at 7:57 pm on Tuesday 27th July
Familiarity, they say, breeds boredom. One of the previous TDA riders who I spoke to mentioned that it was a good idea to take some time off after the Tour in order to reflect over the fact that you've just traversed an entire continent. My plans worked out so that I had one final summer, a final period of 'nothingness', reminescent of the summers of my teens years (from the age of 16 I've been working every summer). I wondered how this would go down, whether it would be the productive playground I've always dreamt about, while studying or interning - experimenting with my computer or riding my bike lots. However, after the initial momentum of returning home had subsided, nothing really happened. Home is familiar and hence boring.
Somehow the days seemed to be filled with apparently meaningless tasks and my attempts to kill the lazy man within (sometimes it's hard to get motivated just to leave the house) are failing. My 'ToDo' list hasn't shrunk much and I'm rapidly running out of time. Life at home is lonely - many of my friends are either now wrapped up with work or are travelling, others are just impossible to get hold of. Our attempts at finding a flat in Central London is frustrating - both budget constraints and indecisiveness regarding location make it impossible to settle. In addition, being unable to coordinate with all members makes it tougher still, especially when you run the risk of making an unpopular decision.
I suppose my idea of utopia would involve some kind of shared consciousness where communication with other entities (or people) would be instantaneous and irrevocable. Knowledge would be uniformly shared or available when needed. One of my role models at school, a fellow (but far cleverer) Computer Scientist, always used to say something like 'you'll never get anything done depending on other people'. A true enough statement but with the contraints of finite time and resources, a team is a worthy asset if you aspire to anything great.
I despair too for the beginning of my 'career' in just a few weeks time. Does this seem like the beginning of the end? Oh yes. Meeting with my friends who've already started work is always fun (of course) but sometimes you can see through all the superficial conversation. I've met just one former classmate who seemed truly excited by the work he does. These are not your average graduates working 9 to 5 either, they have prestigious positions at well paying institutions. That leads to me to wonder where I'll end up next - I've always been aware that this was probably only a temporary position. I enjoyed the work and the people are great but there's just a handful of possible teams where I'd like to be placed. Regardless, it's the next step and I will try hard to keep the exciteable inner geek alive.
The summer is looking up now, so it's not all bad. The BBC Proms are on my calendar and my first mountain bike race for over a year (which could be disastrous). More of my flatmates will reachable to help the search for accommodation. Previously uncontactable friends have suddenly reappeared on the North London social radar. Some of the TDAers will be in London this weekend too. Until the singularity arrives and we become one superior consciousness, Facebook, email, text messages and the occasional terribly-awkward phone call with have to suffice.
(Written on my way back home from Kenya. My fifth and penultimate visit to the motherland this year.)
at 10:28 am on Wednesday 2nd June
Just a quick note to say that I'll be on Nairobi's East FM tomorrow morning (Thursday 3rd June) between 8am and 10am local time, talking to presenter Aleem Manji about the trip. If you're in Nairobi, tune into 106.0 FM. If not, you can stream the channel over the internet here.
A good quality MP3 version of the second part (and majority) of the interview is now up here (4.79MB). An OGG Vorbis version is available here (3.27MB).
at 8:00 pm on Thursday 18th March
Sorry for the lack of updates, the days preceding Nairobi and the two days afterwards were just busy! The ride out of Nanyuki to Sagana was beautiful - no rain and it was mainly a descent all the way into camp - nice and fast. The campsite (the Mike Savage camp) was very lush, peaceful (save for the persistent lawnmower that we could hear but not see) and to top it off, was a base for white water rafting down the River Tana.
Having never rafted before, and eager to use the full coverage of my travel insurance policy, I signed up (paying possibly slightly too much) for the three hour afternoon trip. I spent about two hours prior to the trip trying and failing to fix a puncture that I managed to get on the way into the camp. At first I was certain the patch was not on properly, took the tube out and repatched it. As I was pumping that up, air appeared to be leaking from the valve. The pump was on the truck and it took several hard trips up the short but steep incline to get to it each time. Finally, Jerry (one of the new British riders) stepped in and we discovered a hole about half a centimetre across. Observing my frustration, Jerry went ahead and put a new rear tube in for me - legend.
The rafting wasn't as death defying as I had hoped, nor as controlled. It seemed like the raft pretty much was constantly spinning and we gave it little direction. Sure there were a few situations where we fell out of the raft and were washed into relatively sharp rocks, but nothing that would have made me fear for my life. There weren't too many rapids either (maybe two or three good sections) so we spent a few times riding the first big rapid. At first I didn't want to fall out but once the raft flipped for the first time and we all flew overboard, it wasn't so bad. There are a few seconds where you're disoriented under the water and are desperately trying to figure out which way is the surface. The buoyancy aid kicks in though and you quickly surface and are dragged out of the way by the fast underwater current. It got a bit cold later in the trip because the sun was on its way West, the only disadvantage of the late afternoon trip. All-in-all it was good fun and I'm just happy my shoulder stayed in.
The next day was complicated, made more complicated by the fact we had missed the rider meeting explaining the extent of the complication. Our trip into Nairobi was to take a partial convoy on the part of the road with the heaviest traffic. To avoid doing a convoy the entire way, the route was extended to take us around the central areas, making the day 137km in total. In addition to the distance, there was also a fair amount of climbing (total ascent was 1550m).
Our route into Nairobi took us down the main highway, passing Thika. 25km into the highway, we stopped for lunch and the convoy began. In order to keep the group moving, we had three smaller convoys - I was lucky to make it into the first convoy. It was mayhem, as expected. Matatus (unofficial public transport in the form of overloaded minibuses) would swerve across our lane, or even try and pull out into the middle of the convoy. Once a 4x4 driver pulled across the front of the convoy and then stopped - his window was open and he received his fair share of verbal abuse from the riders! Soon enough though, we made it into town and down some beautiful roads, one of which contained many embassies. We passed close to my aunt's house and then rode through the city to a suburb called Karen where the campsite was located, reaching just before 2pm.
After my uncle picked me up, we went in search of the much acclaimed proper bike shop. Surprisingly it was a proper bike shop - full of high end bicycle supplies. Their stock wasn't amazing (apparently there had recently been a big event) but I managed to pick up a new (narrower) saddle and a new bottle cage. After this we went to Diamond Plaza where I had intended to get a shave. One thing led to another and I ended up with a haircut, the style of which is known as a 'tucco' - courtesy of my uncle. That evening my uncle, aunt, cousin and I feasted at their home - genuine home cooked Indian food and about 8 scoops of icecream. Beautiful.
The next day I had a massage (wonderful) and sorted out everything - cleaning my tent, bags, clothes, and bike. We went shopping, picked up a bottle of Amarula for safari, and fixed my watch! I also got to open the bag full of spare parts and goodies sent from London with my parents, with the effect that I now have the following:
- 10 Dairy Milk Crunch
- 2 Twix
- 5 Snickers
- 27 Nine Bars
- 17 Protein Bars
- 1 pack of Chocolate Digestives
- 5lbs of Whey Protein
That afternoon I packed all this away (worrying all the time that it wouldn't fit in my locker - surprisingly it fits very well), met with some friends and feasted again on egg chapatis. Courtesy of my relatives at Mjengo Ltd (Anuj and Raj), we also took delivery of about 6,000 biscuits which were donated to the tour. Feedback so far has been positive - people love the biscuits. The time in Nairobi was too short (or at least too busy). I'll be back in May though!
The next day was a long (157km) day to Namanga, the Kenyan border town with Tanzania. All was going well until sometime after lunch where the newly constructed road we were unofficially using suddenly became wet tar. In retrospect we should have stopped instantly and moved off the road but we kept going. Luckily we didn't fall (as quite a few riders did) but our bikes and limbs quickly became covered in sticky, wet, tar. I could barely hold my handlebars, drink water, or eat an energy bar since my hands were so sticky and it felt unpleasant. Crucially, the brand new drive train I had just installed was now covered in sticky, wet, tar. Mentally it felt like a bit like riding into a wall - having spent the entire day previously cleaning my bike and clothes, only to have that veneer of cleanliness destroyed within half a day.
This slowed me down a lot and I was glad to reach camp. The only way to remove tar from yourself and bike is to use some kind of fuel - there was a jerry can of petrol which people were using to wipe themselves down. Something, either the massive petrol exposure or perhaps the egg chapatis the night before, made me feel quite ill - exhausted, unable to move and nauseous. When dinner rolled round, I wasn't able to eat much at all, and as usually happens on the worst days of the tour, I had dish duty. I managed to clean some of the tar from my bike but they quickly ran out of petrol.
Waking up the next day, compounding the effects of my unpleasant day previous, I had a puncture. Taking the tube out, it had a puncture near the valve - irrepairable. I was the last rider out of camp but managed to catch the group up at the border post to Tanzania. Rolling out of the border post, I forgot to scan my iButton (our timing device) and 2 kilometres later, had to turn around and go back. Great!
The rest of the day was as dreary and I severely lacked speed - either as an effect of not eating enough or because of the layer of tar on my drive train. Reaching Arusha at 3pm was a relief (EFI for another day) requiring five energy bars throughout the day just to sustain me. Arusha is a pretty built up place and Tanzania is much like Kenya. The scenery is beautifully green and we were treated to a great view of Mount Kilomanjaro on the way. Now we stop in Arusha for 3 days before we reach the official half way point of the tour. By my own statistics, we've only covered 45% of the distance (this was, presumably, because of the harder climbing and offroad days in Ethiopia and Kenya) so there is a bit of catching up to do. (Sneak preview: one of the weeks later on is at least 160km *every* day.)
at 6:44 pm on Friday 12th March
When it rains in Africa, it RAINS. There is no messing about, it'll be heavy but short. Frequent but never prolonged. When we reached Laisamis, the TDA staffer on site mentioned that the dried up river bed looked like a nice place to pitch our tents, soft and dry (it looked like it hadn't rained in a while) so about half the tour set up there.
People started packing up unusually early the next morning. Awakened by the flurry of activity, I was up and in action earlier than normal. Having packed up my tent and carried it to the truck, the heavens broke open. Lightning and thunder which was previously seen and heard respectively far in the distance came closer and closer until it became a murderous symphony directly above our heads.
The rain was already there but at the flick of a supernatural conductor's wrist, it doubled, or even tripled in volume. The drops were fat and heavy, bursting and soaking all in their path.
There was no shelter. It had been a dry and relatively clear evening and the tarps on top of the trucks were not put out. Riders stood with their backs flat against the truck. Those filling their lockers did so slowly in an attempt to avoid the rain. Breakfast was a meagre attempt at catering against adversity - a pot of baked beans slowly became more and more diluted as it filled with rain water. The ground around the truck was littered with the discarded shells of boiled eggs.
The river bed which had housed many tents quickly became a gushing river.
Riding onwards, the rain didn't stop. The sandy, gravelly, corrugated roads had turned into mush. The corrugations were still there but masked under their wet surface. Tyre tracks were several inches deep - there was no good line today. You'd be slightly quicker if you rode down the rocky ruts that had now become fast moving shallow channels for water and really, everything was wet anyway.
The rain died down though, to a pale shadow of its former self. We continued to crank our pedals and about 10 kilometres before lunch the beginnings of a nicer road began. A construction project that is supposed to create a paved road between Isiolo and Marsabit had just about reached that far - beginning by first creating a smooth dirt road and then adding a tar surface. At this point, they had only created the smooth dirt road.
The run off from the storm covered the low sections of the dirt road and created huge puddles. These were great fun to cycle through and luckily there were no unexpected potholes which could necessitate a swim! As my bike travelled through the puddle, every now and then a small green frog would jump across the front wheel.
For a while, this dirt road disappeared. In my state of mild exhaustion, I neglected to observe this road beginning again until just before camp. I kept waiting for the riders who were definitely close behind to overtake but they never did. Arriving at camp, they were all already there - and had apparently cycled past on the smoother road under construction.
As I wheeled my bike into camp, I caught my first offroad puncture of the tour, a thorn about an inch and a half long which required a pair of pliers to remove from my tyre.
The next morning I woke up and as I was about to leave, realised my attempt at patching my tube had failed. Thinking that the pre-glued patch had failed, I stuck another patch on the edge and put the wheel back together. Within a few kilometres, my tyre was down to low pressure again.
Giving up on the pre-glued patches, I elected to use a genuine patch. Unfortunately, my pump was with Jason (I had lent it to him the previous day) - fortunately the sweep rider (and Tour Director) Paul caught up and with an audience of construction workers, I patched the tube and pumped it up with his pump.
Air was still leaking out of the tyre though and I could feel myself getting slower and slower. Paul was riding along at a pretty brisk pace and after a while was a good way in front of me. It took a lot of effort to catch him up (only possible when he slowed to take an energy bar) - it could have been a painful day if my bike had punctured behind the sweep rider, especially without a pump!
The road soon turned to proper tarmac which was a welcome relief. At lunch I caught up with the main pack of the tour, took a brief lunch (just two sandwiches!) and continued on after pumping up my wheel again. I made it to camp but it took an unsurprising amount of effort.
The afternoon was a busy afternoon and I was pretty much busy from when I arrived (about noon) until sometime after dinner. To save on prose, I shall bullet point:
- Showered, nice and warm but tap gave an electric shock when turning water on and off.
- Changed dirt tyres to road tyres.
- Paddy arrived with my new crankset. Chris and I changed over the crankset but the old bottom bracket wouldn't fit the new crankset because of the adaptor that was installed previously. Removing this adaptor caused the bearings to come out of the bottom bracket and we ended up just borrowing a spare Shimano Hollowtech BB from another rider. In addition, replaced the chain and the cassette.
- Changed the seatpost from suspension to rigid. Dropped the nut from the suspension seatpost into the muddy ground and spent 10 minutes trying to find it.
- Drank my first 500ml soft drink (normally they are 300ml).
- Reinstalled my aerobars.
- Found the cause of the slow puncture - the thorn had gone through both sides of the tube and I had only patched one side.
Meanwhile, quite a few other riders drank a lot of alcohol in the dry warmth of the bar. Out under the truckside tarp we were subjected to the heasvy African rain several times each hour and the ground softened to a muddy mess. By the end of the day, all the conmfort food my parents had sent with the spare parts had been consumed.
Today was lovely and short. It started raining just as I woke up and in my fear of the outside, I lay in for about 25 minutes (not a good idea when the morning is so busy as it is). Luckily the rain stopped as we began the day's ride and within an hour it was dry. About twenty minutes in I had to pull over and remove my waterproof jacket because I was overheating.
The first 30 kilometres was a 1,200 metre climb and we had a view of Mount Kenya as we neared lunch. A pleasant tailwind and smooth roads made for easy cycling - although it was still hard on my fatigued legs. The only noticeable difference (apart from massively increased smoothness) of the new drivetrain was that there was no twisting motion as I pedalled which made my right leg ache less.
Lunch today was possibly *the* *best* *lunch* *yet* - French toast, made freshly by the Indaba crew. It was phenomenal and I managed to eat 7 slices of bread (and probably could have eaten more). The afternoon was ridiculously insignificant, and it took less than two hours to reach home for the night, the Sportsman Arms Hotel in Nanyuki.
at 4:14 pm on Wednesday 10th March
Originally posted on the TDA Blog.
Greetings from your African dirt correspondant, exactly a month on from our first taste of dirt in Sudan. I'm writing from a small settlement called Laisamis, 95 kilometres from a dusty town called Marsabit, en route to Nairobi.
As we left Ethiopia, the heavy rain that had plagued the tour eased up and we were generously treated to several days of dryness. The weather changes quickly though and at 4:30 am on our rest day in Marsabit riders were busily putting their rain flies on their tents. The roads in Marsabit quickly turned to mushy mud and vehicles (including our own bucky, the 'Drama Queen') were getting stuck every few hundred metres. We've not had to ride over any serious mud so far on this tour so this was shaping up to be an interesting riding challenge.
There was no real rain overnight and as the riding week began, we were told of the muddy sections that awaited us on the road. After a pretty serious downhill, I settled down for a morning of gradual descent to lunch. Soon enough the first mud arrived, vehicle tracks were carved half a foot in and any clear cut path soon vanished.
Riding over the mud was slippery and I was very glad of my previously ill-thought out decision to use fairly skinny dirt tyres. The mud attaches to your wheels quickly and within minutes it's rubbing against the inner edges of your frame and fork and collecting on top of your brake callipers, making no sound but slowing you down noticeably.
For one of the early sections, there were a hardened section on the sides of the road which was much quicker to ride along. I was riding along merily at somewhere between 15 and 20 kmph when I caught sight of a local. He shouted and pointed straight across the road to something just metres in front of me. Slamming on my brakes and almost vaulting over my handlebars, the object he was pointing to was immediately apparent - a deep and wide crack in the earth.
Saved from this possible end to my riding day, I continued on to lunch, passing through water logged section after water logged section. The clear rain water turns brown as soon as it touches the soil and the standing water covering the depressed sections of road leaves a layer of fine grit on your skin, clothes and bicycle as you pedal through it. Bicycles were creaking for much of the day as the water washed off lube.
Visible from lunch was another water logged section of road where a truck had got stuck in a seemingly deep pothole. The cab of the truck was arched at 20 degrees to the surface of the water and it seemed that it was submerged about a metre. Normally the puddles aren't that deep, or at the very least, their surface maintains the same consistency as the road immediate before and immediately after it. Another rider Jason was standing on the other side of the puddle scraping his shoes but I took little notice of this. Feeling confident at my ability to ride such puddles, I cycled straight into this puddle, picking a line that followed the ruts on the road leading to it.
The first small puddle was fine but less than two metres into the second puddle I felt my front wheel disappear into some mysterious underwater chasm and I actually went over my handlebars this time. Luckily there was no hard impact, unluckily I was now soaked from neck down. The crew and passengers of the stuck truck broke into laughter and Jason, who hadn't see me cycle in, was shocked to see just my head floating above the water. We stood and watched as three more riders crossed, somehow picking a line where they stayed relatively dry. One of the TDA trucks tried the same and was wedged underwater within seconds.
The afternoon featured the much promised 'extreme corrugation' and arriving to camp was a timely relief. As riders came into camp, it was pleasant to see some of the chronic complainers extoling their enjoyment of the day.