Tag 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:http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/invited/00b0ee2f7acef00d2b7b2e686e5bd9690b8ec534

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

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.

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.

Five falls in one day

Day 71, Stage 55, 120km, Mando day

Start, Bush Camp

Finish, Mangolosi football field

Day 7 of 8 consecutive days and riding and it keeps getting tougher. Today and tomorrow are ‘Mando’ days – that is, mandatory days for the racers (our final time is an adjusted time; we can drop our five slowest days; but we cannot drop our times for Mando days). Mando days are reserved for the toughest days. Great. The next two days could go either way. If it rained hard again they could quite possibly be unmanageable.  If it didn’t rain I possibly had a chance.

The night before the clouds had been ominous but not definite. But we were lucky. It hadn’t rained. I set off early so that if it did rain I would have done as many kilometres as possible. The first 20km were on sand and took a lot out of my legs. We then hit a rocky and muddy track. About 55 km in with still 4 km to go to lunch I can to a 40 metre patch of mud covered with tree branches to give traction to trucks. I tried to power over the branches. Some were quite big and they were spaced 6” – 12” apart. Needless to say, the branches won. I lost. I came off. Cuts and bruises. Covered in thick clay mud. Nothing serious. But a clear lack of good judgment. I was tired. Italo came up just behind me and wisely got off his bike. He stayed a little cleaner. The wisdom of age. He is 63.

I hobbled into camp and went into the medical truck to get cleaned and patched up.

I headed back out on the road and kept the pedals moving. There were lots of hills today – we climbed over 1100 metres. There was lots more sand and lots of sharp rocks the size of cricket balls to bowling balls. I came off my bike four more times after lunch. I was clearly tired and not concentrating well. Three times I came off in the sand. On portions of the road there were compacted ruts in the sand that you could cycle on but 6” deep sand in the median and on the verges. I got me front wheel caught in the median once and the verge twice – soft landings in soft sand. Then towards the end of the ride we cam across some road construction. Fresh wet dirt (i.e. mud) full of rocks and about 8” deep had been dumped on about a kilometer and a half of road. A grader had started to push this muck around. If you followed the tire tracks of the grader you could get through it. About halfway through I could see a motorcycle coming along the same track I was using. It was a face off. He didn’t leave the track. I couldn’t leave the track. We slowed. Neither of us diverted. We stopped about a foot apart, wheel to wheel. I hadn’t unclipped, convinced to the end that he would divert and let me pass. He didn’t I fell over. It hurt. I believe I may have cursed.

The trucks were having a bad day on the mud again and weren’t at camp when I arrived. So I cycled a little further into the village of Mangolosi and found a place that served cold beer. I was a mess. I had come off my bike five times – none seriously – but all was forgiven with one taste of cold beer. It is amazing what will mollify a non-functioning mind.

Head down

Day 70, Stage 54, 129km

Start, Game Post 2

Finish, Bush Camp

Today was just long and tough. Still wet and muddy. The middle day of 5 off road days. It was just a head down day. A grinding day.

This was the kind of day when the mind works over time. It knows it is going to be a long day. It tries to divert itself in any way possible to stop dwelling on the sheer pain and discomfort. I have six or seven different calculations going on in my head at all times.  Kilometre 13 means I have done 10% of the ride. Every 6.5 km is another 5%. It took me 33 minutes to do the first 10km. at that rate it will take me 429 minutes or 7 hours and 9 minutes to get to the finish – add a half hour for lunch and 20 minutes for two coke stops and I will take about 8 hours to get there. I left at 7:10am so I should be in by 3:09pm. Can I get in before 3pm? 33 minutes for 10km equals 18 kmph. Can I keep that up in this much or will it drop? What is my timing if I start to average 35 minutes per 10km – or 40 minutes? And on its goes. The mind will do anything to avoid acknowledging that the terrain is dreadful, the conditions are miserable, and I’m not having bundles of fun. The mind does this to keep me moving forward. If a crack appears I start another calculation. Keep the mind busy. Divert it. Keep pedaling.

The crack got wider when I started to near the 125km mark. Because at the rider briefing the day before we had been told that today’s ride was 125km. All bets are off when the advertised kilometrage is not right. You set you mind up for certain goals – goals that help maintain the balance between hope and despair. When the goal posts shift the balance shifts and the mind cracks open a bit further.  That happened today. I kept looking for the finish flag and not seeing it. At 128 I finally saw it in the distance. The crack began to close. I raced down the hill. The flag was at the top of the next rise. But at the bottom of the hill was a 30 metre patch of deep sand. I saw it but didn’t properly gauge how deep it was. I tried to power through but got stuck 5 metres from the end and had to unclip and get off my bike. The crack widened. I cycled slowly to the top of the hill and the finish flag. I had finished another day and I was thoroughly grumpy.

But the sun had come out and I could at least dry my tent.