Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Thursday, February 24, 2011

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
desert.



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
do.

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
tomorrow.

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.

3 comments:

  1. That was a truly hard-core bike trip you pulled off through northern Kenya. Well done in pushing through. If you can survive that, you can overcome any challenge!

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  2. congrats ,,really tried. Am a Kenyan girl but hey thats the last thing i would do . Actually i cant even ride a bike n i call myself a true adventurer. lots <3 <3...

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  3. Actually travelling to marsabit today

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