As we make our way to Ethiopia here is one last image from Sudan. Sadly the line up of vehicles is the result of a long standing gas shortage (relatively recently independent South Sudan has the oil). The line up of young typically smiling gentlemen was spontaneous as the camera made an appearance.
We just were told at this evenings’ rider meeting that we will be bussed to Gondar from the Ethiopian border due to political unrest. Whereas this is disappointing for the participants, it is a logistical nightmare for the organizers. Clearly the safety of all concerned is the chief concern.
The www has been hard to access in Sudan. The lack of distractions has given the group every chance to grow together. It has been a pleasure.
30 riders began the 2019 edition of the Tour d’Afrique. We lost 3 “sectional riders” in Khartoum and gained 5. We now have 7 women, 3 of whom are travelling with their husbands. One of the couples have kids in their 40’s and are on their. 5th tour with TDA, including the even longer South American Epic. Bicycle touring royalty.
The sweet spot in terms of age is around 60 – post “retirement”. It does, after all, take time and a chunk of change to do this. There are about 10 riders in the 30- 35 bracket. Canada is the best represented country, but we also have a few Brits, a couple of Dutchmen, a Swede, a German, an Irishman and a smattering , of Aussies and Kiwis. We have one woman who is of Chinese descent and a gentleman of Indian descent, but the rest of us here in Africa are slapping sunscreen on our exposed bits like it’s a matter of life or death. Perhaps it is.
Among the recently retired we have the former head of the paediatrics ICU at Sick Kids, a former federal court judge from Montreal and a NFB documentary maker turned novelist. We have a welder. Phil kept a heard of 3200 ewes on the South Island of New Zealand. We have a British geologist on leave from a contract in Rwanda who rallied the group to visit the ancient Nubian temples at Jebel Barkel. We have an architect, retired military, real estate movers and a former corporate lawyer who lasted 3 weeks at home with his wife before signing on as a bike mechanic at MEC!
Everyone here has his or her own variation on the dream of crossing Africa on a bike. For us, this trip is the culmination of many years of increasingly challenging and exotic bicycle touring. We like journeys that don’t double back on themselves. Crossing a continent qualifies. After 10 years of circling back to the TDA webpage, it was time. Others have lived or worked in Africa and see the trip as “coming home”. Some like to cycle fast and are here to exert themselves on new terrain with new challenges to overcome. Speed bumps and wayward donkeys are unwanted distractions. Others are comfortable enough on their bikes, but are more interested in the sites and the people of Africa, getting to the day’s destination a little later. For them, distractiions make the miles go by quickly. And then there is Mats, who on a given day will head out of camp at the back of the pack with the sweep rider to enjoy a more social riding experience, and the next day might be the first to wash his porridge bowl as he prepares to blaze a trail to camp hours ahead of the last arrivals.
We’re not being dramatic in saying that participants have to be accepting of some “difficult” living conditions on this tour. The leaders are champs at giving us every advantage to realize our dream, but they are unsympathetic when it comes to mitigating hardships – “there is no water for washing up” is not preceded by “sorry, but . . .” . Many of us have been sick. A gastro case in the group needed hospitalization. Orthopedic support tape provides support for knees, ankles and achilles tendons. A bad flu and chest infections requiring antibiotics hit many, including both of us. Jennifer, our amenable tour medic, keeps stressing that it is better to rest and keep the long game in mind. She is the voice of reason, but everyone here is stubborn. Every one of us would rather ride a bike than the bus.
To a certain extent self preservation is tantamount. There is jostling for the “shady” tent spot. The line forms quickly when “open kitchen” is called for second helpings. The sound of tent zippers could be heard earlier and earlier over the last days as the realization hit that cool mornings trump afternoon heat. We’ve seen this before. It will change once everyone figures out that minutes don’t make a big difference over the course of a day, and certainly not over 4 months.
At the same time there is a blossoming collective effort which we all recognize works to everyone’s advantage. On the road casual pace lines form when the wind is not in our favour. We help each other with flats tires, putting up tent flys that won’t cooperate in the wind and reminders to hydrate for the weary looking. Riders have been rolling into camp to applause on the hard days, lead by the strongest among us who know that the additional hours on the road mean less time for other tasks and rest, compounding the deficit. Stronger is better, period. There is mutual respect. Lasting relationships are being formed.
The cast and crew of the Tour d’Afrique are a travelling sideshow of vehicles and cyclists playing leapfrog across a continent, a tribe unto themselves. Our back stories served as ice breakers in Cairo. Now we are all the same, dreamers with one purpose, to ride our bicycles and get the most out of each day until we reach Capetown.
Here is a promotional video called “I Seek” from TDA which might help to explain this, and maybe even spark a dream of your own.
Thanks for reading.