Erin's Tour d'Afrique Bike of a Blog!
An 8,000 mile personal and philanthropic adventure across Africa…

Follow the Lava Rock Road

Before embarking on this wild and wonderful experiment in expedition cycling two words filled my imagination with fear…Northern Kenya. The legends of Northern Kenya’s horrendous road conditions, propensity for bad weather and general remoteness are passed down year to year on the TDA. I had seen haunting pictures of “roads” that were really just clusters of big loose lava rock and thick sticky gravel. It looked like a place that would not welcome any form of life, let alone cyclists. This year’s journey through the badlands of Northern Kenya certainly did not disappoint our anxious expectations.

After crossing the border at Moyale, we once again felt a perceptible difference in the culture, surroundings and encounters of a new country. I was still sick as a dog and hobbling around like a grandma, so was resigned to a makeshift “sick bed” on the truck. This involved sleeping all day on the driver’s bed with a rugby ball for a pillow in the back of the cab (thanks for your bed Errol), while getting tossed around like a rag doll on the rough and tough roads. Errol ended up nicknaming me “Snow White” because apparently I slept peacefully through some of the roughest sand and corrugation like a true Disney princess would. There’s no African prince in sight, but thank you, antibiotics. The first day wasn’t too bad, but by the end of the second day, riders looked battle weary. Bad roads, blistering heat and frequent rain made tough rides tougher. There were quite a few bruised riders, bikes and egos, even after the unwitting prior preparation of Dinder Park in Sudan.

Fortunately, our campsite on the first night was stunning. Big blue sky, mountains in the distance and beautifully curious local Kenyan women and children. I set out to explore the town (consisting of approximately three shacks) with my gal pal Dana, and we had a magical local moment with women who all had a minimum of four children by the age of 20 and more on the way. They had a good laugh when we revealed that we are 26 and 34 respectively and…GASP…unmarried!!! The Kenya we have encountered has also exhibited a strong emphasis on education- you see schools and kids in school uniforms even in the most rural stretches. I ended up reading my book out loud for half an hour to an absorbed audience of about twenty local kids. Their desire to learn was inspiring.

Our campsite on the second night literally looked like it might be leveled by a volcanic eruption at any second. There were huge chunks of black lava rocks everywhere that we had to clear to pitch our tents, and I felt a few digging into my back all night. If it hadn’t been over 100 degrees, I would have said we were on the moon. Desert wasteland stretched from the edge of my tent to the horizon in every direction. I also might have set a new personal record for sweating all night long, which yes, I realize is too much information.

The third day was a “mando day,” meaning the race director considered it one of the toughest days of the tour. Riders stumbled along rough roads into camp right up until sunset, and even the journey in the truck was trying. We spent a rest day in Marsabit, Kenya at a Catholic center, which made me feel close to my saint-loving grandma back at home in New York. Marsabit wasn’t much bigger than Yabello, and we once again endured torrential rain and wind all night and morning. The rain turned the dirt roads to impassable mud, so naturally Dana and I thought it would be awesome to go for a cross-country run in the pouring rain. We were soaked to the bone in seconds, but it was a warm rain and running was the only way to get to town. After consuming a typical breakfast of eight eggs and ten donuts, we turned right around and ran back! Tbd on whether we’re wearing wet, mildewy clothes for another week.

Tomorrow is my first day back on the bike with a healed kidney! Just in time for two more days of bouncy corrugation and thick sand, before the long awaited return to pavement and some climbing in Isiolo, Kenya. The landscape has once again changed quickly in a matter of mere kilometers- today we saw our first glimpse of the lush Great Rift Valley and some riders were lucky enough to see elephants and baboons. Yee ha! Hope for sunshine…and not too many more lava rocks.

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