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Be Careful What You Ask For…
Before I came on the Tour d’Afrique I had a few experiences that I hoped might turn to reality. As my portion of the ride is from Cairo to Khartoum, my wish list of desires were limited to the desert sections of North Africa. While I was excited to see the Pyramids and the other wonders of antiquity in Egypt – it was the mystical unknown of The Sudan that captured my daydreams. The two things I really wanted to find was the stunning solitude of a never ending desert stretching out as far as the eye could see. The other hope was to really challenge myself, to push myself to the limit and see how I fared in the end.
Today, all my hopes came true. The day dawned warm, warmer then the previous, like every day so far. Shortly after the sun was fully in the sky I started off. We rode as a pack for the first 3km while the road was mercifully paved. Soon enough the reality of Sudanese roads reared their ugly head. Enormous ruts sucked my tires into their depths, corrugations that threatened to shake the fillings out of my mouth and pits of sand that reduced travel to a humbling grovel.
All was going well for the first part of the morning, the riding was challenging but I was feeling good and enjoying the good challenge it provided. After 55km the desire to reach the 60km mark and the welcome sight of the lunch truck began to dominate my thoughts. Riding with Tom, we joked back and forth and talked of our desire to sit in the shade and have a cold drink.
Alone, together, we came upon a fork in the road. Logic steered us towards the right and our navigational handrail of The Nile. We passed through one town, then another and it started to become more and more obvious that we had in fact made a wrong turn. We talked to the locals, or as best we could with our few words in Arabic and their fewer in English. They seemed to keep pointing us in the direction we were going – so on we went.
After clearing the series of towns and getting back on the main-ish road, my speedometer read 70km and my thermometer read 41c. We had obviously missed the lunch truck – we were on our own, ‘lost’ somewhere in the Nubian Desert. Water was getting scarce, we had about half a bottle between us and a few energy bars to count as lunch. We passed by one town and futility searched for a drink of water, but none was to be found.
Just when the dark clouds of worry started to enter our collective thoughts the mirage of riders on the horizon started to approach us. Like an apparition, our comrades were never a more welcome sights. They happily shared water, snacks and Paul even brought us sandwiches in the hope of tracking us down. The rest of the day was comparatively uneventful – we stopped in the next town and skulled 7-ups like we were being paid to do it. Camp arrived 10km later and the welcome completion to the hardest day of the tour ‘so far’.
More then once during today’s ride I had to laugh to myself – this is exactly what I’d hope to find. There was no point in complaining, this is what I signed up for! Though the heat was stifling and the terrain was challenging to the utmost – I did find myself smiling nearly all day. The warmth of the local people and the teamwork of my fellow riders and TDA staff make even the most challenging conditions a surmountable goal.
Challenge, the massive expanse of sand and the stunning heat of the desert – we were all touched by those flames today. Some got burned and some escaped unscathed, but safe to say, today was a watershed stage of the tour. While few of us honestly enjoyed the ride today, it will only be in hindsight that the true achievement will come into sharp focus.
Tomorrow will dawn warm again and once more we will continue our journey south. There will be challenges ahead, but its days like today that will arm us with what we need to get through and perhaps, if we’re lucky, to enjoy it too.
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