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Kenya by bike

Kenya – Safari Njema
The Norwood Ravenswood/Downs Syndrome Cycling Safari

30th September

As I trudged out of my Fulham flat on a sunny autumnal afternoon, I felt remarkably unfazed at the prospect of cycling round Kenya. Got the kit, got the jabs, got the passport, got the Lariam – all appeared to be in good shape!

At Heathrow, Gordon Fox, our UK organiser was easily identifiable at check-in sporting his canary yellow T-shirt. He looked slightly out of place until I noticed a file of garish shirts pushing large cardboard boxes (which housed the bikes) in the queue.

1st October – Green Light

0545h (0745h Kenya) Total Distance 63 km (39 m)

My eyes felt gritty and my limbs ached after a disastrous sleep on the plane. We were greeted at the airport by our guides, Chris and Janine Angell, whose team of Kenyan helpers steered us towards our transportation bound for the Landmark Hotel. En route, one of the bikes fell off the rack – not a good start!

Showered and breakfasted, Chris delivered the brief listing the perils that lay ahead (potholes, dehydration, dopey drivers, etc). We then left for Limuru, perched on the edge of the Great Rift Valley at 7,500 ft.

And we were off! Five minutes later, the floor fell away revealing the Valley. We flew down tarmac roads vying for space with lorries puffing clouds of exhaust fumes. Luckily I had packed my smog mask!

We regrouped for lunch under a magnificent candelabra tree while passing juggernauts honked their horns in amusement. We cycled on a sandy track past the dormant volcano Mount Longonot – cycling in heavy sand is an acquired skill and two cyclists wiped out. There was a quiet feeling of ‘this is no picnic’!

We were rewarded by sightings of giraffe, zebra, gazelle and hartebeest. Skirting a brooding thundercloud, we rejoined the road for a 10km straight to our campsite, Fisherman’s Camp, on Lake Naivasha’s shores.

bike piles ready for the real miles

2nd October – Hell’s Gate Total Distance 108 km (67.5 m)

I awoke to a glorious sunrise (0710h) and a number of sleepless cyclists, deafened by relentless snoring (Tent 13 had been blackballed), grazing hippos and a rowdy dawn chorus!

Our route wove through Hells Gate National Park, named after the stern cliffs that flank the entrance to the Reserve. We saw Rock Hyrax and a rare breed of vulture, Lammergeyer. We passed a Geo-Thermal Power plant and kicked for lunch at the far point of Lake Naivasha – in my haste, I almost wiped out on a hairpin bend – thanks brakes!

After lunch, we cycled to Elsamere, Joy and George Adamson’s outpost popularized worldwide by ‘Born Free’. Overlooking Lake Naivasha, we ate a sumptuous cream tea and fed the resident Colubus monkeys.

away from the maddening crowd

3rd October – Wildlife Total Distance 190 km (119 m)

The insomniacs rose even grouchier due to the phantom snorer! My colleagues pointed out my back looked like streaky bacon, sunburnt either side of a white patch in the middle where my Camelbak had sat!

We set off at 8 am and after 20 km, arrived at The Belle Inn in Naivasha for refreshments and a chance to e-mail home from the Cyber Café!

After negotiating a treacherous dirt track peppered with gaping potholes (Matt made an unacrobatic somersault over one taking a nasty gouge out of his leg), we lunched after 41 km on a hillside overlooking Lake Elementata soon discovering we were two short – Nick and Gerard overshot a checkpoint and added an unnecessary 15 km!

A slow puncture dogged me for the final 12 kilometres but the group banter kept us motivated. At the finish, line the stopwatch showed 3hr 17mins.

The potholes had taken their toll and with the sun tipping 28°c, we flopped to the ground exhausted. It amazed me to see Kenyans cycling past with woolly bobble hats on! It must be like wearing an Arran knit in a Turkish Bath!

We were rewarded with a magical tour round Lake Nakuru National Park spotting leopard (perched 40 ft off the ground in acacia trees), male and female lions and a family of black rhino. Most impressive were the thousands of flamingoes that fed on the lake’s shores.

In the pink, ornithologically speaking

4th October – Equator Total Distance 276 km (172.5 m)

I slept off a crushing dehydration headache and rose early to leave our campsite at the Rift Valley Motor & Sports Club. Presently, we were cycling through huge sisal plantations taking regular pit-stops to regroup so that no-one got lost.

Mary, our sixty-year old, retired early – her hybrid bike not suited to the rocky terrain. The track, where suspension really paid dividends, demanded intense concentration and sheer strength not to come off. I, like many of the others, started suffering from severe vibration numbness in my fingers, due to constant pressure on the brakes.

We crossed the Equator and after 1hr 40mins, took a lazy lunch. A few were really suffering in the stifling heat of the lower altitudes but our minders hopped around with cooling spray guns. Most of the group took dioraylte to combat fluid loss.

We cycled through Maji Moto where the thermometer tipped 38°c. Here we made a scheduled stop at the local school. They put on an impressive display of traditional singing and dancing and in gratitude, we handed out pens, pencils etc which were like gold-dust.

As they sung us off, we sped down boulder-strewn descents towards Lake Bogoria, our northernmost point. The small inclines of the last 12 km were worsened as fatigue crept in. I stopped to look at a turtle which proved a mistake as my legs cramped and I felt my energy levels drop off immediately. The hotel was a welcome sight and we headed straight for its natural hot spa which eased our aching limbs. We had dropped approximately 4000 feet in the day.

I noted how much fluid I consumed in the day: 6 litres of water (Camelbak); 3 glasses of lemon squash; 1 dioraylte; 6 cokes; 3 orange juices!

Our intrepid hero pushed over the equator

5th October – Centurion Total Distance 376 km (235 m)

We began at 7,000 feet a.s.l. on a breathtakingly scenic spur of the Great Rift Valley. We hauled ourselves up lung-bursting climbs but every time we rounded a bend, there was yet more uphill to climb. Lungs cried out for oxygen in the thin air and my thighs felt like hot metal ingots. Some hills were too steep to cycle so we resorted to pushing our bikes.

After an unrelenting 5 kilometre stretch, I saw the bike rack by the side of the road. Whooping with joy, I turned into the layby in third spot. It had taken 1hr 40mins to cover 27 kilometres and ascend to 9,000 feet a.s.l! And this was only lunch! It took 40 minutes for the tail to arrive and, collectively, we were a sorry sight, cursing and collapsing in a mixture of exhaustion and ecstasy!

After lunch, we spiralled down 4000 feet over the next 30 kilometres round sidewinder bends – those with speedometers registered 49 mph! After 60 km we stopped at a river crossing where we flopped into the icy waters – a few Kenyan washerwomen giggled at our horseplay!

A few of us slipstreamed each other to minimise the effort of the final 20 km. An electrical storm unleashed a violent downpour which was initially rejuvenating but after a while debilitating.

After 4hr 27 minutes of cycling we cruised over the Equator again. However, the trip on someone’s speedo showed only 99 km so we pushed 500 metres further, hung a U-turn and crossed the Equator for the third time to rack up the 100 kilometre target!

Soldiers: they do like to fly their flags

6th October – Finale Total Distance 433 km (271 m)

I woke at 6.15 to a crisp dawn. A number of injuries had surfaced during the night – locked joints, nosebleeds and ‘Delhi Belly’!

We sought assurance that there were no more hills – Chris replied “There are two. No three. Maybe four depending on what you call a hill.” Oh heck!

Almost immediately, we hit a hill! But then we cycled down a dusty lane that scythed through enormous tea plantations – a subtle aroma of tea filled the air. After a snaking, steep uphill, we hit a long downhill to Limuru, our start point six days previously.

I tried to crouch into an aerodynamic position for the downhills but my arms were so full of lactic acid that it was excruciating. The finish line was now almost in sight and those with speedos counted down the kilometres! With Chris leading in his 4×4, we tailed tyre-to-tyre into Nairobi’s outskirts along the main road.

Our destination was a market place, and typically, this was at the top of a hill! One final toil to reach the top and after 1hr 41 minutes, we were there. Finished – done – dusted – YES! What a feeling. Everyone was embracing, shaking hands, slapping backs, such was the feeling of elation and kinship. We had suffered and conquered and no-one could take the moment away from us. We looked like soldiers completing a tour of duty; grimy, tired but beaming with self-congratulation! Everyone was a hero!

I borrowed a line from a film to leave in the visitors book – “What does not kill you makes you stronger”. That, to me, summed up the essence of the challenge.

Anyone for tea


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