Thursday, 3 February 2011

Cycling in East Africa, 1984

That's me!  This was taken on my first ever trip to Kenya and an amazing cycle ride that was a journey of discovery - about the land I was riding through, myself and my faith.  As you might know, I'm having an enforced rest from cycling having had a fall last Sunday.  My hand is getting much better and I hope to go for a cycle ride on Sunday.  In the meantime the Thorn Audax Mk3 will have a return trip to the bike shop for an initial service - spokes and cables bedding in.  I also thought it might be a time to reflect on an earlier bike ride.

I was determined to do a trip like this alone, as a kind of post-college gap year.  I took my bike to Nairobi, headed south into Tanzania, around Moshi, Arusha and almost fell off my bike at the truly inspirational sight of Mt Kilimanjaro before heading south east towards the coast.  I spent a few days around the coast in the company of some frightfully English nuns who allowed me to pitch my tent in their grounds (and near some bee hives if I remember correctly).  Then back up to Mombasa, Kenya along a nice coastal and where this photograph was taken.

After a few days in Mombasa it was a hard 3 days riding to Nairobi (300 miles and climbing 6,000ft) before heading into the more temperate highlands and the Rift Valley.

I sold my bike while I was there to stretch out my time a little further.  It was a BSA steel frame heap I had while I was at school with hilariously high gears.  I still have the sleeping bag, and Karrimor bags.

For some black and white photographs, take a look at my flickr photostream:

I could "wax lyrical" about that East African journey for ages.  Instead a few reflections.  It was something I had to do; call it some kind of compelling wanderlust having had a taste of Egypt a couple of years beforehand.  I had no ties, no idea what I wanted to do in life, no idea where I was heading in life.

While I was there I knew my parents were praying for me, I had a feeling of being cared and loved.  It was a huge step forward in my faith from just being a nominal believer in God to then knowing there was far more.  So that was the start of another kind of journey that led me to becoming a Christian, though it wasn't a sudden 'Road to Damascus' type of conversion.  Instead a gradual period of asking questions, reading books and talking to people.  In other words, working it out.

I was really touched by people's hospitality and generosity throughout my time there.  Somehow I think that travelling alone seems to open more doors and more conversations spring up naturally than compared to travelling with another person or indeed a group.

Looking back I'm amazed I actually got round on that bike.  It was heavy and not very suitable for the trip, though the wheels were especially strong and new.  The wheels with the (then) Specialized Expedition tyres were the only bit of new or decent kit.  As far as I can remember I only had two punctures and I think one of those was sabotage!  The lowest gear was probably in the region of 42x28 which isn't great for hauling such a heavy load up some of those endless hills which involved some dreadful road conditions.

The climate was great and as it was in February / March I was just seeing the end of the rainy season.  I must have become pretty fit while I was there although looking back, I paid no attention to training, nutrition or my health.  I did suffer a bit health-wise but that was all part of the adventure.

Those feelings of wanting to travel, see places and to do it under my own steam are still with me today.  While I contain those feelings, I don't think I'll ever shrug them off completely and neither do I wish to do that.  Without wishing my life away, I do look forward to retiring and then being able to travel, leaving my career largely behind.

The images below can be seen on my flickr photostream (click the link above) and I'm afraid the images below have pasted across very poorly but better full frame versions


  1. I went there in 1983 with the army.
    Amazing place.
    You did well to go out there on your own and I bet you was as fit as a butchers dog when you got home.

  2. Yes it's an amazing place. I remember coming across some British troops when I stopped at Naro Moru near Mt Kenya for a few days. I remember chatting to some there and we all shared some Cadbury's chocolate with each other.