Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rift Valley Odyssey - Day Three

Huzzah - I slept reasonably well & managed to have the appetite for a reasonable, but not too large, breakfast before another seven o'clock start.  With those things combining & a relatively short stage (only 77 kilometres, but with half the climbing of each of the other two days) it was a bit of a cruise for me.  We started out on the road going west in the same way as Day Two - but kept going west instead of turning south into the big hills.  The gentle climbing started at about the ten kilometre mark & it was only a shade under four hundred metres up over twenty-five kilometres - very civilized compared with the previous two days.
Sporting a new Combe Raiders shirt at camp.

Stage starts weren't the most formal of affairs.
There was a great little descent before the first feed station and then the long gradual climb through a large wheat farm started in earnest through an awful lot of mud.  Cloudy again, the views afar weren't fantastic - but the acacia trees in the wheat fields were pretty nice against the dark sky.  With the fast descent off the hills of wheat done, there was a cool bit through a canyon where we had been told the night before to not necessarily follow the trail on our GPS (the whole race was navigated by GPS - there were no signs or so on), but just make it to the bottom in whichever way we thought best.  This was great fun as I cleared some nice technical drops and then bashed through some trees before it opened up & got fast.

The last part of the day before the road ride back to camp was through another conservancy - the usual suspects were all out: zebra, various antelope, monkeys, giraffes.  Also we managed to startle a herd of wild buffalo - I wasn't quick enough to get a photos of these huge guys, & we were rather glad they didn't hang around.  The day's ride was over much too soon at 12.30 - I felt I could go around again, but some of the team weren't so keen as we all suffered some degree of soreness from saddles.  With a welcome back by the rest of the team's wives & children we settled in for some well earned pizzas.

Not too shabby considering I was riding when I took this.
Pretty happy to have that finisher's medal around my ncek.
So that was my RVO experience - a great time (vomiting aside) and one which I was adequately prepared for as my legs didn't exactly suffer.  My knees ached a little at the end of the first day and the beginning of the second, but considering all the climbing were pretty well behaved.  The weather was mostly great for riding (the exception being the downpour at the end of Day Two) - pretty cloudy, not too hot, no huge winds to battle; unfortunately this meant that the panoramic photos are not great - but as I've already been to Kenya & seen plenty of wildlife, taking photos wasn't really a priority of the trip.  Well pleased with the event & how I survived it.

Rift Valley Odyssey - Day Two

Considering the big day previous, the night's sleep was once again quite broken.  But up anyway at 5.45 for breakfast, some bike tinkering and a seven o'clock start on the second day of the RVO.  The day started off pretty flat as we took the road around the lake for about fifteen kilometres before turning left and the climbing started in earnest.  There was the odd flat section & short downhill respite, but generally it was solid climbing - over 700 m to 2700 m in about seventeen kilometres.  It was all ridable apart from one short section near the top that was too steep & technical.  But it sure was hard work with the sun beating down.  AD seemed to find some legs from somewhere and rode like a champion.

The feed station at 2700 m was welcome and we rested there a little.  The food was perhaps a little too good as it would seemed I ate too much as something very odd happened as we started down the monster downhill that we had very much earned.  It may have also been a very common reaction to the anti-malarial tablets I had been taking - but as the descent opened up & I bumped around a bit more, I started to feel decidedly nauseous and queasy.

For the first time in more years than I can remember, I was vomiting; once that was over we set off again.  Not to last long however, as as I waited for Bobby (he was a little hesitant of excessive speed - not surprising as the mechanics could do nothing for his air bubble-ridden rear brakes overnight) I had another good effort at reintroducing my food to daylight again.  As we had over 760 m to drop in sixteen kilometres, I was at this stage beginning to wonder how I was going to get down such a fantastic downhill (i.e. quite bumpy & fun) when I couldn't hold my stomach down.  But a combination of not having much left in my stomach, taking smoother lines & taking it easy waiting for Bobby (Sean & AD blasted on ahead in my hour of need, the cheek) and determination saw me to the bottom of the rather fantastic downhill no more the worse for wear.

It was still pretty warm & the lack of food intake (what energy I had consumed was mostly no longer with me either) made any climbs a little more challenging than they would have otherwise been.  At the final feed station I managed a couple of slices of apple and a gel - enough it turned out to get me through the last fifty kilometres of what turned out to be one of the tougher days on the bike I can remember (not due to the terrain, due to the food issue).  Most of the rest of the way was fairly easy valley floor through Hells Gate on gravel road, but there was one nasty shock at the end - a steep 250 m climb to overlook the lake beside which we were camped.  After all of the rest of the day, it was pretty unrelenting - but we had to make it to the top as big storm clouds were rolling in.

Just as we did make it to the top, the storm broke and what would have been a fairly difficult start to the downhill (very deep & loose gravel) just became more unpleasant as we got absolutely soaked dropping 330 m to the road.  It was fun enough after a kilometre or so, and then all the rain turned the hillside in to a myriad of streams that we followed down.  As we neared the field at the bottom all those streams had combined into an instant raging torrent that we had to cross - as the motorbikes were behind us, we let them go first to gauge the strength & depth of it.  It definitely wasn't ridable, but it looked OK to walk.  An incredibly strong current didn't quite wash us over a newly formed waterfall, but did soak us to above our knees and completely fill our socks & shoes with stones & silt.  After stopping briefly to reinflate Bobby's rear tyre (his tubeless worked as it should on the climb) we made it back to camp, food (of which I forced myself to eat a vegetarian pizza) and warm-enough showers before the heavens opened again.

With the stomach issues and that nasty last climb, this was definitely the hardest of the three days for me - as much climbing as the first day, but in twenty or so less kilometres distance and noticeably warmer.  For the first time in days, I slept rather well (considering I was camping) that night.

Rift Valley Odyssey - Day One

Something to do with the anticipation of a big event I'd been waiting months for meant once again I hardly slept.  We all made it to the eight o'clock start - although it was touch & go for Bobby (the fourth of our group), with his real wheel only coming back from the mechanics minutes beforehand.

Bobby, AD & Sean sporting their Boys on Bikes for Babies shirts, me representing the Combe Raiders
For some reason, faffing most likely, we rolled out of Brackenhurst (on the same start course as the prologue) near the rear of the field.  Annoyingly, my rear tyre had another tubeless issue of not sealing a puncture two kilometres in - something similar happened only a month ago on Dartmoor.  We tried pumping it up, but after two stops to do that AD & I let Bobby & Sean ride ahead while we quickly fitted a tube.  When I return to the UK I must sort out my rim/tyre combination for tubeless - what I'm running now clearly isn't working as the tyre is too loose on the rim.

As we had to get to a certain park gate by eleven o'clock and with fifteen minutes lost to three tyre stops we had to pick the pace up a bit.  That part of the park required a motocross escort leading groups of riders through due to elephant activity (we saw none, just had to avoid many large droppings).   Our pushing the pace as we steadily climbed to 2400 m continued for about half to an hour, until I worked out that we should make the cut-off comfortably.  AD was pretty exhausted by the end of the day, which I may well have had something to do with.

Another rickety bridge crossing - not quite the Bridge of Death.
Getting to the first feed station and park gate with ten minutes to spare we relaxed and refuelled while the last of those to make the cut-off ambled in down the road.  It would seem that Bobby & Sean had carried on through the park in the previous group without us.  There was a misleading downhill before the climbing for the day started proper - the sun came out & it was pretty hot as we climbed 350 m up to over 2700 m overlooking the Great Rift Valley.  By now we'd reunited our little group at the second feed station; higher up things cooled a little as we got into more cloud - but that did rather spoil the view, just as well I knew what the valley looks like from the last visit.

With a fair bit of ridge-riding above the valley through little villages, we eventually plunged down on a gravel road with the race organiser's warnings of fast uphill motorcycle taxis ringing in our ears.  Inexplicably an air bubble in Bobby's rear brakes manifested itself approaching one tight corner (he lost all rear brakes) & he completely wiped out - thankfully the only real damage being a rather cracked helmet.  A new section for the race this year was Dead Drop, which started off with an all too brief rocky downhill before turning right and following the top of a canyon down to the Lunatic Express railway line - it was OK, but I found it didn't flow well.

What followed was the toughest climb of the day, the first section was steep and very technical - I rode most of the first half & then found I had to dab every so often before the trail started traversing the hill rather than going straight up it. We climbed & climbed & finally it was time to go down the Lunatic Express downhill - easily the best of the day down a huge open hill to the valley floor. We hit the valley floor eventually and followed the rails to the final feed stop of the day.

With only twenty-five kilometres across the valley floor (with the odd climb & down), we set off - I hung back with AD trying to motivate his wary legs with the draw of a rather yummy (as far as gels go) rhubarb & custard gel. Just as we approached camp we finally started to see some wildlife in Hells Gate National Park (it has geothermal activity, just like Hells Gate in NZ) - giraffes, various antelope, baboons and so on. With an excellent little downhill strewn with babyhead rocks to finish we were at camp. I was pleased with how I survived an almost ten-hour ride (total time), 100 km & with over 2000 metres of climbing. However, I didn't realise how tired I was until I sat down & tried to eat a pizza - pretty exhausted. Strangely, I couldn't really eat all that much or even finish a well-earned beer - I wasn't expecting that.

RVO acclimatisation

For over a year, Adrian had been trying to convince me to come back to Kenya to ride the Rift Valley Odyssey - a three-day 250 km stage race down into the Great Rift Valley, across the bottom & up the other side & back to camp.  He and a couple of mates rode it last year - which I was quite impressed by as they seemed to start mountain-biking just to do so.  As since my last visit AD & Carm have got married & had a couple of kids, the 2013 RVO seemed like as good a reason as any to come back & visit - plus it gave motivation to all the riding I've been doing over summer 2013.

As it transpired, the timing didn't work out all that well as two weeks before the event AD & Carm moved south of the border to Arusha, Tanzania.  So when I flew into Kenya I had a day or so staying at Brackenhurst (a large bible college complex just north west of Nairobi that serves also as the Kenyan base for AD's company, until recently their home & also the start of the RVO) resting from the travelling, assembling my bike, getting my lungs slightly used to the 2200 metres of altitude before AD & Carm turned up.  I also manage to slip in the shower/bath & bruise/crack a rib that was to trouble me for the next week or so - lack of adhesive ducks.

It's nice turning up in an expat community where everyone is really friendly & very well travelled - my first trip overseas in five months, it's cool to hear of new places to go & see.  AD, Sean (also riding the RVO with us) & I managed a nice little very early Tuesday morning ride around the local teafields - with over 400 m of climbing in less than 15 km, it was bit more than I was used to around the flatlands of home & it gave my sea-level lungs a bit of a workout.  Later that day I managed a second ride with another guy, Dave, a bit further afield (30 km in total) to a couple of waterfalls & through more teafields.  My lungs were slowly getting used to the thinner air - but it was still worth resting Wednesday.

Most of the international entrants in the RVO turned up Wednesday evening & there was a social prologue ride on Thursday to help with the high altitude.  I had a miserable night's sleep previously & with all the rain I heard while lying awake I had decided to give the prologue a miss as I was in a foul mood & thought I'd just end up slipping to a big crash - not much use before a three-day event; also all my teammates had wimped out citing being too busy at work.  But a bit of light broke through the clouds at just the right time twenty minutes before the start - so I hurriedly got ready & rolled out with everyone else.

It was time on the bike off-road so predictably I quite enjoyed myself - even if the almost 50 km & 1200 m+ of climbing was probably a bit more than was sensible before the upcoming three days.  A nice big lunch in quite a colonial setting was enjoyed by all.  That evening we were around at Sean & Tesni's (Tesni runs the baby orphanage that the other guys were riding for - they ended up raising $US10K!) tweaking bikes for eight o'clock start.  Thankfully I managed to cure the horrendous creak from AD's bottom bracket - I'm pretty sure I would have had to rip my ears off if I had to ride next to that for even half of the 250 km.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hound Tor return - in the sun

John kindly proposing a big Combe Raiders ride was enough to get me to Somerset for what was otherwise a free weekend - I still need to get longer rides under the belt before the end of the month, while looking after my knees. With just three of us signed up for whatever ride it was going to be, it was going to be faster (fewer stops) than other CR rides.  With an all day pass from home, John was keen to head back to Dartmoor and ride a route I led eight of us on back in March - last time the weather was atrocious, so I could see some of the point in going back in nice weather at the tail end of summer.

After dropping into the bottom of the valley, there's a big climb to get the legs & blood pumping.  It wasn't long before I was wondering how I survived on a singlespeed last time - the larger group & cooler weather probably helped.  Dartmoor has a bit of a reputation for quickly turning into desolate isolation if the weather turns, so it was odd to see it on such a lovely day.  Oddly, within an hour of each other two of the three of us riding tubeless tyres got punctures that didn't seal - I put a tube in, John just kept pumping his tyre up rather often.

We had to ride through a herd of these guys, thankfully they didn't object.

We eventually arrived at Hound Tor, which is a much bigger & impressive pile of rocks than the photos below show.  The Hound of the Basket Meals food van was back in the car park - this time we had more than tea.  One cheeseburger just served to remind me that I was actually hungry - so much to the others' later envy, I had a second.

John & Hound Tor - after we escaped from the man running after an escaped kite
Before long we were back at the van & with John phoning home to see if we might have another hour or so out & getting an affirmative - we tacked on a bit more trail that I'd loaded on to my GPS.  With a fair bit more climbing, a nice flowing bit of woodland trail and then an unexpectedly long hike-a-bike to more good views - this was the highlight of the day's riding for me.
Just nice countryside.