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TdA organizers suggested we make the most of our Khartoum rest day, as the section that was to come is known to be the toughest of the entire trip.

I decided it was only fair to spoil myself to a hotel room with fast internet and clean sheets. But before I knew it, we were on the road again. With a daunting feeling we left Khartoum and began the 8 day cycling stretch, camping every night with no rest days until we reached Gondar, Ethiopia.

The day we rode out of Khartoum was fairly easy in that we were on flat paved roads with a manageable distance of 149km to the nearest desert camp. The only difficulty was a strong cross wind which kept pushing us into the busy roads with trucks and buses zooming past at regular intervals. These create a vacuum that can throw you off your bike if you’re not concentrating or careful.

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The following day we set off early as we had 160km to cover before reaching Sennar. To keep things interesting, I simply had to break the day up with numerous “activities”. So besides doing regular coke stops, it was just after lunch when I got a delightful puncture in the midday sun. As if that wasn’t enough, at the 120km mark – my friend Claire and I decided we should speed things up. I raced over a set of train tracks, which clipped my front wheel and sent me flying over my handle bars and skidding into the middle of the road.

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Fortunately, Claire rushed over to help me to the side of the road and away from the danger of passing traffic. I tried to collect myself but I had hit my head pretty hard and so felt dizzy, along with an overwhelming sensation of nausea which resulted in me bringing up my lunch from earlier in the day. Worried that this could be a sign of a more serious head injury, we called the TdA medics to come over and check me out. By the time they arrived I had started to feel better, the colour returning to my face and I was ready to finish the days ride. I begged the medic to give me the go-ahead to continue and her reply was: “My advice is that you get on the truck, but at your own risk – you can continue as their are no other signs of serious head trauma and the vomiting after the accident could be related to dehydration, shock and overall physical fatigue.”

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I took it upon myself to continue the days ride. I took it slow and I made sure I always had a friend nearby incase I began to feel dizzy again. It probably wasn’t the best idea to continue riding though, because as soon as the adrenaline wore off, I suffered from an excruciating headache. Once at camp, we enjoyed a welcoming performance from locals and that night it was time to change tyres, as the next 3 days were off-road. It was at this point, more than before, that I felt so grateful for the Cycle Lab’s generous sponsorship of my Trek Mountainbike. It really is a super piece of equipment to have come through that day relatively unscathed.

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Camp and bike workshop
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Tyre changing time as we start the off road section.
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The TdA truck is the riders’ socializing area, as that’s where you find the food!

Our first day off-road…

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Sunrise as we leave camp
Some of the locals
Some of the locals
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Puntures… again.
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Fixing puncture number… I’ve lost count!

Well, all I can say for this day is.. PUNCTURES! The thorns destroyed most of the TdA riders’ tyres and as if I hadn’t had enough punctures on the trip already – I had to suffer another 6 in a single day! This however was a small amount in comparison to other riders, some of which who had up to 14. So I was grateful I had only a few by comparison and besides – I am getting very good at repairing and changing tubes. I can proudly say that I now get it done in no time.

We covered a distance of only 84km, which doesn’t sound like much, but on the off-road it took many TdA riders the entire day with some only getting to camp just before sunset. Punctures and bike problems had a lot to do with the longer day. We faced another obstacle on the first day’s off-road course with a few water.. or shall I say, muddy features which blocked our route. And so the different methods to get across the water became apparent. I decided that the best way was just to remove my shoes and socks and carry my bike safely across. The best method, I believe – and I have a feeling the other TdA riders would agree! 🙂

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Cleaning my feet
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James showing how muddy a bike can get

The second day off-road, was definitely the day of FALLING. Almost everyone came off their bikes at least twice – the rough roads, loose gravel and rocks making it impossible to keep your balance.

The group I cycle with
The group I cycle with

Arriving at stone village camp we had the opportunity to interact with locals as we set up camp on an open dirt field.

Our camp site
Our camp site

This has been known to be a money making opportunity – a local who makes several trips into town on his motorbike and returns with a box full of cold drinks to sell to the TdA riders at a 500% mark up. Crazy expensive, but at the time, we were just so grateful for a sugary, cold drink that the price didn’t really matter.

The Stone Village "entrepreneur"
The Stone Village “entrepreneur”

To our delight, “Donkey showers” were also available for 3 Sudanese Pounds. This is when locals bring over a cart of water with their trusty donkey and you pay to help yourself to water and bathe your body. Even though you have a village as your audience and all the TdA riders nearby watching, this is still a heavenly experience. Being able to clean yourself off of sweat and dirt which has collected from cycling the rough off-roads makes the “embarrassment” of locals watching no real factor at all! Just to remain respectful, I showered with my cycling shorts and sports bra on. Sudan is a very religions place, so locals will object to a girl showing too much skin.

The "Donkey Shower"
The “Donkey Shower”

The final day-off road had the theme of DEHYDRATION with numerous TdA riders pushing themselves too hard and then suffering from heat stroke and dehydration. We took it easy though – lots of coke stops and refreshments. The road was long, the heat unbearable and without shade en route – it was impossible to escape.

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Refreshment stop, everyone under the only real tree for miles
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Camels in the village
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Claire and I, sweaty but happy to be in the shade of a village Coke stop

Once at camp, bike maintenance and a tyre change needed to be done, as we were back on the paved roads to the delight of all riders.

The first day back on tar felt like we were cheating. It was just too easy in comparison to the dirt roads. We reached camp in no time and enjoyed the feeling of achievement as the following day we would be cycling only 95km to the Ethiopian border. We had successfully and safely cycled through yet another African country, Sudan. It had been a wonderful experience, but I think I speak on behalf of many TdA riders when I say we were ready for something different – a new challenge and of course, cold beers in Ethiopia.

Shenton Safaris
Tessa Melck

Born and raised on a farm near Velddrif on South Africa's Cape West Coast, Tessa Melck is made for adventure. After spending five years working on luxury Super Yachts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, she has taken her life to the next level, competing in the 2013 Tour d'Afrique – a cycle race from Cairo to Cape Town, covering 11 different countries over a distance of 12,000 km in just four months. Adding heart to her endeavour, she is doing this in aid of the Make A Difference foundation, a charity that gives financial support to deserving young people to pursue an education. Follow her on Twitter, donate to her charity (tdatessa.givengain.org), or find her on Facebook.