Monday, 22 February 2010


We have reached Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, a 4 million people city, the third highest in the world situated at 2400m altitude, but funny enough to get here, we had to descent 400 meters... So the point I am making here is that we have been cycling at insane altitudes over the past few days. Two days ago we reached the entire tour highest point, my GPS reading was 3111 meters alt. But unlike an alpine col where you just put your long sleeve shirt and hit the descent as soon as you reach the top, Ethiopia is a succession of high altitude plateaux, so in our case it meant that we actually cycled over 20 km at an altitude above 3000 meters. It is cold and windy at that level and the lack of oxygen makes the riding unpleasant. Unfortunately for me, that day I was very sick, with fever, headache and diarrhea, not really ideal for such a stage. If it had not been for preserving my EFI status, I would have done like most other sick riders that day, got a ride on the trucks, but that was not on the menu for me and I just kept my head down and took it one kilometer at a time. I was the last rider to arrive at the lunch, but I knew I had enough time to finish the stage, so all, I wanted was to survive that day and for that there was only one solution, keep going, slowly but keep going.Like all riders, I have already had a few bad days in this tour, but this one was another dimension. It was one of those days when you keep on questioning yourself  "what is the point, why am I doing this?". Kids along the road had absolutely no pitiless about the sad way I was looking and I got stoned quite a few times. That is the biggest problem when you are at the back, the kids are waiting for you on the road and they unleash their anger at you because they did not get any money from the other riders, so by then they just hit you. I even had a young girl waiting for me along the road, she was holding a dead chicken already in a state of rot, and as I passed her and tried to give her a friendly smile, she through the rotting dead animal at me... Nice... Ethiopia does not come easy... That is for sure. I was so exhausted that I simply carried on shaking my head in despair having no extra energy to spare for getting angry. That afternoon when I made it to camp; I had mixed feelings of self satisfaction for not having given up and not being quite sure what was the point for that all. I was so tired that putting up my tent felt like an enormous task, so when I heard that just below camp there was a small hotel with a beautiful view over the mountains, I hired two local guys to carry my bags and checked myself in this little hotel. The room was cold and I was shivering. I knew I first needed to eat something even if I did not feel hungry, so I ordered a big bowl of spaghetti's and went straight to sleep. I set my alarm clock on my cell phone at 6h45 for the next day. It told me that I had 14h47 minutes left before the alarm would go off, and that is exactly how long I slept... It is amazing what a 14h00 long sleep does to the body. I felt so good next morning, I was now looking forward at getting back on my bike and getting this second stage of TDA over and done with.

At that point, I would like to highlight some of the camaraderie that reigns between us. A few days ago, one of the Canadian riders, Ted who is a non racer came to express to me his concern about how much weight I have lost. Ted gave me with a huge bag filled with multi vitamins, energy gums and energy drink powder. Not just any one, but the best available on the market directly from the US. I have to admit that I came very unprepared regarding vitamins and energy drinks. I brought nothing. I have so much electronic equipments that I had to make a choice. We were told that TDA does provides energy bars and energy drinks, which they do. What I did not think of was that after drinking that same energy drink for 6 weeks, you start disliking it. You need something else to alternate since you start drinking less when you don't like the drink any more. The drink powder Ted gave me also contains more salt which I clearly need to make up for the huge amount of sweating. The multivitamins were also a blessing. Having lost so much weight and eating food that does not match the one we are used to at home, vitamins supplement makes a lot of sense here. So I renamed Ted "Doctor Ted". A very big thanks to Ted and his great sense of friendship!

I am the second oldest EFI left on the tour and I can see what an impact trying to stay EFI has on a 45 years old body. The problem is that you never get a chance to recover. Many who have already lost their EFI status tend to get on the truck as soon as they are sick or too weak, so they get an extra day to recover, but when you are EFI, you spend that precious time cycling instead. Quite a few riders have headed straight for Addis some days ago already and have had 4 days to recover. I am left with exactly 24 hours.

So, it is not an accident if the three riders that needed some medical attention yesterday as we reached Addis were all EFI'ers. I was one of them. Caroline, the TDA nurse organised a transport to a private hospital, one of the best one in Addis, we were told. I am still struggling with urinating and bladder pain, so I need to have it checked to avoid further deterioration. We went straight to the emergency unit there in order to skip the long queues for "regular" patients. The hospital was not the cleanest and I will spare you a description of the toilets as they seemed to be having no running water for a while. But the staff was very friendly and the young doctor who treated me was competent. He diagnosed a urinary track infection and gave me antibiotics for 2 weeks. The hospital reflected the epitome of lack of efficiency that is so common in Africa. We had to queue here and there and go and pay for every service separately, having to go back to the cashier queue each time. The urine sample analyses was 11 birr (the equivalent of 85 US cents), but the time wasted to queue to pay for this 85 cents was worth so much more, at least for me... And it went on and on. I had to go back to this stupid cashier queue several times before I could get any further... Then something amazing happened.... We must have been in this hospital for more than 2 hours and I was starving. Unfortunately, the little shop they had there was closed (Sunday). We came to the hospital straight after the ride and had therefore not eaten anything since the lunch break. When you are starving, you do things you would not do in normal life. As we were waiting in the hospital lounge, an incredibly delicious flavour of fried eggs came across flirting with my nose taste buds... Suddenly a woman appeared with fried eggs sandwiches! But the surprise was short lived, the sandwiches were the staff food. At that point, I must have looked so desperate that one of the nurse handed me her own sandwich and insisted that  I ate it all. Wao! 30 years ago, I had given some of my pocket money to save Ethiopia from starvation and now, an Ethiopian nurse was giving me her entire lunch to save ME from starvation! Life is full of surprises and today was one of the best one of the tour. This simple gesture had such a significant meaning for me, I felt so good about that. I had already forgot all the standings and the pain to get here. Sharing your lunch with somebody is a great mark of generosity, but giving it away completely was extraordinary, especially when you know that the average GDP here is 100 US per person... I shared the sandwich with my co riders making sure not to waste a single bit.

Later on that evening, I finally got to the Intercontinental hotel where a few other riders have booked rooms for the rest day. The good surprise was that they had a relatively fast Internet access in the room. Now I could update you guys and send plenty photos. I must share with you how difficult it has been here in Ethiopia to connect to the Internet. Even sending text messages from a cell phone is a mission. It takes up to sending the same text message 20 times before it would go through... It is very frustrating. This is by far the worst I have ever experienced in the world. The next few weeks are still going to be just as bad, so the updates on the blog will be based on accessibility.

Addis Ababa is a big city, it is a mix of modern and third world with Soviet era large avenues. Plenty of building going on. The taxi driver who took me to the hotel told me "if you come back in 15 years, it will be very modern city". He might have a point. There is definitely a huge amount of high rise buildings going on. Even there buildings represent the paradox of this country. There are huge modern multi storey buildings being erected all around but they all use wood sticks as scaffolding's, giving it a strange look of new world meets third world... Addis also has a strong Italian influence with pasta restaurants and ice cream bars at every big street corner. There are green hills all around as the city itself lies on 7 big hills all covered with Eucalyptus trees which give Addis its nick name of "Eucalypt Opolis". It is definitely a much nicer city than Cairo or Khartoum.

                                Young men pushing water cans on a self made trailer on the road.
                                The wheels are made of old broken metal bearings.
                                Race leader, Marcel recovering at the lunch brake. Today is a non
                                race day (we are convoying into town), so the racers also can take
                                it easy and rest.
                            Adam, the youngest rider of TDA passing a typical Ethiopian little farm
                            with its hay stacks and thatch roof rondavels.
                                                     What is left of my body after 3600 km...
                                                     I am now 65 kg, which means I have lost
                                                     9 kgs since Cairo.
                                On the outskirt of Addis waiting for our convoy into town to start.
                                We watched this amazing traffic, so typical of Africa, big brand
                                new 4x4's, trucks, cars, people and donkeys, an amusing mess
                                of modern and third world sharing the same roads.
                                                         Finally here! 3600 km done...
                                            Tired TDA riders recovering at the lunch brake.
                                           Eric, a Canadian rider not feeling well at lunch.
                                           I felt like that the previous day....
                              TDA dinner truck passing us on the road. Note the amount of bikes
                              on the roof, which means a lot of people are sick. (and that is just one
                              of the 3 vehicles that pick up riders)
                            We passed hundreds of such little farms on the high Ethiopian plateau
                          The mountains of Ethiopia... So beautiful, but definitely a cycling challenge....
                                    Adam, Josman Ethiopian rider and me at 3111 meter altitude,
                                    the highest point of the entire race.
                                             The most basic form of transport I have ever seen
                                "Is there supposed to be meat on these bones?" was the comment
                                 Dana made as I took that photo...


Jeff Watine said...

Mes respects mon capitaine!! Ce trip est clairement "insane", mais qu'est ce que ça nous fait voyager, nous évader du train train quotidien!
Je persiste à penser que tu aurais dû le faire en 504 comme tout le monde, mais bon, Gérald restera Gérald ;-)
Et bravo pour ton statut EFI toujours up, ne lâche pas l'affaire, on est derrière toi et on vibre!
Quant à ton poids, encore un petit effort et tu me rattraperas (63kg/1m90)... Bon, ok, je ne fais pas régulièrement 3600km de vélo, je ne suis pas EFI, mais je suis bien portant quand même, c'est rassurant!
Allez, on t'envoie tout notre courage pour la suite!
Jeff (et Violette qui t'embrasse)

Anonymous said...

Courage Gerald, pédale fort et profite quand même de l'aventure.
Regis et Rosa

Anonymous said...

Hi dad, hope you are well and had a good day. Ethiopia looks beautiful. Stay strong. Lots of love. Amanda

Anonymous said...

tu es un bon écrivain, les récits en anglais sont passionnants, dommage que le traducteur google soit pas très bon pour ceux qui l'utilisent.
courage !