According to Rae and John, two retired Air Force Pilots who are taking part in the Tour this year, what we have been through these past 2 weeks is as difficult as basic training for the military. And I believe it! These past 4 days have been the most mentally and physically challenging days of my life.
We had a wonderful unscheduled day off in Waidi Halfa which I already told you about. Unfortunately, we had to pay a high price. Suddenly we were forced to cram 5 days of riding into 4 to make it to Dongola by Jan 27th. No problem, you say?
Well, if we had roads it would have been OK, but instead we travelled 110km per day through the Sudanese Desert. 427 km of deep sand, loose gravel, and corrugated road. I had heard about this type of road from last year's tour, but could not wrap my brain around what it was. It is the most painful experience on a bike, especially one without suspension. Miles and miles of constant bumps that jar your wrists, back, neck and knees. Basically your entire being feels like you were put in the rinse cycle of a washing machine and spit back out again. You spend your day looking for an easier line to follow, but you never find one.
Dave and I spent 9 hours a day on the bike for 3 days. At one point Dave said to me that he wouldn't wish this on his worse enemy. And here we are doing it by choice. We had some really low lows together that day. I put everything I had into day 1 in Sudan and spent the next 3 days suffering. Sometimes we would be so exhausted riding through the sand that we would just fall over.
To give you an example of a typical day, each morning we would wake up at 6 am, pack up our tents, have a quick breakfast, and leave for a long slow day in the hot sun. Then we would come back, set up our tent, eat dinner, and go to sleep.
So, now let me tell you about day 2. It was really “fun” because we became nice and lost late in the day.
You see many times you are only following grooves in the sand, so it is very easy to lose your way. We spent an hour walking from the Nile through farmer's fields to go back to the desert, then back to the Nile, then through the most rural village I have ever seen in my life. 5 huts, a donkey, 2 dogs, and a group of women watched us walk through with our bikes and dirty faces. Very surreal. We made our way back to the desert and eventually came across something that resembled a path and hoped for the best. We were both extremely worried that we were going to be stuck in the desert all night, but more importantly…Lose our EFI status!
As luck would have it, we made it into camp an hour before sundown. Yeah us.
Now for day 3. Debbie's breakdown day. I was very very fatigued and still had another 110km ahead of me. Many people had opted for the bus by this point, but I am too stubborn to give in and lucky for me, I had my rock at my side – Dave. So instead, I whimpered, cried, cursed, and stumbled my way through the day. Everyone else was also hurting and suffering, and the bonding that happened during that time was incredible. People were so supportive and kind. I really have to emphasize what an amazing group of people we are travelling with. But then, what else would you expect from a bunch of nuts who thought it would be fun to cycle the continent of Africa? They have to be extraordinary.
So, this brings me to day 4, still riding and still suffering. But luckily, only 87km today. The good news is that at 63km we hit tarmac. Can it be true? It started with a grueling morning of 18km in deep sand where everyone became lost at one point. Groups were branching out and taking different tracks. It is amazing how quickly you can be with people and then they just disappear. We all eventually made it out though and once we hit the tarmac, I got down on my knees and kissed it.
We now have a rest day in Dongola and after 6 days without a shower, we were all bathing in our red boxes as soon as we arrived at camp. What a sight. A bunch of adults playing around the one hose of water that we had. As soon as we washed off that sand and grit, it was like we had washed away the pain and suffering of the past 4 days. Add a half a chicken dinner to that mix and we were very happy campers. Literally!
If we can make it through Sudan, we can make it anywhere.
Bring on the Ethiopian mountains, baby. But first, there is a lot more of this great big country to go. Stay tuned.