Khartoum

Flights went smoothly and I arrived in Khartoum without a hitch. Saw a beautiful lightning storm over the Mediterranean as we approached Cairo. After waiting for an hour for their visa office to open they finally found the keys underneath some papers on a desk. Bicycle didn’t come on my flight which caused a little panic, this was resolved later when it came on the next flight. On unboxing my bike I found that the front quick release was missing, likely slid out in shipping, but was able to source one from a generous rider. Hotel is impressive. Very clean. Friendly and knowledgeable staff. Speak about a dozen languages between them. Caters heavily to foreigners. Seem to be a lot of archaeologists digging hours around here. Things aren’t as cheap as I assumed they would be, though  prescription meds are apparently quite cheap and easy to get. Amoxicillin, cipro, topical antibiotic all for 7 dollars. Bizarrely juxtaposed to the general state of the city, there is a new shopping centre that could easily pass for one in the west. After being a hermit trying to get over the exhaustion of travel and jet lag (8 hour difference) I eventually ventured out to see the city a little though didn’t manage to catch and if the touristy sites. The last couple of days have been filled with rider meetings and sorting out last minute shopping. Everyone is quite friendly, both the Sudanese and the riders. After you get over the initial culture shock and understand the vibe of the city it really feels quite safe (watch out for cars!). Tomorrow will be our first cycling day consisting of a 20km convoy out of the city with another 60-70km of riding afterwards. The three days after are each around 145 as we make our way to dongola where we have our first rest day.

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Day 20: Medicine Hat to Gull Lake, SK 170k

Waking up to clear skies was a nice change from the recent trend of cooler, overcast weather. The route today was up in there air. The guide I was using recommended going only about 90k. I checked some other potential options past that in case I felt up to it.

I was in a generally better mood starting the day, though as it went on progress seemed slow. It turned out that far from being flat and boring, Medicine Hat and the area east of it was fairly hilly. Not like BC of course, but with a full load any hill sucks. Despite adding challenge, the hills broke up the monotony of riding and were a welcome respite from the dreary flats seen in much of Alberta.

And then it hit me. Though it took me some time to figure out just what it was. Until it nearly hit me again. The initial blow felt about the size and weight of a soda can. Having seen the side of the road littered with cans I assumed some ninnyhammer of a motorist had thrown one at me out of ignorance or a perverse sense of sport. I dismounted ready to cry havoc and let slip the hogs of war, or whichever farm animal of war. However with a complete absence of any vehicle nearby which could have been responsible, or for that matter any debris which could have been responsible, I was left dumbfounded. Until, like I said, it tried to hit me again. It was a bird of some sort. Too small to be an eagle, not nimble enough to be a falcon. I never got a perfect look at it, despite its insistence on attacking me repeatedly. It continued to wheel about and dive at me for the next five or ten minutes. I managed to escape unscathed save my ego. Birds are scary stuff. There was a positive side to my avian assailant though. The prairies were finally interesting.

The day went on with mixed sun and cloud as I crossed into Saskatchewan.

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Feeling invigorated and making good time I opted to not stop at Eagle Valley. There may have been a little bitterness against birds of prey involved in that decision making. I decided to push as far as Gull Lake, far less scary than eagles. As the day went on I regretted the decision. Headwinds picked up, the clouds spat on me intermittently. Still I pressed on to  Gull Lake. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, there were other places to stop. It just made the most sense somehow.

The decision turned out to be a good one. The camp site was clean and well maintained, and at a cost of only 10$ was the cheapest I had seen. The staff were friendly and gave me directions to the bar  where I could procure a hot meal and “carb load”. I invited myself to sit down at the only table with people at it. They turned out to be an incredibly friendly bunch.

After swapping stories and a few pints they bought me a drink and one invited me to set up my tent in his yard. Having already paid and set up at the campground I politely declined, but accepted a further invitation for coffee the next morning. I headed back to camp suitably bushed but warmed by the friendliness and generosity of the people of Gull Lake, SK.

More random prairies.

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Day 19: Bassano to Medicine Hat 154k

Today was much the same as yesterday. More headwind though. Took me 1.5 hours to travel only 6k farther. Also some rain, though really only a light sprinkle. One distinction I will make is that when I got to the campsite it was quite well maintained. It had Wi-Fi and complete facilities. I also got to talking with my neighbour who was a 60 y/o social worker driving his motorcycle across the country to visit his parents. Gerald was quite the fellow and we had a nice chat.

I will also take this opportunity to bring up Charles Prinsep. I didn’t know him, but I did know of him as our families ran into each other from time to time when I was quite young. When planning my trip some mutual family friends informed me that he had been hit by a drunk driver and died while cycling near Brooks, AB. A town I had passed earlier today.

I don’t bring this up to scare people who are following my blog, or to discourage anyone from undertaking any sort of adventure cycling or otherwise. Anyone who undertakes anything of the sort understand there are some inherent risks.

I suppose I bring it up because I was thinking about it for much of the day. If you are so inclined there is a charity in his name ‘Charlie’s Freewheels’ they build bikes for those with trouble affording them, and educate people in bicycle maintenance.

He also had a blog the doublecross.blogspot.ca It’s more interesting than this one.

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Back to me for a second, I had cycling companions briefly today. These fellas followed me as far as they could and it put a smile on my face.

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Day 18: Calgary to Bassano 147k

A common trend I have found on the morning after rest days, especially those where I have slept in a proper bed, is that it’s impossible to get out of bed. As fulfilling as a day of cycling can be, there is a lot of pain and suffering as well. There might be no showers, or bad weather. There might be no stores where you hope. Even worse there might be nowhere to buy cold beer!

So I stayed in bed as long as I could.

I got to packing and bid Curtis farewell. After a tiring climb up one of Calgary’s hills I came to an embarrassing realization. I had forgot my water bottles. I called Curtis and sheepishly asked if he might be able to drive them to where I was. I really didn’t want to climb that hill again. I again thanked Curtis for all the help and got going.

When people speak of the prairies in terms of cycling they always say they are super sunny, hot and have huge tailwinds (if you go from west to east).

I managed to catch them when they were overcast, cold, and had strong headwinds.

The day seemed to drag on forever. I’m not sure if it was the let down of the weather, or the substantially slower speeds from wind and load. I also missed my valet, Pete.

When people speak of the prairies being boring endless flats where you can see miles in every direction they are speaking of southeast Alberta.

Pulling into Bassano did little to raise spirits. Much of the main street was shuttered. Portions at the restaurant were small and the food bland. After tucking in for the night I was awoken rudely by the sound of a train whistle. The campground was about 100 feet from an active rail corridor. This happened several times over the course of the night. In the morning I realized it would probably be part of every night through the prairies as most towns were on the highway/rail line.

This sign accurately describes how I felt about the prairies at this point.

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Here are several pictures of the amazingly varied scenery.

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Day 17: Calgary rest day

The morning was a wonderful flake out to Netflix. After I couldn’t justify being lazy any longer I ran a few more errands. The weather had perked up a bit and it was sunny and noticeably warmer than the few days previous.

I had lunch with my cousin Alex and we caught up the several years since we last saw each other.

Day 16: Kananaskis to Calgary 74k

Today marked a bittersweet part of the trip. I would be parting ways with my dear friend, travel companion, cook, and most importantly pack horse. Pete and I at last had to go our separate ways.

After breakfast he drove me up to hwy 1 and I got my bike packed up. Of course I had forgotten to adjust some things properly so I spent 10 minutes on the did of the road taking my panniers apart.

Pete snapped a few shots of my now loaded bike and I was off.

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You REALLY feel the difference between a bike being loaded and not. The most I had on my bike previous was a couple of lightly loaded panniers on the back. I haven’t had a chance to weigh it, but I imagine I have at least 40lbs of gear. Today would be short though.

After a bit of a climb I noticed a sign at the side of the road. In the mountains they have pass summit signs. In the foothills apparently they have hill signs.

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After a tiring morning I reached Calgary. I had decided it best to visit MEC to pick up some things, then go to the place I was staying as my host would be at work a little while. As an aside, the word trail used in conjunction with a roadway in Alberta means terrifying expressway with no shoulder.

Are running my errands I went and met up with Curtis and got settled. Despite having had many rest days in Kananaskis already I decided to take another one in Calgary. I had family I hadn’t seen in some time living there, and it would be nice to catch up with Curtis.

Day 13-15: Kananaskis Rest Days

Pete has some history in Kananaskis, so he was determined to share with me all that it had to offer.

Top priority was making sure I ‘bagged a peak’. So, on the first morning there we drove out to an easier peak that I would be capable of hiking and that Pete’s irritable knee would be able to handle. He chose Mount Baldy. The least hairy of the mountains.

I found it to be quite fun. It was more physically challenging than I had assumed it would be. Initially it was also quite a but scarier than I had assumed, at least at first. Despite being an ‘easy hike’ it was also very exposed. There were a number of what Pete described as ‘no fall zones’. Despite a large amount of cloud cover we got some great views and an eerie atmosphere.

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Just a couple of guys. On a mountain.

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Pete goes to Mordor.

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After checking out the view we ‘screed’ down the side. Going down the slope in a fraction of the time it took us to get up. That evening I got a final chance to spend some quality time with our fantastic hosts Duane and Becky before they left for the weekend.

The next two days were filled with relaxing and sight seeing. Between Pete’s knee acting up and poor weather we didn’t get a chance to go climbing. He did however show me many of his favorite sites in a truly beautiful and special corner of the world.

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