The section of this tour is named “Meltdown Madness”. I was never involved in the naming of each section and some of the names are obvious, but this one puzzles me. Perhaps it’s because of the temperatures. Or maybe it’s because of the geography, which is formed predominantly by volcanic activities. I don’t think so. I think it refers to the state of mind of our cyclists. To sign up for this tour you must be physically strong but to complete this section successfully, you must be mentally strong. The first few days out of Addis are not all that challenging. As we continue, everything gets more extreme. The hills get steeper and longer, the pavement gets worse, and as the number of people on the roads increases, so do the number of stones you get hit with.
After five riding days we have a rest day in Yabello. There really isn’t much to see here. The town itself is not a tourist destination, it’s more like a truck stop. But rest here is necessary for the cyclists to recover before entering Kenya and this is the only place to rest for almost 1000km. It is truly a day of rest though. There is no internet, banks or restaurants for our participants to indulge in the comforts of home. But the Yabello hotel has made many improvements over the last few years. Now, they just need to work on the service at the restaurant.
Continuing south, we have 2 days of riding to the Kenyan border. Enter Dida Galgalu! At this point there are no roads, no water, no campsites and no food. For three days all of our campsites were desert camps without facilities. Food supplies were scarce. Even in the two small towns over the 300km stretch there was not enough bread to feed our crew for one meal.
This region has been experiencing a major drought for nearly 3 years and the wells here are even running dry. We had enough supplies to get everyone through, but everything was being rationed very carefully. I was surprised by the roads as well. Reading my past journal entries, I remember the roads into Marsabit being one of the most painful experiences of my life. Especially in 2004, when I was stupid enough to try to ride this tour on a rigid bike. The stage into Marsabit climbing the volcano was voted as the toughest stage of the tour last year, but this year cyclists didn’t seem to think it was so bad. I credit that to the orange and refreshment stop set 20km before town. Like Yabello, Marsabit is not much of a tourist destination, but there is a great market and the riders enjoyed their first experiences with Kenyan cultures.
The roads leaving Marsabit to the south were far worse than anything I have ever seen in the north. Huge outcrops of underlying bedrock jutting out of the road and random loose boulders everywhere. Perhaps it’s because it’s the first time that I’ve driven this stage instead of riding. It’s much easier to find a good line on a bike. One night we camped in a school yard near Laisamis. We’ve stayed on this site for the last 3 years. This time I was invited to come and speak to the students. So I had an audience of 150 kids, all high school students. I talked about the tour for a bit and some of the cyclists participated as well. But then we opened the floor to questions and I was asked everything from “What kind of economic policy does Canada employ” to”What sort of advice would you give to someone living with HIV?”. A very interesting evening and of course I ended it with a grand finale of drumming.
The last few stages into Nairobi are some of my favorites. Beautiful Masaai people along the roads, incredible views of Mt. Kenya and some of the nicest campsites on the whole tour. A couple of days ago we crossed the equator, not only the halfway point of the planet but close to the halfway point of the tour. So we celebrated with a toga party and everyone looked great wrapped up their African fabrics. But it was a late night so needless to say the following stage was a non-race day. Now we are in Nairobi for another day of rest. We have several new members joining the tour here. We only have one more day of riding in Kenya and then we enter Tanzania where many of the participants will go on safari into the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater to see some of the most amazing wildlife of the planet. Nairobi is also the start for the third fourth section of our Tour – Snows of Kilimanjaro.