So it’s done- I’ve cycled 12,000kms from Cairo to Cape Town in just over 120 days (95 cycling days). My mind is a mess of emotions: pride for having completed what’s been the biggest challenge of my life, a feeling of being humbled by learning so much about myself, luck for having survived, pleasure for it being over and most importantly being fortunate for even being asked to be a part of this adventure.
So many people, both people i’ve met on this trip and via email from this website, have asked why I’m doing this trip. I don’t think i’ve been able to give a straight and honest answer- the question’s stumped me every time. It wasn’t solely about playing the tourist- yes i’ve always wanted to see Africa, but this wasn’t the kind of trip where you can really immerse yourself you a culture and really get the feel of it. Yes we obviously rode through many, many different villages/ towns/cities, but never really stayed long enough to get a thorough understanding of the places. I suppose each of us has their own reasons for doing this trip but for me, it was simply a new challenge and a way for me to learn a little more about myself, broaden by horizons and create new personal boundaries. This trip will now be the thing with which all of my life’s future challenges are measured against. And they will most likely pale in difficulty, as this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
For me, every day of this trip has been one of the hardest days of my life. While Shaun was over here with us, I was having a talk with him as we peddled our way through the back roads of Botswana about how, for me, no days have been easy, they’ve just been varying degrees of difficult. Some days it’s mountain climbing, other days you’re battling a head wind, other days it’s oppressive heat, other days you’re slogging it out in sand (think of the sand at any surf beach) or when all the stars align and you have none of the previous perils you end up pushing out an enormous 190+km day. This has been my life for 4 months and for roughly 3 months and 3 weeks, I’ve wondered how the hell I was going to make it to the finish line. I won’t lie, there were many, many times where I honestly contemplated pulling the pin and flying home. There was so much comfort and luxury awaiting me there and all it would take would be a decision, a bus ride and a plane ride to end the difficulty and return to that comfort zone. So simple. I’m glad I didn’t give in though.
Have I enjoyed cycling for 4 months on this trip? Yes and no, mostly yes- it’s a pleasure to have been able to ride my bike every day. But, some days have been hard, very hard, which has taken some of the enjoyment out of it all. The frustrating thing is the difficulty was all in your head- once you allowed yourself to start thinking “this is hard, i hate this” it was a very slippery slope from there and if you didn’t change the way you thought, the rest of your day was just going to get harder and harder. Sadly, I wasn’t able to adjust my thinking until later in the trip and there were too many days where I fell into this mental trap and didn’t get the full enjoyment out of the days. You’re literally fighting your own mind, but i’m proud to say that in the end, I won. I read a saying somewhere once “Fall 7 times; stand up 8” and if there’s a motto i’m applying to how I handled this adventure, that’s it.
Have I enjoyed Africa- without a doubt. Every country has been so diverse and the culture and people have been eye opening and spectacular. I’ll miss the more undeveloped countries the most- cycling through Ethiopian mountain villages where the villagers literally stand with their jaws open in amazement (at seeing white people!) as we cycled past was one of the highlights. I came on this trip expecting elements of hostility and am pleased to be able to say that we’ve had nothing but kindness and hospitality.
Have I enjoyed spending my time with Gavan, Shane and Wade? 100% yes. For me, spending my time with these 3 guys has been not just the highlight of this trip, but undoubtedly my life. I can honestly say I’ve never laughed so much in my whole life. There have been many times when we’ve been riding in single-file formation and are talking utter nonsense to one another without taking our eyes off the road where I’ve just sat and grinned to myself at how well we all get along and how I don’t think a better group could have been designed.
- I’ve thrown a few tantrums- some silent, some not so silent
- I fell into my own vomit while very unwell one night
- I’ve drank about 1 litre of soft drink for every day i’ve cycled
- I am coming home with a soft drink addiction
- I’ve been sicker than I ever remember being in my life
- I’ve come across more kindness in 4 months through Africa than 31 years collectively in Australia
- I’ve seen scenery that is so spectacular that I didn’t realise could have existed
- I’ve seen kids who literally have nothing in their lives by way of material possessions who are happier than the majority of kids in Australia
- I’ve developed cravings for foods that i’ve never craved before and worry that these unhealthy cravings are here to stay
- I’ve feared for my life, once (lions)
- I’ve seen stars like i’ve never seen them before
- I’ve learnt that you can get a long way with just a smile in a country where communication isn’t possible
- I’ve learnt that I am very lucky to the relatively mediocre life and job that I have in Australia.
- I have some incredible friends back home who have been of immeasurable assistance while I am away- and that I am coming home happily indebted to so many people.
- I’ve learnt how to be a better friend, and the value of friendship
- I’ve learnt that I’m not as mentally strong as I once thought I was.
- I’ve learnt that you can’t send double-edged ‘daggers’ via mail to your Mum.
- My Mum is super women and has been put through hell (by me) while I’m away- thank you Mum.
- I have developed a love for bicycles that i’m sure will never die. So much so that i’ve designed a new commuter bike while i’m away which is sitting in boxes at home waiting to be built. I’ll also be sourcing and buying a new road bike within the first couple of days home. I now own 4 bikes and can justify owning each and every one of them. There will be more.
- I will not miss Wade farting on me every time we ride in single file formation.
- I won’t miss eating out of tins.
- Before this trip, I loved tuna. After this trip, and having eaten approximately 5kgs of the stuff, I will be lucky to ever eat tuna again. The same can’t be said about tinned fruit- I am now an addict.
- I won’t miss applying sunscreen 3-4 times every day
- I won’t miss sunscreen running down my face and into your eyes, due to sweat, all day every day
- I won’t miss sweating for 10+ hours every day
- I won’t miss mosquitoes and the panic that ensues every time you get bitten (and I’ve been bitten a LOT).
- I won’t miss packing up my tent and camping gear in the mornings
- I won’t miss living out of tiny bags
- I will miss being so in-tune with my body with regards to input and errr, output.
- I won’t miss eating being the unenjoyable process that it currently is. I’m so excited to sit down to a meal and enjoy it (normal portions and all), as opposed to jut stuffing down the commercial quantities of miss-matched food and getting straight on the bike 10 minutes later.
- I am currently researching the best, non-commercial, milk-shake maker for home to satisfy my addictions.
- I may be the only person to cycle the length of Africa and actually put on weight in the process.
- I will miss the almost celebrity like reception we get every day when we arrive into towns. From people simply marvelling at our adventure and trying to comprehend just how far we’ve ridden, to people buying us drinks, food, meals etc out of pure admiration.
- I hope to one day meet Robert Knol (world record holder for cycling the length of Africa (70 days with an average of 160km per day!) and Mark Beaumont (work record holder for cycling around the world (194 days with an average of 160km per day) and shake both of their hands. What we did was difficult. What Robert and Mark did is incomprehensibly difficult.
- This won’t be the last time I visit Africa
So that’s it. This is the end. I’ve thrown some more photos up in the Namibia page
and a new South Africa page
. Like most things i do with my life, this site will probably just stagnate until my next adventure (Kokoda 2013??).
And thank you to everyone- especially Robert Knol for your continual and patient advice and assistance when we were planning this trip. There are SO many people who’ve assisted us in the preparation of this journey- too many to mention individually. In return I hope to be able to offer that same kind of assistance to anyone who is planning a similar trip. And thank you to everyone who contacted me through this website. I didn’t have the time or opportunity to respond to everyone (i tried!) but please know that I read every one of your emails and at times they really made the difference and spurred me on. Thank you!!
So if you’ve enjoyed this site and our adventures, I ask just one favour from you. If you’re ever driving on a lonely road and come across a touring cyclist, stop and have a chat. If you’ve got any water, soft drink, coffee or even a half-eaten bag of chips, offer it to them. Chances are they’ve slept rough last night and are slogging it out that day and will be grateful for anything you can offer (those bags on their bikes don’t have room for luxuries). They may also take the opportunity to ask you about the route ahead- ‘What’s the road like’? “Is there food or accommodation ahead in xxxx town”? Just don’t make it up if you don’t know- it’s a terrible feeling to see that the road starts to climb when someone’s just said it’s perfectly flat. People cling to hope.
So people, that’s the end. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
I’m Justin Molik and I’ve cycled the length of Africa.
Internet reception hasn’t been too common lately, so firstly I apologise for not updating in the last couple of weeks.
I won’t bore you with all of the details of the happenings of the last few weeks: i’ll keep it succinct.
We sadly waved goodbye to Shaun once we departed Windhoek (capital of Namibia). Shaun’s temporary addition to the team was brilliant but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him as the stretch he road was by far the longest we’d done on this whole trip and included a marathon 5 day stretch of 820km which included a one day ride of 211km.
Arriving in Windhoek was surreal- the city is by far the most developed and affluent we’ve come across since leaving Melbourne. I commented on this to my hairdresser who replied that “Nambia is not Africa”. Out for dinner one night, I marvelled at the bank of luxury European cars lined up outside the restaurant- we haven’t seen one of these cars in almost four months and to see 7 or 8 of them lined up side by side in one hit cemented the fact that we were very much in the first world again. Out for dinner that night at quite a lavish Portuguese restaurant, we lied and said it was Gavan’s birthday and enjoyed the staff singing Gavan happy birthday as they brought out a slab of cake, with candles and a bottle of champagne, all on the house. Coincidentally, I think it’ll be another of our birthdays when we arrive in Cape Town in a couple of weeks.
Botswana, overall, was largely sparse, remote with unchanging landscape. The wildlife was quite incredible as all we seemed to do was skirt game parks and wildlife reserves. The remoteness dictated the long rides we were forced to do, and the remoteness was easily the most severe we’d come across since Sudan. BUT, Botswana’s remoteness is second only to Namibia’s.
Upon crossing into Namibia, I didn’t have an idea of what to expect with regards to landscape or culture. The first thing we noticed was the ‘clicking’ language, which still amazes me. I presumed that Nambia was 100% desert and flat. How wrong I was. Granted, the landscape is defined as desert, but not the kind of desert most people have in their mind. The land is covered with sandy soil and silverly short grass but nothing else. And it’s hot: really, really hot. We haven’t endured this kind of heat since Sudan, and like Sudan, it gets freezing cold at night. But, by far the most incredible thing about Namibia is the seemingly endless mountain ranges which dwarf anything i’ve ever seen on this trip or anything before it. Not that I’ve ever been, but the mountains resemble what I imagine Afghanistan to look like.
The route we’re taking through Namibia doesn’t really allow much site seeing though. We’ve spent the majority of our time off road and the roads have thus far been difficult and don’t permit you to look much further than 3 feet in front of your wheel as you navigate your way past corrugations, sand patches and ruts. I don’t know when it happened but i’ve become someone who can only seem to concentrate with their tongue half hanging out of their mouth. And my tongue seems to spend a lot of time out of my mouth in Namibia as we’re riding. Granted the roads are better than the other off road sections we’ve done in Kenya and Tanzania but it’s still hard to ride 100+kms each day while passing such amazing scenery and not really be able to look at it or appreciate it. The off road sections we’ve been on in Namibia have taken their toll on my bike and have suffered some quite bad, but repairable, damage to the bike, which if it continues could mean the end of the trip for me, so i’m desperately hoping that the bike holds together for another 10 days of riding, otherwise i’ll literally be walking across the finish line with 2 wheels, a seat and a set of handlebars.
We’ve today arrived in Aus, a junction town where we’ve taken a day off to head out to the coastal town of Luderitz. On the day we were riding into Aus, Shane had to race ahead to, sadly, get tested/treated for rabies after what at the time was a hilarious incident involving a very aggressive meerkat. Said meerkat approached and then later attacked us as we had a roadside break under the shade of a tree outside a farmhouse. While sitting there, we were amazed to see this meerkat approaching us. That amazement soon passed as it hissed and continually charged at us, bearing its teeth and trying to bite each of us. It was all fun and games for a few minutes as we dodged it and tried to scare it away, until it finally landed its teeth into Shane’s leg and was subsequently flung through the air as Shane tried to detach the angry little thing from his leg. Proud at having found a victim, the meerkat then ran away. We laughed, hysterically, for quite a while. Then we realised just how unorthodox this behaviour was for a cute and generally placid little creature and Shane had to race forward to Luderitz to err on the side of caution and be treated for rabies, just in case. It’s not something you mess around with really.
So, as of today, we have but 12 days left on this trip. From here we ride for about 3 days towards Fish River Canyon and have another day or two off before pushing another day to the border of South Africa and then making the final 5 day slog to the end at Cape Town. I’m a mixture of emotions with the knowledge that this trip is coming to an end. I’ve got exciting and new things ahead of me back home in Melbourne, so i’m quite looking forward to going home to get started on that. I’m ‘ready’ to finish this trip- it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed it: I have, more than i’ve ever enjoyed anything before, but I’m very eager and hungry to get across the finish line and be able to relish in the achievement of what’s been the biggest and most exciting adventure i’ve ever done in my life.
I’ll leave it at that- it’s dry, short and sweet but i’m fining it very difficult to type as I sit in the back of a car en-route to Luderitz.
I’ve uploaded some photos to the Botswana page
as well as having added a new Nambia page
Of the 3 months we’ve spent on the road, we’ve been given occasional bad advice. We’ve been told towns are 30kms away when in actual fact they’re closer to 100km. We’ve been told that the road ahead of us is perfectly flat when there’s actually nothing but mountains. But the advice we were given in our accommodation in Kasane, Botswana (1 day’s ride after leaving Livingstone) takes the cake. We’d spoken to the host of our basic accommodation of our proposed route and asked what the wildlife situation was as we were looking at camping the following few nights. Without hesitation, our white host confirmed that it was fine to camp and that we were perfectly safe.
It’s worth knowing that Botswana, so far, has been the most sparsely populated country we’ve visited. We’ve ridden whole days (160kms) without passing anything even remotely resembling civilisation.
With our host’s ‘advice’, we set off with overly laden bikes carrying enough food and water for 5 hungry and thirsty cyclists for the next 2 days as we set off from Kasane on the 320km push to the next town at Nata. This route is along what’s informally known as the Elephant Highway and no sooner had we set off on it that we saw a herd of elephants literally standing on the side of the road. We’d been warned by many travellers that when/if we found ourselves in this situation to stop and wait for the elephants to move as they commonly charge anything on the road (trucks, cars) but they especially dislike cyclists and motorcyclists. Once we got to about 50m away, they started running back into the bush, which we took to be a sign that all the advice we’d previously been given to be false. Gavan and I rode through the herd. I was filming when one of the last elephants turned, flayed its ears and started to come straight towards us. I panicked and flew forward- running the gauntlet to safety. Gavan, perhaps more sensibly, stopped and turned back. I managed to get the whole thing on film so i’ll try and upload to youtube soon. My heart has perhaps not beat that fast, ever.
We did our budgeted 160kms that day and wound up, as expected, in the middle of nowhere. Decent camping sites were few and far between due to the high undergrowth, thick scrub and ant infestations. After each of us trudging around for about 30 minutes, unsuccessfully looking for somewhere to camp, a big semi trailer stopped and beckoned us to his cabin. I walked up and climbed up his side steps to see what he wanted. Without even me saying a word, he immediately said something along the lines of “What the HELL are you doing here”? I replied “Looking for somewhere to camp”. His facial expression was as equally shocking as his response. “There are man-eating lions everywhere... And they’re always eating people... If you camp here tonight, you will die”. We were 160kms from the border town we’d just come from and another 160km to the next town in Nata. By this time, a few more cars had stopped and each of us was fact-checking the truck driver’s alarming news. All of the other cars said the same thing, with equal-to-more-urgent responses. Wade actually got yelled at by one of the drivers for a) being out here and b) not knowing about the lions. A Botswanian Government Wildlife car had stopped by this time and we all spoke to the driver who essentially ordered that we jump on the back of the truck and hitch 90kms to a veterinary road-block camp where we could sleep the night. It took little convincing and we started piling 20 panniers and 5 people into the sleeper-cabin of the truck and lashed the bikes on the trailer to start our shameful journey to our camp. By this time, Roy, our young truck driver, started to get panicky for even being out of the cabin of his trick. Once we piled in and were under way, Roy regaled us with stories of the animals on the road and told us about another truck driver who, a year or so before, was driving along this same road with his wife who asked to stop to go to the bathroom, in the bush. Roy said the truck driver stayed in the cabin and only heard his wife scream once, which was when a leopard took her, never to be seen again. Within 10 minutes, we saw a wild-dog (similar to a hyena) chasing small animals across the road- which confirmed that we’d made the right decision. We arrived at our veterinary campsite which consisted of nothing more than a water tank and some small compounds where the police who manned the checkpoint slept at night. The following morning, we hitch hiked back to the point where we jumped on the truck the night before and continued our journey, a lot quicker than the previous day due to the advice we’d been given that we’d be safe as long as we were off the road before 6pm, as lions apparently don’t do much before then. What they’re doing before 6pm, I don’t know.
Botswana’s remoteness continued for the following two days as we grinded out both a 160km day into Nata and then a 100km day from Nata to Gweta (passing a grand total of about 2 small towns in both days); where we had a day off to go and check out the world’s biggest salt pan and meerkats which were respectively underwhelming and cute. Being that it was a day off, we’d asked that our vehicle to the salt pans and meerkats be packed full of beer. We had our first beer at 10am, rugged up in thick jackets in the back of an open air truck as we belted around in the bush for a few hours en-route to salt pans and meerkats. The highlight of the day was a German kid of about 14 years old (there were about 16 people in two 4WDs (including us)) who had an urgent bout of the runs and ended up with his pants around his ankles crying “Mummy, Mummy, Poo”. We sat back crying with laughter (discretely, so as not to scar the poor kid) as his Mum cleaned him up.
From Gweta, we had another long day in Botswana’s remoteness and ended up in a tiny town camped in a school ground for the night. It’s great to be back in the tents and also back in the middle of no-where. It’s also great to be making our westerly push across Africa with an enormous tail-wind that’s pushing us along at an average of 30km/h which is really moving considering our overall average for the whole trip is only 20km/h. Botswana’s remoteness is like nothing we’ve seen before throughout Africa. Its land size is enormous and its population is tiny (something like 2,000,000). Perhaps if lions stopped killing people, this may not be the case.
So we’re now in Maun, which is the biggest town we’ve come across in Botswana where we have another day off to arrange joy flights in 2 helicopters over the Okavango Delta. I really don’t mind having a day off, followed by 2 day’s riding, then another day off. We’ve just passed the 9,000km mark. I was talking to an American tourist today about our trip. He asked how far we’d come and how far we had to go. I told him we were on the ‘home stretch’. He asked if I realised we still had almost 3,000km to go. Yes, I replied: the home stretch.
Everyone’s well, healthy and happy. Shaun’s very quickly become an integral part of the group: I don’t think i’ve ever met someone as down to earth and funny. My stomach’s continually sore from laughing- i’ve never laughed so much in my life. I really don’t want him to leave in a week or so and really wish he was riding in to Cape Town with us. Shaun’s running a blog- so check it out for photos and another perspective (http://offexploring.com/hardluckstories
So in a nutshell, that’s our last week. Elephants, warthogs, ostriches, wild dogs, truck drivers, meerkats and plenty of laughs.
From here we have a 2 day ride to enter Namibia where we spend about 18 days before crossing in to South Africa and make the 5 day push to our finish line in Cape Town. We’re still debating what our finish line will be in Cape Town. I’m voting for the “welcome to Cape Town sign whereas Gavan’s trying to push for something more official, like the coast. Though we still have 30 days to go, things are drawing to a close quite quickly. I’ve already emailed work and told them of my impending return and set a date for my return to work, which i’m confusingly quite looking forward to.
I've added a handful of photos to my Zambia page
and set up a new Botswana page
which has quite a few photos in it over the last week or so.
We all hit up Victoria Falls today and I can easily say it was the most spectacular thing i've ever seen in my life. Zambia's wet season apparently got off to a late start so we were lucky enough to see the Falls in all their glory with an indescribable amount of water spilling over it. While walking around the path, we all got soaked to the bone as the water sprayed back up over the cliff and fell again, worse than any tropical rain fall i've ever seen. It was incredible- and thrilling. We all just stood there in awe and laughed at how spectacular and amazing it all was. One of the greatest days on the trip, by far.
After seeing the falls, we walked to a cafe which had a great view of the bridge which leads from Zambia and into Zimbabwe. On this bridge (and clearly visible from the cafe) was a bungee jump station and Gavan proceeded to bully and peer pressure one of us in to jumping explaining how safe it was and how much we'd love it. I took the bait despite being absolutely petrified of bungee jumping in general. As soon as i'd signed up and paid the money, Gavan then started saying he couldn't believe i'd trust the bungee company and that I was silly. The guys then started fighting over who got what of my belongings if tragedy struck. Comforting.
The jump itself was quite controversial considering what happened just 3 months earlier (link here
). Anyway, I did it and survived. I'm still not sure whether I liked it- it was just pure terror. To the bungee company's credit, everything and everyone was very professional & I felt safe the whole time- up until my toes hung over the edge and the person counted down from 5....... Video below
Poor Shaun.. Poor, poor Shaun.. Shaun arrived safe and sound in Lusaka on 22 April and immediately begun enjoying his Africa experience by
a) Staying in 4-star bliss
b) Enjoying Chinese food for dinner
c) Getting his legs waxed, and;
d) Hanging out in huge shopping malls.
We departed Lusaka early on 23 March and, quite cruelly, pushed out a 182km day. This is still hard for us after having ridden for 3 months straight. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Shaun. But, he’s obviously in great shape and has put some time in both the gym and on the bike as he didn’t end up crying and cussing, as I would have done if I was in his position. That night we rode to a camp site and pitched out tents and enjoyed a rainless, cloudless, starry night camping.
The following day was planned to be a 160km day but after both a late start and some bike problems, we resigned at about 4pm after about 115kms and stayed in a ‘lodge’ where the rooms resembled glamorous honeymoon suites, sans mosquito nets; so I spent the night slapping myself in the face at the swarms of mosquitoes which proceeded to dive bomb me throughout the night. How I didn’t concuss myself with the barrage of self face-slaps, I don’t know.
The reduced kms from the day before meant that we had to ride our longest day yet into Livingstone: a 195km day. By this stage, Shaun the trooper was quite saddle sore and though he hasn’t said anything by way of a complaint, was presumably quite fatigued in the legs. Despite this, he did the distance as good (if not better) than us all and we arrived in our lodge/camp site at about 8pm last night. Livingstone is unusual, as white tourists seem to outnumber local Africans by about 3 to 1. We’re not used to seeing white people- we see perhaps one or two a week, so to be surrounded by them is a huge culture shock.
Everyone, except me, decided to camp while having our day off in Livngstone. Having lived like a pauper for the 12 months preceding this trip purely to save the necessary amount of money, I decided to splurge and get myself a cabin for the 2 nights that we’re here.
So today we’re all heading down to Victoria Falls to play the tourist and presumably part with large sums of money in the process. Everything here is just so expensive and while seeing the Falls is necessary, the quicker we can get out of here and back off the tourist trail, the better. It gets old quite quickly, especially when 99% of your time is spent in isolation on quiet roads with sweet and charming locals.
It’s great to have Shaun here. I’d only met him once before the trip but he’s a top guy and really compliments the group. I’ve only spent 4 days with him but will definitely be sad to see him leave when/if he flies out of Namibia in a few week''s time.
I’ll keep it short and sweet. We cross over into Botswana tomorrow where we’ll spend about 2 weeks before crossing into Namibia. Like the last 7 countries, I know nothing of these 2 so don’t really know what to expect by way of culture, sights or cycling conditions. Also, i’m not sure when i’ll get internet access again to upload another blog or photos but i’ll upload again as soon as possible. As always, i’ve uploaded some photos which you can find in my Zambia photo page
And here we are, capital city (Lusaka, Zambia) of country number 7 of 10. We arrived in Lusaka mid-afternoon yesterday (22nd March) which is very conveniently located across the road from a huge shopping centre which I can already confirm has KFC which make one of the best milk shakes i’ve ever tasted. To date, i’m still not sure where this milk shake fetish (yes, it is now a fetish) came from.
Health-wise, I’d made enough of a recovery to ride out of Lilongwe and head towards the border town of Chipata between Malawi and Zambia. Like the last 2 countries we were in and out in about 20 minutes. The last day’s ride in Malawi saw us ride through tobacco fields (Malawi’s economy is heavily reliant on tobacco farming) where tobacco was drying under covered huts. The smell of drying/dried tobacco is one of my favourite scents and took me back to being a kid around North East Victoria. I even stopped riding at one point and walked up to the tobacco, grabbed a handful of drying leaves and took a huge whiff, much to the puzzlement of the locals sitting around the shed.
After crossing into Zambia, the first thing we noticed was the insane price of things. Gone are the days where our accommodation costs $3AUD, meals $2AUD and coffee $0.50AUD. Zambia’s economy seems to be surging ahead and though I haven’t looked at the statistics, inflation seems to be running wild. I fail to see how a Zambian can, or would, pay the equivalent of $5AUD for a cup of coffee when their average wage probably pales in significance to ours. Anyway, it’s just an observation. In a nutshell, Zambia’s VERY expensive.
We’ve only ridden 4 days while in Zambia before hitting the capital city but they were four of the longest days of riding on the whole trip. We had a 180km day, a 170km day, a 115km day (with 1,850m of climbing) and a 120km day into Lusaka, which I have to say was one of the hardest days riding i’ve had on this trip as my legs just had nothing left in them. Even now, more than 15 hours after having stopped riding, they still hurt to touch. The tropical weather in Zambia only adds to the difficulty of riding as usually, within the first 15 minutes of riding, I’m soaked through with sweat due to the almost unbearable humidity. Fortunately, we’re riding, so get some kind of air flow which makes things a little easier. I’m still not at the point where i’d prefer Sudan or Kenya’s dry, hot heat though.
The scenery in Zambia is easily the most stunning I’ve seen on the trip. The first 2 days (180km and 170km), though long, were very enjoyable as we rolled our way over tame hills and skirted larger hills which were blanketed in thick fog/low lying cloud in the middle of the day. The greenery is so dense too and the roads are bordered by grass that’s literally 2-3m high. I always wondered what would happen if a never, ever mowed my back lawn and just how high the grass would get. I now know. We’ve had a couple of instances too where we’re rounded a corner and had quite large baboons just sitting in the road in front of us. Once, the baboon didn’t make a left/right dash into the scrub, but instead ran away from us down the middle of the road for about 30 metres and quick-draw Gavan managed to turn on his handlebar mounted camera and capture it.
The only other wildlife we’ve seen was one of the biggest (dead) snakes i’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing. It would have easily been 2m long and had the girth of a standard leg calf muscle. That’s something I really wish I hadn’t seen. Snakes aren’t my idea of fun. Especially ones which apparently have the desire and capability to consume large animals (and presumably humans). Before riding into Lusaka, we’d camped the night by a small damn and had the fun of packing up camp the following morning in the damp and dewy conditions. Upon arriving into our posh hotel in Lusaka, I unravelled my tent to dry out and found a handful of leaches stuck to it....... I hadn’t even contemplated having to deal with leaches on this trip. Lions, elephants and rhinos; yes.. But leaches??
I’m still getting a lot of emails from people asking about our bikes- please keep these coming as a) i love talking about my bike and b) i’m more than happy to field any questions. Our internally-geared Rohloff hubs are still going strong and I don’t expect this to change..ever.. We changed the oil at around the half-way mark and that’s the only maintenance we expect to have to do.
We’ve changed our chains for cheap local ones which are working fine. Being that the local chains cost the equivalent of a cup of coffee back home I would not be surprised if chain-changing occurs a few more times before the trip’s out.
Now that we’ve all but seen the end of dirt roads, punctures are a rarity. I think we’ve only had one puncture since Nairobi which was Wade just the other day who’d fallen victim to a small metal shard.
We’ve been fortunate with spokes of late- Shane’s spoke-a-day habit seems to have stopped (after breaking 22 spokes in total on this trip so far). Gavan’s broken 2 or 3 and Wade and I haven’t broken any....yet.
Otherwise, the bikes are holding up great and I wouldn’t change anything on even with the benefit of hindsight which is a true credit to the research Gavan put into designing these bikes.
Our friend Shaun arrived last night. I tried to stay awake for his arrival (approx 10:30pm at the hotel) but woke at 3am with my headphones still in my ears having fallen asleep while watching a movie on my laptop. Staying up beyond 9pm is a rarity now and I feel twice my age after cycling all day. We’re all very excited to see him over breakfast this morning and push him to his limits over the coming few weeks. The poor guy kicks off his riding with almost 160km on his first day and over 180km on his second. He’ll be fine though. He’s a veteran of a 4,500km ride with Gavan from Adelaide to Uluru so i’m sure he’ll quite easily adapt to long hours in the saddle.
And, on a sombre note, we’ve tentatively confirmed our arrival date into Cape Town as 30 April and our departure date back to Melbourne on 2 May. We arrive back in Melbourne at almost 6am on 4 May. It seems like such a long way away but, from experience, I know the time’s going to slip away quite quickly.
From herein we push towards Victoria Falls where there’s talk of a group skeet-shooting session which should be a laugh. Then we hook across into Botswana and from there, Zambia and down into South Africa. I still don’t know whether this trip’s gone quickly or slowly or how I feel about the impending return back to Melbourne. I’ve been keeping myself busy here having sold my house and managed to secure a rental property in inner Melbourne; which would not have been possible without the enormous assistance of my family and friends who i’ve certainly over burdened and exhausted with favours. It’s all very exciting for me as I now come home to an almost new life and perhaps a new perspective on things.
Perhaps most exciting will be the box of bike components which will hopefully be waiting for me in Melbourne which will collectively contain a brand new road bike which Gavan and I are already in the process of designing... Yes, i’m now going to be a lycra-clad road warrior. There’s already talk of a bike building session on 5 May- sorry girlfriends ;)
I've also uploaded some more photos in the Malawi page
and also the new Zambian page
. Check them out.
Frustratingly, I only managed to get one (difficult) day’s riding in from Chitimba: a 135km ride into Mzuzu which involved a pretty difficult 10km climb at the 20km mark and undulating hills the rest of the day. We arrived at about 6:30 at night to a guest house where we are dinner and retired for the night in preparation for the enormous day of climbing the following day (supposedly the second most difficult day of climbing for the whole trip). I’d spent the whole day with what I thought was severe hay fever as I sneezed and nose-leaked my way through 135kms of riding. During the night (in Mzuzu) I began fevering and developed quite a nasty chesty-cough and when the alarm went off at 6am, rolled out of bed without having had much sleep and feeling quite the worse for wear. Feeling very unwell and not being able to take a deep breath without coughing profusely, I realised that there was no way I could ride that day and resigned to catch a bus from Mzuzu to Lilongwe (3 day’s riding duration) to a) get proper medical attention and diagnosis and b) rest up. This wasn’t an easy decision and as I counselled with Wade that morning about my options and what I should do, I fought back tears at the amount of effort i’d not only put in to get here, to Africa, but for the last 100-or-so days riding i’d done only to have my body seemingly break down over the last couple of weeks. I blubbered to Wade that I was spending too much time on busses and was getting to the point where I worried I couldn’t even say I “cycled the length of Africa”. Realising that this was pride usurping logic, I bit the bullet and trudged off to the bus depot and haggled my way onto a half-decent bus where you actually had an assigned seat, as opposed to the other busses i’d caught where you fought for a place to rest your butt. The ride was only 360’ish kms but took almost 6hrs.
To try and find the silver lining in this situation, I comforted myself by realising that I was at least having a unique travel experience and ‘getting amongst it’ with the locals which isn’t always possible on the bike; largely as we’re usually pressed for time and arguably quite detached from local culture as we blaze through towns. I haven’t travelled much outside of a short jaunt through Canada and the USA quite some years ago, so I found some solace in my otherwise unintended and undesirable situation of being a passenger on another bus on a cycling touring trip.
I arrived in Lilongwe about 4pm and after spending about 20 minutes getting my bike out from underneath the bus (there was no luggage compartments, so my bike was rope-tied to the undercarriage of the bus), I set off to try and find some accommodation. Lilongwe, being Malawi’s capital, is huge and quite spread out with little-to-no town planning apparently having gone in to the layout. I’d developed a headache on the bus and still felt quite unwell so was keep to find somewhere fast, check in, find a doctor, and get some sleep.
On my voyage through Lilongwe, I ended up lost at the top of a hill in an industrial area. Turning around to head back down the hill, I picked up quite a bit of speed only to realise that the 2-lane road was about to quickly become 1 lane with the 30cm high gutter (common to Africa) on my left quickly coming toward me. I tried to veer right, but couldn’t, as there was a car next to me. The next thing I knew, I’d hit the gutter at over 40km/h and the rest is all a little bit of a blur. I recall flying through the air and trying to tuck my arms into my chest. I hit the sidewalk..hard. I flew through the air and skidded, rolled and tumbled my way about 10-15 metres away from my bike, landing at the feet of 3 attractive young ladies who seemed to be in more shock than I was at what had literally just occurred at their feet. I think I blacked out for a few seconds as just remember blackness parting way to noise and light. I got to my feet and screamed “F*#K, F*#K, F*#K,!!!!!” and immediately vomited. I tested my legs; they still worked. I moved my arms, wrists and head. They all still worked. I’d grazed and cut up most of my right arm and shoulder and there was blood literally dripping from it. I’d smacked my head quite hard in the fall too and in the process bit my lip, so I had blood coming from my mouth (as well as residual puke on my beard). After cursing, I remember just looking up at the girls and smiling. They did not reciprocate, or even ask if I was ok, but just quickly walked off. I don’t blame them- I looked like sh*t. Save for a couple small things having broken in the impact, my bike was ok. I straightened everything up and rolled off looking for the nearest accommodation I could find. Price, comfort or amenities were no longer a concern and I walked into the foyer of what must have been Lilongwe’s premier hotel and asked for a room for the night. I’d ran out of water so didn’t even have anything to wash the blood from me and the concierge took one look at me, grabbed the room keys and quickly ushered me to my room telling me we’d finalise the check in in my room (i.e. away from the guests who were looking at me somewhat terrified). I showered and came back downstairs and was taken to a medical clinic over the road where my arm and shoulder were cleaned and dressed. My ribs took a hit in the fall too and I had a fair amount of pain coming from them. The doctor wanted to send me for xrays to see if i’d broken any ribs. I’ve broken ribs a few times before and knew that though the pain was bad, it wasn’t as bad as i’d had previously and that if anything, i’d probably only bruised or, at the very worse, slightly cracked one so respectfully declined the xray request. The doctor agreed with my reasoning and gave me some painkillers for the next 3 days and told me to take it easy. Regarding the cough, the doctor took a good look over me and diagnosed me with bronchitis and, again, gave me a handful of pills and cough syrup to take over the following 3 days. He assured me i’ll be fit and able to ride by the time the guys reach here, have their rest day, and depart on Sunday 18 March. The meds are already doing their job as my cough isn’t as bad and my ribs definitely don’t feel as bad as they did yesterday.
I checked out of my posh-hotel this morning and found something a little-less ritzy: the Korean Garden Lodge where they apparently have an all-Korean kitchen which I plan to put to good use when i’m not sleeping.
Mum, I know you’re going to freak out a little (a lot?) when you read this. I didn't want to tell you on email when we spoke today as I didn’t want to worry you with snippets of information. Here, at least, you get the full story. I’m fine- it could have (should have?) been a lot worse. You know me-i’m a good judge at my own wellbeing and when/if I need to pull the pin. I’m ok.
I’ve ridden almost 6,500kms and if this accident is as bad as it gets, then i’m lucky. If it was anyone’s fault, it’s mine for not foreseeing it. I wasn’t feeling well and I was tired and, most importantly, I was riding alone. When we ride as a group we generally ride in formation and always hand/verbal signal for cars, hazards, pot holes etc etc to each other so we have the benefit of 4 sets of eyes looking out for each other. Hopefully this will be the last time I not only catch a bus, but ride alone for the rest of this trip.
Backtracking a little, while in Chitimba, the four of us arranged a car to take us up to Livingstonia which is perched on top of a mountain with an 18km unsealed and terrible ‘road’ leading the way up. After playing tourist and having lunch, we made our way back down the mountain. From our lunch stop, Gavan decided to walk and Shane, Wade & I remained in the car. After about 5 minutes, one of our young Malawian ‘guides’ got out of the car and started running down the hill (weight was an issue in the car, which was getting stuck in ruts and rocks too often). Feeling like a run, Shane got out and started running with the Malawian. Feeling cocky, I did too. I don’t know what I was thinking- I haven’t ran in over 12 months and the next day, I could hardly get out of bed from the pain in my previously unused leg-running muscles. It’s been 4 days since and I still can’t walk without limping and Gavan and Shane are much the same. I can confidently say that will be the last time I go for a run on this trip.
From herein, we have another day’s ride before we exit Malawi and enter Zambia where we officially begin starting our small ride across the continent so we can enter South Africa somewhere towards the end of April 2012. It’s an exciting time we for 3 or so weeks, we’ve got a mate joining us who we’re going to do our best to punish with gruelling rides. Coincidently, we have our longest day (longest doesn’t necessary mean hardest) coming up which Shaun gets to ‘enjoy’ with us: 207kms!! We’re all very excited to have you coming over Shaun and can’t wait to see you soon.
I’ve uploaded a handful of photos from my last few days in the Malawian photo page
. Check them out.
Well that’s it for now. I have an afternoon nap to have and some bibimbap to eat for lunch.
After leaving Arusha, we spent a couple of amazing day’s riding on sealed roads (possible two of the most enjoyable days riding i’ve had on this whole trip, with rolling and sweeping hills with breathtaking views) before making a turn on to unsealed roads where we’d slog it out for another 500kms of more dirt roads. The rain held off for the first day and we enjoyed riding at decent speeds on relatively ‘nice’ dirt roads. We stayed that first night in a game reserve (where rich fools pay ridiculous amounts of money to hunt and kill Africa’s game animals) where we happily rolled out our sleeping bags on the concrete floor of the radio room and dozed for the night. At this point, we will literally do anything not to have to take out and pitch our tents, especially if the weather’s bad. There’s few things less enjoyable than packing up a tent in the wet.
The next day the heavens opened (it rained heavier than i’ve ever seen before) up within the first couple of hour’s riding which immediately turned the dirt roads into a mud pit. Fortunately, though it was raining, it wasn’t cold at all so we just rode on and spent the day wet to the bone. The riding was hard and our bikes (and bodies) took a battering from the conditions. Imagine riding down a sandy beach, in wet sand. That’s what it was like. The soft mud/sand made riding a LOT more physically taxing.. We finally made it into one of the dodgiest towns i’ve come across on this whole trip (Itiga, Tanzania) at about 7pm and having spent the last 7 hours absolutely soaked to the bone and fighting my way through the mud, I was exhausted and didn’t feel 100% so ate dinner and was asleep by 8pm. When I woke the next day, I had chest pains and couldn’t get a full breathe without unbearable chest pains. Being the medical professional I am*(* I have watched every episode of House and Scrubs)
I self-diagnosed myself as having the onset of a chest infection and decided to push on for the day and see how I felt tomorrow. Despite feeling bad, I rode quite well and only felt my chest pain when I was climbing hills which was only a handful of times that day. The next day my chest felt MUCH worse and I’d spent the night fevering instead of sleeping. Thinking my self-diagnosis may be wrong, and not wanting to mess around with chest pains, I decided to pull out of the day’s riding and catch a lift into Mbeya, about 100km away, where the guys would be arriving that night.
My lift into Mbeya involved me and 18 other people (including the driver) packed into a 4WD which raced at breakneck speeds along the wet dirt roads that twisted their way through the mountains for 4 hours as we literally raced our way into Mbeya. I think our young driver (I honestly think he should have had L plates on) may have a future in rally driving as I’ve never seen someone navigate a heavy 4WD with such surgical precision at break-neck speeds. I teetered between absolute terror and proud admiration as he heaved the ‘truck’ around like a go-cart. Upon arriving into Mbeya and checking into the hotel, I made my way through Mbeya’s medical centres getting ridiculous diagnosis after ridiculous diagnosis until, after 3 tries, I was absolutely exhausted and on the verge of fainting. I retired back to my hotel (at about 4pm) and fell into bed asleep none the wiser as to what I may have. One doctor suggested it was altitude sickness. Another suggested it was the result of cycling without a face mask (???). Another diagnosed me with allergies without once looking at me throughout the entire consultation, or undertaking ANY test at all. I can’t even confidently say that he was a doctor.
I decided to go to the hospital the following day where someone who looked, spoke and behaved like a doctor said he feared I had pneumonia. He sent me off for a chest xray but not before taking my blood to test for malaria; which I tested positive to. The xray ruled out pneumonia, thankfully as that would have meant I’d have been on the first plane back to Australia. Not having had a definitive diagnosis, the doctor presumed I had a respiratory tract infection and gave me some meds to treat it (and now, 5 days later, i’m symptom free for both malaria and the chest, woo). I hate doctors and hospitals with a passion, so I hope that’s the last time I have to see either while in Africa.
We left Mbeya and I delicately rode out (not knowing how I’d feel on the bike, considering I couldn’t walk more than 50m without breaking into a breathless fever the day before) in the morning and found that though I didn’t feel 100%, I could manage the speed the guys were riding at. Overall, that day (Sat 10 March 2012), we rode 165km and crossed from Tanzania into Malawi (which was another record, I think we’d crossed out of Tanzania and completed Malawi’s customs within 20 minutes) and made a mad-dash to find some accommodation before the sun set.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Tanzania. I found the people fun, the riding (for the most part) enjoyable, the scenery stunning (as we were entering a tropical climate, plants (and animals!!) grow in abundance) and, most of all, I loved the kids. I had a lot of fun playing around with the kids as they ran along-side us or when we pulled into towns for food or drinks. One thing that amazed me was how many Tanzanian’s smiled. Everyone was smiling and we were rarely, if at all, pestered for money or whatever else. Another observation was that almost every girl had a child, and i’m not talking about 20 year old mothers either. There were girls who couldn’t have been any older than 15 walking around with their child neatly wrapped in a cloth on their back. And we didn’t just see one or two mothers this young- they were everywhere. Sadly, we didn’t once see a father in tow. I’m not drawing any conclusions here, it’s just an observation. Another thing I noticed was that the kids here all have to grow up very, very quickly and don’t have much of a chance to enjoy being young. It’s common to see kids of no older than 5 with a 10 litre bucket of water perched on their head as they walk huge distances to bring water to their homes. It’s not always water, sometimes it could be heavy bundles of wood lugged on the back of a young girl (which I can’t even lift) for burning at home, enormous bags of rice perched on the back of a bike being ridden by young boy/girl- but none of them look unhappy. It’s common to see the kids in groups, all doing their chores together and laughing playing as they go. It’s at least nice to see a glimmer of childhood innocence in the midst of all of this. I quite like their attitude and the toughness of the children- there’s not enough of it with the over-mollycoddled children back in Australia. I’m not suggesting the parents of Australia start sending their kids out to collect buckets of water from the next town; it’s just that you can’t help but look at these kids with a lot of admiration as they happily go about their very difficult life with a smile on their face.
Despite only having been here for 2 days, Malawi’s quickly proving to be just as nice as Tanzania in all areas and as far as I know, there’s no dirt roads! I’ll leave it at that . We’re going to zip through Malawi and then take a right hand turn into Zambia where we cut across the continent. We’re about 6-7 weeks from home and i’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. The group’s thoughts are already turning to life back in Melbourne but those thoughts are quickly pushed aside by the sheer fun of what we’re doing.
I’ve added a LOT of photos to my Tanzania page
and have also added a new Malawi page where i’ve put a handful of photos from the last couple of days.
It’s been less than i week since my last blog entry and honestly not a whole lot has gone on. I’m more or less just making use of the hotel’s free wifi at 5am after having been woken up by the morning’s call to prayer from loud speakers perched no more than 30m from mine & Gavan’s bedroom window... This wouldn’t be the first time i’ve honestly considered leap-frogging from my hotel’s balcony over the adjoining rooftops, to the mosque, and wire cutting the speaker wire at 4:30am.
On 25 February 2012 we reluctantly left our posh hotel bliss in Nairobi and rode 164kms to the border town of Marsabi. Being quite a long day’s ride we intended to leave early and aim to cross the border that day but we ended up getting going between 10am-11am as Wade, who had a few weeks earlier, sadly broken his camera, found a last minute replacement (that morning) which we raced out to grab. We also met up with Patrick who through friends of friends, kindly allowed us to bombard his PO Box in Nairobi with spare parts for our bikes and gift/care packages from home. Patrick and his wife Erica’s generosity (to us complete strangers) was largely typical of the amazing generosity we’ve come to encounter throughout this journey and it was really nice to be able to meet them.
Speaking of people: for the last few days we’ve ridden on the edge of the Massai Steppe and have seen an abundance of traditional Massai tribal folk
in their traditional robes/gowns, jewellery, ear rings and very used and presumably sharp spears and daggers. I’ve wanted to snap a photo of these beautiful people (even the guys, in all their gear, look stunning) but not being sure what their reaction will be (their spears are definitely NOT accessories), i’ve opted to err on the side of caution.
Sleeping in Marsabit on 26 February 2012, we awoke and crossed the border into Tanzania the following morning in a world-record time of less than 20 minutes. I’m not so sure it was an exercise of efficiency as much as it was just a more relaxed approach to border security on account of the reduced threat between the two nations. No complaints from me though.
The ride from Marsabit to Arusha was about 115kms and despite being what’s come to be a short distance was actually quite difficult owing largely to a strong headwind and a gradual climb past Tanzania’s Mt Meru (which is effectively the same size as Mt Kenya (i.e. almost 5kms above sea level!!). Quite embarrassingly, for about ½ of the day we all thought that that Mt Meru was the amazing Mt Kilimanjaro until Gavan applied some basic logic and explained that we’d all just taken dozens of photos of the wrong mountain. This reminded me of a similar incident I had when I went to visit Uluru in Australia. I was warned not to be one of those silly tourists who sees Mt Cook in the distance and presumes that’s Uluru. Despite being armed with this inside information, I still managed to find myself taking self portraits with Mt Cook in the background. Sucker.
So we finally arrived in to Arusha in the evening of 26 Feb and did all of the normal things one does when they enter a new country: change currency, buy local SIM, see what soft drink delicacies are on offer etc etc. Speaking of currency, Tanzania’s is by far the most ridiculous. A can of soft drink costs almost 2,000 Tanzanian Shillings so we found ourselves withdrawing hundreds of thousands of shillings from ATM’s just for a few day’s use. Carrying around a brick of money which is roughly equivalent to $100AUD makes you feel quite rich.
So Shane and Wade have gone off on what sounds like an amazing 3 day Safari into the Serengeti while Gavan and I have opted for a 1 day “Safari” into the Tarangiri National Park which is today. I’m not sure how we’re going to fill the balance of time off in Arusha (we have 3 days off in total) but i’m sure we’ll find something to do. This place is full of Western people and has, by far, the biggest concentration of non-African people that we’ve come across on this whole trip. This sees the general services, food quality, supermarket content and begging all increase dramatically.
Gavan & I caught a taxi yesterday (youtube clip below) and while being driven got the name of a Tazanian hiphop artist being played by the driver (Professor Jay for you music aficionados at home). Once being dropped off, I went to look for a CD of Professor Jay. I bumped into a local DJ (named Peace) who assured me that he knew where to get it. It was only 3 minutes away. Everything in Arusha is only 3 minutes away. 35 minutes later, I was being led through a maze of backstreets going from music store to music store. I cracked it and told him if he was taking me somewhere to roll me, that we should just have it out there in the street. He laughed, called me a paranoid mazungo (mazungo is ‘white person’) and kept escorting me in the search for Professor Jay. I ended up ditching Peace and returned back to my hotel. In a completely unrelated incident, I asked another local guy, Richard, if he knew where to get something else I was looking for (to finalise my safari costume) and he said he’d find it and would call me when he did. I stupidly gave him my mobile number. The next thing, Peace, Richard and a few other local people i’d never met, were calling my phone hounding me to buy their wares. I even walked out my hotel and found Peace perched outside waiting for me (I didn’t tell him where I was staying) with 2 Professor Jay CDs. Therein commenced 20 annoying minutes of haggling as Peace wanted the equivalent of $25AUD for the CDs (which is an extraordinary amount of money and a blatant rip off). I try not to get too annoyed at this kind of behaviour as the locals are quite obviously doing it tough here and see us affluent white people as a meal ticket, which I frankly don’t blame them for.
Gavan & I managed to bump into the two people we’d be sharing our day-trip into the Tarangiri National Park with. They’re an Australian couple from Melbourne Australia who are hitch hiking from Cape Town north to Cairo. I thought what we were doing was mad- I take my hat off to these two for a brave and very unique trip. I don’t know too many (any??) couples who would do this kind of holiday (rather than spending weeks kicking around some tropical beach in S/E Asia). We went out for dinner and drinks with them last night (in torrential rain like I’ never seen before, which I hope was an isolated incident) and had a great night and got some great information on the route ahead, which they’d just completed. They’re great people and it was a real pleasure to have been able to spend some time with other Melbournians. I hope to catch up for a beer and hear about the balance of their journey once we’re all back home.
I’ll keep it at that- i’ll upload some photos of mine & Gavan’s small safari shortly.
Well, we’ve officially made it half way through this trip. Thinking back to before I left, I actually never imagined i’d make it this far. I remember speaking to my girlfriend before I left almost assuring her that i’d be home within the first month or so as a result of illness, serious mechanical failure or some other unforeseen incident. As well planned as this trip was, I just presumed that the odds were against us. To be here, at the halfway mark, is an exciting feeling and one which I struggle to explain with words. This, right now, is by far the biggest accomplishment of my life and I am now 100% focussed on crossing the finish line in South Africa in 2 month’s time. It’s sounds a little corny to say, but every fibre of me is now committed and focussed to completing this adventure. The group recently spoke about the balance of our route and the tourist attractions we have ahead of us with a view to striking a balance between time and reward in seeing these attractions. It dawned on me that I really don’t care for playing the tourist on this trip. For me (and I don’t speak for the other guys, obviously) this trip for me is solely about starting, spending 4 months with 3 of the greatest guys I know, and finishing with them: that’s it.
Since my last update from Marsabit, we rode for another 2 days on the worst roads in the world, before finally hitting tarmac about 140kms from Isiolo. We hit the tarmac after 2 solid hours of riding (and covering only 24kms). We’ve had some moments of pure happiness on this trip, but I have to say that reaching that tarmac is by far the most happiest I’ve felt on this trip. It made me laugh how my desires have become so basic that something as simple as reaching tarmac can provide such levels of happiness. We had a ceremonial worship of the tarmac as Gavan got down on all fours and literally kissed the ground. We were happy to be able to sit on increased speeds of 25+km/h averages. Not having used your standard group of cycling muscles in the 5 previous days (from riding the Highway to Hell, which requires the use of a whole different muscle group set), the increased speed from ‘norma’l cycling on tarmac quickly exhausted me but despite this, with pushed out an enormous day of 164kms into Isiolo where we said goodbye to our Police Escorts as we’d now successfully passed through the ‘danger zone’. Earlier on in the day, I asked our police escorts just what the risk against us was (with bandits). They explained that bandits were predominantly desperate cattle thieves who, if they saw us, would rob us at gun point of our valuables (we were assured our bikes would be of no interest in them). I asked whether there was risk of us being harmed in the process. One of the young cops replied “if you resist, you’ll quickly meet God”. I thanked him and reminded him how much I really valued their services. I double checked his gun’s magazine was full and ready for action. It was.
Arriving in Isiolo was a bit of a cultural shock as it marked the end of the Kenyan desert and bush we’d just spent the last 5 days crossing. It also marked a drastic change in scenery, culture and affluence. Scenery-wise, things became a lot greener and dense (as opposed to the desert, where nothing grew). For the first time since Sudan, all of our phones received 3G service which we quickly put to use with long awaited email replies back home. People-wise, the tribal-folk in their cloths and beautiful jewellery with spears gave way to designer clothes and mobile phones. By some fluke of luck, our Police Escorts had brought us to one of the best hotels in town which had a restaurant menu roughly the size of an Oxford Dictionary and we ate like our lives depended on it. A new record for me: 5 milkshakes and 4 bowls of ice cream (not including dinner and breakfast) in less than 12 hours. Any calcium deficiency I may have had (i looooove dairy) had been quenched.
That night we all pow wowed about the route ahead of us and decided that the planned route ahead through Hells Gate National Park (which you can cycle through) was too much effort (i.e. 2-3 days) for very little reward and the route was culled and we would instead head straight to Nairobi which we’d make in 2 day’s time.
The following 2 days passed quite normally; though for one of the first times on this trip, the days were much shorter as we only had 200kms to complete in 2 days to get to Nairobi. The first day saw us finish riding at 3pm and I put the afternoon to use by knocking off some chores that I had planned for Nairobi. Seeing that we potentially had an audience before the High Commissioner at the Australian Embassy in Nairobi, I had a shave and a haircut and also mailed some unused items home. Just on the subject of mailing items home, in earlier blog I mentioned how I sent some other items home that I wasn’t using and also included a beautiful dagger I’d bought in Sudan. I realised that I may have SOME issue getting the item into Australia, so included a nice explanatory letter in the box for any Australian Customs official opening the box. What I didn’t expect was a letter sent to my Mum (who I’d mailed the box and dagger to) explaining that the knife had been seized and she was now to expect legal action on account of receiving prohibited items. I would like to publically apologise to my poor Mum who I have certainly created an enormous headache for. I now have to write to Customs and explain myself and ask that any action arising out of my folly be brought against me. If I do end up in jail, I want the bloody knife back.
So here we sit in Nairobi in more 5-star bliss at the Regency for the next 2 nights. Today is Wade’s birthday which is all very exciting. Seeing that we’re going to the Australian Embassy tonight for drinks and some serious shoulder rubbing, we went to a mall before and bought shirt and slacks for the occasion. We each only have one pair of non-bike clothes and figured that rocking up at the embassy in grubby shorts and t-shirts probably wasn’t kosher. Being that it’s an Australian Embassy, said new shirt and slacks will be worn with thongs (seriously). I must remember to cut my toe nails before I go as they currently resemble a bird’s talons (ahhhh, life without personal standards and no girlfriend to impress...). After presumably drinking VB while listening to Khe Sanh on repeat while eating vegemite sandwiches at the embassy, we’re all heading out to Carnivores restaurant where you were previously able to order just about any kind of African meat (though i’m not lead to believe the menu no longer includes zebra) for Wade’s celebratory birthday dinner.
Tomorrow will be largely dedicated to giving our bikes a much needed tyre change and general maintenance before we start the remaining 5,000-6,000km trek through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and then finally South Africa.
Again, thank you to everyone for your ongoing contacts. It’s been fantastic to have had so much contact from people we don’t even know (largely from the article in RideOn magazine), as well as work colleagues, friends, friends of friends and family. All your emails are shared between the group and we really get a kick out of receiving then.
And, if anyone from Australian Customs reads this, please back off my Mum and give me my bloody knife back.