06 December 2010

Half a bike ride

A week ago I was biking with some buddies up against the native forest on Mount Meru and discussed climbing the mountain from that point.

The plan was to ride bikes up to the end of the planted forest, stash the bikes some where in thick bushes, climb the 15,000ft mountain, unstash bicycles, and scream on the decent home.

I have climbed Mnt Meru many a time from this side but not very often in the last 15 years, and probably not for a half dozen years. I have also never biked to the start. Walked to the start a couple of times from home, but not in one day. But I figured it was doable.

Wes has been using a slightly different route from the same starting point so I was hoping to learn a new route without having to do trial and error on the route.

I suggested a early start before light but was over rode for a 6 am start from my house. We were Thomas, Jon, Mika, Joshua to climb the mountain and Wes and Kambona to do the bike and a hour of the walking part.

Of the climbers the average age is 1/2 my age and all fit, making me a bit nervous about keeping up on the steep forest and scree slopes. Here we are about 2/3 up the bike part.

From the start we had mechanicals and Thomas ended up borrowing Paulo's rigid mountain bike before starting. Then we had a broken chain, all easily fixable but made us 1-2 hours later to the end of the road than thought.

I had no problem leaving some of the youngsters during the bike part, so forgot about worrying keeping up with them on the hike part.

We found some thick vegetation beside a small trail and locked up the bikes at 10am at 2,225m (7,300ft). We started on a faint trail. It turned out the start of Wes's trail and mine are a bit different and in the end we did a variation on my route.

The route (above and below) goes straight up a steep slope onto a small plateau complete with a small water hole. the trail was faint and steep. You learn to keep your hands close to the body as we would find stinging nettles here and there.

At the top a faint trail continued along the edge instead of moving over towards the mountain , as I remembered. I figured we would adjust later. The plateau was thick with vegetation.

Thomas informed us that his GPS showed we went in a circle! That shocked me. It turns out we had walked around the edge of the plateau. We couldn't see the mountain only the vegetation around us. We found a break in the trees and clouds and got our bearings and believed the GPS and found a trail and the water hole.

There was sign of elephant everywhere now but weeks old. The trail had stinging nettles and we started to get stung more often than not. Then the trail petered out and we found ourselves in the middle of a huge nettle patch and no trail. Argggh. Even to go back meant more pain. We stood there for a few minutes feeling sorry for ourselves.

I was about to suggest giving up and going home. Gritting my teeth I went up a rise and there was this large elephant trail. whew.
The trail felt right and we moved along a wide ridge at a gentle angle. The river didn't show up and the elephants were moving up a ridge so we followed their trail instead of going to the landmark river. The trail would alternatively end or zig zag or split 10 times only to become one trail later.

The ridge became narrower and steep.

As i get up to take this picture someone asks. "what is sticking out of your leg?" I pull out a pencil sized stick that is a bit sharp out of my shin. Funny i was hardly feeling it.
These two pictures above were not the norm. There were only about 5 places that were open at all, mostly the ridge was thick .

In a few hours we were in the heather and then the sand and heather. I was having no problem keeping up.

We popped out of the heather into the tundra and time was running out. we decided to try for 4000m and turn around.Walking in the sand and gravel above the tundra.
Stopping it got cold quickly and started to rain a bit. We stopped at 3,900m (12,830ft) at 3pm. I started with a thin pullover, then a rain jacket, then a heavy fleece and I wished I had taken a wool hat.
Like I said I haven't climbed a big mountain for awhile but up to this point it was a walk in the park.
As soon as we turned around the boys hopped and slid and were 5o meters down the slope as I took a couple of painful steps down. I was shocked. Going down I now could not keep up. i could not hop on the scree like the old days. Every step meant absorbing the drop and it was painful. The slope was small stones, gravel, sand on top of hard base. occasionally soft, occasionally solid rock. Now the boys were having to wait until we got back to the heather. I was embarrassed, the weak link, the one everyone was waiting for.

I recalled the days I could run down as that was easier than walking and would have to wait as others waddled down in pain. Now I know what they were feeling. Occasionally I could jog and absorb with my legs but not often.

There was one section of soft sand and I could let go and in the heather it was less steep and more stopping to find which split in the trail was best, so i could almost keep up. In the forest I would only fall back slightly and catch as they cast around for a better trail. Having the GPS was a new experience for me and we could leave the guessing and take the shorter paths, and not worry if we were on the right ridge.

The solid nettles patch was by passed but the occasional nettle was there the keep the legs warm.

We got back to the bikes about 530 and installed the front wheels back on. By 550 we started for the 20km (?) down. Although it was easier riding I was feeling stiffness in my legs, and general fatigue of being moving for 12 hours.

A chain came off and ruined the skewer and as we couldn't tighten it up an so we had to slow down the last 1/4 but we made it to my house by 7pm.

I carried about 4 litres of fluid. That would of been about right if we had gone to the top, I ended up giving a litre away. I needed the fleece, extra jersey, and rain jacket when we stopped at 4000m, but wished i had a wool hat.

I need to do some walking down steep hills more often so I avoid this suffering.

I was tired that evening, enough that falling asleep was hard and I woke at 3am and couldn't sleep again until i read a book at 430am for 30 minutes.

21 November 2010

I could not ride down another trail

On Saturday Cheusi showed up at 530 am and we agreed on a 3-4 hour ride instead of all day. We chose seeing what the rains have done to the tracks and trails up on Mnt Meru. As you see it was better than good.

This picture is taken on the new track we found. That is Monduli peaking out of the clouds. Note the native forest in the near distance and the planted forest i am standing in.
No dust, no mud. It was perfect conditions. We went to the end of the switch backs but went straight up foot paths. We continued on the road. I knew it dead ended 500 meters further but it doesn't end there anymore. We rode a small track contouring around to the west. I started to believe it would go somewhere. Instead it turned and headed down a sloping plateau and then ended above a steep path. We had committed so we walked the bikes down. It was slippery and needed brakes. 20 feet down and as I was slipping and sliding and wondering about out choice. I learned to chose where i put my foot more carefully. At the bottom we had fantastic single track down to our normal single track routes.

I missed taking a picture of the steep path and Cheusi.

18 November 2010

Traffic light socializing

Kent Peterson posted this video of Barb Chamerlain from Spokane , USA "Bikes will Save the World". Barb's talk got me thinking about how it doesn't bother me so much to have to stop at a traffic light while biking as it does as driving a car. (although we only have two traffic lights in Arusha, and both are on my commute.)

Then what struck me most is how pleasant it is to strike up a conversation with another bicyclists at the stop light. Any of you drivers regularly do that at the stop lights?

And what do bicyclists talk about at stoplights? Mostly about how much faster it is to bicycle in heavy traffic, and how vehicle drivers drive crazy.

15 November 2010

Same old boring ride (yawn).

I couldn't ride this trail down the great rift! I had to walk and even carry the bike down the 200m elevation drop .

Below is just past the worst part when I put the bike down. Before that it was all I could do to keep the bike on my back, thus no picture. It was not the hardest thing I have ever done, but it was hard.

I have carried up a similar trail near this one and it was one of the hardest hours of my life. But that was another story.

I met a Masai man at the top. Midway down we were friends . He apologized profusely for leaving me behind after that but he was trying to keep up with a donkey. I caught up with him below as the rocks decreased and we greeted each other "bukishu!" (friend). At the water tank it was my time to apologize for leaving him behind but I was 50km into a 100km ride. He declined a soda in the village shop, as his donkey wouldn't wait for him. I was glad anyway as it was a 1 km out of my way.

I haven't done a "up at 4am, riding at 5am , ride into the afternoon" ride for awhile. I told Paulo we would fix his bike when I came home Friday evening. I got home around 8pm and was too tired (or lazy) to fix his bike.

I set the alarm for 4am , reset it to 5am ( i thought) and got up just before 5am. It is amazing it can take an hour getting ready and breakfast consumed but there you go. At 6am i then spent an hour fixing his bike and a broken spoke on my bike.

Not a new ride, this is one of my classic rides done every year or so. Today was special as rumors were it has rained out that way and I was looking forward to some green grass instead of the parched land around Arusha, which you will see towards the end of this trip.

Besides a classic ride in search of green grass, I wanted to check the progress of the tarring the Great North road.
It has reached about 10km from my house but some parts are off limits to cars but we weaved in between the stones to avoid the rough dusty temporary detour.While on this "under construction " road you don't see much as about 100 meters are ripped up, graded , messed up, and then ten meters are paved. It is about as attractive as being in a burnt out war zone. When I turn off the highway there is my green grass. Paulo says he is tired and he turns around for home. I wisely ride down a cattle trail westerly. Cattle trails get bigger and bigger and move over ever few years when the heavy rains make the trails into ravines.

The inevitable obnoxious herd boys start yelling and hassling me. I guess this is what riding through Ethiopia is like. I think this area needs more psychologists.

I ride through an eroded section and take a video. I HAVE to get a helmet cam camera.

I get off the Lengijave plains and coast and coast down a rough jeep track. I meet a battered land cruiser with some wazungu passengers and we both wonder what in the hell are they doing here.
In hind sight I should of gone down the track to where it levels out some and then head southerly and take that plain closer to Monduli mountain. Appears to me like I would by pass the steep escarpment but would have to do some canyons. Next time!

It is really nice out here, wide open spaces, I see some gazelles and bustards and herds of goats and cows but only meet up with a handful of herd boys and one adult. The adult wanted to show me the way and tried to run with me, which lasted a few minutes.
Looking the other direction.

Then I come to the dreaded escarpment. Right from the beginning it is unrideable for me.

I talked about this part in the beginning of this post.

At the bottom I stopped briefly at the water tank, finished my juice and washed my head and filled that bottle for doing the same later. Not much rain down here. Some civilizied looking guys says I should go down to the shops and then take the road. The donkey herder had said follow him so i followed the donkey and then left them behind.

Now i climb again, up to the Monduli juu plateau. I gradually climb from 1220m to 1500m and then steeply up to 1980m or so.

Looking back in the steep part.

On one of the "7 corner" switchbacks . The road is excellent, very smooth and hard, even so I cant beat a man and herd of goats who are going straight up.
On top I take my first serious food break and try to eat a whole sandwich. I can't finish a pb sandwich but I drink a thermos of milk tea and eat a banana.
The coast down to Monduli town is great as always. 9 miles of 40-60kph smooth dirt. I don't see any elephants but I am moving too fast anyway. It has only been an hour or so but i stop for a coke and water in a restraunt in Monduli town. I put another coke and water in my water bottle.

I debate with myself to take the tarred road back to the airport or see if going straight to Ngaremtoni is shorter. It is 31km instead of 37km and takes two hours. Not sure which is best . I have to pass through a dozen narrow steep washouts. this was one of the easier ones. This is one of the most eroded areas in Arusha region.

I am following a very old road that is only evident by filled up culverts and cut banks and this building. I wonder what its history is.

Sometimes I have no idea if I am on this old road until is see something like this culvert showing that once the road went across this valley and there was just a couple of culverts, where now there is a 30 foot wash out.
I make it home after 8 hours riding 105 km in 9.5 hours.

No great adventure but a fun ride.

25 October 2010

New Cycling Club?

Some months ago as I was coming back on the Makyuni Highway I passed a group of mtn bikers going the other way. I thought that was interesting and a month later my buddy Vincent explains there is a group that meets Sundays and cycles on the road that way.

On Saturday last Vincent forwards me a text.
"Hi Team! Jmpili biking ipo hadi Makyuni.. departure from Makuru Mbauda at 630am.... proper biking gear recommended. Thanks. Mike"

So I decided to check it out. Andrew calls and wants to know if anything is going on so I tell him lets check out this group. My plan is to go on the mtn bike as they seem to use those and play it by ear. Maybe I will leave the group and highway and do a mountain ride.

I realize right away that this is a different group. They show up in landrover defender pick ups, Nissan vans, Toyota VX, and the last guys shows up in a Rover! They have the gear and a sag wagon. They look a bit different than my lean and mean buddies in Arusha Cycling club.

They take off like a bat out of hell and stop in Kisongo. Here we are in Kisongo grouping up. From then on they don't stop often.
For some reason vincent and I have a beer in Kisongo at 830 am.

Next stop is Makyuni. Andrew turns around into a strong wind after 45km and A couple of guys have jumped in the sag wagon and a couple more bail out here. Mike says lets ride on to Mto wa Mbu. But eight of us cruise on to Mto wa Mbu.

I have come without anymoney and these guys are talking about food and waiting for their Van and go back in the evening. The sag wagon takes off with our bikes to do something official in Tarangire. Some of us feel skeptical this group is going to leave anytime soon and second hand we get a express bus to leave 3 seats for us coming from Karatu.

It changes my perspective on who is out there riding.

21 October 2010

Cycling surges in the land of the automobile

I came across this on front page of bbcnews.


I knew Portland (6%) and Seattle (3%) are tops on % of bicycle commuters, but Minneapolis (4.3%) is ahead of Seattle!

But that hardly compares with Copenhagen where 30% bike to work or school!

What about Tanzania and Arusha.

Tanga definitely has many more bicyclists. I think Dar is less that Arusha. I would guess that Arusha is less than 2%.

17 October 2010

Just missed seeing elephants (or Riding through Oldeani)

This weekend I was riding along in coffee plantations and forests on the edge of Ngorongoro Crater forest and suddenly I slam on the brakes and lay down the bike to avoid an crashing over this huge elephant dump.

Yeah right.

Apologies for the poor picture quality, as I forgot my camera and used my cell phone.

Nashesha had a week off from school this week and we did absolutely nothing about getting away. More importantly my wife Bernice deserves something special putting up with me so I called around and got a booking at Crater Forest Tented Lodge for Saturday night. I would cost us $50 per person full board and $60 fuel.

We left after lunch and making sure Babu was ok.

I decided to go all out so I borrowed the office's brand new Ford Ranger. It has air con and a CD player and goes fast. Why do it feel guilty for borrowing the office car for the weekend?

After 150km on tarred road we found the turnoff and arrived the tented camp by 5:15pm. It took 10 minutes to settle in and put on a jersey. I ran out of the parking lot and pulled the mountain bike out of the back.

An elephant trumpeted out in the forest in the direction I am riding, I had not noticed the elephant droppings driving up but on the bike I was driving over them every 15 feet. Cool. The guards warn me to be watchfull for tembo.
I coasted down the track and into Kirin Coffee plantation, branching on a road to Oldeani. I had to go up and down several ravines and my turn around time passed. At 615 pm I turned around and and was back at the lodge before dark. I figured everyone was a bit nervous with me out in the wilds.

We had a lovely 4 course meal and retired to read in bed.

The next morning I waited for the 7 am breakfast and take off to explore Oldeani and the road to Mang'ola.

In between two coffee farms I met a 10 year old kid running up the road. He was chasing a landrover for a ride. He grilled me for 5 minutes about everything. He even asked if I was part of the road bike group from Arusha that they see sometimes!

I expected Oldeani to be a couple hundred square meters of shops and houses. Oldeani stretched on for a couple of kilometers on a ridge. Including court house, 3 big churches, shops . It was dusty town.

I noticed the motto for the local school included "Environmental Conservation". I wonder what that means to kids there?

After Oldeani town I am in a different eco zone and avoiding dust becomes a job. Mostly wheat fields and scrub brush and rocks. In the picture above the road is to the left in the trees and i am on a path on side of a big wheat field.

I stop at the top of this rise as there are four houses/shops all close together. The cluster is split with half supporting the CCM party and the other half Chadema. Each has a stick and a flag high up. I wonder why they are not all CHADEMA here, as the Chadema candidate ,Dr. Wilbod Slaa, is from this tribe and constituency. Maybe if you blow up you can see the flags.

I might as well talk to the two men at the CCM supporter's shop, and order a coke as long as i am off the bike. We talk for awhile how the last crop was, the elections, life in town and in the bush. From watch i decide to turn around now.

Riding back i now find even more tracks off the road. I try to follow the bike tracks whenever they leave the road.

This picture gives you an idea of the road conditions.

After the town of Oldeani I am back into coffee plantations and patches of brush and forest. And more sign of elephant. I realize I sort of want to run into an elephant and i also breathe a sigh of relief to have passed through without getting trampled.

I meet three boys who beat me by crossing the canyons straight instead of following the road way up an aruond. Eventually we go along together and talk about stuff. They want to know if i know english an what all the stuff on my bike is. At the top of one downhill we have a race and although there is another steep shortcut i have put them far behind.

I have only gone 40 km today but it took 4 hours. My legs are slightly sore from the climbing.

09 October 2010

Along Arusha National Park

Thomas Holden and I met at 630 and rode the 25km to Usa River to meet up with John Corse. John led us straight up the slopes of Mnt. Meru to the forest. We followed the edge of Arusha National park easterly. We stopped in the first part of the forest and while thomas and John were digging in their packs for snacks I foraged on the thimble berries. Yum.

I found my camera battery was dead so no pictures. We crossed the Momella road and then rode in a nice forest on the edge of the park all the way to Sakila. I had no idea it would be so nice. Then we rode down the mountain slope a bit in the farms and then contoured back to his house.

We had some bananas and water and fixed Thomas's tyre and rode home. It was 5 /2 hours riding time for me and 96km.

26 September 2010


Weekend before last Thomas Holden and I rode up Mnt Meru into this fog. I didn't notice it when looking up the mountain on the way up, so the reason I am thinking the fog was my doing.

My mood was "foggy" when we left my house at 7am. I was riding becuase of habit and an agreement to go with Thomas. It was dry and dusty from my house but as we got further into the forest the fog left my body and quickly filled all the space.

I felt so good that I used my phone to take these pictures. From this point it was 30 minutes of single track and then dusty rural tracks through small farms.

Last week I had an immigration issue arise. I suppose the chief investigator was just doing his job but I must say he was aggressive, poking holes in issues that didnt seem to be relevant and threatening. So today I rode hoping to lose some negativeness and it certainly worked. Everyone on the small roads seemed welcoming for me to be passing through. I came home with some perspective to living as a foreigner in Tanzania.

07 September 2010

Arusha Mountain Bike Race

On Sunday Arusha Cycling Club put on a 35km mtn bike race in the Olasiti Oljoro area. We used to do this several times a year but got busy. 50 people signed up. Our top 5 riders were kept out of the prizes, $13 for first place.

I wasn't planning on riding hard but got caught up in it. I lost time on the down hills to the group i got with and almost would catch them on the uphills. then in the last canyon i hit the wall. I should of been eating and drinking more. I figure 90 minutes i would not be needed.

It was a bit dusty. below is from a ride on the previous weekend in another area but you get the idea.

Where's the bike?

OK, there is not biking in this post but I was thinking about dragging my bike up this trail part way. So my plan is to ride the 80km on the highway, then 10km on rough track, then haul bike up a rocky slope and then ride this ridge up to the forest and camp.
Oh yeah. this is Longido Mtn. It is right next to the Arusha Nairobi highway. On top it has the huge granite rock outcropping with several vertical sides. It was the scene of several WWI battles and the Germans had a fort up in the crater.

I tried to get Bernice and nashesha to come along, but Bernice had something going so Nashesha agreed to go if she could wear this head dress during the trip.

We park on the top of a ridge and cross a ravine with running water (!) and up this ridge.

On the lower slopes the are many aloe Vera plants.

On top of the ridge it is open and not so steep and the views are good except the peak obscured in clouds.

We enter the thick forest and climb steeply up to a ridge that goes up to the summit ridge.

After gaining the ridge we pass through a big valley in thick forest and head steeply up to the ridge. Nashesha says that is enough so we turn back tot he lunch spot and have a great few hours talking, making a fire, and being crazy.

From here we pass though this valley forest and up to the final ridge

I manage to take a nap