Really!?!?! Get out?! The entire African continent? Yup!
Click on the map to see where my travels will take me over the next 4 months. This is the basic schedule with dates and locations. All camps are approximations.
Technology is a wonderful thing… when it works. Depending on connectivity and the wonders of the internet, you MAY be able to track me (and the Tour) on a daily basis. If everything works and I have access to a data connection…
Today was the last of a seven day riding section, and boy was it tough. 934 km in seven days, half of that on dirt roads. And just for a little icing on top of the exhaustion cake, we had a 2100m climb to end it all (over 8km of total climbing this section).
But, boy was it worth it. The dirt roads were fun, the jungle was spectacular, and the vistas riding into Mbeya were stunning. It was a great seven days, and I’m SO ready for a day off. The hotel we are camping at is quite nice. I’m going to shower off my dirt tan and crawl into my tent for a good solid nights sleep. Yawn!
Today was almost a carbon copy of yesterday minus the Tse Tse flies. A great day, beautiful scenery and a challenging road after lunch. There were a number of very fast down hill sections that I went way too fast on. I reached almost 55km/hr on one. Another, I almost killed myself hopping over a big rut then getting dangerously close to the edge of the road that was badly eroded by water. I had to slam on my rear brakes and try and coax the bike back to the centre of the road to avoid what would have been a tour ending crash. On sandy gravel the worst thing you can do is overreact and crank over the front wheel. That’s just a recipe for disaster as your front tire spins out from under you and you face plant into whatever you’re trying to avoid.
Over the last three days of dirt and gravel, almost everyone has fallen off their bikes. Most have been slow speed, sand related spills. Thankfully no serious injuries (the worst being a few stitches to a deep cut under the knee) just lots of scrapes and bruised egos. I witnessed a two for one wipeout special just after lunch. Two of our strongest riders hit a sandy spot and both fell off within seconds of each other. No real injuries, but I did finally get to use the first aid kit I’ve been carrying with me for 5000+ kilometres. Antiseptic wipes and bandages to the rescue!
Everyone who visits Africa talks about how beautiful things are and they wouldn’t be wrong. No one talks about sound here. There are very few places left in the world that you can hear pure natural sound. There is always the sound of a car engine, airplane, human being or other human made item whirring away somewhere in the background. Today was special because, for several hours there was none of that. When I stopped riding my bike and stood still, all you could hear was nature. Clean, pure, nature. Birds chirping, frogs croaking, trees creaking. Nothing else. It was almost magical. It’s like looking up at the night sky when you’re out in the middle of the ocean. Away from all the light pollution, a bazillion stars spring to life that you’ve never seen. You can’t believe what your missing sitting in the middle of a city. This was one of the reasons why today was the best day of cycling yet (for me). The sound, along with amazing jungle views made for the perfect combination. It is what I envisioned when I first heard about TDA. Riding on a dirt road through the jungle. Not a human or unnatural object to be seen.
Sure, there were several sections of the ride that were maddening. A freshly graded portion of road made riding VERY difficult. It was nice and flat, but was like riding in three inches of beach sand. There wasn’t a firm spot across the entire road surface. You just had to gear down and pedal hard through it…for several kilometres. Then there were the Tse Tse flys. Large flys with a BIG bite! There was one section where a cloud of them descended upon me and started chewing. I nearly lost my mind. Initially I was going to try and ride through them but they were so bad I was weaving all over the road while swatting them off me. It was only a matter of time before they distracted me enough to cause an accident. I stopped and frantically dug the bug spray out of my bike bag. Anyone watching would have laughed themselves silly, watching me run back and forth across the road trying to escape the cloud of flys, as I hosed myself down in 30% deet. It seemed to work, as a good three quarters of the infernal bugs, bugged off.
Despite all that and some very badly rutted sections of road it was still my favourite day!
Finding a route through a rutted, rocky, potholed road can be challenging. Doing it at over 40km/hr is down right crazy. Did that stop me though? Not a chance! Today I was “full of beans”, meaning I had a lot of energy in the morning. I took off ready to tackle our first “all dirt” day. I just flew over the dusty road all the way to lunch, passing all but one of the stronger cyclists. Despite being unpaved and gravely, the part before lunch was very hard packed and had several good “paths” that were relatively bump free. I cruised along at an average speed of about 25km/hr. For me that’s pretty good for tarmac, let alone gravel/dirt.
After lunch was a different story. The road got very rough and sandy, and didn’t have many un-washboarded sections. I had to slow to a crawl at a few points to keep my bike from flying apart.
I also had my first minor spill after lunch. A large bus came barreling down the road towards me kicking up a huge cloud of dust. As it passed me I couldn’t see a thing and hit a sandy spot. The front wheel sunk in and started sliding sideways. Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to keep the bike upright I hopped off as the bike went over. I managed to land on my feet and run to a stop. Picking up my bike and doing a quick inspection revealed only a few scratches on the hand brakes and shifters.
Because the roads were so rough it took the Mothership a long time to reach camp. For the first time I actually had to wait for the truck to arrive. The same thing will probably happen the next three days as we continue to cycle dirt roads. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain or things will really grind to a halt.
The scenery in Tanzania just keeps getting better and better. It’s starting to rival Ethiopia in its variety and grandeur. This morning we rode past dozens of gigantic boulders that seemed like they had been dropped from the sky. They’ve obviously been here for billions of years while everything else eroded around them, but you can’t help imagining a giant hand reaching down from the clouds and placing each one individually. A giggling voice talking to itself, “let them try and figure this out.”
We’ve left the luxury of the tarmac and started our dirt road riding. The first part of the dirt wasn’t terribly difficult and with a solid tailwind I was cruising along at 25km/hr+. With the road still being nice and dry, it made for fairly easy cycling. The only challenge was seeing the potholes and ruts. With the sun almost directly overhead there was no contrast or shadows to hint at where the washboarding was, so I found out the hard way, with my teeth rattling.
I may regret switching to my dirt tires as I picked up a very small thorn that gave me a slow leak on the last 5km. If I had still been on my original road tires, the small thorn wouldn’t have caused any trouble (my road tires are much more puncture resistant). If I have any more issues I’ll probably just switch back to my road tires. They are only marginally thinner than the dirt tires and I’ll take puncture resistance over a more aggressive tread any day.
“Thunderheads are rumbling in a distant overture”… a line from a very simple but lyrically evocative Rush song about thunderstorms. Every time I hear a clap of rolling thunder the song pops into my head. Suffice to say I’ve been humming the song frequently the last few days. The rainy season is getting closer with each passing day. As we continue our southward journey and the calendar continues its endless march through year, the likelihood of rain increases. While we’ve been very lucky so far with weather, the rain is coming. In the last two months we’ve only had two significant rain falls. One at the top of the Blue Nile Gorge in the middle of the night, and one at the end of the day coming into Arusha. Neither were while riding, and neither affected cycling conditions. That’s about to change. Tomorrow we start the first of several dirt road days, and mix that with a lot of rain and it’s going to make for some interesting and dirty rides. In the last week we’ve had a lot of thunder in the late afternoon and lots of rain on the horizon. The evenings have been filled with very light sprinkles. Their duration and intensity slowly increasing. Wet days ahead!
With the coming rain, the humidity is rising and things are getting very green again. This part of Tanzania Is very hilly, which makes for some amazing vistas but makes the riding hard. We did a lot of climbing, only to have to start over again after heading down the other side. Normally I like a good downhill but today was tough. Constant ups and downs over 150km is exhausting. Thankfully we had some on and off clouds that kept the temperature manageable. Oh and a pot of gold to end the day!
The sky was grey, the air fresh and cool as I departed camp for another day of cycling. The road out of Arusha was lined with orange and yellow flowering trees as I dodged in and out of the early morning traffic. Today was to be a long day on the road and I’d been last to leave camp this morning. Despite my three days of rest and thorough organization, I some how managed to misplace my cycling computer. No big deal, I’ve been relying on my phone for accurate measurements of distance. The computer will show up at some point, now I just have to focus on the 172km ahead of me. It’s our longest ride yet, and I have no doubts that I’ll complete it fairly easily. About 60km into the day my front wheel begins to squeak. It’s an annoying high pitched squeak that sounds like my front tire is trying to attract a female cicada after a 17 year abstinence. Nothing I can do about it on the road so I just have to put up with it for the next 4 hours or so.
Stage 44 is officially the half way mark in terms of days (88 stages total) however it’s a bit short of halfway physically. We are at about 4600km and if the numbers stay on track, halfway should be about 5500km. By the end of this stage we’ll be physically halfway. The days are getting longer and the mileage greater than the first half of the journey. I’m physically in much better shape now, all though my shape doesn’t seem to have changed. Two months ago, 170km with a big hill at the end would have killed me. Now, while I was tired, it wasn’t that big a deal.
I got into camp just before 2pm and tried to track down the source of the squeak with not much success. The bike doesn’t squeak, unless I’m riding it, so pinpointing the source is hard. I’ve cleaned and re-lubed the front axel and tweaked the front breaks. We shall see tomorrow if that’s solved the problem. Oh, and my bike computer showed up…it was neatly packed in my bike bag where it should be.