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

The Climb!

Bahir Dar, Ethiopia is supposedly a very lovely, palm tree-lined town along the tranquil shores of Lake Tana. My most profound memory of Bahir Dar is of the inside of a toilet bowl at our campsite. Helllloooo Africa- I hope you enjoyed and will soon be exiting my small intestines 🙂 The Tour d’Afrique race director warned us that we would all experience some sort of stomach distress in Ethiopia- we are around people constantly after miles of remote desert, the parasites here are gnarly, our bodies are exhausted and nutrition/hygiene are a constant battle for our mobile caravan. Sickness makes tough riding even tougher, and tests each rider’s ability to properly balance persistence and recovery.

Immediately following my 24-hour private tour of the toilets of Bahir Dar, I faced an absolutely epic five days of cycling 70-100 miles and 1000-2000m of elevation gain per day, across Ethiopia’s highlands and the infamous Blue Nile Gorge. Looking at the elevation profiles for the week, stomach cramps were suddenly the least of my worries. Fortunately for my spirit, I have loved scrambling up big hills since my childhood in the Adirondacks and quickly learned that climbing hills on a bike is kind of like climbing them in hiking boots…except I’m faster in hiking boots. The great thing about hills is there’s also a tangible reward at the top, and on this point Ethiopia delivered. At the top of each hill, the view brought tears to my eyes. Both because the surrounding landscape was so unbelievably beautiful…and because on the horizon there was always yet another hill 🙂

Despite my generally sick and twisted enjoyment of riding my bike up the Tour’s highest hills, no amount of aptitude or fortitude could calm my nerves before day three of this week…the Blue Nile Gorge! The Blue Nile Gorge is basically the Grand Canyon of Africa, and for all the lack of infrastructure on this continent, contains a perfectly paved road that I am convinced was commissioned as a Tour d’Afrique torture device. It involves a precipitous 20 kilometer descent into the Gorge, a bridge over the Blue Nile River and then a 20 kilometer straight ascent and time trial up the other side. I’ve never done a climb like this and when I screamed like a banshee, pumping my brakes down the entire ripping descent, was very sure the flip side would get very ugly. Of course, the Gorge was anything but ugly. It was so breathtaking, that two British riders on the tour, the fabulous and indefatigable Georgie and Mark, managed to get engaged on the way down. I think there’s some sort of metaphor in there about the ups and downs of marriage.

When the ascent up the Gorge started, I found it to be a daunting but manageable challenge, invigorated by the increasingly cool air, a coke stop at the half-way mark and my fellow riders and I grinding our smallest gears while panting like out of shape dogs up steep switchbacks. Cresting the top of the Blue Nile Gorge 2.5 hours later was one of the best feelings I have experienced on this trip, and elevated my comprehension of the old “no pain no gain” cliche.

The Gorge, the relentless hills and the incessant bands of Ethiopian children chucking rocks at us and begging for money have elicited mixed reactions from our hardy band of cyclists. The children are perhaps the greatest challenge to our compassion- we have felt terrorized by their violence, shocked at their first response to foreigners, and dismayed that huge amounts of foreign aid and investment have not seemed to improve the status of their relative lack of education or disadvantage. It is heartbreaking to witness such wasted potential, and I struggle to offer a viable path forward. My Lonely Planet travel guide captures the essence of Ethiopia in the following description:

“Although it’s anything but desert wasteland or a perpetual home of famine and war, Ethiopia is monetarily poor and travel here is tough, both physically and mentally. However, those willing to take some doses of displeasure with Ethiopia’s bounty of treasure will be pleasantly rewarded. Testing, awe-inspiring and heartbreaking- it’s a journey you’ll never forget. You don’t explore Ethiopia for a relaxing getaway, you venture here to be moved. And moved you shall be.”

I have indeed been moved by Ethiopia, but am happy we are moving along.


2 Responses to “The Climb!”

  1. I am amazed that you can find beauty in everything you do including toilets! Reading your blog is like reading a great book and you can not wait to turn the page to the next chapter. Thank you! Feel better.

    Love Debbie Meier

  2. Hope all is well!!!

    We had snow in Dallas last week.
    Patrick got his permit! We need to watch out!!!

    Grace is the next runner, she ran a cross country mile in 5 minutes 43 seconds & last night ran a 6minutes:20 seconds in the Rain on the track.

    Hope all is well & keep us posted on your journey!!!

    You are doing fantastic.

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