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by SS 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.

2 comments posted so far
Ash wrote at 8:53 pm on Fri 12th Mar -
Wow! You must be proud of yourself. You're very close to the mid point of the tour. Don't forget to replnish your needs in Nairobi. I am hoping they will have some bike parts. Be well. It is nice to hear from you.
wrote at 5:26 pm on Mon 15th Mar -
hey hey it would be nice to mention me?! since i was the highlight of your trip! lol anaita xx

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by SS 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.

2 comments posted so far
Ash wrote at 8:59 pm on Wed 10th Mar -
Good to hear from you.Although you may be bruised and tired otherwise you seem to enjoy your ride. Don't forget about the pics. Sorry to hear that this group is probably the last to ride on the lava rocks. I read the Chinese are building a paved road. Ciao.
wrote at 8:59 am on Thu 11th Mar -
sounds exciting your mud bath - some pay a small fortune for such experiences

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