We’re now heading towards the Ethiopian border. The coming few days are said to be some of the toughest on our tour, testing our stamina both mentally and physically. “Some of you will want to throw your bike at the truck when you reach camp,” Tallis warned, and others just daring to smile might drive us nuts. “Your real personalities will come through. The next few days will really test your patience.” So far, the vast majority of us have still cycled EFI (Every F..king Inch). The heat and bad roads might change that quickly.
Today has been a long day. I’ve spent seven hours on the bike, and that’s considered fast. We’ve convoyed out of Khartoum (a relatively pleasant and easy start), but then the heat and bumpy tarmac immediately brought us back to our new reality.
There were two locals cycling with us today. I was the last one out of Khartoum, from where our convoy stopped, as I needed to adjust my handlebars. For whatever reason, the bolts had come loose during our rest day. The locals kindly waited for me and then cycled with me, one ahead and one after me, watching out for me and clearing the traffic—what a nice special treatment!
Unfortunately, their English wasn’t too good; or perhaps fortunately, as I preferred to focus on the traffic rather than talking to them. “Very good, excellent”, they kept repeating, to me and to everyone else.
Once out of Khartoum and away from heavy traffic, I—as most of us, I think—needed a pit stop urgently. From then onwards, I was cycling alone again which, admittedly, I prefer. There were lots of boys again at the side of the road. However, different from Egypt, they applauded and cheered when I passed, as if I was a super-hero.
The scenery is entirely different south-east of Khartoum than North Sudan. Instead of desert, we’re now cycling through dry bush land. There’s no more sand bothering us. Trees here and there intersect the landscape. While coming from Egypt we had only seen donkeys and camels, and perhaps more dead than alive animals at the side of the road, today has been a pleasant surprise: healthy looking herds of cattle and sheep roam the dry meadows. A South African is running a cattle farm near our lunch spot, we’ve been told. Instead of donkeys, well-nourished horses pull the carts.
Today has been no race day, so I took my time and stopped a few times to take photos. We passed what looked like a sheep market. Trying not to offend the locals, I waved and greeted them from afar before pulling out my camera. They came up to me for a chat: “Where are you going?” is their usual question. “Very good,” they usually reply and lift their arms to demonstrate my strength. Then we’d reached the limit of our conversation in broken English and Arabic. “Don’t worry, keep going,” I think they might have said in Arabic when they smiled and gave me their thumbs up, waving me to move on.
Five kilometers from tonight’s camp, the police waved me down, but I kept cycling. They’re usually just bored and use us as an excuse for some distraction from their daily routine, so it seems to me. This time, the police kept following me in their car, at times with blue light and siren, right into camp.
“Did you have any issues?” Paul asked me later.—”No, why?”—”We had a boy trying to throw a stick between my spoke.” Lucky me, the police kept me safe; they were not just bored after all. But, dear reader, don’t get a wrong impression. It’s really just a few bored kids coming up with nonsense every now and then. 99.9% of people are super friendly and welcoming. Having said that, “you need to start watching your stuff, and always lock your bikes up,” Tallis would warn us again at our riders’ meeting.” We’ve had bikes stolen at this camp in the past.” The police seems to be taking special care because of that, and would also tell the locals to not come close to our camp.
While I was putting up my tent, one of the two Sudanese riders kept trying to have a conversation with me, but that didn’t go very far—his English being even worse than my Arabic. “Hero!” he kept saying to me. “Very good, excellent,” he beamed in between his hero praises. Then he passed me his phone. “Hello, my friend just wanted to tell you,” a male voice was talking to me, “that he’s really impressed with your performance. He was wondering whether it’s possible to stay in touch with you.”—”I’ve only got an Austrian phone number, it’s very expensive,” I used as excuse.—”Hero, hero,” the Sudanese rider kept saying to me, until they eventually got bored and left our camp.
Stage 19: Khartoum – Rufaa (Sudan), 148km
Road & traffic condition:
Still tarmac, but a lot rougher and bumpy, which means that we’re cycling slower, and our butts are getting a little bit too much of a massage.
The traffic seems much better though. It’s busier than through the desert, but they all seem to drive slower and respect us cyclists. In the desert, they couldn’t have cared less about us on the road. Here, they mostly wait before overtaking when we’re in the way—a pleasant change compared to the crazy bus drivers on the highway up north.
It’s getting hotter. People without properly ventilating tents are suffering, as it doesn’t cool down until after midnight. I’ve found the cycling not too bad yet, but that’s probably just because it was a non-race day, so it felt nice to take it easier for a change. Non-racers, however, might disagree. For many, the heat has probably been making this the hardest day that we’ve had so far. The only heat effect that’s been bothering me were my toes—they felt boiling hot for the last 10km.
Dinner was especially good today: chicken curry and Greek-style salad.
Camping without sand and crazy wind was a pleasant surprise. Some people have been struggling with the heat though, and quite a few of us have had problems of various kinds with our digestive systems. Nothing serious however, it seems.
At camp, a TV station was reporting about our tour. They asked us to say our names and where we’re from—nothing too exciting as a few riders had already been interviewed by Sundanse TV in Wadi Halfa.