May 2, 2017

TDA2009 ended in Cape Town on May 9 after 12,000 km

The TDA2009 ended in Cape Town on May 9.  Earlier, on March 18 Paul took a fall, sustained a compound fracture of the ulna of his right forearm, and returned to the United States for surgery.  At the time he was about 125km north of Iringa in southern Tanzania, just over half way to Cape Town.  His intentions are to complete the expedition in 2010.

Please visit the blogs and view pictures posted below.  The most recent postings are first with previous posts following.  Blogs are also categorized date and by country (see panel to the right).

Here are some highlights (click on the specific calendar date or country on the right panel to view/hear):

Food and Agriculture –

Flying to Cairo, Egypt:  January 8 (reflection on food at the MSP Airport)

Food production in Cairo, Egypt:  January 9  (urban ag)

First ride day in Egypt:  January 10  (little ag, desert)

Luxor, Egypt:  January 15  (local ag)

South of Wadi Halfa, Sudan: January 21  (center pivots)

Dongola, Sudan:  January 25  (Falafel)

Desert camp, Sudan: January 27 (Twinkies)

Along Blue Nile east of Khartoum, Sudan, January 31 (great soil)

Between Matema and Gondor, Ethiopia:  February 4 (pastureland)

Lake Tana Plain, near Werota, Ethiopia:  February 7 (great ag)

Juicie at Debre Markos, Ethiopia:  February 11 (Teff and juicies)

South of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:  February 17 (Ensete – false banana)

Farming mountainsides near Yabello, Ethiopia: February 22 (Konso terraces)

Northern Kenyan south of Moyale:  February 25 (bush)

Spectacular agriculture coming into Nanyuki, Kenya:  March 4 (wheat)

Into Nairobi, Kenya: March 6 (Thika – Del Monte pineapple and waterfalls)

Southern Kenya, on border with Tanzania:  March 8 (eco-charcoal)

North of Dodoma, Tanzania:  March 15 (diversity of crops)

South of Dodoma, Tanzania:  March 17 (last full ride day)

Tough Ride Days –

Into Gondor, Ethiopia: February 5 (mountains and elevation)

Blue Nile Gorge, Ethiopia:  Febraury 12 (time trial)

Two falls coming into Arba Minch, Ethiopia:  February 19 (spills)

Rain in the Dida Galgalu Desert, Kenya:  February 26 (lava rock camp)

One day from Isiolo, Kenya: March 2 (brutal)

Into Isiolo, Kenya:  March 3 (more brutal)

Bike failure coming into Arusha, Tanzania:  March 9 (broken stem)

The Fall and Return to the United States –

Quote from Cat Stevens song ‘Father and Son’: March 18 (broken arm)

So hard to say goodbye: March 19

Flight home:  March 21

Summary of past week:  March 25

Miscellaneous –

The importance of Ernest:  Febuary 5

Reflections of trip to date, Arusha, Tanzania:  March 11 (61 of 120 days)

Impressions that stick in my mind: April 22

A message to TDA2009 riders:  May 9

Video links:  May 26

Impressions that stick in my mind

I was asked to give a 15 minute presentation to a University of Minnesota class (Agro/AnSc3203 Environment, Global Food Production and the Citizen) on April 7th. This is what I said:

Steve and Mike have asked me to speak for about 15 minutes regarding my recent experiences in Africa, and to touch on a couple of events that really stick in my mind about those experiences. I was with a group of about 60 people of which about 45 were intent on riding their bicycles from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa – a distance of just under 12,000 kilometers. The group departed on January 10th and intends to finish on May 9th – 120 days after starting. Some people in the group raced on selected days. Others were intending to do ‘Every Fantastic Inch’ and gain the distinction of being ‘EFI’. Others knew they would not pedal every day, all the way, and were quite content to ride one of the two support trucks from time to time. We were about 40% female and 60% male. Ages ranged from 18 to 70, and no, I am not the 70 year old.

On Wednesday, March 18th – after about 6,000 kilometers or 3,700 miles, after passing through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and most of Tanzania, and just over half way to Cape Town – I had an unfortunate dismount and ended up with a broken bone in my right forearm. I failed to see a sizeable hole in the road and ended up not being able to keep the rubber side down. My landing was a skid rather than a roll. Skids generally are rougher on the body than rolls. I broke a bone in my right arm. Because the broken bone, the ulna, was a compound fracture, meaning the broken bone broke through the skin, I had substantial bleeding and needed to seek medical assistance beyond the capabilities of the paramedics riding with the group. I was relatively fortunate to arrive at the Iringa Regional Hospital in southern Tanzania only 7 hours later and have immediate attention. X-rays were taken, they put me under with a general anesthetic, the wound was cleaned, several stitches patched the punctured skin, and a splint was put on to immobilize the arm. Further surgery was necessary to re-connect the broken bone and bone chips. After spending the night at the Iringa Hospital, the next day I was flown to Nairobi, Kenya in a Flying Doctors airplane. I spent Thursday night and most of Friday at the Aga Kahn University Hospital before departing on a midnight flight back to Minneapolis-St. Paul. The total time in transit was about 30 hours, due to layovers in London and Chicago. I arrived at Regions Hospital in St. Paul late Saturday night, and by early Sunday morning – 4 days after the accident – Dr. Thuan Ly, an orthopedic surgeon and University of Minnesota assistant professor at Regions Hospital, had patched up my broken bone. A metal plate and several screws reconnected the broken bone. I imagine I will – in the future – always set off airport metal detectors. Just yesterday the sutures along the 4.5 inch incision were removed. Physical therapy is going well, and I expect to gain full functionality of the arm in 6 to 8 weeks.

So now let me talk about several events – 4 specifically – that come to mind regarding this effort to ride a bicycle across Africa while at the same time co-teaching a course here on the St. Paul campus entitled ‘Food and Agriculture from Cairo to Cape Town at 10 mph’. The first event occurred before I even left the States, the second in Ethiopia, the third in Kenya, and the fourth after my return to the States.

Last December, during finals week, Maggie (who co-teaches the class with me) and I held a meeting first with students and then with faculty guest lecturers associated with the course we were to teach this semester. The intent was to give the students a chance to meet me, and the guest lecturers a better idea of the structure of the course. So we did that, but after we wrapped up the meeting one of the students who I had met only one time previously came up to me and simply said “I want to shake your hand.” I want to shake your hand. That comment meant a lot to me, and later in Africa I thought about it numerous times while riding. But at that point I hadn’t done anything, only dreamed of doing something. Why would a student who doesn’t know me except for two brief encounters say ‘I want to shake your hand’? I realized then that this course, this ride, this dream, could touch people – and in a way already had, even though we hadn’t even begun. That comment gave me confidence that regardless of the future, I could and would have an impact, a positive and perhaps even profound impact, on informing folks about food, agriculture and people in Africa.

Let me now talk about Ethiopia. Of the 10 countries we were to visit, we would spend the most time (about 3 weeks) in Ethiopia. There we would test the extremes – good roads, poor roads; deserts and mountains; oppressive heat at lower elevations and chilling coolness at higher elevations; lonely, peaceful roads and roads packed with people, animals and vehicles. Diarrhea and other sicknesses would run through our group, sparing no one. I was forewarned about the kids, their numbers and their behavior, but still I was not prepared. How could one be? The kids – and I say kids because well over half the people we see along the roads are young, under 15 – are notorious for talking to the ‘foreignis’ or foreigners saying “you, you, you, you, you” or “money, money, money, money”, “birr”, “give me”. On uphills they will run (or walk) along side you, and if you are not careful and attentive you will lose a water bottle or something out of your back pack. They want and crave attention, as we all do. But there are so many of them, and it goes on day after day. Many of these kids are desperately poor and malnourished. Most of these kids have herded livestock at some point in their lives. Many typically carry a stick, and most have used stones to keep the livestock in line and under control. Almost every day there would be bikers who had stones thrown at them and every day some were hit. More feared than the rocks were the sticks, especially if they were swung at the biker or thrown at their bikes. It got old, and some bikers got cuts and burses. I took numerous direct hits, but nothing that left a physical mark.

So one day I stop to take a picture. Usually I try to stop where there are not too many people or, if possible, no people. But predictably, if one stops, kids materialize out of nowhere and are there watching you and talking to you. It can get annoying. On this day I was tired, hungry, and nearly out of water. I took a picture or two of some fields, then turned back to grab my water bottle. There I see this young boy, with a school note pad in hand. He says “good morning” even though it’s well into the afternoon. I say “hello”. I drink some water and let out a sigh. He looks at me and says ‘tired?’ Yes, I say, and hungry and sore – but I am quite certain he doesn’t understand my words, but he understands what he sees. He looks at me intensely as I mount my bike. Then he rustles in his pocket and takes out a piece of candy which I suspect had been saved for a fair bit of time. He offers it to me. I say thank you but no thanks. How could I take his gift? I want to offer him a PVM energy bar, but I don’t. TDA encourages a policy of not giving in this fashion which I agree with, and I don’t give him anything. As I rode away from that boy, I cried. His generosity rekindled my faith in the human race.

Ok, on to an experience in Kenya. We are one day south of Marsabit, camped near Laisamis, at a boarding school. It is a little before 5:00 a.m., and I have rumblings of diarrhea. I put on my head lamp and wander toward the school and its latrines. After doing what I had to do, I notice there are now lights on in the class rooms, so I wander over to them and go inside. Pretty barren, about 35 to 40 desks, a blackboard in front and a blackboard in back, lots of windows and that is about it. Students start shuffling in. I go into another classroom and this one has two posters on the back wall – the only two posters in the room. One of the posters is the periodic table, with more elements on it than when I last looked at a periodic table. The other poster grabbed me. It was a 2 foot by 3 foot poster advertisement of a book published by the Oxford Press on Global Climate Change. The poster made me realize that we in the developed world won’t be able to hide on this and similar issues as people around the world become better educated. In the United States we have less than 5% of the world’s population, yet consume over 25% of the world’s natural resources – many of those natural resources coming to the United States cheaply thanks to less than equitable trading terms.

‘As people around the world become better educated’ that will change. That brings me to my final event that I will talk about today. Last week I was over in Brooklyn Center / Brooklyn Park getting a spare key made for the family car. I happened to spot a small shop called the “African Deli”. I thought why not stop in and see what is on the menu. So that is what I did. I went up to the counter and looked at the menu – interesting stuff, mostly because I had no clue what it said, what it was. I asked and was told they were names of food from Nigeria, Liberia and another West African country I have since forgotten. Ingredients included cassava leaves, various bean and fufu like products. I got a beef pie to go, and as I paid up I heard the TV on over in the upper corner of the dining area. It said ‘you are listening to Al Jazeera English.’ I turned to the owner and asked in amazement “you get that station here?” Yes, he said, from the satellite, and then he added almost apologetically, ‘it is sort of like CNN…. We like to watch it because it tells it like it is – if you are black it says you are black, if you are white it says you are white.’

While in Africa, specifically Egypt and Sudan, I had seen numerous small cafes and restaurants with one TV on and groups of men watching it – both at lunch time and later in the evenings. There they were watching Al Jazeera in Arabic.

Referring to the Al Jazeera station he was watching, the “African Deli” owner went on to say “They say stuff you don’t hear on CNN.”

I responded “but stuff we should hear.”

“Exactly” was his reply.

‘As people around the world become better educated’ there is reason to have hope for the human race.

March 2: Brutal Ride Day – Finding the Sweet Spot

Biked: 87 K Elevation: 850 masl
Bush camp along road north of Isiolo

We are maybe one days ride from Isiolo. Brutal sums up the day. Absolutely brutal. Because of our low elevation last night, the evening never really cooled off and I had a hard time sleeping. We only had 87 kilometers to travel today, but the roads continue to be rocky, gravely, and sandy. My body was sore and my health could be better. I had a hard time maintaining any sort of speed across the bumps and once slowed it was hard to have any advantage of wind cooling my body. I felt somewhat unstable on the bike and resigned myself to walking the sandiest and rockiest parts.

The 87 kilometer took me over 9 hours to complete. Do the math and that is an incredibly slow pace. I was one of the last to finish. I believe the sun and heat was taking a toll on me.

One of the challenges for me, and everybody, on riding this type of road is to be able to find the “sweet spot” – to be able to look ahead and see which path or rut has the least sand or rough rock to power through. Sometimes there are only two ruts or paths. Other times there are four or more. One does not want to spend too much time wandering back and forth instead of going forward, but one does want to keep on the sweet spot when possible. This is more so true for one on a fixed frame bike, as opposed to a mountain bike with front wheel suspension. Those with suspension can flow more smoothly over the bumps.

In any case, it was a rough day for me. After the ride I felt sick but did manage to drink two cups of soup. Dinner however was another story. I had no desire to eat. Instead I went to bed early (by 7:00p.m.). Our elevation tonight is about 850 masl and is has fortunately cooled slightly.

One more day’s ride on these rough roads until we get to Isiolo. I look so forward to Isiolo.

There was no crop agriculture today. Just Savanna bush, scattered herds of cattle, goats, and camels.

Jan.11: The Race and Riding

Biked: 168 K Elevation: 8 masl
Desert camp on the Gulf of Suez near Ras Gharib

Last evening after the ride meeting there was a separate meeting for people that want to race. (I’ll briefly explain the race, but suggest readers check the TDA website for more information.) Riders have to decide and declare that they are racing. Racers don’t have to race every day, and not all days are race days. Some days only a portion of the ride that day is timed. All racers start at the same time in the morning. (The only exception is to this is when there are time trials.) Times are recorded at the start and end of that day’s stage.

An advantage for me to be a “racer” is that I ride in a group, or peloton, of really fast riders, and the riding day gets over much quicker. The disadvantage is that I feel compelled to stay with the peloton and not stop to take pictures or talk to people. Once dropped from the peloton, I wouldn’t be able to catch them again.

I decided last evening to sign up as a racer, but I don’t intend on racing every day, and I don’t really care how I finish in the overall standings. There are many stronger riders than I, and they can battle it out. One other disadvantage of being a racer is that my times will be posted, along with other racers, on the TDA website. Check out that site in the future to see how long I took each day. If I start early (before the other racers) it is on automatic penalty and a 12 hour time for that day is assessed.

So today was the first race day and I was happy to be able to stay with the lead peloton until the last 4 kilometers. Times were very fast, in part due to a 16 kilometer descent to the Gulf of Suez at the start of the day, but mainly due to a terrific tail wind.

Today was a long day- we raced about 130 kilometers of the 168 kilometer total. That’s a lot of rambling about the race. I promise I won’t dwell on it so much in the future.

The race gave me something to talk about. As far as agriculture and agroecosystems I observed- Nada, Zippo, Zilch. Not one planted field or animal the entire day. No agroecosystem today, just a desert ecosystem. Some shrub plants (brown from the blowing sand), but I was struck by the total absence of anything green.

There were also very few villages or farms. Numerous resorts along the Gulf, but they were typically walled off. One indication that this ecosystem hasn’t always been desert is the presence of massive oil facilities we pass by. More on that later. In the evening a number of us walked 500meters or so to the Gulf of Suez for a brief swim. The water was cold, like a Minnesota lake late in May, but the need for a bath after two days of riding was cleansing to say the least.