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by SS at 10:30 am on Friday 26th March

The rain came in patches. It usually came just when I pulled over to deal with my consistent tyre inflation issues. As the afternoon sun beat down and the rain drizzled, I'd be fighting off a swarm of flies whilst sweating furiously trying to pump up my wheel. I had a new tube this time, so I just swapped it over pretty quickly. Assuming it was just a slow leak, I failed to notice the various thorns in the tyre and within a kilometre, the brand new tube was also flat. Pulling over, I patched it twice, not able to find any other obvious holes and removed all the thorns (about 6). Another kilometre and it was flat again. With no other choice, I grabbed an energy bar and looked for another hole, finding one and patching it.

Luckily this patch held up and I made it to the final climb into our hilltop camp, where we were treated to tall grass, plenty of bees (probably dangerous too, since they're African) and a great view across the countryside. It was at this point that the generously donated biscuits were finished - 6,000 biscuits consumed by the entire tour in approximately 11 days. My time for the day was terrible, I took it slow and stopped a few times at various soda stops - total moving time 5:46, total time 8:00! Sinfully wasteful.

The next day was our last day on dirt, our last day of the riding week and our ride into our next rest day at Iringa. In typical TDA race fashion, we were treated to our third time trial, another hill climb. This time though, it had rained heavily for nearly three hours from 4am to 7am. The dusty roads became muddy roads and the lack of an obvious line made it difficult to climb up the hill. I struggled for the first half an hour, barely riding at a pace slightly faster than the slower riders to leave camp. I pulled over and realised that my saddle adjustments of the previous night (moving it back to hopefully reduce chafing) had in effect lowered my riding position. Putting the seat higher and I was up to my usual pace, grinding slowly up the hill.

Once the twenty kilometre time trial ended, the race for the day was over and it was only fifty kilometres to our rest day, and out of that fifty, twenty were paved. We reached lunch, ate many many sandwiches and then continued on. I tried standing as often as possible, to give my saddle sores some temporary relief but on the juddering dirt, this was difficult. When we eventually reached the pavement, we stopped, took photos and celebrated the end of this stretch of pain (this pain was mainly located in those load bearing parts of our body which interface with the bike - hands and backside).

Getting to Iringa nice and early, I barely managed to set up my tent again when it started raining again. Our campsite is at a secondary school, on one of their fields and was until yesterday, tall grass. A quick pass over by three gardeners wielding machetes on sticks and the grass was cut. There are some curious creatures roaming around in the remains of the tall grass, and several people found frogs invading their territory as they tried to pitch their tents. This morning when I woke up, I looked up to see a frog crawling over the roof of my tent, amazed that it had made its way under the rain fly and onto the inner part of the tent. Likewise, there is a spiders web on the roof of my tent and strange stick insects that look like twigs roam the grass.

In the afternoon, hungry (as we usually are), we searched hard for a taxi but had to settle on a matatu to take us to town. The matatu was empty when we got in, but quickly became crowded, straining up most hills. In town, we attempted to eat at the restaurant of the M&R Hotel, a foolish choice. They were overwhelmed by 7 of us ordering in quick succession and in the two hours it took to get our food, three of us went for haircuts, some people went to the bank, others went shopping and explored the local market. Jason even found it necessary to go buy snacks to contain his hunger and the look on Paddy's face when he finally received his miniscule portion of beef would have been amusing if he wasn't so dejected.

After lunch-cum-dinner, we walked to Shooters bar to meet the rest of the tour. On the way we ate half a litre of icecream each (sickeningly good) and tried to browse the internet. We passed a bike shop and I managed to buy a plastic bottle cage, apparently the only one they stocked. At Shooters bar, we struggled to place drinks orders (two barmen were also the only waiters) and at one point, Tim stepped in to help them serve us. When the owners of the bar showed up later, order was partially restored - an Indian man with a stressed expression and a cigarette dangling out of his mouth flouting an air of efficiency. We met some new volunteers for the Peace Corps, a charitable project I had never heard of before (apparently limited to US citizens) - they had been here for six months and had signed up for three years - an unimaginable commitment for me personally, especially to go live in rural Africa.

This morning we went for breakfast at an awesome cafe called Hasty Tasty Too, run by an extremely friendly Ismaeli man who reminds me a lot of my grandfather, the same build (a large stomach) and round bald head. I arrived a bit late and most of the Tour appeared to have visited already - their kitchen was struggling to fulfill our orders. Anyway, I'm about to return for a hearty lunch before heading back to camp to finish off my rest day chores and duct tape my broken bottle cage to the frame.

3 comments posted so far
Ash wrote at 3:05 pm on Fri 26th Mar -
Sunil - How far have the Chinese gone in paving the road? It looks like they are every where in Africa. Don't be afraid of the bees. Although in Africa, they are not the Africanized Bees. ABs are bees from Africa mix bred with bees from Brazil in Brazil. If you get stung try to pull out what is in your skin without breaking it. Last advice do not run from bees as you will never out run'em.
Simon wrote at 6:13 pm on Fri 26th Mar -
Sorry to hear you're still having problems with saddle sores. Have you tried wearing two pairs of cycling shorts ?
SS wrote at 12:56 pm on Mon 29th Mar -
The Chinese haven't reached that road yet but supposedly a perfectly smooth alternative exists. In any case, the smoother the road becomes, the more the TDA will look for a dusty alternative!

I've been wearing two pairs of shorts nearly every day for quite some time now - it helps, definitely. Not sure the saddle sores will leave me until the tour is over now! In any case, it'll be much more manageable now on the paved roads.

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