While pedaling the serpentine hills of Ethiopia, I find myself pedaling with a man from Germany who I have affectionately nicknamed Stat. Stat comes equipped with maps of every country he has cycled. The entire map series from Germany to Ethiopia fills his 6 panniers, outweighing my kit by at least two fold.
Stat has a GPS spot tracker strapped to the front pannier, announcing his position hourly to the satellite company. A Garmin mounted on the handle bars provides the exact elevation, and a well glanced at bicycle computer provides climbing speed and mileage. Stats tech gear is topped off with a smart phone full of downloaded Google maps of the Europe and Africa continents.
In contrasts, I have a hand drawn map of Ethiopia, a not missed, no longer working distracting bicycle computer and 3 little panniers. Ethiopia and many countries are one road countries, a commercial map, I find unnecessary. My homemade map written on a scrap of paper has village names and I have enough information stored in my brain from looking at a map on the internet to know there is amble water and food on route. Freedom camping is possible, although a little tricky due to overpopulation. Inexpensive guest houses are also a possibility in most villages on route from Sudan to the Kenya border.
As we crest the hill near Bahra Dir, I admire my first glimpse of the lake. “Stat did you see that beautiful lake”, I shout over my shoulder, Stat looks down at the handle bars and says, “it is 4 kms away”. I smile and say, “right on”, and keep pedaling.
As we approach a village fresh out of water, Stat says “the next village is 12km away, let’s get some water.” With the village welcome to sign in my line of vision, moments later we stand amongst the hustle of daily life in the village, I smile and say “let’s eat something and get water”.
The darken cloud hangs over head as the dry hilly terrain darkens the afternoon sky. “ I think it is going to rain”, I say to Stat. Stat responds with full confidence, “the weather report says it won’t rain for 4 days. It won’t rain until we get just north of Addis Ababa”. As we sit and drink a cola on a scheduled break, the sky opens and drenches our bicycles. I smile and say, “this rain will be good for the people living in these dried brown hills, have you seen the attire and colors of the different tribes in the villages and the amazing women carrying huge jugs of fresh water on their heads”.
Stat loves to talk about all the hills up ahead, altitude tackled, meters climbed and most importantly the KM’s cycled and distances up ahead. I will be cycling all of it anyway, so I can’t really imagine why it matters. Pedaling prepared, open for anything into the unknown, with some food, water and a tent is what I enjoy most about travelling by bicycle.
Perhaps, it is Stat’s spandex squeezing things too tight, rendering statistical overload onto his brain, I am not really sure but spending time with this all too familiar bicycle touring character will certainly keep me smiling in good company for a while. I understand Stat quest for clicking kilometers as a daily focus, I too was ridiculous about these things for some time. The first 6 months of my tour, you could not of dragged me off the magic bicycle and I used to keep pedaling just to watch the numbers roll over 100km a day on the bicycle computer. Funny enough, most days even now almost 3 years later, I usually pedal 100-150km a day, I just don’t let it distract me from travelling so much anymore.
As I pedal with Stat, up and down Ethiopia’s hills, he has many questions I cannot answer. Such as, how many brake pads I have had, how many kilos I am carrying, how fast I climb hills and how many KM’s I have pedaled, etc. I tire of answering, I don’t really know and just smile and say “I am just a traveler on a bicycle, I am not a statistic.”