We've in Dongola at the moment, on our second official (or proper) rest day. Another rider has his birthday today, NYC bike messenger Dave Arman, a pretty cool guy - so a shoutout to him! In the middle of the desert, it's amazing what will grow when given a proper supply of water. Dongola and the sides of the Nile are seriously green and crawling with flies.
We're camping at the Dongola Zoo, a bit of a misnomer given the lack of animals present. Dongola is a bit of a dusty town and I'm fairly sure it's affecting my asthma. In addition, I've got a headcold, probably caught from several other riders who have been coughing and spluttering for a few days now. Hopefully by the time the rest day is over it'll be on its way out but the combination of pushing yourself quite so hard whilst being ill doesn't lend itself well to speedy recovery.
So far I'm still EFI - it's strange that this the second time in my life that I've ever actually tried so hard for something (the first time being my end of university exams). Most of the time I tend to roll into things casually and don't mind failure since I don't really try. This time however, I've tried so hard for EFI that it'd be a true shame to fail. I've never heard the question 'how's your ass?' so many times. (Perhaps it would have been wise to white lie about the true nature of my problems, pretending to have a knee problem like I know at least one other rider is doing.)
We've only had three riding days since the ferry to Sudan, this route normally takes four days but has been paved over since last year - Tour D'Afrique decided to shorten it. As I wrote previously, I spent the first day (150km) entirely standing. The second day was another 150km and I was just exhausted by the end of the day. I rode with Dave and he decided to help motivate me by standing up when I was - we altogether managed about 60-70km standing up. In the evening, we had a camp fire running but I headed off to bed early, almost unable to walk. The morning of the final day was an ordeal in itself - it took a lot of effort just to get my tent and bags packed up.
As I rode my bike out to the main road where the day's ride would start, my legs felt very heavy. The racers soon started and as I started pedalling, I realised instantly that my rear wheel was flat. Thinking it was a slow puncture, I pumped it up slowly (with my tiny hand pump). Pretty much being the start of the day, the sweep rider (who rides behind everybody) caught up with my instantly, and Shanny, one of the ex TDA tour directors who is here to help the new directors out, lent me his slightly more beefy pump.
We pumped it up as hard as the pump would permit and hit the road again. Sure enough, 5km later, the tyre was flat again and it was time to replace the tube. Again, the sweep rider caught up with me and we changed the tube, pumping it up to 50psi to bide me by until I got to lunch. Caroline, the sweep rider, went on ahead, thinking I'd catch her easily - in actual fact, my legs wouldn't permit it. No matter how hard I spun, I couldn't top 25 km/h and catch her.
In the end, I never caught her, and after 40km of churning my legs trying to advance, I realised that my tyre was flat again. As I pumped it up by the side of the road in the middle of a desert, I was shocked to see a young Sudanese man walk up across the other side of the road and introduce himself to me, shaking my hand and asking if I needed any help. Once I had pumped my tyre up (and realised that the brake had been rubbing on the tyre for the last 40km...slowing me down massively), I rode with Musab (the Sudanese guy) for a while - he was apparently hunting in the desert, for rabbit and goat. On his clunker of a Chinese bike, he managed to keep up at a good 25-30km/h. His English was surprisingly good and this snippet of our conversation amused me:
Musab- 'Who is your girlfriend?'
Me- 'I don't have one'
Musab - 'Why not?'
Me- 'Because I'm in Africa'
I point to my bike- 'This is my girlfriend.'
I rolled into lunch just as they were packing up and about to send a search party to look for me, since the sweep rider had arrived and they had no sign of me. A brief lunch later and I caught up with another group of riders who had all been involved in a huge crash in the morning - supposedly a peloton they were riding in had collapsed and about eight people had hit the road. The nurse's supply of bandages has been compromised slightly but luckily no one was seriously injured.
The rest day has been surprisingly busy with mundane chores that just need to be done, washing, eating and fixing my tubes. This morning I tried handwashing my clothes for the first time ever (our negotiations with the Minister of Tourism to find someone to help us do laundry failed). The clear soapy water I used quickly turned a horrific shade of grey and brown. As I piled clothes onto my hopelessly inadequate washing line, it collapsed and a good quantity of my clothes fell into the dirty, rendering my efforts of the last hour pointless. As Ruben, a German rider said, it makes you appreciate your mother's effort washing clothes - I partially agree but they have washing machines to help them!
I them spent a good thirty minutes using my tiny pump to fill up my now fixed rear tyre. Just as I reached 100psi, I went to unscrew the attachment for my pump carefully. Within seconds I heard the depressingly familiar sound of air rushing out and thought perhaps I was depressing the valve head whilst unscrewing (as anyone who has ever used a Presta valve will know about). I unscrewed it faster and the tyre flattened even quicker - undoing all my work in less than 30 seconds. The valve attachment had unscrewed the inner part of the valve. Oops. I tried again a couple of times but no luck, so I'll try with another pump sometime later.