18 months ago I saw an advert for a ladies only, approximately 350km Cycle Africa trip to raise funds for breast, cervical and ovarian cancer and thinking “I could do that” I signed up!
I trained by cycling every day, doing progressively longer and longer rides at the weekend and building in steeper hills as we were told that there would be some steep hills on the route. I worked with Martin King to build my strength and resilience too.
On Sunday 18th October 2015 I left Heathrow on an overnight flight for Nairobi with 88 other ladies, all nervous and excited too.
As we stepped onto the Tarmac to get on the bus the heat of the day was just starting, it was chaos at the airport but we all got through eventually and loaded into 3 buses for the long journey through Kenya into Tanzania.
At the border we were screened for Ebola and Yellow Fever and surrounded by people trying to sell us bracelets and necklaces and a variety of wooden animals. After driving through beautiful scenery and past mud huts we finally arrived at our hotel in Moshi at approximately 16.00.
We then had a bike fitting and dinner before an early night as we were told we had to get up every day at 5.00am!
Day 1 of cycling. Tuesday 20th October – 84km. The next morning we woke to the sight of a snow capped Mount Kilimanjaro, it was beautiful.
We set off whilst the day was dawning but already warm. We were all still shattered from the travelling since Sunday evening; however our enthusiasm and excitement exceeded our tiredness!
We cycled out of the hotel grounds and down into the town. Unfortunately 15 minutes in one of the ladies hit some gravel and fell off her bike, breaking her shoulder and ending her trip!
The rest of the morning went well and we made such good time that we ended up at our lunch stop early, at 10.30. We had a lunch cooked by the support crew every day and a rest in the shade of a canopy that they erected.
After lunch, as the temperature began to climb, we continued along the tarmac road until we turned off along a 20km track to get to that night’s stop, a Maasai village where we were camping. The cycle was made wonderful by the children running out of their mud huts as they called and waved to us along the way. The called “jambo”, hello, and “poley poley”, which meant “slowly, slowly”, as in “this is Africa, it’s hot, take your time!”
When we arrived at the Maasai village we were greeted by them dancing for us which was fab.
We found our little tents and proceeded to have a shower that was open to the elements.
That night we had dinner around the campfire and the warriors danced for us……
Day 2. Wednesday 21st October – 84km. We got up in the dark and after breakfast and a warm up we left the village like a trail of elephants!
We started cycling off road which turned out to be sand and rock, at some points the sand was so deep it was impossible to cycle through and you had no choice but to get off and walk… As the road went on it was made more difficult as the recent monsoon had actually washed away the existing road and blown the deep sand over the crevices…great! It was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever faced; the 35 km took us over 5 hours to complete. We were filthy, worn out and shaken from cycling over such tough terrain when we stopped for a fruit break, to be told there was a 17km hill to climb before lunch!
After lunch we had a smooth 34km down to Arusha, cycling past a hyena and a monkey, both road kill! Cycling into Arusha we hit rush hour which meant that we really needed to concentrate as there were cars and communal taxis everywhere. We were tired, dirty and delighted when we eventually reached our hotel (not a tent).
Day 3. Thursday 22nd October – 106km. Up at 5am again for an early start but at least we had a good night’s sleep in the hotel. This was the furthest day but the bonus was that the roads are all Tarmac and mostly undulating, also we had cloud cover this morning, which made cycling much easier.
We had a planned stop at a school for lunch. This was absolutely magical, we had all brought gifts for the school of various useful items from school pens, pencils, colouring books to football net and footballs, toothbrushes and cuddly toys. They sang to welcome us and we sang back to them “All things bright and beautiful” which went down very well and left us all in tears.
We gave the gifts to the children and they were so delighted with such simple things; I watched a child of about 6 run to her friend to show her that she had been given 3 pencils- the delight on her face was a joy to watch. Some of the women set up the football net and started to play football with the older ones whilst we took photos of the younger ones, who were amazed at our cameras and all wanted to see the photos as soon as we had taken them, such a lovely sight to see these beautiful kids walking around with their football shirts on in all different sizes but they didn’t care, they were proud but not as proud as us… A memory I will always cherish.
After lunch we said a sad farewell to the school and hit the road again, stopping at the local village to spend our shillings on a lovely cold drink and whatever trinkets the locals could persuade us to buy.
After bartering and lots of banter with the locals we all got back on our bikes and headed to second camp of the trip, passing an election rally on the way. The last 6km of the 106km was very hard, the temperature had risen and we were all exhausted by the end and grateful for the day to be over.
That night we had dinner by torchlight and then our support crew surprised us by doing a song and dance for us all, which we promptly joined in with and then crawled, exhausted, to our tents.
Day 4. Friday 23rd October – 84 km
After a night at camp with not much sleep it was a struggle to get up this morning at 5am again, breakfast, warm up and we were ready for the off..
The flat Tarmac road was fine and we passed through quite a few villages with lots of hustle and bustle which made it more interesting. Eventually we turned off the Tarmac road and onto the off road section.
The off road although quite bumpy was fine and quite enjoyable, the scenery became much more lush with lots of vegetation as we entered the plantations at the base of Kilimanjaro with sugar beet fields on one side and cotton fields on the other, we were passed by local men on bikes with loads of freshly picked sugar canes, beautiful scenery mango trees and avocado trees.
We all stopped for lunch at a local farm, all the time being observed by the local villagers all sitting watching us. After lunch we headed for a hill which was short but steep!
At the bottom of the hill as we all came over a bridge where we were met by the schoolchildren from the second school we were stopping at and a fruit stop.
We had saved a bag of goodies for this school too and they were delighted with this, the head teacher told us that the government only provides a certain number of books per year and they have no drinking water. The kids greeted us with singing and a boy was playing a drum of a bucket and stick!
After the school we were back on the bumpy track and then the road turned into a bumpy tractor track. We stopped at a meeting point where we could buy a cold drink and were then taken by bus to our hotel for the next two nights.
Day 5. Saturday 24th October – 44km
Well today was officially the shortest distance but the highest climb and the final day of cycling.
Our bodies were all exhausted from each day’s challenging ride plus the travelling, lack of sleep from camping, and coping with the food, cramping stomachs and dodgy tummies!
We climbed up a 17% gradient through baboons to finally reach our finish line.
When we finally made it we were all euphoric. We celebrated at the finish with fizzy wine and honey, jam or peanut butter sandwiches!
So, the end, and what an adventure! We were supported by a fab crew and saw some amazing things. Between my group alone we raised over £265,000 for the three charities.
Fitness is not about being better than someone else… IT IS ABOUT BEING BETTER THAN YOU USED TO BE.
— Martin King, Personal Trainer