Just another day

I decided not to ride today. I wasn’t ill, a little tired but certainly not exhausted. I just didn’t fancy it.
Unlike our last trip the ride through Africa is a supported tour. Tour leaders, medics, chefs and bike mechanics all accompany us as we ride from Cairo to Capetown. We simply ride our bikes. Rising early for breakfast we head out for the day, aware of “coke” stops, lunch stops and of course camp at the end of the day. Easy…

However, in comparison to other more holiday geared bike trips (smart hotels, stop offs at key monuments, distances more ameniable to leisure) the TDA ride is described as both a race and expedition. It is listed as one of the top ten toughest global bike challenges.

We average 121km each ride day which sounds ok until you consider that the journey through Africa is both on and off-road. Last week it was flat (apparently easier)as we came out of Botswana so in 5 days we cycled 825km, with 207km in just one day. Supported it may be. Easy it is not.

Today was the start of the next off-road section – packed dirt roads,expected to get deeper with sand as we head towards the famous dune landscapes of Namibia. While the 114km of today was meant to be one of the easier days and seemed to offer some amazing views as the route climbed out of Windhoek I was not in the mood to ride my bike and perhaps that’s one of the hardest parts of being on a supported tour. It just doesn’t stop and wait. Whether you’re tired, ill or just not feeling it the circus moves ever onward. I would be riding the truck.

We have just 15 more ride days left now till we hit Capetown. While feeling I should be doing them all there is more off road ahead and the fact that for me TDA is not the end of my cycle tour I will just continue to see how I feel. Tomorrow is just another day.

Local news

Maybe it’s just me but I always like to read local newspapers as I travel. While often really removed from day to day life the local rag gives a sense of issues and debates that are going on. I thought therefore it may be interesting to write a wee blog on just that subject.

We’re currently in Maun, Botswana. (well, we were when I wrote this). Overall Botwana has a small population compared to many other African countries (1.8M people) and it’s correspnding GDP is also much higher apparently. It’s certainly more expensive! To date we have seen very few people as we cycle through. Travelling on long, staright, flat roads with little changing scenery. I’m afraid to say that so far for me it has been boring Botswana. I find this terrain tedious, especially with some of the headwinds we have encountred.

Last week we were predominantly travelling on the elephant highway through national parks so given this and the fact that the population size is low it’s of no surprise that the wildlife here are big news. Other than a story about more robberies hitting Maun these were the two other key headlines in The Ngami Times on 12th April.

“Farmers shoot problem lioness”
“Poachers kill rhino near Maun”

The key selling point of Africa really is the wildlife – it’s certainly not food or accomodation (maybe more on that in another blog!). While we, as tourists, go on expensive safari trips and love to see all the wild animals in their natural habit, for the inhabitants there is perhaps a different story.

Here in Botwana, hunting, in designated areas (national parks and private game reserves) is a legal activity. Apparently it will be banned other than on private reserves from 2014. The first story regarding the lioness tells of a farmers plight where their livestock was being devastated and a local wildlife officer belived it was also a threat to communities and human life. For these reasons the lioness was shot and its death then reported, as required by law, to the relevant authorities. I get this.

The poacher story (more of which I will write on shortly) also includes a note that “relations between humans and elephants have taken a nose dive”. This comes apparently after incidents in Kazungula and Kasane in the past week. These are both areas we cycled through though I would add that we had an elephant expert, Darryl (and his 40/50 calibre gun) , with us for this time. Apparently Botswana is over populated with elephants and we certainly saw some while out on our bikes. Darryl had been involved with needing to shoot an elephant last week that was attacking humans. I get this and would certainly be happy to have a rescue at hand were it needed.

However, the trophy hunting of elephants (a later story reminds readers of the King of Spain on a hunt last year and the consequent outrage it caused back home)- I don’t get at all. It may be the case that the local village then benefits for food (lots of boiling or drying apparently) and the tusks go to the Government (sold at auction) but why be proud of this on returning home? Run a marathon – cycle across Africa. These are my preferred proud moments.

However, it is the poaching story that I find most difficult. Killing for pure cash. In this case a rhino – endangered!. Government is working hard to catch all poachers and in this story had caught some of the perpetrators. Sadly the fifth man, said to be in possession of the missing horn, was also yet to be found. Maybe rhino horn or shooting an elephant does make you more virile. I guess perception can sometimes be more powerful than the truth. For me, I’d fall for the wildlife officer everytime!

In closure, another thing I enjoy about travel can be a disconnect from global news and that from my own country. However, when shocking events hit – news travels too. The local newspaper reports on efforts and conservation work and thank goodness it doesn’t have to report bombing and shooting at sporting events. That – i definately don’t get at all.

(written as Boston marathon reports bombing…updated a week later when finally reached wi-fi)

Facing fear?

So, having struggled with wobbly bridges in Nepal and having my hand held on part-formed (aka broken) bridges in Sudan I somehow decided I could take on adrenlin fuelled activities here in Victoria Falls. There’s lots on offer here, from bungee jumps to zip-lines, helicopter flights, lion encounters and white water rafting. While the water was too high for the latter and for now I’m happy with the lions I had seen in Tanzania, I opted for a microlite flight. One pilot, one passenger, two “cloth” wings, a small engine and bars to steer.

Reports from previous takers were that this was one of the most amazing things they had ever done. How could I possibly say no? How could I let my fear of heights – or indeed broken bridges at just 6 metres high – stop me from taking on this trip of a lifetime? I decided, very rationally, that with a qualified pilot and a gradual ascent and descent that this would be absolutely fine. WRONG!

There were four of us who signed up for this experience together and at 720am we set off for the aerodrome. On arrival we completed forms, were given a ticket and waited our turn. There were around a dozen people in front of us and as each person returned they were overwhelmed with the experience. It was the best thing they had ever done…they nearly cried it was so beautiful etc etc. No-one used the word scared.

Mike was first from our group, shortly followed by Irin and John. I was last in line. I hinted that I would have liked someone to have been here when I went up though it fell on deaf ears. Oh well. I was feeling OK.
Mike came back though as he did his pilot took a different turn. He was taking no more passengers. The wind had increased and so too had the corresponding turbulence. Microlites are particularly susceptable. Well – there’s not much too them afterall.

I felt so disappointed. John had done a bungee yesterday and I had been in line but he didn’t realise and so had booked in first. Fine at the time but now it looked like this may stop my opportunity. He could now be the last passenger to travel and that could have been me. I felt so frustarted and asked the ground crew if I would be able to go. It would depend on the pilot. They made the final decision.

Irin came back. She was beeming. Her pilot came in for the next passenger. That was me. Fantastic. I was so pleased and quickly took a seat. Ground crew fastened the seat belt and put on my goggles and helmet. We set off back up the runway ready for take off. The pilot checked I was safe, tightening the helmet straps (they were not tight enough for his liking) and then we were off.

We were soon airbourne. Eek. Pretty much as soon as we left land I could feel fear rising and my heart rate was increasing. By now John had returned and as we went past I tried to wave. My hands were gripping hard. My legs pushing against the footrest. I was pretty scared but hoped my anxiety would ease. I seriously considered asking if we could land again immediately but I had paid 160 dollars and was determined to see this throgh. We continued. “Smile at the camera” he said…. I turn nervously to my left. Till now I had mostly been looking at the pilots back.

We passed over the water at the top of the falls. While we weren’t too high the fear was increasing. Winds caught. Up higher we went. We turned. My stomach turned. Would this seat belt really hold me in? Really? I was petrified. “Can you see the rainbow?” Well, not really I thought… I’m still just looking at your back… but I couldn’t say that. I glimpsed down. Oh my.

Winds caught. Up higher went. We turned. My stomach turned. Not just petrified. Utterly petrified. We were heading over the falls and gorge. This is the single most terrifying thing I had ever done. The scenery was phenomenal and I was sure the experience could be but I just wanted it to end. I told him I was scared. A religious guy – he quoted scripture… it was soothing but I was still terrified.

We started to head back and as we followed the water he pointed out hippo a number of times. I never looked down. While I could summon up just enough courage to look at the falls and overall landscape I had seen hippo… from a nice calm safari trip. I just wanted to land.

The pilot frequently communicated with the landcrew. Most of the time I was convinced he was just telling them in code that it was too windy and we shoud never have gone up…then I heard we were going in to start the descent. My 15 minutes in the air were nearly over. Yet even this news did not bring immediate relief. I was still feeling absolute fear.

I looked down. We were closer to the ground now and I could see the landing strip. We came in just over the trees. I was ready for a bumpy landing . Thankfully it was not and soon we were on solid ground. You couldn’t get me out of there quick enough. He asked me what I thought. ” I was utterley petrified” I replied. “I’m afarid of heights”. Perhaps I should have told him that sooner!

I think my face told the others that this experience had been very different for me. They were all elated. My expression told a very different story. I felt white.

I don’t exactly remember what happened next. I was just trying to calm down. Eventually I found John in the queue for the photo CD. Despite my experience I wanted a copy of my pics. i would never do this again! However, my legs were all jelly. i jolted. Shaking I held John and tears were welling up but I felt unable to cry. A minute or so later I went back to my order. Our driver was waiting to take us back to the hotel and photos done, we set off. Mike asked me how it was. i just indicated it had been hard and I needed to not talk about it.

We arrived back at the hotel. It was still early and breakfast was still available. I grabbed fruit and yoghurt and sat down, away from the others. I needed space. John came to join me but on saying I needed space he took that to mean him. I said no. He murmoured and sat down – I ran off leaving the table. I was seriously struggling post flight and as I quickly walked around the corner the tears began to flow and I started to hyperventilate. I was on the bridge, out of view. Gasping for breath, tears flowing and my whole body shaking. It felt much like somekind of delated panic attack. This was very scary.

It was not long before one of the others rides came over – apparently the hotel were concerned. I was so pleased someone had come to find me. I hadn’t known what to do. After ten minutes or so Trish walked me back into the resturant and fetched me a cup of tea. As I tried to pour the water over the tea bag I was unable to do so. I was shaking so much and still intermittantly struggling with my breath. Inga sat with me and poured my tea. Surely that should fix me?

It was nearing 10am and breakfast would shortly finish so I went up for more fruit and tea. Again, I was shaking so much another rider carried it back to the table were I now joined John and others. After a few more tears and a bit more hyperventilating I eventually started to calm down. John fetched me baked beans and eggs and I slowly ate away.

I’m glad I did the trip and have philosophy of no regrets I generally like to live by. Only two more people had gone on a flight after me that day then all rides were suspended. It really was too windy. Only my pilot was still taking people and I later found out that despite flying over 4000 times that the pilot whio had taken John had had also stopped just after him!

It seems we are always told to confront our fears. Well I did and I won’t do it again. Just as we have to accept we have positive and negative traits I am happy to accept that heights are not my thing.

Microlite Vic Falls gif

You have to admit the photo is pretty awesome though. That wil definately be on display when my trip is over. I’m pretty proud I stayed airbourne for the whole ride but perhaps the photo is best kept simply as a reminder to never ever try this ever again!

Nearly there yet?

So, from a time perspective we are 75% done. Following two rest days at Vic Falls we have just one month of our four month trip from Cairo to Capetown left to go. Just one month! Gee.

When a new rider, Rob, joined us in Arusha he noted that we were just getting to the point where many full time riders would start to find the trip hard going. I still felt good and took the comment in a fairly “yeah, yeah” kind of way.

So, last week I felt physically exhausted and this week – I’m just finding the group thing kind of tough. In some ways the physical exhaustion was pretty easy to deal with. Quite simply- I rode the truck on a few days – riding either only to or from lunch. We had some long days last week so when a half day is still 90km then it’s still a fair old ride.

The group stuff is of course much harder. I should start by saying we actually have a fantatsic group on our trip. Of course there are some people you spend more time with than others and there will inevitably be others that you find frustrating but overall (in fact more than overall) our group mixes well, is not too full of cliques and we all pretty much keep an eye out for each other. However, that’s not to say I’m now not finding being surrounded by 70 plus folk pretty full on.

While used to being surrounded by many friends I also live on my own. For our last cycle tour it was pretty much John and me. There are few situations in life when we live with so many people. At risk of sounding a little moany, I’m struggling with food queues and tight camping spots though I’m aware that some of this is due to being a slower rider, eater and not wanting to be on the edge of camp given the odd steals from tent vesibules on some of our sites.

I sat on my own to eat the other night. Exhausted from a 182km ride i arrived at camp with time for just a 15 minute beer and an opportunity to start setting up my tent before the dinner line started. My tent fly was still wet from the night before, sun was fading as I tried to dry it out before putting over the inner and  I ended up with a wet wipe shower behind a tree before I quickly grabbed my plate. While the dinner queue served as good distraction while I got changed I find it particularly anoying to see a seconds queue already there when I am still waiting for an initial portion. Does all of TDA need to be  a race or give a sense of the quickest wins?

While in my first tour (USA, Japan, Nepal and India) I felt my bikemind slogan “The world at 15mph” has been pitched much too ambitiously, for TDA/Africa it may need to be increased!

John and I said all along we were aiming for EFH (every flipping hotel) and we have certainly tried to stick to this when possible. While the comfy bed and private bathroom were initially the main advantages as the tour progresses it is the personal space a locked room enables you that has become the best part of a hotel stay. I sit writing this in a peaceful hotel garden. Two wooden chairs, overlooking a pond, the sound of running water and a kettle boiling ready for a quiet cup of tea. Bliss.

We cross the border to Botswana tomorrow and at present I feel like I’m on countdown. We’re so close yet still…. so far away.

Still glad I’m here. Still appreciating how fortunate I am. Still loving the riding. Still looking forward to the end.

24 seconds

When signing up to TDA you have the option of being a racer or expedition rider. Given speed is not my forte and i see myself as a cycle tourist – hence the requirement for regular photo stops etc -  I am most definately in the expedition category. I had hoped on joining the tour that I would qualify for EFI (every ….. inch) but despite pushing myself through tough off-roading in Sudan I eventually lost this due to exhaustion in Ethiopia. I have no regrets about this and infact losing one’s EFI brings a new level of relaxation to the tour.  In fact some have noted (and I quote no names)  that losing EFI is a bit like losing your virginity – when you lose it you wish you had done it sooner! Seeing people ride through illness seems crazy to me. I prefer staying well and to date have achieved this.

All the above being noted however there is still a side of me that would like to go home with a stage plate for being the quickest rider at least one day of the tour.  While there are some strong female riders in the overall race contingent, unlike the men of the tour, it is still possible to win a day. So, having taken both a 3rd and 2nd place I finally decided I would push myself for a full day with the yellow stage plate as my target.

It was a 107 km day going from Luviri to Kasunga here in Malawi.  The day would entail 496 metres of climbing with around 954 metres downhill. Lunch would be at 61km though if I wanted to take a win I knew I would have to ride straight through – 107km without stopping.

In addition to pushing yourself physically part of racing is of course also a game of tactics. Watching who leaves when, determining when to make others aware of your intentions and deciding when to leave and how to ride. I was ready to push but if I knew I was out of the running I could save my energy for another day.

So, I ate a leisurely breakfast and packed some marmite sarnies for my arrival into camp. I left late and immediately pushed hard on the pedals. I had told a few people I was going for it and they encouraged me as I passed. With my own odometer broken I checked distance and my watch with riding pal Irin and at thirty five minutes in and at 16km I felt on target. Maybe today would be my day.

Around 25km in I cycled past Bas. I had told him I was aiming to go hard today though as he had seen another rider, Suzanna riding speedily he decided to wait. While I don’t want to get a win by drafting on others hard work doing this entirely on my own may mean I am unsuccesful and besides, no-one else going for a win was taking this approach. I rode with Bas till lunch and as I passed at the 61km mark I noted some of my competitors were still eating sandwiches. I had a chance. Bas told me to keep pushing and off I went.

Unfortunately a climb after lunch slowed me down. With my bike weighing in at 18kg plus handlebar bag and contents and mixed with my slower hill riding ability this was terrain where my average speed falls pretty fast.Steffan and Dara overtook me calling in for a quick coke. I knew I had no time to stop. With the fastest tour  riders bike weighing half of mine and an average amung racers of around 10-12kg I was at a distinct disadvantage. While there is a lighter bike I can borrow (and may still do) I would prefer to get a win while riding The Captain.

I pushed on. I knew Suzanna was my key rival and I had seen her go ahead on the hills. I was not sure what time she had left camp though. While fast and nicknamed by us as the Duracell Bunny she was also not in the race group. It seemed however I was not the only one going for it today and last time this happened I came second. I was determined this would not be the case again. I pushed on.

Around 20km from the end I Dara and Steffan caught up with me. By now it was obvious I was trying for a stage and so they rode with me for the next 15km or so. Unfortunately they were not the only ones who had seen me. I had previously been overtaken by Kiwi Phil – his speed had increased significantly since borrowing the Cinelli racer (his own bike in need of serious repair). I knew Suzanne would jump behind him. I pushed on.

Just a few kilometres before the finish there was some debate regarding a left turn.According to odometers we were due to turn yet there was no flagging tape marking the road or indeed remants of it should it have been stolen by children or eaten by cows. I pushed on.

Soon a flagged turn appeared and I followed it to the end through the town and into the hotel complex that would be our camp for the night. I cycled in to applause from John knowing I had covered the distance in around 4 hours 10 mins. Not bad but Suzanna was also there and she couldn’t remember what time she left camp! I went over to the race director to record my time having lost my timing chip and so would begin a nail-biting few hours until the rider meeting and anouncement of the results. We both knew it was close.

I was so disapointed to hear I was second and gutted to know I was just 24 seconds behind first place. I would never know if losing my timing chip and being casual regarding start and finish times had cost me the race. While pleased for Suzanna – also collecting her first win – I made sure I had a new timing chip by the end of the evening. After all my efforts I never want to be in the position again of not knowing if I could have won had I timed properly. Next time the stage plate will be mine!!

Half way review

On leaving Arusha we passed the signpost set up to signify the half way point between Cairo and Capetown. While I’m not sure exactly how this translates to the TDA route from the section stats that TDA provide we have travelled around 8,000km so far (guess!) – around 600km of this being on a very bumpy bus transfer – the rest – we pedalled.

Egypt brought flat roads and tailwinds which continued into Sudan though it was also here the tough challenges set in – off road corregation at nearlky fifty degrees heat. Ethiopia brought the hills. Constantly.  In addition to the 1362m climb over 20km we did up the Blue Nile Gorge in sweltering sun we also had the most metres climbed in a single day in this first section of the tour – 2502m into Gondor, Ethiopia. However, it would be the stone throwing children that would be the greatest challenge. From here we entered a friendlier Kenya yet with the first election since 2007 we were unable to ride  much of the way and we would all be pleased to be back on our bikes proper in Tanzania.

Doing the trip with TDA was certainly the right decion. Water and calorie intake would be tough as an independent rider though it was the support through Kenya and more difficult political situations that proved critical. While I found it tough to adjust to the group at first and would still say I do not fit naturally into a very regimented way of life I’m sure going back to being a team of two will also feel very different again for future trips.

We’re up to 77 riders now – too many in my opinion – especially if you’re not a racer. Getting into camp late means you often get the worst pitches, cooler soup and lukewarm tea. While I understand it’s tough for TDA crew to do much about this, though the urn is reheated on asking, I do think a lottery/rota system could be operated when hotel rooms are limited. First come , first served is not a fair way. I think the whole experience would be much better if the group remained at 50 perhaps with two trips running a week or so apart. I guess that’s easy for me to say but with just one large truck and shade area with high sun or rain it makes for a very cramped camp.

In the grand scheme of things however this is my only key critique. The crew work so hard to make our ride a success. The food has definately been the highlight even if jam, peanut butter and honey make daily appearances (3 of my food hates!). Dinner has been tasty and plentiful with only a couple of meals that haven’t worked so well. A big thumbs up there. I have been fortunate not to need the medics at all and the bike mechanics little.

To date I have to be honest and say that my heart has not been caught by Africa – not in the same way that I love Asia. Our rest day towns, with the exception of Egypt, have had little to see and do in terms of history and buildings and I certainly prefer Asian cuisine. Where Africa does stand out is for scenery and wildlife. Vast deserts, open plains and of course the giraffe, elephants and lions. People said I would also notice the birds here and they were right. Such amazing colours.

All the above said I’m so happy to be experiencing Africa and I’m glad TDA has featured as part of my world trip. I’m looking forward to heading through the more Southern tips of Africa (Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa)  and with dinner booked at Quartier Francais (listed on world top 50 restaurants) at the end of this 5 month stage for us I’m certain we’ll make it. Here’s to the second half of our African adventure.

Emotionally tough

Any long distance, whether riding or running is as much a mental as physical exercise. In marathon running we talk of hitting the wall and I guess in riding 18,000km from Cairo to Capetown there was bound to be a tough week. For me however it was activity around me as opposed to my own mental block that would make for a hard time.

We had just passed half way. It was March 16th and John had now been unwell since February 27th on leaving Yabello. While some of this time we were all  being bused through Kenya due to elections it does not take away from how hard it is seeing fellow riders leave camp each day on their bikes while you have to take the truck. With much of the evening chat being about the days ride there is just no getting away from what you are missing. With this is mind some people have skipped weeks, joining us again at a later date but with a heat rash that you always hope will clear in the next day or so then making a decision to temporaily leave the group is much harder. john stayed with us but unfortuanatly his heat rash stayed with him.

Quite understandably this became more and more frustrating and unfortunately as the person closest to him on the trip I felt the brunt of this. While unintentional it became difficult for me to ask him how he was feeling. One night I noticed he was not eating dinner but on asking him about food and in later offering him a Snickers (not a bad thing here in Africa) it seemed my offers were not welcome. Given I was also watching him speak more amicably with others I found this even harder. The next day I avoiding him at breakfast and dinner. Enough was enough.

Doing this was, for me, just as difficult though. We were in this together and when I care about someone it’s hard to ignore them. Perhaps I fuss too much but that’s just who I am. I woke the next morning and tears were building. John noticed and came to ask me what was the matter. While initially a discussion regarding how I was feeling led to further upset I eventually left the camp having cleared the air and we both now had a better understanding of how we were both feeling. It’s not easy when individual experiences on the same trip are so different. I had struggled in the very early days and it was hard on John now. I just hoped he got better soon and we would be back to the more usual banter. It was also encouraging to see how kind and helpful others on the trip were at this point. It would be support I would also come to need later that week.

For those who have followed this trip from it’s early days you will be aware that the return of breast cancer for my mother put a second planned trip on the back burner and was the primary reason a year long tour developed into five month stages and trips back home. As it happened that has worked out really well and has been a fantastic way to travel -  no time for traveller complacency or lethergy yet, my ma has been better in her health than the initial diagnosis and I have enjoyed catching up with friends and family on visits home. I knew however, following a last appointment in December that the three month checkout in March could be a critical appointment.

While growth was not quick or aggressive it appeared initial hormone treatment was not making a significant difference and chemo was looking like the next likely option. Naturally we were both nervous and while there was still a chance to try a different hormone based option the doctor was clearly keeping expectations low regarding its possible success. March 22nd would be the check-up date.

I woke that morning upset and tearful. I was preparing for news I did not want to hear. It’s so hard being away from home at times like this. I felt I was not even able to call and wish her all the best. There was no cell phone reception at camp.

I started out on my bike but as I found myself biking alone and unable to concentrate (something much needed in off road Tanzania) I decided to ride the truck to lunch. As it passed I displayed a thumbs down and soon my bike was loaded. I turned my phone on – anxiously awaiting a signal. As we pulled into lunch three bars appeared and I was able to call home. It was around 8am in the morning and I was able to call home. With at least that done I felt able to ride again. Irin was now at lunch and once my puncture was fixed (3rd one – from thorn trees as truck drove past them!) we set off.

The appointment was late in the day and with time differences, the fact that we go to bed very early and I had so little phone battery I had to turn it off  it was the next morning before I found out the outcome. No need for chemo. I was overjoyed.

That day I set off for one of our mandatory ride days  – so called because they are so tough. We had 111km to cover, 2052 metres to climb and it was all off road with the exception of 6km downhill at the end of the day. I rode for 11 hours 58 minutues that day making it into the hotel just before dark.

A fantastic ride; an amazing achievement and the best news I could have received. John was also now back on his bike and despite hurting his shoulder and ribs falling in deep sand I was hopeful that the emotionally tough week was coming to an end.

Holiday in Africa

Cycling through Africa with TDA is brutal. We average around 120km a day and while more and more of Africa is getting paved we still do a fair bit of off road too. Camp becomes a regular routine  – soup, drinks, pitch, “shower”, dinner and bed. I don’t need to set an alarm anymore and have not yet overslept for 645am breakfast.

The section through Kenya is known as “Meltdown Madness”. It is renowned as one of the most difficult sections of the tour. Unfortuantaly we rode only a total of three days in Kenya.The  first day was off road,elections then led to a bus transfer to Nankuki from which we rode, passing the equator. Our final ride day took us over the border with Tanzania.

While we were then due to have three rest days in Arusha, predominently to allow for brief safari trips, the Kenyan election meant that we would spend an additional four days resting first in Nanyuki. We were shipped in to arrive the day before election day just in case tensions rose to the same levels as in 2007.

Passing through the vast open areas surrounded by lava rock with no shade and intense heat I have to say there was some sense of relief that I was not on my bike. However, as the landscape changed and became more agricultural there was a sense of disappointment on my face as I gazed from the bus window. As it was there was little we could change. John and I had booked to ride Africa with TDA to be sure of our safety. Bus transfers were not our choice but we were happy that others were looking at the situation and based on contacts and information making decisions with safety as key. As it happens the group looked tired and a rest was probably what we all needed, whether we would admit that or not. So, with four days in Nanuki we needed to fill our time.

Some folk went off from the hotel  – this seemed to go against advice to me so we stayed put. Instead we set about our mission to relax. The campground at the hotel was great -flat, green grass so unlike many of our other pitches – though we opted for a room. The hotel had a pool, beauty parlour and wi-fi so we were happy. In addition, Nanyuki has a large British Army base and as well as giving a safety net during the election period it all means a well stocked supermarket with Western treats and good coffee shops. We wanted cake.

Carrot cake, shortbread and chocolate cake pretty much covered our time here. Well, alongside a full body massage (I think I deserved one by now), manicure and pedicure. Given we were at the equator we also had an equator party which was great fun and a chance for us all to let our hair down. Fancy dress, a bit of dancing and a cheeky sambucca or two probably sums that up.

The election passed, all seemd calm and so we started riding. By now we were definately ready to get back on the bikes. We managed a day and were expecting to ride 50km towards Nairobi with a 50km bus transer to the centre. Unfortunately we woke to find out we were waiting for bus to take us all the way. The tourist police were not letting us ride at all.The result was now expected  at 11am that monring. So we bused to our next day off — ate more cake, visted a great shopping mall and yet again took it easy.

With all the indulgence we were now at a point where we needed to ride! Our bodies were used to so many calories on ride days and appetites didn’t seem to subside on resting. I wanted exercise. It would however be just two days biking till our three days scheduled stop in Arusha. The holiday contined and it was now safari time.

Most people had  arranged trips before we arrived. We waited till Masai camp and with  John still being unwell and riding on the truck by the time I arrived in on two wheels our trip was also sorted. John, Gus, Irin, myself and new rider Rob were heading away for two days. We left the next morning for Tarangire National Park -  a two hour drive from Arusha we had a comfy jeep and great driver vand tour guide in Wilson. Tarangire holds one of the largest concentrations of wildlife  of any Tanzanian Park and we would not be disapointed.

Not long into park we spotted mother and baby giraffe… such amazing creatures and not the only ones displaying young. We rode on to see lots of elephants including babies with one elephant just a metre or so away from our vehicle. You never know what you will see on safari. My expectations had been low yet as we then continued to see a pride of lions we left the park truely elated. What an amazing day. That night we would head to the Bougainvillia – the best hotel of our trip so far and share tales of our day with other riders.

For our second day we would head to the Ngorongoro Crater. Twenty kilometres wide and one of the most visted attractions in East Africa. It was cloudy as we rode up to the rim, we passed the viewpoint until our way out though as the sky cleared it became apparent just why Ngorangoro is held in such high acclaim. Blue skies and fluffy clouds looked over the  misty water in the centre of this huge crater – created by volcano activity many years past. Packed with hundreds of zebra, wildebeast, ostriches, flamingos, warthogs etc we we also fortunate to see hippo, black rhino, a number of lion prides and the highlight – a honeymoon couple. As Wilson explained the lion and lioness on coming together take time out from the pack. They both walked next to and infront of our jeep. It was amazing to see such beasts of the jungle so close up but again our expectations were way suppassed as we went on to see the lioness hunt down the zebra and wildebeast out grazing. What a phenomenal sight of nature.

We left Ngorongoro with big smiles and a final rest day before leaving Arusha – the half way point. Our” holiday” had been fantatsic but was now well and truely at an end. We would leave Arusha for an 8 day stretch on our bikes with almost 1000km to cover to Mbeya – including 5 days off road. Oh well…here goes. This is what we signed up for after all.