We’re now in Aksum following three challenging days in northern Ethiopia. We’re staying at the Yeha Hotel – after the Goha in Gondar I’m starting to see a pattern for funky hotel names here.
We left Gondar and immediately started climbing. Total ascent for the day was over 2,000m – about three times more than I’ve ever done before. Then, the terrain was undulating until lunch but with awesome mountain views. Got hit by stones a few times, and the kids were constantly in the way – running full-speed towards the bikes and nearly causing collisions. Dave Crane unfortunately did hit a child, but no harm done luckily. There have been lots of discussions in camp about the best way to deal with the kids, sometimes getting quite heated, with very little consensus. I find that how I respond depends on the time of day – in the mornings when I’m feeling fresh it is easy to be friendly and say hi to everyone, less so in the afternoon or halfway up a big climb! Just part of the fun of travelling through Ethiopia I guess. The last 20km of the day was on gravel roads – a steep descent with incredible mountain views. My lack of experience on anything but tar (and my lack of front shocks) meant for a very slow descent, death-gripping the brakes the whole way. I’ll be getting plenty more practice on the rough stuff over the next few weeks!
Day 2 out of Gondar was tough – apparently one of the toughest of the entire tour. The whole day was on gravel roads, but they were busy being upgraded to tar so there were roadworks the entire way. This meant narrow sections, lots of sand and dust, suicidally-driven construction vehicles and lots of noise. In addition, the road was steeply up-and-down all day. Still not being confident descending with any speed, I couldn’t recover the time lost in the climbs. Finally, the heat was back, particularly in the river valleys. Anyway, enough excuses. By 2pm, we were only 40km into a 100km ride and still a way from lunch. Physically, I was finding the day challenging, but mentally I was broken. When the land-cruiser came by to check on us, I had no reservations about hitching a lift. In hindsight, I should have at least carried on until lunch. At least I avoided having anything stolen from my bags as we rode through the villages, unlike many others in the group. The main compensation for the day was the location of the campsite – overlooking the Simien Mountains.
Day 3 was a 128km ride into Aksum, and couldn’t have been more different to yesterday. The only real change was my attitude – after being annoyed with myself the previous day there was no way that I would not make the distance today. Steep descent out of camp but I was starting to gain confidence, release my vice-like grip on the brakes and actually enjoy gaining some free speed. After crossing a river bridge, the climb up the other side of the valley started. When Sharita scouted the route a month ago, the road was still gravel but we had the pleasure of climbing brand-new tar. I really enjoyed the climb and even overtook a couple of other riders – a rare experience for me until now. The tar continued at the top across the highland plateau, with lots of farming and some lush-looking pasture. The ride ended with an awesome drop into Aksum, about 10km averaging over 60kph. The hotel was tricky to find, but a welcome refuge from a few day’s tough riding.
If you’re interested about getting some other perspectives on the Tour, look at this page to find links to all the blogs that people are keeping on the trip. The official tour blog can also be found here.