Steve's Cycling Blog

A day of three halves (Stage 33)

Relatively cool and blissfully quiet last night which made for a great sleep. There’s also lots of the wild marjoram which grows in these parts round the edge of the field we’re camped on which makes for very fragrant night time peeing.

It had cleared up completely over night which meant that the dew had continued to form and our tents were wetter than if it had rained as we were packing away.

As seems to be becoming the norm on the day before a rest day we had eggs for breakfast this morning – a welcome change from porridge.

Today was going to be our first taste of real off-road and we were all looking forward to it – much like the hills yesterday this was going to be a welcome change from the highways of the desert.

The road has been being progressively developed and improved but there’s still a 25km section which remains undeveloped which we need to traverse today. The expectation is that riders will be faster than the vehicles, so the lunch truck left at 0630 in an attempt to get through the rough section in time.

As we set off we crossed what is clearly a very new bridge – the old ‘floating bridge’ is still on the banks below, and even the map shows a dotted line in the highway.

It was nice light when we were first out on the road, with some impressive scenery around us so there were a few photo stops along the way. I think that Julian has a couple of photos of me I must try to get from him.

By the time we got to the rough section I’d pulled away from the other rider’s I’d started the day with so I continued on also catching Paul and Italo shortly after hitting the dirt.

Before long we had started to climb as well and it was great fun. There were very few other vehicles on the road – I played leap-frog with one motorcycle for a while, and we saw a few of the service taxis coming towards us – charging along as usual, one even had a coffin, presumably full, on the roof – as Essen put it, it seemed like the guy was rushing to his own funeral!

I caught the lunch truck at kilometre 36.5 as they were bouncing over one particularly rough section – talking with those who had been in there at lunch they pretty much all agreed that they should have ridden their bikes rather than the truck.

One of the definite bonuses about this being a dirt track is that it’s pretty much all still shaded. Despite the shade with the combination of high humidity and the climbing it was pretty sweaty work getting up the hill so the occasional descents were great to cool down some.

Dominic came past me at one stage, and I’d been playing leap-frog with Julian all morning. As we continued to climb I also caught Paeye and Kees – Paeye had been for a tumble, though thankfully at low speed and with no harm done other than being a little dirtier.

I’d just finished thinking ‘I hope Max stops at the end of the dirt so I can get some water’ when I came round the next corner and found Max there, so though he’d been faster than the lunch truck I still caught him at kilometre 42.

A couple of kilometres before the end of the dirt I met an excavator, then a grader and roller – it seems the road might be coming. Both the equipment and a number of the road crew appeared to be Chinese, so perhaps as has happened elsewhere around these parts the Chinese are funding the road (usually in return for access to natural resources).

I stopped at the end of the dirt just as Julian caught me again. There was no sign of Dominic, so we presumed that he’s continued on. Just before the end of the dirt I noticed that there was a new track cut down to a river by the road workers so I went back and had a welcome wash – with the dusty and sweaty conditions it was well needed.

Other riders continued to arrive, and then Max also got in. He refilled water bottles for people and Julian, Paeye and Kees decided they weren’t going to wait for lunch but continue on. Italo and I decided we’d wait so followed Max down to the spot he’s selected for lunch. End of half one of the day.

I ate my peanut butter sandwich from breakfast and was on the brink of continuing on when the lunch truck came in so I decided to continue waiting. By the time lunch was actually ready I was beginning to think I’d made the wrong decision – I ended up waiting for over an hour and a half while the day continued to get hotter – we also still had the best part of 70km to get done.

A number of us set off from lunch together but I was soon pulling away from them, and after passing a couple of other riders who had left lunch before me I didn’t see anyone else until I got in to the hotel at the end of the day.

The pull up to the ‘top of the climb’ and the end of the second half of the day was through some interesting countryside and a number of smaller villages. The villages all seem to be in valleys – I guess that’s where the water is – but it means that they are at the end of a descent and unfortunately they all have a number of pretty vicious speed bumps in them which rather takes the fun out of the descent.

From there to the end of the day looked like it should be relatively smooth going, but in the end the undulations were significantly larger than they’d looked on the scale of the elevation profile, and they just seemed to keep coming! We were also working into an increasingly strong headwind which was slowing things down as well.

When we crossed into Guinea Max had said that we may find people calling Porto at us – this is the local slang for ‘white person’ as the first white people to turn up in this part of the world were Portuguese. Until this afternoon I hadn’t noticed it, but did a number of times as I was passing. This reminded me of visits to Tonga where the local children would see you walking down the road and ask ‘where you going palangi?’. The idea that we might just be going for a walk was totally bizarre to them – I suspect the same may be true for many of the people who see us pass here.

The last 20km in just didn’t seem to want to end and by the time I got to the round about in Labe I was ready for the day to be done. The turn at least put the wind behind me which definitely helped. I was hopeful that I might find ice-cream so pulled in to a couple of the larger service stations which I passed, but no such luck.

Finally in to the hotel to complete the third half of the day – I’d have been more than happy to have stopped after the first two halves 😉

The hotel we’re at isn’t really in the town – I’d passed back out the city gates on the other side before I eventually found it. It’s clearly seen more prosperous times, with a significant ‘tower block’ which now appears to be closed up. Even the rooms we’re using have the aroma of recently re-opened.

There had been talk of finding a room in a hotel actually in town, but in the end the hassle of finding somewhere, getting there, and then getting back again by 0630 on the morning out of here was too much for me to be bothered – the Kevin’s and a number of other people have opted for rooms at this hotel, but the smell of damp / mould / mildew / closed up was enough to put me off so I’ve put my tent up.

The dinner truck with our bags still wasn’t in when I got here so I took the time to get my bike clean and have a beer whilst waiting. Once it arrived I got my tent up and had a shower and a shave by which time the Kevins had arrived so a few more beers were required.

I had chicken and chips for dinner – I knew the chicken was fresh because it had been clucking under the tree beside where my tent is when I arrived. Still hoping for ice-cream I wandered back up the road to the nearest service station, but still no luck – I had to settle for biscuits.

It’s been a long seven riding days this week, so despite the option of beverages most of us opted for a reasonably early night.

View from my tent

Selfie of the day

Riding data

Total distance: 115.1 kmTotal Time: 07:37:41
Max elevation: 1048 mMin elevation: 137 m
Total climbing: 1796 mTotal descent: -959 m
Average speed: 15.09 km/hMaximum speed: 82.08 km/h

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