Monday, February 15, 2010

Gondor and Its Not LORD OF THE RINGS

As I enjoyed my weekend of cycling in the hills and the sprint tri, Rod and Julianna are still racing .They are still in contention as it is a long race and lots can happen . Makes the hill ride a picnic in the park.

Hello sports fans

We are in Gondor and it is nothing like the Gondor from Lord of the Rings - no Elves. We have just finished 7 days of straight riding, 55+hrs and 824k with about half on dirt roads. These seven days have taken their toll on people and equipment. There have been several serious crashes resulting in people having to take days or weeks off of the tour (we are not mentioning names to allow these riders to contact their families first). There has not been any major bike failures but one of the support trucks lost its brakes on a major descent, overrevved the engine during compression braking resulting in catastrophic engine failure. The truck incident should have resulted in a major accident with loss of life but the driver was fricking amazing (I was not there but the downhill was fast and curvy; also the truck stopped within a couple 100m of detour around a bridge under repair - it would have never made the detour without brakes.)

Feb 5 Left Khartoum and rode to a desert camp; 4:56, 158k. After the last email (within hours) Rod became very ill (ended up collapsing in camp) with tonsillitis and went onto antibiotics. So we rode fairly easy today and Rod focused on just getting to the end of the day with the smallest expenditure of energy possible. We lost a good 30 minutes to our nearest competitors. Rod suffered today. The road was all paved, flat, tailwind but quite a bit of traffic - probably the best day to be ill.

Feb 6 Desert camp to desert camp; 5:10, 161k. Rod was feeling alittle better but we still rode easy with the focus on energy conservation. Again we lost 30 minutes. Today started out with quite abit of traffic and it left quite unsafe so we rode on a small service (dirt) road beside the pavement for 20k. After the first 40k or so the traffic thinned out and it was quite pleasant. At about 130k we passed through the district capital and the people where out in force - cheering, banners, TV cameras, fricking awesome. It turns out we are the first tourist group into this area in decades, as it had just re-opened to tourists this year. The crowds went on for about 20k without a break and by the end it was quite tiring (always watching so as not to run into someone while trying to appear grateful). The riders coming through near the end had some trouble - things throw, body parts touched, etc. In camp after dinner the local authorities planned a sports demo for us in our camp. They bussed a group out to us and they put on a Karate demo and a Gymnastics demo. It was amazing these boys were doing hand springs and stuff on gravel in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt - tough.

Feb 7 Desert camp to bush camp; 6:28, 134k. Rod definitely feeling better. Lost time to Stewart, he fly on the dirt, and to Dan but gained time on Gizzy who got lost and barely made it to camp before dark (the cut-off for losing EFI). The first 40k were on pavement and then to dirt. The first 30k of dirt had some serious corrigation on packed dirt / sand. Then the corrigation eased off but the temperature went crazy. We stopped once at a village for water - the best experience. The villages are straight from National Geographic - grass hut, half naked kids, etc. So we stop by a local, motion we need something to drink, and are lead to a hut with a couple of elders chopping up dried dung. We sit in the shade (lovely) on a bench made of steel and strip of dried goat hide (surprisely comfy) and wait. The group has grown by this point to a dozen or so local men with all children having been chased away with a stick. After chatting with the guys for 10 minutes or so, a young man appears with 2 glass pitchers full of cold water - amazing. We fill our bottles, thank everyone and are off. The rough road has caused Rod's right wrist to be sore.

Feb 8 Bush camp to bush camp through Dinder National Park; 9:30, 128k. EPIC. The started rough and turned to cracked clay most closely resembling a rock garden containing only rocks the size of a baby's head. After about 40k of this we reached the park where we were made to wait by the local officals until there was a large group of us - their take on racing is clearly different then ours. We were forced to keep our pace low so the group would stay together. The road was rough and sandy, we were going to fast for some and too slow for others, tempers were flaring. At lunch, some 78k in we were told the camp had been moved from 140k to 118k, ok we had 40k to go and about 4:30 until it got dark - sound easy. The road leaving lunch looked decent and we no longer had to travel in groups. We filled up with liquids and set out. Within a km the road became that same great cracked clay that we have learnt to hate with patches of tire swallowing sand and thorns the size of nails. It became a death march. Juliana and I ran out of water became dehydrated got more water but it was too late. We rode as hard as we could but could barely manage 9km/h - the road was fricking so rough. We got to 116km with about 20 minutes to spare - we were told the camp was at 128k. Shit! At least the road was much better. We rode but could only manage 19km/h and rolled into camp right at dark, which is interested as we only had prescription sunglasses. I ended up riding the last 10minutes with no glasses and Juliana following my outline / voice. As it turns out the EFI finish line was at 115km and we could have gotten a ride the last 13k - nice to know. This day has changed us and is defintely near the top of hardest things we have done.

Feb 9 Bush camp to Sudna Ethiopian Border; 8:54, 140k. The first 110k were off road and then pavement. The dirt road started out good and became a nightmare. At one point the cracks in the dried clay were so big your wheel would fall in - we walked this section. By the end Rod's wrists were so sore he could barely hold on and Juliana had some serious saddle sore. The ride through the park had taken its toll but we were not the only ones, no one rode today pain free. We lost time to Stewart and Dan but gained over Gizzy.

Feb 10 Border to bush camp; 4:58, 98k. Everyone rode easy today as the border crossing made it a non race day. In the last three 3 days at least 10 people have lost EFI. The scenery has changed - trees, grass, rolling hills, and Ethiopia feels poorer then Sudan.

Feb 11 Mondo Day to Gondor; 5:59, 105k. There are several manditory days that every racers most do inorder to stay in the race, this was the first one. Then are the hardest days. Today was hard because of the climbing. The 8k climb in the morning was pretty full on with the last km being dirt. The downhill was great but this is were one of our large support trucks ran into greif. Gizzy was on fire today and won it for the women (a 30 minute bonus) plus she was about an hour faster then us. Stewart and Dan also put time into us.

Currently I have Juliana leading this section for the women and Rod is in 8th place. Overall Juliana is in first and Rod is 5th.

Rod is all better now (wrists and throat). Juilana is well.

Thank you very much for the emails of encouragement.

Rod and Juliana.