A day in the life of a TDA rider March 09 2014
We have been on the Tour D’Afrique for a almost two months and I am very much adjusted to life as a cycle tourist. In fact, many of the strange nuances of being a rider now seem very normal and I wanted to share some of my daily activities.
5:45am- Wake up to the sound of tents being folded down, and people headed off to either our brown unisex “toilet tent” or the closest bush that is 100meteres away from the tent area. The tour has supplied lots of shovels for digging holes and many riders have also brought their own! I had read lots about the details people shared regarding their bowel movements and never really expected to listen to as many conversations on this topic.
6:00am- The official wake up, a car honk, by one of the TDA staff. Meanwhile our amazing cook as has started breakfast, consisting of either oatmeal or granola accompanied by bread or chapattis and a variety of spreads: nutella, peanut butter, jam, honey, corn syrup, and butter. Of course several bananas are cut up and put into our breakfast to help with muscle recovery! Also at this time many riders are enjoying their morning tea and coffee awake up. Personally, in the darkness of my tent, with only the light of my dying head torch battery, I am trying to find all of the requirements for my ride: bike shorts, a shirt, leg and arm sun protectors, sunglasses, shoes, socks, helmet, GPS, GO Pro, iphone, ear plugs, camo back, butt cream, first aid kit and my race chip, thank goodness I am a morning person otherwise I really would struggle to get ready on time!
6:30am- By now I have packed up my tent and sleeping gear, taken my malaria and am off to start my morning work out-shoving all my stuff into a small locker made out of wood. As I lug all my stuff over to the truck, I am secretly hoping that the riders around my locker have already packed up their belongings; it is quite cramped in the truck as everyone gets ready in the morning. Breakfast is devoured as soon as my locker has been jammed shut.
7:00am- Official departure time. Many riders have clocked out with their timing chip and started peddling! The first person to leave is often Erwin, a middle aged German man. The rest of the riders trickle out to begin their ride. This is also the time when you question your clothing choice for the day. Weather on the tour is varying. Sometimes I wake up just about froze and know that I will need extra layers for the morning, other times, it is hot at 7:00am and I know putting on copious amounts of sunscreen in the darkness might turn out to be a sun burn disaster. Since I have signed up for the race component of the tour, I need to remember to clock out when I leave in the morning. I often remember that I did not lock out five kilometers down the road! As part of the race, we have “Mando days” which means that all riders who want to race need to start at 7:15. On these days, time bonuses are given out: 30 minutes for 1st place, 20 minutes for 2end and 10 minutes for 3rd place. These bonuses are given to both men and women and the bonus is taken off their daily time. Although I enjoy taking part in the race, my biggest competitor is myself, as I can be my own worst enemy.
7:30am to 10:30am- Between this time my riding buddy Mato and I have passed amazing scenery, whether it is mountain vistas, sand dunes, unpaved lava rocks, desert terrain or ordinary tarmac many laughs have been shared. Although Mato, and I are on the same bike trip we often see things that each other completely misses. As a result, we often ask each other if we are on the same tour! Depending on how long the ride is, our favor snack of a PBM bar will be demolished in order to have more power to get over the hunger until lunch. I will often go through at least three liters of water in my camo back and sometimes need my water bottle in order to reach lunch well hydrated.
10:30am to 12:30pm- Although this time depends entirely on how long the ride is, we will hit the lunch truck, aka Steven’s Diner. Steven is our very friendly Tanzanian lunch cook. He always has a variety of options for us to eat. Fruits like: watermelon, banana, pineapple, apple, mango, papaya, whatever the local farmers have harvested. Tuna, avocado, egg, ham, cheese and spam are often the items we have to make sandwiches. Also on offer is any left overs from the previous nights dinner. Although there are not many rules on the TDA, one of the main rules about the lunch truck is you MUST wash your hands before going anywhere near the food and need to be considerate that you do not each too much in order to leave some for other riders who are behind. Our tour director has told us horror stories of previous years when the last riders, whom have been the longest since breakfast, would arrive at the lunch with barely even a rotten banana to get them through until they reached camp. Before taking off for the last half of the ride, I will re-fill my camo back and water bottle- the last experience I want is to run out of water when there are no shops along the way.
12:30pm to 5:00pm- Again, depending on the length of the days ride my arrival to camp will vary. However, once I reach the campsite for the night, my first rule of business is to get out of my bike shorts. I despise wearing them any longer than absolutely possible. I will then unpack my locker and with the help of Mato, put up my tent. Using the ever so handy baby wipes, I will attempt to get some of the rides dirt off my face and legs, but honestly the dirt really does not come off until I shower in anywhere from one to five days later. After locking up my bike and getting my tent organized, so there is a place for my to sleep, I will have some of the wonderful soup that our cook has made and re-hydrate for the next day’s ride. Many conversations can be heard about the days events: what riders saw and experienced, their health and digestive issues, order of arrival to camp, road conditions, average speed, problems with their bikes ect, ect. When I have heard enough of the day’s analysis, which for me does not take long, I retreat to the shade if any can be found. Facilities at our camps are often very sparse; mostly we are sleeping in the middle of nowhere in a field. Our camping sites have ranged from abandon amusement parks, mountain peaks, cow field, convents, deserts, forests, schools, to actual camp sites with showers and toilets. Depending on where we camp, riders could go to a town and hunt for cold drinks and snacks. One time we found freshly made donuts and ordered 40 to bring back to the hungrycyclists. At times, some of the locals will know we have arrived to their territory and bring us hot to lukewarm drinks. In Ethiopia a barrier of string was put up around our campsite in order to prevent the ever so curious children and adults from entering our tents and to create some sort of boundary. This did mean that at times there was any where from fifty to two hundred people standing around the campsite watching our every movement. When we were told this would happened, I really thought it was a joke, boy was I wrong.
5:30 to 6:00- The daily sound of “Rider meeting” is summoned. But in reality this means people walk away to get their dishes for dinner and finish a few last minute things before sitting down to the instructions for the next days ride. Our tour director explains the turns and terrain challenges along with any points of interest, this includes coke stops and perhaps the one tree between the start and finish of the ride. Depending on where we are, the instructions will vary. When crossing Sudan we were given directions like, turn left at the jerry can, or right at the abandoned tire. In Ethiopia it was more direct- 50km there will be a village, with coke and children who are known to be vicious, so ride through with precaution. In most cases, we are riding on the same road for each section between rest days. As soon as the instructions are given, and the noises of peoples hunger have prevented questions dinner is served. Since I am eating vegetarian there is great local produce available for me to consume. We have had incredible pasta, beans, BBQ squash and a variety of different salads. As I wash my plates from dinner, the sun begins to set over the horizon and I am amazing a the colors the sky can create.
7:00pm- Is normally when I retire to my tent to write some notes in my journal and read a few pages of a book. Earplugs are inserted as I fall asleep to the sounds of donkey’s, dogs, chatter from the riders, and indefinable insects. I truly am loving my life as a TDA rider and am excited for the what the next few months will bring!