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Cycling the “Roof of Ethiopia” a “Velvet Fist in an Iron Glove”

article by Fred Horny 

After many discussions in the winter with my friend Guillaume, the choice is done! We gonna head to Ethiopia. Trails full of perfume of the Orient, Burning incense odors, and big mountains not really known for mountain biking.

Simple plan on the paper : Starting from Bahir Dar ( Blue Nile Springs ) to join the roof of Ethiopia, the Ras Dashen ( 4543 m ). 450 km to pedal on the way.

After some little troubles at the airport, here we are, pedalling along Lake Tana towards north of the country. Unseen landscapes, nice people, evrything is here for a great adventure. Event the traditional Turista, who stops us to sleep in a village after a first ride of 70 km by 35 degrees.

It gives us some time to admire the beautiful colors of the rising sun on the Barley and wheat cultivation.

Three days later we arrive in Debark ( 2850 m ), the entry of the trekking Mecqua in Africa. We sleep in a small lodge several days, waiting to get all the authorizations and access to the Simien mountains, first parc classed by the Unesco in the history.

Dawit my local contact since months is a bit desperate. Despite the promises we got in the summer, we won’t be allowed to get into the parc if we don’t have a 4×4 vehicle following us.

Actually, the only mandatory thing to enter is to be with a “Scout”, sort of war veteran armed by an AK 47 who will protect us from wild animals or any other possible assault (really rare). He won’t walk all the way, and it’ not possible to rent an horse. I don’t know if I’m a purist, but being followed by a car doesn’t make me … really happy. I want to stop, just in principle.

But we are here because of these mountains.

I accept.

The old Land Cruiser is gonna follow us the three first days. Worgo, the scout will follow us or let us alone on some trails depending on each spot. Firew, the driver, looks straight out from american TV action series with his perfect english.

The first stage is 75 km and 2000 m of elevation to get to the first campbase Chennek ( 3650 m ). Wheat cultivation lives together with sheep along endless cliffs. Dryness atmosphere. Around a switchback, I fell face to face with a group of baboons. I keep my distances not to disturb them, but after 2 minutes all the team is on our bikes, examinating all the bike’s specs. Privileged instant, fram from the tourists buses. We arrive in Chennek.

Firew has a proposal for us : Instead of trying to get to Ras Dashen in 2 days early in the morning as planned, why not go really early tomorrow, and make the Mt Bwawhit ( 4437m) then the Ras Dashen and then go back to sleep in the valley. The broken road after the first summit will make Worgo walk with us after that. We do not know yet, but we prepare a premiere.

4.30 AM. -5 Degrees.

The first climb is done at 7.30, and we moves to the East side. Sun, incfredibly big and magnificient mountains, canyons as big as the American big Canyon.

Now in the bottom of the first valley (2800m), we only ( ! ) have to climb the “Dashen” as the local people says. One stop on the way at the campsite of the evening ( Ambiko, 3100 m) to leave the tents and stuff there to get lighter for the final ascent. The climb is quiet hard and we arrive at the village at 11.00 AM. One teenager propose to keep our stuff till the evening for some ethiopian Birr. We will see if the baggages are still here in the evening…

The way to the top is high but long as well. We start to feel the first climb of the morning in our legs, and the altitude doesn’t help neither. We will have to manage our efforts.

The sun is burning all the way up. Worgo, AK 47 on the shoulder, goes, and goes … really fast. He’s feeling hot, maybe because of the old wedding suits he’s carrying, and his feet hurts, maybe because of his pplastic flip flops … Far from the usual trailrunner well equiped but, trust me, that guy is at least as fast. He tells some kids not to harass the “farandjis” ( white skin tourists in amharic, the local language ). The day starts to be really long, and I’m not sure that we gonna make it to the top today. “maybe better go down and try again tomorrow?”

But Worgo, who was not so motivated by this crazy adventure in the beggining, makes me understand that we have to try it today. We don’t speak the same language, but we understand each other. The mountains language, maybe simply the language of one passion is definetly universal. Already spent the last 11 hours on the saddle. Guillaume gives its best. We see the Graal. One child walking with his sheeps guides me to the summit. 50 more meters of an easy climb, and here we are : The roof of Ethiopia ! We take a few minutes. Huge. Rocks, eagles flying in a incredible silence. Surrounding. Time to ride down now, sometimes on flashy green grass, sometimes on rocks, infinite trails… I was a bit worried about our chances of getting to the top today because Worgo is walking and I thought he might not be fast enough on the way down. Mistake. This guy is incredible.

The welcome at the campside is nearly too warm, considering the effort of the day. We are exhausted. They want to have time with us. That’s part of the game. Africa. These people needs us, but in reality, they don’t need us at all.

In the evening we join trekkers we met the day before. So, around the firecamp we have now 2 ethiopians scouts, one german guy, one french woman, one guy from flamish belgium, and both of us coming from north east of France but now living in the Alpes. For me, this “nothing” makes all the sense of that kind of adventure. This night full of falling stars will be entertained by jokes and expedition stories. Perfect moment.

The following morning, we ride back to Chiro Leba ( 3100 m ). Firew tells us that no one before did in one day what we did yesterday. I’m not the guy chasing the record books, but still… we are proud of this performance.

Ethiopia has been sometimes rude to us, really often welcoming, always sincer and looking to us straight in the eyes.

With no doubt one of the biggest exeprience I’ve done thanks to my bike till now. Unique. Incredible. Raw. Pure.

 

 

Mavic

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