Monthly Archives: March 2011

And then came the rain

We have just finished our ride through Tanzania and it has been the best yet. What a beautiful and unexpected country. We have been cycling through lush farmland, thick forest, dense bush, and up and across wide blue mountain ridges. The last 8 days were all on dirt roads and before we started, everyone was apprehensive. We knew it was going to rain but we didn’t really know what that would mean for us, the bikes, the tents, the support trucks and the camp.

And it did rain, and rain and rain. The first two days in the dirt were tremendous. Red mud up to our ears, brake pads worn out, derailleurs creaking and crashing but most of all, fantastic riding. We had lots of climbing on the red murram  but then wild fast descents which were like ice rinks when the rain slicked them.  Things got easier after that apart from some very sticky mud sections and some treacherous sand. I did a classic over the handlebars after hitting sand and then the bank on a descent (not using brakes). I was unhurt apart from a few scrapes and bruises but the poor Africans who saw it were horrified – “Madam,  Madam, pole pole,” they shouted as they came dashing down the hill to help.

We were mainly in bush camps for this section and the lack of water for washing was more of a problem than it has been before. We were covered in dirt and mud and had been sweating like warthogs on the bikes. We managed though. In one camp, the Tanzanians were selling water for 2000 shillings a bucket and in another there was a milky river about 2 km away – bliss.

Our last mando day (mandatory: racers HAVE to complete so it is always extra hard)  was a long climb up from the forest, through farmland and then into the mountains, giving way to views right across the plains. It was equivalent to climbing up Ben Nevis, sticking Snowdon on top and then doing that too, so the legs and lungs were screaming but the views really did make it worthwhile.

Malawi now – seems flatter and we have tarmac but it is pretty humid and we hear tales of headwind…..

Pix will follow but for all up to end of Kenya click here


Half way thoughts

Sitting here in Arusha after three days off, I am looking forward to getting back on the bike and back into the routine of riding and camp. It is amazing to me to think that we are half way there. Time has become completely elastic. Ten minutes on the bike can last an eternity, if you are hot, tired and hurting. Then you look up and two months has gone and the memories are already fading.

I think the next stretch of eight days is going to be quite a challenge. We are on dirt roads and we will have mud and rain to contend with. Also we know we are on part two of the trip and that means we are thinking of endings not beginnings.

On the plus side, we are all used to the routine and to each other. I know how to put my tent up. And we are cycling across Africa. It is amazing every day. We almost have too many sensations to record or absorb. I don’t know how we  can measure the depth of our experience. We are skimming across the continent in some ways but we are out there seeing it, feeling it and being in it every day.

So, no conclusions, but still plenty of time to think about it.

Africa bites back

This is a story of guns and giraffes. Yesterday, we were cycling through a remote and poor part of northern Kenya when some of our riders were attacked by armed bandits and robbed at gunpoint.

It all started when four men tried to stop one of the cyclists – they threw a large rock at them, then a spear and then fired a shot. The cyclist biked on to escape, although in a lot of pain from the rock.

Behind, a group of six stopped. And as they waited, the men circled back and confronted them. They threatened them, and hit some of them, and shots were fired. The riders behaved with incredible presence of mind, They stayed calm and controlled and prevented a dangerous situation from turning into a disaster.

The robbers took cash and mobile phones, but also all the PVM power bars and water that the group were carrying. Then they left. The ordeal lasted around half an hour. The group carried on to the nearest town to get help.

The TDA team mobilised. Sharita – the tour leader – got the army involved, and had armed guards on the trucks and along the road very quickly. We other riders were all strung out along the route – the group I was with were at the lunch truck – and we were all gathered up and either continued in convoy or got on the trucks.

All the riders involved were looked after, injuries attended to and were back with the group by late afternoon. Shocked and shaken after their ordeal but coping really well.

At the rider meeting that night we were told by the TDA crew that drought has struck the area we were biking through and that some of the local farmers and tribes people are hungry and desperate and have been hijacking trucks in the past few days.

So where do the giraffes come in? We saw them along the route in the morning, beautiful and graceful. A true contrast to what was to come later in the day.


Karibu in Kenya

Three countries down and now here we are in Kenya. It is really exciting to be in a new country, with new people and a different language. The scenery has changed too – and we had mist this morning – made us all quite giddy.

We have also had lots of days in the dirt since we crossed the border. The first day was definitely the most fun riding I have had since we started. We were on a dirt road which runs from the border to Ethiopia but which is largely deserted – so no kids to contend with. The temperature was only in the 40s, and best of all, we found some off road.

For 25km after lunch, we left the ruts and followed a goat track on hard red clay. It was great – no corrugation to cheesegrate your bottom, red hillocks to swoosh over, and lots of last minute swerves to avoid the vicious thorn trees. Also, we saw lot of wildlife. Little Dik Dik deer careered across the path, blazing blue birds of paradise and a big pile of porcupine quills but no porcupine.

Then we hit the two most difficult days’ riding of the Tour. The Lava road to Marsabit. Two days of about 86 km each, which hurt everyone a lot. We were riding across a huge lava plain covered in black rock, with the volcanoes in the background. Extremely hot, with no shade but most of all, a vicious road surface. Corrugation, gravel, ruts, stones, sand, headwind and no respite.

It took me 10 hours to do 86km on the first day – blood, sweat and possibly even some tears but I couldn’t really tell amongst the general pain . I was really proud I managed it.   The second one I just didn’t have the balls for (sad but true!) – and with 25 others – rode the truck. Another 12 hopped on at lunch or after . Only 2 girls made it out of the group. Our Alpha uber-racer the fabulous Tori and the equally fabulous Carrie. But Ruth has to have a big commendation – she rode 12 hours until she finally had to give up – but only because it was dark. She got to 70km. Brilliant effort by every single person that completed!

Sorry about the lack of pictures but the internet is too slow to upload. Hope to put lots up in Arusha – 16th March.

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