I was the last one to take down my tent this morning.
“You’ve slept in today,” Paul was surprised, used to me normally being one of the first riders up.
“Didn’t sleep all night,” I commented briefly. That last half hour of snoozing was probably the best sleep I had gotten all night.
“What would you recommend people with diarrhea to eat?” I asked Helen.
“How bad is it?” she wanted to know. I explained and Helen was very clear about her medical advice: “Alex, I really think you shouldn’t ride today.”
“But on the bike at least I can get off [to poo] whenever I need to [rather than stuck on the truck],” I tried to make a reasonable case for my decision.
“If you ride, you will de-hydrate.”
“I’ve been drinking all night, and taking rehydration salts,” I continued to protest, “and we’re not riding tomorrow.”
“Alex, I really think you shouldn’t ride today,” Helen reiterated.
“Yes, you really shouldn’t ride,” Sue (new sectional rider, from the US) joined the discussion, “you almost fainted yesterday!”
This discussion wasn’t going the right way, and I didn’t want to further delay my departure. “I’m not discussing this,” I cut it short, in no mood to explain why I wasn’t willing to give up my EFI so easily. If I really would have to, so be it, but not just because it was getting a bit tougher to maintain.
Diarrhea was to be expected eventually. This was the real test of mental stamina and perseverance. I wasn’t feeling great, or rather pretty much the opposite, but I was still up for the challenge.
When I was finally ready to get going after a last toilet run, everyone else had already left long time ago. I found myself alone pedalling through countryside dirt roads, at walking speed. Soon a rider was following me—Leo, our sweep rider that morning.
It started to rain. “My lucky day!”I was excited. Sun and heat would have been terrible for my state of hydration and overall well-being. Rain was just exactly what I needed, so it seemed.
“Hey Alex,” Gurpaul appeared out of nowhere near a few huts, “you’re joining team sweep today?”
“Just not feeling so well, taking it easy today.” I was too lazy to ask him what mischief he’d been up to again that made him stop for so long.
Within visibility of each other, the three of us went along. Sometimes Gurpaul pushed ahead, and Leo followed me. Sometimes Gurpaul stopped for whatever reasons and I kept pedalling slowly, so Leo stopped and waited with Gurpaul.
The rain was coming down on us like there was no end to it, but the more it rained, the more excited I got. This was kind of fun, cycling through mud and getting splashed at from top to toe. I had never done that before. There was a longer downhill and I kept grinning to myself like a naughty kid while I left my wheels to spin freely.
At the bottom of the downhill, before it turned into a moderate uphill, I rolled through deep puddles of mud, and then—I rolled no more! Fun over. My wheels didn’t spin anymore. So I got off my bike to assess the problem.
Mud had built up so thick between my fork/frame and tires that my wheels were stuck!
“No problem, I’ll just remove that,” I thought to myself, still in a rather good mood. Meanwhile, I saw Gurpaul and Leo coming down the road. “Is it just me, or would they have the same problem?” I wondered.
Sure enough, they had the same issue. Kids were assembling from out of nowhere to watch us.
When the worst mud was cleared and our wheels could spin again, we got back on our bikes to carry on. However, we didn’t get very far. Within three pedal strokes, the mud had built back up so thick that my wheels where stuck again.
I got off my bike and cleared the mud once more. It didn’t help, within few strokes I was back to where I started. There was no way I could cycle through that mud—it was just too thick and sticky. Leo and Gurpaul had the same issue.
“OK, no problem,” I still kept my cool, “I’ll just have to push my bike for a while.” I cleared the mud again and started pushing. Not long. Even that wasn’t possible!
Then it struck me—I’m going to loose my EFI today because of that shit! How am I going to keep my EFI if we have to cycle on dirt roads all day and the weather doesn’t change?! That one thought and worry tilted my mood. This was too much, out of my control. “That’s not fair!!!” I was sulllen and frustrated.
“Alex, I have an idea,” Leo’s voice gave me hope, “let’s ride on the grass instead.” I had the same idea and was about to push my bike away from the dirt road. However, the grass just made it worse. Before I knew it, it was no longer just mud, but mud mixed with thick long grass blocking every movable part on my bike.
“Madam, come back here,” the kids shouted from the middle of the dirt road, “better here.” They had a point. As soon as I had crossed back over, they busied themselves with bare hands helping me clear the mud and grass off my bike.
“They say their house is just up there,” Gurpaul had meanwhile connected with the kids for a real solution to our problem, “we can get a bucket of water there to wash our bikes.”
That sounded good. I was glad I was not alone in this shit and had team sweep come up with a practical solution. However, there was still a long way uphill and no house in sight. Pushing my bike wasn’t possible for more than a few steps before the wheels blocked again.
The kids tried to lift and carry my bike for me, but—afraid that this would make me lose my EFI—I told them to stop. I had to do this on my own. Meanwhile, Gurpaul was already dozens of meters ahead, casually carrying his bike on his shoulder.
I wasn’t that strong. The kids busied themselves over and over again lifting my bike, and over and over again I had to tell them to let go. I started to get angry with them. They should leave me alone! “She needs to do it all on her own,” I was hearing Gurpaul patiently explaining to the kids why I refused their help, while I—busy constantly clearing the mud and exhausted from the pushing—didn’t even bother to look up from the bike.
However, even though I kept telling the kids to stop lifting my bike, they didn’t get tired of helping me clear the mud from in between my tires and fork/frame, and I was grateful for that.
“Alex, I don’t think you’d lose your EFI in such a situation if the kids carry your bike,” Gurpaul suggested. “You’re still walking.”
“I’m not so sure,” I didn’t want to risk it.”Leo?” He kept silent, probably because he didn’t know either. I started to lose my temper. “I can’t believe they make us cycle through this shit!” I kept saying over and over again, partly aloud, partly silently in anger. No one could possible cycle through this shit!!! [sorry for my language]
In between, I heard Gurpaul’s laughter with the kids, enjoying the situation. “I thrive on adversity,” Gurpaul keeps saying, and—indeed—he seemed to come alive under these most adverse circumstances that made me despair.
Leo was totally at ease, casually strolling up the hill and observing the situation. He had left his bike to the kids to carry and play with. I didn’t have that bloody option. The rain subsided, and every now and then a bit of sun came through. “I think that mud will dry quickly in the sun,” Gurpaul and Leo agreed.
Indeed, pushing my mud-caked bike become somewhat easier as the rain died down—relatively speaking, allowing me ten steps instead of five steps before I’d have to clear the mud again.
By miracle, we finally reached the house of the kids. They had already organised a bucket of water. “Madam, bring your bike here,” they ordered me to move my bike closer to the bucket. So I did.
Hands were all over my bike, including my own. “Madam, stop!” the kids ordered me to step aside. I usually get itchy when people boss me around, especially little kids, especially when they want to take possession of my property. Not in this moment. I was all too happy to have them do all the work.
“How much shall we tip them?” I whispered to Gurpaul.
“I don’t think we should give them any money. They’re just kids who want to help us out,” he suggested. “How cool is that?” Gurpaul was indeed thriving on this situation of adversity. “Where else would you get to experience something like that?”
When the kids had used up their bucket of water and restored the functionality of our bikes, we gave them a few energy bars, thanked them and were about to head off again.
“Money!” they held out their open palm.
We gave them whatever spare change we had, less than a dollar each. That kept them happy, and gave me peace of mind. They deserved it!
We got lucky that the rain stopped and the mud indeed dried quickly. I only had to stop a few more times to clear the dirt from my chain and gears that sounded like a chainsaw. We soon caught up with other riders on the road, as well as more riders at a much-needed coke stop where several of us gathered for a break or to re-group. By then, the mud on our bikes had mostly dried and fell off more easily. We gave our bikes a more thorough makeshift clean, and it was all smooth riding from then onwards.
When I finally reached the lake, form where we were supposed to take a boat into Kampala (to avoid insane traffic on the roads), I was relieved to spot Brad and a few other riders waiting in the shade.
Locals were all over me again to get hold of my bike. This time, I was all too happy to instantly let go and have them clean it in the lake, seeing how shiny the other bikes already looked. “How much?” I just asked.
“5,000” [less than USD2].
I happily accepted without bargaining.
When the chap was done, I found my bike safely stored on one of the boats. It hadn’t looked that neat and clean ever since we had set out from Cairo!
While we were all excited about our spotlessly cleaned bikes, the locals were excited about the killing they made from us that day. They had done a great job and deserved to be paid well for it.
Stage 30: Jinja – Kampala (Uganda), 84km
Road & traffic condition:
Dirt road almost all the way; little traffic however.
Rain in the morning and overcast most of the day making for a manageable ride.
Curry and salad (for most people); plain bread and rice for me and fellow diarrhea sufferers.
- Getting our bikes cleaned while waiting for our boat crossing into Kampala—our bikes haven’t looked that good since the early days in Egypt!
- Taking a boat ferry into Kampala, or rather its outskirts. We wouldn’t go into downtown.
- Camping on the grounds of a decent hotel with relatively clean hot showers and modern toilets, the Red Chilly camp. The bar area at the pool also seemed to be a popular hangout place with the local expat community. I put up my tent right next to the bar, as close to the toilets as possible. “I don’t get that Tour d’Afrique thing,” the expats where talking half-drunk (it was Saturday) while I put up my tent late afternoon, “that kind of lifestyle … would only attract a certain type of people … why would someone enjoy that?” I was too exhausted to give them even just the slightest bit of my attention, and too tired for their loud talking talking to keep me up at night.
- Meeting Henry, the founder of TDA Global Cycling, who will join us for the next few weeks.
- Bike donation ceremony: TDA donates one bike per rider to local worthwhile organizations. I have to admit I felt too weak to participate. As I came in late and was in dire need of sleep, putting up my tent and getting myself cleaned up before the riders’ meeting seemed like a bigger priority.
- On a less positive note, a few people would have to go to hospital for various reasons—high fever, headache, diarrhea, de-hydration or combinations thereof.
Managing to cycle all the way, and even mostly enjoying my ride, despite my diarrhea. It seemed to have stopped as soon as I started riding, and would only return once I got off the bike again.