Exhausted from the past three long days on dirt roads, I couldn’t wait to lie down in my tent last evening. Fortunately, it cooled down significantly as soon as the sun went down. However, rest and recovery didn’t come easy that night. I woke up again and again and again, if I managed to fall asleep at all, coughing so violently that I had to sit upright every few minutes.
The first time I woke up after a short snooze, a strong wind blowing through the thin inner tent mesh onto my sore left nostril and ear made me zip up the outer mesh and hide underneath my sleeping bag. Next time I woke up, I found myself feverish and sweating all over.
I needed to pee, but my wounded leg felt stiff and sore. Even just dragging it out of my sleeping bag inlet felt like a chore. My leg felt boiling hot and was swollen all the way from underneath my ankle—barely discernible as a distinct part of my elephant-like limb—up to above my knee. A throbbing pain made it difficult to move. Getting out of my tent required a colossal effort and almost made me fall over.
Once outside, however, I enjoyed the cooling effect of the wind. Mike, my tent neighbor, was sitting outside, looking at his phone. My coughing had probably kept him awake. “Just couldn’t sleep,” he would be too polite to pinpoint the source of his insomnia the following morning.
Slowly, I dragged my feet across twigs and thorns into a civilized distance of privacy. One of the first lessons I had learnt on this tour was to always check the direction of the wind before I squat. So I also did that night. However, with my sore leg, I wasn’t able to balance my weight evenly.
I made my best effort to squat wide and deep, yet the wind blew splashes of pee all over my feet. What a mess! I would churn through half a package of wet wipes that night. But that was the least of my worries. I had experienced something like blood poisoning (or early stages thereof) twice already, each time caused by small unimpressive wounds on my right leg. Once, I even had to stay in hospital over two nights for intravenous antibiotics. This time, my leg felt exactly the same again—swollen, hot and throbbing, as if ready to explode.
“I’ve brought antibiotics,” I assessed the situation, “no big deal; will just ask Helen in the morning whether I should take them.” My biggest worry, however, was of a different nature: “How will I be able to cycle tomorrow?” Not just because of my leg, not just because of my fever and coughing, but because I had—literally speaking—zero energy left.
I don’t think I’d ever felt so physically burnt out my entire life. If even just getting out of my tent was difficult, cycling for 92km (even if on tar) was impossible. It would have been such a pity to lose my EFI, my virginity, my hope of proving that everything was possible. “Not now, not after having endured the past five days, not just an easy riding day short of the border,” I pleaded with my fate. I’d have enough time to rest in Nairobi, if I could just make it through one more riding day . . .
I stuffed myself with Ibuprofen and hoped for the best. Four times that night, I had to repeat my squatting fight against the wind. Each time felt more and more painful. Each time I lost the fight and had to clean up my feet afterwards.
When I ventured outside at 3am, I still felt feverish and didn’t move more than a few steps aside from my tent. When I ventured outside at 5am, I felt strong enough to crawl up the ladder into our truck to see whether I could locate my permanent bag where I had stored my paracetamol. Negative. “Alex, put on some clothes,” Errol’s voice interrupted my solitude as I crawled back down the ladder, “you make me feel cold.” I looked at Errol, dressed in his thick wind jacket.
“It’s not cold,” I whispered, dressed in my tiny sweat-soaked shorts and top, then made my way back to my tent, coughing along the way. I must have been quite a scary sight, smelly and miserable, with filthy hair that hadn’t been washed in a week. But I couldn’t have cared less.
“What happened to your voice?” Errol had asked me last afternoon?—”Lost it,” I had made my best effort to reply. Without a voice to communicate, I was quite happy to withdraw into myself and avoid lengthy conversations. At least I didn’t have to explain why I didn’t feel like talking to anyone.
5am had been my latest wake-up time so far on the tour. This morning, I had set the alarm for 6am. When it rang, I snoozed for another half hour, until I finally really had to get up. I wasn’t feeling hot any longer, just normal, and even my leg wasn’t swollen anymore, at least not as badly as just a few hours ago. That was good news. No matter how exhausted I was, I was ready to attempt yet another day on the bike.
By the time I had packed up and dressed, my energy returned. Not a lot of energy, still the lowest I’d felt any morning, but enough to keep going. “Helen,” I whispered, “could I ask you for another two paracetamol?”—”Of course,” she ran to her medical supplies, “but are you sure you want to ride today,” she looked at me concerned as she dropped the tablets into my hand. I just nodded. “Going on the truck is not an option for you?” I just shook my head, and she understood.
My riding day was rather eventless. It went slow, but I just took my time—to cycle slow and break frequently under the shade of a tree, for a coke stop, over lunch. Ironically, this also made it the most fun of my days. We’ve been laughing ourselves silly about our sheer inabilities to move and think straight—it wasn’t only me who had reached a physical dead-end, but most of us had reached their limit.
Fortunately, it was a lot cooler than the other days (less than 40° C), and even overcast at times. Lucky us! And cycling on tar felt so much easier than the past days on corrugated, sandy roads. 92km?—No big deal, even with fully depleted energy levels!
“We’re on our way home,” the Beattles resounded through my earphone as Anmei, Bridgette and I pedalled our last five kilometers to our camp near the Ethiopian border. “We’re going home, ” that’s almost how it felt to me, thinking of our familiar and relatively luxurious camp site back in Khartoum.
Stage 24: Rashid – Sudan Border (Sudan), 92km
Road & traffic condition:
Tar—not great but far better than expected. Limited traffic.
A Sudanese armor tank with a soldier on top holding the massive tank gun as if ready to fire any time stroke us as somewhat out of the extraordinary. “They’re bit nervous about terrorists on both sides of the border,” Wynand explained over lunch.
Much cooler than the prior days (i.e. less than 40° C) and partly overcast (even a few raindrops overnight).
Beef stew full of potatoes—running out of the good stuff.
Unfortunately, we’ve had yet another accident. Mark (from the US) slipped from a raised curb in between the side shoulder and tar road. He had to get onto the truck because—as I was told at lunch—he had no feeling in his hand to hold on to the handlebar. Helen made him an arm support bandage. “Not broken, fortunately,” he would comment at camp.
Unfortunately, back in Khartoum, the x-ray results would show otherwise: broken wrist. It would take 6 weeks to heal! Without a functioning wrist, one is quite helpless on this tour: putting up a tent, getting changed, packing the bag—nothing works. Based on that, Mark would book his flight back to the US.
We’re all shocked once again how quickly such an accident can happen, even to the best of us, and sad to see Mark leave. As I’d been commenting several times the past days, Mark was one of our strongest cyclists and a very pleasant travel companion. We’ve all greatly enjoyed his company, and I—in particular–owe much of my progress to Mark. “Remember to keep that tire pressure low,” Mark would joke upon saying goodbye.
Mark—we all wish you a speedy recovery! Our thoughts are still with you!
I’ve had my first so-called coke stop today. Not having done any before made me an odd exception in our group. “I don’t like coke,” I had protested for the last weeks.—”But there’s no coke at coke stops,” the other riders would counter.—”So what do you drink there?”—”Tea, or coffee, or water.”—”But tea and coffee makes you dehydrated, and I always have enough water,” I would argue.—”It’s about the experience, hanging out with the locals,” they would educate me.—”But I rather just get to camp and get everything set up,” I would state my logic.
Well, not today. Today I needed the break. And I needed to stock up on more water. It was a fun five minutes in the shade. However, the allure of stopping at every single coke stop still defies my comprehension. I rather learn the local language and be able to communicate with the locals properly. “What for?” Gurpaul would ask jokingly. “I communicate with them perfectly using sign language.” He had a point.
It’s interesting how each of us has different priorities, preferences and approaches to their cycling experience. If each of us was writing a blog, I’m sure, dear reader, you’d have 27+ different opinions and views of our adventure. Thus, for a more comprehensive picture, please also make sure to check out the blogs of other riders which I’ve linked here.
On a separate note, I can’t really boast about winning the women’s race of our last section, Desert Sands. Without competition, the result had been clear from the beginning. Congrats, however, to Mark (from the UK) for winning the overall race!