Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Friday, May 17, 2013

Finally, a new adventure!

After much back-and-forth in my own head, I have pushed the 'go button' on a mini-expedition, of sorts. I will be cycling 700 miles up the coast of California from San Diego to Monterey, then inland to Sequoia National Park where I will be starting a new job. I will not be posting photos or stories on this blog, but you can follow the tour here.

No fundraiser. No rules. Just some fun in the saddle. I leave May 23.

Kyle

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Remembering a Legend

The seed for Low2High: Africa was planted in 2006 after I read 'Ultimate High' by Göran Kropp, a Swedish mountaineer who in 1996 rode his bicycle from Sweden to Nepal, towing all his gear on a trailer, and then climbed to the summit of Mount Everest without oxygen. It is one of the most incredible adventures anyone in the world has ever done, and it has inspired many expeditions since. 

I was living in Sacramento at the time and took a trip to the Grand Canyon and Death Valley with some friends. As I stood in Badwater Basin in southern California, looking up at the 'Sea Level' marker in the rock above me, I was thinking about Kropp and decided to one day have my own expedition from the lowest to highest points of North America, connecting Badwater Basin and Denali by bicycle.

I had to push the idea to the back of my head as I continued my service with AmeriCorps. Two years later, I was off to Ethiopia with the Peace Corps and the idea resurfaced. What about lowest to highest, in Africa? It was then that I started seriously planning my expedition.

I tried to follow Kropp's philosophy of self-sufficiency as much as possible. I really wanted to honor his memory with my expedition. In March, 2011, I stood on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro feeling that I'd done just that.

It was ten years ago, today, that Göran Kropp died in a climbing accident in Washington State. His memory lives on, and he continues to inspire. People will keep pushing the limits in his honor. R.I.P. brother. 

Göran Kropp wikipedia



Monday, March 5, 2012

The Low2High: Africa Short Film

I know I've been talking about it for months, but I swear a documentary film about Low2High: Africa is in the works. The footage is a mess, as I am not a filmmaker, so I've given quite the challenge to friends in the industry. "Here's a bunch of random footage with bad audio. Make a movie!"

In the meantime, I've put together a short-and-sweet video of footage from Low2High: Africa. Here's the youtube link.... Low2High: Africa short film

I don't know what the song is, but I really like it. It was on a bootleg CD that I bought in Ethiopia for 10 Birr! Spread word about the video. I'm trying to get sponsorship for another expedition and a large number of views on youtube will help a lot.

Kyle

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSl96J6Kv4o&feature=youtu.be

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mount Kilimanjaro

Day 64 - Kilimanjaro Day 1:  Marangu Gate to Mandara Huts
9km, 1970 meters to 2720 meters / 6,463 feet to 8,924 feet above sea level

My guide, Alex, came to pick me up from my hostel at 9am. He is a big, intimidating dude. I had made all the arrangements through a woman named Caroline back at the office in Arusha, so there was a bit of confusion. I told him I wanted to carry my own bag. Porters were hired to meet the minimum requirements of the park, but I still insisted on carrying all my supplies and water up the mountain. Alex was skeptical at first, but I told him that if I get tired I'll hand it off to one of the 2 porters. He agreed, and we hopped into a car heading up the hill to Marangu Gate.

Started hiking where I finished biking

Alex took care of the paperwork while I waited and rented a raincover for my pack. I went over to the sign I had cycled to the other day and took a photo. I wasn't sure if I was at the spot we'd start trekking from because the road continues behind the sign. I really didn't want to skip any segments. The road, it turns out, is for the ambulance and employees. The trailhead is to the left, and we started trekking up into the forest that wraps around the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro. I was happy to know I'd cycled far enough.

Hiking with my guide, Alex

The trek was slow and easy. We walked through thick forest with clouds in the canopy. We arrived at Mandara Huts before any other groups. I checked into my hut - no tents on this route. I know, what a pansy. Alex and I then went for a short acclimatization hike to Maundi Crater which is now overgrown with vegetation. Back at camp, my dinner was waiting for me. Other hikers were trickling in. I ate a hardy meal and went to sleep.

Maundi Crater




Day 65 - Kilimanjaro Day 2:  Mandara Huts to Horombo
12km, 2720 meters to 3720 meters / 8,924 feet to 12,205 feet

Today was a really foggy day. We hiked out of the forest and into low scrub brush. Clouds were blowing up the slopes and over the trail, engulfing us in white. I always love being in and above clouds on mountain treks. Some girls were coming down from the summit. We chatted for a minute, and I couldn't help but think that they were kind of cute. I then realized that I'm probably still wearing 'expedition goggles', and told Alex we should get moving.

Kibo Summit from Horombo Camp

We were the first group into camp again. The weather was much more clear at 3700 meters. We could see Mawenzi Peak behind the huts, and to the northwest, for the first time, I could see Kibo which supports Uhuru Peak, the highest peak in Africa. I was motivated again!



I spent the night chatting less with other climbers, and more with their guides. One guide used to guide for Kilimanjaro, then moved to Alaska to guide for Mt. McKinley for a few years. Now he was back with a large youth group from South Africa. Another guide was telling me about his tribe's marriage traditions, where the groom would have to kill a lion and present the head to the bride's father as a show of worthiness.

He went on to tell me stories of nights spent sleeping in caves. In the night, snakes would crawl into his sleeping bag for warmth. He'd wake up with a spitting cobra stretched end-to-end along his body. The cobra would know when he woke up, and calmly slither away. All I could think was 'M.A.N!'

Moshi town at night from Horombo Camp


I was intrigued by all these bushmen. What great stories. But I had to go to bed. Below the dining hut where we were talking, Moshi's evening lights were coming on below. I reviewed my notes before going to sleep and realized I had cycled 2,980 km total, and in the last 2 days had trekked 21 km, so I officially crossed the 3,000 km distance. I celebrated by eating a power bar and passing out.



Day 66 - Kilimanjaro Day 3: Acclimatization day at Horombo Camp

I had only taken one day off between my last day of cycling and my first day trekking up Kilimanjaro. To have a rest day in Horombo was not only nice, but I believe necessary. My legs were strained from carrying my 18kg pack up to Horombo. My insistence on being as self-sufficient as possible is sometimes borderline masochism. Either way, today was just a pleasant walk up to Zebra Rocks with no pack.

Zebra Rocks, near Horombo

The idea is to get up higher, and then return. Hiking up to Zebra Rocks got Alex and I up to 4000 meters. You go high and you breathe. Your body reacts to the high altitude by acclimatizing - making more red blood cells and more blood capillaries. Going high starts the process, and coming back lower again makes it easier for your body to do so. In my mind, we had just ascended 2000 meters in 2 days. We were going too fast, regardless. If the acclimatization benefits of the extra day were a bit moot, just having a rest and not hauling the pack was a welcome break for my legs and back.

Back to Horombo

I returned to Horombo and to my hut. While away, some Aussies had moved in. There were 4 bunks, so we had plenty of room. They told me stories of Koala Bears having chlamydia and Steve Irwin's daughter turning into an eccentric copy of her father. They were on their way down from the summit and had some trouble on the ascent. They had been vomiting on the way up, struggling to breathe, and developed bad coughs. They summited, but it seemed like it was a real struggle. This made me a bit nervous. I asked what they had done to train for the trek, and they said 'nothing'. This made me feel a little better since I was in better shape. If they can do it, I can do it!

The rest day brought new teams to Horombo. Most were only spending the night and continuing to Kibo Camp, skipping the acclimatization day. An extra day on the mountain costs roughly $300 USD, but I can't imagine moving that fast up to nearly 6000 meters. I was happy with the decision I'd made, even if it costs more.



Day 67 - Kilimanjaro Day 4: Horombo Camp to Kibo Camp
9km, 3720 meters to 4700 meters / 12,205 feet to 15,420 feet

Kibo is a stand-alone volcanic cone. The mountain has several cones that were all active at one point or another. Kibo is the highest, even though one side of the cone has collapsed. On our 4th day, we moved to Kibo Camp at the base of the cone.

Me and Alex bearing down on the summit

As we got closer, I got more excited. The cone was huge, and we were already above 4000 meters. It was covered in ice and snow, which was still hard to imagine from the relative warmth below. As we rolled into Kibo Camp, another 1000 meters above Horombo, the weather changed. It was cold, less humid, and then it began to snow. It got me psyched for what was about to come next.

Snowfall below the summit

I ate an early dinner went to sleep. The plan was to get up at midnight, eat some food, and start hiking. I couldn't fall asleep, a problem I'd been having for the entire trek. I wonder if it's part of being at high altitude. I slept only 30 minutes when the guides for all the other groups came in and woke us all up at 11pm, a full hour before I was supposed to awaken. I was annoyed, to say the least. I contemplated stabbing people, pushing their limp corpses down the frozen hill toward Mawenzi Peak. That extra hour wouldn't have just been a lovely extra hour of sleep, it would have TRIPLED the amount of sleep I had gotten.

Snowing on Kibo




Day 68 - Kilimanjaro Day 5: Kibo Camp to Uhuru Peak
8km, 4700 meters to 5895 meters / 15,420 feet to 19,340 feet

No stabbing.

I had planned ahead for bad weather. It's currently the rainy season in northern Tanzania, so weather on the summit can get bad. Ice, wind, and blinding snow can all cause problems for trekkers on Kibo this time of year. My guide and I went outside to find the world calm and relatively warm. We decided to go for the summit.

We started hiking at about 12:15 am, a bit later than everyone else, but we weren't worried. We soon caught up to, and then passed just about every group. We were walking over the snow and rocks in darkness, using our headlamps for light. At one point, I turned around as the half moon was rising over Mawenzi peak behind us. The other hikers were moving slowly, their headlamps giving away their locations from miles away. The large groups tended to move slower. Anytime someone needed to get into their pack, have a drink, or go to the bathroom, the whole group would have to stop. Alex and I were strong and fast. Soon there was a big gap between us and them.

Climbers walking up Kibo with the rising moon behind them

The trail was long switchbacks up the cone. I was going strong until about 5500 meters and I nearly collapsed. I felt weak. I bent over with my head between my legs, having trouble breathing. I started seeing spots and getting dizzy. I thought I was having high-altitude sickness. Alex checked on me, following the usual sequence. My lips were not turning blue, my pupils were not dilated, and my fingernails were still turning pink after a quick squeeze (capillary refill). It wasn't high-altitude sickness, it was just exhaustion. I had hit my wall and had no energy left.

I sat down, squirted an electrolyte gel into my mouth and chased it with some water. I forced myself go get up  and push on.

The switchbacks up the cone go to Gilman's Point on the southeast edge of the volcano. My hands had been getting colder and colder, even though my body was overheating. I kept unzipping my layers to keep from sweating, but still my hands were going numb. By the time I reached Gilman's Point, I couldn't take it anymore. I sat down, ripped off my gloves and jammed my fingers into my armpits. As life came back into them, the pain was unbearable. I was rocking back and forth, moaning.

I don't know if my gloves were just crap, or if the months of cycling had left me with poor circulation in my arms, but my hands were hurting. Luckily there was one other hiker at Gilman's Point, a girl from Australia named Bernadette. She had overmittens that she wasn't using, so she let me put them on. They made all the difference as we headed toward Uhuru Peak.

The summit was on the other side of the volcanic cone, so we had to follow the ridge around the ash pit. This was easy compared to the switchbacks. The day's first sunlight was just breaking behind us, but I still couldn't see what I was looking for - the sign marking the summit.

Time seemed to stand still. We kept walking and walking, traversing small peaks that I swore must be the highest. We rounded one more corner and I saw it, the signpost marking Uhuru Peak! I walked up, exhausted, taking video. I swapped the video camera for my still camera, stood on the peak with Alex, and got a great summit photo.

The highest point in Africa!

I took another photo with my ridiculous bicycle seat cover that I had packed up. I figured it would be cool to bring some part of the bike up to the peak, and what better than that stand-out seat cover which only weighs a few ounces? I had also packed a small piece of salt that I took from the shores of Lac Assal, Djibouti where this whole trip started. I dropped it next to the sign, and it disappeared into the powder snow. Low2High: Africa was officially complete!

Bike seat cover on the summit

It took another 2 1/2 hours to get back to Kibo camp, where we rested for about an hour. From there we pushed on to Horombo for the night. The next morning, we left Horombo, passed Mandara and went out to the park entrance.

The whole trek took six days round trip. I had booked seven, so the tour company hooked me up with a posh hotel in Moshi including free dinner. We were all happy to be off the mountain.

I'm happy beyond words. The whole expedition threw a lot of curveballs at me, but I met great people along the way that helped me through the hard bits. I'm still processing and summarizing the whole experience, but it has certainly been better than I ever imagined. It's been great to meet people, and I have gained a lot of confidence to do other things in life. This has certainly been good for me.

I'll leave you with some photos from the descent.

Thank you all who have followed me on this journey. Double thanks to everyone who has donated money to the New Day Children's Centre in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. The fundraiser is still open, and only 225 Pounds to go! If you still want to donate, you can do so by clicking here.

Kyle

View from the summit at dawn

On the descent


Above the clouds in Horombo Camp
Kilimanjaro from Moshi

Final Days of Cycling

Days 59 and 60: Arusha, Tanzania

These days of rest in Arusha were great. I spent my time with my family contacts who took great care of me. Their house is on the campus of Mt. Meru University, a few km north of the town. Between the inconvenient ride into town and the daily rain, I rarely left the house. On Day 60, I did go into town to finalize a contract with a Kilimanjaro trekking company - 'Parks Adventure Ltd' in Arusha. The family here knows the receptionist there, so I got a good deal.

I booked a trek up the Marangu Route, also known as the Coca Cola Route, from the town of Marangu, ascending the southeast side of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The minimum time to trek this route is 5 days - 3 days up, summit on the morning of Day 4, descend halfway, then finish descending on day 5. I booked 7 days, taking an extra acclimatization day on the way up, and a day to play with in case there is bad weather on the summit.

1,000,000 Tanzania Shillings
The payment was made in cash, so I withdrew more than 2,000,000 Tanzania Shillings from the ATM and handed it over. The stack of money was ridiculously large. I felt like a drug dealer with this massive stack of bills.



Day 61: Arusha to Moshi, Tanzania

I woke up early to pack and get moving. The family made me stay and drink tea which made me a bit late, but it was still nice to have some Tanzanian chai before hitting the road. I stopped by the trekking office to pay my remaining balance in Arusha, getting soaked from rain on the way into town.

After paying, I hopped on the bike and continued through the downpour. I was already drenched, so why not just keep going? I thought.

The ride to Moshi was easy, despite the rain. The road surface was good quality, and the rain even slowed down the traffic to a reasonably safe speed. I hugged the shoulder, still a little uncomfortable with being on the left side of the road. It's 80km between the two towns, but there are many small towns, cafes, and fuel stations to stop and have a snack. The rain lessened for the second half of the ride, and I rolled into town at about 1:30 pm.

Moshi is significantly smaller than Arusha, and has a more relaxed feel as a result. I easily found a cheap hostel to stay for the night and set to the task of drying out my supplies. The afternoon was dry and I was able to pack my dry clothes and tent before dinner. I met up with an American in town whom I had found on couchsurfing. His name is David, and he has a seriously creepy mustache. He is 28 and admittedly states that the mustache isn't helping with the ladies, but he loves it anyway. As we walked, boys were telling him in Swahili to shave because he looks terrible.

We had some good Indian food and a long chat, but ended the evening early. I was disappointed that I hadn't seen Mt. Kilimanjaro yet, other than from 300km away on Mt. Kenya. The rainclouds had covered the mountain from view all day long. Maybe early in the morning I'd be able to catch a glimpse.



62: Moshi to Marangu Gate

I slept in and packed the rest of my supplies that were scattered around the cramped hostel room. there was a good cafe I wanted to go to before hitting the road. Tanzania and Kenya have this God-awful routine of serving Nescafe instant coffee, EVERYWHERE. It's disgusting. This cafe, the 'Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge', properly brews and serves local Arabica coffee. I had to have a cup before leaving.

In the cafe I met an American guy who is a marketing consultant for many of the western-owned resorts in and around Moshi. He was curious about my bike and tattered clothing, so he invited me to his table. I told him about Low2High: Africa. He told me about how foolish most of the western business owners are here. I then dug deep into parts of my brain I haven't used since college and had a conversation about changing intellectual property laws with the accelerating consumption of internet media. Definitely not the conversation I was expecting to have that morning.

The weather looked promising, so I hit the road. The clouds were still hiding Kilimanjaro from me, disappointingly. It was only 25 km to a big junction where the road heads southeast to Dar Es Salaam. I went straight through the intersection, bound for the small town of Marangu. The 12km ride from the junction was a long, slow uphill. The road actually starts to climb the base of the mountain, which I still couldn't see.


Rain eventually poured down on me. I took shelter in a small cafe until it passed. I passed a sign marking the beginning of Kilimanjaro National Park and got excited. In town there's only one intersection. I had a hostel booked and had to ask for directions. I was immediately swarmed by 'guides' and 'organizers' and many variations of hustlers. Not today, I thought to myself. It's the last damn day on the bike, please just tell me where my hotel is. I got directions from a woman selling bananas and started up the hill to the right. A man from the crowd was following me. I yelled at him, and he just kept getting closer. I told him not to follow me, he said he wasn't and turned around. I'd ride another 10 seconds, turn around and he was right there again. I raised my can of pepper spray and told him to back off or he'll be hurting. That finally worked.

I checked into my hostel, grabbed a quick bite, but then got right back on the bike. I wanted to finish the ride all the way to the park entrance.

The paved road to Marangu Gate was only 5km, but extremely steep. It took me almost an hour to cycle up, fully loaded. People were surprised to see me on the road. I finally reached the gate and breathed a momentary breath of relief. I was swarmed again by locals and their claims. I was polite and told them I had a guide booked. When they started grabbing at my bike, that's when I started shoving people. A park guard came out and intervened before it got out of hand. I hate tourist towns almost as much as border towns.

The gate opened and they let me in with my bike. I peddled to the sign marking the trailhead for Marangu Route where I will start trekking from in 2 days. A park employee inquired about the bike. I told him I was traveling from the lowest point on the continent to the highest. To that, all he said was "That's strange."

The beginning of Marangu Route up Kilimanjaro
It was closing time for the park, so I had to go. I grabbed a quick photo with the bike at the sign and headed out. The steep downhill was on my side, and I made it back to Marangu town in about 10 minutes. I went straight to my hostel for a shower, food and rest. The ride was over!

I made a few phone calls to America. My parents seemed very relieved that I was off the bike.



Day 63: Marangu, Tanzania

With the riding behind me, it was time to get rid of the bike. I never planned to bring it back to the US. The bike is in good enough condition for every-day riding, but not for another tour through Africa.

The bike was given to me by a Peace Corps Volunteer from Tanzania who rode it up to Ethiopia 2 years ago. He stayed at my house in Bahir Dar and I told him of this idea to go from Lac Assal to Kilimanjaro. He had gotten the bike for free himself, so he passed it on to me. I figured it was only right that I also passed it on.

In Marangu, there is a Peace Corps Volunteer named Nathan. I got in touch with him and handed off the bike. He's not planning to cycle anywhere, but I know he can make good use of it. I trust he'll find a good home for it in Tanzania.

Nathan and his student receiving the bike and storing some of my things while I trek Kilimanjaro
Bicycle and all the relevant supplies gone, I focused on Kilimanjaro. I spent the day stretching, eating, drinking water, and getting myself ready mentally for the next task which would start tomorrow. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Greetings from the base of Mount Kilimanjaro!

Hey everybody! 62 Days after leaving Lac Assal, Djibouti, I have finally cycled to the base of the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro! Yesterday I rode from Moshi to Marangu town, and up the final 5km climb to the Marangu Gate entrance to Kilimanjaro National Park. I had a fun chat with the dumbfounded park staff and told them that I'll be back in 2 days to trek to Uhuru Peak. One guy could only reply with "That is strange."

So the cycling is complete. Just under 3,000 km of hard riding is over. I'm taking a rest day in Marangu, and tomorrow I start my seven-day trek up Marangu Route, aka the 'Coca Cola Route', to the summit. I'm at a painfully slow internet cafe, so photos will come after the trek. Wish me luck!

Don't forget, this is a fundraiser. With only 7 days until the end of my epic journey from the lowest point on the African continent to the highest, getting donations is more important that ever. Spread the word and help me bring in the last 600 pounds! Donate by visiting http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/low2highafrica

Kyle

Thursday, March 17, 2011

70%

Low2High: Africa is a fundraiser for the New Day Children's Centre in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. So far, 70% of the target has been raised. Help bring in the other 30%. Tell your friends, family, coworkers, church members, mobsters, extortionists, Somali Pirates, ex-boyfriends with gambling addictions, 2nd grade teacher / exotic dancer, pathetic friend who is trying to earn bonus points with a girl who doesn't even like him, suspiciously unemployed but always loaded neighbor, village Gold Digger, Italian man who owns a waste management company, crooked accountant, personal injury lawyer, online poker player, sellout friend working for Chevron, or anyone else in your life who may have five bucks to burn to donate what they can by visiting this link. 

Final Days in Kenya, First days in Tanzania


Day 55: Kiambu to Kikuyu to Kisserian, Kenya

After a week spent in and around Nairobi, it was time to hit the road. Every time I take a long break, it seems so difficult to start moving again. At least Kilimanjaro is close, giving me a bit of a morale boost. Yesterday I was tuning up my bicycle and realized that my rear derailleur cable had snapped at the shifter. It needs to be replaced. I called a local bike mechanic, David Kinjah, and asked if it would be possible to replace it on a Sunday. He told me to come on over in the morning.

I left the house in Kiambu around 7am to make it to Kikuyu where David lives by 9. It’s only about 22km, but I was doing it with only my front 3 gears to play with. The ride was slow and exhausting. My legs burned as I pushed up the hills. I had locked the derailleur into one gear so the chain wouldn’t skip, but in hindsight I should have put it in a lower gear.

I didn’t know how to find David’s house, so I called him upon arrival in Kikuyu. He told me to find the kids on bikes and they’ll take me too him. I kind of laughed, thinking I’d never know which kids he was talking about. As I rounded a corner, I saw 20 boys and girls in helmets, proper riding clothes, and wearing ‘Safari Simbaz’ riding jerseys. ‘Oh, THOSE boys’ I thought to myself. They were expecting me, and took me right to David’s house.

The house is an average Kenyan home with a few rooms. However, David lives in one room with his wife and child, and the remaining 4 rooms are full of bicycles, parts, clothing, tools, and maps. This guy is stocked. He has a few wealthy clients in Nairobi, and he was assembling a brand new Cannondale bike with a Lefty Fork, which I had never seen before. He was assembling the hydraulic disc brakes and converting the tires to tubeless. Seeing all this made his skills and knowledge immediately apparent.

David Kinjah replacing my gear cable at his home near Nairobi

He took one look at my bike and went to work. While effortlessly replacing my cable, he told me about all the boys that were around. He grew up interested in cycling, which kept him away from the temptations of alcohol and partying, and introduced him to an active lifestyle. He credits cycling for a lot of the good things in his life. He’s trying to pass on his love to the boys. Being a self-taught mechanic, he takes a lot of time to teach the boys how bikes are assembled, how to maintain them properly, and also how to organize and take core of all the tools he has acquired over the years. He hopes that by teaching the boys a useful skill, they can transfer the lessons to everyday life. A few of the boys were little prodigies, never a step behind David as he dove into the project of repairing my bike with a surgeon’s precision.

After he finished the cable, I showed him a wobble in my rear axle. His only reaction was ‘Uh Oh!’ I thought I was just having trouble keeping the axel tightened. If I tightened it enough to remove the wobble, the cassette would pinch against the frame. It was confusing to me. David knew exactly what the problem was.

He said the bike was unsafe and couldn’t let me ride away on it. He then started ripping my rear wheel apart. He took out the axel, then the bearings from one side, and then showed me why ‘Uh Oh’ was an understatement. The other side of the hub had no bearings. It had shrapnel. The bearings were broken, pulverized into dust, and mixed with grease. He removed the debris and showed me the hub itself. It was no longer smooth and circular, it was splintered and jagged. Yes, ‘Uh Oh!’

Ruined rear wheel hub

The hub was ruined. I kept telling him that I only have 400km to go. I’m not pushing to Cape Town. He told me I won’t make it to Tanzania.

David sprang into action, rummaging through one of his many store rooms. He emerged with an old wheel. It was the same size, same number of spokes, and with some modification could support my cassette. I wanted to keep the cassette because it has a big climbing gear on it which has come in handy in many big hills.

David Kinjah putting my cassette onto a different wheel

While working on my wheel, David insisted that I have lunch and tea. I sat in his living room watching the Oprah Winfrey Show with his wife. Less than an hour later, the wheel was done. He mounted it on my bike. It was smooth and true. I couldn’t believe it. This guy is good.

I felt bad since I had tied up his entire Sunday morning. I was ready to pay him and ride off, but instead he rounded up the boys, put on his Green Goblin cycling clothes, and said ‘Let’s go for a ride’. He and the boys took me through the winding dirt roads of Kikuyu, all the way to the tarmac road out of town and toward Tanzania. This is a man who loves cycling. He’s a skilled mechanic and talented rider. I was impressed with him in every way. If you’re a cyclist traveling through Nairobi, you need to go to his website www.safarisimbaz.com and get ahold of him. Whether you need a repair, tips on good cycling routes, contact with other riders in the area, or just talk shop, he’s the man you want. Good hearted and talented.

David Kinjah, Kyle Henning, and the boys
Riding away from Nairobi with the boys from David's shop
After breaking away from the group, I was on my own again. I pushed through the towns of Ngong and Kisserian to a potholed junction road. David told me of a campsite, so I ignored my hunger and sleepiness and rode to the camp. There are no landmarks, but the camp is just off this road somewhere between Kisserian and Isinya. I found the camp, pulled in, and was able to pitch my tent for about $3 USD. There were some young Kenyans having a party, so I joined them for food and beer. It was a good end to a long day.

Campsite in southern Kenya



Day 56: Camp to Namanga (Tanzania border)

The previous day felt very long, so I slept in a bit. I slowly packed up my camp and peddled toward the road at 9am. As I reached the end of the drive and joined the tarmac, an American man was peddling by on a bicycle with only one small bag. I yelled ‘Hey!’, and he jokingly replied ‘You! Ferenji! Give money!’ I see he’s ridden through Ethiopia.

His name is Gabe. We immediately started riding together and chatting about our trips. His is quite different from mine. He is a staff member / bike mechanic / EMT for the Tour D’Afrique bicycle race and expedition from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. Today it was his responsibility to ride in the back of the 80-person convoy in case anyone broke down and needed a mechanic. I was extremely happy to have someone to ride with. We caught up with a pair of riders, one of whom was having trouble with his front wheel. Gabe helped him sort it out, and the four of us were on our way. One rider was from Ethiopia, so we had a great chat about the country.

Tour D’Afrique is an amazing logistical feat. The tour supports 80 riders, some of whom are racing each day for a cumulative time. All their food is provided, and the staff ride ahead in one of 5 support vehicles to set up lunch and snacks along the road. They sleep in camps every night and live a very communal existence as they cycle 12,000 km to South Africa. The vehicles can carry sick or injured riders, spare parts, food, water, and all the supplies. I caught up to the lunch truck where a buffet of sandwich goodies was laid out in front of me. The simple selection looked like a feast to me. I chatted with some of the riders and ate like a king.

We pushed on, being at the end of the pack. They were going all the way to Namanga on the Tanzania border. I hadn’t planned to go that far today (about 120 km from where I camped), but figured it’s better to ride with company, so I pushed to the border.

The staff welcomed me, let me pitch my tent amongst the dozens already set up, and invited me to have dinner with them. I didn’t have a plate or any kind of eating utensils, so I ate dinner out of my frisbee with my bare hands. Improvise! The food was basic, but very good for riding. I ate until I hurt.

Tour D'Afrique camp in Namanga, Kenya
I stayed up late chatting with some interesting people. One guy is from Buffalo, NY. Represent! He grew up in Williamsville, so we had a little Northtowns / Southtowns rivalry. Then we bonded over the Sabres, the Pearl Street Grille, and Campus Wheel Works so all was fine. There was a girl who had ridden across the US three times with an organization partnered with Habitat for Humanity called ‘Bike-and-Build’. She even knew a friend of mine from AmeriCorps who had also done a summer with them. A third American was telling me stories about climbing a 7,000+ meter peak in India and motorcycling across Tibet. I couldn’t walk away from these conversations. They were all so fascinating. I love stories from the road.

Bikes everywhere
At about 1030 pm, we were all exhausted but had to go to sleep. The next day was a 115km ride across the border to Tanzania and to the city of Arusha. I planned to ride the whole way with them.

Tour D’Afrique seems incredible to me. The fact that they can move so many people across a continent where logistics are an inherent nightmare is amazing. Some of the riders were a bit in awe of me traveling unsupported and solo, but to counter that, they were keeping a very fast and hard riding schedule. I’m impressed that they’re going 12,000 km. I’m only going 3,000. Also, they do it in 4 months, averaging 100km per day, including rest days. I’ve averaged less than 50km per day. Also, if they fall behind, the group keeps moving. Each rider has to meet the day’s goal or succumb to the embarrassment of riding to camp in one of the vehicles. There’s no wiggle room to get sick, take a personal day, or change the route. Every rider is locked in to the schedule set by Tour D’Afrique months before they ever leave. There are things to be admired about my expedition and theirs. To each his own. It was such a pleasant surprise to meet this group, and a great way to end my time in Kenya.





Tanzania, my fourth and final country!



Day 57: Namanga to Arusha

I woke up with the Tour D’Afrique crowd at about 530am. I wanted to catch the free breakfast at 6am. We peddled 3km to the border. My info might be a little outdated, but I had read that the Namanga border can be a hassle with officials asking for bribes, so I was happy to cross with almost 100 people. The officials were a bit stunned and just pushed us through as fast as possible. It was simple.

Karibu Tanzania!
Namanga had nothing on the Tanzania side as far as ATM machines or places to buy sim cards, so we all pushed on. Five minutes into the ride, I realized I had left my tent in the no-man’s-land border area, toward the Kenya side. I had to unstrap it to get at my passport and accidentally rode off without it. I rode back to the border, and the officials on both sides were cool enough to let me ride in, grab my tent, and ride out again. Maybe the horror stories are dead wrong.

Tour D'Afrique cyclists after crossing the border
I rode with Megan most of the day, the girl from Bike-and-Build. We were content to be nearly last and take our time. Despite feeling a bit slow, we made it to Arusha (115km away) by 230pm. I was able to get a comically large stack of cash from the ATM ($1 USD = 1,500 TZ Shillings) and get a sim card in town. I had a contact to stay with in Arusha, but I wanted to see where TD’A was staying since they were all taking 3 days off. I rode to their camp, got off the bike, and was ready to collapse. I called my contact who lives 15km back toward Namanga and told him I don’t have the energy to ride back. He understood and came out to camp to visit.

My contact is a family member in a roundabout way. Back in the US, my cousin is married to a man from Rwanda. His brother is Janvier, who lives in Arusha. We had been emailing for a few weeks and were looking forward to meeting each other. At the same time, the TD’A people were settling in for a good night of drinking and getting rowdy. I was relieved that Janvier was able to visit, but also not offended by my decision to stay and party. We had a good chat. He described how to find his house the next day, and left me to my vices.

Tent city in Arusha, Tanzania
The night was a typical drunken shit-show. I loved it. Everybody was ready to unwind. People were ripping on each other’s countries and riding abilities. I felt so good to throw out responsibility for an evening, even though this seems to be happening more and more these days.

A story came up for the second time since meeting Tour D'Afrique that freaked me out a bit. When their big convoy of cyclists was on the road from Hell (north Kenya), several of them were held at gunpoint and robbed. Shots were even fired to get their attention. Some riders were assaulted, but not too seriously. It was humbling to hear that. They went through just a few weeks after me. I had no bad encounters. Part of that may be that 80 people create quite a stir, and by the time the last riders come through, people have had a chance to organize an attack. Traveling alone, I just go by and the opportunity is gone. I also traveled when there was a lot of rain, so people were less desperate for drinking water. In the end, however, I think I was just lucky.


Day 58: Arusha

I slept in, destroyed the public toilet with my morning-after-beer shits, and hit the road to Janvier’s house. It’s located on the campus grounds of Mt. Meru University where he teaches Psychology. The campus is beautiful. The greenery extends for miles in all directions, and Mt. Meru stands tall and proud behind it. It used to be a Baptist Monastery, and it has a very western feel. It’s about 10km from the center of town, so it’s also very quiet and peaceful.

Janvier showed me the amazing hospitality that makes Africans some of the warmest people I’ve ever met. He made sure I had plenty of food, and gave me my own room and a bed to sleep in. It’s so comforting to stay with someone with whom I share a family connection. I think I’ll enjoy resting here for a few days before making my final push to Moshi, and my final cycling destination – the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Greetings from Tanzania!

Made it to Arusha! Lots to write about, but internet is slow right now. Update, with photos, tomorrow!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My Time in Nairobi


Day 49: Kiambu to Nairobi

I rode from Kiambu town where I was staying with James into the city of Nairobi. I took a roundabout, meandering route to avoid the heavy traffic that Nairobi is known for. The recent trend of suburban-style neighborhoods being built around the city has led to severe congestion. At least on this crooked route I could avoid the major highways.

I first rode into the business district. I got off and pushed my bike down the crowded city sidewalks past bank headquarters, TV stations, and large hotels. Men in sharp looking suits were walking with authority, speaking in perfect English into their smartphones. I was in torn clothing, pushing a bicycle with a tent bungeed to the handlebars. I enjoyed the contrast and the funny looks I received from these Nairobi big shots.

The western feel of downtown Nairobi caught me off guard. Compared to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Nairobi is much more modernized. I really felt like I could have been in any major city in the US.

After I’d had my fun turning heads on the Kenyan Wall street, I went across the main road to Uhuru Park. It’s a big green space with ponds and paved foot trails. Venders sell their sugary drinks and samosas, children run and play, and adults rest in the shade. The incredible view of the cityscape reminded me of Central Park in NYC. See photos from previous blog post.

I still had some time to kill, so I found a coffee shop. All the restaurants I’ve been serve Nescafe instant coffee. BARF! Especially after coming from the land of coffee, I can’t drink that swamp water. I searched high and low and finally found a small café that serves proper cups of coffee. The amused staff was very helpful and even let me bring my filthy bike into their decorative dining room.

After 2 cups of coffee and bowl of chocolate ice cream while rocking some Victor Wooten on the iPod, I cycled to the house of Sebastian, Alicia, and Philippa. They are three journalists and filmmakers shooting a documentary about camel milk. They are currently in Kenya editing before they head off to Somaliland and Sudan. The topic of camel milk would have had very little interest to me before meeting them. After they explained some facts with enthusiasm, I couldn’t wait to see the final film. It was a good sales pitch.

I got in touch with them through www.couchsurfing.org which is a website that links travelers with hosts to stay with all over the world. I hosted many people in Ethiopia, and have utilized it a few times on this trip. We chatted a bit, but they were busy and I was tired, so I soon went to sleep.



Day 50: Nairobi

For the 50th day of Low2high: Africa, I had a restful day of tuning up the bicycle, drinking coffee, and listening to music. Most of the house’s occupants were gone for the day. I took full advantage of having a large workspace and tore the bicycle apart. It was good to make some much needed adjustments.

Everyone (the 3 plus 5 other CS guests) all came back around 4pm for a prescheduled yoga session. Two young Kenyan men are yoga instructors and came to lead an hour long workout. We all went upstairs to a large, empty room. I’ve done yoga before, but it’s been years, literally. I rocked the downward dog, but anything requiring flexibility was near impossible. My body strained to get into position. My legs felt tighter than an E String. One of the instructors would come around and ‘assist’ us, which consisted of him pushing my back into place. The loud popping sounds that that interrogation move created were reminiscent of an old creaking door. The pain of a thousand knives shot up my nervous system. This must be what women in labor feel when they get an epidural.

After the cruel and unusual punishment had ended, I said goodbye to our captors in athletic clothes. I checked myself briefly for Stockholm Syndrome. None to be found. Goodbye, you new-age violators of the Geneva Convention.

People stayed around for dinner. It was fascinating to see what people were doing in Nairobi. The filmmakers had started their own organization while living in China called the ‘What Took You So Long Foundation’. www.whattookyousolong.org Another girl had filmed aid projects all over the world to try and measure the effectiveness of the industry as a whole. She had interviewed aid workers and even Peace Corps Volunteers. The videos are posted at www.beyondgoodintentions.com

I enjoyed the evening.



Day 51: Nairobi and back to Kiambu

Leaving the bike behind, I wandered on foot through Nairobi with 2 other American couchsurfers. My first order of business was a proper burger. At a place in Yaya Center, I had a double cheeseburger with bacon and guacamole. I love Nairobi.

The rest of the afternoon brought me ice cream, a walk through the Arboretum showcasing indigenous and invasive trees in Kenya, and then to yet another restaurant for some cold Guinness.

After the day of indulgences, I went back to the house, hopped on my bike, and cycled back to Kiambu. I was running a bit late, so I ended up breaking my cardinal rule and cycling in the dark. The lack of light wasn’t so bad, but the fact that my front brakes failed was a bit terrifying on the down hills. When my back gear cable snapped, stranding my bike into a single, high gear, the up hills turned into epic battles. Little by little, I made it back to Kiambu and crashed at James’ house again. I was glad that ride was over.



Day 52: Rest day in Kiambu. Internet, food, and coffee!



Day 53: Kiambu

Today was my birthday! I celebrated in proper fashion by sleeping in, doing as little as possible all day long, and then going out for dinner and beer. I met James, his coworkers, and his brother after they had finished work for the day. His coworkers were a fun bunch, and they all seemed in agreement that I was crazy for attempting this expedition. I never tire of seeing the faces of people when they first hear that I bicycled from Djibouti.

After 7 Guinnesses (Guinni? Um, after consuming 7 beers with ‘Guinness’on the label), it was time to get trashy. We walked around the corner to an OilLibya gas station, bought a case of beer, ordered pizza from the attached Pizza Inn, and sat out front indulging in our cheap vices. Bellies full, we proceeded to a dance club to experience the finer side of life in Nairobi.

The club had a dress code, I believe. No one cared as I entered, but once inside I saw guys in dress shirts and nice shoes. Girls were in sexy dresses that I rather enjoyed. I was rocking an REI fleece jacket that covered my stained t-shirt. My hiking boots were clearly the meant for dancing. I was incognito. Or drunk. Perception is reality.

Dance clubs being very low on my list of fun activities for a Friday night, I was relieved when my phone rang with a call from America. I snuck out to take it, but stayed longer to make various drunk dials to old college friends in America.

All in all it was a good night. I finally crawled into bed at 4am, room spinning. I’m too old for this.



Day 54: Rest day in Kiambu. Heading out of Nairobi tomorrow on the final push to Tanzania.

Photos from Nairobi






Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nairobi!

The plan to go to Hell's Gate National Park failed. I was told about a mystery road that is not on my map. South of Nanyuki, off of the main highway, it goes west to connect to the Nyahururu Highway. It would save me about 60km of peddling.



I headed south, finally crossing the Equator. I crossed it before while trekking Mt. Kenya, I believe, but then returned to Nanyuki. After peddling my loaded bike across the rather tacky sign just south of Nanyuki, Low2High is officially in the southern hemisphere! I pushed for about 30km to the town of Naro Moru and found the shortcut to my right. The dirt road was a bit rough, but running parallel to it was a user-made path that was very smooth. I followed that until a junction, where locals told me to turn left.



Turning left was my downfall. The bumpy road knocked one of my panniers off the rack. The elastic strap that keeps tension on it caused it to swing into my rear wheel, smashing against it and breaking 6 spokes. I found myself on the side of the road, rebuilding my rear wheel, again. The only good part was that it was the left pannier, so the broken spokes were not on the cassette-side of the wheel. The fast-moving spokes also tore a hole in my pannier. I field-patched it with, of all things, a mango juice carton, the contents of which I finished with my roadside lunch. The repair took about 2 1/2 hours with truing, so I had a lot of time to think and reflect.



Low2High started with a very ambitious route. Traveling through Somaliland would have been an experience to say the least, but the short 30-day visa for Ethiopia forced me to skip it and go directly from Djibouti to Ethiopia. That same time constraint forced me to cross into Kenya at the common crossing in Moyale, instead of the path-less-taken route around Lake Turkana. The final deviation from the shortest route possible was to go around Lake Victoria, visiting Uganda and Rwanda, with potential side trips to DR Congo and Burundi. With the constant mechanical problems I am having, that route too is now being sacrificed. I have no choice but to head south, directly to Kilimanjaro, staying on the asphalt roads. Otherwise, the bicycle may not make it.

A part of me always thought that the bicycle was the weakest link in this whole plan. In reality, I should have planned better and gotten a better bicycle, better tools, and learned more about bicycle maintenance. I can only blame myself for the repetitive breakdowns.The bike is an easy scapegoat, but I planned this trip from beginning to end, so it's all on me.

All I can do now is take the path of least resistance from Nairobi, over the Tanzania border to Arusha and Moshi, and then up the mountain. Low2High will still be complete, but the side trips that are more 'Kyle's Vacation' and not crucial to the expedition have been dropped.

That all said, I am enjoying a few days of in Nairobi, Kenya. I fixed the bike, made it to tarmac, and headed immediately toward Nairobi. I am staying with a Kenyan couple for now, but may move closer to the center of the city with to a house occupied by Americans and Europeans so I can see more of the city. The traffic here is INSANITY, so I'm planning my bicycle movements carefully.

I'll write another update when I get moving again, but for now, here is a quick rundown of the last few days.



Day 44: Rest Day in Nanyuki after descending Mt. Kenya.

Day 45: Nanyuki, across the Equator to Naro Moru, west to the Nyahururu Highway, then south to Karatina for an overnight in a hotel.

Day 46: Karatina to Thika, where the road becomes a major 4-lane highway under construction. It's a nightmare to cycle on at the moment, so I actually spent most of my time cycling on the dirt shoulder.

Day 47: Thika to Ruira via the highway, then from Ruira I took a different road to Kiambu town, which is a suburb to the north of Nairobi. This is where I've been staying for the last 2 days.

Day 48: Rest day in Kiambu.

Kyle

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Days: 37-43 Mount Kenya trek

Days 37 and 38: Rest days in Nanyuki. Took care of logistics like laundry, ATM, and drinking Guinness!



Day 39, Mt. Kenya Day 1: Nanyuki 9km to Old Moses Camp (3300m), Sirimon Route

The guide company I booked my trek through is based out of Riverside Hotel, where I've been staying the last few days. They were generous enough to let me store the bicycle and my non-trekking luggage in their office while I was away for the trek. The office managers, Joe and Mohammed, are really cool guys. The price seems fair (5 days, all-inclusive, for $550 USD), and the trek is set to leave from Nanyuki, following Sirimon Route up to the summit of Point Lenana,and then traverse down the eastern side of the mountain, following Chagoria Route down.

I first have to be clear on 2 details - #1: I took a car to the park entrance from Nanyuki. It would have been possible to cycle to the entrance, but the return trip from the other side requires a series of vehicles, and I didn't want the bicycle to get 'lost' in the shuffle. I had a safe place to store it, so I did. This Mt. Kenya trek doesn't make forward progress for Low2High, so I'll start cycling from where I left off in Nanyuki afterward.

#2: Point Lenana is not the true summit of Mt. Kenya. The true summit is Betian Peak at 5199m, and requires a technical climb to summit. I don't have the equipment or skills to climb the peak, so I'm going to the 'common peak' or 'trekking peak' of Point Lenana at 4985m.

I trekked with a Dutch couple I met at my hotel, Maurice and Esther. We left with our comically large support crew (1 guide, 1 cook, and 2 porters) from the park entrance at 2680m at around 11am. We had an easy 9km hike to Old Moses Camp at 3300m. The hot afternoon sun was soon blocked by clouds and our camp got rather cold. Camp offered a great view of the summit and the plains below. In the distance, wildfires were burning. Our guide, Jon, told us that after a long dry spell, farmers will set fire to grasslands. They believe the smoke turns into rainclouds and brings the rains. I see the logic, but fear the consequences of lighting dry fields on fire with no firefighting system in place.

We had the camp to ourselves for about an hour, but then a crew of 20 Danish girls, about 18 years old, came strolling into camp. If you ever want to hear the world's loudest and most obnoxious sound, hang out with 20 high-school girls. I had heard that in Kenya, traditional healers believe that the body parts of albinos can be used to create magic potions and medicines. Jon confirmed this, so I vowed to find a healer the next day and tell him that it was his lucky day because 20 albinos were on their way up the mountain!

Our posh mountain package took care of all our meals, so after some tea and a great dinner, we went to sleep early on the provided bunk beds.



Day 40, Mt. Kenya Day 2: Old Moses Camp (3300m) 14km to Shipton Camp (4200m), Sirimon Route

Today was a fun hike with great views. We started at 7am to beat the large group out of camp, and to look for that traditional healer. The morning was cold, but the sun eventually came out, and soon we were sweating. The summit was visible for almost the entire hike. That's one thing I really enjoy about Mt. Kenya. The summit is so pronounced, and visible for miles in all directions. Many mountain summits are not visible from the mountain itself until you are literally standing on top of it. The Mt. Kenya summit is always up there, visible and taunting. It's a great way to stay motivated, watching the rock-and-ice tower get ever closer.

The summit actually looks rather intimidating to me, especially as the afternoon clouds engulf it. I thought I might be a little disappointed at not reaching the true summit, but a closer look at it actually scares me. Vertical walls of black volcanic rock, so high in the atmosphere that they have year-round ice and snow despite lying directly on the equator. This is a peak for expert climbers, which I am not. The trekking peak sounds good to me.
As I strolled into Shipton Camp, it started hailing! There was a British woman in camp already who was fun to talk to. We claimed our bunks as the hail on the metal roof became louder. The hail intensified into a barrage of shrapnel. As the Danish rolled into camp during the worst of it, a little smile crept across my ginger-bearded face. No albino love potion tonight, but at least they got hailed on! Mother Nature is just, and maybe I'll get some sleep tonight.

Around 7pm, a British Army member and his Kenyan guide strolled into camp from higher up. They had ropes, helmets, crampons, an ice axes. I started to feel a little jealous. That frightening summit is actually climbable! The Brit was completely exhausted. I asked if he summited. He humbly said "Yes, thanks to the good weather." I congratulated him on climbing Africa's second highest mountain (after Kilimanjaro), and left him to finish his meal. He was completely shattered. I want to be him.

The big Danish crew and the British lady were all going straight to the summit the following day, so they planned to leave at 3am. The whole camp was quite by 8pm, and we got a decent night of sleep. I had weird dreams about the Foot Soldiers from the first Ninja Turtles movie coming into my parents' house and skateboarding around our dining room. Anti-malaria pills, high altitude, and sleep deprivation. More fun than alcohol!



Day 41, Mt. Kenya Day 3: Shipton Camp (4200m) 8km to Austrian Hut (4790m), Sirimon Route

Today was a hard day of trekking. We traversed several ridges, so we'd go up a few hundred meters just to lose it all on the other side. By choice, I am carrying all my gear (except food) for the entire trek. I didn't pay for a porter. I figured if I can carry all this gear on a bicycle from Lake Assal 2,200km to Nanyuki, then I can surely carry it on my back up to Point Lenana. The first two days I was able to keep pace with my lightweight partners, but the downhills of Day 3 proved to be difficult. I moved slowly, trying not to stumble under the weight. My quads are strong from a month of cycling, but the small stabilizing muscles in my knees seem very weak. A month of very little walking will do that, I guess. The lesson learned is that I need to trek more before attempting Kilimanjaro.

Despite my new found hatred of gravity, I didn't slow down the team too much. The low valley between the ridges collected water from melting glaciers, which were now next to us instead of over us. The water pooled into large glacial lakes and provided life to hundreds of plants. I was tempted to jump in, but one hand in the water talked me out of it. The water was only a degree or two above freezing. Glaciers = Cold. Write that one to memory, Kyle.
Cold or not, the lakes were beautiful. We were well above the tree line, and most of the brush had even disappeared after that morning's first ascent. The lakes allowed little oases to form high on the mountain.

The final ascent of the day took us past Lemmi Glacier (which I hope is a Motorhead tribute!). This hill was a killer for me. Ten stops, then stop so I can pant for 2 minutes. Ten more steps, then out of breath again. This hill was to bring us to Austrian Hut at 4790m (about 15,720 feet), much higher than I have ever gone in my life. Part of my reason for trekking Mt Kenya was to see how my body does at higher altitude. At this point my energy was waning, I felt like I was gasping for air, and I felt a touch of a headache forming. 'This is not good...' I thought to myself. We had heard about and seen a few people coming down the mountain with mild high-altitude sickness. Not acclimatizing properly can lead to headaches, lethargy, and exhaustion. We ascended 2100m in less than 3 days - definitely too quick. If it gets worse, fluid can form in the brain or lungs, causing much bigger problems. I didn't know if my slight headache was the result of altitude or another issue. Either way, it was very mild and we were almost at camp, so I carried on.
Less than an hour later, without taking any pain killers, my headache was gone. Maybe it was dehydration or lack of sleep. I was just happy that I could continue the trek!

The hut itself was all booked up by technical climbers (aka badasses). After 3 days of hauling my tent, I had the opportunity to actually use it. I found a rock-free spot near Motorhead Glacier that blocked some of the wind. It was impossible to stake the tent into the rocky dirt, so I placed a big-old rock in each corner of the tent's interior. I tossed my pack inside and went into the hut for food.
All the tech climbers were on the mountain except for a goofy old Aussie named Nick. He was taking a rest day at Austrian Hut to help him acclimatize a bit more before his summit attempt. He recommended I also take a rest day before the summit of Kilimanjaro, which he had recently summited.

Nick is a big talker, yet still humble. He told me stories of skiing in the Arctic, climbing Denali and Logan, and climbing in Yosemite, but I almost had to force the stories out of him. He like the idea of Low2High: Africa, and seemed genuinely hopeful for my success. The part I think I like most about the life of Nick the Chatty Aussie is that he still works, keeps in touch with his family, and has a full life outside of outdoor adventures. He's not just a climbing junkie or ski bum. He has a full life. That's how I imagine my future to be. With the exception of Ed Viesturs, most of the explorers who's books I read talk about their accomplishments in the mountains, but rarely about balancing a life outside of that world. Seeing a living example of a man who can balance life and adventure is inspiring to me.

At around 7pm, 2 Greek climbers strolled into the hut after successful summit attempts. Too many badasses. I needed to go to bed.

Sleep was terrible. I was warm in my tent, but the wind was making my tent flap an was very distracting. Esther and Maurice complained about the same thing in the morning. Maybe the altitude makes it hard to sleep?


Day 42, Mt. Kenya Day 4: Austrian Hut (4790m) following Sirimon Route 1km to Point Lenana (4985m)
Descending Chagoria Route 19km to Mt. Kenya Lodge (2600m)

Summit Day! We left Austrian Hut before dawn to hopefully catch the sunrise from the summit. The trek was steep, but it helped us keep warm in the morning darkness. Armed with headlamps and heavy clothing, we reached the summit at 6am, a few minutes before the sun was to come up. The Kenyan flag marking our summit was just above us. We waited out of the wind, shivering but happy.
We were just below Point Lenana. Across from us to the west was Nenilen Peak, which the technical climbers have to traverse to get to the base of Betian Peak, the true summit of Mt Kenya. As the sun rose, Point Lenana cast a huge shadow onto Nenilen. We were looking for Nick and his guide, but couldn't spot them.

At 620am, the sun rose. It didn't provide any warmth  with its first appearance, but it lit up the summit into a beautiful radiating orange. We climbed the last few meters to the summit and took a few photos. Soon after, the summit got a bit crowded. A crew from Shipton had just come up, and another crew ascending Chagoria Route soon followed. Everyone was polite and civil, allowing all parties to get their obligatory summit photos with the tell-tale flag.
I heard it was possible on a clear morning, but I didn't want to get my hopes up of spotting Kilimanjaro. As the sun's rays raced across the earth, I looked south and I saw it! There it was, 300 km away, but clearly visible. The flat, snow-capped peak of Africa's highest mountain was visible to the naked eye. I got quite excited. It was like seeing the finish line of a long race. After looking at hundreds of photos and reading so many stories from my home in Ethiopia, I could see the mountain that set this whole expedition in motion. For the first time on this entire expedition, the end feels near. Maybe this is possible after all.
A few more photos and some quick video made my hands go numb. It was time to descend. As we scaled down the western side of the summit, the sun had risen enough to light up Nick and his guide. Small specks in comparison to the mountain. I couldn't even make them out in a photo.

We descended quickly down the Chagoria Route, heading toward the town of Meru. The gentle slope was much easier for me and my heavy load. We stopped for food along the way, which the cook and porters had waiting for us. What service! We walked down one hilltop that had been completely burned up in a fire in December. The new growth was very slow as the rain won't come until late March. This fire, like many others, was the result of farmers attempting to create rain. Again, I see their logic, but I wish they wouldn't set the National Parks on fire.

We strolled into Mt Kenya Lodge around 3pm. We had wonderful cabins with hot showers and fireplaces! Cold beer was advertised, but room-temperature beer was served. At that point, I was ok with a less-than-perfect drink. There were warnings all over the camp about dangerous wildlife. No predators, but buffaloes and elephants were common. Exhausted, I fell asleep at 8pm. Maurice said our cabin was surrounded by buffaloes all night long, making noise and grazing. I was blissfully unconscious, although it would have been cool to see some wildlife.


Day 43, Mt. Kenya Day 5: Mt. Kenya Lodge (2600m) 10km to a cushy 4WD truck, to Meru, and back to Nanyuki

After finally getting a proper sleep, I woke up to breakfast and tea. We had a beautiful hike down the eastern side of the park through a bamboo forest. The dusty track left clear footprints of dikdiks, wild cats, and elephants. I still haven't seen an elephant, but the sheer size of one's footprint was enough to freak me out a bit.
We took a series of vehicles back to Nanyuki. The bit of confusion reinforced that I made the right decision leaving the bike behind. Arranging to have it brought to Meru would have been a mess.

I booked another night at the hotel, got my bike out of storage, and later enjoyed a victory dinner with Esther and Maurice. Cold Tusker never tasted so good. I'm taking a full day off before hopping back on the bike. I plan to go west a bit to Naivasha and cycle through Hell's Gate National Park. Time to see some animals!

Kyle