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Stage: 48
Day Total: 118km
Total Time:
Avg. Speed: km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: bpm
Total Climbing:

Song of the Day:

One last day of riding separated us from the Tanzanian border (just 3km away) and our 3-day rest, the longest of the tour, in the city of Arusha. From a racing perspective it seemed logical that this stage may feature a few fireworks: it was of average length at 118km; it featured a single, longer climb (10km) in the second half of the day; it was the last paved stage before six to eight consecutive days off-road in potentially muddy conditions. After yesterday’s ride I thought this might be a chance to take time on the 3rd place overall rider Jorg. I was 100% certain that race leader Paul Wolfe (PW) would also try to take time on second place rider Paul Spencer (PS), something I would do my best to prevent.

Something was afoot early as riders began leaving camp much sooner than usual. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw PW leave camp with Jorg and Adam but without Paul Spencer. In actuality, this was a good tactic as administrative tasks at the Tanzanian border could mean that they would be processed and free to start racing ahead of us. While the clock did not start until we crossed the border, leaving without us meant that we would have to chase with no assistance from any other riders. They would be 3 or 4 versus the 2 of us and closing a gap could be difficult. Lo and behold, this is exactly what happened. I beckoned for them to wait but with one leaving, Mr. Wolfe, Jorg and Adam followed. I marked the time on my watch to get a feel for what we might be up against. A quick look around confirmed that there were no other riders with whom we could partner to close this gap.

With passports in hand and a 3 to 4 minute gap to close to the lead group of 3, we clocked-in and set to work. On most race days this gap, though large, could be closed within 10km, particularly at the start of a stage when typically the pace is slower as people warm-up and get adjusted for the long day ahead. Deep down I knew this would not be the case today. PW, smelling an opportunity to keep the two of us isolated would press hard immediately, and Jorg and Adam, loyal to “traditional” peloton protocol would likely do their share of work at whatever pace was set by the first rider. This concern was confirmed by fellow rider Steve who rode with the 3 of them early on and relayed what I suspected might be the case: PW was at the front of the group pinning it.

Steve pulled us for about 1km, keen to assist in any way possible. What can I say, it pays to make friends. Unfortunately, his sore knees prevented him from going further and Paul and I were on our own to close down the gap. Off we went. And went. And went. We were riding very hard, heart rate and other measures disregarded in exchange for high power and raw speed. When the road would straighten we could see them, and the gap was certainly closing, but the road was not favorable to our pursuit as it flattened out and even sloped slightly downhill. This would give the larger group an advantage and the gap would open again.

On we pressed and it was apparent that UK Paul was having a rough time with this effort. He is exceptionally strong, very fit, and one of the fastest riders on the tour. However, I liken him to a coal burning engine: it takes time to get the boiler up to its optimal temperature for best performance. We had pinned the pedal to the floor from the first minute of this ride thus eliminating his “priming” period. I was faring better, if only slightly, and continued to pull us up to the group. I knew exactly what was happening up front and vowed to get us connected to that group to neutralize this attack. I shouted a few words of encouragement to PS in an effort to ignite some competitive drive and keep him going. His struggles continued however and he fell back a bit. Fortunately, a goat crossing and subsequent road blocks necessitated a decrease in speed and he caught back up. A number of road construction efforts were underway on this section of highway forcing riders to weave through barrels and lines of rocks laid out on the road to block vehicle traffic. We leveraged our mountain bike confidence to navigate these obstacles at high rates of speed and I could see up ahead that these risks were paying off: we were closing the gap quickly now. On we pressed, swerving through the gaps in some of the rocks, simply bunny-hopping others. And like magic, we were reconnected. I immediately rode to the front to say “Hello. We caught you” and bring the pace back down so the two of us could recover. We had just ridden 30km at an average speed of 38km/h to close a 3 minute gap and were justifiably spent.

Our fatigue was likely quite evident and I was quickly overtaken at the front of the group as PW continued to push the pace, supported by Jorg and Adam. I was displeased with the level of cooperation they were giving PW. Only a few days prior they too were disgusted with his unwillingness to do any work at the front and I would have expected that they would simply be content to sit on his wheel. We discussed this a bit and finally they, along with myself, failed to match an acceleration made by PW. A gap opened and PW immediately looked behind. The gap grew, the 3 of us content to let it sit at about 40 meters. PW looked back, now concerned that he might have to go it alone and slowed up. We slowed up too. He slowed up again and so did we, again leaving a gap of about 40 meters. This had the intended effect: he would ride slower and Paul Spencer and myself could continue to recover.

The cat and mouse games continued even at lunch which was situated at the end of a 1km long gravel section in the road. PW was first to leave, then PS went to the road and proceeded to walk his bike on the gravel, just in front of PW. I rushed out of lunch, less due to interest in my place in the race and more to see how the duel between #1 and #2 would play out on the day. They quickly let me catch up and 1km later Jorg and Adam made the group 5 again. 5km later we were onto the one long climb of the day. Jorg set a moderate tempo early on and silence ensued as everyone adjusted to the effort.

There was no doubt that PW would want to attack on this climb. I rode to the front of the group to up the pace set by Jorg, thinking that a slightly harder pace might reduce the severity of any attack or discourage it altogether. One minute later told me to ease up as we were losing PS. I looked back to confirm, but so too did PW. And like a lion sensing weakness in its prey he pounced, surging ahead up the climb. In these moments, one has but fractions of a second to decide on a response. Perhaps out of anger and partially sensing an opportunity to take time on 3rd place rider Jorg, I leaped out of the saddle and followed. Shockingly I matched the initial surge. The pace continued to accelerate and soon I had a 100 meter gap on Jorg but was no unable to stay on PW’s wheel. He continued to ride away so I dug deep and hung on for 10 more seconds. This was just enough time for him to look back and see that we were both riding away from the group. With that, he let up so that I could stay closer to him, probably wanting somebody to work with in the final 40km of riding into Arusha. Make no mistake however, he had “it”, and I did not.

He pushed on, I tried to keep up, he eased, I closed, he accelerated and I drifted back. Finally at the top of the climb he allowed me to draw even and started talking strategy. If I’m honest, I wasn’t interested in what he was saying as I was at my limits, my heart rate monitor displaying 168bpm. I would simply try to stay on his wheel to take time on Jorg. If PW wanted to duck behind me for rest, so be it. He kept up with massive accelerations with me suffering behind him trying like mad to hang on. A quick cadence check revealed I was spinning at 116rpm, the product of running out of gears and having to do battle in a 48-11 combination. Fortunately he seemed content to keep me around and chose not to drop me.

The terrain became increasingly green and lush with stands of banana trees and expanses of flowering plants on both sides of the road. And that was about all the scenery watching I could do as I worked like a dog to hang on. I soon caught a series of breaks as we encountered multiple disruptions to the pavement in the form of paving projects. These interruptions in the tarmac lasting between 40 and 250 meters allowed me to ease up and actually pull ahead. When the pavement continued I would take fluids as PW easily accelerated back up to me. Eventually the road did run out for a continuous stretch and we were forced to ride on a very rough dirt road adjacent to the new road being constructed. We took a gamble and road on the road-in-progress for a brief stretch, its surface much smoother than the adjacent dirt access road which was littered with ruts, holes, and corrugations. That move did not pay off as the way was now blocked by a mound of loose dirt and stone 2 meters in height. I looked back, signaled to him we needed to change course and dismounted. Jumping into the ditch and heaving my bike up the other side I scrambled up the embankment and onto the dirt “road” where we were immediately overtaken by a large truck. Visibility went to nearly zero and breaths were labored as I inhaled thick clouds of dust. This was not good. Eventually I took a chance, squeezed between two vehicles and overtook the truck, not sure if PW had joined me. The dirt road turned uphill and eventually the pavement resumed. The smooth surface offered relief but the respite was short lived when my back tire went flat. I managed my fastest tire change by far – less than 4 minutes – and pedaled like mad for the final 7km to the finish.

Careful not to miss any turns, I accelerated through the roundabout and onto the final road keeping a keen eye open for the “Masai Camp” that would be on the right. Coming down a small hill I weaved through the nearly idle traffic and could see PW up ahead. I managed to catch him just before the turn into our camp that would mark the finish line for the stage. Finishing together meant that my 2 to 3 minute advantage from starting behind him would hold up and I would earn another stage win. I quickly dismounted and scanned my timing chip and offered to do the same for PW. I was more than a bit confused by his response of “I already did mine” as this would have meant that he scanned it out on the main road, before the turn to camp, and before the finish line for the day. In his defense, there was no finish flag though in every stage where this has happened the protocol is to ride into camp and record your time. I will have to inquire about this.

What else to say? This was far and away the “raciest” stage I had experienced thus far and was certainly exciting for its many moves, terrain changes, and mechanical issues. If this is what is in store for us for the remainder of this section (8 more riding days to the capital city of Mbeya) then I am very excited. Throw in some rain, mud, and wildlife and this could be quite memorable!

As for now, we are in Arusha and I am typing this from the comfort of the Karama Lodge. Our accommodations are a stilted bungalow with a thatched roof built into a lush green hillside with clouded views of nearby 4600 meter Mt. Meru. A cold Kilimanjaro is already soothing the fatigue and exhaustion from what was surely my hardest ridden stage of this tour. Three full non-riding days await and I am not ashamed that I am quite happy about that.

Stage 47
Day Total: 160km
Total Time: 4:56
Avg. Heart Rate: 141bpm
Total Climbing: 1087m

Song of the Day: Iron Maiden – Run for the Hills

A surprise rain storm graced our camp last night. It really should not have been a surprise given our location and the time of year, but rain seemed very unlikely as the sun settled into the horizon so few were fully prepared for its arrival once darkness settled. Fortunately I was sitting in my tent tending to some minor wounds when it hit. Others were not so fortunate and had their bags scattered about the outside of their tent. For 10 minutes it rained exceptionally hard. The tent showed no signs of yielding to the downpour. Lucky? Hopefully my good fortune is due to the correct equipment choice. I think I will find out definitively in the coming weeks.

The body of our cycling experience combined with my increased fitness at this point in the trip allow me to view the prospects of a 100-mile bicycle ride with relative objectivity: it is a longer ride, I have already done this a few times on this trip, on paved roads it will be a ride of approximately 5 hours (give or take). Thus I harbored little apprehension about this morning’s effort and spent the 15 minutes of breakfast thinking of how to ride the day and with whom I should share the experience. I had little interest in riding with the race leader as it would almost certainly I would do a lot of work at the front with nothing in return from him. No thanks. Looking around, most of the other candidates had departed. With some resignation, I approached the gate to the camp to scan my badge, the two Pauls and Adam already waiting. This was the scenario I did not want so a quick decision was made. As I scanned in, race leader Mr. Wolfe executed his usual pause-and-look maneuver to ensure he was the final racer to scan-in (and thus gain seconds advantage). For reasons I cannot explain, seeing that play out set me off and my plan materialized in my head. As I rolled my bike onto the dirt road out of camp, I started pedaling. Very hard. I raced through the traffic to the first turn at 1km and kept the pressure up. Looking back, I was already hidden from them by the traffic.

Like that, I was off on my own. Early on the heat and humidity were intense and coupled with some short, steep hills, I felt I was working quite hard and surprised to see how high my heart rate had risen. Clearly the meat and the rest had given my body one more gear. Taking that as a green light, I kept the effort steady, determined to ride the day completely alone.

What can I say? Today was one of those days where everything felt good, the body responded well, and riding the bike was a very natural, effortless activity. The 80km to lunch felt like nothing (apart from a very rough section of pavement which was more like single-track off-road riding) and after a perfunctory stop to simply refill my water bottles and grab a snack I carried on. It was wonderful – I was alone on the road and saw no other rider for the next 80km. Not once did my body falter, nor was there a single instance of discomfort that often accompanies these longer efforts. Camp arrived and that was that. Dennis and Jorg were already present having started ahead of me. Jorg would be fastest on the day for smartly leaving camp with the two very swift Kenyan riders. Dennis and I rode equally hard and were never more than 5 minutes apart on the road… if only we would have know. In any case, this is one of the most positive rides I’ve had on the trip.

The balance of the afternoon was spent relaxing. This camp featured showers and cold drinks and I was quick to partake of both. A long nap, some reading, and a few good jokes delivered me to dinner time in a very chilled state. Directions were given for the Tanzanian border crossing tomorrow, the race starting after the 3km to the border. Only one more riding day to that magical 3-day rest period…

Total Time: No Riding

Song of the Day: Starflyer 59 – The Brightest of the Head

I will start by rewinding the clock to share in words the memorable experience that was dinner last night. To summarize, it was the single most enjoyable, needed, memorable meal of the trip. Coincidentally, I also consumed more food (meat, actually) and drink than at any other point on the trip.

The restaurant, called Carnivore, was known to be a meat-lover’s paradise featuring a fixed-price, set menu consisting of some meager (insignificant) appetizers and as much spit-roasted meat – from 8 different animals – as one cared to consume. One of our fellow riders had indicated such an establishment existed in Nairobi, and once aware, we executed a number of logistical maneuvers to ensure that we would have a booking for a table of 24 on a busy Saturday night. Big props to fellow rider Chris for making the call to the restaurant. Unfortunately, Chris was ill in the week leading up to our arrival in Nairobi and in the interest of recovery, went ahead to Nairobi and skipped a few days riding. Though we missed his presence, he did recover, and his early arrival in Nairobi meant we had a place at the table so to speak.

We arrived in a few different waves to the doors of this grilled paradise by 6pm and once we had most of the party present we were given the obligatory briefing. A few of us had a chuckle at how this message was delivered, the tone and words chosen as if to impress and possibly frighten patrons by the quantity and magnitude of the food on offer. These poor souls had no idea they had let the proverbial Trojan horse into their establishment: 24 very fit, exhausted individuals whose metabolisms and appetites were running at hereto unknown capacities. They could not know that I am an accomplished eater of note having consumed a 1.5kg cheeseburger in 15 minutes and a 17″ burrito in a mere 12. Game on.

I will give you the highlights here:

  • It’s a given, but we ate a lot. I mean scary amounts of food.
  • I ate the flesh of at least 9 (that I can recall) animals: pig, lamb, ox, ostrich, cow, crocodile, camel, chicken, turkey
  • I earned EFS status – Every F*&!ing Skewer – for not turning down a single offering that arrived at the table
  • Total time spent eating meat was 2 hours 53 minutes. It required nearly a full bottle of wine.
  • My favorite items were the rosated pork loin and the ostrich meatballs

As expected, I was amongst the final few eaters. In the end, only 1 man was able to keep up, Canadian Daniel, and in an act of true sportsmanship we agreed to push aside our plates so that we could move onto dessert. In truth, the restaurant basically forced our hand by simply halting the serving of meat to our table. I could have eaten more but it was probably for the best. Dessert was OK but would have been better if it was available in the same “eat all you can” format as the meat. For kicks, we nominated Pierre as the chosen one for the classic “It’s his birthday” prank. He was a pretty good sport considering that 16 staff members came to the table with a small cake shooting sparks and erupted into a very rhythmic and harmonious Kenyan rendition of the Happy Birthday song. A humorous end to an epic night of eating. The settling of the bill was a laborious affair during which serious food coma started to settle upon me. We paid, grabbed a taxi, and sped back to camp. The cam bar, called The Rubber Elbow, was hopping, but my meat gut was demanding I get horizontal so that it could get started with final processing of the single largest intake of protein of my life. Fair enough.

The actual rest day was a delight. I awoke to cool temperatures and had my laundry washed and hanging by 8:30am. Breakfast was had at a delightful coffee bar at the shopping market and consisted of some eggs and amazing french toast capped off by an American-sized (i.e. obscenely large) mocha. And then another mocha. That would set the tone for the day, the effective routine being eat, go shop/run errands, return to eat. I did this 3 times and bought food stuffs, a new phone, a new duffel bag (mine has exploded at multiple seams), and a t-shirt. In the interim I consumed a ham/cheese croissant, muffin, milkshake, chicken burger with chips, quarter of a chicken, and a small pizza. All that and I was back at camp to shower and nap by 4pm. Brilliant.

Not much more to say. The ailing trucks have been repaired and the body feels absolutely amazing after the previous night’s meal. We have only 2 riding days into the city of Arusha (Tanzania) where we will effectively reach the half-way point (in time) for the trip and receive 3 consecutive rest days. My mind and body are in serious need of the rest and I am looking forward to checking into a comfortable hotel, eating, sleeping, and doing little of anything.

Stage 46
Day Total: 51km
Total Time: 2:25
Avg. Speed: 21.2km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 103bpm
Total Climbing: 647m

Song of the Day: Sideffect8 – Live from Boulder 22-September

The pleasantries of last night’s camp continued through dinner as charcoal grilled chicken was the featured main (for the meat eaters amongst the group). Truth be told, there was no hot chocolate available after dinner, but its presence was always advertised as an occasional luxury so I have no basis for any serious complaints. The camp even featured Digital Satellite TV and for the sports fanatics amongst the group this meant watching – with cold beers in hand – live Super 15 rugby. The enthusiasm and appreciation for this luxury were plainly visible on all faces.

The good fortunes blessing this camp carried over to breakfast as we dined on muesli with fresh fruit (mangoes, apples, pineapple) and vanilla yogurt. Delicious. Even more so when you know there will be no hard riding on the day and as such you can indulge to previously unknown (for breakfast at least) levels of excess.

The ride continued with similar scenery from the previous riding day with increasing amounts of trees and vegetation broken up by larger, organized farming plots. At the top of a short climb Paul and I stopped at a series of fruit stands for a delightful variation of the coke stop: the fruit stop. On tap were enormous, perfectly ripe mangoes for the bargain price of 6 for 100 Kenyan shillings ($1.25 USD). The kind woman manning the stand sliced one open for us on the spot, the remaining 5 going into the vehicle that has been following the local Kenyan riders that have joined our group for a few days.

Refreshed and relaxed, we rolled onto the appointed rendezvous point at 51km at the Blue Post hotel. Lunch consisted of another round of delicious tuna sandwiches on incredible bread with brilliantly ripe tomatoes, all of this a flashback from that memorable lunch on the way to Nanyuki just north of the equator. Lunch improved even more when a local woman wandered up to the truck selling large, freshly cut pieces of pineapple. I ate 5 and made my way to the hotel to wait comfortably for the remainder of the riders to arrive. Strategically, we gave a change of clothes to one of the non-riders on the day, and after getting out of my cycling clothes I celebrated the end of the section with a cold Tusker beer. Paul and I celebrated further by each consuming a double cheeseburger and french fries. And with that, we were ready to get on the trucks to roll into Nairobi.

Given that everyone would be vehicle-bound for our approach, the tour contracted additional vehicles to transport both people and bicycles. The extra vehicles were large, open-air trucks with ~30 seats used for overland camping/safari trips. Everyone inside arrived very chipper and genuinely seemed to appreciate the ride. My name was assigned to ride in the lunch truck. It’s a very cool vehicle, but with 13 people in it, it was a bit cramped and did not feature the same comforts of the overland trucks. I did my best to keep everyone humored as we stalled in traffic multiple times. We did manage to purchase a number of different fruits from people on the streets as we for forward progress to resume. All in all it was not too terrible and within 2 hours we arrived at our rest day camping location.

The Indaba campsite is a hybrid campsite/administrative offices/truck service facility for the Indaba company. Indaba is the company contracted by TDA to provide truck and additional support services for the tour. As far as camps go, this one is nearly perfect for a rest day location: warm showers, flushable toilets, grassy tent sites, internet, satellite TV, restaurant, and beer. Its location in the upmarket neighborhood of Karen – a favorite amongst expats – meant a shopping center complete with restaurants, coffee shops, and supermarket were all within walking distance. This is promising. Rest days have been less than restful previously largely due to the fact that one had to “hunt” for food. I suspect there will be no issues here.

We spent the balance of the afternoon visiting the local bikeshop which promised to be a “real” shop with items we needed. Phone calls were even made a week in advance to give them a partial shopping list of the riders. Upon arrival, we found a nice store with hardly anything that anyone needed. They did not even have a single tube in stock. Unfortunate. For my part, I only needed some tire levers (which they had) and two tubes to replace the ones lost in my camelback. Partial success, but on the whole, my spirits are high as dinner is to be held at the Brazilian churascaria-inspired meat feast restaurant known as Carnivore. This could be memorable!

Stage 45
Day Total: 105km
Total Time:
Avg. Speed: km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: bpm
Total Climbing:

Song of the Day: Tricky – Council Estate

A chill at dawn. I didn’t expect that only 2km from the equator. That’s altitude for you I guess. The upshot was that I slept with my sleeping bag draped over me and did not sweat – a real treat for me. And what a beautiful sleep it was…

We convoyed to the equator with the gadget freaks amongst us monitoring our approach with the assistance of GPS-enabled bike computers from Garmin. Nice devices and I highly recommend them. As expected, a large sign marked the invisible line, and quite surprisingly, it was very accurately placed. The convoy stopped for photos, riders choosing to pose with bicycle underneath the sign. Other shananigans were also taking place: group hugs, silly photos, removal (not copmplete) of clothing, assorted lude gestures. The only thing missing from this impromptu equator party was cold beer. Shame really, but we did have a stage to ride.

The usual wait-until-the-last-possible-minute-to-clock-in games were taking place as we prepared to get going. With most of the riders up the road I took a calculated risk with fellow rider Jorg and figured we would just get moving and find other people to ride alongside. And it worked. We set off at a moderate pace, others joined, and soon we had 5 strong riders cooperating to move along at a 40km/h pace. I love it when a plan comes together…

We eventually caught up with a group consisting of Adam and the three Kenyan riders who will be joining us for a few days. It turns out these young Kenyans are ludicrously fit and quite gifted cyclists. They set a blistering pace and we ripped through the countryside ahead of everyone and hit the lunch truck at 60km in near record time. It was a real treat: they were cooperative, courteous riders eager to work together to achieve the best possible speed. Well done.

A brief lunch stop caused some confusion. The chasing group rolled in just as we were leaving, the Kenyans were not quite ready to depart, Jorg had had enough of the blistering pace. I rolled out of lunch with the top 5 racers – minus Jorg – and realized that we would be back to business as usual: everyone working except one race leader. I felt wonderful after the faux rest day and did more than my share of work, careful not to overdo it. We made great time into camp, many of us quite angry again with a certain rider’s apparent laziness and lack of cooperation.

Camp. In a word: beautiful. Open, grassy lawns along the bank of a river. Beef stew with basmati rice, cold drinks, a shady campsite and a long afternoon nap. If this is what the second half of the tour looks like then I dare say it could be *very* comfortable going. We shall see.

We were informed at our evening rider meeting that we would *not* be riding the entire way into Nairobi. A combination of road works, detours, and heavy traffic volumes deemed such a ride unsafe. For my part, I understand their logic completely. The widely varying abilities of the riders would make protecting everyone impossible and a large, group convoy would become a very dangerous, unpleasant affair. We rode a boat through part of the continent, 50km on a truck isn’t too much different.

Overheard at the campsite:

  • “Are you really putting your tent that close to mine?” “Yes I am. It’s time we get intimate”.
  • “This is bu*&sh#$! We should be riding into Nairobi.”

Stage 44
Day Total: 71km
Total Time: 4:45
Avg. Speed: 14.5km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 111bpm
Total Climbing: 1492m

Song of the Day: Citizen Cope – More Than It Seems

In the wake of yesterday’s unfortunate events the staff made another responsible decision and designated today’s stage as a non-race day to encourage people to take it easy, ride together, and be supportive. Kudos to the staff again as I think this is exactly what most people needed. Fueled by the previous day’s unexpected eating opportunities I was prepared (and thankful) to take it easy. The ride was only 71km but we were told it would climb the flanks of Mt. Kenya and be a steady uphill event to the lunch truck at 41km.

What can I say, the staff’s course notes are very accurate. Aboard my shiny, freshly washed bike, I rolled out of camp. UK Paul and I rode easily, chatting with various people as we passed. We would both have a chuckle when I wagered a Dairy Milk bar if he could name the next rider we passed. Of course he had no clue. “Hello Phil”. Free chocolate for me. Onward and upward the road stretched, wide-open pastures stretching out on either side of the road as it wound towards Mt. Kenya on the horizon. This is a mountain of note complete with multiple, rocky peaks and resident glaciers. I would like to climb it one day. Maybe.

After riding for what seemed like a long time but was only 20km we arrived at a coke stop. With no time constraints and a serious thirst I gladly stopped. To be honest, at this point I was not enjoying this ride. At all. My body was revolting against exertion, begging my mind to allow it to rest. Not today. Two orange fantas at least boosted morale and after the requisite Obama discussions with the guy selling the beverages, we were on our way. The climb eventually leveled out to a “pleasant” 3.5% and we actually started to make good time. The agriculture was ever present but markedly more sophisticated than what was visible in Ethiopia. At one point I even saw a combine working a field of wheat (though there were still plenty of draft animals pulling iron plows across the earth). Modern, commercial greenhouses were also present with flowers seeming to be the cash crop of choice.

Just before lunch the road flattened and the wind turned strongly to our backs. Cruising to the truck at 47km/h we hit the brakes to enjoy tuna sandwiches. With incredible tomatoes and some very fresh bread, the end result was a very up-market tuna sandwich. I finished it off with salt, pepper, and assorted spices and was really pleased with the effect. So pleased that I had a second. And a third. I was definitely hungry but was also content to continue eating simply for the view of Mt. Kenya.

Paul and I blasted out of lunch, stopping for photos of the mountain. In about an hour we rolled into Nanyuki and found our way to the Sportsman’s Hotel. A beautifully groomed grassy field would be the location of tonight’s tent sites, but even better was the presence of a full-service restaurant. Quickly getting out of my shorts I wasted no time hitting the shower – what luxury – and staking my claim to a chair in the restaurant. Today’s pre-dinner was a cheeseburger, french fries, chocolate shake, Tusker beer, and a cappuccino. The hotel store allowed for a light desert of Cadbury dairy mil chocolate before finding the swimming pool. I paid my 200 Kenyan shillings for entry and immediately plunged into the cool water. Only when I surfaced did I notice the cadre of British military personnel also taking advantage of the pool. For the most part they were pasty white and distinctly unfit. I hope the US soldiers stationed in foreign lands take better care of themselves…

Today was an unexpected gift. The early arrival to camp with its food and amenities made this feel like a full rest day. Tomorrow’s ride is a short 105km and the last race day until Nairobi (the final riding day is non-race due to the fact we will ride in convoy) which means the fireworks will fly. We also will cross the equator and I am curious to see how this landmark is designated. We shall see. For now, it’s back to the cozy confines of the tent.

Day Total: 146km
Total Time: 7:05
Avg. Speed: 20.4km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 105bpm

Song of the Day: Datarock – Amarillion

I knew I would pay for yesterday’s effort. From the first kilometer I had a pretty good idea just what yesterday’s win was going to cost. Ouch. Poor sleep due to serious overnight heat left me less than enthused to face this day and the plan was to just hang on and find a way to stay with the group. That is rarely as easy as it sounds.

300 meters into the ride I realized my bike was not behaving. It seems that the uneven surface of the previous day’s ride jettisoned a fair amount of energy drink onto the underside of my bike where the cable for the gear shifters run. A little water, a quick rub of the jersey and a few choice words and all was functional. Guess I’ll need to clean the bike tonight…

The group consisted of the top 5 riders in the race and one other passenger: fatigue. It seemed to be resting heavily on everyone’s saddle today. Fortunately, the group was inclined to cooperate, alternate time on the front, and basically survive the day (at least until lunch). Well, almost everyone. Race leader Paul Wolfe (PW) has been less than willing to take turns at the front of the bunch. As I alluded to a few days back, this is poor form and simply unacceptable. Given that this behavior has been in place since Egypt and the fact that more recently he has been sitting on my wheel, I was not happy. Fortunately, neither was the group. UK Paul took a 2km pull at the front, followed by myself, followed by Jorg, and then one other rider. PW went to the front, pulled for about 1km, then tried to wave the next rider to the front. UK Paul was having none of that and very vocally reminded PW that everyone else had done 2km and that he would too. So there he stayed, though in a childish act of protest, he dropped his speed 2km per hour. This happened an additional 2 times before Bastiaan – always encouraging and positive – said “You can do it. I know you’re tired. Be a proud race leader.” You can imagine how that was received. Hopefully he is starting to realize that he will have a difficult trip to Cape Town if he continues to be so unwilling to cooperate.

Construction on the road presented us with a choice at 40km into the ride: forge ahead through the signs and ride the paved-but-not-open-to-the-public road, or, alternatively, obey the signs and ride the official “diversion” route. We opted for the former and were quite happy until the road ended abruptly at a dry riverbed. The ride became more like a cyclocross event and we hopped off the bikes to hike the banks. On the other side was a coke stop and without hesitation I led the group in that direction. Fortunately they followed. This may well have been the busiest coke stop of the trip as I counted 28 bikes there when we left. I sucked down an orange Fanta and we then shared a coke with one of the members of the local Samburu tribe ornately dressed in full traditional regalia. He was all smiles at this unexpected treat.

We arrived at lunch and immediately received some disturbing news: a rider had been mugged, gunshots were fired, rocks were thrown. The calls continued to come in on the satellite phone, the facts a bit confused at this point. Three minutes later we were told a rider had been shot. Five minutes later we were told that nobody had been shot. In the moment, Paul Spencer suggested that we cancel the race for the day so that we could all ride together for the remainder of the day. Presumably this would be increase safety.

We left lunch to continue the ride, however, the updates continued to roll into the lunch truck. The situation was very critical: a total of 6 riders had been accosted at gunpoint in two separate incidents. The staff made swift, prudent decisions and ordered people nearest to the incident on the road onto the trucks to quickly drive them to safety. Riders arriving at lunch were given the option to take the truck to camp with no impact on their EFI status. The necessary security forces were notified and within 10km out of lunch we already saw two truckloads of armed soldiers. Kudos to the staff – they executed their contingency plans flawlessly and delivered everyone safely. I won’t go into any great detail on the incident as I was not involved and do not think it adds anything to the pleasure one derives from reading this blog.

The remainder of the ride was a slow, somber affair. Lost in thought, I pedaled onward to camp, scanning the horizon for wildlife after learning that two separate groups of giraffe had crossed the road. I saw 5 ostrich which only made me hungry… As we neared camp at the Rangelands Hotel, Paul Spencer pointed out a car wash on the right. Maybe *I* wouldn’t be washing the bike, but somebody else could. Camp appeared just 1km later which sealed the deal – we would walk back for the bike wash. At $0.80 USD, a steal. Problem solved and the end result was fantastic.

On the whole, not a pleasant day. Fortunately all affected seem to be doing OK. Tomorrow’s ride is to the small town of Nanyuki, just 2km from the equator. There is talk of a swimming pool at the hotel. Can you imagine…

Stage 42
Day Total: 117.25km
Total Time: 5:29
Avg. Speed: 21.4km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 141bpm
Total Climbing: 558m

Song of the Day: Billy Idol – Dancing with Myself

The altitude of our camp at the Diocese of Marsabit meant a cool night and for once I was sleeping with – though not in – my sleeping bag. Still feeling the effects of the previous 2 days riding sleep was deep and sustained and this morning’s wake-up call was an untimely ending to a pleasurable experience. The tour stops for nobody.

I had no real expectations for the day. The course notes indicated that it would be a 115km ride, all off-road, with stretches of “significant corrugation” and “rocky descents”. So much for letting my hands recover… I decided I would wait around and leave with the rest of the normal race crew and be content to simply try to hang on and not lose any time. If I was lucky, we would all ride at a relatively controlled pace and simply survive the day. If I was unlucky, one of us would have recovered better than the rest and start hurting people early in the ride. My morning agenda was slightly scrambled due to some minor GI distress. While not severe, when you are already struggling to get going on the day these minor deviations to routine can really slow you down. In my case, it meant I was running back from the toilet as everyone started to roll out of camp.

We set off together under overcast skies accompanied by rather stiff winds. The first descent lived up to billing but riding at the front allowed me to pick a moderately smooth line and maintain some speed. A series of short steep climbs was followed by another rough downhill section and when I looked back after reaching the bottom of the hill I realized I was ahead by at least 100 meters. Surprisingly the legs were feeling well and the combination of relatively smooth flats with rocky descents was allowing me to build on my lead. New plan: ride to lunch and see who might join me. For the mean time, just keep riding and enjoy the surroundings. Some would see an elephant, but not me.

Approaching lunch the road began to take a turn for the worse but the local truck drivers revealed the easier way through this area. Watching the trucks, I spotted a series of sand tracks that more or less paralleled the highway. Relief! Smooth, pleasant riding and the opportunity to look around. The local Samburu people, ornately dressed and sporting intricately beaded headware walked alongside the track. For the most part, they would smile and wave encouragingly, though I had one young man distinctly shouting at me for water only to raise his spear in anger when I did not stop to share. Sorry man. Maybe it was bad karma, but it was at this point that I realized my hasted to leave with the other riders in the morning meant I had ridden away without my camelback hydration pack. Hopefully there would be no flats on the day and somebody would pick it up.

Lunch arrived soon enough with nobody in sight behind me. A quick drink, some fruit, bottle fills, and I was off – it was getting warm and I was eager to end this one as soon as I could. A few hills met me shortly after leaving lunch and the combination of corrugation and loose sand made rapid progress an afterthought. This pattern seemed to continue for a while before the appearance of my arch enemy: corrugation. Its initial appearance was manageable by looking ahead and spotting a line through it. This had me moving back and forth across the road but more or less surviving with a smile on my face. If only it would have lasted. It worsened steadily until reaching the final 17km at which point the road became a single, uniform, corrugated surface. Akin to a man-made mogul course for the Winter Olympics, it was nearly perfect in every regard which is to say that riding it on a bicycle was equivalent to riding a sine wave. Brutal.

I slowed, I accelerated, I rode it at an angle. I stopped, yelled repeatedly, resumed forward progress, laughed. I didn’t cry, but that was because I was too pissed off to shed tears. As I finally made my peace with it, calculating in my head that what I thought would be the final 45 minutes of riding would now be closer to 1.5 hours, the road offered yet another trick to make me suffer: sand. The corrugation was still present in all its splendor and was now coated with 1 to 3 inches of loose sand. Pick a line, move forward, only to suddenly be nearly halted in your track as the sand suddenly became deeper. Move to the opposite side of the road to the area with less sand only to be stuck in loose sand after 40 meters. This futility continued for about 2km until I spotted the pattern: pick the gnarliest, most chewed-up and rutted spot in the road and it would be void of sand. It was counter-intuitive to seek out the worst stretches of the road but the absence of sand allowed for traction and mobility. I saw the town, sure that must be the finish. The computer, displaying 115km said the same, but the party would continue to 117km. Argh.

On the horizon was what I am sure will bring me the opportunity to recover that I so desperately need: tarmac. It was funny how the dirt ended abruptly, a perfectly straight line marking the beginning of the pavement. Rolling into camp I was quite spent but alone. The stage was mine and taken in solo fashion. But at what cost? The heat was intense, my sweltering exacerbated by the fact that the grounds of the bush camp were sand and loose gravel. There was shade and I went immediately for it, feeling dehydrated and generally shattered. A nap, lots of fluids, soup, tuna, and a baby wipe bath brought me partially back to normal and allowed me to complete my tire change. Tarmac means skinnier tires.

More of the locals wandered through our camp with a large group of curious children staking out a spot next to UK Paul’s tent. My initial greetings were met with shyness. I rose out of my seat to attempt a handshake and most of the ran. Finally one brave boy and then another accepted my offer. This was not enough for me however. These boys were quite cute and obviously taken aback by height. I wanted to pick one of them up over my head and spin him around. I gestured as best I could that I wanted to pick one of them up. They backed away. I continued the gesturing, they seemed to understand. At last, one consented and I launched him off of the ground and 2.5 meters into the air. He gasped, then laughed with joy as I spun him around. Placing him on the ground, he wandered off dizzily with a broad smile pasted to his face. There were no other takers.

Tomorrow’s ride is a rather long 158km affair and marks the 9th ride in 10 days. There will likely be some form of physiological retribution to be paid for today’s win but I stopped worrying about that stuff a long time ago. Enjoy the day, be present in the moment, and if it hurts, well, there’s probably a reason for that.

Day Total: No Riding
Song of the Day: The Scorpions – Rock Me Like a Hurricane

I went to bed last night in rough shape – approximately 2 out of 5 on the body/attitude index – with mild concern that the efforts of the previous days may have had more lasting impact. Dinner was a battle, notable as the first meal of the trip in which I could not finish all of the food placed before me. I’m guessing dehydration was the culprit, but fortunately I awoke this morning with a raging appetite. I also awoke with significant soreness in my hands as a result of the pounding they took against the bars of my bike over the previous 3 days. This pain is not trivial and it prevented me from properly holding my utensils at breakfast or squeezing water from my bike bottle. I am hopeful that it is simply muscle fatigue that will fade with time.

Some rest days are a real treat: Luxor, Khartoum, Addis Ababa. These cities presented a multitude of interesting foods, sights, smells, conveniences, and general availability of everything one needs to prepare for the upcoming riding days. Other towns present what roughly equates to another day of the work, albeit not on the bike. The small town of Marsabit fell in the latter category and as its primary challenge offered up finding reasonable food to eat. In its defense, what it lacked in restaurants it made up for in availability of “luxury” items such as Cadbury chocolate, mediocre ice cream, and other assorted snacks.

The rest day routine in towns with limited ammenities goes like this: wake up and eat a lot (3 omelet minimum), solve the laundry problem by doing a quick build-versus-buy calculation, eat, find a place to upload the blog posts, eat, eat, eat. In the end it rarely goes according to plan and today was no exception. We ate a lot, the blog got updated, the laundry was dropped off but was not ready for a LONG time. I ate more while waiting for the laundry, stocked up on chocolate/chips, and talked to the locals. Once the laundry was ready we conducted fierce negotiations with a man with a car to drive us back to the diocese campus where we were camping.

A bit dry, but to be honest, there wasn’t much going on there. The campsite was pretty tame as everyone licked their wounds from the previous 7 riding days. Another 5 riding days will deliver us into Nairobi and from there it’s only 2 riding days to the halfway mark of the tour. I am still trying to digest the last 2 days riding – it was that difficult – to make some sense out of the general apathy towards riding my bike that I feel at this moment. A good night’s rest will surely make some sense of all of this…

Stage 41
Day Total: 86.65km
Total Time: 6:43
Avg. Speed: 12.9km/h
Avg. Heart Rate: 127bpm
Total Climbing: 1009m

It is over thankfully. Part mountain bike ride, part test of will and intestinal fortitude, this stage left no ambiguity as to what it wanted to be: extremely difficult and uniquely memorable. A road that would not give away anything and a sturdy headwind to squelch any thoughts of tactics were the only company on an otherwise desolate road.

Turn right out of camp, pedal 10 feet, and start suffering. That’s really all there was to this ride. The “road” altered its structure occasionally from a single dual-track strip to two dual-track strips (presumably for northbound and southbound traffic) which meant at times a rider had 4 options from which to choose. Choice in this case really meant selecting whether you wanted loose gravel on your right or left. I will not drone on and on about the nature of this road as it really can’t be fully described. Suffice it to say that it was like riding on a badly corrugated single track path that was covered with loose pieces of golfball-sized lava rock. When void of loose rock, the bare, exposed rock protruding from the track jarred one’s body to the point of numbness. Oh yeah, that 25mph headwind never abated either.

In the end we would all ride our rides. The lunch truck, sporting a 45-minute headstart, did not make it to the designated lunch spot before me. Not wanting to wait for it, I stopped at a small shop 10km earlier to chug a coke and grab 2 liters of water. When I did arrive at lunch, the truck was absent, and full of water, I kept going. I would later learn that a “basic” lunch was sent ahead with the bigger trucks for the faster riders. Guess I missed that memo…

In any case, the ride continued in a slow slog. The “relativity” coping strategy I described previously broke down immediately: this ride was beyond compare and harder than any other I had ever done. A long, desolate stretch awaited me from 40km to the designated “refresh stop” at 67km. It took nearly 2.5 hours to cover the 27km and was just long enough to let me exhaust all of my fluids. Brutal.

Fortunately, the last 10km actually turned into a groomed dirt road, though by this time I was cooked. Normally I feel a surge of excitement and relief as we enter a town. Marsabit provided only frustration as all of the cars insisted on driving on the wrong side (which is the left-hand side) of the road. But hey, at least this beast was nearly dead.

I will provide more commentary on this ride later as it was a very unique experience. For now I must eat and sleep…