22 December 2008

S24O Monduli Mountain Forest

Long day rides improve my mood but S24O overnights sooth my soul. S24O are "Sub 24 hour Overnight" rides, I believe termed by grant Peterson.

I am wondering if I made a mistake on buying a tandem. It should of been a triple instead. Both Bernice and Nashesha can ride with me on the tandem, but on individual bikes it doesn't work. I don't know if a triple would work on rough trails though.

In this case grandparents are visiting so Nashesha is lucky to accompany me. Erik Zweig shows up at 2:30 and finds I haven't done anything. I frantically flounder around getting stuff ready and giving instructions to Bernice, Nashesha and Erik on food. At 4 pm we set off, laden down with too much food and not enough insulation.

The first section is along the busy main highway and is not a perfect touring experience. We probably own the only tandem in a country of 40 million people and we have to endure too much attention. Urban Tanzania is trashy and off on the shoulder one gets to look at lots of trash.

Added to my mood is the fact we have left at 4pm, and as it will be dark at 7pm. We have 20 km and lots of climbing on rough dusty tracks to get to the Monduli forest and find someplace to stealth camp. As usually that occupies my thoughts.

I feel better when we leave the main highway and are riding side by side on the Musa /Likamba road. We have to stop and buy some bottled water as we ran out of filtered water at home and find a jar of peanut butter.

I have about 10 or 11 litres of water and Erik has 3, as well as a bottle of homemade banana wine. I relax gradually as we get closer to the Monduli Massif. It has dried considerable in the past 3 weeks, and we have sections of 2 inches of dust.

From home it is series of uphills with a few level sections. I am mostly in the 3 lowest gears. At 5:30 pm we are on the first of the 3 steep sections. The first I have Nashesha jump off and she walks easily at my pace as I struggle to keep gong. It is easier for me as on a steep hills she cant "carry her weight". The second steep hill I try the same but have to push the bike most of the hill. It is 5 minutes of hard work. The last steep hill I am able to ride the whole way and am proud of that.

Erik has gone ahead most of the time and we find him at the top of this hill. The sun starts to go down but we can see the forest edge now and know we will make it to the forest before dark.

Nashesha is in good spirits and enjoying the trip. She talks non stop about everything. We ride into the forest reserve and when we see a promising big tree off to the side of the track we strike camp in the early dusk.

Erik has brought a MSR whisper lite stove and he starts first course of noodles while Nashesha and I put up our tent. I light up my "little bug" wood stove for warmth and light. After noodles we have rice and lentils and a bottle of wine, drank from jam jars. Nashesha crashes in my light sleeping bag. As Erik and I keep gabbing, after a few minutes we are instructed to lower our voices.

At 9 pm I head for the tent and climb into a fleece sleeping bag. That was all my bike had room for. Erik climbs in his mummy bag as there are only brush and large trees widely spaced and he cant set up his hammock.

The wind howls all night, the tent flaps, and I become cold. Nashesha lets me under her sleep bag and I am warm, but the ground is hard and the wind noisy. I fret thinking about work while awake. At 1am Nashesha and I talk for awhile.

I try to stay in bed hoping I will sleep more but by 630 I get out wash up the pot for making milk tea on the little wood stove. Here is our camp in the early morning.

You can see why this used to be called a Mummy bag. In the lower right corner is my little bug wood stove.

We breakfast on milk tea and oatmeal and then it is Nashesha's turn on dishes. It is still blowing hard and cold., but it is nice to walk around bare foot on the short grass.

We know the sun will get hot so we pack up and ride further up the mountain and find a big tree with a small patch of grass. To get there we take small cow trails through the thickets. Nashesha is expert at avoiding the nettles now after touching one on the way in yesterday.
We are relax under one of the trees above Erik's head in the middle of thickets.

I climb up the tree for plants for our rock gardens and find a space up in the tree used by kids? monkeys? leopard?

Erik has stomach problems and is going into the bushes frequently. Nashesha plays building houses in the dirt with twigs, and I read some.

Nashesha and I eat some bread and cheese and we pack up, for the downhill ride to home.

I use the brakes enough that I worry of wearing them out. Nashesha requests to pedal some as we are coasting too much. So sometimes we are pedalling with the brakes on. Some sections we can let go of the brakes and fly down the hills. The intense sun baking us. Erik leaves us far behind. It is less than two hours to ride home. I am feeling tired, probably just from sun.

We make the 24 hour deadline, but no one was very concerned.

16 December 2008

They made cars so we don't have to bicycle!

As you might know I am a stealth commuter. Especially as I near the office. My clothes,shoes, and bag are all geared so within minutes I look like all the other workers who drove or bused or walked to work.

Yesterday evening as I was walking out of my office complex I fell in step with a client, an successful insurance businessman of Asian origin. We exchanged pleasantries.

He asked if i was still riding my bike. I proudly confirmed and said even today.
I was dressed is office slacks and button down shirt, leather shoes and carrying a briefcase.

He said I was crazy so I asked why?

He replied " Well that is why they made cars."

I couldn't believe my ears.

I retorted that the side effects of cars is global warming, pollution, congestion, ill health, etc.

He agreed but I don't think I converted him.


14 December 2008

Anti depressant

I was depressed all morning. So depressed I could hardly function. So I went on a bike ride at 3pm. No special ride , just a a common ride up the lower slopes of Meru.

For statistical purposes it took 46 minutes to the Main forest road, 56 to the start of the forest reserve next to Sambasha and 61 minutes to the single track turn off. The whole ride took 1 hr 45 minutes.

The ride did the trick. I still see too much to do but it is not depressing me.

10 December 2008

Firewood, Streetlights, and a busy Highway


A few months ago I started picking up sticks lying around in my work's parking lot and carrying them home in my frame bag and for cooking morning tea.

One day I noticed the parking lot sweepers were sweeping leaves and sticks and I asked what they did with them. I figured they took them home like me. Not so, they are burned with the trash. So I begged them to put some sticks in my bag. The next day I found the bag stuffed over flowing with nice round sticks. I would sometimes find it full. Today I found a big paper box next to my bike full of pieces of lumber. I was going to put the box on the rack but that would block my rear light, so I stuffed the briefcase, frame bag all full and left a few more pieces. Made me laugh at myself, kind of like a bag lady.

So I rode home with my firewood. On the main highway something seemed different.

Street lights.

Half way home it seemed that navigating in the dark was easier. Ahh I noted the recently erected street lights were actually on and it made seeing holes and pedestrians much easier. Maybe development is not so bad. The lighted roads lasted through the Technical College intersection. Then it was back to the dark. I was spoiled and missed the light.

Busy Highway.

About 1/2 the cars in my town Arusha are SUVs and when they come behind you it sounds like they are all screaming directly towards me. It is unnerving. When they pass I am surprised how far away they are from me. Today it seemed people were in a hurry and taking more chances. Even with all the lighted streetlights I felt vulnerable.

It then struck me that 2/3 of my commute is on the main north-south highway of Africa! No wonder it is busy.

09 December 2008

Up and over, the long way to Oldonyo Sambu

I didn't carry my camera this weekend as a fellow worker borrowed it for the long weekend. That fact seems to make blogging easier, as I have no pictures to post. The process of downloading, choosing, editing the size seems to complicate and stall the blogging process.

Not only is it a long weekend but an extra long weekend. Monday was Eid-ul-Fitr and Tuesday Independence day.

To stay a protestant anglo saxton on Saturday I worked 1/2 day.

Sunday I met up with 3 other guys and did a 120km road ride west almost to Makyuni and back. The scenery was fantastic and the companionship was as good. Henry would even let out whoops as we were feeling so good. Well, we felt good until the last 30 km as we slogged into the wind. Luckily one of us was under 35 and pulled us in, thanks Thomas. For me it was a total of 135km. Haven't ridden that long on road bike for awhile.

So back to the subject. What I really wanted this weekend was a long bush slog on the mountain bike (LBSMB). I rarely make a decision on where until a few minutes before leaving, hoping I can figure out something new and exciting. I am looking for a ride with wild bush or interesting cultural experience. Even riding along the polluted lower Themi river is an experience.

I decided to ride up and over the Olkakola Plateau and then to Losinoni Juu above Oldonyo Sambu if I had the energy. The ride up to the plateau is not new but adding on the last section is new.

It only took me 45 minutes to get going, better than usual. Paulo was standing around waiting but I have to make milk chai, pb sandwiches , banana-pineapple smoothy, and mix some dried fruit and nuts. I guess i should do some the night before. Somehow the last hour before bed I am usually so exhausted I can hardly get off the couch and climb into bed.

We left 530 am and rode with lights on familiar tracks. By 6am we could turn off lights.

Crossing the Ngaremtoni river canyon is as always a struggle, as it is a steep trail with boulders. Today was even more of a struggle. If my bike wasn't so heavy I would just carry it.

Even without adding my food, spares, clothes, and water my bike is heavy. I carry too much spares. I guess i want to be ready to fix anything. Permanently attached to the bike are a large rear rack and a triangle frame pack made of heavy material. My tires are the heaviest around with tyre liners, and slime.

Then I put a tool kit on the rear rack, consisting of multi tool, spokes, patches, cables, extra tube with slime, spare folding tyre, spare chain links, and some other stuff. In the frame pack I put thermos of tea, 1 litre banana-pineapple smoothy and a water bottle on top of a pump. In a handle bar bag I permanently keep some toiletries ( a toothbrush for overnights, ibuprofen, Vaseline, salt,sunscreen, cash). In another side pocket extra chain oil, in the main compartment a rain coat, cotton shirt with collar, hat, and some trail mix. There is room for more but it is enough.

The cotton shirt is for when it is really hot. When the sun is relentless I take off the synthetic bike jersey and helmet. The collar protects my neck, the cotton stays wet longer and cools me, the white color feels cooler. Today it would be too cold to wear as it would be soaked with sweat and freezing me on downhills.

After the small trail through the canyon we are on a large maintained forest road. It is relentless uphill for almost 2 hours to a gate on the edge of the plateau. We stop once to admire the view even better. At the gate I note we have been averaging less than 10kph for 3 hours, and the last section I was going 4-6kph.

After the gate it is alternating flat then steep uphill sections. It is breakfast time and we find a place to dangle our legs over a grassy bank and look down over Olkakola area. We must be around 8,000 feet now. It is cool and we watch the clouds blow in while sipping tea and eating pb sandwiches. We pass in and out of in indigenous forest , planted forest, and potato fields.
the track keeps going up and getting smaller. The plantations stop and then the trees thin and we are in heather. we are in clouds now and must be 9,000 feet. It is almost cold especially as the grass is wet and and our shoes are soaked. That helps relieve the sting from the stinging nettles that sometimes are unavoidable.

Oh yeah elephants. 30 minutes past the gate we start seeing old elephant droppings on the trail. they get fresher and fresher. They passed on the road in past few days.

It is pretty cool experience riding through the heather, really cool. I keep looking for trails to take off so I can camp up here sometimes. It is flatter , more rolling now. Eventually we feel we are on the other side and there is more down than up. The track becomes more of an overgrown foot path. Elephant sign become less and now we are into more potato fields.

The key is to take the higher roads. Stay high. A few years ago I went lower and the roads die out and you ride through potato fields for awhile.

We start running into people walking up to work their fields. We talk a bit and ask for the road to Oldonyo Was. The road becomes a road again but it is steep and rough and grass and brush hanging into the road. Instead of flying down we seriously wear out our brakes. We drop out of the clouds. We decided to take the foot trail straight down and leave the switchback road. It is smooth and fast and like a shalom ski run, much nicer than the road. The forest keeps the undergrowth down unlike the edges of the road . Unfortunately it means we miss the track heading above Oldonyo Was hill.

Above Oldonyo Sambu police station we leave the trail and go back on the road and contour through the forest. Eventually the road goes uphill into the pass between Meru and Oldonyo Was. Can you call that a pass? Mnt Meru is 15,000ft and oldonyo wasi maybe 7,500ft. The road is moderately steep but rough and strewn with cut brush. It is hard to stay on the bike. We make the pass and I know it is going to be a long downhill of rough track. We make it to the old colonial farm. There is a huge canyon I have written about before. Someone has bought the farm from Marios Ghikas and is erecting greenhouses. They have graded the road and put gravel in sections. We can now let go of the brakes more of the time than not. No dust to speak of. Then we meet a car and it is Mitcho! He has some heavy earth moving equipment leveling ground for the greenhouses.

We fly down. Next we bump into Lengishon. He used to be the farm hand at the school I worked at. We caught up on each others lives.

Next we stopped at the school and took a quick tour. The house is as i remember it, more simple than what i live in now. It has allot of character.

I note that we have averaged 9.3kph only!!!! What happened to the downhill increasing our speed?
we coast down to the highway and are faced with a few km of uphill and then mostly downhill home 30km away. Paulo was knackered so we finished the dates and trail mix and smoothy.

Total was 85 km and eventually the average speed went up to 13kph. More than 6 hours riding. I was not too tired but as I sat around at home I had hard time sitting and kept wanting to get horizontal. Took the kids to neighbors pool and then home to read while being horizontal.