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by SS at 4:06 pm on Wednesday 10th March

My arms are quite sore. How, you might ask, is that possible on a cycling expedition? Well, our campsite in Marsabit is quite some distance from town and getting lifts is a time-saving necessity since taxis are almost non-existent (and surprisingly expensive). On our way back from dinner, we got a lift from one of the support vehicles for the tour - a huge green 4x4. The only hindrance was the lack of space inside the vehicle (it was filled with food supplies for the upcoming riding week), so Steve, Sam and I were standing on the footplate and holding onto the roof rack. Luckily the trip took less than 15 minutes, else my arms would have given up.

Marsabit is a small, dusty town - the main stop between Moyale and general civilisation (Nairobi, or even Isiolo where the road suddenly becomes paved). It almost reminds me of what an advanced wild west town would have looked like - small general stores and wholesalers down a muddy dirt street, fruit and vegetable shacks line the road and you get the occasional electronics store. There's a baker (it seems Tour D'Afrique has bought them out of fairy cakes, only bread is left - woe is me), a barber (I'm saving my beard for Nairobi) and several internet cafes. There's a couple of restaurants, I've only eaten at one but we've visited three times already. In all my visits, I've consumed approximately six eggs (or exactly six eggs if you want to be pedantic) and eight fairy cakes.

We're also having fun experimenting with the varieties of different carbonated drinks sold in Kenya. In Ethiopia we had only the standard Coke/Pepsi, Sprite/7up, Fanta/Mirinda drinks but here at least there appear to be four different types of Fanta, something akin to ginger ale and another bottle that looks like beer but is another fruit based drink (much to the surprise of those riders who ordered it, expecting a beer).

The campsite is some kind of collection of dormitories and is run by nuns. There's a big statue of the Virgin Mary near the dorms and some kind of chapel too. I've yet to figure out what this place is called but there is some kind of meteorological station nearby and two huge silos (basically warehouses) on an adjacent field. Terrorist scientist nuns? A distinct possibility.

Speaking of the weather, at about 4:30am, I woke up with a wet face. Swearing vociferously, I slid out of my sleeping bag (an easy task because of its pre-existing broken-zip condition) and stumbled out of my tent to put the rain fly on. Just about every other rider was doing the same. It continued to rain well into the morning and when I had gathered the courage to leave my tent at 9am, everything outside was soaked. The roads were an incredible mess of mud and jeeps were getting stuck every few hundred metres. We were unable to find a lift to town this early and walked in the rain, sliding across the inclined path into precarious proximity to the muddy ruts.

Returning to camp by a combination of foot power and a lift on the back of someone's motorcycle, the laundry dilemma resurfaced and I resolved to hope for the sky to clear later in the day. I washed my clothes using rain water that had been collected in a big black tank - it struck me that if this was home, the rain water probably wouldn't have been safe to use! Chris trued my front wheel, with the advice that perhaps I should 'regulate' a bit more, which I took to mean 'ride carefully'.

Since there was no point in washing my bike before another three days of unpaved road, I had the afternoon to myself and with a steady electricity supply, it was now possible to read one of the many ebooks I brought on my laptop. I'm about a sixth of the way through 'Coders at Work', a superb and inspiring collection of interviews with prolific programmers. I've also finished a short story by Cory Doctorow, 'I, Robot'. In an attempt to restart my brain I've also been blitzing through Sudoku puzzles.

If the rain returns tonight, there's a distinct possibility that we'll be stuck in Marsabit for a second rest day since any more mud would make it hard for the trucks to travel. Hopefully this won't happen though and we'll be able to attempt the 600 metre descent that awaits us out of camp.

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Drying Laundry
Drying Laundry
Slightly cleaner than when it started
10:16 pm on Saturday 6th March by SS
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by SS at 7:53 am on Saturday 6th March

(or This Is Africa)

Today was a long day. Some days are long, purely because of the distance, but today the distance was relatively short (87km). The ground was unusually rough and upwardly inclined. It was the second of the three hardest days of the tour - the first was the Blue Nile Gorge climb and the third will be somewhere further south where we cycle 200km in one day (the longest single stage).

As I may have remarked previously, it is days like this when you wish you had thought about your bike choice better. They throw a lot of advice out to us - about tyres, bringing suspension and all the rest. Somehow, in the bike choosing process, I settled on a cyclocross bike and in the days before today, I began to wonder if I would be able to actually ride the road (based on a photo of the lava rock fields I had seen). Luckily the road is slightly clearer than the fields, there are ruts where vehicles have driven and as such, there is a way forward.

Often these ruts will be gravelly and hence incredibly slippery - if you slow down enough you eventually lose balance. This is fine when you're fresh and full of energy but as they day goes on, it becomes increasingly hard to keep your speed up. Dropping down some gears lets you pedal easier but you tend to slip more as more torque runs through your wheel.

Every now and then you'll notice that the other rut is smoother, or less gravelly or better packed (i.e. flat) and you'll consider switching. Sometimes, it's worth switching - if you don't, you'll lose a silly amount of time. Sometimes, it's not worth switching - since 15 metres down the road it will become just as bad as your side. Sometimes they alternate and you can either switch constantly (again, requiring lots of energy) or just stick it out in your rut.

Switching almost always mandates a high chance of falling. The middle section between the two ruts is thick gravel and usually the ruts are recessed by half a foot or so, with a slight slope on the sides of the middle section. It's possible, if you have enough speed and the right angle, to ride straight up and over the middle. Not enough energy, or just mistiming things and you'll slide straight over - the cause of many riders' grazes and cuts.

I've got a few cuts to the leg, nothing serious. The skin on my index finger where I grip the hoods of my brake levers has worn down since my glove is ripped and I need to put a plaster on it to stop it rubbing down further. It hurts to grip things - I can feel it in my fingers most, presumably from holding onto the handlebars tightly for 6-7 hours. I also have some nice callouses forming on my palms from the repeated small impacts which are passed up through the fork. Saddle sores are back in fashion - presumably for several riders. Hopefully with the upcoming rest day in Nairobi and three rest days in Arusha, they'll go away quickly enough.

Riding aside, the heat in Kenya is stifling and almost as bad as that of the Sudanese desert. Normally we'll arrive to camp as the heat is about to reach its peak, although today took much longer and most of the heat was experienced while out on the bike. The beauty of these roads being so bad is that we are, for vast stretches of time, completely alone. I pulled over several times, took my headphones out and just listened to the wind, the birds and some surprisingly noisy insects. The country is very flat and you can see the bush for miles (or kilometres...) around. This is the Africa I imagined when I signed up.

2 comments posted so far
John Norman wrote at 1:54 pm on Mon 8th Mar -
It sounds absolutely fabulous - if extremely hard work!
wrote at 11:06 am on Tue 9th Mar -
Well done, waiting for you.

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