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by SS at 3:03 pm on Sunday 11th April

Yesterday afternoon, after 122km of cycling (only 80km of which was a race), we entered the country of Zambia. The ride until lunch was the race - Simon, Jacob and I rode fairly together. The shorter race stages are quite tense because everyone is so close together, any slip in effort and you're overtaken quickly. We slowed the pace slightly towards the end and Jethro came past in a hurry, less than three kilometres from the end of the race at lunch.

Entering Zambia was pretty straightforward (for everyone apart from Adam, who forgot his passport!) and the change of government has reduced the visa price for British citizens from $150 (last year) to the more reasonable $50. After crossing the border we rode another 20km to the town of Chipata where we exchanged money and I hunted for headphones to replace the broken pair I borrowed from Rick. It took a while but I hunted down some cheap Chinese headphones in the local market, plasticky and they sound like good headphones with the addition of someone scratching your eardrum with a pencil. For the 8,000 Kwacha price though ($1.76), I have no right to complain.

At camp, watching the rider board being written, it seemed like some kind of latent April Fool's prank when Tour Director Paul wrote the next day's distance of 197km up. Incredulous, it was confirmed at rider meeting that they had extended the stage so that we'd reach a village where some number of riders would get the chance to live in homestays with genuine Zambian families, sleeping and eating dinner with them.

Fearful of the unknown and with the song 'Fear of the Dark' by Iron Maiden stuck in my head, I went to bed contemplating the feasibility of cycling the furthest single distance of my life. Waking up this morning I was surprised to feel excited, perhaps having reawakened the adventurer within. Taking my time to leave, I left late and went hard for the first 15km, overtaking quite a few riders. Realising that this pace was unsustainable for the day, I slowed down quite considerably. A couple of groups passed by - Jethro, Frans and Tony (who was making extra effort for his 50th birthday, today) and Simon drafting Tim. Unwilling to catch them, I spun on and was eventually caught by Paul.

We reached lunch via a Coke (or Fanta) stop, paused for sandwiches and continued on. Lunch was at 85km today, less than halfway - an overbearing fact which probably helped make the day seem more intense. I chose to interpret the distance remaining (112km) as a separate stage, which worked well apart from the preexisting 3h 30m worth of riding fatigue in my legs. The next 65 kilometres were fairly unremarkable aside from a blue coloured butterfly flying into my jersey via the zip. Itmanaged to fly out apparently unharmed, shocking me in the process.

The children here are unrelentless and constantly ask 'How are you?'. At first we replied but it quickly became clear that most kids will continue to parrot out the question regardless. Even if they stop, one of the dozens of surrounding children will continue to ask. According to a woman who works for the Peace Corps here, this is a cultural artifact - when greeting here, it is natural to greet every single person in a group individually - hence replying to one child is not enough, you need to reply to every child. Later on in the ride, we simply started replying 'tired' to the question and apparently riders who came past later were asked if they were tired.

At about 130km, my legs started getting tired, probably from a lack of energy. We were supposed to have a refresh stop (more water and energy bars) at 150km but we accidentally cycled past it - the 4x4 that we were expecting wasn't there and we missed the staff member sitting in the bushes. Stopping at 155km, Paul and I had a couple of warm cokes and continued on. The last 10 kilometres into camp were the most painful, and our speed dropped from about 27kmph to 22kmph. The finish flag was standing, waiting on the road, at 197km as promised and turning off the road, we were home for the night. The second hardest day of riding so far to our day through Dinder and it was wonderful. I haven't felt this exhausted for quite some time and it feels good.

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by SS at 6:41 am on Tuesday 6th April

0510: Yawn. I'm packing my sleeping bag into its sack. The ground is damp outside. There's no running water at the hotel/campsite and the toilets we have available to use are a horrific mess. I'm taking my inhaler and overclocking my body for the ninth day in a row, trying to compensate for my lifelong mild asthma.

15km: It's early in the morning, Adam and I are riding together, fast. With only this day to finish before the section is complete, we're both eager to maintain our sectional rank of 4th (me) and 6th (Adam) overall. We're trying not to gain any extra riders as we overtake group after group by sprinting as hard as we can each time we pass. After the third sprint we need to slow down - pushing so hard has left us breathless and weary. With no more groups in sight, we draft each other, each leading for five minute intervals before switching with the other.

35km: Adam decides he's unable to maintain the pace we've been doing. We cut back to about 70% of our previous speed. The wind has picked up and is doing it's Malawian trick of rotating between head-on and side-on. Occasionally the grey clouds shower us with drizzle, the spray from the road slowly soaking my jersey. I'm glad that my MP3 player and camera are well wrapped in own-brand Ziploc (tm) bags.

40km: One of the many children standing by the side of the road yells out 'give me money!'. I ask him, 'why?'. There was no audible response (but we were travelling at some speed above 25kmph).

50km: 20km until lunch. It's PVM bar time. Caramel nut. With a quarter of the bar left to go, it's my turn to lead and I'm struggling to breathe as I speed up to overtake Adam. It only takes another thirty seconds to chew the remainder of the bar.

73km: Lunch arrives, we've just overtaken Rod and Juliana and been overtaken by Stuart and Gisi. There are quite a few riders at lunch, we purposefully left quite late in the morning. It doesn't seem like many riders are racing hard today but there's no sign of Jethro or Tim who cleared lunch earlier. Nothing too amazing for lunch today, although there's an appreciated reappearance of wholewheat bread which Jen dutifully slices for the other riders. Adam doesn't want to leave in a hurry so I go on alone and wait for Stuart and Gisi to catch up.

80km: It's hard work in the wind. I'm struggling to get anywhere near 25kmph on some sections of road. My stomach is rumbling. The single sandwich I ate doesn't appear to have satisfied my appetite, understandably.

83km: Stuart and Gisi catch up. Stuart suggests we each pull for 5 minutes and leads us on. It still feels windy but with the draft we're easily going 5kmph faster.

95km: Gisi finishes her pull after ten minutes and Stuart comments 'guess we'll pull for 10 minutes now'. She rotates round and I'm at the front now.

110km: We're getting closer to the capital city of Malawi. Every so often there are eight flags lining a twenty metre section of road, four on each side. The traffic is heavier and we're sometimes pushed onto the side of the road.

121.5km: We hit our first roundabout of the day and the beginning of the only real navigation we need to do. It's straight over this one and soon after there is heavy traffic blocking the road. We slow down considerably and cautiously filter through the traffic (the truck incident leaving Arusha still memorable).

124km: We're stuck in traffic behind a bread van with the slogan 'Choices Bakery - Where success is always one step ahead of us.'

1105/133km: The finish flag is in sight. It's a quick sprint to the dinner truck's trailor which is home to the timing device. It takes a couple of button presses but my finish time is eventually registered. Stuart signs in but Gisi waits a few minutes, trying to give him second for the section (having made up time by winning the earlier mando-day and hence receiving a 30 minute time bonus).

1350: My tent has been set up, I've showered, eaten an egg club sandwich and finished watching yet another terrible (romantic?) comedy movie. My head is weary from the last sleepless night (Easter in this country is also celebrated as some kind of harvest festival with genuine discotheques, one of which was held in our hotel/campsite) and it's time for a nap. Pitching up my tent under a tree was a wise move and despite the overwarmth outside, it's pleasant enough to sleep. I fall asleep quickly.

1500: I wake up in a daze from a heavy, deep slumber. It's warmer now than earlier, the sun has come out. I grab a PVM bar (lemon & lime) and walk to the bar, trying not to trip. While eating the bar I accidentally bite my tongue.

1530: A group of riders were heading into town looking for Nandos and I hopped in, riding shotgun in the back of a local's Toyota pickup truck. After visiting an ATM, I spend half of my newly acquired cash on a veggie burger and peri peri chips. We're in Malawi, and eating at Nandos. Frickin' amazing.

1610: Jason and I are searching for ice cream in the Metro Cash & Carry. It's like some kind of wholesaler and there are fridges full of drinks and food littered around the supermarket. None of them seem to be particularly cold inside though. Perhaps this is a new selling tactic. The ice cream doesn't look appetising but I walk out with six packets of biscuits and a 100g bar of Cadbury's chocolate to last me through the next section.

1720: The section results are out, I'm third for the men's race. A hard couple of weeks racing and it's come to some sort of fruitful conclusion written in black marker on a drywipe whiteboard.

1750: It's time for the fifth meal of the day, campsite dinner. A pleasant Thai green curry served with a plateful of rice goes down quickly.

2030: After discussing the milkshakes available at Steers, a South African (I think) fast food chain, we finally snap and get in the taxi that is conveniently already at camp. Stomachs all rumbling a bit, Dan orders a pizza, Jason a burger and I have fries. Many delicious pseudo-milkshakes (lacking genuine milk) are consumed.

5 comments posted so far
Ash wrote at 3:23 pm on Tue 6th Apr -
Good job Sunil. 3rd in this section!! Quite an accomplishment. You're almost there. In 6 weeks you will be done.
TDA FAN wrote at 11:03 am on Wed 7th Apr -
I loved this hour-by-hour account. Congratulations on your stage results!
Paul B wrote at 5:47 am on Thu 8th Apr -
Hey man, congrats, 3rd is no mean feat. Enjoy Malawi while it lasts, and remember when it gets tough: at least you don't have any revision to do this year.
Paul B wrote at 2:26 pm on Fri 9th Apr -
Also, Nando's is a South African chain, so it's not all that surprising that you'd find one in Malawi.
Paul B wrote at 2:27 pm on Fri 9th Apr -
JUS' SAYIN'

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by SS at 6:39 am on Tuesday 6th April

The Tour experienced (collectively) a strange feeling last night, something we haven't felt for quite some time - we were cold. After the last few muggy weeks in Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya, sleeping bags were given a purpose again and the night's sleep was pleasantly sweatless. We climbed yesterday, only a couple of thousand metres (not as much as our first mando-day in Ethiopia) but over steep rolling hills and it was demarked as another mando-day.

I'm not much of a climber, in fact, on every ride (ever) I'm always left behind on each hill. Hopefully, since the trip began, I've become better/faster - the ascents in Ethiopia were not to be taken lightly. Yesterday, ranking well for this section so far (4th overall, 3rd for the men and 1h 16m ahead of Jethro, the next highest ranking racer after me), I gave the climbs all my energy. It was problematic, I had drivetrain problems when using the small chainring and any of the middle 8 gears (out of the 10 total) on my cassette. This meant that for the most part I had to use the bigger chainring and then tactically shift into the smallest chainring only when I had reached the largest (or easiest) gear on the cassette. Not insurmountable but it made my legs work hard.

Going hard in the morning, I heard the truck beep behind me. It wasn't directly behind but some distance - it was beeping at another rider. Looking back, I saw a red blur and tried to guess who it was. Soon enough, Jethro came past, not much faster than I was but enough to disappear out of sight within a good minute. A minute later the grey clouds that had been hovering above opened fire, gently spraying us with misty rain. Naturally, my el-cheapo Cateye Velo 8 cycling computer (13 from Chain Reaction Cycles) gave up the ghost and at 36km, I was the cycling tour equivalent of blind. When the only information you have for the day is a distance, losing your odometer renders you to nothing but a brute force cyclist, forced to merely pedal on in the hope of sometime reaching camp.

I powered on, the rain stopped and Frans overtook me on a climb, shouting 'REMEMBER SUNIL! HIGH CADENCE! HIGH CADENCE!' as always. I yelled back 'I'm trying but no more gears!', cursing my choice of a narrow road racing cassette. Further along the road, lunch arrived. A quick sandwich (tomato and lettuce but NO CHEESE!) and water refill later and I was back tackling the stage, legs feeling like jelly.

The majority of the climbing was over before lunch and the afternoon was composed of some beautiful descents. At one point the road descended into an open plain where there was no shelter from the wind. The crosswind that had been playfully pushing us all day was now unobstructed and it was a fight to keep the bike on the correct side of the road - at one point I was shoved all the way to the right hand side.

Many annoying rumble strips later (Simon commented some time ago, 'whoever invented these rumble strips should be tied to the bottom of a car and driven over them'), camp at a primary school arrived. An astounding African sunset gave way to an equally astounding night sky and it was intriguing to observe the stars from the southern hemisphere in such clear detail.

Today's day was considerably easier, considerably quicker and considerably more downhill. An overall descent of 1039m and ascent of 555m, it was much less taxing and a lot of people were out to race this (either that or they wanted a room at the Inn we're staying at - usually first come first serve). I tried riding alone this morning but soon was unable to overtake some of the sectional riders (who aren't racing but like to antagonise us racers trying to overtake regardless). Ten minutes after overtaking Gerald and Jos, I saw the shadow of a rider approaching on my right - they'd caught up again! Greeting them, Gerald was completely out of breath and they quickly disappeared again.

Just before lunch came round, Paul and new Jos caught up, we rode the last 15km to lunch together, my legs feeling pretty sore from the previous couple of hard days riding alone. Celebrating Easter (or perhaps just a happy coincidence), lunch involved fried eggs and I had to have the mandated two sandwiches. As we ate, Jen came in, looking like she was about to explode again (a sign that she was going for the stage again).

Jen, Paul and I rode the remaining 52km together, taking it as fast as we dared. With less thn 25km to go, we reached a fairly long but gentle climb and tried to maintain a decent speed (~27kmph) up it. My muscles were burning and the geniuses who programmed the shuffle function on my Sandisk Sansa somehow managed to get R.E.M. - Everybody Hurts to play, apt indeed.

With 20km to go, Jen, a hobbyist spin class instructor and often Ms. Motivator, pushed us forwards with a 'lets go boys!'. At 10km, she pushed us on again 'let's go! only 10k!'. At 5k, sprinting distance, 'go for it!'. It worked and we rode into camp nice and early, arriving just before 10am, with the whole of Easter sunday free.

On the assumption that the shops in town would be shut, I'm staying around camp, having drunk three Fantas, napped for an hour on the lawn and finished watching a movie I started last night. The ants here are huge and move extremely quickly - one was trapped in my tent earlier and trying to set it free was an entertaining game in itself. With fifteen minutes until rider meeting followed by dinner, I think it's time for another cold soda.

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by SS at 6:34 am on Tuesday 6th April

It's amazing how quickly time goes. It seems like a lot less than two weeks ago that we were in Arusha but there we go. We've only got six weeks left and that's pretty much the time we had between terms at Easter when at Cambridge - our shortest vacation. In fact, until Lilongwe, there are only three riding days left (one down today) and until the first rest day in Zambia, another five riding days. From here to our duo of rest days at Victoria Falls, only another three riding days. After Zambia we'll hit Botswana and there are some tough days coming - five 160km days, a rest day and then a five day week beginning with a 207km stage! Another three days, a couple of five day sections and then we're in Cape Town.

Whenever anything is so obviously compartmentalised, it becomes seemingly trivial - while I don't doubt the intensity of some of the upcoming stages, there is a clear, bright light at the end of the tunnel. Irrespective of what happens in the next 1.5 months, the end is going to get here quickly and my thoughts are straying to the long summer of 2010. If anyone is planning on entering any team 24 hour mountain bike races and needs a rider, drop me a line!

The ride out of Chitimba was tough and for the first time in a while my quads are surprisingly sore (a call to action for the tube of fake Deep Heat lying in my bag). The morning started with a half kilometre walk through the sandy lane out to the road and a flattish 16km to THE CLIMB. The climb was a 10km ascent of 650m, not as bad as the Blue Nile Gorge but not to be underestimated either. Riding out from camp with Paul, we picked up Jethro, Tim and Kelsey. As we hit the climb, Jethro and Tim moved into their superhuman hill climbing mode and I tried to hold their rear wheels. This worked for about a kilometre before my cardiovascular system blew up as I shifted gears to keep up. My chain disliked gears 3 and 4 on my cassette (where 1 is the easiest / biggest) and I lost some ground. Trying to catch up the twenty metres I lost pushed my heart rate up into the unsustainable 90-95% range and I dropped back when my stomach started feeling like it was on fire and full of ice at the same time. Maybe next time.

To my relief, no one caught me on the rest of the climb and it was soon a case of upwardly rolling hills with a tailwind. My stomach started rumbling at 60km and I had my eyes peeled for lunch. Evidently I wasn't looking hard enough because it got to 75km and I hadn't seen it yet. At 80km I looked at my camera to double check I hadn't missed a turn and was doubly confirmed by the underexposed image taken the previous night and by Eric Dufour overtaking me. At 86km, out of water (timed to run out at 75km) and feeling ravenously hungry, I stopped at a roadside shop and bought three Fantas and a Sprite, filling up both my bottles (insides now stained purple for some reason). The headwind picked up and a PVM bar, I rolled into another roadside shop (well skidded, forgetting that my brakes are now adjusted to work) and bought five more icy cold Fantas, putting four in my bottles and drinking the fifth with such vigor that I suffered brain freeze.

Hitting the road again, it was a 25km slog through rolling hills that only seemed to go upwards. As the day's distance approached, I was on edge, looking for the documented turns with wider eyes than when I skipped past lunch. Less than a kilometre from camp, Stuart caught up and we rode into the Mzuzu Lodge together. A hard day was over and the only side effect of drinking nine sodas appeared to be a mild headache which quickly dispersed.

2 comments posted so far
Ash wrote at 11:08 pm on Tue 6th Apr -
I have question for you. Would you take part if TDA was to announce a reverse tour (Cape to Cairo)?If no, would it be because of timing, cost,return route, need new bike etc? Or something not mentioned here? I am eagerly waiting to see your survey results and your personal recommendations/observations on this ride. Of course no pressure here. At least not intended. This is to be done when after you cross the finish line in Cape Town.It does not have to be in public forum. You can always email me. Ciao
SS wrote at 2:44 pm on Sun 11th Apr -
Probably not but that's because of time constraints and possibly the fact that the reverse tour would not be as meaningful as the original (since we'll already have crossed the continent once).

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by SS at 4:03 am on Friday 2nd April

A batch update because I've been busy planning April's Fools and going around the remaining riders to get their responses to our survey. After the first quick day into the Forest Camp (where results confirm Paul and I were ranked second and third with the same time), we rode the next 130km day together.

It was a long day but the tailwind and gentle descent (over several rolling hills) made it much easier. We were going hard, at the same pace as the previous day, but it appears everyone else decided to race the day too and soon after we reached lunch Jen arrived, red faced and looking as if she wasn't going to stay long. I learnt my lesson from the previous day's lunch and only took one sandwich (although managed to consume nearly five glucose sweets). The Indaba crew mentioned that Ruben had gone through quite some time earlier and hadn't even stopped for lunch - merely yelling out his rider number as he cycled past. We left pretty swiftly and rode at the same pace all afternoon.

About 5k before camp, Jen caught up with us, looking like she was about to explode. Not wanting any assistance (admirable) she powered on ahead and beeped in minutes before we did. Ruben was already sitting at camp with an air of fatigue, later we found out that both he and Jen had won the stage. Another new stage winner and for Ruben, another yellow plate to hang on his wall. This bush camp was pretty amusing, being situated near the grazing ground for local herds of cattle. While we were pitching our tents, one medium sized herd came out running. Several riders watched on in horror as cows weighing several hundred kilos came within milimetres of their bikes and tents.

We were at altitude and the weather was gorgeously cool. Compared to the heat of Tanzania, it was a welcome relief and made sleeping just a little bit easier. By the early hours of morning, it gave my sleeping bag reason for existence again and I found myself covering up. My Thermarest has been slowly leaking for several weeks now and it didn't help that the ground was rocky that night. My natural instinct is to roll over and sleep on my side, letting my arm take the strain of the uneven surface. This works well apart from causing my shoulders to ache for most of the next day.

The next day we rolled towards Mbeya, the closest large Tanzanian town to the Malawian border. The problem with being fast on a day with a headwind is that people soon pick up this fact and tag along. Within twenty kilometres of leaving camp, Paul and I had picked up a paceline seven riders long. One of the new additions to our riding group was Michael, another young British rider, who was surprisingly quick when leading at the front of the group. We rode quickly until lunch, being the second group to pass through.

It's a shame everyone was rushing that day because lunch was excellent - french toast and bacon - but not quite ready. We managed to grab a scrambled egg sandwich in time to see several other riders ride past lunch (Marcel, Stuart and Gisi and Rick!). Jumping back on our bikes, the paceline continued for another 15 kilometres until we hit the climb st 75 kilometres. A 1200 metre climb over the remaining twenty kilometres, it quickly broke up the group. Simon powered on ahead and the rest of us leapfrogged each other for a while.

Arriving into Mbeya, we camped out at Stockholm hotel, a pleasant African hotel about 9km from the centre of the town. It was nice and early, before noon, and in the afternoon, several of us took a matatu into town to find food, icecream and internet access. A pretty unremarkable town, aside from the odd fact that some how all the TDA riders managed to converge on the same internet cafe despite there being at least five or six internet cafes in the centre of town.

On our return to camp, we had our staple dinner of spaghetti bolognaise and the most genius-like icecream vendor I have ever seen pedalled up to the hotel courtyard just as people were finishing their plates. Although he only had two varieties of icecream (plain ol' ice lollies or some kind of fruit flavoured Magnum lookalike) riders went crazy. When I checked that night, Jason had only reached five icecreams, failing to beat his previous day best of six, set in Dodoma.

This was our last night in Tanzania and the day crossing the border was not a race day - a fact I am very thankful to the TDA staff about. It was a beautiful day of cycling, possibly the best day of cycling yet on the tour and just beautiful. It wasn't short, nor easy - the stage was 120km long (106km in Tanzania and the remainder in Malawi), starting off with a large climb, rolling down some and then climbing again. The last half of the day was pretty much a gradual descent. Overall the day was approximately 1,000 metres of climbing and 2,000 metres of descending - the largest descent yet (perhaps another reason why it wasn't a race day).

We woke up and it was cloudy - or foggy even. At that altitude we were pretty much inside a cloud and the first climb took us several hundred metres above the cloud layer, making for a beautiful view and some great photos (although not mine: this little Samsung camera sucks). The descent into lunch was smooth, rapid and only marred by the ridiculous mini speed bumps (grouped in fives) that are littered metres before big speed bumps and after them. The hills were rolling but the descent made it easy to roll over them, I don't remember my speed dropping below 25kmph on many of the inclines.

After lunch, I rode with Jason, Paddy and Ruben for some distance. We all have aero bars on our bike and on one of the descents we all put our heads down and tucked in, freewheeling for many kilometres. The only way to describe this would to be to aliken it to soaring, in the same way that birds seem to. We held perfect formation as we rolled around gradual corners, listening only to the hum of the road and the whoosh of the wind. Magical and one of my top moments of the trip so far.

The border crossing was easy, we passed a famous British television star, Paul , apparently the voice of Bob the Builder, who was also crossing into Malawi. Malawi is a pretty typical tropical country and apparently nearly every tropical disease you can imagine is alive and well in this country. It's also warm and humid, worse than many of the previous countries because of the increased humidity. We're also at a lower altitude which has upped the temperature. They don't speak Swahili here anymore, so my slight competitive advantage when ordering drinks (or perceived competitive advantage) has been whittled away to the mere sign language level.

Our first night we stayed at a bush camp next to a local village. Just like Ethiopia we were surrounded by lots of locals - Malawi is apparently one of the poorest countries in Africa, with a GNP per capita close to $800. Every so often we'd hear a wave of screams as the local children would run away from the stick-wielding guards we'd employed for the night. I had set up my tent with the rain fly on, anxious of the rain. As soon as I climbed into my tent though, I climbed out and removed the fly - it was unbearably hot inside. That night I slept without my sleeping bag, shirtless and skin damp with sweat.

At 11pm there was a huge crash. Lightning lit up the sticky night sky and a few seconds later there were loud bangs. Suddenly the camp became of flurry of activity as riders hurried to put their rain flies on. Sometime later (I'm unsure of the exact period since I was in a half state of slumber) the rain started and it was heavy. The drops were the size of grapes, making a loud hammering sound as they hit the roof of my tent in turn.

That morning I ventured out to find a well shielded and peaceful spot to use the toilet. I found the perfect place, undiscovered by any of the other riders and safely hidden from view. On the way back to camp, I stepped in a large, seemingly fresh, pile of cow dung. Returning after breakfast, with a new set of shoes, I was conscious of the perilous surface and had my eyes wide open. Obviously I wasn't properly aware because I managed to step into the same inviting pile, with the same foot but a different pair of shoes. On this trip I only have the two pairs of shoes and they are both now soiled. Superb.

That day we rode to Chitimba beach along the Malawian highway that runs parallel to the 800km Lake Malawi. We stopped in the morning to raid a supermarket - sixty riders each bought several days' supply of biscuits and snack food (apples, for the first time in a while, were readily available and hence popular). This easy thirty kilometres discounted, the remaining ninety kilometres into camp was a slog through a heavy headwind. It appeared that the local vegetation was immune to the wind since they barely moved.

I rode with Paul until 15 km after lunch when we caught Rod and Juliana. I rode with them until about 10 kilometres before the camp and then rode in alone. It was very helpful to have the draught available and luckily the headwind died down nearer to camp. The sandy track into camp was especially challenging, seeming to be populated with traps under the surface that would grab your front wheel and throw you from your bike. I fell off a couple of times, convinced that I'd be able to ride it and eventually giving up. Several other riders also went over their handlebars or were flung off sideways.

Reaching camp though, a protein shake, chocolate bar, cold Fanta and cold shower later, I was ready to begin planning the night's activities. April 1st is my favourite day of the year - my mother used to play pranks on my sister and I as a child and throughout university we engineered some pretty epic pranks on our corridor-mates. Brainstorming with Sam and Dave (American riders), we decided to wake up at 2:30am and mount some of the riders' bikes on trees. This worked almost flawlessly except for the fact that Sam, the experienced tree climber of our group, was not in a state to climb trees when we woke him up. He instead gave Dave and I moral support as we lifted Paddy's, Rick's, Steph's, Paul's and Steve's bike frames and wedged them in between branches.

The second part of my April's Fools onslaught was to play the call to prayer song (sung by all Mosques in Africa at 5am) over the truck's stereo system. When I woke up at 5am, it was raining heavily, and some line of logic decided to overpower the sense of humour in my brain - I stayed in bed and woke up two hours later when it was much too late. Next year I guess!

(Addendum, I was caught yesterday and forced to pay for the wi-fi after acquiring the password from someone else. Today they changed the password from 'chitemba1' to 'chitemba2'. Intuition saved me from having to pay the extortionate price twice.)

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by SS at 7:03 am on Thursday 1st April

Camp is in disarray, the Tour has divided. Something catastrophic has happened. The socio-dynamics of the entire group have finally erupted in an explosion of malice and anthropological diaster that threaten our very existence. It all started yesterday evening when dinner was served. This section, we've had 11 new riders (just for the section to Lilongwe) and many of the riders who defected to Zanzibar for some time have returned.

Dinner is usually some form of carb (rice, or pasta), a main course (meat of some variety or a vegetarian alternative) and a side of vegetables. With the increased group size, tour resources have been strained and it was unfortunate that James, our cook, was unable to provide us each with enough main course - freshly butchered chicken (or cashew nuts with green beans for the vegetarians).

At the rider meeting, the Indaba crew announced a round of changes to our venerable locker system, including but not limited to a 10 litre reduction in the amount of space in each locker because of the new strengthened two inch thick locker doors - still made out of wood but hopefully less susceptible to breakage.

The outrage spread amongst the riders but we dutifully accepted our meagre fate, with only six weeks of the tour remaining and the prospect of flushing toilets and genuine beds just around the corner. When you've been on the road for nearly three months, six weeks seems like an acceptable fate.

This morning, unable to fit their belongings back into the lockers, a group of riders were inconsolably frustrated. The Indaba crew stuck to their decision and insisted that any possessions unable to fit into a riders' locker must be left behind. Angry at having to leave their expensive chocolate supplies and portable showers behind, a plot was hatched.

The trucks never arrived at camp this afternoon. Neither did forty riders. We're stuck here with whatever possessions we carried on our bike. We have only two jerry cans of water between thirty of us and the staff. There is no food except for two boxes of twenty PVM bars each and a half empty bag of orange glucose sweets. The sky is dark with water saturated clouds and it is only a matter of time before the Malawian rain attacks.

Already the hierarchy of control is shifting. Paul, the calm but controlled Tour director, is struggling to control his staff. The nurses are guarding their first aid box. There have been reports that the missing members of staff (those riding sweep and helping with lunch) are stranded on the side of the road. Those riders who stashed extra PVM bars are smugly confident, while others who have no food are sitting, dishevelled and hungry, strained from a energy deficit of several thousand calories whilst cycling the two hundred kilometres mandated for the day's stage.

There is no word on the trucks, we have no idea what the other riders are doing. Word has it that they may be driving ahead to the next 5* hotel in Lilongwe.

As far as we know the tour can't continue. We have no support, all of our money and possessions remain on the trucks. The immediate priority is to ride to the next village and find food and water. We don't have the energy for that. The road we're taking is a quiet side road and the only vehicles we've seen are agricultural vehicles and rarely at that. There is no shelter either. My lifelong spree of vegetarianism may be prematurely ended by the struggle to survive in this group of alpha personalities - fiercely competitive and stubborn human beings.

It's like every survival television show you've ever seen but worse. This is real. We're in Africa. And we're stuck. This may be my last blog. To my family, please keep my servers running.

Yours truly, EFI until the bitter, premature end,

Sunil

6 comments posted so far
Phil wrote at 9:37 am on Thu 1st Apr -
I really hope you can get to shelter and safety soon. I've just been through the other riders' blogs and found an account from one of the other group - http://rickwasfy.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/insanity-in-africa/

I just can't believe how selfish those guys are to have left you all out there over nothing more than a few chocolate bars.
Miriam wrote at 10:01 am on Thu 1st Apr -
Chocolate-egg supplies from Holland are on their way!
Hang in there!
Brian Warner (Jacob's father) wrote at 1:56 pm on Thu 1st Apr -
Its April the 1st!!!! Well I hope that's what's happening
Samuel Birkan (Adam Father) wrote at 5:42 pm on Thu 1st Apr -
It's April 1st, but a very convincing job, especially with Ricks' "side" also being told, but unfotunately others like Viv were not in on the joke, so their blogs are "normal"
Ash wrote at 3:28 am on Fri 2nd Apr -
What a prank.For a moment I almost beleived this to be true. Read Rick's site after this and reaslized it is April's Fool Day. A very stupid and useless way to fool any one. I personally do not like it. Sunil - hang in there. I am very impressed with your as well as all riders.In part envy you. keep up the update.
Neil McKerricher wrote at 7:22 am on Fri 2nd Apr -
Well done, well written, might have had a few more bloggers write similiar stories to convince all readers (might have had a few more bloggers write, period). I enjoy your writing, and your frequency of writing.

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Lakeside Beach
Lakeside Beach
Soft sand and gentle heat.
2:46 am on Thursday 1st April by SS
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