Category Archives: Tanzania

Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books


Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books.

On January 11, 2013, exactly 1 year ago today, the 2013 Tour d’Afrique began in Cairo.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Laura surprised me by giving me a book for Christmas that compiles all of my blogs from the ride plus a collection of photos she gathered from other riders.

It looks great and brings back many good memories.

You can have a look at it and order it you wish by going to:

Yesterday the 2014 Tour d’Afrique riders left from Khartoum. I hope they enjoy their ride as much as the 2013 crew did.

World Sickle Cell Day, June 19, 2013


Coda to TdA – Kili2Coast

The guys I cycle with in the mornings in Dar are doing an off-road ride from Mt Kilimanjaro to the Indian Ocean the first week of September. I couldn’t let them go alone so I have decided to join them. The ride looks like this:

  Distance Ascent
Day 1 135km 890m
Day 2 132km 3,684m
Day 3 91km 1,351m
Day 4 135km 2,270m
Day 5 79km 570m
Total 572km 8,765m

Day 2 will definitely test us. That’s a lot of climbing.

I won’t take the Croix de Fer on this ride. I have arranged to borrow a full suspension mountain bike.

Leaving Tanzania Again

Tanzania offered us some of the most difficult riding and some of the most spectacular scenery. Although I live in Tanzania I had never travelled through this middle belt. I think the part of the country I liked best was the highlands between Mbeya and the Malawi border. The tea and banana plantations were stunning. The people have been friendly and welcoming as they are all over Tanzania. Most riders on the Tour feel more relaxed and comfortable here than in other countries we have cycled through. The one anomaly is that we have suffered more thefts here than elsewhere. We have lost a toilet tent, bicycles, computers and phones, cycling shoes, bags full of underwear and clothes. Something seems to have gone missing from every camp in Tanzania. I suppose that the circus we are is too big, shiny and tempting.


The bike has taken a pounding but keeps on ticking. The total brake failure in the mud and rain was the low point. The pads of my Avid BB7 disk brakes simply disintegrated in the grit and wet. Admittedly they already had about 7000km on them. But I had checked them the morning they failed and they seemed fine. After arriving in Mbeya I had the bike services. The headset needed adjusting again; front and rear gears were slipping and needed fixing (I perhaps should have replaced cables and cable casing at this time but didn’t); the brakes were adjusted once again. But the frame continues to be comfortable, no minor aches or pains.  The new seat is not as comfortable as the old one – but it hasn’t broken. I am on my third chain. But the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires continue to impress. Still no flats. Knock on wood.


The body is remarkably happy. The 6 kilos I have lost and the redistribution of muscle feel good. The challenge will be to maintain this level of fitness when I am not burning 6000 calories a day. The Ulnar nerve is still a bit of a problem. I do not yet have full strength in my right hand. I assume it will take a couple of months after the Tour finishes for this to happen. I have managed to stay illness-free. I have come off my bike on the off-road stages several times (I lack the technical skills) but sustained no more than minor scrapes and bruises (unlike others who have been less fortunate – a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder, a broken collar bone, a broken pelvis, three broken ribs, a broken tooth, stitches etc.).  The five consecutive days off road in Tanzania have hurt my butt a bit, no broken skin or boils, but tenderness and some red from chafing. So far so good, but a long way to go.


Two things have given me a big boost in the last couple of weeks. I went home during our three-day rest in Arusha and saw Liz and the girls; and Bob arrived totally unexpectedly in Mbeya a week later. I am also still EFI after some very tough riding. So I am on a bit of a high. On the other hand, this morning at breakfast, for the very first time, I realized that the Tour was going to end. So I have now just started to add feelings of ‘ending’ into the strange psychological mix that this Tour is. I guess this means that I will start thinking about what comes next – which I have avoided so far. It will be interesting to see how this affects my mood from day to day while I am slogging away up the next 40km hill.

Bob’s 1st day

Day 74, stage 57, 162km

Start, Mbeya, Mbeya Hotel

Finish, Karonga Malawi, Summit Annex Guest House

It was in at the deep end – a century (100 miles) with about 1500metres of climb – pretty tough for a first day, jet lagged and a longest previous ride of just over 100km. We also had a border to cross.

The day into Mbeya had been a tough climb over the mountains. But once over the mountains we had made a magnificent descent into the Rift Valley. Leaving Mbeya for Malawi meant climbing back out the other side of the Rift Valley. From the hotel we climbed for about 30km and then had a fast bobsled ride down the other side for about another 30km. I thought it would then be down hill all the way to Lake Milawi. But it wasn’t. We slogged up another 12 or 14 km through a secondary range of mountains before we started down again. We stopped for lunch at just over 80 km. Bob had gone out strong and arrived at the lunch stop about an hour before I did. I had simply maintained my normal pace and had not tried to keep up. Bob even beat the racers into lunch. He waited for me and we set of together after lunch.

The border was another 35km away. We cycled at a decent pace and arrived in good time. We decided to stop at a roadside bar for a cold coke a coupe of hundred metres before the border post. Some money changer sat down with us and tried to get us to change some money. We haggled for a bit but then decided not to do it. By this time Bridget has shown up and joined us. She got into negotiations with the money change and agreed a deal. After money had changed hands – Bridget had her Kwacha, the money changer had his $150 – the wheels started to come off. The guy said he now didn’t want to do the deal. He would lose money at the rate he had agreed. So in the end in frustration Bridget decided to call it off, gave the guy his money back and got hers back. At the border crossing we stopped at a more legitimate bureau de change. The rates were much lower but it seemed a saner place to do business. The guy looked at the $100 bill Bridget gave him and refused to change it. It was counterfeit. They guy in the bar down the road had done a switch – very smooth, very slick. Perfect psychology. Lesson learned. I tried to give Bridget $100 because I felt guilty for having introduced her to the guy in the bar. She wouldn’t take it. But in the end she took $50.

It was another 45km or more from the border crossing to Karonga and out camp for the night. My legs were accustomed to these distances and I felt strong. Understandably, Bob was beginning to tire a bit. So I went off and he followed on a more relaxed pace. I have found that pacing yourself and making sure you always have some energy in reserve is important. Bob had gone out fast I the morning and paid for it a bit after the border. But as a hockey player I could see that his performance ethos had nothing to do with geriatric pacing (as mine did) his was all about jump over the boards, sprint like a mad dog for two minute, go back to the bench with lungs heaving for air and then repeating the whole thing.

The camp turned out to have rooms so I got one. For about $20 we had a chalet with lounge, twin beds and bathroom (only cold shower – it’s not all caviar and blintzes) . Not bad. We were glad for it too because it rained heavily in the night and we didn’t have to pack up wet tens in the morning.

Rest day?

Day 73, rest day, Mbeya, Mbeya Hotel

Bob was staying at the more upscale Hilltop Hotel a coupe of hundred metres up the hill from the Mebeya Hotel. I said I would meet him around 7 for breakfast but was up around 5:30 so did my laundry and got sorted for the day. As usual, a ‘rest day’ is a rest day in name only – especially after 8 consecutive grueling days on the road. In addition to the bags full of laundry I had the bike to look after and more than a week of blogs posts to catch up on.

We had the full English breakfast up at the Hilltop with real bacon. A treat. Bob went off to be briefed by the TdA staff and try to get a locker in the bog truck while I went back to the bungalow and started to catch up on the blog. Bob was luckier than I was. Hubert’s locker in the big truck came free because he had had to fly home (broken pelvis and three broken ribs). Although I don’t know if you can sat it was lucky to take over a locker under those circumstances. I caught up on my blog but could not get internet access. The dongle that I had put 25,000 shillings of credit onto still did not work. The wifi at the hotel did not work. Apparently the fibre optic cable that brings the world wide web to East Africa was severed somewhere in Egypt and as a result Mbeya had had no internet for three days. Those riders who connected to the internet through 3G on their cell phones could get access. But I needed to upload text from word files, which couldn’t be done on a cell phone. Stuffed again. Around 3:30 I started on my bike. What a mess. Finally finished about 5:00 and could go off for a bear. Bob had spent the time meeting people, sorting his gear and his locker, and making sure his bike was set and ready to go. We were good to go.

I ordered a sausage pizza in the hotel restaurant and after waiting for about an hour got a pizza about the span of a hand with a few slices of hotdog on it. What a treat. So to address my calorie deficiency I ordered a big ice cream sundae.  After replacing the order four times and waiting another hour I finally had a bowl of vanilla ice cream. I felt like David Copperfield going to bed hungry. With over 70 riders and a dozen staff the Tour often puts strain on local services. Hotel rooms don’t get cleaned. Water runs out. Wifi works at tortoise speed. And restaurants go into spasms of chaos.

We went to bed shortly after we finished dinner. Tomorrow would be long.

Big climb, big surprise

Day 72, Stage 56, 111km, Mando day

Start, Mangolosi football field

Finish, Mbeya, Mbeya Hotel

Today was a real tester. Mando day # 2 in a row. Nasty rocky roads. And 2100 metres of climb to the highest point on any trunk road in Tanzania at 2961 metres. A head down grinding day with lots of useless simultaneous calculation to keep the mind diverted.

The first 55km into lunch were tough but manageable. From lunch we had 38km of continuous climb to the summit at 2961 metres before descending into Mbeya and a much anticipated rest day. Oddly enough, I almost enjoyed the climb. We were in the hills overlooking the rift valley and the views were absolutely stunning. It was nothing short of spectacular. It was a little like watching a spectacle from a torture chamber but somehow the spectacle won. I reached the summit with half a dozen others. Pictures were taken. Tessa danced.

And then the descent. It was the worst road we had experienced yet. A descent of 19km on sharp rocks in deeply rutted clay. I was on my feet with brakes squeezed the whole time. It was harder than the ascent in some ways. I was very happy to reach the finish line sometime after 4pm. It had been my longest day on the bike on tour so far at something over 9 hours. I checked into the hotel and went for a beer and some food before I even got out of my dirty cycling clothes or had a shower. But I did make it to the shower and into clean clothes before dinner.

I had just sat down in the hotel dining room with half a dozen other people when somebody from across the room shouted ‘Alan!’ I looked towards the voice and did a double take. It was my brother Bob. What the hell was he doing here? To make a long story short, he had been planning to join me since last August but had kept it a complete secret. I hadn’t a clue. This was quite remarkable given that I have 9 and 11 year old daughters who were in on the secret. It was amazing. A great meeting worthy of Stanley and Livingston – and not too far from that famous meeting.

A brilliant end to a very challenging 8 days of riding. I was still EFI. And Bob would be riding with us until Windhoek.