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Stage 40
Day Total: 84.4km
Total Time: 4:32
Avg. Speed: 18.6km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 137bpm
Total Climbing: 256m

Song of the Day: Chicago – If You Leave Me Now

An unfamiliar sense of seriousness hovered over camp this morning. Breakfast was scheduled to start earlier, the lunch truck would leave earlier, and riders hit the road well ahead of their normal schedules. Nobody seemed to be taking the entry into the lava fields lightly. For my part, the “get ready” music that accompanied my morning regimen had me feeling fairly relaxed and relatively calm. Yesterday’s very easy ride meant that my legs would be unburdened by the strain of a hard effort 24-hours earlier. At least I had that going for me.

Our plan was to leave together as a big group and set a very easy tempo into lunch. The longer we all stayed together, it was presumed, the greater the likelihood that we could stick around to the bitter end of this stage and try to usurp the race leader and end his run of 4 consecutive mando stage wins. A solid plan I thought.

Unfortunately, not everyone was on board with the plan even after giving their consent the night prior. The group set off, the pace was high, and the workload was not shared. A hard pace on the roads is one thing: on pavement you can often recover after a bout of higher exertion by sitting behind other riders or coasting downhill. Offroad riding, especially with nasty corrugation and loose rock offers no such respite. Thus, I let the group ride on ahead as I stuck to my pace knowing from previous mountain bike races of 40 to 50km distance that a lot can happen in the course of a ride. Given that this was 84km, the second half of which would be over very rough terrain, I was content to do my thing and manage myself properly.

Soon enough I started riding through people who were in the group of early pace setters. By 30km there were only 3 ahead of me, Jorg visible in the distance, the two Pauls far enough up the road to be out of sight. A long climb into lunch brought a very welcome smoothness to the riding surface and I powered up the hill to find Jorg still eating at the lunch truck. One of the chief pacesetters on the morning, I secretly wanted to show him a thing or two on the second half of the day. Knowing that the intensity of the ride would not let me comfortably eat a normal meal, I opted for bananas, an energy bar, and a bottle of energy drink. Jorg set out and with a quick lunch I left just 30 seconds behind him.

The second half began with a long, smooth descent of about 1km. The benefits of the front suspension on my fork let me surge past Jorg on this section and within 10 minutes time a sizeable gap had opened. I considered that business finished and concentrated on catching the two riders on the horizon. I did not know who they were but figured that it couldn’t be the two Pauls as the rider in the lighter colored jersey (Paul Wolfe wore white that day) was riding in the front position (something Mr. Wolfe rarely does through the body of a stage). However, as I drew near I could make out the bright orange of UK Paul’s hydration pack. I pulled even and exchanged comical glances with UK Paul – he was riding only as hard as Paul Wolfe. I rode past the two of them to which Mr. Wolfe responded: “You better go chase down Lindsay up ahead”. I knew we left after Lindsay and would post a faster time – he was simply trying to wind us up. I responded with “I’ve got nothing to prove, my mando stage record is already blemished,” a cheeky response taking a jab at the fact that his 4-for-4 mando win record was under serious pressure today.

And like that, UK Paul and myself simply rode ahead of him and opened a gap. UK Paul then opened a gap on me while the other Paul rode up behind me. I eased up and watched the gap to UK Paul widen. Comfortable that he would stay ahead to win the stage I went back to my pace and found myself riding away from Mr. Wolfe as well. This was actually a surprise as he had shown significant strength on the previous mando dirt day. The terrain was much rougher than that day which might explain the difference.

In the end, Paul Spencer (UK Paul) would get the win on what proved to be a difficult day. Beating our truck to camp, we sat in the shade of the one vehicle recounting the day’s events. The road definitely got worse as the day progressed with the final 3km being particularly nasty and preventing speeds above 12km/h. This did not bode well for tomorrow’s ride into Marsabit – “the toughest day on tour”. As we sat in camp, howling winds and high temperatures made life a bit unpleasant but my preparations for tomorrow were underway: double serving of recovery drink; vitamins; re-hydration salts; secret post-ride protein; consuming all the food I could find. I recalculated tire pressures, the net effect being that I would ride with 40psi in the rear and 35psi in the front for tomorrow; the final 4km of riding today convinced me of that move. A few locals walked over to our camp to request that we not use the small circle of standing water for bathing as it serves as their source of drinking water. Ironically, I saw 3 cows defecate into said water and one child romping naked through the shallows. Go figure.

With wind and heat I have forgone the setup of my tent tonight, opting to sleep out in the open on tarp and sleeping mat. This has the added benefit of speeding up preparations tomorrow morning. My final thought for the night is of my father lounging on the beach in Zanzibar, probably with in-room air conditioning and room service. On the eve of what will surely be a memorable ride – not only for this tour but for my entire life – I don’t envy him. Tomorrow is a rare opportunity to deeply test oneself but the beach will always be there.

Stage 39
Day Total: 80.0km
Total Time: 3:57
Avg. Speed: 20.2km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 109bpm
Total Climbing: 163m

Song of the Day: Five Finger Death Punch – War is the Answer

To quote Hannibal from the A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together”. Well said. Today’s ride was the gift of a recovery day I had been seeking since the ride into Yabelo though I would not have expected it to be delivered to me on an offroad day. Take ’em when you can…

We left the border town of Moyale and quickly descended into an area of red dirt and scrub forest. Visibility was limited early on as we rode directly into the sun but once the road bent a bit the land was visible in all of its splendor. Colorful birds and dik-dik (very small, deer/antelope animal) punctuated our progress down the straight dirt road, the morning temperatures with the relatively smooth surface of the road making for a very pleasurable ride. Periodically the road became heavily corrugated but our easy pace and serene surroundings dulled the discomfort it typically causes. The lunch truck was not faring as well as its suspension is not precisely optimal for these rough roads. It never passed us, so we stopped at the 42km mark to let it pull into its appointed rendezvous point. Everyone relaxed while lunch was prepared. This is a marked difference to most days when lunch is sometimes viewed as an interruption (never by me admittedly).

The remainder of the ride was carried out at the comfortable pace set into lunch. Rolling into camp by 11am we got a nice treat in the form of a small shop selling cookies and cokes. It seems I picked the wrong year to stop drinking soda… Oh well, 2 of them won’t hurt will they? Camp was invaded by curious children eager to let us practice our fledgling Swahili skills. They cheered our successes and laughed at our mistakes. A very large, empty water tank provided amusement for all as Bastiaan stuffed 3 kids inside of it and proceeded to roll it around the grounds. The kids laughed last when he went inside the tank, the tank rolled, and there was a large thud.

After crashing twice in one day in the Sudan I had broken my left pedal. Crank Bros pedals with their 4-sided entry made this a non-issue for many days, however the pedal has now bent and my foot continues to pop out unannounced. Out with the old, in with the new set from my reserve of bike spares. If I’m honest, the bike looks quite smart with the new pedals, this set featuring small white platforms with anodized red springs.

Tomorrow is another “mando” day – day 1 of 2 on the infamous northern Kenya lava road. Tour Director Sharita, the quiet, capable leader, added just a few words to the end of the rider meeting to underscore the severity of these coming stages: “These are the 2 hardest days on tour. Take a lot of water as it will be f’ing hot out there. The road goes from bad to absolute crap. OK?”. I love her directness even if I don’t like the message… Ominously, we were served grilled steak for dinner (think 50 crazed animals eating steak for the first time in 6 weeks). What can this mean?

Stage 38
Day Total: 81km
Total Time: 2:45
Avg. Speed: 29.3km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 126
Total Climbing: 359m

Song of the Day: Weezer – Buddy Holly

A gentle night’s sleep camping amongst termite mounds and a handful of thorny trees meant good energy when I awoke. This morning saw another modification to the morning routine, specifically, the introduction of music to my daily preparations. The effect was quite positive as I could move through the now ritual-like actions with a good beat in the background.

After yesterday’s ride I was intent on leaving earlier and not serving as the pack-mule for everyone else. Jorg and I set off roughly 15 minutes ahead of the others and overly newly paved roads made very good time for the first 35km of the ride. Lunch came early – just 1h 30m after leaving camp – and the length of the stage didn’t warrant a full meal (I was still stuffed from breakfast) we topped off the bottles and got rolling again in under 4 minutes. Adam passed by us at lunch, we battled with him for a while until I mounted a big move on the longest hill of the day. Unfortunately, as we neared the border there were a series of ropes blocking the road and the gap was closed. With that, the 3 of us rolled into the Ethiopian border town of Moyale for the conclusion of the stage.

We spent the last of our birr (Ethiopian currency) before processing our exit documentation. Compared to the 4 hour ordeal upon entry, this 15 minute process time felt like a dream. Entering Kenya would be equally quick, and by 10am we were setting tents at the Kenyan Wildlife Services administrative compound. A cluster of small buildings and some open land, the campsite did feature 2 flushing toilets and 2 cold showers. While not a slave to luxury, I appreciated the shower after the heat and dirt of the previous days.

A quick while later we walked back into the town for a meal. It was a bit of a battle to find something suitable but finally located a clean establishment serving beef stew. It wasn’t spaghetti bolognaise, but it did the trick. Snacks purchased, Safaricom SIM card activated (for local Kenyan mobile phone service), and beer consumed (1 Tusker, 1 Guiness), it was back to camp. Dinner was fantastic, easily one of the best of the trip: beans, rice, mango salsa, scrambled eggs, and tortilla-like bread called chupati. I overate as usual…

4 days down, 3 to go in this stretch. The final two days cover the 170km stretch of terrible road through the lava fields. I have heard that these are two of the toughest days of the whole tour so tomorrow will have to be ridden sensibly.

Stage 37
Day Total: 126.32km
Total Time: 5:02
Avg. Speed: 25.0km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 122
Total Climbing: 958m

128km on pavement with 950m of climbing – when presented on the whiteboard – sounded like the recovery day I really needed. Wind and a lack of cooperation from any other riders would morph the ride into something altogether different and significantly uncomfortable. When the day was over, I would have been better off riding alone as I ended up sitting at the front of the group for over 80km. If I’m honest, I’m angry about this. UK Paul told me early on that he was really hurting. Fair enough – he and I look out for each other and I don’t mind assisting him as I know he will do the same. The others however, well, there’s no excuse. I took every opportunity to reduce the advantage they would gain by riding behind me: when the wind would come across the road from our left I hugged the rightmost edge of the road so they could find no shade in my slipstream. I have decided I will simply leave earlier and with other riders going forward. No more assistance from me.

On the whole, we rode very slow but it still hurt and I arrived at camp quite tired. Camp is in the middle of nowhere, but as usual, somebody found out about our arrival and delivered warm soda and beer for purchase. I passed on each, opting instead for a light nap in the shade of the truck. Tomorrow is our farewell to Ethiopia and a short 83km ride to the Kenyan border. Many are happy to be leaving what they deem a hopeless land. My experience thankfully was much more positive and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of the riding and enthusiasm of the children (most of them).

Stage 36
Day Total: 91.36km
Total Time: 4:49
Avg. Speed: 19.0km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 134bpm
Total Climbing: 1329m

The rider meeting the previous night described this ride as “a long, slow grind” featuring “brutal corrugation” over increasingly “rough roads”. Nobody can say that this tour doesn’t deliver…

An interesting phenomena develops amongst riders as the tour progresses. Personal barriers are broken or pushed outward, new extremes are experienced, limits are reached. Together these create a coping mechanism for challenging days that is based on relativity. Effectively, you get through a day by identifying positive points in your current situation that are created by comparing the present to the past. For example, it was hot today, but it certainly was not as hot as our dirt rides in the Sudan. The roads were rough, but not nearly as rough as other days. It is subtle, but in the moment it can help.

Today’s stage was another “mando” stage featuring a 30-minute time bonus. We were hopeful that UK Paul could leverage his strength on the dirt to take the win. We ended up close, but not close enough. The two Pauls and myself made good time to the lunch truck over rough but not unruly roads. I sat on the front of the group, trying to spare UK Paul for the late stages. It was not to be. Paul Wolfe made a big move at the base of a steep climb at 75km into the ride. It was never my intention to go with him, but he opened a small gap to UK Paul. UK Paul started to close, but suffered some traction issues on the steepest bits of the climb. He made up time on the ensuing rough descent, but an unexpected end to the gravel road in lieu of pavement gave Paul Wolfe the break he needed to maintain a 60 second lead into the finish.

Overall, this was a fairly tough day. The battle for 3rd place overall still ensues and I managed to gain a few minutes on my rivals even though we never saw them on the ride today. Relentless headwinds hurt me all day long and the continuous bumps in the road meant I could not spin my usual high cadence. The legs hurt, the butt hurts, and I am hungry. The bright spot in the day is our campsite location at the Yabelo hotel. Availability of a real meal immediately after the completion of a ride does wonders for recovery. Cold drinks (Fanta Orange and Harrar Beer) don’t hurt either.

Interesting sights/sounds in the camp tonight:

  • The hotel staff’s nearly complete obsession with the green grass they have grown in the newer area of the hotel. A man with a stick walks around to ensure nobody pitches their tent on it. After any of us even sits on the grass, this uniformed man comes to inspect the spot and give us dirty looks.
  • The hotel had satellite TV service but seemed to be stuck on only one channel. Admittedly, I had no idea a channel existed that played only one program. Which program? I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s a Japanese program in which contestants try to navigate a series of ridiculous obstacle courses. You know the one… and you know you like it.
  • Ordering a pizza resulted in the pizza being served within 15 minutes. Spaghetti with meat sauce required in excess of 1 hour 14 minutes

My father has decided he indeed does need a break. Tomorrow morning he will take a car back to Addis Ababa with multi-bike Mike. Once there they will fly to Zanzibar for a 10-day break before rejoining the group in Arusha, Tanzania. If I’m honest, I’m a bit jealous, but the beach will be there for years to come…

Stage 35
Day Total: 80.4km
Total Time: 4:07
Avg. Heart Rate: 126
Total Climbing: 191m

I awoke a bit apprehensive today. Seven consecutive days of riding ahead us, 5 of them off-road, 3 of them “mando” stages (the 12 most difficult stages of the tour), 2 of them over the infamous lava road of northern Kenya. The Tour rolls on and you either ride or you don’t and thus the decision is made. This week will be a lot of effort with even more heat, hence my anxiety.

Today’s stage was “mixed” with the majority of it being off-road. A group of 6 of us set out together and covered the 27km of pavement quite easily. The dirt section was fairly tame in the beginning, fairly flat and relatively smooth. A bathroom break was organized at the top of a small hill, but as seems to happen more frequently these days, one person chooses not to stop and the rest get nervous. For my part, I really needed to relieve myself and used the full stop to do so. This put me about 100 meters behind the group. I closed the gap at a leisurely pace, content to keep some distance behind them in an effort to better see the terrain and navigate a clean line.

The landscape was semi-arid with the occasional village breaking up the monotony of the scrub bush and thorn trees. Trucks and buses created dust storms that covered the road (and riders) and reduced visibility to nearly zero. Fortunately a stiff, quartering headwind developed that rapidly cleared the road.

A small, unexpected section of pavement brought us into the final 15km of the ride. As we crested a small climb, we turned back onto dirt for a long descent. UK Paul shot to the lead, with race leader Paul Wolfe close behind. I paused to unlock my suspension fork and then let the bike fly, overtaking Paul Wolfe and drawing near UK Paul. In a matter of minutes the two of us had built a reasonable gap of 200 meters. I yelled ahead to Paul to keep pushing and fortunately the road continued its downward path over uneven terrain. Paul’s mountain biking skills and my equipment advantage allowed us to continue to open the gap as the kilometers ticked away. A few goat crossings and short, steep ascents slowed us slightly but did little to stop us from increasing the lead.

In the end we barreled into camp right behind each other. In a gracious act of selflessness, Paul let me clock out first for the stage win (for the benefit of the charity). Hugs and high-fives ensued – it was not a huge margin of victory but symbolic in that we used skill and mechanical advantages to steal the victory.

Camp is in a very hot, dry riverbed. Not quite Sudan hot, but uncomfortably warm. There was work to do: clean the bike a bit, change tires to the 45c Marathon Plus, shuffle some gear. These would have to wait for the temperature to fall. We took shelter in the shadow of a small cliff, trying in vain to nap, failing miserably due to the outpouring of sweat and the persistent presence of the flies. Getting horizontal did help a bit to ease the hurt from the day’s effort but this was another example of how being in camp can be more difficult than being on the bike.

My father rode the morning section to lunch and rode the truck into camp. I am slightly concerned at this point as he admitted this afternoon that he doesn’t know if he can finish the tour. Riding the bike is difficult enough; the added work of making and breaking camp can make it even more so. I have talked to the tour staff and began socializing the idea of a short break from the tour with my father. He seems open to the idea so it should be a matter of coordinating the logistics.

More bad luck hit fellow rider Mike today. Multi-bike Mike whose bike was initially lost in transit to Cairo/found/shipped to Addis Ababa collided with a small child on the roadside today. He walked away, but seems to have damaged some ribs (I feel for him) and won’t be riding for the next few days. Get well soon Mike!

Day Total: No Riding

We didn’t have to ride today. In that regard, it was indeed restful. Apart from that it was very warm, the hotel had little or no water so showers were limited or non-existent, and the availability of food was quite limited. My father booked us a hotel room though its construction was such that it warmed all day and radiated heat to the inside of the room all night. After trying to sleep in it for roughly 3 hours I dragged my sleeping mat out to the front stoop and slept there. This worked well until the winds died at 3:30am at which time the assault from the mosquitoes was so powerful that I was driven back into the oven-like room. Argh.

The neighboring hotel (the Swain Hotel – a note to future riders, pre-book here) offered breakfast, so I awoke at 6:30am and made the trek over with several others. What a treat: a buffet consisting of eggs, crepes, fresh juice, doughnuts, cereal. This choice was even more sensible when I received the reports of total disaster accompanying breakfast at our hotel. Sometimes you get lucky…

Clothes washing next on the agenda. Normally this is a straightforward task involving filling a bucket with water, adding detergent, inserting the clothes, agitating, and rinsing. Today’s laundry session involved dropping a small bucket (an empty paint can) 10 feet into a tank of water, hauling it up, dumping it in the bucket, and repeating 11 times to fill it. Comedy ensued when I dropped the bucket into the bottom of the well and had to fish it out with a long stick. Sometimes your luck falls short…

Dinner was the usual, safe go-to food when the kitchen looks sketchy: spaghetti with meat sauce. I consumed 7 plates of this dish in the past 36 hours, no two the same, no one better than the other. Cold noodles seemed to be the norm as did too little sauce.

I opted to pitch my tent for tonight’s sleep, and as I type this, I am very happy with my decision. The winds are slipping between the trees and the cool night air is passing through my tent. Sleep will come easily tonight, thankfully, as we have 7 consecutive days of riding (5 offroad) before the next rest day.

Stage 34
Day Total: 105km
Terrain: 40% dirt/gravel, 60% pavement

I woke early this morning, not due to excitement or the fact that it was my birthday. Instead, I awoke early because one of the early risers – a group of 5 or 6 who set their alarms for roughly 4:30am each morning –
set his tent next to mine. To each his own, but when you really can’t start riding until 7am, I don’t fully understand the need to wake so early. In any case, I beat some of the queues for the pump, locker access, and water and had some free time on my hands. At that point, Kendra brought me an improvised birthday cake: a PVM energy bar with 4 candles. She chose the strawberry-chocolate flavor, which if you are really desperate for dessert (like I am at this point), tastes a lot like Neopolitan ice cream. I blew out the candles… and then they lit up again. Damn trick candles! The whole experience set the tone for a great day of riding and a very pleasant birthday in a remote area of Ethiopia.

The cast of regulars set out for the day and we rode together on newly paved roads. A beautiful morning greeted us with proper temperatures and scenic landscapes. Then the road ended and we were riding on groomed dirt that will likely be paved in the coming months. Good fun as the dust kicked up and ground got rough! This carried on for about 20km with stretches of rough gravel and loose dirt thrown in to keep things interesting. The locals were out in force, their fanatacism for our presence at all-time highs. The combination of the road, the people, the buildings and the vegetation made it feel as if we had entered an entirely different country. This trend would continue throughout the day as the road carved through banana trees, mango forests, and multiple small villages. Admittedly, the mischief levels were high today – I got a good size rock in the foot, hit with sticks, had gravel thrown into my path and even watched a small girl shove a live, baby monkey into another rider’s face. What fun! Honestly, it’s all part of the experience and if nothing else helped to create a day of memories not soon forgotten.

The group became very separated over the gravel but I finally caught back up to the two Pauls. We rode together into lunch, with Paul W leaving a bit ahead of us to take his time in the gravel. UK Paul was very eager to catch up to him and summoned us away from the lunch truck. We caught up quickly enough and rode together for some time. Dennis would join us, ride off the front, and disappear, only to be caught on the 4km climb into camp. UK Paul picked up the pace a bit and I had no answer – he has become quite strong in the past 2 weeks.

Arriving at camp, I rode for the timing system to clock-in for the day, nearly running over my father who decided that even though my ride was not officially over he would start inundating me with details about the hotel. He had not ridden on the day and had apparently secured a hotel room. He was quite proud, but in reality the rooms were not all that great as they are quite hot and there is no running water in the entire compound after 8am. I had a bucket shower and a couple of beers to celebrate.

Kendra, Kari, Paul, Jorg, and myself all went to dinner last night to cap off a memorable birthday. Various fried foods were offered up with a heaping portion of Ethiopian national food for good measure.

Stage 33
Day Total: 118km

A small spell of panic settled on the camp with this morning’s sunrise as 4 riders awoke to find their cycling shoes stolen overnight. Opting to keep them in the covered vestibules of their tents in lieu of inside the tent itself, the shoes were whisked away into the darkness to be worn by the more sporting members of the local community. Not a member of the fashionably aware sector of society I cannot comment on their choice of footwear other than to say I find cycling shoes rather uncomfortable for any activity other than cycling.

The plan for the day’s ride was more of the same from yesterday – ride with a bigger group at an easier pace and see where that took us, with tentative plans for one or more coordinated coke stops. UK Paul got a flat tire overnight so the two of us with Paul W set off behind the rest of the group. The ride featured a 17km climb which we rode steadily, followed by a 20km descent which challenged me greatly. Donkeys and cattle were the nicest of the obstacles, shouting and darting children with sticks presenting something altogether more concerning. At one point I rounded a bend at approximately 50km/h only to find two children holding a stick across the entire road. They cast aside the stick just before I was on them… fortunately. A slurry of gravel thrown into the road as I passed would complete the experience.

We lunched leisurely and left as a large group, expecting to encounter gravel at 92km on the day. We found none, and instead opted for a coke stop to rehydrate where I sipped a cold “Obama Mango Juice” with the catchy slogan “Yes We Can” printed on the label alongside the President’s smiling face. UK Paul, knowing Paul W was ahead up the road and not keen on riding gravel quickly, went onward as we sipped cool drinks. Favorable tail winds and smooth roads meant a fast final 25km to camp, ahead of the trucks. Interestingly, there was no dirt or gravel on the day.

Another dry, dusty camp, the local support staff quickly went to work clearing the camp of massive thorn bushes, the machete proving the top tool for the task. The thorn bushes would be scattered along the perimeter rope to discourage any attempts of theft overnight. I sweated out a brief nap in my tent, definitely worse off for that effort. Dinner was a delicious fish curry with a wonderful mango salad and hot cocoa for a post-meal drink. Not bad in my opinion.

Tomorrow is a 105km jaunt that is supposed to be mostly paved. The rest day is scheduled for the town of Arba Minch along the shores of two large lakes. For once, I will find a way to simply rest on the rest day and not get caught up in the running around (hopefully).

Stage 32
Day Total: 128km

A crescendo of dog barks broke the peace of last night’s sleep. It was a good sleep to that point, clear skies and light breezes ensuring temperatures were near perfect for the use of my sleeping bag. To date, I’ve had only 2 nights where I did not sweat inside of this down cocoon despite it being rated only to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. With no frost in the forecast it appears I am sentenced to another few months of light night sweats.

A change in the race this morning would alter the day’s ride in a positive way. The second place (overall) rider made the decision to stop racing this morning. Purely personal and not health related, I fully respect and honor his decision. I have struggled with this choice myself – the demands of the race can sometimes preclude one from certain experiences along the route. Ultimately, I’m not sure what I will do. For today, it meant that the 1st and (now) 2nd place riders were content to ride with a group of riders opting for an easier race day.

We all set out together at a peaceful pace with favorable winds and a lot of descent accentuating the morning route to lunch. Shortly before lunch, a few steeper climbs split the group and left just UK Paul (2nd), Paul Wolfe (1st) and myself. We rode together through rolling terrain for the balance of the day. The countryside seemed slightly less populated today but each of the towns we entered was noticeably busier than those of the previous days. A marked difference between the towns was quite visible: the Muslim towns received our arrival with great enthusiasm and positive encouragement for our efforts; the Christian towns presented less positive interactions typified by yelling, a few rocks, and multiple requests for money. Interesting.

We managed to survive the day unscathed by rocks, though I did take fire from a small (6) platoon of children atop a small hill. The barrage of rocks fell well short of the mark, most likely because we were moving at about 43km/h at the time. The main threat on the day was livestock and we stopped completely for two cattle crossings and modified our course for at least 5 others. As always, the donkeys were a force to be reckoned with and I continue to marvel at the work these beasts of burden undertake. More than one of these creatures was seen carrying 40 liter water jugs unaccompanied by any human yet instinctively they seemed to know where they were going and to walk far to the side of the road to avoid motor vehicles. I think I’ll look into getting one of these upon my return.

The stage ended with the 3 of us cruising into camp. For doing a large percentage of time on the front of the group I was awarded the stage win. This was great news as it means additional charitable donations for Back to Africa. A number of donors have agreed to a “performance plan” under which additional moneys are donated for each stage win – even more will be donated if I reach a total of 10 stage wins. Thanks to Paul and Paul specifically for letting this happen today. The Northern White Rhinos thank you!

We reached camp early – 12 noon – and set tents under the watchful eyes of the largest camp crowd to date (there would be over 100 children and young adults at the camp perimeter by dinner). Apart from the audiences, this campsite featured loads of loose dirt and no vegetation, a real throwback to our days in Egypt and Sudan. Interestingly, it simply does not bother me anymore. Sand is blowing into my face as I type this, but there comes a point where you no longer feel as if you could be any dirtier. Not my favorite campsite, but not the worst.

After a good taste of the dust, we walked to the roadside and hailed a tuk-tuk (small, 3-wheeled covered motorcycle) for a pre-dinner meal. A small dispute arose upon our delivery into the town over the pre-negotiated price. We stood our ground and driver gave up, but it should be noted that a random guy with a machete quickly appeared. Related? Not wanting to find out, we set foot to the restaurant without delay. The establishment, Hosana town’s finest we were told, was a nice find with clean tables, decent food, and great service. One plate of pasta, half of a chicken pizza, half of a plate of french fries, 1 beer, 1 pepsi, and one machiato meant I was ready to return to camp.

We returned to camp to find at least 100 curious, vocal locals crowding the perimeter of the camp. Tempers were flaring for riders, patience worn thin from so much “interaction” with local children on the day’s ride. Riding at the front we are often spared the worst of the misbehavior, but the stories shared in camp suggest a number of uncomfortable experiences are taking place each day.

Tomorrow’s ride is meant to be mixed pavement and gravel so a tire change has been completed, opting for the “middle” size 40c tire. Gravel has turned out to mean a few different things thus far, so tomorrow should be full of surprises.