Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

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!


  1. Hello Kyle,

    You are the best biker in the whole world! We like reading about your journey. We are watching your blog and cheering for you. We are proud of you! Keep it up!

    Good Luck,

    Miss O'Hara's First Grade Class
    Kissimmee, FL

    *from your favorite dorm mate Katie O'Hara SUNY Fredonia*

  2. kyle! you gotta write a book after you get done with all of this!

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