A team put to the test
Our first day out of Arusha was a breeze. Smooth tarmac, strong tailwind and well rested riders ensured that the whole group was at camp early in the afternoon. As night crept in we watched with nervous trepidation as two storm systems raged and battled around us, threatening to swamp our vehicles and soak us in a quagmire of muddy clay. By the grace of God we were spared a deluge and treated to the awe inspiring sight of lightning bolts dancing across the African sky well into the night.
However, this section is not about smooth, flat roads (that's the Elephant Highway) but rather big off-road sections through the heart of the Tanzanian central plateau. A slight misnomer if I may say so myself, for when I think of plateau I imagine terrain devoid of any significant elevation changes. Not so in Africa it would appear as yesterday we climbed and descended, over and over again. We had been warned amply beforehand that on this section the trucks have an incredibly difficult time and to not expect them to be always waiting for us at camp, but when we saw them chugging past us early in the morning the feeling was that perhaps this was another situation where we were being prepared for the worst case scenario, a scenario not likely to occur. Unfortunately, the dire warnings proved to be all too accurate.
Roughly fifteen kilometers past lunch, I came upon our dinner truck sitting upon a steep incline. Engine disengaged, driver despondent, locals descending. The incline, road conditions and excess weight of the massive water tank the truck hauls ensured that at the worst possible moment the vehicle had been rendered immobile. I carried on as soon as I realized that even if I summoned all of my strength and willpower there was no way that I could possibly help this situation along. I rode on for several hours always expecting to see the truck lumbering past me, the enterprising driver Errol having come up with a clever way of getting himself out of the mess… this didn't happen. Upon arriving at our camp I discovered about 30 riders still in their chamois, shuttling back and forth to the three Tanzanian huts up the road hoping to get one of the infrequent chapattis they were cooking up.
The dinner truck finally pulled in shortly before sunset, minus the watertank that had been transferred over the lunch truck that was still over an hour away. As soon as the park break was engaged something incredible happened. Riders; exhausted, dirty, sweaty, thirsty, descended upon the vehicle but not to clamber on board for their tents and clean clothes but rather to assist in getting dinner prepared. The kitchen was set up in less than five minutes and platoons of riders, some still wearing their CamelBacks were jumping at the chance to cut carrots, peel onions or tip-n-tail beans. Dinner for 70 odd people was ready in a flash. While this could be simply discounted by saying "well, the people wanted their food", what happened after dinner could not. A call went out from a staff member for volunteers to scrub pots, a call that was responded to by a mass of exhausted, dirty, sweaty but now well fed riders who chose to forgo setting up their tents or relaxing with friends to go that extra mile for the benefit of all.
Small things like this may not seem to be a big deal to a lot of people, but a lot of people don't volunteer to ride thousands of kilometers across a continent with a group of total strangers. From the perspective of a staff member watching how the rider team has coalesced into a unit, willing and able to go the extra mile for one another it is truly a great thing to see.