Firstly, thanks to all who’ve been in touch since my last blog. I was having a real tough time in those early days. I’ve read a blog by a previous participant who left the tour at a certain point (just used to cycling on his own) and spoken with a current rider who also joined a previous organised trip after months of sole riding. In essence the conclusion I’m coming too is that I just need to recognise it’s different.
Things have settled down a bit now, while still finding it hard at times I’m also also coming to recognise the good and least preferable aspects of a group trip. We have a great bunch of folk, the tour is well organised and in essence this is all about my reaction and adaptation.
Perhaps the biggest obvious difference would be that rather than there being just the two of us on the open road, on this tour, we are currently 57 riders and 13 in the support team. I’ve already spoken about how this in itself has impacted on John and me and our different riding speeds but perhaps the other really critical difference is in how local interactions do and don’t take place.
As two people in our previous trip we took regular stops and were easily approachable as we made progress on two wheels around various parts of the globe. Here, the larger group size means people, while inquisitive do not approach in the same way and even at tea/coke stops it’s much more us and them than we’ve experienced before now. I’m sure we certainly now won’t meet folk who pay for lunch before we get chance to say goodbye and say thank you! I miss the regular chai stops we had through India. It will be interesting to see if anything quite matches up to that. Let’s hope so!
On the more positive side, despite the lack of chai, it’s great not having to worry about water and calorie intake, particularly given much of our riding so far has been in a desert landscape. Last time John and I were stuck without water in a tiger reserve in India we needed to load our bikes onto a bus. Here, as water ran out we were able to flag down the support vehicle soon after. When my lips got badly sunburnt early on (yes, it looked like lip surgery gone wrong) someone in the group gave me their factor 70 lip balm. (Thanks Vince!). It’s great having that support and meeting such friendliness.
John and I have often referred to the tour quite flippantly as a “travelling circus” and boy we are travelling. We now have covered around 1400 km in 11 days of riding. We are in our second country now, there is no chance to step off and I do value my independence very highly. The freedom of the road and the ability to go with the flow on a bike, with panniers and all I need is still so important to me. Here, we get up at the same time, queue for breakfast, cycle where we are told (often on one straight road), arrive at camp, pitch tent, eat dinner and repeat… for four months.
On the last part of our trip, I planned routes, sightseeing, trains, flights and between us we decided how far we would cycle, where we would stop and how long we would stay at certain places. It will be our two weeks after arrival in Capetown before we do any of that decision making… and I’m already looking into that!
We’ll get to Capetown and it will be quite an experience. One things for sure – without the group we would not be in Sudan, either just through an element of fear or in difficulty with VISAs and this is a journey and continent I’m really looking forward to.