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(40) Sore-da-knees

January 10, 2013

Wednesday 26th December

We packed our bags knowing it was going to be a long day. We were about to cross a 110 mile stretch of desert formally known as ‘the death road’ because of it originally being a sand road where people would get stuck or lost and never come out alive. Fortunately for us it was now tarmaced and used by lorries and buses between Dongola and Karima. We picked up fuel from the garage and retraced our steps back through the green fields and fruit trees over the Nile. We reached the highway and turned south. As we did so, we could feel the wind on our backs pushing us along.

After 20 miles the road turned east into the desert and the tail wind became a very strong head/cross wind. Our speed dropped instantly and along with it the effort needed to move forward became more like climbing a long alpine climb without the veiws or the down hill as reward. We went past a 170km (107 miles) sign to Karima and having only covered 20 miles we had to ride as much of the day as possible so to not run out of our limited water. We could only physically carry approx 17 litres of water for the 2 days it would take us.

The original desert nomads

The original desert nomads

We had covered 40 miles when the sun was at its most intense, so we found an Acacia tree to shelter us and took a well needed rest. We decided to wait a while as we knew the wind usually dropped in the evening and with a full moon that night it would hopefully turn out to be perfect cycling conditions. Although it was hot we enjoyed the desert with the quiet roads and smooth tarmac.  We would ride along watching the horizon slowly change, passing the odd bush or camel and watch as the lonely white km markers guarding the road like little white centuries, would pass by every few minutes. We rode on for a couple of hours and with the wind now reduced to a light breeze we stopped to cook before we lost all the day’s light.

Coloured rocks along the road

Coloured rocks along the road

Shadows of 2 lone cyclists

Shadows of 2 lone cyclists

We sat on the side of the road – Tim assured Sharon this would be fine as we hadn’t seen any vehicles for an hour or more. As we produced the stove and started to peel the onions we found ourselves being passed by what felt like a week’s worth of traffic. After a while of messing around with the stove, which was still playing up, we were finally able to eat our meal. Trying to breathe life in to the old feller involved stripping half of it apart, cleaning its jets and finally resorting to loosening the jet off, which in turn made everything black including us. Not wanting to use much water, we used sand to clean the worst of it and rinsed it off before packing away.

We rode on into the night and watched in awe as the moon started to rise in front of us. It was amazing. A deep mustard moon slowly rose lighting up our surroundings until it was high enough to be almost as bright as daylight. We rode in the silver light chatting about home and all the things we missed, along with our favourite meals of-course. We made the most of the light breeze and quiet roads. It felt magical like we were on a giant treadmill with the white lines moving underneath us and the scenery barely changing. As the time approached 10pm, Tim’s knee started to get painful but with around 60 miles still to cover before Karima we slowly continued for a while longer until 11pm before finding a spot to camp. It was a perfect place and we had managed to cover 80 miles most of which was into strong winds. It had been a hard day but worth the effort. Knowing the wind would return in the morning, we pitched our little pod and passed out in this amazing lunar landscape.

Thursday 27th December

Waking up for rush hour

Waking up to rush hour

Alone in the desert

All packed and ready to go

As soon as the sun came up we could hear the wind getting stronger. We were pleased we had ridden the extra 20 miles the night before but almost wished we had ridden further. It had been hard riding yesterday and Tim’s knee was still sore.  We got on the road and it became clear from the start he wouldn’t be able to ride very well with the pain. Sharon sheltered him from the wind but with it being so strong we could only ride at around 5-8mph. We would stop every few miles to try and loosen the muscles and rest.

Tim enjoying the wind

Tim enjoying the wind

We kept going and spotted a large very well loaded truck where the driver and his mate were having lunch. We asked if they had any water and they invited us to join them. They shared their felafel which they had cooked on a tiny fire in the sand and also gave us a sweet crumbly substance very similar to a crumbly fudge. We said our thanks and rode on.


This is how to load a lorry!

We needed to do another 35 miles to reach the town and it felt twice as far. It wasn’t until 3pm that we finally reached civilisation and spotted the Pyramids we had come to see. The site is known as Jebel Barkal and it served as a royal cemetery during the Meroitic Kingdom. The earliest burials date back to the 3rd century BC. They were magnificent, standing alone in the heat of the desert. We were the only ones there and took our time looking around. Did you know that there are more Pyramids in Sudan than there are in Egypt?

Arriving at the Pyramids

Arriving at the Pyramids

We made our way into town and spotted a nice looking hotel.  We enquired but at £100 a night we gave it a miss and went on to find something closer to our price range. We arrived in the centre and passed a few boys playing in the street; we waved and said hello. As we continued we saw small rocks hitting the road next to us. We shouted at them as they were a bit too close. Tim went back just as they all ran off. He informed one of the shop keepers who said he was sorry for their behaviour and we left hoping something would be said to the boys. We finally tracked a hotel down after having a few more stones thrown at us by another group of kids and spent the rest of the day trying to sort out the stove and resting. We enjoyed watching a film in the hotel office before heading to bed shattered.

Friday 28th December

We both spent the day resting with Tim taking painkillers and rubbing bio freeze into his knee. We did manage to back up our photos and strip the stove, using a garage airline to blow out any stubborn grit. Tim also managed to grind down an old screwdriver he had found on the road turning it into a spoke tool to assist him when he would rebuild his wheels in Khartoum.

We enjoyed the break; lying around eating fudge and eating out in a rather run down cafe that served incredibly delicious chicken. It was a whole chicken served on its own with a few onions and bread. It tasted great and with extra salt on the crispy skin we were happy it didn’t taste anything like tinned tuna. As we made our way back to the hotel we met an Eritrean man called Danuel who was working in town on the telecoms system and was staying at our hotel. We sat and joined him for a coffee in the square, it was interesting to hear about his views on the north African country’s some of which we wish we hadn’t heard but we suppose its all part of the adventure. He offered us a lift back via the bridge we would cross the next day so we knew where we were going. We reached the hotel and not needing to rush to pack as we were leaving later the next day, we sat in our room enjoying more fudge and a good film on the laptop.

Kids playing football in Karima

Kids playing football in Karima

Saturday 29th December

Tim woke up feeling a lot better, his knee was still a bit tight but the rest had clearly helped. We hung around finishing the washing, repacking our kit and panicking because we had lost our bike lock only to find it on the bed under Tim’s shorts.
We left it until 2.30pm before heading out to make the most of the lower temperature and light wind. We picked up fresh bread and falafel, filled the water bag and added a few more bottles of water for good measure for our next desert crossing to the town of Atbarah. This one would be over 165 miles (260km) with no marked settlements so enough water was our biggest worry.  As we rode out of town we passed some young kids. We waved hoping it would distract them from picking up stones but noticed one picking up a fist sized lump of concrete. Tim warned Sharon as it bounced on the road next to us. We had made some distance between them and the remainder of the stones could be heard skating across the tarmac behind us. We passed the place where we had had this problem entering the town to see a few more kids, one of whom we recognised. None of them picked up a stone and we assumed they had been told off.
We continued past the Pyramids and made our way to the bridge. We found the road heading south for Khartoum and were very tempted to head straight there feeling a bit fed up, tired and annoyed at our experience with the kids. We stopped for some lunch and managed to put it in prospective, deciding it was just the kids that had contributed to our mood and everyone else around us were so welcoming and always wanting to help us.  We soon reached the desert road after stopping for a coke.
Heading out into the desert once more
Heading out into the desert once again
We covered 25 miles before stopping for dinner, refuelling for the next stretch in the dark. The stove was still playing up and we were nervous that we might have to survive on raw pasta. It wasn’t long after lighting it that another mustard coloured full moon started to rise. We could have sat and watched it for hours, so we did by bicycle. As we rode, it lit the way. It was good going and we rode until 11 pm then feeling shattered we rode into the desert out of sight of the road, pitched the tent and passed out exhausted.
A moon lit camp
Our moon lit camp
Sunday 30th December

After us both having slept really well we woke with the sun warming the tent. It was 9 am and with a cool breeze still blowing we got up had a brew accompanied by bread and jam and got on the road. We rode for an hour covering 12 miles and stopped for cupper at a mud shack.

A truck stop

A truck stop

It was hard to tell where all the people came from as there was a tiny school just down the road that we were told had 80 children attending it.

A goat herder and his flock

A goat herder and his flock

We rode on for another hour spotting a good tree with good shade – it was 38 degrees.  We parked the bikes and lay out the ground sheet protector. Tim noticed a thorn went straight through with ease and made a note not to put the water bag down on the ground and to check our tyres; we were sure we would meet them again. We lay in the shade having lunch and as the day’s temperature started to drop we got back on the road. Out of the shade it felt hot again and took a while to get used to the temperature.

Tim riding in the intense heat

Tim riding in the intense heat

Carrying water back to the village

Taking water back to the village

We picked up water from a shack which would need filtering and continued on trying to find a water hole we had seen on google earth, which looked like a great place to have our evening meal. With an hour and a half of light remaining, we left the highway and rode a couple of miles through the desert to an outcrop of rocks.  Tim left the bikes and Sharon and spent the next hour trying to find it with no luck. It took a while to get back to Sharon, who was beginning to worry where Tim was, so we stayed to cook tea before making the most of the cool temperatures and doing a few more miles. As we sat and ate we could see the road off in the distance which looked strange as the lights from the cars didn’t seem to move until finally they would disappear over the horizon. With the sun now set we were in darkness and it took a while to make our way back over the sandy plain to the road.  We were grateful for the GPS as it led us back to our tyre marks which disappeared now and then and would have made finding the road tricky without it.

As we neared the road an orange glow started to appear behind us to reveal itself as the moon, once again lighting up the landscape around us. We pushed our bikes up onto the highway and continued on for another 25 miles. We would play games guessing how long it would take for the next set of head lights in the distance to reach us from the distant horizon and at times would to our surprise be more than 10 minutes. We finally gave in to tiredness and rode off the highway across the sand to find a spot to camp. It felt weird as there was nothing around us other then a large flat plan; no bushes or trees to hide behind. We pitched the tent, had a quick jam sandwich and passed out once again exhausted.

Monday 31st December

Waking up around 9am Tim got up and put the kettle on and started to load the bikes. Sharon hadn’t slept that well as she kept waking up thinking she heard someone near the bikes, finding it was just the wind. We got going after packing up in the strong wind that was now blowing hard and in the wrong direction. We fought our way along the highway in the strong cross winds noticing the temperature rising and the landscape producing false lakes from the heat haze. During the morning we passed our 8,000th mile and celebrated by eating some fudge – what a place to do it in!
'Lakes' created by the heat haze
False lakes produced by the heat haze
Celebrating passing our 8,000th mile
Celebrating passing our 8,000th mile
We only needed to cover 55 miles to get to Atbara so stopped at a small shack and drank chi and coke. We were both shattered and struggling in the heat, so went on to find another large tree to lie under to escape the rising temperature. We spotted a good place after a while and with the temperature pushing 40 degrees it wasn’t a moment too soon. Our longer lunch breaks also gave Tim’s knee time to rest.
Lunch stop under a tree

A snap shot of our lunch breaks

Tim fell asleep on the ground sheet while Sharon tried to beat her PB on harbourmaster (but didn’t). We had a light lunch but now getting very low on water and food we had to make it to town. We left the shelter of the tree by 3pm but even though the intensity of the sun was waning it was still 37 degrees. We rode on for a few more hours and finally spotted the Nile valley in front of us and couldn’t believe how green everything looked in comparison to the desert. We could even smell it with birds singing, frogs croaking and donkeys doing what donkeys do it felt strange but familiar. We rode into town this time without a stone in sight and many friendly faces, we felt we could relax.
Entering the Nile valley at Atbara
Entering the Nile valley at Atbarah
A traditional way of kiln drying bricks in Atbarah
A traditional way of kiln drying bricks in Atbarah
After the second hotel we looked at, we found a great one – clean and with wifi. We walked the streets in search of food and water. It was New year’s eve and we celebrated by eating syrup cake whilst chatting to Cath (Sharon’s sister) and her husband Chaz who were drinking champagne with friends!
It had been 7 months since we left our home in England. This journey has been tough in places but we have really enjoyed our experiences.  What a year we have had!
Thanks to everyone who has sponsored us, the many words of encouragement and of-course for reading! We hope you’ve enjoyed this post and we wish you all a Happy New Year. If you would like to sponsor us by making a donation to ShelterBox, you can click on the ‘sponsor us’ page at the top. See you next time!
10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2013 12:04 pm

    Brilliant! I really love the photos that go along with the narrative. The mirage of ‘lakes’ was amazing. The moon-lit rides must have been interesting. Sharon – I am amazed that your episodes of wind managed to wake you from sleep! Maybe ease up on the fudge?

  2. stephanie permalink
    January 10, 2013 12:31 pm

    What amazing photos. I love the story of the moon in mustard color! What an amazing sight it must be. Sorry for the little hooligans throwing stones, that sounds unpleasant, Tim I hope your knee is better soon! Happy new year! Steph & Chris

  3. Charles Robinson permalink
    January 10, 2013 12:50 pm

    Hey guys

    Hope all is going well!! Still loving the updates. What is Sharon’s pb on harbourmaster :p I’m suprised you have time to play with chasing the kids away and the police and then of course just cycling.. Hope tims knee feels better soon!! Looks like you both have good tans! I bet the tan lines leave a bit to be desired though

    Happy cycling

  4. Mum and Dad Pitts permalink
    January 10, 2013 6:47 pm

    Hope your knee gets better soon Tim. Glad you managed to dodge the stones .Beautiful sunsets and attractive cyclists!!! !Take care LOTS of love Mum and Dad XXXXWe love your Blog titles. who thinks of them?

  5. Sara permalink
    January 10, 2013 8:09 pm

    I marvel at you both cycling in that heat and such long distances too between watering holes. Fab photo’s and interesting facts (pyramids in Sudan), you are educating me as you travel. Thanks and look after your knee Tim. WELL DONE on the mileage – awesome. Missed you both for our winter Tipi outing but raised a glass in your absence. Lots of love Sara xx

  6. January 10, 2013 8:39 pm

    Enough already! Here I am, back in Blightly with yet more rain lashing against the windows, the wind rattling the roof tiles, and you’re all about the sun and moonlit deserts … Grump!

    Take it easy with the knee, Tim.

  7. Janx permalink
    January 10, 2013 8:49 pm

    Wow what a ride. I love the photo of you Sharon looking out of the tent at the desert. You look so brown. I would love some heat right now but 40 degrees might be pushing it somewhat. Lots of love Janx

  8. becs permalink
    January 11, 2013 2:49 pm

    you guys looking like proper travellers, oooaarggh; tanned n hairy; thats sharon, then tim in that order 😉 Wow 8,000 miles!!!! thats amazing guys 🙂 would love to join you for a one of your lunch stops btw, they look very relaxing and warm ;). moonlit camps looks magical, keep up the awesome pedalling! Love n hugs, b xxx

  9. Joe permalink
    January 14, 2013 9:17 am

    Hi guys, what an amazing journey you are having. The pictures are great I feel that I am touring with you and your blog is fantastic with little bits of info. I am really jealous in a good way I would love to do what you guys doing. I would like to meet you guys one day you are amazing keep those pedals turning.

  10. January 14, 2013 10:47 am

    Hey guys, Hope you’re doing well. Haven’t heard from you since New Years, but we’ve come back to khartoum after a week in Dinder. We’re trying to drive eritrea-djibouti-ethiopia, but the visawork is proving extremely tricky! Can’t raise you on sudanese or UK numbers, but give us a shout on mine if you’re about! Love the blog,

    Tom & Rich
    (the idiots on wartime motorbikes above)

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