This is Africa – An Update From My Tour d’Afrique Bike Adventure

Posted on / by Natalie Sisson / in Business Travel / 17 comments
The End of the dangerous zone

Three words to live by if you want to enjoy Africa for what it is – a wild, untamed dark star that can at once delight and frustrate you. When something simply doesn’t go your way, or there’s no explanation for what just happened, you throw your hands up and say `TIA’. Even the locals do it.

For that reason alone, you can’t help but fall in love with this dark continent.

It reminds you of all the things you take for granted like hot water, toilets, internet, clean everything, menus, prices that are fixed, reliable transport, services that run on time and having electricity.

The End of the dangerous zone
Not having any of those things, most of the time, makes you appreciate how good we westerners have it, and also makes you remember that it’s the simple things in life that count.

One of my most fond moments on this trip was having my first ever bucket shower. Literally a bucket of cold water and a cup to scoop it out with and wash your body. But with an audience of up to 100 kids all staring in awe at the `Mazungu’ (white person).

So what is Africa really like?

Before I highlight a few riding days to give you an insight on what I’m doing I just have to share my observations of day to day life in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi (where I’ve been riding so far).

Women carry the most amazing things on their head – sacks of corn, bundles of wood, crates of soft drinks, banana bunches, buckets of water – buckets of everything. Women do all the hard work – no joke. This is the place of laboring women and idle men.

Kids have continued to get more excited as we’ve ventured south. I’m so glad I missed the stone throwing Ethiopian kids to arrive instead to kids that are overjoyed to see you.

They shout `Jambo’ (Kenyan and Tanzanian for hello) or `Moni’ (Malawi) from the side of the road or the nearby village, hillside or tree. when they see us white folk on bikes. Followed by huge smiles, shrieks of excitement and often a handout saying `Gimme Money’.

As we’ve progressed South the scenery has got more lush, from fields of sunflowers to rice and tea plantations. In Malawi on our first day we saw Guava, Fejoia and avocado trees, plus bananas, mangoes and figs!

A Typical Day On Tour

More than anything, this bike tour has been more all consuming than I thought. Your entire day is consumed by systems – getting up, packing up your tent, changing into your riding gear, packing your locker, lining up for breakfast, washing your dishes, getting on your bike and riding for at least 100km to the next camp. Depending on how fast you’ve cycled you can come in with just enough time to set up your tent and get in line for dinner.

Rest days should be called chore days – where you do your smelly washing, try and access internet, charge every piece of electrical equipment, catch up on sleep, try and see the town or village and then get ready for the next riding day.

I’ve had such a variety of experiences so far over the last two weeks and so little access to rest of the world, hence no email update until now. I’ve chosen to give you a look at my journal style entries on some select days so far:

Monday Stage 47 (Day 1): 160km from Nairobi

Left Indaba Camp at 7:20am and headed off on my first day, and the third longest day this tour has had. Not exactly the easiest start for us new sectional riders. Even though I’ve ridden a 160km race back in New Zealand it was nothing in comparison to this. Heat, rough roads for around 50km (rock, lava, gravel, bones jangling) was exhausting and slow.

After that on the paved road it just got hotter. Lunch was at 70km and we hadn’t stopped before that. I had low energy and found myself failing fast. Luckily a friendly South African, regaled me with amusing tales to keep my mind off the fact that I could barely get up the hill.

I’ve never hit the wall like that before and it was a combination of not enough fuel and the very hot sun. He then made us get off our bikes and walk for a few minutes which was just the trick. After that we had 2 coke stops – a common feature of this tour which saved my life.

First day on Tour d' Afrique with some rough roads

Basically you pull off the road in a village or town to have cold coke, rest your legs and get a sugar rush to refresh your body. But people also drink Chai Tea and eat Chapati (kind of like a mix between a crepe and roti – best served with brown sugar). It was a god send to rest and refuel and made me realize this tour was all about having fun and pushing yourself, but not at the expense of your health. It was also a big mental test to make it through that day.

Luckily Canadian Jen took up the last 10km with a great gossip story that made the time pass by quickly and before we knew it we pulled into a campsite with plentiful grass and a rotunda gift shop. I mustered my energy to set up my tent, and we were just in time for the rider briefing and my first dinner. All in all we’d been out for over 10 hours and 7.5 of those on the bike. The shower that night was bliss. When my head hit the pillow I was seriously doubting my decision to sign up to this tour!

Tuesday Stage 48 (Day 2): 118km to Arusha

The morning started with getting some systems in place – critical if you’re going to make each day enjoyable. I soon discovered your head torch is key, as are two dry bags – one for my camping gear (mattress, pillow , sleeping bag and silk liner, plus ear plugs) and one for your clean clothes – just for that riding section, and toiletries.

Breakfast was right up my alley – -porridge, weetbix, bananas, honey, nutella and bread. I fuelled up ready for my next day in which we were told there would be a 2km hill and the possibility of kids throwing rocks at us at the top.

Once again the first 50km just seemed hard – hot and paved roads, a view of Mt Kiliminjaro and getting to know the new sectional riders plus forming some cool new friendships. I felt so slow and it was tough to keep up with people.

Before reaching lunch there was one more hill which I had to stop at the bottom of and get off my bike to shake out my feet which were on fire and cramping up. Once again I wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into.

Two aussies and a kiwi - Jim and Leigh

When you’re cycling that much the lunch stop food tastes delicious and you get to make up some excellent sandwiches, grab some fruit and refuel your camel pack with water and grab some energy drink that doesn’t taste great but gets you through. I added on some more sunscreen – so essential and anti-chaffing cream.

After lunch I set off up this god damn hill with Nicole and Ellen and felt like I was going to die or throw up. They slowly pulled ahead and near the false top, I pulled over and rested with Shona (one of the slower riders who hates hills) and she went on to pull me up that hill and keep me entertained, talking all the way.

We finally reached the top and had kids running along beside us with big grins and only a few who threw stones at us (not like the riders experienced in Ethiopia). From there we had a well deserved coke stop and several riders pulled over into the bar and joined us to tell their stories about the hill climb. Turns out Nicole and Ellen both felt sick on the hill too but you’d never have guessed as they plodded along.

From there we had a delicious downhill to tackle and Shona and I sped down, at the same speed and loved it. We raced along over dirt roads and through roadworks and past some stone throwing kids who missed us, luckily, although one almost caught me with a giant plastic full water bottle.

On and on we rode until we hit Arusha, a bustling township of 300,000 with noisy cars, smelly trucks, dust and roadside markets which meant the last 10km of riding was dodging the traffic and even having to stop at a traffic light!

Monday Stage 51 (Day 5): 121km Katesh to Puma Camp

This was the day I got finally got my riding legs and loved it. Absolutely flew along after the huge and never ending hill and ended up riding by myself for a significant period. I started picking people off one by one and just motoring along. I got up to 40km per hour on the flat with my big fat nobly tires on, and for once the male racers didn’t fly past me, I tried to keep up with them but not joy – those guys are fast.

However I finally felt strong, as if I could ride my bike in style and powered right through till lunch, not stopping for any coke. The view was scenic, the giant rocks that lined the road were fascinating. I came in second that day with Karla for the women racers too!

I hope that gives you a touch of insight into my daily life.

I’m getting  stronger, faster and leaner now, even though I got sick after 7 days in a row of riding on dirt and sand, that included flying over the handle bars twice.  Plus I’ve seen the big five on safari so expect another update on that amazing journey and more as I keep riding towards Capetown.

PS today is my birthday and I have just one wish…

To get one step closer to raising the full $10,000 for Women Win while on the ride of my life so please consider making a donation, buying something from here like my custom designed t-shirt, a MIO sports watch or a pair Girls Two Doors Down flip flops and feel good knowing a portion is going to Women Win or just spread the word!