Tag Archives: Africa

Sesriem Rest Day – More Dirt and The Racing Isn’t Over

I anticipated as we headed south in Africa, development would increase. To a degree, it has. In the major towns the surroundings feel much more familiar and at times like a small town in the US. In between those stops however it has been long stretches of little civilization. An outpost here or there that I always find myself wondering how this outcropping developed in such isolation. There are very few coke stops on the route these days.

Sunset on the Sossusvlei dunes

Sunset on the Sossusvlei dunes. Billed as the highest dune in the world

The road out of Windhoek, taunted me with 15k of pavement than went to dirt and hills and the race was on. As we are getting within smelling distance of the barn in Capetown, I have to admit I was a bit on autopilot as far as racing. The long flat days in Botswana had made it impossible to do anything more than ride as a group and do a sprint at the finish. The introduction of dirt and hills was a wakeup call.

Weissenfels, a horse stable and farm getaway, is completely off the beaten track. A strange little stop that I could only imagine visiting if you were interested in total isolation to write a book. I figure I could take 2 weeks before I’d be hitchhiking to Windhoek for a little more input. Keeping in mind I’m from North Dakota and familiar with open space.

Solitaire is at the intersections of 2 gravel roads. The only way-point between the city and the tourist destination of Sesriem. It has a campsite, gas station with no fuel, and a bakery with some of the best apple pie and baked goods I’ve encountered on this journey. 4 slices of pie, 2 cheese croissants, and a danish helped me refuel after days of fighting the climbs and gravel out of Windhoek.

Sesriem is a lodge, campground and a gas station completely devoted to serving tourists visiting the dunes at Sossusvlei. An amazing site the dunes are as well. I am skeptical of tourist attractions. A minority live up to their marketing and only a few exceed expectations. I always list the Grand Canyon and Sistine Chapel as two that really knocked me out. In Africa, many have far exceeded the way they were explained to me. The dunes of Sossusvlei at sundown were another of these “wow” moments.

With the dirt comes gaps and more time riding alone. Its a day of weaving about searching for the least corrugated section of road to gain some speed and save your body from vibration. This race is typically won by 24+ hours by the time it reaches Capetown. It appears the gap will be hours this year, perhaps minutes.

Also of note for this section was the TDA tradition known as the “naked mile”. For some it has turned into a competition for who will do the most miles naked. One rode the entire day naked. The tourists driving by had a memorable experience.

Top 5 in the race at Spreetshoogt Pass just before a crazy gravel descent

Top 5 in the race at Spreetshoogt Pass just before a crazy gravel descent

Climbing Dune 45 at Sossusvlei

Climbing Dune 45 at Sossusvlei

Windhoek Rest Day – Every Race Has It’s Kansas



The mention of Kansas gives me a slightly sick feeling to this day. When I raced RAAM in 2006, Kansas was mentally the most difficult stretch. Unchanging terrain, seemingly a Hanna Barbara cartoon where the background just repeats behind the characters as they run across screen. It also had a 30+ mph cross wind that forced me to lean into the wind at precarious angle hoping at all times that I not become a kite. Top it off with thunderstorms and threatening tornadoes and I hope you’ll understand my prejudice.

Botswana is the Tour d’Afrique’s Kansas. Incredibly flat and long days in the saddle, however it keeps it interesting for the riders with a great number of charismatic mega fauna (thanks Dan).

The race consisted of group riding with a sprint at the end most days. On the longest day of the tour, all the racers worked together to try and better the course record for that day. I was lucky enough to pull into the finish but losing the sprint with Raffa in 5:41 for 207.8 KM to set a new best time. I think it is an unusual tour where all the riders work together as a team on a stage, but it was fun and a great break from what had become routine days on the bike.

Off the bike was different story, wildlife sightings and trips upped the headcount of interesting animals I’ve seen in the wild.

The section was completed by riding into Windhoek, Namibia and being greeted by “Team Alaric”, local rider Alaric Baritz’s family and friends. They than treated all the TDAers to a Braai (BBQ) that evening. Amazing hospitality to take on such a large group of ravenous cyclists.

Maybe Kansas isnt so bad after all.



Ride in with Team Alaric In the Paper

Ride in with Team Alaric In the Paper

Visit to World Bicycle Relief in Lusaka Zambia

I spent the afternoon of my rest day in Lusaka, Zambia with Kristin and Brian of World Bicycle Relief. I visited their operations center and than met some people who have had their lives changed by the bikes provided by World Bicycle Relief. It was an eye opening experience and helped give me a better understanding of their efforts.

Buffalo Bicycles

Built For Big Loads on Tough Roads

I first learned of World Bicycle Relief through the Wrigley Field Road Tour, a century ride that starts at Wrigley Field in Chicago and ends at Miller Park in Milwaukee WI. It was a great ride on familiar roads. Even with the added bonus of hours riding in the rain, it was a fantastic time. I was enthused at how tangible a benefit World Bicycle Relief provides. A $134 donation equals one bike to a person or child that is in need. For each 20 bikes distributed they train someone to repair them.

Racing Tour d’Afrique and Tour Divide was a great opportunity to combine my cycling adventures/races/escapades with a fundraising effort.

My visit began with a conversation with Brian, the WBR Country Director for Zambia. He explained a number of the programs that WBR is currently engaged in and some new ones that they are testing. The amount of different ways they distribute bikes was new to me. I had assumed donors donated and those bikes were distributed to young girls to get to school or healthcare workers to visit people in need, but this was only part of the the way bikes made it into the hands of people. People and organizations can buy the bikes, WBR partners with a micro-loan organization to finance the purchase of the bikes, and other organizations are purchasing bikes for use in their programs. WBR has some excellent organization in the way the community and schools are engaged in the bicycle use and tracking the effect the bicycles are having on the area. He was very candid about some of the challenges they face. Brian was also very descriptive of his life growing up in Zambia and experiencing the difficulties in rural Zambia.

We next hit the road for a Chonga to meet Albert, a young entrepreneur. It was a bit odd to be in a car at highway speeds again. I hadn’t been in many cars other than a couple cabs and tuk tuks in 3 months. Albert began as a mechanic of WBR bicycles and has grown that into an expanding bike shop business on the verge of moving into a larger space for the 2nd time in a few years. He has since diversified to building some rental properties to house students at the local high school as well.

A walk through the edge of the market area brought us to Joe, a farmer, livestock middleman, political pundit, and storyteller. He purchased a number of bikes through a micro-loan program for small businesses. He started his business by biking further out in to the surrounding area, buying goats, than carrying them into the city for sale. An 80K day was not unusual. Joe could tell a story and our conversation flowed from his cycling, to how he moved around trying to make a living, to sending his children to school, to the way in which the 72 tribes are the political parties in Zambia (and why his should have the next president). Joe always had a friendly laugh no matter the subject.

Thank you to Brain, Kristin, and David for being such great hosts for a tired cyclist, They really went to great lengths to make me feel welcome, see WBR, and get me ready to hit the road again the following day. Hope I can make it back one day to see even greater success.

More Info About World Bicycle Relief

Donate To World Bicycle Relief

Joes Farm

Joe - a WBR bike recipient via a microloan program, Brian - WBR Country Director for Zambia, and Brian's son

Albert, a WBR Bicycle Mechanic who has grown a healthy bike shop where he sells buffalo bikes and replacement parts

Albert, a WBR Bicycle Mechanic turned Entrepeneur

Albert's WBR Shop

Albert's WBR Shop

Livingstone, Victoria Falls Rest Day

Had a great double rest day. Described to me as the tourist capital of Africa, which made me worry, but it was fantastic. Great B&B, great food, and even better sights to be had on the days off. It was mostly activities rather than introspection, so here’s some photos.

Drenched By Victoria Falls

Drenched By Victoria Falls

Bridge to Zimbabwe

Bridge to Zimbabwe

On the bridge to Zimbabwe

On the Bridge to Zimbabwe

Mist from Victoria Falls in buckets

Mist from Victoria Falls in Buckets

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

A pretty shot of the falls

A pretty shot of the falls

Documenting my photographic capabilities

Documenting my photographic capabilities

The moment before we flip

The moment before we flip or the oh sh*t moment where we question why we wanted to go the difficult way

The flip

The flip - everyone got wet and spent an uncomfortable amount of time under water

The recovery

The recovery - love how the guide is the most excited out of all of us.

A Regular Beach Vacation at Chatimba Beach

Beach Warning

Perhaps the author should have stayed in school as well.

A rest day in Mbeya, than a half day of racing to lunch and non-racing for a day and a half to another rest day in Chatimba Beach, an isolated little resort on Lake Malwai.

The casual riding without concern for the race was nice for a mental break. I took some photos, stopped at coke stops, and often at beer stops toward the end of the ride. Talked and rode with some other riders or sometimes just pedaled away on my own.

Chatimba beach is one of those little corners that seems like it is rarely visited by more than a few people. Beautiful beach, warm water and no development or signs of other buildings. Despite warnings from my doctor about swimming in fresh water in Africa, I couldn’t resist the lake on this hot humid day.

This was one of the few days in the trip that felt like a bit of a typical vacation. A beach, a bar, volleyball, swimming, a bonfire at night, the tour takes a break from the forward push toward Capetown.



The beach

Nice view from the beach of Lake Malawi


Beach View

And another obligaotry beach photo

A Tale of Two Years

I’m catching up on news from the relatively cushy confines of Nairobi. Drinking a latte and eating a binge level amount of food in a mall the could just as easily be Highland Park Illinois instead of Nairobi Kenya. Only days ago, I was rationing toilet paper and hunting for bottled water and Dairy Milk bars in villages.

With the stream of news, I see that the Texas Hill Country 600 is happening this weekend in what appears to be terrible, wet conditions. Best of luck to all the racers. Exactly one year ago I was in Texas doing that event to kick off my season of racing. Shifra suggested I compare San Antonio to Nairobi, instead Im going for a more meandering comparison of the events and some reasons why I’m crossing Africa and later the US.

As Ive had a few more years doing long distance races, I found that signing up for an early season race helped keep me motivated over the dark winter months to stay on the road, trail and/or the computrainer. For a number of years, the Sebring 24 hour race filled that slot. Its been a good routine. The Texas Hill Country 600 was a nice switch and brought me back to an area of the US that I love.

Last year however, was the first time where I felt like it was that, a routine. Beyond Texas, I was doing the same loops in the same places and it made me consider why I loved riding a bike and racing. I started biking for fun and transportation and than for travel. Later I was introduced to racing long distances and being a competitive sort, became hooked on racing.

Ive found I miss the days of riding across a new country just to experience new things, rather than getting that one extra lap or saving another 10,20,30 minutes. 2012 is my attempt to reconcile the two mindsets. Race, but do it in places that I would love to slowly pedal through and if the motivation turns from racing to tourism, so be it.

There are some similarities between the Texas Hill Country 600 and this section of the Tour d’Afrique.

  • Early in the year – It never fails, I always feel unprepared for the early races. I don’t think it matters much how many miles I have logged.
  • Hot and Dry – Apparently not this year, but last year it seemed quite hot and dry as I was climbing some of those hills in the heat of the day.
  • Terrain – Rolling hills and a fair amount of sand
  • Seemingly collapsed buildings in small towns that are left standing and in some cases still in use. This is very similar. Small towns in Texas have burned out buildings or collapsed roofs that they leave standing. Similarly in Ethiopia.
  • Animals Ive never seen before – Texas had the hundreds of small deer at night. Africa has, well everything: baboons, monkeys, warthogs, many new birds, camels of course, and more to come.

Differences are more extreme.

  • Time – Length of the race in total (very long long – 4 months), the length of each days stage (very short relatively), and the completely different view of time in Africa well described by Ryszard Kapuściński in The Shadow of the Sun “Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even nonexistence, if we do not direct our energy toward it.”
  • Separation – originally my thought was isolation, but it isn’t really isolation as I am spending most every day with a group of 40+ people, but it is the separation from friends and family that makes the race unique.
  • Comfort and Convenience – While a 600K race is hardly comfortable, it is when compared to bush camps, baby wipe showers, water shortages, and no spare parts. Last night I walked into a convenience store for the first time in 2 months and it was overwhelming.
  • Follow vehicle – I definitely miss the support of my crew and getting a cold bottle of Infinit, Coke or a Turkey Wrap (Thanks to everyone who has sat in that vehicle or waited between loops over the years – Shifra and Carmichael at Texas last year )

Some Photos From Low Bandwidth Days

For more than a week I was unable to post any photos from Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya.

Lunch In Ethiopia

Lunch In Ethiopia - Everywhere we stopped a crowd would gather to watch the traveling show

Ethiopia Bush Camp

Ethiopia Bush Camp

Flowers On the Edge of The Gorge

Flowers On the Edge of The Gorge - Someone called them Desert Roses. Are They?

Beers On The Edge of The Gorge

Beers On The Edge of The Gorge

Kali Protectives Helmet

I'm wearing helmets from Kali Protectives this year.

Talent Pharmacy

Who knew it was a matter of just finding the right pharmacy.

Ethiopia into Kenya – So Long and Thanks for all the …

I’m wide awake in a hot tent in the desert of northern Kenya. Unable to sleep, dirty, tired, sore, hoping for a rain shower like last night that cools down the evening to comfortable temp. My stomach gurgling as my body and antibiotics do battle with a final stomach bug manifested the last night in Ethiopia. Wondering when Ill have to run to the hill, since one hill behind the campsite is the only cover for a bit of privacy on this wide open desert of lava rocks. Its described as desert and the heat bears that out, but visually it bears a great deal in common with the midwest plains of the US. Wide expanses and shimmering waves of heat showing on the horizon.

It has been a week of ups and downs as I finished racing in Ethiopia with one of my best days. I felt strong all day and suspected I was on my way back. In the night the trouble began. Barely able to stand up, I managed to get some bike clothes on. Jon and Jurgen packed up my tent. I set off figuring it would only be worse to sit in a truck all day.

The ride to the border was the longest day I can recall. 20kmh was a struggle and each pedal stroke slow and labored. Jon, Jurgen, Jay, and Rosalyn spent most of the ride with me even though it was so slow. Due to my dragging, we arrived at the border just as Ethiopian immigration closed for lunch, forcing a two hour wait at bar nearby. Even sprite was difficult to swallow. I did my best to sleep in a chair as a local hounded me to convert money with him.

I am only just able to eat again, grabbing the blandest food items I can manage from the very limited options. The water supply has taken on a disconcerting taste since Yabello, that causes me to get queasier with each swallow, but I have to drink more. The last 2 nights I managed to stock up on bottled water, but today I was forced back to the truck water. The hot afternoon’s post ride entertainment was trying to figure out some sort of masking agent to allow me to drink. Sports drink mix? No, even worse. Powdered Milk? Yes, but tough to drink in quantity. Tea? possibly. Emergency shipment of Infinit? If only.

Tomorrow’s stage is one that is notorious in the TDA history for knocking out riders. The “road” is a terrible minefield of fist sized rocks, gravel, and trenches dug in by years of trucks flinging down the same tracks. Passengers hanging to the top. It isn’t really riding so much as persevering abuse. It is a mandatory race day, but for me Ive clicked over to survival for these stages as my body and these roads teach me I’m not invincible. In past years half the riders get on the truck. Some because they cant take the poor conditions, some due to the inevitable crashes and falls that occur. Even today, many riders came in with bleeding knees, elbows, and shins from low speed crashes trying to find some smooth bit through the rubble.

Let’s see about that sleep again.