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JJ bikes through tough conditions in extreme Ethiopia

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SooToday.com has received the following update of JJ Hilsinger's latest fund-raising venture, a cycling journey through Ethiopia:

************************* JJ Hilsinger passes half-way point of his extra-challenging bike trip through extreme Ethiopia, raising money to plant 20,000 trees in this beautiful but forest-ravished country

Ethiopia, the cradle of civilization, has a current population of 85 million people.

It is 3.2 millions of years after Lucy, currently the oldest fossil discovered on earth proven to have walked on two legs, lived.

After 800 kilometres and eight days of riding in the Ethiopian Highlands, it has taken a lot of mental positioning to cope with the term “millions” during our Ethiopia Extreme venture!

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia is where we began our bike journey, choking our way through the diesel-fueled smog to head north to Lalibela.

The first leg of Ethiopia Extreme would immerse us in altitude challenges, coping with hordes of children, subsistence living, staying alert, and unexpected frustrations.

The road we travelled through the Ethiopian Highlands took us from a 6,000-feet elevation at Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, to a high point of 10,500 feet.

Every day was a roller coaster with many tough climbs, up to 24 kilometres long, and many long downhill descents that seldom remained “down” for long.

Every day, I was treated to multi-layered vistas taking me past agricultural terraces and fields, beyond to deep valleys and high mountains that faded into the mist.

It was a pure joy greeting the endless streams of people along the way, especially the children.

We generally camped in school yards and were literally swarmed by kids upon arrival.

You had to be very vigilant until security was established.

But what was mostly pleasurable became tainted at times as I rode along, by the annoying shouts and pleas, the staccato calls for your attention “you, you!!” Or the persistent heckling for “money, money”, or “pen, pen.”

Hitting those infrequent flat parts of the day or the up-hills, and you had a band of kids calling out or running after you with these persistent chants.

It wore you down and you had to search for the right approach, many more “saloms” and increasingly many more terse “no money” to cope with the incessant calls.

In some areas, herds-keepers, who were mostly kids, were so demanding they took to stone tossing.

I lost a pair of sun glasses in one battle when they became dislodged and probably ended at the side of the road for someone’s treasure.

The average family in the undeveloped parts of the country now have six offspring.

That’s an economy-sized family needed to grow into workers to sustain the family’s meager subsistence.

From oxen-ploughed fields, to treks for water, to scavenging and small-area farming, to goats, donkeys and cattle . . . the very small kids and the wives do a lot of very toilsome work.

The roads are virtual people and cattle ways . . . who make room when commanded by horn-blaring buses, trucks and other vehicles.

Bicycles are scarce; riders on fast mountain bikes are unique!!

The road ahead is quite often a crap shoot for passage, with animals and people totally unpredictable.

Extreme vigilance can’t be forgotten or crashes with pedestrians, of the kind that bounced our leader Scotty off the pavement or the kind that bruised rider Russell, are the result.

On day seven, after a brutally steep 24-kilometre climb from camp, we swooped across a broad plateau, eventually reaching a café where we gathered prior to finding camp at a school yard.

All along the way you saw people walking up to eight kilometres to get to market, and you saw the clothing and appearances that bespoke poverty.

We were greeted by the school supervisor and the expected crowds of kids, who we attended to with conversations and entertainment, guarding our bikes, waiting for things to settle down.

Distant thunder accompanied our journey, and at the camp it finally found us.

We waited it out, then thinking it was over, pitched the tent and crossed fingers towards the brightening sky.

I mistrusted the sky.

I found the school supervisor and prepared for plan B.

Sure enough, the rain began in earnest and after waiting in the tent with rain pounding on steel-roofed classrooms, we finally abandoned the tent through streams of mud to take refuge in the dirt-floored classroom.

It is here you are confronted with the desperate education situation for millions of kids.

We gently move dilapidated wooden benches, fearful of having them collapse to make room for our bed.

We viewed the random schedules and drawings around the room, centered by a deteriorating black board.

There are no lights.

The metal window cover falls into my hands.

We rush through the darkened schoolyard through the slippery muck to get to another classroom, where supper is being prepared by candlelight prior to a fitful overnight rest.

The rain finally subsided after pounding a virtual monsoon-like volume onto the metal roof for five hours.

In the morning we packed the sodden, muck-bottomed tent and prepared to depart.

School opening exercises included our group greeting the desperate, cheery kids, about 800 in total, standing in the morning sun, somewhat distracted by the riders’ presence and excited about the soccer balls we would leave behind.

The school supervisor became increasingly anxious about access to the class room we were vacating, and informed us of his frustration at lack of money to run the school.

He gave me a list of needs and asked about to preparing a financial proposal.

The needs for millions…of money, of pens, of note books, of clothing, of modern tools is compensated by the beauty of the land and the people.

This is Ethiopia in the extreme.

Next, we’re off to a Coptic Christian religious ceremony in Lalibela, in the granite-hewn 12th century church of Bet Medhane Alem.

Then tomorrow, it’s over to ride the Danakil Depression for 10 days, in one of the 10 lowest altitudes on earth, 500 feet below sea level.

It took millions of hours for angels and workers to carve into the surface of the earth to create the local churches of this region; it took millions of years for the earth to become the Danakil Depression.

It takes minutes to see an Ethiopian smile.

JJ Hilsinger is cycling Extreme Ethiopia, 2,000 kilometres from the capital city Adis Ababa to the inhospitable terrain of the Danakil Depression, one of the world’s deepest and hottest regions at 500 feet below sea level.

JJ would like to plant 10 trees for every kilometre he pedals . . . 20,000 trees for this drastically deforested country.

He needs to raise $10,000 to meet this goal.

Donations are being accepted at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn & Suites.

One hundred percent of funds raised go to the Ethiopian Tree Fund foundation.

More details and a video can be found on JJ’s site.

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