Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Amazing results of Tour d'Afrique Foundation donations and article; exciting stuff!

I heard word the other night that with the astounding current total of $2400USD (and counting...) that everyone has helped me raise for the Tour d'Afrique Foundation, I have raised the most amount of any rider of any year for this charity.  Thank-you!  The tour director was whetting my appetite as to the excitement of some of the upcoming presentation ceremonies with the number of bikes that we will be able to donate!  I hope you'll join me in this excitement!  More to come.
In other news, I have appeared along with some other great Canadian names on  You can check out the article at  Congratulations Ray for hitting the Red Sea yesterday!  Take a look!


Two sections and 3500km done!

If I stopped in a village, people would crowd to this density 270° around...just to look

These kids were watching us eat dinner, then without cue started singing and dancing in unison like they had rehearsed it.  These are the same kids that throw rocks, obviously it is not malicious.

The amazing Blue Nile Gorge!  ~1300m deep which we climbed over ~20km on gravel roads.  Incredible!

We safely made it to Ethiopia's capital city Addis Ababa; safely being the key word here!  Not surprisingly, a world's worth of interesting things have happened since my last update in Bahir Dar.  This computer will (once again) not allow me to post pictures so I'll have to be crafty with my text...again.
Since leaving Bahir Dar, we have had some long days with some significant climbing.  Thought the road surfaces have been good, distances have been as high as 160km, each day's cumulative elevation gain has been through the roof and one day we finally climbed above 3000m above sea level (above 10 000 feet for the imperialists among you).  Even the Swiss among us were saying that they had never been that high on a bike before!
The scenery has been absolutely beautiful.  Though we have been climbing high into the mountains, the landscape is still quite green and lush.  Some really interesting large-scale rock formations have revealed themselves in the mountains.  To accompany this lush green landscape, for the first time since arriving in Africa, we had rain!  We had about five minutes of light drops whilst on the bike one morning, then two nights in a row had heavy rain throughout the entire night.  The first night of rain we were camped in a field with thick, clay-based soil and the lot of us spent a minimum of ten minutes trying to find our pedal cleats on the bottom of our bike shoes.
Speaking of scenery, we finally bid a triumphant "farewell" to the River Nile.  The second section of this tour is appropriately named "The Gorge" which is named after the Blue Nile gorge that we cycled through a few days ago.  Though the distance on the day was short, it was an incredible day of cycling!  We started with a quick 15km of paved road to where it felt like the earth ended.  Suddenly at the end of the village, the pavement ended and the soil before us dropped about 1300 vertical metres down to the Blue Nile below us.  The rough gravel road wound an 18km route switching back down the side of the gorge face with trucks, locals, donkeys, and many other obstacles to avoid.  Over the 18km I think I did a total of about 20 pedal strokes, and that was just for entertainment value; talk about mountain biker's dream!  Due to the rain the night before, the dust that usually clouds the view of the gorge was not present; however it was replaced with mud.  While this was no problem for us bikes, two large trucks got stuck in the mud (each on opposing sides of the gorge) which cut-off large vehicle traffic through the bottom of the gorge.  Race management still managed to get one 4x4 vehicle through the blockage so we were still able to hold our 22km long time trial up the 1400 vertical metre south side of the gorge!  I had been looking forward to this climb since I heard about the trip long ago.  I had set a goal of 2 hours in the climb and was extremely pleased when I stopped my clock for the 5th best time of the day of 1 hour 53 minutes!
I mentioned in my previous update that the culture gap between the Sudan and Ethiopia was vast, but it proved even more so over the last five days of riding.  First let me say that the vast majority of locals are very kind, very friendly and genuine.  Unfortunately, a small majority of young males are not following this trend.  I must admit, I have an extremely long fuse; however a few days ago that fuse became much shorter.  I had a number of incidences where I would wave with a smile and greeting in Amharic (local language), but as soon as I passed would face a barrage of rocks being thrown at me, sticks thrown at me, whips being cracked at me, fists being thrown at me, just to name a few.  At first, rocks were being thrown along the road where they would do only a little harm.  What really got under my skin was when these violent acts were stepped up, the rocks got bigger, the aim of the rocks got better and toward more vital parts of the body, sticks weren't used simply as threats but rather swung with intent to hurt.  The only defence we have is to stop, single out the perpetrator and follow them when the run home and inform their parents (in interpretive dance of course) of what they have done.  A few times, the parent took the child away and an Amharic argument ensued behind opaque walls.  Other times, parents shrugged their shoulders and differed responsibility.  To curb the length of this post, I will omit the long discussions that riders have had about these happenings and the symbolism of it and simply say that it is a minority tainting the image of the majority.
On the note of image, it seems to be standard fare when locals under the age of ~15 see white skin, they respond with yellings along the lines of "gimme pen", "money, money", "1 Birr, 1 Birr", and so on.  If you stop and speak to them, they give up on that pretty quickly and enjoy your company.  I had a 45 minute soccer game with a group of children that opened up the "conversation" by pestering me for money.
Overpopulation is quite noticeable here.  I can't say that I came to that conclusion immediately, but soon realized that no matter how far away from civilization we felt along the country roads we were travelling, stopping quickly for nature's call was never a private affair.  Locals would appear out of nowhere and start asking the question that I have heard more than I can imagine since crossing the border "Where are you go?"  Cycling through a town is never a quiet affair where people of all ages are yelling from 50m away from the road as well as from on the road "you, you, you, ..." , "where are you go, where are you go, ..." or combinations of "you, money, you money, you pen, you pen".  Stopping in a town means an instant crowd of 50 or so children staring at the alien that stands before them.  I must admit, in local context we look pretty strange; I would probably do the same thing.
From here to Nairobi, we have 1600km to cover over paved roads through Ethiopia's famous Rift Valley, over the harsh volcanic rocks of the deserts of Northern Kenya and more.  Unfortunately for this site, I will not have internet access until we hit Nairobi again so I will not be able to post until then.  I can't imagine the length of THAT post when I get there!
Now, off to "Africa's biggest market" in Addis Ababa!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Bahr Dar, much to report!

Stunning mountain view from my tent door. The picture just doesn't do it justice

The girl who tried to jump on my bike so I could bike her back to Canada, and she wasn't the only one. I honestly tried, but my mountain bike is really only designed for one (Photo: Rémy Benois)

Typical lunch scene. The locals love staring at us so we put up orange ropes around the site so we are not mobbed. I can only imagine what we look like to them.

I can't believe how much has happened and changed since my last update. Where to begin?! Firstly, happy Valentine's Day! This is good for some more point form I think.
Well, this has raged on pretty long. I'll try to post again soon with some fun stories about the locals, me riding three mountainous days with only one brake working and some details about the day-to-day routine of the tour.

Tonight: the P-party! We are to come dressed as anything that starts with P. Tonight I will be the Patriotic Peddler with all of my Canadian garb and tattoos. Mission: make an a** out of myself!

...well more than usual!


Impressions of the Sudan

The real jewel of the Sudan, the Sudanese!

The biggest thing to mention here is the people:
Impressions of people in positions in power:

Overall, travelling through this country was amazing!  Thanks Sudan!

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Sensational Sudan Nearly Complete!

Now in the Sahara, we are seeing more sand and less rock.  Talk about flat horizon here!

The camel train we encountered. Too cool!
How many camel heads fit in a small bucket? Don't worry, the 6th guy in the background finally made it in too.

The Sudanese Cycling Team posing with our mechanic and the tandem bike of Douglas and Joash, a blind rider and his pilot from Nairobi, Kenya
I feel like this will be a recurring statement but with the huge pile of things that have happened since my last update, I am at a loss of where to begin. I will start with some facts which will bring on some stories and thoughts and then this post will likely rage on far too long. Well, you can read it in stages I guess!

I had a great day doing some washing, then wandering around Dongola. I enjoyed some freshly pressed mango juice, then some flame broiled chicken and wandered around the dusty streets, waving to the locals looking curiously at what was walking down the street before them. I enjoy the challenge of trying to convey what I am trying to say to very confused locals. I really do feel bad for not knowing more of the local language, but locals seem to get entertainment from the interpretive dance I end up doing to try to supplement the few words I do know in Arabic.

We left Dongola in a convoy and off into the desert we rode. Now on the west side of the Nile, we are in the eastern extents of the famous Sahara desert. I was expecting another five days of some rough roads, but it turned out to be two days of riding on roads in various states of construction and three days of riding chiefly on paved roads with some sections still under construction. I found this a little unfortunate since I was looking forward to the challenge of the tough roads and heat that the Sudan has offered previous Tour d'Afrique riders, but accepted it and rode with my slicks on for the the last three days.

Most days, I have started with the pack just to get warmed up and let some kilometres pass with the fast-moving group, then happily dropped off when the pace surged with attacking racers. From there, I enjoyed a combination of riding easily on my own, riding easily with others, watching the scenery pass by continually repeating "wow, I really am riding in the Sahara", stopping and quietly taking pictures while enjoying the sounds of the desert communities, stopping with some groups of locals and doing my best to have a "conversation", riding peacefully with one other rider enjoying the scenery and pointing out interesting observations to each other, enjoying good conversation between riders, and of course there are the more off the wall stories!

Riding along one day along a sandy road, we went to go up and over an irrigation canal stemming from the life-blood Nile out to the depths of the desert and noticed a bike helmet on the other side. We wondered why Tom V. (Canadian) had stopped until we rose slightly more to be greeted with about 50 camel heads! We quickly stepped aside since we had already spooked the heard and gave them right of way over the narrow bridge.

Another day we were riding along in a larger group (about ten of us) and noticed a great deal of action happening about 50m off the road. We decided to go and check it out and came across two families concurrently getting water from a large communal well. They would drop the bucket down the well and fill it, then attach the rope to a donkey with a small child on top, then the donkey would tow the water up from the depths. Repeat process...until we showed up. Before we knew it, we were hauling up the water whilst the donkeys had a well deserved rest and drink from their share of the water. We let them ride our bikes, they put a rider up on a camel and took her for a ride, we helped them hitch their water tank cart to their donkey, we played the "take your picture and show it to them on the back of the camera" game, all the mean while they were laughing their heads off and having a great time! We can only wonder what they were thinking when a gang of spandex-clad foreigners came over and started hauling their water up, but we hope that this particular day will be a water-fetching experience to remember!

One evening there was a particularly large hill behind our site, so a couple of us trudged up to the top of the ~30 vertical metre rise. The vastness of the desert was that much more apparent from atop the hill. Aside from the similar hilly features that dotted one side of the landscape, the horizon was the only limit to the vast dry landscape that was before us. Small bushes here in there somehow managed to draw whatever small quantity of water the surrounding sand would present to keep a light green tinge upon its thorny branches. The wind scoured and packed most patches of the landscape and deposited its dust on the leeward sides of any features (including all of our gear of course) in delicately carved smooth and wavy lines. The desert is a beautiful place!

The people we have come across have been great! Everyone has been very courteous, kind and very friendly! Unlike in Egypt where every time you answer the "where are you from?" question with Canada you got a response of "Canada Dry" and requests for tips for their witty lines, you are greeted with more curiosity, more questions, more smiles, more and more handshakes requests to have you take pictures of them, offers of tea and/or food and general good spirit.

The other night we were treated to a few speeches from some fellow riders about the fund-raising initiatives they have created by pedalling along with us. The stories of time, effort, energy and resources backed by their commitment of pedalling across this continent were going to causes that put back into the countries here that would like help, however too-large organizations are not efficient enough with their funds to reach the more needing cases, a rider dissatisfied by a career of selling high-tech equipment to people that have now using his marketing talents to get a list of corporations to help him build a school, medical facilities and other growing initiatives in a community that we will pass through in Zambia, a rider who lost a friend to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) a number of years ago pledged that he would ride this tour to raise funds and awareness for this fatal and cureless disease were some of the presentations we were given. Many others have their own initiatives including the one off of this website doing our best to help this land that we are quietly rolling over with our 2-cylinder glycogen-powered vehicles.

Today, we had a short time trial of 18km followed by an escorted entry into Khartoum. What was really neat about it was that the Sudanese Cycling Team assisted in blocking traffic for us as we wound through the busy streets of the sprawling city. Talking with them, they were very enthusiastic to help us out. When we arrived at our camp, the President of the Sudanese Cycling federation and the General Secretary of Sport in the Sudanese government both offered speeches welcoming us to their country and to their capital city. I was very taken aback by their deep appreciation for our presence in their country. They both repeatedly mentioned that we should bring back exactly what we have seen in their country to the media of our home countries. They wanted the message to be spread around the world's media that Sudan is not a country of terrorists, but rather a country of peaceful, friendly people as we have witnessed.

My original goals of accomplishing the athletic challenge whilst enjoying the local cultures, helping improve local lives through Tour d'Afrique Foundation fundraising initiatives and hopefully proliferating the bicycle as an alternative to combustion-powered transportation are in the works. I am now realizing that simply our presence here and our group's collective willingness to press down on a pair of bike pedals across the continent is potentially opening up an entirely new set of doors.

From here, I get to wake up tomorrow morning to my tent's view of the confluence of the Blue and White Nile (as shown by a solid line of white sediment entering the Blue Nile's stream; quite stunning!) and then get to saunter around the city for the day taking in its unique sights and sounds, then back on the bikes en route to Ethiopia. Only five riding days left in Sudan. Too bad!

...oh yeah, to close this raging report off, yes the rumour is true, I did crack my bike frame. Uh-oh. It is okay, potential solutions are at hand!

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