Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Off to trek Mt. Kenya

Kenya, so far, has been great. The people are taking good care of me. Most say they'd never do the northern road even in a car, so they take a lot of sympathy on me. Nanyuki is a great town with proper supermarkets and amazing coffee. I even had a Guinness (or 3) last night. Mt. Kenya is looming over the town, inviting me to come up and take a look.

I'm off to go trekking. I'll check in again with more photos next week when I get off the mountain.

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Days 28-36: Northern and Central Kenya

Day 28: Moyale, Ethiopia to Sololo, Kenya

I woke up at 5am to a downpour. It was really loud on the metal roof,
as always. I had to take a shit, but there was no bathroom on the
compound. Shit before you fuck, I guess. My room, and this is pretty
gross now that I think about it, did in fact have a shower. I thought
about pooping in the shower, but was nice and pooped in a plastic bag
instead. I left the bag in the shower, though. I hate this hotel.

I was told that the Immigration Office opened at 6am, so I rode
through the rain to the gate, only to find it closed until 8am. The
guard was cool and let me into the compound to get out of the rain. I
had to pee, but there was no public toilet. When the guard wasn’t
looking, I peed in an empty water bottle and poured it into the
garden. What a weird morning.

No problem at the border. I got through both offices and into Kenya by
840am. It was still wet out, but not raining. The asphalt ends at the
border, so I now face 400km of unpaved track through the infamous
North Kenya. This stretch of road is known for banditry, drought, and
temperatures well into the 100’s. The wild west.

I was expecting a really hard ride, similar to NE Ethiopia on my way
to Dire Dawa, but this stretch was pretty easy. I rode 84km to Sololo,
and arrived by 345pm. I went to the only hotel, and had a feast of
rice, meat, beans, and vegetables. Perfect after-ride food. The owner
of the hotel was really cool, and the people treated me with a lot of
decency and respect. It was good to feel normal again. People were
relaxed and didn’t seem to care that I was white. So far, I really
like Kenya.

Day 29: Sololo to Turbi

Had a big breakfast and a good send-off. More rain overnight actually
left puddles on the dirt road. I put a different rear tire on my bike.
This one is made of Kevlar and has bike spikes for traction. It’s
perfect for mud and sand, so I decided to give it a shot.

The tire has been working great, digging into the mud and pushing me
along at a fast pace. It feels like I’m cheating. The ride was pretty
straight forward to the town of Walda, which is halfway to Turbi. The
2nd half of the ride was a lot harder. The sun came out, and it got
really hot and sandy. My water bottles were actually hot to the touch
from the intense sunlight. I made it to Turbi around 3pm, got a decent
room in a hotel, and had another big dinner. Some dust twisters in the
distance worried me, but the locals didn’t seem concerned. Apparently
they don’t actually do any damage. Tomorrow I cross 80 km of hot

Day 30: Turbi to ‘Camp Nowhere’

Epic day! This is where North Kenya throws everything at me.

I left Turbi at first light, around 620am with the cloud cover. I took
advantage of the overcast and pushed hard and fast all morning. I was
making good time. I was hoping it might even rain a little bit. Be
careful what you wish for!

At 10am it started raining, hard! The road turned to mud, and even had
small rivers running through it. The wind was throwing rain straight
into me, and I was shivering from the cold. By 1pm, it was impossible
to ride on the road anymore. I got off the bike and started pushing it
through fast moving, muddy rivers. It was hard to tell where the rocks
were, so I put the bike in the water, looking for ripples where the
murky water was flowing over rocks. I walked on the muddy banks. The
mud was so thick that it would suck the shoes off my feet when I
lifted my legs.

By now, the spike tire was completely shredded. I had 2 punctures and
decided it was time to switch back to my road tires. The crappy,
Chinese-made tires I bought in Ethiopia for $8 held up better than
anything. Go figure.

At one point, I came across some big barrels on the side of the road.
There was a tarp on top of them, so using the barrels and my bike
frame, I made a quick, impromptu shelter to sit and eat some food. The
wind was blowing, and the rain never-ending. I was shivering in my
shelter, munching on kolo and peanuts, trying to figure out what to
do. All my clothes were soaked. I was using a bucket as a seat, and my
feet were in 3 inches of water. I was miserable.

I decided that I can’t get any wetter, and should just push on. At
least the hard work keeps me warmer. The rain finally stopped around
330pm, but the road was a mess. I kept pushing the bike through the
standing water.

My plan was to push until 5pm. If I didn’t see the town of Bubisa by
then, I’d set up camp. Around 430, I saw what could be buildings in
the distance. I pushed through more mud to get closer, and then
realized what I was looking at was 4 trucks stuck in the mud, with all
the passengers standing around, waiting. Not a good sign for me. The
fact that people were not walking implied that Bubisa was not close. I
decided to set up camp.

The terrain in this part of Kenya is flat ground covered in boulders.
It’s probably easier to camp on Mars. I looked for high ground, but
there was no point. It was all flat. I found a spot that was less-wet,
cleared out some of the bigger, sharper rocks, and set up my tent.

With the remaining hour of sunlight, I tried to dry out my tent and
sleeping bag. It didn’t work out very well. At 7pm, I crawled into my
soaking wet sleeping bag and zipped it up. Hopefully the synthetic
insulation works while wet, I thought to myself. I wasn’t cold, but
zipping up into a moist bag is something your body resists. It’s just
unpleasant. Laying on the hard, lumpy rocks in my heavy, sloppy
sleeping bag, I tried to get some sleep. What a day.

Day 31: ‘Camp Nowhere’ to Bubisa

It did rain a little bit overnight, but my tent kept it all out. I
waited around in the morning sun to try and dry off my stuff a bit
more. From being in a wet sleeping bag all night, the skin on my
entire body was wrinkled like fingertips after swimming. I looked like
the love child of the Crypt Keeper and Joan Rivers. 2 of the 4 trucks
were gone, which seemed promising for me. I rode past the remaining
trucks where just about everyone asked me for cigarettes. Not food or
water, but smokes. There was a young Israeli couple who had bought a
seat in one of the trucks looking pretty strung out. They just wanted
to get moving after overnighting in a freight truck. I didn’t blame
them. One driver told me that a flash flood came through behind them
the day before, and another truck had radioed for help getting out of
the mud. I apparently just missed this, and would have been in big
trouble being hit by a flash flood on a bicycle. Luckily I had already
gotten through that area before the flash flood hit.

The road was all mud after this. I still couldn’t ride the bike. The
mud was thick, heavy, and sticky. I even removed the rucksack and
carried on my back to lighten the bike’s load. The tries still sank
into the mud, picked up stones, and would jam up the brakes. Every 10
feet, I was stopping to pull huge clumps of mud out of the brake
levers. The tires would stop dead. It was really slow going, but
didn’t really frustrate me. I was just pushing on, doing what I had to

After another km or so, the road got so bad I couldn’t even push the
bike through it anymore. I pulled off the panniers and carried them
and the rucksack ahead until the ground firmed up a bit. I then walked
back to the bicycle and carried it to the bags. This stretch was maybe
only 2km, but it took a lot of time to make multiple trips through
thick mud.

The ground did eventually rise higher and dry out. I was able to load
the bike back up and ride it to Bubisa. My derailleur was jammed, so I
was on a single-speed bike for the morning. Luckily it was stuck in a
low gear which I could use. I arrived in Bubisa around 1pm and stuffed
my face with food and water. The hotel there was nice enough to let me
use their water to clean all the mud out of my bike. The moving parts
were locked in place from stones and mud. I set up my tent and hung my
clothes and sleeping bag on a line. Everything dried. I oiled up the
bike and was ready for another day.

Day 32: Bubisa to Marsabit

My stuff was scattered everywhere drying, so I took extra time in the
morning to make sure I packed up everything. Today’s ride was really
hard. I went into the Marsabit National Park, past some cool volcanic
crater, and into Marsabit town. The road was really rough and rocky,
making my ride slow. I was so hot that for the first time since
Djibouti, I thought I might get heat exhaustion. I pulled over to sit
in the shade while the midday sun passed.

I arrived in Marsabit around 4pm. I splurged on a nicer hotel so I
could have a hot shower. It felt good to be clean after the mud-fest
of the last few days. I had a TV in my room and was quite entertained
by Kenyan television. Later at night, they were playing Japanese soap
operas overdubbed in English with Swahili subtitles. It was hilarious.

Day 33: Marsabit, past Kamboke, to roadside camp

Free breakfast! The perks of a nice hotel. I hit the road around
830am. The ride was much easier today. The road had some less-rough
spots where I was able to pick up some speed and smoothly cover a lot
of ground. My plan was to stop in Kamboke for the day, but I arrived
there at 11am, so decided to keep going. I carried on past another
town, Dolodolo, but then the road got a lot rougher.

I was back on the corrugations that shake everything to pieces. The
wavy road had come and gone a lot on this stretch like it did north of
Dire Dawa, but now it was back with a vengeance. I got impatient,
stood up out of my saddle, and peddled hard. Big mistake!

The back end of my bike ended up bouncing so much that I broke
something. I heard a pop, and then a grinding sound. I thought I broke
the rear wheel again. I pulled over to inspect the damage. The pannier
rack had broken again. His time it wasn’t the bolt, but the rack
itself. The metal with the hole the bolt goes through had sheared off
at the hole. I thought that I was finished and would need to hitch a
ride. I really didn’t want to do that after beating myself up over it
in Ethiopia, so I improvised.

I looked harder and realized that the way the part had broken was
manageable. The metal surrounding the bolt hole broke almost
symmetrically in half. This meant the rack could hold weight straight
down. It actually broke from the force of the luggage pulling up on
the bumpy road. I took a spare spoke and bent it around the frame and
the rack, twisting it tight so it would prevent the two pieces from
pulling apart. So the original rack was holding the downward force,
and the spoke holding the upward force.

This was a quick-fix, meant only to get me to the asphalt. It needs to
be welded to be properly fixed. To minimize the upward force on the
jerry-rigged rack, I took all the heavy items out of the panniers and
moved them into the rucksack. I filled the panniers up with light
clothing. I then wore the rucksack on my back and peddled on. If the
rough road was uncomfortable before, it was now excruciatingly
painful. Every time my ass slammed down on the seat, it now had an
extra 40 pounds slamming down with it. I could only carry on another 3
hours before I was hurting too much.

I pulled over for the night. I found a good spot with rocks to hide
from view of the road. There were no signs of people or wildlife. With
2+ hours of sunlight left, I used the time to sew my torn shirt,
adjust my pack straps, and patch a tube that had punctured. This was
the first day that I stopped out of pain. I just couldn’t carry on
with the rucksack.

I slept out under the stars. No tent. It was a beautiful night with a
full moon, which rose as a deep yellow, I think from the dust in the
atmosphere. I slept well and had no encounters with animals or people.

Day 34: Roadside camp to Sere Olupi

I woke up at dawn and got an early start. I felt really slow and
sluggish. I was carrying the rucksack still, and my legs just had no
strength. I hadn’t eaten much the night before, and I think that was
making me sluggish. I had to stop every 20 minutes to straighten out
my back and take the weight of the pack off of my shoulders. It was
slow going, and painful. The only motivation was the possibility of
reaching asphalt today.

I made it to Laisamis at 930am. None of the restaurants were open yet,
but one place offered to go to the market, buy eggs, and cook them for
me. Great! I had some toast and delicious eggs for breakfast. The
people were really relaxed. We talked about progress in Africa, and
being American, had the obligatory conversation about President Obama
and his family in Kenya. I actually spent an hour and a half there,
chatting and eating. It felt good to have the pack off.

A cyclist who rode this stretch 3 months before me had emailed me a
detailed breakdown of North Kenya. According to him, the asphalt
started in Sere Olupi, another 60km south of Laisamis. The guys in
town said it started in Merille, only 15km south. I’ve learned to
manage my expectations and didn’t get my hopes up for asphalt today.

I left Laisamis around 11am heading south. Next to the road was a path
with motorcycle tore tracks on it. I tried to follow it. The path
ended up being much faster than the road. The road was back to awful
undulations, but the path was hard-packed, smooth sand. It was a
breeze by comparison. I followed the path under acacia trees, over dry
riverbeds, and around rocks. I felt like I was moving quite fast, but
best of all I wasn’t bouncing. Around 130pm, I reached Merille. I
didn’t see any asphalt. I got some lunch which was more than enough to
lift my spirits.

In the restaurant, guys were asking me about my travels on the bike.
They couldn’t believe I cycled from Moyale. “The road is terrible!”
they’d say. They then said that I’ve made it, because from now on it’s
asphalt all the way to Nairobi. I still didn’t believe them. I hadn’t
seen any asphalt on my way into town. I paid for my food and hopped on
the bike, southbound.

On the south end of town is a small hill. I climbed up it and then
almost collapsed at what I saw… Asphalt! One km away was a bridge, and
it was paved after that! I slowly rode toward it, still not able to
comprehend a smooth road. My eyes kept telling my brain, but my ass
was still skeptical.

I crossed the bridge onto the smooth tarmac and a big grin swept over
my face. It was the best feeling in the world. I peddled effortlessly
down the road, around the first bend, and remembered they drive on the
left in Kenya, so shifted to the other side of the road.

After some debate, I figured the rack was good enough to hold the
rucksack on tarmac, so I strapped it down. It was good to have what I
started calling ‘the pig’ off my back. I rode another 1/2km and then
my front tire went flat. Weird, I thought, but then remembered the
acacia trees on the path. I pulled the tube out and there were 4
thorns sticking out of it. I decided to change both tubes and ride on
my other set of tires until I could sit down and make sure all the
thorns are out. It was a 30 minute job, but worth it. It was smooth
sailing all the way to Sere Olupi.

North Kenya was, without a doubt, the hardest physical challenge of my
life. I had to ride, push, and drag my bike through it all. I was
always watchful for animals and bandits. I had cold rain and flash
floods. I had burning sun, dust, and sand. I slept on a bed of rocks
in a wet bag. It was lonely. I had a breakdown that I thought would
end my trip in the north. Despite all the challenges, seven days
later, I was on tarmac, bike still in working order, and my body was
still in one piece. I felt such elation. I really think the hardest
stretch of Low2High: Africa is behind me now.

I cycled to Sere Olupi, got a hotel, but couldn’t sleep. The last
seven days were replaying in my head. I was content, and happy.

Day 35: Sere Olupi to Isiolo

I slept in a little bit, planning to only go to Archer’s Post, 60km
south of Sere Olupi. I was moving fast through the mountains and
feeling good. I arrived at Archer’s Post at 2pm with a lot of energy
to spare, so I pushed on to Isiolo. This is the first city of any real
size I’d seen since Ethiopia. I had a few small mishaps with that
whole driving-on-the-left concept, but no accidents. Kenyan drivers
seems used to things randomly jumping out in front of their cars,
whether it’s a muzungu on a bicycle or not.

Dinner at the hotel was a bit expensive, but really good. From the
dining room I could see the snow-capped summit of Mt. Kenya to the
south. I had another hot shower and a good night sleep, feeling
grateful again for the tarmac.

Day 36: Isiolo to Nanyuki

The morning was really hard. Today’s ride was 80km, but it took me
more than 4 hours to go the first 25km. The road was a constant climb
up the northern slopes of Mt. Kenya. At this rate, it’s going to take
me 12 hours! My legs were really tired, and my motivation was slipping
away quickly.

Up a bit higher, there’s a junction that splits left to Meru, and
right to Nanyuki. I took the road to the right and it just kept
climbing. My spirits were pretty low at this point. This was my 13th
day in a row of cycling. I was planning to rest for a few days in
Nanyuki. I don’t want to fall short today and then have to cycle more

After another 10km or so, the road leveled off. After that, it was
rolling hills similar to Ethiopia. Small hills that allow you to pick
up speed on the way down, and maintain it on the next upside. I was
flying. Even though the morning was slow and shitty, I had a lovely
afternoon, covering a lot of ground and watching the Mt. Kenya summit
come in and out of view.

I arrived in Nanyuki around 330pm. I went straight to a restaurant. I
had contacted a couchsurfer in town, but he actually lives 45 minutes
away by bike. I couldn’t bear to ride anymore, so I checked into a
hotel. Next door is a Dutch couple that just moved here. We started
talking and it turns out that they booked a 5-day hike up Mt. Kenya
starting on Friday. I thought about it for about half a second, and
asked to join them. They excitedly accepted and we’re all going
together. That gives me 2 full days to rest, and then 5 days on the
mountain. It’ll be nice to get off the bike after 13 days straight,
and I’m pumped about hiking up the second highest mountain in Africa!
The actual summit is a technical climb that is beyond my skill level,
so we’re trekking as high as we can without ropes. I’ve met our guides
who all seem really cool. I can’t wait! I’ll check in again after the
trek. Internet should be available from now on.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Days 22 - 27: The Rest of Southern Ethiopia

Day 22: Yirga Alem to Wenago

A lot of hills, but a beautiful ride through the Southern Nations region of Ethiopia. People were a bit annoying, but no one was aggressive. Wenago is just south of Dilla, where we stopped for lunch. Wenago is not used to having western tourists. Rich and I stopped there because a Peace Corps Volunteer lives there and we stayed at her place. Another chill day, but I have to say that Wenago hasa lot of drunken assholes wandering around at 3 in the afternoon. Not the most pleasant town I’ve stayed in.

Day 23: Rest day in Wenago

Feeling a bit sick. My throat is really sore and my tonsils are swollen. This happens to me about once per year. Taking a rest day before pushing to the border.

Day 24: Wenago to Agere Maryam

Feeling a lot better this morning. Left Wenago at 8am to start climbing yet more hills, and deal with a bit of headwind. It was a hard morning of cycling. I stopped in Yirga Chefe to buy some coffee made famous by Starbuck’s. It’s apparently one of the highest quality coffees in the world. I bought a kilo for about $4 USD. God only knows what Starbuck’s charges for it.

The road is still paved, but full of potholes. I was going fast down a hill ad hit a big one. The ensuing shaking ejected the video camera I borrowed out of my handlebar basket. I looked back to see it out of its case, tumbling end over end down an asphalt slope. I thought it would surely be broken, but it works fine. Lucky break. I’m strapping everything down tighter from now on.

I made it to Agere Maryam around 4pm and went to a nice resort for one last night of comfort before North Kenya. I went to reception and they said the price was 80 birr, but 160 birr for me because I’m ferenji. Now, this is very common in Ethiopia. They charge westerners more for everything. It’s encouraged by the government, and no one seems to have any moral objections to it. I’ve dealt with t for 2 years, but I still got into an argument. I told them I’m half Ethiopian. I spoke in Amharic, pleaded my case, but they wouldn’t budge. I told tem I was going to another hotel, and they had no objections. This is the business sense that I don’t understand. They are clearly making a profit at 80 birr, but instead of lowering the price for me, they let me walk away, giving them nothing. It defies logic.

I went to a different hotel that was 40 birr. No shower, but the restaurant was pretty good. I spent the evening checking over the video camera and bike. It seems like everything is ok.

Day 25: Agere Maryam to Yabello

Today started on a really low note. First, the post office says they can’t mail ‘cash crops’, i.e. coffee, domestically. Wtf? I wanted to mail it to my friends in Addis Ababa for me to pick up later. I was swarmed with asshole kids this whole time, trying to steal things off of my bike. I rode out of town quickly. 3 grown men were standing around a bajaj (3-wheeled taxi from India) listening to terrible music on their mobile phone. As I rode by, one yelled “Ferenji Motherfucker!” at me. I was in no mood for this, so I gave him the finger, and yelled “I’m going to fuck your dead grandmother’s asshole, you piece of shit!” They then jumped in the bajaj and chased me down the hill, which was hilarious because they couldn’t catch up to me for over a mile. They passed me in their ‘power-wheels-for-big-boys’, pulled over and got out. I stopped my bike and ran straight at them, screaming like a mad man. They jumped back in their little-dick mobile and rode off. 3 of them were scared of me. All talk. Fucking losers.

The rest of the morning was a bit better. The scenery was beautiful, and I passed some 12-foot tall termite mounds on the side of the road. They seem to just rise out of the sand. I find them to be really impressive.

In the afternoon, more kids threw rocks at me. One hit me in the hand so hard, I thought it broke my finger. I jumped off the bike and returned fire. If one of these rocks hit one of the kids, it would have done some serious damage. I don’t even care at this point. They need to know that there are consequences for their actions. I called a 6-year old girl a ‘fucking bitch’. I need to get out of Ethiopia as fast as possible. Cycling here is turning me into a bad person.

I pushed hard to Yabello, and made it there around 4pm. Apparently it’s a big hub for old white tourists on their all-expense-paid, lame ass vacations to Ethiopia. They take cars from here to the Omo Valley to take photos of people, like they’re animals in a zoo. It’s a bit sickening if you really look into the Omo Valley and how tourism is changing the tribal people there.

Yabello itself is an ok town. I found a cheap hotel, but spent most of my night in the courtyard of the fancy resort watching CNN. The protests in Egypt were dominating the news.

Day 26: Yabello to Mega

Harder ride than I predicted. A lot of climbing and strong headwinds. My map showed a few small towns along the way, so I left at 630 am, skipping breakfast. By 11am, I still hadn’t found any food and was getting really hungry. Luckily one town had some pasta, so I was able to eat a big lunch.

The ride through Yabello Nature Sanctuary was beautiful. There were almost no people, and I saw lots of birds, rabbits, and a few dikdiks. The people I did see were much friendlier. I was starting to feel mre comfortable cycling again.

Mega is a really chill town. No one bothered me. I was able to just go about my business without the shouting and harassment. It was such a relief. I even got the Ethiopian price on my hotel. My girlfriend called since I actually had phone network. It was great to hear her voice. I ate a huge dinner and got a good night sleep.

Day 27: Mega to Moyale

Again in the morning, the citizens of Mega were really peaceful. They helped me find bottled water and wished me safe travels. I packed 6 liters of water, anticipating 100km of nothing until the border.

The landscape south of Mega was beautiful. I took dozens of photos. The termite mounds were more like towers. The mix between plains and desert made for a great sunrise. Ethiopia wouldn’t let me out easily though. I spent all day going up and down more hills, and battling strong winds. It was a particularly hot day also, and I just wanted it to be over.

Moyale sucks! What a shithole of a town. Nothing but prostitutes, truck drivers, and hustlers. It reminded me a lot of Metema on the Sudan border, but with a lot more bars. There were a lot of Kenyans on the Ethiopian side. They can cross the border freely. They come to Ethiopia because alcohol and prostitutes are cheaper than in Kenya. Great first impression of Kenyans.

I went to the border to see where I would have to go the following morning. A Kenyan guy there jumped all over me, offering to help me find a hotel, a restaurant, a woman, whatever I need. I told him to go away. 10 minutes later, he’s outside a hotel flagging me down. I tell him to stop following me. He says “I’m just trying to help! Hakuna Metata!” I told him not to use my love of the Lion King for his own gain. I told him he’s following me and I think he’s crazy. He actually left. I was surprised.

Another guy immediately latched on to me. I started yelling at everyone at the top of my lungs to leave me alone that I speak Amharic, and don’t need help finding a fucking hotel, when there’s 8 within sight right now. All left but one Kenyan. I’m about to lose it.

This guy turned out to be a bit helpful. All the hotels have hourly rates so Kenyan guys can fuck Ethiopian hookers. They don’t have overnight rates. I wanted a room for sleeping, and nothing else. One hotel manager and I had to create a price, since no one apparently has ever asked to spend the night before. We settled on 60 birr. The Kenyan guy, Abdi, came to dinner with me. I bought him a beer. He gave me some useful information about the North Kenya road. He also told me there was an ATM machine on the Kenya side of Moyale, which was good news for me because cash was short. We laughed about how Ethiopian men will insist on helping me, even when I don’t ask for it, and then demand money for their services. It’s a frustrating trait that guys in bigger towns seem to possess. After a few beers, the Kenya guy followed me back to my room and asked for money for more beers. I told him to fuck off. I was just starting to like him, too. I HATE border towns.

My night in the hotel was… interesting. It was disgusting. Cockroaches the size of decks of cards were running across the floor. I could hear their footsteps on the concrete. The bed was just a platform for fucking. I didn’t want to touch anything. I put my sleeping bag on the bed and slept in that, not wanting to be on the sheets or on the floor. For several hours, I was getting knocks on my door both from prostitutes offering their services, and from men asking when the room would be available. The entire economy of Moyale, Ethiopia must revolve around sex. Tomorrow, I can try out a new country.

Total distance so far, Djibouti and Ethiopia: 1,644 km  (1,027 miles)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Days 16 - 21: Back to the breakdown spot, south to Awasa and beyond

Day 16: Early morning problems with chain and derailleur. Stuck in
Addis on more day.

Day 17: I finally got out of Addis Ababa. I took a series of minibuses
with the bike and my bags all strapped to the rooftops out east. It’s
always a hassle arguing the prices of extra luggage. Bus drivers want
to charge me 100 birr for the bike alone. I argue that the bike is
lighter than most bags, and should therefore cost less than the 10
birr fee they charge for a bag. This goes went and forth for a while
with each bus, but I finally was on an east-bound bus with all my

I caught a bus headed to Dire Dawa. I told them I was only going to
Mieso which confused them at first because there is NO reason to go to
Mieso. It’s a small town that only exists because it’s where the
now-defunct Addis/Djibouti railroad tracks intersect the road.
Whoopedy doo! They stopped inquiring into my reasons when I paid them.
Money talks.

My actual breakdown was about 30 or 40km west of Mieso, toward Awash.
The real confusion came when seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I
asked them to stop the bus and let me out. The driver untied my gear
from the roof, standing on the spokes of the front wheel of my
side-laying bike in the process. I yelled at him, but he didn’t give a
shit. He even let out a little laugh. I was pissed. I didn’t spend 6
days fixing one wheel in Addis to have some chat-chewing, reckless
idiot fuck up my other one.  I pulled out my knife and held it up to a
tire of his bus. I told him that if there was any damage to my wheel
that I was going to puncture his. That got his attention. He lowered
my bike safely to the ground, showed me the lack of damage, and got
back behind the wheel, driving off quickly. I hate public transport in
When I hitched the ride to Addis a week ago, it happened so quickly
that I never had the chance to mark the spot in any way. After the bus
left, I rode a bit and realized I hadn’t gone far enough. As happy as
I was to be off of that hellacious bus (20+ people in a bus built for
12, including one girl that was so obnoxious that I started
hallucinating about her choking on a live bird… no joke), I now needed
to hitch another ride. I thought about continuing on from where I was,
and lying about it. No one would ever know. I knew I’d be unhappy with
myself, so I went over to the road and hitched a ride in a pickup

These guys in the truck were awesome. I told them all about my bike
trip and why I needed to find a random tree on the side of the road
where the power lines cross over it. They were excited, slowing down
at every crossing of the lines, asking “Is this is?! Is this it?!” We
found the spot, I thanked them, and Low2High was back on the road.
 I rode west toward Awash. Just before Awash there is a bridge that is
a ‘high security’ bridge because it’s on the only road connecting
Addis Ababa to Ethiopia’s only reliable port, in Djibouti. I was
stopped, along with all the other traffic, and made to pull over and
wait. I was told that I couldn’t bike or walk across the bridge
‘because of security’. I would have to put my bicycle in a car and
ride across. I protested this logic, stating that a car poses a much
larger threat than a bicycle to a bridge. What damage can I possibly
do? Even though I was playing ‘dumb tourist’, I kept slipping into
speaking Amharic. No one seemed to notice or care. I hitched yet
another ride, this one for less than ½ km.
So, goal shattered again. I had to revise my goal after hitching a
ride to Addis, saying at least I’ll travel every inch by human power.
Now, I have that ugly asterisk next to my claim… A human-powered
expedition from the lowest point to the highest (*except for that ½ km
in eastern Ethiopia, where I rode in a cushy SUV). Grrrr…..
After the town of Awash, I rode through the Awash National Park. The
park is vast, low-lying brush in all directions, dotted with huge
termite mounds. It’s an eerie place. The dust would kick up and block
all vision on the road from time to time. It was cool to see. The park
is famous for its wildlife, but I was in a bit of a hurry, so all I
noticed were a few baboons crossing the road in front of me. I did
enjoy the relative solitude, and coasted into Metahara around 5:30 pm.
Day 18: After repeated complaints about the loud music blaring from my
hotel restaurant until 1am, I had little luck in sleeping. I started
day 18 sluggish and cranky. As I was packing up, my stomach felt
uneasy. I ran to the toilet and vomited. It’s not going to be a good
day of cycling.

The road from Metahara to Nazret was similar to the road through the
park. More bushes and termite mounds. I was moving slow, drinking lots
of water, but not eating. My stomach was starting to be downright
As I approached Nazret, I got a bit of energy. The thought of food
seemed appealing for the first time in 24 hours. As long as it wasn’t
eggs. My vomit looked and tasted like the hard boiled eggs I had eaten
the day before, and I was in no mood for a repeat performance. I
stopped at a restaurant for some pasta and seltzer water. It settled
well, so I carried on to Mojo.

The town of Mojo is surprisingly big for being what I perceived as
just a junction town. 3 roads intersect here – the west road to Addis
Ababa, the east road to Nazret, Awash, Dire Dawa, and Harar, and the
south road to Awasa. That’s the road I’m taking! After getting through
Mojo, I felt like I was finally making progress. After weeks of simply
reversing the route I had already done by bus to Djibouti, I was now
heading south, away from Addis, and toward Kenya. Some new turf! I
found some motivation, and rode 20km south to the town of Koka, where
I got a good night sleep in a cheap, nasty hotel.

Due to the breakdown, I had hitched to Addis. While there, I took care
of my Kenya visa. I had no logistical reason to go to Addis Ababa, so
I bypassed it and headed straight toward Awasa. If I hadn’t had the
breakdown, I would have had to ride to Addis. Maybe this is cutting
corners. I’m taking a bit of a shorter route on my bike. The reality
is that the clock is ticking on my Ethiopia visa, and I didn’t feel
like I had the time to go to Addis and back for no reason. Again,
little by little, I’m drifting away from the purity of my original
plan. All I can do is be up front and honest about all these
alterations to my proposed route, so that’s what I’m doing.

Day 19: I woke up in Koka refreshed, but still a bit nauseous. I got
an early start with one big goal in mind… 180km to Awasa! Ambitious,
but I was motivated to ride through the Great Rift Valley and see some
of the lakes, plus I had a God-sent tailwind.

I rode to Meki, passing beautiful Lake Koka in the early morning sun
and got some breakfast. The most inviting-looking place from the
outside turned out to be a sega bet (meat restaurant) serving loads of
beef. It was 8am, yet full of men eating beef and drinking beer. I
ordered a half kilogram of beef, but skipped the beer. Stomach seemed
ready for a wake-and-steak, but not for alcohol.
After my weird breakfast, I pushed hard, stopping only after each 40km
benchmark for a quick rest. I left a town where I had just eaten lunch
and saw something strange in the distance. It looked like two go-carts
with long whip-antennas, complete with dorky flags on top. That has to
be white people! Only we can look so ridiculous! The two guys pulled
up to me and introduced themselves. They are from Australia,
travelling up from South Africa. We exchanged a bit of awkward
conversation, but mostly focused on the details of the roads we had
each just passed. They warned me of the south being full of difficult
people. I warned them of headwinds and busy traffic. I was curious
about their ‘bikes’. They are actually tricycles, with the single
wheel in the back. They sit low to the ground, thus the dorky flags.
They look more comfortable than my bike, but also slow and vulnerable.
I’ll stick to my Trek 820. We exchanged emails, but I’ll probably
never write. It was nice to encounter other ‘cyclists’ though, as I
had yet to see anyone bent enough to travel this country they way I
have been.
After passing Arsi Negele, I was sure I was going to make. Then, it
happened. Spokes started breaking again. Rear wheel falling apart…
again! I just kept muttering all the colorful synonyms the English
language provides us for feces, and intercourse. The wheel developed a
bad wobble, but was holding together. I switched to low gears and
nursed the wheel all the way to Awasa. I thought I was going to have a
catastrophic repeat of the last breakdown, but I just made it into
town. I went straight to a restaurant for pizza and beer. Another epic
day on the road.

Day 20: Repairs in Awasa. Rear wheel rebuilt, replacing all the spokes
with new ones. After reassembling the bike, the spring that returns
the brakes into the open position sheared in half. Luckily Rich, the
Peace Corps Volunteer in Awasa I was staying with, had extra spring
metal and was able to make me a new one. It’s always something. At
least Awasa provided some good eating for the day.
Day 21: Rich is a fellow cyclist! He’s also on his way south for a
meeting. Convenient! We rode together from Awasa to Yirga Alem. It was
only about 50km, but between my aching body and shaken confidence in
my bike, I welcomed an easy day. We took our time, riding through the
beautiful hills and up into the town. Everyone here is pretty relaxed,
and the internet is good enough to finally update my blog! Tomorrow
we’re planning another easy day to Wenago, where another Peace Corps
Volunteer lives. After that, it’s going to be a big push to Moyale so
I can cross the border before my visa expires on February 17. This
will probably be my last blog update for about 2 weeks. Northern Kenya
is vast, and internet is out of the question. Maybe Moyale will have
something, but if not, I’ll catch up with all from central Kenya!