We’ve made it to Kigali. The four of us collapse on the sofas of Theo’s cousins house and the pain of the last few days are forgotten. Four weeks of riding and we’ve covered 2,000km. That’s about 80k per day and we’re filled with a sense of relief that we’ve gotten here in one piece…just about.
Kigali doesn’t disappoint as we indulge in the jarring luxuries of expat life, swimming pool, hot showers and internet to name a few. It’s my turn to write the blog and as I think back on the last two weeks, from Dodoma to Kigali, it's all a blur of one never-ending ribbon of tarmac cutting through thousands of kilometres of arid land. If you can imagine those vast empty spaces that one sees at 30,000ft from an aeroplane above sub-Saharan Africa then that goes some way in describing the kind of landscape we’ve cycled through. I've always wondered what goes on in those sparsely populated spaces and I can confirm that the answer is... not a huge amount. There are more goats and cattle than human beings, it's about 37 degrees by midday and the scenery is absolutely stunning.
Rewind two weeks and our time in Dodoma is drawing to an end. The second half of Tanzania is looming in the shadows of our maps in the from of a vast sandy coloured expanse which makes up Central and North Western Tanzania. The few rest days we have zip by in a blur and there's a sickening sense of realisation as we pedal out of Dodoma that we still have a huge job to do.
In the cushy confides of our hotel there had been lots of talk of arriving in Nairobi. What the end would be like and what we were most looking forward to. ‘What is going to be your first meal back home? Where and when should we have a homecoming party?’ These presumptive musings were going to land us in spot of trouble over the next few days and our good friend hubris made sure we knew about it!
My diary entries from the last two weeks make for some rough reading. I thought I’d use some direct extracts to give you all a feel for what we’ve been up to but more to the point because I cant really remember what happened! This section comes with a disclaimer warning... there may be scenes of a distressing nature and skip to 'Day 104' to avoid said scenes. It certainly took a toll on us all.
‘What an intense day. Woke up to the sound of wretching outside my tent at 4 a.m. This continues every hour on the hour until 6.30 when I heave myself up. The space where Theo’s sleeping bag was, is empty. I crawl out of the tent and am met by the bedraggled form of what can only be Theo. Splayed out on the ground his sleeping bag wrapped around his contorted frame. Pools of dried sick surround him and as I extend my field of view I see that a white perimeter fence of toilet role has been erected systematically 360 degrees around the camp. Charlie has also been up all night. The surrounding trees and bushes are decorated with a dystopian take on the tinsel from a Christmas tree only the stench isn't quite that of pinecones and cinammomn scented candles.
As the morning proceeds we realise that neither Theo or Charlie are fit to cycle. Theo can barely lift up his head and Charlie isn’t much better. They slump onto the back of a passing truck and head onto the next town to rest up and recover. This happens to be 105km from where we are now, more than achievable as its 8.30 am, but quite a big ride. This also marks the first time in four months that we’ve split up as a group.
It’s 9 am and just as we’re preparing to leave Wadi checks his rear tyre. Its flat. In a burst of frustration I head off to the roadside in advance leaving Wads to sort it out. The concentration required in avoiding the mine field left behind by Theo and Charlie, has lead me to entirely ignore the more bike related booby traps that threaten the bike tourer; thorn bushes. As I get onto the tarmac my front tyre begins emitting a high-pitched hissing sound. I slam the bike down, rip the tyre off and find four punctures in one tyre. An hour later and all patched up we’re ready to head on. Leaning my full weight into the pump the tension completely goes.
‘F*******K. The pump is gone!’ Wadi stifles some laughter and in the corner of my eye I see a local cyclists heading off the road with what looks like a pump on the back of his bike. Could the pump wielding Masai god that appeared before us last week have returned?! I sprint off in his direction screaming and shouting and for those familiar with Nicholas Cage’s overly dramatic freak-outs on screen it apparently looked something like that.
Thank (the Maasai) God. We finally get the tyre pumped and he even manages to fit in a short tutorial on inner tube patching. I forgot to mention we were now out of inner tube patches and, using a knife he whips out from under his robe as long as my forearm, he sculpts a patch out of an old inner tube. By 11.30 we’re on the road and by 3 o’clock we’re gorging on a greasy chip omelette in a town 60k from where the boys are holed up. The two of us decide to go for a cheeky round two (living large) and are back on the road by 4.30. Its 2 hours to sunset and we make the decision to aim for a village 20k from where the boys are; the plan being to catch up with them tomorrow.
At 6pm a text comes in from Charlie. ‘We’ve gone to the hospital.’ We’re 27km from the hotel and with the sun setting we decide to push on and make sure the boys are alright. We strap our head torches on over our helmets and have no choice but to crack on. After deciding to split the group up this marks the second major rule to have been broken for the first time in four months within a day. Cycling at night.
By this stage Wadi has also begun to mention how his 'tummy is beginning to feel quite bloated.' We put it down to the two chip omelettes at lunch and pedal on. Just 4k from the hotel, cars and trucks blaring past, Wadi scrambles off the road where he has the most explosive d and v imaginable. Thats 3/4 of the Cycling For Rangers Team down in one day. Things aren't looking good and here's screen shot of me doing a diary cam as the last man standing trying to work out what the next move is.
To defy all logic Wadi somehow gets back on the bike within 10 minutes and we roll into the hotel a bit past 7. The other boys are nowhere to be seen.We collapse on the sofas too tired to press them further.
An hour later the boys come limping through the door. They’re exhausted but just about alright. They tell a story of how upon arrival at hospital they’d asked for a malaria and bilhartiza test. The immediate response being ‘of course, but the results will take 6 months.’ Fortunately this timeframe was negotiable. After some bartering they agreed on a 30-minute turnaround for results at a cost of $3 each.
The symptoms described earlier would persist over the next week for Wadi, Charlie and Theo. I can’t put into words the grit and determination they all showed in getting on with the job at hand. Its one thing cycling through an arid desert in 37 degree heat but quite another proposition all together to have done it with a violent d and v bordering on dysentery.
The day gets off to a lively start as I see off a family sized dairy milk choclate bar pre porridge. It’s definitely a sign of the times, as this doesn’t register the slightest reaction from the boys. It’s probably relating to the fact that we crossed into Rwanda last night. The land of a thousand hills seems a cruel last kick in the teeth of this 2,000 km monster leg of the trip.
Later that evening…
How can the moral in camp have changed so much? We’ve done over 1,000 metres of ascent in one day yet it was one of the most enjoyable days we’ve had on the bikes. What we’d failed to realise, in true Cycling For Rangers style, is that Rwanda was just a week out from electing a President or more accurtaley re-electing an incumbent President; Kagame Paul as he's known over here. Every town and village we rode through was decorated with the blue, white and red of Kigame’s FPR (Front Patriotic Rwanda). Bunting strung up across the roads, pavements being painted with fresh colours, billboards on street corners and small flags billowing off the sides of cars, buses, trucks, and bicycles.
To add to this Rwanda is densely populated and made for a change from the last few weeks in Tanzania. Having followed Froome’s progress in the Tour de France it felt like we had our own mini version in Rwanda. We attracted a huge amount of interest as we passed through the villages and small towns of a new country. School children running and cycling with us as we moved at a snails pace up the never-ending hills and wonderful chats with other cyclists taking on the endless climbs. One individual stands out in particular, who Charlie and I both got to chat with. A refugee from Burundi, working as a bicycle courier in Rwanda, he was an incredibly inspiring guy; someone who puts things into perspective and inspired us to keep plugging on.
The next day…
Its 60k to Kigali! Theo’s in a slight frenzy this morning as he breaks the even more delightful news that there’s a short cut which will save us 10k. Bowled over by his enthusiasm and too knackered to challenge the logic we head off for Kigali. The unprevailing rule that all shortcuts we’ve ever taken being a combination of sand and vertical decents escaping us in our moment of joy. We get on our bikes at a leisurely 10 am in the expectation that Kigali will appear before us in a mere 3 hours.
Twenty minutes later and we’re on the “short cut.” Theo and I nervously try to convince ourselves that the amount of descent we’ve seen on the topography will make up for the almost non-existent dirt road that has appeared before us. Another twenty minutes and the ‘road’ is replaced by what looks like a dried out river bank heading down a hill only Rwanda could possibly have conjured up. I take the first plunge. Theo’s camera is snapping away and I get slightly carried away resulting in an unceremonious face dive over my handlebars. My front tyre is punctured in several places (quite an impressive feat) and the delicate handy work of our Maasai mate a few days ago has disintegrated.
The rest of the boys pile in behind, helping me up and our positivity at being so close to Kigali keeps spirits high. Wadi carefullly places our remaining glue on the ground next to Theo’s right shoe and the tyre is off and ready for repair in seconds. We look down at where the glue was so delicately placed to find that Theo’s shoe has suddenly had a face-lift! Coated in a pink gleaming gloss it took us a few seconds to realise what had happened. The remaining glue had been squirted all-over the ground around Theo! All we could do is laugh and salvage what remaining glue was in the tube.
We’re 40k from Kigali yet we’ve never felt further. We’ve got no way to patch any future punctures and about as rural as it gets. As we limp down into the basin of this valley the most unexpected scene appears before us. We’ve stumbled across a valley of brick makers! Towers of bricks and smoke rising from make shift kilns are a real surprise. The elation is short-lived as we have to push our bikes for 45 minutes up the other side of the hill. It's too steep to cycle and the help of some locals kids is a life saver.
Cut back to Kigali and emotions are running high, particularly on hearing the news that sushi burritos can be obtained in the nearby Japanese restaurant for half price. The owner Mio, who became a focal figure for us in Kigali, is a continental bike touring legend (she cycled the same route as us and has got on to cycle all over the world)! More on that in Charlie’s upcoming blog.
We’ve learnt to take the smallest glints of positivity and absolutely run with them. Whether it be the generosity of a Maasai man taking time out of his day to help us, or chatting to someone cycling alongside you who has an inspiring story to tell, or getting caught up in a whirlwind of schoolchildren as they hurtle homewards, or purely revelling in the sights and sounds of a new country. Its been all about focusing on the silver linings and appreciating how fortunate we are to be doing this. We’ve drawn hugely on the messages of support we’ve been receiving from family, friends, people who’ve found out about our expedition through social media and most of all the people we meet day to day on the road. So thank you all for the support!
When thinking of the selfless sacrifice of wildlife rangers across sub-Saharan Africa this challenge is put into perspective. We’ve managed to raise £29,000 for 'For Rangers' and we cant thank you all enough for your donations. If you want to find out more about the cause then please take a look at our website: www.cyclingforrangers.com
One last thing. At long last, people are more surprised at where we’ve come from then where we’re going to!