The cry of “bump, bump, bump” and “knees up” are still vivid memories of our bike ride around the base of Mount Kenya. “Bump, bump, bump” was the call along our line of riders as we came across the triple bumps in the road designed to slow motorists, but a hazard to unsuspecting cyclists.
Potholes were an even greater concern. But at least they didn’t move. There were many other hazards along the side of the road that DID move, often right in front of our group. There were cows, goats, donkeys, dogs, even monkeys and camels and that was before the people, or fast motorbikes, trailers, cars and trucks. It made for an entertaining trip – we were never sure what would be around the next corner.
It was a trip full of highs. Some quite literal like the amount of climbing we faced, exceeding 1,200 m on several days. On day 2 in particular we were faced with around 55km of constant steady climbing. It meant we were cycling at an altitude of around 2000-2200m – that’s twice the height of Snowdon, the highest point in England.
Another high was the amazing and varied scenery, from dense forest with waterfalls and colourful toucans, to the lush green of the tea plantations to elephants wading through the swamp of Ol Pejeta safari park and onto dry, arid grasslands.
We met children from the cycling club that we support in the Kibera slums. They joined us with their parents for a supper, where they showed what they’ve learned – repairing a puncture, making a smoothie and even building a bike from component parts.
The parents were supportive in stressing the importance of such practical out of school activities. The students said they had made new and better friends, learnt to share and to work as a team, and no longer had the time to get into “bad company”.
Our group of riders experienced life in the slums, seeing first-hand the grim conditions these students live with day by day.
Elsewhere on the ride, we were often joined by young children running alongside us. Many held out hands to “high-five” the passing cyclists, whilst we would regularly see primary school children out playing, suddenly break off from their games to line the side of the road to shout and cheer the unexpected sight of 13 lycra-clad foreigners.
Our friend and guide, Kinjah, was even asked “what are you doing at the back? You must beat these mzungu” (white foreigners). If he had wanted to race, he’d certainly have beaten us hands down!
Indeed, we were grateful for his professional guidance, knowing the local weather patterns and road conditions meant he was able to adjust our route to avoid unpassable tracks. He offered practical tips, lifting a saddle for a more comfortable position or encouraging us to “pull up” in our clips so we were pedalling more efficiently on the up stroke. At one point we experienced riding in a train (a pace line) with all 13 of us lined up along a long, straight stretch of tarmac. We were instructed only to use our largest cog, so getting up to and staying at top speed. He worked us hard – each doing a stint on the front, before pulling out and slotting in at the back, sheltered from the wind. The group managed a steady 40km an hour on the uphill section, we were amateurs feeling like pros.
Leaving our bikes behind for an afternoon, we had the treat of a game drive in the Ol Pejeta reserve and rhino sanctuary. We saw lion and cheetah, and an array of colourful birds, and the only two remaining Northern White Rhino alive – a rare privilege. Over lunch a herd of elephants came down to the river to drink, just yards across from our tented camp. It wasn’t obvious who was watching who! Elephant or cyclist – who was most curious of the other?
It was an amazing experience shared by 13 of us coming together for the same cause. We came with varied experience, fitness and ability, supporting one another throughout as we climbed, fatigued, burned in the sun, and fell off (but that last bit was mainly me)!
And, through the efforts of this fab 13 and the many, many people who donated, we now have raised an amazing £10,000 to continue and expand cycling clubs in other schools, to provide children with good influences, practical skills and some wider opportunities to support themselves.
Watch this space.