The Dodoma Road: 2003 -2010
Over the years, the route of the Tour d’Afrique has remained largely the same but occasionally events and/or adverse conditions can result in a necessary change. From 2003 – 2010, the route through Tanzania included the Dodoma Road, a largely unpaved and untravelled 700 km journey across the Central Tanzanian plateau.
Cycling the Dodoma Road was a full body workout. Rutted and rocky roads sent handle bars in all directions. From the hips up, all a rider’s strength was spent wrestling the front wheel forward. Steep climbs, snaking descents and sporadic ditches were the norm for an average cycling day on this stretch.
To make things even more challenging, the expedition usually found itself in the middle of Tanzania’s rainy season. The dirt roads became flooded, sticky red mud clogged up chains and brakes and camping in the rain meant that tents and riders remained continuously wet.
This weather, however, made for some some absolutely spectacular campsites.
The road conditions for the cyclists on the Dodoma Road were, to say the least, challenging. Rolling hills, loose gravel, washboard surfaces and very few coke stops meant that the tour’s mechanics were very busy!
The tour manual noted that, “Rocks are big and chunky, hold on tight. Loose gravel, ditches, lots of potential for injury.” Riders attempting to avoid the rough road conditions by taking shortcuts through the thorny vegetation were met by, well, thorns. In 2006, one rider had 22 flats during one particularly demanding stage.
Along the way the riders reached the halfway mark, in terms of distance, for their cross Africa journey. It was a time to celebrate their achievement and prepare for the second half of the adventure but the field staff reminded them that TIA (This Is Africa) by noting cryptically, “Don’t take photographs of the nearby dam or you will be shot dead.” Not the best way to leave the tour…
The tough 7 day stretch was broken up with a rest day in Tanzania’s quirky capital Dodoma. Previously the capital was Dar Es Salaam, the country’s largest city but in 1974 the government decided to move it to Dodoma, the geographic centre of the country in order to be “the chief village in a nation of villages”, reflecting the ruling party’s socialist vision. However, most government ministries and businesses resisted the move and remain to this day in Dar Es Salaam. Dodoma remains a small, pleasant city whose main attraction is a mosque built and paid for by the former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
I was fortunate enough to ride the Dodoma Road in 2006 and it was one of my favourite parts of the tour. Cycling along, often on my own, I gazed around in wonder as I rode through vast fields of sunflowers, past huge, ancient Baobab trees and into small, friendly villages filled with curious, smiling people. At night (when it wasn’t raining!), I looked up into the endless night sky filled with shimmering stars and galaxies. And, despite the challenging conditions, I went to sleep each night eager to get back on my bike in the morning and continue down the Dodoma Road.
Note: The Dodoma Road ended in the small town of Iringa and from there the tour’s route continued along the main highway between Dar Es Salaam and the African countries to the south. Over the years, the highway traffic increased and made it unpleasant and unsafe for the riders. In 2010 I scouted a new route that headed far out into the sparsely populated western region of Tanzania, avoiding the busy highway but also bypassing the Dodoma Road. In 2011, the Tour d’Afrique used the new route (below) for the first time and, happily, it has been a big hit with riders ever since.