Hi my name’s HooKoo. I’m a fired up, old-school Garry Fisher mountain bike, part of a group making its way across the African continent.
Tasajara, Mountain Bluebell and Bumble Bee are my friends for this journey, cycled by their humans, Robbie, Mich and Jess. At time of writing we are currently just outside Khartoum, Sudan, almost 2000km and 2 months into our adventure. Unfortunately Mich Mich was not feeling too well when we left our last stop, Abri, so Mountain Bluebell and her caught a bus to Khartoum where we’ll meet them soon.
Team Bumble Bee
The last week of riding has definitely been one of my favourite so far. We have a deadline to meet getting to Khartoum and have to ride just over 100km a day. This isn’t too difficult though, as the roads are super flat and we are helped along by an enthusiastic tail wind almost every day. It feels so good to have my wheels buzzing on the smooth tar and my pedals ticking over while the desert landscapes on either sides slowly change around us.
Every morning, around 5:30am the humans crawl out of their tents to greet us, and the morning sky full of colour. Their emergence is preceded by the sudden, sharp hiss of their sleeping mats deflating.
Sunrise from the tent
They take their time packing up, eating their overnight oats and strapping their heavy bags onto our racks. By 7:30 we’re ready to hit the road.
We normally stop pretty early to refill our water containers for the day, and have a quick ‘chai’ or ‘cafee’ with a local if we’re offered. The humans are still eating copious amounts of fool (a dish made with locally grown beans, served with bread, oil, salt and salad, if they’re lucky) and stop to indulge once or twice every day, making sure to fill their pot with more to take away for supper.
The pace slows down as the sun sets and we begin to look for a secluded sleeping spot just off the road. Finding the spot is always a lot easier than actually getting there, and it takes some effort to get us over the often sandy, rocky, or hilly terrain.
Over the sand and the hills to the camping spot
Some days the loonies will unclip their cleats and slide on their running shoes for a quick exploration of the area, as if 8 hours in the saddle wasn’t enough. Other nights they’re more than happy to just lie sound the camp, gazing at the stars while discussing the day’s events. It isn’t long before they gather us all together, lock us up for the night and climb into the tents to rest before doing it all again the next day.
Although this routine may appear repetitive, it is far from boring. Each day brings new experiences, and new people, places and things to see.
Walking into night 2 accommodation
Just outside Abri we were watching lonely men walking vast expanses of empty land with their metal detectors, hoping to literally strike gold. Just before Khartoum we’re seeing streets, fuller than I’ve ever seen before, with people pushing and navigating around busy market places. We camped one night in a field with the green leafy palms above us, the next with little else than sand in all directions. Contrasts are definitely a thing on this trip.
The days are also kept exciting by small events that occur throughout. At one fool stop in the middle of nowhere, the peace was broken by a truck pulling in. The driver hopped out and ran to the back of the truck to examine the flames coming from somewhere underneath the vehicle. After assessing the situation for several moments he calmy jogged to the nearby urn to get a small 500ml bottle of water. It took him multiple trips but eventually he had splashed it out. Watching the whole ordeal was the strangest thing! Made me glad that we’re all still in such good working condition despite the heavy use we’ve endured
Bumblebee definitely has the kindest human, Jess, calmy ticking off the miles in a steady, peaceful manner. ‘Bumbling’ is the perfect word to describe it.
Angus gives me almost the complete opposite treatment, regularly careering off the road onto bumpier, hillier and more adventurous terrain. I don’t mind too much, I am a born and build mountain bike after all.
Tasajara potentially has it the worst though, as Robbie takes full advantage of his sturdy build. He’s had a rear panier rack fitted on the front and a massive crate attached over the front wheel in order to increase carrying capacity. He also has sticks strapped onto him for for attaching the solar panel and carries our water on the regular.
Tassajara stopped for a break with the humans
To get back at him a little, Tasajara decided to play a little practical joke on Robbie early one day, making him replace two of his back spokes. With 30km to catch up, the brakes were ‘somehow’ sticking without his rider knowing. Regardless, Robbie managed to catch up quickly, arriving at the next fool stop even more energetic than usual.
Sudan has a reputation as a dangerous place, but we’ve felt safe everywhere we’ve gone. The only dangerous thing, we’ve found, has been the crazy buses that fly up and down the roads we are on. The busses themselves look frightening with spikes attached to their wheels and their fronts seeming to snarl as they hurtle towards you, way faster than anyone sane would think safe. Occasionally they’ll come past, slapping you in the face with a gust of wind and sand as they do.
Trucks are a lot friendlier and come past you a good bit slower, often giving an encouraging gust of air from behind. An awesome experience was having three of them overtake in a row, allowing Angus to pull in behind the last one and stick in its slip for a good few kilometers. My anticipation of the thrilling chase and the effortless speed once tucked in behind is definitely a stand out moment from my week.
This time of year large herds of tumbleweed can be seen migrating South. They travel in formation, arching circular patterns as if caught in a whirlwind. In this way they can reach great speeds and can clear entire roads without touching the tar. Truly graceful beings.
Camels are also easily spotted close to, or even on the road. They seem to move almost in slow motion as they take long steady strides, their long necks out ahead, turning to watch us go by. Even the birds seem interested in us. We had large predatory kings of the air gliding close above us multiple times.
A horse were offered a ride on
By far the most intrigued, are the people who live in the area. Most will shout out to us or motion for us to ‘come eat.’ We have to be selective of which offers we accept or we’d never make it out of the country let alone back to South Africa.
A memorable stop involved lunch with a lawyer who treated our riders to more fresh veggies than they had seen at once on the entire trip. He then let them know that if they ever killed someone and needed to get out of jail, he was the one to call.
Another was tea with a man on the side of the road who was busy fixing his ancient but still working champion of a bakkie, but potentially the best was with a group of men and boys at a tiny isolated shop.
Fixing the Champion bakkie
They had just made Assida, a maltabella/bread hybrid. This is placed in the center of a large bowl, with a sauce (in this case made of tomato, onion and lamb) poured around it. Everyone sits around the bowl and eats with their hands, scrapping the delightfully hot and gooey substance through the suace and into their mouths. Bikes don’t really understand the concept of food but it was easy to see how much joy this particular meal brought.
With long days of riding, a good way to keep up a steady pace is pump out some good music with the communal bluetooth speaker. A wide variety of music comes from all three cell phones, but the best was definitely the Sudanese playlist featuring local artists and an album called ‘As Sweet as Broken Dates.’ When the speaker isn’t turned the silence is broken by the slightly off tune singing of late 90s and early two thousands hits, but only a couple repeated over and over again. Oh the things we endure.
With Khartoum just around the corner we look forward to resting up for a few days and meeting an additional member to the group. Every chapter of the journey brings with it a host of new experiences, and with this one coming to a close its wonderful to look back on all that’s happened so far and to look forward forward to all that is to come.