In October 2018 I was one of the lucky ones to ride the Africa Classic Tour in Tanzania. This is a mountain bike sponsor-tour for Amref Flying Doctors. 6 days, 400 KM around the Kilimanjaro, 4000 HM. But I had some hurdles to take: bring in 5.000 euro of sponsor money, get a bike and get in shape. Till the moment I volunteered for this trip in November 2017, I never spend more time on a bike than going to the supermarket or the local pub. I had no (mountain) bike and no experience. Nevertheless I started my training on a second hand Tacx indoor trainer with a road bike. The beginning was boring and pretty exhausting. Fortunately I had a double computer screen in front of me, one showing the latest Netflix series, while I was riding my virtual tour in Italy or Belgium on the other screen.
During Christmas 2017, I met up with my friend Rene Wiertz, whom I told enthusiastically about my coming trip to Africa. He asked me which bike I was riding, and I told him that I still had to purchase one. At that moment he offered me a 3T Exploro, the best gravel bike in the world, fitting the gravel roads in Tanzania. It was a loaner bike, but I was very happy with this nice offer. However, soon after I was thinking: how do I get the bike in Amsterdam (where I live)? And what about insurance in case it gets stolen or damaged? And when can I start training? Based on these questions I decided to ask Rene if he had a second hand or demo bike for me. The result was that I ended up in April 2018 with a brand new 3T Exploro Team of my own…. Wow, what a bike. From that moment I started to train outside, building up stamina and ‘bottom’ skills. At the same time I was working hard to get all the money in, arrange visa, vaccinations, spare parts and all other preparations.
Day 0 – 6th of October 2018:
Time has come. On the Saturday morning we gathered with 93 bikers at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, ready to check in for our flight to Tanzania. I was quite nervous, mainly about the transport of the bike and the unknown to come. The day before I spend too much time on packing my bike, because the front axle was too wide to fit the Scicom bag frame. Stress all over….
But all turned out to be fine, and after 8 hours we landed at Kilimanjaro Airport, close to the location where we would spend our first night: the Kia Lodge. That evening we received a briefing about the coming adventure, and after a couple of beers we went to bed, dreaming of the first trip.
Day 1: Sugar Cane Track
The alarm rings at 07:00. After a quick shower (we are still in a civilized environment), we have breakfast and then we start to assemble our bikes. I had chosen for the Scicon 3.0 travel bag, so it wasn’t too hard to get my bike prepared. Around 10 o’clock all bikers were ready for the first ride: Sugar Cane Track. A nice appetizer, no climbing and wide roads. We pass boma’s (traditional loam huts) and see characteristic Baobab trees. A big part of the track is within the TPC compound, one of the biggest Sugar Cane Plantations.
During a stop in the afternoon we meet the community workers: local women (mostly) who interact between the people and health care facilities. Most people are ashamed when they are sick and do not visit a hospital easily. Amref is training those community workers to recognize -and respond to common diseases and epidemics. The final kilometers to our destination are tough. Although the distance is not the big thing, the heat, dust and bad roads make it challenging. Especially without suspension.
Day 2: Red Earth Track
From day 2 on, the alarm rings every day at 06:00 AM. After breakfast, we start around 08:00 with our new tour. The A-team (a team of 35 local guys) picks up our tents and luggage and transports all material to the next stop. Great guys, that helped us out with everything!
Day 2 is a 72 km long trip towards Lake Chala on the border of Kenia. Mainly sand roads, with tricky loose sand parts. Unexperienced as I was, I found out quickly that you simply have to continue paddling to pass those parts. Most villages along the road are Pare villages, mainly consisting of a couple of small wooden cottages. We pass banana -and mango trees, and have a beautiful view over the North Pare mountains.
The red earth color is coming from the high amount of iron in the ground, and the red dust is everywhere. In the evening, after my shower, my towel is red-brown colored. After a tough climb, we have a fast and steep downhill road that ends at Lake Chala. Although the road is bumpy, I manage to get down at a nice pace. Lake Chala is a beautiful place with a view over the crater lake. In the distance we see baboons.
Day 3: Kilimanjaro Track:
We have to climb back the steep sandy road that brought us to Lake Chala the day before. After 500 meters I run flat. Although my inner tube is filled with latex, it didn’t prevent the air from escaping. I expect a big thorn to be the cause. Although the roads are mainly free of thorns, the borders are full with it. Every plant in Africa is covered with thorns I believe. Fortunately I have a spare tire, and a couple of minutes later I am back on the road again. Here I notice the advantage of my Exploro: climbing goes relatively easy, and I pass a lot of my biker colleagues.During this ride we have a beautiful view on the Kilimanjaro, the final destination for day 3. But before we get there, we have to climb 62 km, some parts are > 10%. Although I am a beginner, I noticed that me and my Exploro are a fine fit.
The first part of the road is bumpy and rocky. It takes me a lot of effort and strength to get my bike on the right track. Fortunately, we also have some nice asphalt road. But the last part is rocky and steep again. At the end of this Queens trip I am welcomed by the A-team, singing and dancing their traditionals. This is the best welcome I could ever imagine after a rough and heavy day. Moreover because there are some ice cold beers as well. What a blast…We will spend 2 nights at Snow Camp on the slope of the Kilimanjaro at 2000 m. It cools down during the night, so I plan to use my sleeping bag for the first time. We are also warned for scorpions, so I double check my shoes before putting them on. After a small maintenance check of my bike it is dinner time. Each evening, around 19:00, the A-team has prepared dinner for 140 people, mostly prepared in the middle of nowhere. Quite a challenge. At 20:30, we get a briefing for the next day, followed by the daily movie presentation.
Day 4: Visit to Amref projects in Kenia:
Today we get up even earlier. No cycling. We will visit Kenia, and have to cross the border with more than 100 people. On our way to Kenia (by bus) we follow the same road as I travelled the day before by bike. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the scenery, but also about the length and steepness of the road. I feel proud that I made it!In Loitokitok we first visit the Entarare Community Water Committee. They are responsible for the maintenance of the water installation, another project of Amref. The local people can buy jerry cans of water and with the income the committee maintains the installation and becomes self-sustaining. Afterwards we visit a school and get informed about girl circumcision, a painful and unhealthy ritual that still takes place in this area. Amref is working together with local tribes to introduce a better alternative. We cross the border, back to Tanzania and prepare for next day’s ride.
Day 5: Masai Track:
Today’s trip is one of the highlights. It is a long ride. Rough terrain with steep climbs and challenging descends. Mostly with a beautiful view on Mount Meru. After lunch we cross the border of the Enduimet Wildlife Area. From this point it is mandatory to group together. The chance to encounter a lion is small, but better safe than sorry…. Again, the road is rocky and bumpy. The lack of suspension is making it harder for me, especially now we are already at day 5. But I am determined to accomplish the tour.
When we arrive at camp, there is a nice surprise: we have a mini safari, and see elephants, giraffes, zebras, baboons and even an ostrich. Beautiful, just 200 m from our camp. We sleep in our tents and I stare at the sky: thousands of stars are staring back. This is amazing!
Day 6: Wildlife track:
An 80 km ride, more uphill than downhill. Not too steep, but still… After a sandy road to West Kilimanjaro Airstrip, we meet the Flying Doctors who arrive by plane. We hear about all the flights they make, and how they help to bring medical care to the most isolated corners of Africa. The top 6 sponsors are invited for a flight around Kilimanjaro, but unfortunately I am not one of them (#10).
The trail continues, and we pass the mighty Masai plains. We ride towards Mount Meru with a lot of vulcanic stone roads. Another challenge for me. But finally we end at camp Momella. This is the last sleep-over before flying back to Amsterdam. Tonight we have a party, and enjoy the beautiful view on the snowy top of the Kilimanjaro.
Day 7: Momella Lake track:
The day starts amazing: when I open my tent, I see a couple of giraffes about 100 m in front of me. They look wonderingly to the group of crazy bikers in their back yard. Today we will ride the final part of our tour: a short, easy trip of 46 km, back to Kia Lodge. At least, that’s what they told me. But man, there was nothing easy about it. The road was bad and dusty. Kilometers of washboards shook up my arms and neck completely. I sometimes wondered if my bike would fall apart. But it didn’t, and I survived. Around 14:00 I finished with my Schiphol Team colleagues. We accomplished the tour of 400 km around the Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. For me, it was a personal and physical challenge for a good cause.
Together with the group we handed over 616.113,93 € to Amref. Not bad… After a quick shower, we needed to pack the bikes again, and drove to the airport to fly back to Amsterdam…
I would like to thank Rene Wiertz from 3T for his help, enthusiasm and support. My new Exploro turned out to be a very solid, sturdy and efficient bike. Although the Tanzania gravel roads turned out to be much heavier and rockier than I anticipated, I made it to the end without many problems. The bike has some scars, and so do I.
A lifetime experience!
HARD WORK, MAGIC MOMENTS