For many of us on the tour, the Masaii Steppe section turned out to be our favorite so far. Despite experiencing some of our first rainy days, the amazing scenery, fantastic riding and welcoming people of Tanzania far outweighed packing away a wet tent several mornings. TdA decided to try a new route this year, avoiding the busy main road down to Mbeya and instead going for the unpaved back roads. Definitely the right choice!
We set out from Arusha after a much-needed three day rest, full of new energy and excitement to get back on the road. We had a long stretch ahead of us – 8 days straight, with some tough off-road days, and limited chances for bathing until we reached our endpoint, in Mbeya. Our first day was an enjoyable paved ride of about 130km, rolling hills and intermittent rain kept it interesting, and in the evening we were entertained by a local soccer match at the campsite.. we literally had to move our bike shop out of the way to make room. The second day brought 30 km of paved road, followed by many more of dirt, mud and puddles. I loved it!! As soon as I hit the dirt my pace picked up and the smiel on my face grew.. I literally jumped off the end of the pavement into a huge mud puddle where the dirt began. At one point a local man raced me down a big hill and past several villages, with people cheering him on from the sidelines. It’s amazing how fast he could go on a single speed through all that mud! Somehow I made it back to camp as the first woman on tour, and was happy to see that camp was at a hotel that night and that Kendra had already booked us a room.. it starting pouring soon after we got in and we actually had a warm shower to wash off all the mud!
Day 3 was a mix of paved, gravel, dirt and mud, followed by the last 30km of pavement. At one point I got completely stuck in thick red mud.. my bike wouldn’t move anymore and I could barely lift it since the mud was so caked on! I definitely was carrying a few more pounds from that point on.. With 30 km to go we arrived into a small town where I enjoyed a chai and donut with 3 co-riders and then I went on a mission to get my bike washed with James (who attends Evergreen in Olympia, Washington). We found a gas station where they washed our bikes by hand for a few dollars.. how beautiful my bike looked all shiny and clean!! Back at camp a storm rolled in and it downpoured much of the night.. lucky for us it cleared right at 5am when everyone started to emerge from their tents.
Day 4 gave us pavement till lunch and smooth dirt into camp at a game reserve station. I stopped in to a woman’t little house in the morning along with Liam and Bastian for a thermos of chai and freshly made chipatis! Absolutely delicious! At camp we were greeted with a chance for a bucket shower.. I didn’t hesitate!
Days 5 – 7 of the section provided kilometers of incredibly fast and fun dirt, sand and mud. I hooked onto a fantastic group of fun riders who pulled me along at a much faster speed than I could have imagined doing on my own.. I didn’t even notice the pain as we sang out loud, laughed as we fishtailed through all the deep sand, and screamed down the hills. Absolutely some of the most enjoyable days on the bike! By Day 7 I was exhausted from keeping up a killer pace and I took it a little easier.. pedaling at a relaxed pace and taking in the beauty of the red roads and lush green hills. Kendra and I even managed to take a bath in a local stream.. it felt wonderful after so many dirty days!
Day 8 was the final day of riding into Mbeya, but we had to earn the rest da ahead. The second half of the day included a 40km climb of 2000 meters! After all the dirt my bike was stuck in the big ring (which means I couldn’t shift down to my “granny gear”) so I had to pedal up to 2800 meters by standing up much of the way. I figure it could only make me stronger, right? The climb was absolutely worth it.. the views from the top were amazing, rolling grassy hills and patchwork of agriculture in the valleys below. Tanzania is beautiful! The 8 days of riding finished with a nail biting ride down a step, windy, lava-rock type road with loose gravel and plenty of ditches to avoid. It was so scary some riders ended up walking down. . how wonderful the last few kilometers of pavement felt as we rolled into Mbeya, it was like heaven.
It was a tough, exhausting, dirty, wet week pedaling through the backroads of Tanzania and I loved it!! I can’t wait for Kendra to get back on the bike as we head out of Mbeya.. she’s been missed out on the road!