1000 km in 7 days has landed us in Gondor, Ethiopia.
We started the week with back-to-back centuries(160km per day). The distance itself seemed daunting until we realized that playing chicken with oncoming tour buses, and dodging potholes was part of the agenda. Losing the games of chicken always seemed to be the best option but usually resulted in a fairly hectic bailout off the pavement onto a variety of stones and dirt, often with pedestrians to dodge as well. Stress levels were high these 2 evenings...but we looked forward to a few peaceful days of dirt roads.
Little did we know, the carnage had just begun.
Day 3 - 50km on the tar, and then dirt roads for 90km. A handful of people embraced this transition and beat the big overland trucks to camp. For others, it made for a long day, even longer for a few who got lost and added 60km to their day.
Day 4 - Dinder Day. Dinder National Park will be long remembered by this year's TDA's riders. It was the first time the TDA had ridden through this area, so the roads to come were little known from a cyclist perspective. Dinder is a game park and home to lion, buffalo, buck, warthog, and large variety of bird life....it is also home to some treacherous road. Needless to say with our eyes pinned to ground in front of us, there was not a lot of game viewing to be done. By mid-afternoon, water was low, saddle sores were flaring, injuries accumulating and the arms were jelly...and there was still a long way to go. Just before sundown the first riders arrived at camp...looking like whipped dogs. Since night was aproaching, the TDA staff scrambled to find and pick up the many riders who had lost the race against the sun. Once again the stress levels were high as people nursed their injuries, exhaustion, frustration, bikes and variety of injuries.
Day 5 - a 140km hop to the Ethiopian border.
In my opinion the hardest day of the week. The roads were so bad that even the big overland trucks had a hard time passing through some places, and once again the front riders beat the trucks to camp, but not without a good amount of suffering. Other riders wised up earlier in the day as the outcome was becoming more apparent, and pulled up to wait for a lift.
Day 6 - After spending the night at the border and getting our first taste of Ethiopia, we slowly climbed our way to mountain camp on some freshly paved roads. Everyone treated today as a recovery day so the going was slow, which allowed us to adjust our senses to to huge cultural and landscape change we were experiencing now that we had left the Sudan. The mountains replaced the desert, Christianity replaced Islam, and stone throwing replaced smiling and waving....and the booze is back. At mountain camp a few of us invited ourselves to hut of one of the villagers, who served us some warm (but welcome) beer for a small fee. The head of the household made sure we were comfortable and taken care of, and then he, his family and his friends sat there and watched us indulge.
Day 7 - Climbing day - 100 km to Gondor. On paper, this was meant to be the hardest day of the week. It was a tough day for sure which included about 2500m(8000ft) of climbing, but I think since it was expected, and knowing that we had a rest day and a hotel waiting for us, it was just another day in this epic week. It also was our first real contact with Ethiopia's stone throwing children. I would say that the average TDA rider, by the end of yesterday, would say they were hit with a stick at least once, and had stones thrown at them at least 3 times.
I dont believe I have been overly dramatic in describing the week, in fact, I think if I were to tell each person's story individually, it may even appear worse then described above. My personal woe's included a stomach bug, which earned me a ride on the truck one day after getting dehydrated, urinating blood after 10 hours in the saddle, my first saddle sores, muscle cramps in my legs for the first time in my life, and a perpetual state of exhaustion...but after one night in the Goha Hotel, and a few beers, I am already on the mend, and hopefully even stronger for the weeks to come. However, as challenging it was, it was an amazing week!!
To elaborate on the cultural change from Sudan to Ethiopia...it is like a different world. First appearances are that is a bit rogue here, perhaps a bit bohemic. The effects of Islamic law have dissappeared, and enterprise is high on everyone's agenda. But I've only been here for 2 days - so more on that later. One thing to keep in mind is that although there is a heavy Italian influence in Ethiopia, it brags of being the only African state not to have been colonized.
Internet access in Gondor, makes the old telelphone dialup feel like lighting, so I will not be able to post pictures until I get to Addis in about 10 days