Tuesday, 9 March 2010


The local tribal woman wear these magnificent decorations around their necks and on their heads complimented with bright colour clothing. But it is so hard to have them accepting to be photographed. I had to try so many times before this group of 3 women finally accepted after much discussion and me trying to charm them.

There are two types of thunderstorms in Africa, the late afternoons one that usually last 1 or 2 hours and the late night, early morning storms that are the premise of a big humid front moving in and bringing big rains. So when I was woken up at 5h00 a.m. by lightning, I knew that this meant only one think, RAIN... I jumped out of my sleeping bag liner and immediately started packing my tent in the dark. Within 30 minute, hell broke loose on TDA camp site and I was one of the only few who made it dry... We were told when entering Kenya that this region was experiencing its worst drought in 10 years... Well, all they needed was me to arrive. I am quite famous for bringing extreme weathers where ever I go... Africa has always the same problem with water, it has either too little of it or too much. Today we were on the too much scenario... Far too much.... The storm literally dropped buckets loads of water on TDA with no place to hide. We all stood looking at each other hoping for this episode to end, but it did not, it got worst. Eventually within 15 minutes, we were all soaked and cold while the staff managed to put up one of the truck side covers acting like a giant umbrella where we could find some refuge from this downpour. Lightening was everywhere, hitting just above our heads. Some people found refuge under the trucks, but suddenly even there, water started flooding on the ground. By then breakfast plans had been abandoned and a big pot of boiled eggs was dropped on the ground by James the chef. This was all he could do as any kind of cooking was clearly impossible. The skies looked like things were not going to improve any time soon, so I decided to get going on my bike in the middle of this huge storm. There was nothing better I could think of. I was already completely soaked, and was now starting to get cold, so I thought that the only thing to do was to ride and get warmer. Many other riders followed that same strategy, while some just gave up and jumped on the trucks. This was a long, horrible day. The weather did not give us any brake until lunch time. It rained so heavily at times that I could hardly see where I was going. The road turned into something that felt at times like a river and at times like a giant wet sand pitch. On sand you have to spend at least twice the energy when pedaling, but on wet sand, you can add an extra 50%. Correction added to the challenge, at times it was ridiculous, you were either shaken like inside a tumble dryer or you were digging your front wheel into fat soft deep sand or you just hit water beds so deep you were almost swimming. Plenty of thorns carried by the water flowing through the roads added to the rider's misery and we all had a record number of punctures.It was a hard day, for us but also for our bikes. In Cairo, Kriss, the bike mechanic had told us that we should always avoid taking our bikes into the water and he recommended we always carry the bike over water... He he... Today, Kriss's talk was on our minds and it became the joke of the day... We would have carried our bikes the whole day, and even so, it rained so heavily that they would have been bathed anyway...

Tonight camp resemble a bike hospital after heavy fighting... The problem was that we are camping in the middle of the bush and there is no water available to wash ourselves or the bikes... So we used the muddy water from the potholes in front of camp... It is amazing how long 90 km can be when the conditions are so hard... Every 100 meters is hard and slow, so you almost don't want to look at the odometer, well actually, it is kind of useless as it is covered with mud and you can't read it...

We got a present from China at about 20 km from camp! Yes China! The Chinese are busy building a brand new tarred road and they have already built the base, so suddenly we were on good quality dirt without correction and raised above ground level so that water was not going through it. So this meant that our average speed exploded suddenly from 8 km per hour to 25... A welcome relief after so many hours in some of the toughest cycling conditions most of us had ever experienced.

Camp tonight is as bush camp as it gets, no cell phone reception, just the sounds of crickets, frogs and hyenas. Here in Kenya wild life roams freely, unlike in South Africa where it is restrained inside gated parks. Last night we had hyenas visiting our camp and this afternoon I kicked elephant dung out of the ground where I wanted to pitch my tent. Having a big tent is nice, at least they should not stumble on it...

Tomorrow we will be back on paved road and have successfully crossed this 500 km long desert stretch known to be the most difficult part of the tour. Now I understand why. I certainly did not expect so many different conditions from extreme heat to huge rain downpours, from lava rock to soft sands and so much correction, but this section has been fun to ride, and as Paul the race director told us, it is part of the legend of the tour. So completing this section is an achievement any rider can be proud of. Unfortunately, it seems that the Chinese plans to pave the roads all over Africa are going to change this and we might be one of the last TDA tour to enjoy it rough and untamed...

                                           Jason fixing a puncture between two rain downpours.
                                        TDA riders trying to find a dry spot from the thunderstorm

                                           Lanie found this "dry space" underneath the truck
                                             Hell braking loose on us as we were waking up.
                                             Breakfast turned into a flood survival operation.
                                      I stopped in the only small village we crossed today in this
                                     deserted region and immediately became the number one
                                     attraction for the kids.
                                                      Jethro fixing his punctured tubes
                                      The only water available at camp to wash ourselves and
                                      the bikes is the one on the road.... Still better than nothing...
                                                       Rod and Juliana cleaning their bikes

                                                       Bike shop is very busy tonight...
                                       Washing yourself with one 750 ml water bottle is not easy,
                                        but we have become quite good at it...

                              This is how camp looks like tonight, full of dirty dismanteled bicycles...
                                     Jos and me at arrival after what will be one of the toughest
                                     day of the tour (yet another one...)


Claudia and Rainer said...

Hi Gerald,
we admire you and the whole pack of drivers. We know most of you are doing this torture not only for personally reasons but also for some relief projects.
That's definitely the hardest way of fundraising I've ever heard of.
Thanks to all of you in the name of those who will participate in the collected contributions. You are the greatest.
Warm greetings from -10°C cold Munich from Claudia and Rainer

Anonymous said...

Gerald, its not a surprise for me that extreme weather follows your path. clearly you are like a rain -and snow- chaman. probably there is some money to make with that. Here in Andorra we miss you, yesterday only 30 cm of snow and now 9 degrees negatives bien sur. nothing in comparison to the febraury09 snow fall. I think thtat the most incredible thing about your TDA is not really yor effort but the fact that you can explain it in this blog¡ I follow you every night. joan from andorra