Saturday, May 9, 2009

Floods in my tent and fire in my heart

Getting into Kenya, while a huge relief for all of us, was not an easy task. It was only 86km, but through headwinds on corrugated dirt roads with loads of hills. I was unhappy - my lower back started to buckle with the constant thumping of my camelback. I got to lunch, took some painkillers, was called a wimp by the nurse, and carried on. It got worse. The hills started after lunch, and that seemed to exacerbate the pain. I rode with Michele and Dennis - they blocked wind for me when it got to be too much.

My happiest moment was seeing a parade of baboons crossing the road. When they saw me they ran, but I got to watch for a bit as they had to get their babies across the road.

The border crossing was nothing like the other side of Ethiopia. It was a brick building, not a mud hut, and no one was there to serve us beer, but they did still take hours. We all sat around at the pub eating our last injera and having pop with the last of our Ethiopian Birr, and finally we did the cross-over. The roads turned to red dirt track immediately, but it wasn't that bad to ride on. It certainly didn't seem like the lava-rock hell Randy had been describing. Of course that night they let us know that, not to worry, the worst was yet to come.

We woke the next morning to a great day of riding. It was dirt, it was corrugated, but it was not the hell they had described, once again. I was starting to be skeptical. The unfortunate thing was that they had built it up so much that a lot of people chose to ride the truck.

My back was still killing me, but I gave the thumbs down to two of our trucks and neither of them noticed, so I rode on without painkillers. It was such a relief when I got them at lunch. It's funny, I never like masking pain when I do athletics because you should be listening to your body, but when the riding is good, you don't really want to have to miss it due to a little bit of an injury. A weighing of the pros and cons had me going for the decision that I wouldn't have made at home.

At camp tonight the local village sent over this Irish fellow who was staying at a local hotel. He had been on the road for 3.5 years, riding from England to Morocco, down Western Africa to Ghana, flew over the Congo, crossed over again, looped the bottom and was currently on his way up to Ethiopia. His accent was fully unrecognizable.

John lent me some sun-proof sleeves that have been a godsend. My red blistered arms are now fine for the whole day. I call them my happy pirate sleeves - big white floppy things that somehow make me want to do a jig when I wear them.

We had all gotten in early, but it was so hot that we sat around chatting instead of being able to actually move around. We watched the baboons playing in the trees. For dinner we had steaks - big, Fred-Flintstone sized things that we had to eat with out hands, as none of our camp knives would cut it. They buried the bones and the carcasses and later in the evening we were visited by a whooping hyena who dug them up. There were an unfortunate few who camped near the burial site and therefore could not go to the washroom all night. Frankly, none of us were leaving our tents when we heard them, but we didn't get the added fear of watching them 15 feet away. When the hyenas cleared out, the baboons moved in. Welcome to Africa. The funny thing was that Jansie had been telling us stories of waking up with a hyena breathing over her head, so I had a nightmare about a hyena right outside of my tent, drooling on me. I even wound up shouting for Jansie to rescue me. Oh, the embarrassment.

In the morning I rode off alone again. The truth of the difficult roads was starting to come through. When we hit lunch, Carolla had been having flats all day, so I offered her my bike so that she could still compete in the race. It turns out that she had decided to quit. I can understand why. The race isn't actually that fun. You ride through everything quickly and don't get to actually stop and take in the country. But it also meant that I didn't have an easy out from riding, so I rode on. Amazing what a bit of stubbornness will do. I'm really not usually that way.

The road was sandy and corrugated and there was absolutely no line to follow. Occasionally it turned to corrugated gravel. And then the lava rocks started. Big black lava rocks in amidst the red sand. I rode around the corner and downhill into the vast lava field that would be hell for the next few days.

Getting into camp was a relief. What was even more of a relief was the storm cloud coming in. Eddie said there was no way it would rain. It rains in these parts every six years. But the sky opened up, and soon we were out in the sand getting down to our skivvies with soap in hand. It was wonderful. After about ten minutes it got cold, though. Then our tents started to flood. I dug a trench around mine, but it didn't help. That night it was like sleeping on a waterbed. I was just glad that the water barely came through, only where I sat on my thermarest, and where the wind blew the water over my the lip of my tent.

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