Erin's Tour d'Afrique Bike of a Blog!
An 8,000 mile personal and philanthropic adventure across Africa…

The Longest Week of My Life

Greetings from the highlands of Ethiopia! My sincere apologies for the lack of blog updates over the past week- internet has been nonexistent, and seven straight days of arduous riding this week surpassed my physical, emotional and human limits. Let me elaborate…

The Tour started the week riding out of Khartoum to more remote sections of Sudan with two 160k rides. So basically, we rode along stressful, congested roads for about 100 miles each day. On the second day, we enjoyed a hilarious coke stop where we were literally engulfed by excited Sudanese children. These parts of Sudan do not see many visitors (let alone funny bike riders), and they were utterly and earnestly fascinated by us. Encounters with children are a mixed blessing on the TDA- on the one hand they can be very uplifting, on the other they can terrorize you by throwing rocks and touching your bike as you move along. I already have a few bruises from rocks thrown at me…this is part of what I signed up for.

On the third day of riding, we started our first off-road section. I have never ridden off-road and had no idea what to expect. I’m riding a cyclo-cross bike which is made to go off-road, but certainly is not as good as the mountain bikes with suspension and bigger wheels. As I arrived at lunch, every rider looked battered by the tough roads. Lots of jarring corrugation makes your arms “bleed from the inside,” as described by my riding bud Steph. Many riders also got lost on winding, dirt paths in the middle of nowhere, which creates a whole new host of issues. Despite the rough terrain, it was the first time I felt like I was truly biking across Africa. Persistence wins on the dirt, and I made it to the finish line exhausted, but intact.

On our fourth day of riding through Dinder National Park, 130k off-road on a new route for the Tour d’Afrique…all hell broke lose. We had been informed that the terrain would be lose gravel and medium sized wheels would be sufficient. I have learned to expect the unexpected on this trip, and we ended up riding along terrain that proved to be extremely unforgiving and advanced- corrugation, deep sand, loose rock, cracked lava, boulders, you name it we rode over it. I crashed my bike four times which shook my off-road confidence and made me feel unsafe. At various points, I repeated mantras to get through the tough sections. One of my mantras was “I am an intreprid warrior.” I repeated this over and over in between tears at various points, which conjured a few laughs from the other riders.

I rode with my friend and fellow intrepid warrior Dana, and we just kept on keeping on. We got to lunch at 3pm (I usually finish a full day of riding around 1 or 2pm), and realized we were in trouble. We watched other riders waving the white flag around us, but we refused to give up. By dusk, Dana and I had simply surpassed our limits. We had been riding for 12 hours at that point, were exhausted, hungry, battered, out of water, and alternating in a delirious state between crying and laughing. When it was pitch black, we got off our bikes and resolved to walk them the final 13k to the finish line. Finally, a truck full of Sudanese military officials waved their guns at us and told us (in so few words) to get our butts and bikes in their truck asap. Apparently the lions and leopards come out at night in the park and are a real danger. We chose not to get eaten, along with many other intrepid warriors that day.

The next morning there was a perceptible sense of unease, injury and procrastination in camp. I have been nicknamed “the Captain” for my discipline in the morning, but even the Captain felt reluctant to get back on her bike. I wasn’t even sure if I could with my bruises. I got on the bike, and day five’s terrain proved almost as arduous as day four. We found ourselves with several mechanical issues in the middle of nowhere in a cornfield, and again got to lunch after 2pm. My tough cookie friends Cat and Reuben suffered from sunstroke and sickness respectively, likely cumulative effects from previous days. Many riders finally just sat down on the side of the road in the afternoon to wait for the trucks- it was day two of total carnage. A handful of riders (mostly big strong men) made it through all of both days, and I salute their skill and fortitude.

On the sixth day, we crossed from Sudan to Ethiopia and got a taste for some of the rolling hills we would encounter. Many riders were so spent that they skipped the two final days of the week, and rode in private cars straight to our next rest day Gonder. I couldn’t blame them, especially the sick ones, but I really wanted to tough out the last two days of riding. The seventh and final day of the week was a “mando day,” which basically means that Tour leadership considers it one of the toughest days on the entire tour. We climbed approximately 2500m, with hills that took my breath away…literally. It was one of the most epically beautiful rides I have ever experienced. It was a mix of the Grand Canyon and Moab, but with a distinctively Ethiopian and African spirit. It rejuvenated my own spirit enough to push my weary body to the day and week’s finish line in Gonder, Ethiopia, where I experienced the priceless rewards of a shower, a beer, a nap and a mountain of chocolate bars.

This week was without a doubt one of the toughest challenges I have ever experienced, but my hard work has been rewarded by a few profound lessons.

1. Even in failure, there is a measure of success. Dana and I were forced to stop just 13k from the finish line in Dinder National Park after giving it our absolute all. That’s a spectacular failure that I am proud of.

2. People are power. I would not have made it through an inch of the tough stuff this week without Dana, Jen, Steph, Paddy, Jason, Dave, Caroline, Hardy and the other awesome people who surrounded me with humor and energy at various points.

3. Positivity Overcomes All. It’s easy to make excuses or attribute blame following the tough time this week. Our new route was not properly scouted and the staff struggled to provide support on the tough days. But on a trip full of risk and uncertainty, I am comforted by the fact that I am the one in complete control of my attitude and outlook. There is no one achievement, reward or finish line on this trip- these elements appear each and every day, if we know where to look for them.

Right now, I have a respiratory infection, stomach issues, saddle sores, seemingly perpetual dehydration, sunburn and legs that feel like dead weights. But I cannot wait to get back on my bike and suffer, smile and share more of this epic journey through the unknown 🙂


2 Responses to “The Longest Week of My Life”

  1. Erin,
    Unbelievable experiences: watch out for those lions. Stay well and continue to be a strong “Warrior”. Love you, Aunt Mary Ann

  2. Ok sitting here reading the blog with Uncle Barts, Aunt Aggie, Aunt Leslie, Megan and Uncle Den. Trip sounds awesome just reading everyone the blogs and they are amazed. I hope your smelling the roses (or African violets) and enjoying while you can.

    We miss you and love you
    The Gang

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