched with deep two inch gaps between them. Not fun. I road this for about 10km and finally came to a road that went perpendicular. But it was still too far north to be heading towards the other two mountains I could see to the south. I followed it for about 2km and then the son of a bitch turned north again. I had no choice. I needed to go south. So I lifted my bike and started trekking south through the sorgum. I ‘knew’ there had to be a road. But I also knew I was in the middle of nowhere and if there wasn’t I would have to start looking for the helicopters. To my great relief I eventually saw the bobbing head of a cyclist. I headed towards it and after 3km of hiking cross country was back on the right track, with only about 20km left to go to camp. I hobbled in to find a donkey shower, which I sat under for minutes to reduce my body temperature and return to life.

I wasn’t the only one to get lost today or in days to come. For those of us who have not done more than the scheduled number of km we have a special club: the EFI plus club. Not one to aspire to.

Medieval Sudan

Day 24, Stage 18, 82km

Start – Sinnar desert camp

Finish – Canal camp

Yesterday evening we all changed our tires from road tires to wider, knobbier off-road tires. Today was the first off road day.

We had been warned about the thorns. They were for real. It was really the day of the punctures. Freek had eleven before he stopped counting. Another person had ten. It was miserable. In addition to trying to navigate washboard tracks that could shake the liver out of a polar bear, swamps we had to carry our bikes through and heat that could melt tar we had to deal with the thorns. I cycled with Alex and Jan for long sections. We held a steady pace and joined up with Wayne at a coke stop about a dozen kilometres from the end. It was a good group toride with. The pace was comfortable and none of had a puncture. So we reached camp in reasonable time. Many reached camp very late. Some didn’t make it and had to be picked up by the truck. It was getting really tough.

We camped beside the canal again and many of us took the opportunity to go for a swim. There was a fairly strong current and the water was fairly silted but it was cold and marvelous. Some are very cautious about swimming or bathing in the waters here. I must admit I didn’t give it a second thought. It was cold. It felt good. I was in.

Often there is a village near where we camp that we can walk to to get cold drinks, or someone will show up on a motorcycle or a donkey cart with a couple of crates drinks. These guys usually charge ‘desert’ prices, typically 50 – 100% higher than village prices. But we don’t really care. We usually buy them  out within minutes and encourage them to return with more. But there was no local village and no local vendors at this camp. So we were stuck with the treated water from the truck.

There was on village not too far away though. Vince and I decided to walk to it. It was a couple of km off the road and not a trading village but rather a farming community. There were perhaps fifteen or twenty family compounds scattered around a central gathering space and some buildings used for grain storage and a couple of tractors. Take away the tractors and the road off in the distance and we could have been in 1613 not 2013. The buildings were all mud and thatch. Each compound was about an eight of an acre in size and surrounded by mud brick walls about four feet high. The buildings inside the compounds were in various states of repair. But what impressed me the most was the untouched nature of the village. In villages along the roads the fields next to them often look like plastic farms, old bags and bottles thick on the ground. Waste is piled against walls and at the sides of streets. Here there were no plastic fields and no great piles of waste. We were careful not to wander into compounds unbidden but we could see inside them. They had wide entrances unprotected by doors or gates. Inside everyone was doing something, going about their daily lives. They noted us, we exchanged greetings but they did not follow us or importune in any way as so often happens. It was an oddly calming experience.  You sensed a way of life, not untouched, but not overburdened by change.

Karate at the Funpark

Day 23. Stage 17, 160 km

Start – desert camp

Finish – Sinnar desert camp

160km sounds like a long way. It is. But we had found our various rhythms and our legs. The roads were flat, the winds not always unfavourable. It was almost an easy day – the calm before the storm.

We camped in a bizarre sort of funpark next to a canal. We were in the middle of nowhere. There were rides and a refreshment stand selling cold drinks. A big sign of welcome painted onto a piece of white cloth let us know that we were the guests of the ministry of tourism for Sinnar province. About fifty local kids were bussed in to put on an athletics show. We saw tumbling, karate and tai kwan do. We watched. Clapped politely. And went around the routines of camp. We then had the inevitable monosyllabic speeches.

So we enjoyed the welcome, facilities and entertainment at the funpark but were a curiously subdued group. Who would survive?


Day 22, Stage 16. 142 km

Start – Khartoum.  Bouganvilla Guest House

Finish – desert camp

Today was a long day with head winds for long periods. I rode out of Khartoum with Bridget and a few others and made decent time into lunch. I left on my own after lunch and moderated my pace a bit. The wind (or the road) turned in our favour for the last 30km so the ride into camp was quick.

Most people were quiet today. We all knew that today was the first day of eight very difficult days. We would start with two very long days. These would be followed by our first three off-road days. Then we would enter Ethiopia and start climbing.  I was certainly a bit apprehensive about the next week. Each day individually was daunting but doable, but stacked up eight in a row made the prospect more than daunting. We had had it a little easy at the start. TdA rates the Cairo to Khartoum section 2/5 in terms of difficulty. They rate the Khartoum to Addis section 5/5.

Vince and Alex and I went for long walk to a neighboring village in search of cold drinks. We bought a couple of dozen and brought them back to camp in a tuk tuk. They were quickly gone.

There is now a growing awareness that we need to be careful about where we leave our bikes and kit. In the camp we are in tonight two bikes were stolen during last year’s ride. So we coral them between the trucks and the tents and lock them together in threes and fours. It almost feels like the wagon trains the opened the west in America.

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.

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.