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by SS at 8:37 pm on Sunday 9th May

Our final stage on dirt into our final rest day of the Tour. An almost terrifying milestone but one that has come at a timely moment. Riding up and down through the rollercoaster-like hills of Namibia, away from Fish River Canyon, it was a hot and sweaty morning. The climbs were taxing and occasionally a moment of lapsed concentration would result in my bike veering and then abruptly slowing as it met loose sand.

At one point, spinning as fast as I could to keep up with Jethro, I hit a patch of deep and hard corrugation at 40kmph. Jumping into my technical offroad descent pose (elbows and knees wide, off the saddle, weight back on the bike) I managed to hold onto whatever notion of control I had entering the section. My bottles didn't survive though and with a quick crack/crack they both ejected from their cages and hit the ground. One bottle survived intact but the other exploded, the lid separating from the body and expelling the red energy 'juice' all over the ground.

I stopped, grabbed the bottles and made a composed effort to regain my speed as I climbed the hill. It was a long day though (175km) and I'd had a thirsty start, drinking a fair quantity of my 2 litre Camelbak within the first 15 km out of camp. With 55km until lunch and about a 1.5 litres left, my mind was beginning to panic. Luckily, about 20km out of lunch, just as I was about to run out of water, the green machine (another support vehicle) was driving back in the other direction. I gave it the thumbs down and Tour Director Paul pulled over, seemingly shocked that I'd have to flag it down so early in the day. They were carrying water and filled up my sand-covered mess of an empty water bottle. Saved.

On the way into lunch was a beautiful downhill - long, straight and smooth. Curious to see the speed at which rider and bike was reaching on this descent, I looked down at my sideways mounted cycle computer (my stem mount which makes it the right way round was cut off somewhere in Northern Kenya). Trying to work out the speed, I finally figured out it read 71kmph and quickly looked up, certain that I shouldn't be riding at that sort of speed without my eyes firmly on the road.

After lunch there was slow, painful uphill where the flies that always amaze me with their aerial agility tagged onto my draft and proceed to fly around my face for at least an hour. A couple of times I went to swat them and ended up knocking the visor off my helmet and then had to stop to put it back on. The uphill continued for a good 40 kilometres before changing into a speedy descent with a tailwind where my speed was a good 40kmph average. Soon after this, we hit the pavement and the refresh stop at a T-junction.

We turned right at T-junction and the wind continued to blow in the same direction. This was a strong sidewind - so much so that after twenty minutes, the muscles on the right side of my spine hurt from having to counteract the extra force. As we climbed uphill for ten kilometres, the road kept going in the same direction but soon after the slow, gradual descent began, the road also began to turn into the wind. As we neared the turn and petrol station at 166km it was a full on headwind and speeds rarely went above 25kmph.

The petrol station was a beautiful relief - an ATM, a Wimpy restaurant at which to spend any newly withdrawn money (serving excellent milkshakes and passable vegetarian burgers) and a small shop where I bought some goodies for the rest day ahead (a loaf of bread and some Marmite, amongst other items).

The last 7 kilometres into camp were hard work, a tough rollercoaster of hills into the wind, weighed down by the assortment of shopping strapped to my back. Camp arrived and it was heaven. Looking over the river to the other bank we could see South Africa, the bar and restaurant look down the river and falling asleep was easy with the relaxing whoosh of the wind. Lastly, and possibly the most influential asset of the campsite, was the availability of a washing machine to wash our clothes. Admittedly, with cycles that lasted an entire hour, it was a long four hour wait but the payoff was that the white parts of my jersey are now white again.

Milling around until dinner, we ate our main course and eventually came to dessert. Normally I prefer avoiding restaurant desserts in lieu of cheaper and better alternatives but we're effectively surrounded by nothing. The choice of dessert was limited to ice cream and to just chocolate and vanilla flavours at that. When the waitress came to deliver our ice cream bowls, she also delivered some bad news: they had run out of all other flavours of icecream. Out of the two flavours they initially offered us, it turned out that the only flavour they had left was rum and raisin. On hearing this, our table cracked up with laughter. (For some brief background information, of all the flavours we get PVM bars in, the most unpopular and worst tasting flavour is Rum & Raisin.) Regardless, ice cream is ice cream and we accepted their offering.

Feeling cheated from our false dessert (the portion size was also lacking in generousity), we asked the slightly intoxicated Tour Director Sharita if we could borrow the bucky (the support Land Cruiser). She replied that we could, the keys were on the seat if we could get it started - apparently she tried earlier and failed to start it. Taking this as a challenge, American Dan and I went and fiddled with the car and eventually, after 15 minutes, managed to get it to spring to life. We were almost dissuaded from borrowing it when Tour D'Afrique kingpin and owner Henry Gold looked like he was walking towards us - he switched direction though and walked away so we took this as a sign and left.

As we rolled down the rollercoaster road towards the gas station/Wimpy, Dan explained that he hasn't driven a car for nearly four years. Nervous and buzzing from the adrenalin, we rushed into Wimpy to order six milkshakes (one for myself, one for Sharita and one for each of the others sitting at our dinner table) and a veggie burger (Dan was hungry). The milkshakes came soon enough but the veggie burger took some time as they waited for the deep fryer to come back to life. Dan hadn't actually wanted or ordered fries but they were insistent on delivering some with his burger. Meanwhile, another five Africans who were clearly very hungry (and for some reason in a rush at 8:30pm on a Saturday night on the border with South Africa) started raising a fuss and argueing with the cashier. Another motorist came in at least five times to check if the fries he had ordered were ready. About twenty minutes later, when it became clear that the fries were still just a few minutes away, Dan requested his veggie burger unaccompanied by fries.

I took over from Dan and he sat in the passenger seat, lap full of burger (no fries) and five milkshakes (I had drunk mine in the restaurant). Driving the Land Cruiser was like driving a tank and it took a many-point turn to reverse out of our parking bay - much to the alarm of the drivers in the tiny cars to the side of and below us. As we rolled out on the main road, trying to turn the indicator on accidentally resulted in the windscreen wipers turning on (American style indicator stalks) and I had to check with Dan a few times to see if I was too close to the curb. The Land Cruiser was probably twice the size of the Yaris I normally drive back home.

When we returned to the campsite, it seemed initially like noone had noticed. When we arrived at the bar to distribute milkshakes, I stood waiting outside (no beverages bought outside the bar are to be consumed in the bar). As Dan told our dining associates that we had something for them, there was a big rush of riders that came out and the first thing I remember is Sharita angrily twisting my nipples and asking where the keys were. We explained that the keys were on the seat, exactly where they'd been left and she stormed off to the bucky. Simultaneously, mlikshakes were being snatched from all over the place and I think only two of the milkshakes made it to their intended recipients.

Paul came outside after the crowd had subsided, looking very serious with a stone cold face, a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his right hand. He started talking to me and asked me, 'Sunil, what were you thinking to jeopardise your E.F.I. with just one week left to go?' . As I stuttered in response, he eventually broke into a smile and told me he was just giving me a hard time - making some hints towards revenge at the awards ceremony in Cape Town. I will be wearing my extra strong belt that day.

1 comment posted so far
Ash wrote at 5:17 pm on Mon 17th May -
Congrats on your acheivements. Job well done. 9th place is not shabby at all. I used the TDA format to see your updates (and others too). Unfortuinately TDA has moved on and the Rider Profile now shows rider(s) for next year. Good thing I have book marked your site. Would love to see some finale pics. keep in touch. If you happen to come to San Diego, please let me know.

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by SS at 4:48 pm on Saturday 8th May

Riding out of Betta was a mando-day, a 153 kilometre day that was just brutally long. After the first thirty kilometres the terrain improved considerably, was generally much smoother and was better packed. I struggled though, for reasons that I'm not sure about. Perhaps it was a night of bad sleep (there was a rooster that decided to wake us up multiple times from 4am onwards) or overconsumption of PVM bars (three before lunch alone) - I started feeling sleepy at my handlebars at 8am.

I reached lunch at 10:30am and decided to take a nap, eventually leaving at about 11:30am. The nap helped considerably and my speed returned that afternoon. About 9 kilometres out from lunch I had another puncture in my rear wheel and resigned myself to a slow day. A bit further on the dirt road suddenly turned into smooth, new tarmac. Just after this was a Coke stop marked on our riding directions for the day - the Coke stop was actually a supermarket stocking all sorts of delights from biscuits (already a winner) to Cornettos to ice cold soft drinks to a whole variety of European chocolates. Amazing.

The dream had to end though and less than a hundred metres down the road there was another new road side that showed two roads meeting - a paved road and a dirt road. Sigh. Still, the tailwind from the previous day prevailed and it was easy rolling until camp at Konkiep Lapa. Dave and I held the Mystery Event that afternoon since everybody was tired from the day (for me it was a nine hour day at least). The Mystery Event was one suggested by Race Director Kelsey - each team selected one competitor and they were told that from the word 'Go' they'd have to fetch both their headlamp and their malaria medication. TDA Tour Director Sharita won this with her mobile phone (also her headlamp) and no malaria medicine (she doesn't take any!).

For a short while at the beginning of the tour riders experimented with the notion of eating PVM bars as dessert. James, our cook, doesn't prepare dessert for us and besides the generally insatiable cyclist's appetite, we also have an innate need for something sweet from time to time (where this time to time period may range from minutes for a rider like myself to days for other riders). Throughout the trip we've had different strategies for coping - some riders stock up heavily on sweets and other goodies at rest day supermarkets and there has usually been a shortage of Snickers bars in most towns after we've passed through. As we get further south though, it's become easier and at the Konkiep Lapa campsite the matron of the establishment had prepared a beautiful milk tart dessert.

I'm told by sectional rider and South African Nicola that this is a true South African dessert and that the version they prepared was one of the best she's ever tasted. The dessert itself consists of a biscuit base (like that of a cheese cake) and is topped with something similar to custard but not as thick or as yellow. The topping is lightly sweetened and similar to lightly whipped cream that seemingly disappears when it hits your tongue. The whole dish resembles a pie and I was in dessert heaven after devouring my slice of paradise.

The next day was a shorter 126 kilometres to Seeheim Hotel which consisted of roughly 90 kilometres of pavement. I haven't looked at a map yet but it seems odd that there would be only 90 kilometres of tarmac (the next day was also dirt). This was a fairly rapid day and after the previous day my legs had returned to their usual form. I raced to the tarmac, keeping my speed above 30kmph on the smooth dirt, but was caught by Adam and Paul soon after I reached the tarmac. After the smooth dirt, the tarmac definitely seemed more uncomfortable despite being much faster to ride on. We rode as a group until lunch where Adam, trying to win the stage, went ahead, swapping his empty water bottles for my filled bottle to save time.

I took the afternoon slowly after a beautiful lunch (french toast!) and enjoyed the scenery. The paved road passed through some windy roads that cut through some huge rock outcrops - some fantastic climbing and descending which eventually took us over Fish River (what a terribly unoriginal name for a river) and to Seeheim Hotel. The hotel clearly had some heritage to it, looking more like a castle than any other hotel I've ever had the privilege to visit. Their camping space was fairly mediocre and we were faced with the challenge of accommodating forty tents on two tiny areas of grass. Trying to navigate a path to the bathrooms was a challenge that involved dodging tent guylines, shrubbery and avoiding falling off the edge of the ledge that the 'lawn' was upon.

We held the eighth event of the decathlon that night, a foot down competition. This ia a competition that is apparently popular at most messenger meets and appropriately suggested by Dave. The basic goal is to be the last competitor riding your bike. Each competitor rides their bike around a circle fenced by spectators that is constantly shrinking. As soon as you place a foot on the ground, you're out of the competition and have to clear the ring. Obvious dangers aside, it was a fun event for all spectating and was won by Indaba's Gert, a consistently high ranking team in the decathlon and also a non cyclist.

Today's ride to the Fish River Canyon Lodge was another shorter day of only 108 kilometres on dirt. There was a wonderful roadhouse on the way that served an excellent cheesecake. I had another puncture shortly before lunch bringing my total up to three within the last four riding days. Hopefully it'll be better once we hit pavement again and my Schwalbe Marathon Racers go back on. Tomorrow is going to be a harder day as we cycle into our last rest day of the trip - a campsite called Felix Unite near the border with South Africa. Time has flown past.

To finish, here is my revised country ranking with one country left to go:
1) Namibia, Sudan, Kenya
2) Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana
3) Egypt
4) Malawi, Ethiopia

1 comment posted so far
anaita wrote at 11:16 am on Sun 9th May -
We are proud of you. Well done.

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by SS at 4:46 pm on Saturday 8th May

Everyday I struggle to place myself within the riding group. I'm something of an inconsistent racer - on days I'll be far ahead of the pack, at lunch first and at camp early. Other days I'll be right near the back, riding slowly and being one of the last third of riders to make it to camp. This riding week and day previous to the rest day (since the last post) has been much like that.

On our way to Sesriem for our rest day near the dunes of Sossusvlei I managed to ride pretty quickly, feeling fairly fast and comfortable in the knowledge that it was a short day. Having two working earphones does wonders for your motivation too - before Windhoek I'd been riding with just one working earphone (which sounded terrible too). Looking around would have been beneficial in hindsight since most other riders saw a lot of wildlife that day - oryxes, giraffe, springbok. Arriving to lunch early, I left early and reached our campsite in Sesriem with plenty of time for the rest of the day. Racer Dan S. won the day's race, completing the list of stage winners so that now all top twelve racers have won stage plates.

In Sesriem, we signed up to a tour departing to Sossuvlei the next day at 4:30am and sat around doing nothing much. Sesriem consists of a few lodges, a well stocked gas station and our campsite. There was a series of dunes near to camp which a lady at the tourist desk of the lodge next door suggested we climb for a good view of the sunset. From the campsite, it didn't seem like the dune was too far away but having left a little too close to sunset, we decided to cycle there through the bush.

Unfortunately, the skinny tyres I borrowed from Eric were no good in the thick sand and coupled with tired legs, it was hard work keeping up with Dave, Sam and Jacob (Jacob was also trying to drink cider as he pedalled - he quickly relinquished that notion). We left the campsite just after 4:15pm and it was nearly 5 by the time we finally reached the base of the dune. Sam and Dave had run on up ahead, eager not to miss the sunset - Jacob and I tried to catch up, struggling to keep them in sight. The top of the dune seemed like it was constantly moving - as soon as we reached what outwardly appeared to be a summit, we saw another ridge down the line, rising up higher.

Eventually we reached the sunset and not a moment too soon. The sun was going down and the view from that dune was probably one of the best sunsets I've witnessed in Africa (African sunsets are generally superb too). Going down was good fun and involved sliding down using a similar motion to skiing. At the bottom I took my cycling cleats off and removed a good few hundred grams of sand from each shoe. We discovered a road that was far smoother and much better packed than the offroad route we had taken - following this back in the dark, we made it back to the gas station to buy a chocolate bar or two to temporarily silence our rumbling stomachs.

That evening eating at our campsite was a harrowing ordeal - their restaurant is unable to cater for vegetarians other than to provide a soggy and much delayed plate of french fries. Luckily I had some instant noodles in my bag to prevent total hunger that evening.

The next morning we woke up at 4:30 and foolishly I decided against taking a jumper, reasoning that we'd be in a warm enclosed vehicle. Unfortunately, the 4x4 we were loaded on was an open air safari vehicle. Our hosts were kind enough to equip us with fleece lined ponchos but the lack of total coverage and the giant breeze coming in through the windows made it a chilly experience.

We got to Dead Vlai (another site of interest near to Sossuvlai) just before sunset and hiked up one of the dunes to catch the sunrise. Other, more energetic riders hiked up a much larger dune but didn't managed to summit in time to catch sunrise. From there we slid down into a dead forest - a collection of trees that had dried out. As the sun came up it quickly warmed up - our guide said that by lunch time it'd be too hot to walk on the sand.

From there, stomachs rumbling (as the stereotypical touring cyclists that we are), we were treated to a fairly substantial breakfast. I'm not sure if the guys in charge were expecting us to clear them out of food but we finished *everything*. Returning to camp it was an extremely relaxed rest day - I ate a bowl of cereal for lunch and sorted out my bags and had time to watch The Pianist.

That evening we went to have a buffet dinner at the fancy lodge next door ($300 for a room per night!). This was the most expensive salad buffet I have ever attended - the dinner cost nearly $30 and was based around an impressive selection of game meat (springbok and various other Namibian wildlife). Still, the dessert was good and I had to stumble back to my tent via a shortcut that ran through a precarious wire fence and several thorn bushes.

When I reached my tent it took me a few seconds of shock to realise that it had been visited by a wild creature of some sort, most probably a jackal (judging by the dog like footprints). The broken zipper on my tent door means that the only thing keeping my tent sealed is a mosquito net which is flimsily clothes pegged to the edges of the doorway. The jackal had managed to break in via the side of the net and had ravaged an entire bag of protein powder, one of my protein bars and a bag of dried fruit (which I had been saving for four days!). This is the second time that an animal has stolen my food - the first being the dog that ran off with my loaf of bread in Maun, Botswana.

Leaving Sossuvlei the next morning (and enjoying the extra thirty minutes we were able to sleep in), it was a slow start but I soon sped up once I realised that my seat was a bit too low. That was a hard stage, the usually well packed dirt roads were loose and sandy. There was a lot of wildlife on the road and the roads had some amusing 'Caution' signs - silhouettes of zebra, springbok and giraffes were all present. At one point a herd of about thirty zebra crossed the road in front of me, speeding up as they sensed me speeding towards them.

Shortly after I passed Tim, a springbok ran up alongside and almost made contact. I didn't realise this at first (wondering what that strange metallic sound nearby was) but Tim explained what had happened at lunch. Second into lunch after Marcel, I left fairly quickly but sprung a puncture not more than 4 kilometres out. All the racers passed me and I elected then to take the remaining sixty kilometres slower. The tailwind made it a faster day and the hamlet of Betta came fairly quickly.

That afternoon Dave and I held the locker packing event of the decathlon and gathered enough bags that we were sure not everything would fit inside the locker. Our perception of volume is presumably flawed because the first competitor, American Sam, maanaged to fit it all in the locker and packed everything within three minutes. Most passers by had to double take at the pile of bags, amazed that all of it could fit in a locker. Besides several large duffel bags, there was also a pannier rack, hard shelled laptop case, tin of Milo and backpack. We thought we had picked an unused locker but one of the riders, Jeff, went to access his locker and was quite shocked to find it jammed full of assorted bags!

It was a cold night - the prevailing wind that had been at our tails for the entire day kept blowing late into the night (and also powered the electricity at the campsite via several miniature turbines). I camped inside a brick floored and walled picnic area so didn't put my outer fly on the tent. When I woke up in the morning, it was the coldest I have been in the entire trip and even with arm warmers and a gilet on, I was shivering.

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by SS at 4:45 pm on Saturday 8th May

I just realised that we've reached May - astounding how fast time has flown. Like a friend mentioned, time is passing far too quickly nowadays. The last two days have been the first two out of seven on the Namibian dirt road which takes us to Sossusvlei - a touristy town on the edge of a desert.

This dirt is remarkably smooth - often more comfortable than some of the pavement we've ridden. Occasionally there are deep, sandy patches (not fun on skinny tyres) and some corrugation. On the whole though, not nearly as bad as the Sudanese/Kenyan/Tanzanian dirt we've ridden so far. Today, there were a few giant puddles crossing the road and I took the opportunity to ensure my clothes became suitably filthy by rolling through all of them at speed. (The knobbly tyres I'm using are great for kicking up muck.)

The rain cloud that has followed us since we left Cairo is seemingly intent on accompanying us all the way to Cape Town. It's rained the last two days - yesterday we were saved from damp cycling but the thunderstorm started making noise shortly before dinner. Today we rode towards grey clouds for much of the stretch before lunch - not being rained upon but battling against a solid headwind. At lunch it started raining and after we climbed the Spreadshootge Pass (odd place names are all the rage in this Afrikaans speaking part of the world) the rain started. Apparently it hasn't rained in this part of Namibia for three months making us both unlucky and lucky(?). As Tour Director Paul commented, 'Someone up there must really hate these people.' We've had more rainy days than any other TDA past (I think).

I'm running out of ways to describe the rain so I'll just mention that it was heavy and lasted for what seemed like an hour. Shockingly my cycle computer continued working throughout the entire experience. When the rain decided to leave me alone, my speed had halved - an effect of the headwind which was thrown in free with the rain. A strange thing happened to me around 100km in and 20km from the end. I felt extremely dozy on the bike - almost as if I was about to fall asleep. I checked my heart rate monitor and I was only at about 130BPM, 65% of my maximum. For a short while I put some effort down to try and wake myself up by travelling at a faster speed - these seemed to work temporarily but my tired legs soon brought me back down to a slow speed.

Yesterday we ran event number five of the Decathlon, the rock throwing contest. This event stems from the practice riders have had at returning missiles thrown at them in Ethiopia. Besides a cardboard cutout (carefully prepared by Jacob) of a child hoisted on a pole, we also had a map of Africa which Dave staked out using a rope and some tent pegs. I marked the countries out using flagging tape and competitors were given points for every country (that we visited) in which they managed to land a stone. The cardboard cutout was amusing and rider Dan S. managed to rip off the cutout's arm with a rock half the size of my helmet. By the end of it, we had to tape its head up because it had lost all rigidity from being pelted with such force.

Another miscellaneous facts - my locker door has broken off for the third time this trip. This is due to a combination of my poor upper body strength (trying to load my heavy permanent bag containing spares and less often used clothing usually results in a fair amount of weight on the door+hinge) and some lack of care. It is annoying though because my packing system relies on being able to fit loose items at the front of my locker - I've found some of my possessions floating loosely about the truck twice in two days now.

Tomorrow we ride into another rest day although apparently there is no internet access until we hit South Africa which is not for another eight days at least. I'll try using my mobile internet connection but seeing as there hasn't been any cellular coverage for a couple of days, this is not too promising.

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Sand
Sand
Lots of sand.
4:23 pm on Monday 3rd May by SS
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by SS at 8:58 pm on Thursday 29th April

It's been an absolutely exhausting week and I apologise for not writing with my usual frequency. We've now left Botswana and entered Namibia - the second last country on our epic voyage across Africa. The riding has been tough, it's been long (we've covered approximately 827km (517 miles)) in five days. The longest day of the tour was this week - a 207km day which took us across the border.

NYC bike messenger Dave and I have been coordinating the first few events of the TDA decathlon. The first day this week was damp 160km day out of Maun, I rode slowly, riding the morning with Dave and the afternoon with Jacob. It was at our last bush camp that evening that we held our first event, in the midst of a perpetual thunderstorm that seemed to follow us all the way out of Botswana. Worried that decathlon spirits may be dampened (no pun intended) by the heavy rain, we pressed on regardless. The first event was to be the hole digging contest - a key skill for any aspiring bush camper.

I'll leave the full description of the event to the post I wrote for the TDA blog. In any case, our twelve teams put on a good show and a lot of clothes became fairly muddy. The ground behind the trucks which was just about walkable became a muddy mess full of puddles that would instantly soak you up to mid-shin. After dinner, I sheltered in my (thankfully) dry tent and treated myself to a cup full of custard. Not wanting to wash the cup in the pouring rain, I put it upright in my dish kit ziploc bag. Predictably, I forgot it was there and held my bag upside down, resulting in a yellow mess in the corners of the my once fairly clean ziploc bag.

The next morning, we were treated to a hot breakfast by the kitchen and not just warm oatmeal either. Scrambled eggs and baked beans went down a treat but the change in the consistency of breakfast interrupted my usual morning routine. I decided to go use the shovel whilst people were getting ready to leave - as I returned the fastest (and as a result, latest leaving) group of racers was leaving - I was pretty much last. I rode hard for the morning, caught up with Dave and we planned the afternoon's obstacle course.

On the way into camp, my attention drifted off the road and I managed to fall off my bike on a flat, slow road - hitting a cat eye in the road while holding my handlebars too softly. I managed to graze a fairly large area of my knee and it was swollen for a bit. At time of writing, it still hurts to bend it (although not an issue when cycling).

A lot depended on what the campsite had to offer but we managed to make a fairly reasonable course. I'll list the course below:
- Start at lunch truck
- Run through eight parallel tyres placed on the grond (penalty for missing a tyre)
- Take a picture of the whiteboard
- Roll tyre down the road to your bike
- Pick up your bike and follow the flagging tape to the bar
- Ride over the bridge and then walk your bike through the bar
- Turn left out of the bar compound and follow the flagging tape
- Pass through the Coke bottle slalom course
- Turn right and follow the road onto a dirt track
- Pick up any loose objects in the grass for extra points (including water bottles, track pumps and a camping stool).
- Follow the road through another slalom course.
- Sprint up to the ramp and jump your bike.
- Finish at the lunch truck.

The riders enjoyed it - we worried initially the lap might take too long (near ten minutes) but the quickest competitors were around it in just under three minutes. Mountain biker Simon won this event - the offroad, jumping on and off a bike and general bike handling skills necessary suited him perfectly.

The next morning we woke up to another thunderstorm. Aside from a handful of other occasions, the rain has usually stopped before the majority of camp wakes up. This didn't though and it was a case of packing up our tents while getting wet. This was also the longest day of the Tour - a 207km day that took us across the border to Namibia. If you're think you're having a bad day on the Tour, fate nearly always seems to do something to make it worse. As I went to load my bottles onto my bike, I noticed the rear tyre was flat. Changing the tube, I ended up leaving with Jethro, Marcel, Stuart and Gisi (the latter two are both race leaders).

At this point it was still pouring with rain and the road was saturated. I tried riding with Jethro and Marcel but Jethro's tyres kicked up a fair amount of grit into my eyes - seeing ahead (difficult in the rain as it was) became painful and I had to drop out. Sometime later Stuart and Gisi came by and I rode with them. Gisi, assuming Jen was ahead of her and not wanting to secede a mando-day, asked us to skip lunch. Pumping up my tyre in a rush (they stopped for a minute to grab a banana), we rode on until the refresh stop at 150km where I left them, feeling exhausted and unable to maintain that speed.

At this point the day had dried up and our clothes were pretty much dry. I rode on alone from the rest stop, taking it easy and enjoying the last of the Botswanian scenery. As mentioned before, fate dislikes us having too easy a ride and about ten kilometres from the border, I cycled into a thunderstorm parked on the highway. From a distance you could see it - the misty grey stretching from several kilometres above right down to the road. The road looked like it was turning away from the cloud but soon leaned back towards it. Anticipating some light rain, I wasn't surprised when it started drizzling lightly. As the drizzle got heavier, I pedalled on, eager to be free from the demoralising shower.

It was when the lightning struck that I was reminded of the wrath of Africa's weather. The thunder exploded at a decibel level which I'm sure caused me temporary tinnitus. It was absolutely splendiferous and as the rain plummeted down onto my bike, the wind stepped in and pushed me from side to side. I kept my head down, amazed that my MP3 player was still working in its not-entirely-waterproof fake Ziploc bag. The rain was coming down off my bike and creating miniature waterfalls and pseudo-streamers, coming off at an acute angle from my handlebars as it was bullied by the brute force of the wind.

Within a few kilometres, it was over. Rod, Juliana, Jen and Lynne caught up with me as I reached the border post, absolutely soaked and as incredulous as I was. We crossed the border and got our tents up in the mud long enough for them to dry slightly before the storm caught up with us again and undid the sun's efforts.

I started the next day with a low tyre, a probably slow puncture. Trying to pump it up using the worst of the two track pumps the Tour has, pressure was going in but when I removed the head of the pump, the valve came with it - ripped clean from the tube. By the time I had changed my tube and pumped up my tyre, the sweep rider had already left into the morning fog. This start was partially remediated by the two milkshakes I was able to consume at Wimpy, a South African fast food chain. This was probably one milkshake too many and the last fifty kilometres were painfully slow. In any case,we made it into camp at about 2pm and once Dave was in, we planned the next two events - the Coke chugging competition (postponed the previous day because of the long distance) and the PVM bar eating competition. These are both fairly explanatory - it was interesting to see the variety of methods riders had for consuming a PVM bar (which is essentially edible plastic) at speed. The photos I've uploaded tell more of the story.

There was no rain that night and the next day was dry but windy as we rolled towards Windhoek. We began with a team trial - the teams arbitrarily chosen by Race Director Kelsey. Our team was strong, including Jason (a non-racer but still EFI) and Jethro. Some of the slower riders on our team decided against participating and although we started as a team of six, we became a team of just three. The time trial went well but I could feel the previous four days in my legs. Jethro would pull us along at 35-36kmph, Jason would managed 34kmph and when I was in front we'd drop down to 32kmph. We were close to winning - about a minute off.

After lunch, the headwind picked up and it was a sluggish 80km as we climbed approximately 800 metres up into the city. As the rolling hills began, Ruben, who I was riding with, began swearing. He soon left me behind and I ploughed on alone, the headwind preventing me from breaching the 20kmph speed barrier. At some point a huge convoy came past, at least four motorcycles, a pickup truck filled with gun-toting military men, four police cars and three armoured Mercedes. I'm curious to find out who was in that convoy.

Stuart and Gisi caught up and I tagged on just as the downhills begans. Suddenly my speed doubled with the draft and the effects of gravity - a welcome relief. We stopped at a large bicycle shop, probably one of the biggest and best shops I've seen to date (including those at home!) and I stocked on accessories, buying yet another bottle cage (the sixth so far) and a pair of tubes. Riding into camp along Robert Mugabe Avenue (an unnecessary tribute to a terrible man), it almost took as long to reach the campsite from the reception building of the Arrebusch Travel Lodge where we are staying.

At the end of a week like this, when you are pretty much completely physically exhausted, it's hard to get your act together and set up your tent. I began the rest day by looking for my spare tyre bundle (containing my two sets of spare tyres, my spare rim and pannier rack). These are all kept together on the roof of the dinner truck and dropped down every rest day for riders to access. I couldn't find my bundle and none of the Indaba drivers had any idea about where it might be. I can only surmise that it was either forgotten at one of many rest days we've had since Iringa (when I last used it) or that someone walked off with it at some point on one of the rest days. Immensely frustrating - both for the financial cost and for the inconvenience of having to borrow tyres from another rider. Luckily Eric Dufour lent me a set of pretty neat looking Maxxis Cyclocross tyres which I hope will work well on the dirt.

Setting my tent, the week didn't seem like it could get any worse. It could though and my zip stopped working. Earlier I had fixed it with a pair of pliers - squeezing each side to help the zipper grip the zip better - a common camping trick. I tried the same today - the effect of doing this several times was that this time the zipper simply snapped in two. I had another zipper though, at the top and equally non functional. I tried the same trick and this time gave it too much force, causing it to jam and bind to the zip.

Feeling broken (saddle sores being the worst they've been on the entire trip and leg aching), exhausted (I've not felt this tired since I stayed up for 40 hours straight to finish my dissertation draft) and cheated (150 worth of cycling equipment, gone!), I was apprehensive about dinner at Joe's Beerhouse, a popular tourist destination in Windhoek. Most of the tour went along that night as a leaving party for sectional (but almost full tour) riders Jerry and Viv - fellow Britons. The gastropub is a fantastic assortment of German (I assume) memorabilia and general tat - the food was excellent and the atmosphere is lively. I struggled to finish my main course (unusual on this trip) but the cannelloni I did manage to eat was great.

Just two weeks left and the end is in clear sight. A lot of riders lost EFI at this stage last year but they've amended the route so that it is actually possible. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

3 comments posted so far
wrote at 8:12 pm on Sun 2nd May -
wow your faithful followers hang in there just two more weeks

Akshay Patel wrote at 7:14 pm on Tue 4th May -
Can I get a cup of tea please?
Ash wrote at 7:19 pm on Wed 5th May -
I take it your updates are not frequent due to comm issues. Just keep on taking pics. Those will last longer. What an accomplishment!! This is really big. Although you've the African blood, you now have come to know Africa from first hand experience. Africa is very complex. No two countries are alike. TDA has done very well in giving this opportunity. In 10 days all biking will came to halt. Time to transit. Time to reflect. Time to sit down and give it a final thought on what was acheived and what all this means for the future.Sunil - I am interested in these things not only because I plan to ride TDA (don't know when!!)but would like to hear a clear and concise assessment from an intelligent person such as you. keep in touch. Once again one of the many congrats!!

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