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Losting around Lake Turkana – Eastern shore from Ileret south (Part 2)

I wake up in my tent to birds chirping. I open the zip to soak in the views towards Lake Turkana from the hilltop at the Catholic Mission. It’s taking my breath. Time stands still in this place. It’s as if the soul synchronizes with the ancestors who strolled around this place a million years ago. It’s equally peaceful and volatile. So much water, yet none to drink. No rains for the last 11 months.

Good morning over Ileret

Part of me longs to stay for a week and get lost here. But the toughest riding through Marsabit is still ahead. I snap back into reality. This is not a solo ride after all.

Djo waves his Good Morning from near his bike. Wow. We rode 1,000 beautiful and eventful kilometres spread over 6 hot and long days from Nairobi towards the Ethiopian border through Pokot and Turkana. We missed exploring the Ilemi triangle but arrived safely on the Marsabit side via boat last evening – our phones on Ethiopian network on arrival. 

An incredible adventure. If you missed part 1 of this story, here’s the link. And now that you’re here, read Djo’s account of this trip, too! (It has amaaaazing photography 🤯 )

We take a recovery and exploration day in Ileret before starting the journey southwards back to Nairobi.

Day 7 – Tourism Day in Ileret

Have you looked for Ileret on the map already?

Let me tell you something. 

THIS PLACE IS REMOTE!!! It’s constantly drought struck. The majority of people around here live a nomadic lifestyle and culture. Nothing grows here that most of us would call a plant. Cattle really matter and livestock conflict occurs from time to time. Three days before our arrival the area made headlines on national TV with thousands of livestock dead from drought. Google Maps will not show you a road here. Even using satellite view you will not find one easily.  

Wakili and I have spent hours discussing riding to this place. I have met Father Florian, a German priest and Benedictine monk who has been up here since 2002, to learn about the mission’s work. After coming to Ileret, I agree with his words “To support the people of Ileret, you have to come here and live with them”. He’s not a fan of one-off charity.

The Turkana Basin Institute has an office here and one of their employees approached us at Women Bikers’ Association-K some time ago to arrange a girls mentorship initiative in Ileret for lady bikers. She’s been a friend of WBA since then and I was thrilled that I made it to Ileret and might see their community engagement work. Sadly, Richard Leakey and a senior TBI leader just passed on recently; and so she wasn’t around Ileret, but she took care of us via whatsapp and arranged our visit to TBI.

We are happy to not touch the bikes for a day, and get a lift in the mission’s car. 

4 wheels at last!

After a warm welcome by the TBI team, we get a tour of a GIZ funded hydroponics project. Skuma wiki and tomatoes in this dry and hot desert! Listening to the agronomist in charge, it sounds like research. He’s very experienced in hydroponic farming (a horticulture technique that grows plants in a nutritious solution instead of soil, and minimises water use) in other parts of Kenya, but mentions that here he started from zero, as the day’s heat and night’s cold interfere with minerals and pH value, thus the entire planting system.

Greens in the desert

The project aims to test out and establish hydroponic farming in this geography while training and engaging the local population to set up green houses and hydroponic systems near their homes in collectives. A whole water desalination machine is part of the project and water will be pumped around the place widely, because the half a dozen wells that were drilled all came out salty.

We’ve heard of so many failed agriculture projects on this trip that I’m thinking of coming back later this year to check on the progress 😉 Here’s a link to read more: https://www.turkanabasin.org/2020/09/hydroponic-gardening-at-tbi/

The main work of TBI of course is in paleontology, archeology and geology (yeah!). We are very lucky to have the Assistant Curator take his time to run us through the archaeological process and we get to see some fossils upclose.

We’re not allowed to take pictures, so you can either ride up there to see it for yourself or work with my descriptions 😀

First we start in the arrival room, where the fossils arrive from the field. They are covered in plasters that protect them on the bumpy truck journey. The items we see in this room are 1.5m to 4m years old. To estimate the age, geologists join the effort and take soil samples near where the fossil was found.

Then the fossil has to be cleaned up carefully, which could take 6 years for an elephant for example.

We see huuuuge elephant tusks and a massive crocodile head. They are at least three times size of these animals today. It’s astonishing. We’re told that the area was a huuuge forest in the past, very green with nutritious food, meaning the animals were healthier and larger than today.

Standing next to a 2 million year old elephant skull makes me feel that we humans really are just a passing drop in the ocean. I feel so furious that for the last 150 years humans have felt entitled to hunt them down to near extinction.

Next we walk over to the collection room. There is a huge documentation effort going into this: A field number is assigned, documentation of where it was found, photos, soil samples, etc. There are currently 27,000 fossils in the collection which is under the National Museum of Kenya. It’s all extremely fascinating, but what sticks most with me is the patience and dedication needed in this field of work. 

More interesting info in the probably remotest place you can think of placing it. Why can’t the “museum” at Nariokotome pick a leaf?

We chill at the mission most of the afternoon enjoying the views.

Look at those thorns, then choose the right footwear for your trip :-S

In the evening we look for fuel to make sure we hit the wilderness awaiting us with full tanks. We get fuel in bottles at 200 bob. We’re later told it’s Ethiopian fuel which is said to have lower quality. We shall find out, won’t we?

The most incredible sunset overlooking the Lake

Around sunset I spot a scorpion just outside my tent. I know NOTHING about scorpions, and I’m told they attack easily and are poisonous but not deadly. To imagine that last night I went to pee a few times in my slippers 😱

No, there is no picture of the scorpion. Just google it, it was one of the orange East African species.

Day 8 – Ileret to Koobi Fora

In the morning, Djo finds another scorpion under his tent. We pack up carefully and say goodbye to everyone at the mission, then pass TBI for a photo.  

Probably the only joint photo of me and Djo on this trip.

Today’s a short but sandy day. Around 60 or 70km to the Koobi Fora base camp, partly through Sibiloi National Park. The road from Ileret to Loiyangalani is not on Google Maps, and because satellite view doesn’t work without internet, I had traced it on satellite view and pinned it down with a million stars. Talking of needing some certainty. 

Helpful public health information

After a quick 10km on sand roads and a warm-up bike drop, the road changes to pebbly tire tracks. The rest day pays off and I am finally getting faster at this. So fast that I miss the turn to Sibiloi. At some point I feel as if we’re going in the wrong direction. Maps and Maps.me both confirm that we have to backtrack 3 or 4km. 

Beautiful bathrooms up there

We find the sign to enter Sibiloi National Park, which to our defence is slightly hidden. The rest of this day is best told in photos. 

Enjoy!

The road is basically a combination of sand and stones in varying ratios
Sometimes more pebbles
Sometimes more sand
Photo session lazima
Acrobatics: Sand riding while dodging thorns and twigs
These park markers are the only reminder that you’re still under KWS care
Meet the Queen of Sibiloi National Park! No. Not the Tenere.
Arrival at the airstrip cum water dam
We find a cool lunch spot with a view!
After lunch: More of the same
A bit of mud
Some stones for a change
Note: When sliding on sand, sand enters everywhere
Lifting weights at gym time
Inching closer to the beach
At a diversion you never know which route is more torture. But sand punishes a hesitating throttle hand
It’s kinda scenic I guess
Enjoying Sibiloi’s Fauna… My jeans get ripped a good one by all these thorns
When the river is the road
More sand
We pick up speed on the smooth stretches
I navigate a successful lane change!
… only to find the other lane equally meh
We’re getting close to the beach
I can spot the water in the distance
More photos. By now I had to plaster both my thumbs which had sore wounds from taking the gloves off repeatedly over my heat-swollen hands

At some point the river becomes the road. It’s silly sand for a kilometer or so. I’m not doing badly and Djo disappears behind me. When the sand ends, I wait for a minute or two, enjoying the incredible silence up here and drinking water. But he’s not showing up in my mirror. I just know that he dropped the bike. Finally. A part of me is relieved that I’m not riding with some sort of super human. I remove my gear and shout his name. Nothing.

I really don’t feel like riding back so I walk back to look for him. By the time I get to his bike, he has lifted it and is loading his luggage (which he had to remove to lift the bike).

We’re extremely close to the camp, but the sand is beach deep now. Want to suffer with us for the last 1.5km (11 minutes) to Koobi Fora base camp? 

Knock yourself out with this helmet cam video (link)!

Arrival at Koobi Fora Base Camp

On arrival, we chat with the team and are informed that we’re very lucky because there is indeed rain water to drink. I nearly faint, but am told that everyone drinks it here. I relax my mind telling myself that the tank just holds water and dust, but you can never be too sure what bacteria are breeding in there.

My amazing flatmate Marg brought some chlorine tablets from Chicago in 2015, which have since long expired but I had popped a bunch in my luggage. I prepare 2 litres of water for my mzungu stomach.

At some point Djo confesses that he leaned the bike against a wall and needs help to get it out from there. At this point I don’t yet fully grasp the situation and lightheartedly offer to help.

Y’ALL! I find a huge heavy bike dug into a hole of deep sand between a wall and two wooden pillars. We try pull, push, lean, use stones, pull it lying on the ground. No progress whatsoever until we get help from staff. My biceps, again. But this makes up for at least 6 of my bike drops so I feel redeemed. 

The beach is so inviting for a swim. It feels like the perfect spot but I have mad respect for crocodiles so I have a bikini tanning session at the shore instead. Possibly paradise!

The most inviting beach I’ve been to along Lake Turkana!

Before sunset we also engage in a bit of bike care and use the nail polish to tighten a bunch of bolts on my bike. Comedy but I’m taking notes!

We make noodles and githeri for dinner. The tinned food is really coming in handy.

Let’s face it: my noodles by now are just wheat powder. But Djo is a pro and had packaged his for off-road survival.

I do a micro yoga back stretch session while watching the stars lying on top of a wall. After the encounters with scorpions in Ileret I keep my boots on all night.

Today we covered around 100km on rough and sand roads!

Day 9 – Koobi Fora to Loiyangalani

Highly ambitious, we had decided to go to Loiyangalani directly from here. So it’s going to be a long day. We’re not exactly sure where next we will get drinking water, so we fill up all the canisters and bottles from the rain water tank.

To get to Loiyangalani, we have two routes in mind: via Moite or the more visible car road which I traced on Maps, from which we would join the North Horr – Loiya road around Gas town.

Either way we have to cross Sibiloi National Park and get to Karsa Gate first.

After paying our 200 for camping to the museum ticket agent, we backtrack to the air strip in around 45 min, which is maybe half of yesterday’s time. Engines are getting hooot as we carefully manoeuvre the 8 or so kms of deep and shallow sand.

Good morning from Koobi Fora

At 9:16am we turn right at Parkmarker 14 and have another 45 km of Sibiloi ahead of us. We estimate 4 hours to the gate with breaks.

Relief when the sand ends
Back to this – for a few hours this morning
When you don’t know why you fell – sooooo annoying

It’s pretty wild as we travel on a hardly used road. There are gravelly uphills where I get stuck on huge rocks that you then remove from under your bike while somehow still sitting on it. First gear holds the bike, at least I’ve figured that part out by now. Lots to learn and laugh. Overall looooots of fun.

Sometimes the terrain is that wild that the only road option is the river. It must have been crazy muddy here a few days ago! We find it completely dried up 💃🏿

Water break
Imagine riding in this mud
Twende Kazi
Djo and camera waiting for what?
Oh, he was on standby for stone removal duty. He probably thought that’s easier than lifting my bike 😹

Another river crossing. And another one. Not the white sand but it’s darker now. At some point the (sandy) river is the road, then you cross a rocky riverbed, and a bit later you follow a rocky river as the road. It’s chaos.

We later find a video on facebook showing a landcruiser driving on this road through 1m deep water. Bonkers 🤣

Just confirming in the mirror if I’m still alive
Top speeds not above 25 km/h
I’m getting better at this!
Rewarding views!

What goes up must go down, so there’s that one gravelly descent down a mini escarpment. I try the 2nd gear engine break technique, but freak out half way through when bigger rocks show up. 1st gear would have been smarter. Still more practice needed!

The petrified forest fossil site is just before the gate. The quick 6km detour is worth it. We pass some colourful stones and pebbles and get to the petrified trees and wood stumps.

I’m even wearing my miti t-shirt!
It’s fascinating! These logs turned rocks! Now say it with a Kikuyu accent! Thank you.
Back to the main road

When it’s just a few kms left, is when you get to a final massive river crossing.

We each get through 2l of water before even getting to the gate. We pay our park fees and have a quick lunch. It’s super windy here. At 2:40pm we gear up for departure. It is 120km to Loiya, so we need to hit a 30 km/h average to make it. We’ve not done this on any day this trip! The roads look pretty decent on maps satellite and we’re told a land cruiser would need 4 hours. This statement could have been cause for concern but we ignore it.

I joked with the guard that we’re not paying because the only wildlife we saw were 3 birds and 1 rabbit

We fill up the water reserve tanks with more rain water at the gate and wet our t-shirts and Balaclavas for some cooling effect while riding. Djo is using the hack he got on AMD and cools his drinking water with a wet t-shirt from the ride’s airflow.

I don’t know what exactly I expected. But in my mind the road was going to be better starting from the gate 😉 It’s in a baaaad state and we take a good hour for the first 10km. Lots of deep holes, sand crossings and rocks and we just can’t get to a sensible speed. Basically, the gate is in the park, we conclude later.

Then it gets smooth and wide. But not for long. Gravel mixes in.

At some point we get to a KWS sign-post, which we were earlier told indicates the junction to Moite. Djo had raved about the road from Moite to Loiyangalani, but we just weren’t sure about the road to Moite from here. Only one person we asked knew about its state and they said it’s enough sand to get a 4×4 stuck. We decide not to find out and stick with the main road, however annoying and slow it is.

One of those moments you replay in your mind later.

We keep ploughing forward through changing terrain. We cross several riverbeds and pass at least one more areas where the river is the road. Sometimes you just can’t tell anymore where the river is. I don’t want to imagine this place with rain or floods!  

Finally we to a long sandy stretch, a few kilometers long. That beautiful evening light sets in and cattle cross the road. The first sign of human life since the park gate. I’m trying to make mile and I’m around 1km ahead of Djo when there’s a boda track leaving the road to the left. We’ve now learned that they tend to circumvent difficult stretches on the main road, but I also don’t want to get lost, so I stay on the main road.

I find a whole bunch of huge rocks on the road, and go down nearly at the end. Djo is nowhere to be found. No network. It’s 5:45pm. I try to lift the bike but have to remove the luggage first to succeed. It takes me some time to tie it back. Djo hasn’t caught up yet and I worry that he took the boda track and is now ahead of me. What a disaster: I imagine how he’s chasing me, yet I’m behind him. I send him a text with my GPS coordinates (that doesn’t actually go out for lack of network) and continue riding. By now it’s 100% clear that I won’t make it to Gas by sunset. 

We are still around 80km from Loiyangalani and the terrain allows no speed. There are no signs of human life whatsoever: No livestock and no huts. We haven’t passed a single car since the park gate. I don’t have lights on the bike, so I decide that I would pitch my tent on the roadside wherever I will have reached at 6:45pm and continue with sunrise. I don’t feel unsafe at the thought but considering there is no network, my people including Djo would probably start freaking out if I’m not reachable at night in rural Marsabit.

Around 10 minutes later Djo shows up from behind. Relief!!! 

He also fell (not far behind me it seems) and also had to remove his luggage 😅 Now who let who down?

We continue and reach a fairly wide and straight road. Djo keeps checking his GPX recording from a previous trip with Wakili. At some point we realize that we have deviated from their route, but are still on this wide main road, so it feels fine.

Another moment we will keep reviewing in our minds.

We miraculously cover another 15 clicks until we get to a junction pretty much at sunset. Should we take the right narrower road towards Gas or the wider one straight ahead towards North Horr? 

Which route would you have taken?

We decide that we can as well sleep in Gas. The town has been described as relatively developed with a few shops. Covering 30k in darkness seems doable with a shared headlight. 

Time for sunset pics. I have no idea why we were so calm. I guess ignorance is bliss sometimes.

Until the road turns into one deep tire track and we’re basically riding on large white stones in those tire tracks. The experience riding up the gorge to Lokitaung dwarfs in comparison. Even if we get to a smoother stretch with smaller pebbles, it’s just 200m long before it goes back to the madness. 

Djo’s light is super bright so at least we know what we’re doing. He rides in the left tire track and I ride in the right one. At some point we switch (so much work!!!), so that in case a fast landcruiser shoots along the road, I don’t get knocked. (No car comes, maybe this was our wishful thinking). I am making 8-10 km/h top speed, and just not getting to a smoother rolling 2nd gear. Maybe the bike is too light, doesn’t have enough power, or my tires are too small. But I’m also really worried of falling right now, so I’m probably really slow and look down too much. I’m sweating like crazy handling the bike at low speed on these rocks in first gear, constantly tapping my feet and having all this weight on my shoulders. This is not economical on our limited water supply at all.

We hardly make more than 500m before stopping to breathe and drink. 

At least we have excellent 4G network here and check the satellite pics. The road we’re on shines bright white on the images while the surroundings are dark brown for the next 15km or so. We interpret this as the entire stretch being this messy.

We keep going and manage a good 10km (in 80 minutes), but the stops become more frequent. My pants are rubbing my thighs sore along the seat’s edges because I’m walking more than riding. I’m fairly exhausted by now. At one of our stops, Djo checks his GPX and realises that we’re near a boda track and he suggests we leave this road and use the boda track. It sounds equally tempting and nuts. As we debate the idea, his bike battery goes flat. Flat as in his lights go off and the starter is not working. With both bikes not having lights, we’re basically standing in complete darkness in the middle of nowhere.

This is exactly how it looks like at that point.

I climb off my bike and light my phone torch to explore the surroundings. Going really slow for an hour with the bright LEDs has drained his bike’s battery. We’re still stuck in the tire tracks with stones. It seems impossible to pushstart him here, even if I wanted to try, which I don’t.

We debate our options (none) and decide to pitch camp. Djo is not sold but my logic is that the faster we sleep, the earlier we can wake up and figure out our next steps with some daylight. We push the bikes like 5 metres to the side of the road and then pitch the tents in torch light, looking carefully for scorpions (none!), then I sit on my bike to snack musli bars and tinned pineapple while Djo cooks his dinner. 

It’s 21:36 when I inform my crew in Nairobi of my situation. A part of the crew, rather. I have to give it up for each of these guys. Always supportive, checking in, and dishing out encouragement and jokes. The type of people who agree to be your emergency contact on such a trip. Who pick your phone call at odd hours – after taking a deep breath of course.

I prepare the final 1 litre of rain water we have left from the park gate with a chlorine tablet. This will have to get us to Gas, which by the map is just 12-15km away. What a nightmare thought to contract a water borne disease up here!

We have a short discussion on safety. Don’t ask how this went, cause tell me what measures exactly you’d take that you’d find sufficient?

My GPX recording says that we did around 150km today. No tarmac, for those who weren’t quite sure.

Day 10 – Middle of Nowhere to Loiyangalani

I wake up to motorbike sounds at around 1am. It’s quite surreal: I can hear it for a few minutes at equal volume, then it passes outside the tent and immediately can’t be heard. The wind is that strong. This is also the first vehicle since the park gate.

I fall asleep again and wake up at 6am. I start packing my stuff in my phone’s torch light.  

We have a bike to start and want to make the best of the early sunrays before it gets hot!

Sunrise at 6:56am over Middle of Nowhere in Marsabit

Looking around, I wonder if we are mad or lucky. Or both. Kilometres of Mars like surface with no houses whatsoever.

What was the rider thinking that passed our tents and bikes at 1am? And where on earth was he coming from and going?

Have you ever jump started a 220kg bike on rock dust? Well, I invite you to try but this morning it was not working for us. We try different locations, with me pushing as Djo duck runs the Super Tenere. The bike skids and the back tire just digs up the gravel, whether in 2nd, 3rd or 4th gear. It’s just past 7am and I’m already sweating! 

At last, a landrover drives by and stops to give us a full bottle of water. These angels were on a family visit to a nearby homestead!

Plan B: We can charge his bike from my battery! Getting to my battery means removing the tank. We lever up a messed bolt and connect the two with some wires and spanners. Just as we’re realising that his bike can’t start directly from my battery but would need slow charging, a bike passes with a passenger and a goat. They offer to help push the bike “sasa tuko wengi”, they comment looking at my biceps, but achieve the same result.

The goat was on her way to the market. No, not the cinema. She patiently waits for the journey to continue
As the guys figure out the battery issue, I start packing up my tent

Back to connecting the two bikes and slowly charging up the Tenere while running my engine. We thank the two gentlemen for their help and they point us to the boda track as an Eastern Bypass for the horrible road, also passing through a village with fuel. Yes!

Our team’s electrician connects the Tenere to be charged from the Spirit generator

As we try to increase the idle on my bike to keep it running, somehow my bike goes off. It’s all one beautiful mess! After playing around with the choke and idle and finally syphoning some fuel from the Tenere, my bike starts again (on the kick). 

In total we need over 2 hours to get moving but at 9:30am we enter the boda track. It’s smooth but really narrow and quite the random route over hills and between bushes. The local riders are ninjas! 

Finally a smooth road! If we’d taken last year’s Boda track, would we have slept in Loiyangalani after all?
Signs of human life!!

We arrive in a small village called Barambate.

The whole place is bloody windy!

We each top up 1.5 liters of fuel from the barrels in a lady’s hut, which we think should be enough to get us to Gas. The boda track is far longer than the bumpy road would have been but fairly smooth.

Throttling to Gas via the backroute
Arrival to Gas Town

By 11am we enter Gas town – but what an underwhelming sight the place is. A group of colourfully clothed women is busy constructing a hut, but otherwise I mostly remember garbage and plastic.  A local rider offers to help us find fuel and water. I’m really uncomfortable following him around, as he randomly passes between peoples’ houses and swerves around.

Djo enlisting some help to our endeavours 

He’s taking us to 3 different stores, but hakuna petroli. A car convoy has picked up all fuel yesterday we’re told. How did we ignore rule 1 in Barambate? Sigh!

At least we buy water and fill up all bottles and canisters. We estimate what’s left in our reserve tanks and find that we should have enough fuel to cover the remaining 40km to Loiyangalani and turn down his offer to ride back to the other village to bring us fuel.

We end up at his house and his wife offers us ugali cabbage and and some real good masala chai.

Interesting construction – I refuse sitting inside the windowless, smoky hut. Not just because of covid…

By 2 we’re on the road from Gas to Loiya. There is nothing beautiful or enjoyable about the first 25km of this road. It’s heavily corrugated. You really feel for the bike. It’s pretty windy. Gravelly. Hot. 

But worst of all: My steering seems stuck on “straight”, I’m running on rails and nearly fall a few times. I’m having a really hard time steering into the wind and into the corners smoothly. I am not thaaaat tired! What’s going on?

On the really bad hill sections the road is reinforced with some concrete.

I catch up with Djo who’s taking pics on the concrete and I tell him something is wrong with my bike, especially on the corrugations. He mentions also having a hard time after the smooth tracks, so we keep going. After I nearly fall on that same concrete stretch in a corner, he considers to believe me and we stop again to diagnose my steering. It just doesn’t turn smoothly. Seems that the bearings are shot. This is of course a gradual process but the last 500km probably didn’t help matters. But there is nothing we can do right here. 

We have to get to Loiyangalani.

The road is a mess

I don’t know how I manage the next 30km, but the beautiful views around El Molo and Layeni certainly help. Beautiful Jade Sea!

The Lake’s water level has reached the road near Layeni and El Molo

I have not entered Loiya from the North before, but remember that small junction from my last visit.

We head to Palm Shade Guesthouse. The team tells us they expected us last night. We nod but can’t explain ourselves. But my shower is heavenly! 

Local riders point us to the one fundi in town but he’s not in as it’s Sunday. We talk to him on the phone and on naming the bike’s model, he seems optimistic that we can source a set of steering bearings early on Monday. He promises to meet us at 7am.

We have an early dinner and I’m already stretched out in bed when the lights go off later this evening as the generator is switched off. 

70km done today and some serious workout pushing the bikes around in the heat 💪

Day 11 – Loiya to Maralal

We have to get to Maralal. There’s really no option. Sleeping in Baragoi doesn’t excite any of us based on our earlier experiences there.

This is 240km of rough roads and our estimate is 8.5 hours including 2 breaks.

We agree that if my bike wasn’t fixed by 9:30am, Djo would leave me in Loiya and proceed as he has some work commitments in Nairobi coming up.

At 7am we call the fundi who promises to arrive within the next 15 minutes, which he does. Turning my steering with the bike on the centre stand, we all agree that we have to replace the bearings. We ride to his workshop and he actually succeeds in sourcing the spare part. The guys take off the front wheel and I watch him knock out the old bearings (the plastic that holds the metal balls had completely disintegrated) and chisel in the new set, while Mr. Djo IY handles the quality control of the entire surgery. Paul does a really good job – highly recommend him.

By 9:04am I test the bike and find it running smoothly. We pay Paul and head to the hotel for breakfast and packing up.

By 10:45 we head out from Loiyangalani – 240km offroad loading! We both know the route well and it feels like the home-run. 

I’m most excited about the stretch from South Horr to Baragoi as I remember it being very beautiful from my last trip (link). Back then we didn’t stop for pictures because we were warned not to (bandits). Also, the metal holding my suspension had broken off, so it wasn’t a very comfortable ride.

On leaving Loiyangalani southwards we find the road heavily corrugated. It seems that there are more trucks nowadays and we even find a bus (!). The 30km to the wind farm are quite bumpy and not exactly fun this time round. I also nearly get knocked by a lorry.

We give the mad truck some space which gives us time for some snaps at the Jade Sea
Noone who’s been to Loiyangalani would ever forget this sight
I’m having so much fun. Bike feels new with my new bearings!

The wind is strong but most coming from one direction, so manageable. Once up at the wind farm, we stop to check on Djo’s exhaust, which has slightly moved from all the bumpiness.

This is the last time we see his entire toolkit. We later find that the metal holder of the tube holding the tools broke… These vibrations!! Makes you appreciate the physiology of your spine quite a bit! This must be the most painful loss of this entire trip. 😭

From here it’s a quick ride on the windfarm road to South Horr. After the wind farm road branches off the left there’s more sand, as we ride through the beautiful South Horr mountain range. We roll into town and stop at the shopping center, where I buy water and one of the fundis who fixed my suspension (and footpeg 😌) last year says hi, remembering every single GS he saw.

Approaching South Horr

On leaving South Horr we stop for pics between the trees, and a local guy ferrying two kids turns his head just a little bit too far, just a little bit too long, and drops his bike.

From here it’s a quick 40km to Baragoi. It’s very scenic but we’re trying to pick up speed where the sand allows.

This must be the last plot I acquire on this trip. With view on Baragoi town. Look at Djo’s “Sasa, ona huyu!” pose!

As we roll into Baragoi, most shops are closed, but my lunch spot is open. It’s already 4pm as we park at Mashallah Restaurant. The lady hugs me as she recognizes me and enquires how my friends are doing. We have some really tasty pilau, chicken, kachumbari and masala tea. 

And off we go entering the final 100km for the day. We aim to finish the corrugations fast and enter the mountains leading to Maralal before it gets late. We stop at the Barsaloi junction, where there’s a sign with bullet holes by the Catholic church advertising Barsaloi as the cleanest town in Samburu (go check if you don’t believe me!) – it’s already 5pm so we have no time for experiments, but I take a mental note to try this route another time.

I start panicking as I realise that they dug up the road in an attempt to widen it. I remember a relatively smooth track through the mountain range, but now it’s rather bumpy with big rocks and holes. Or was it the rain? It probably also feels more difficult than last time because we’re gaining 700m altitude and I don’t get enough power to fly up the rocky climbs. 

Up the mountains near Marti

Either way: I’m slower than I like. Soon enough, the sun sets over the dramatic Samburu hills.

By 7pm we’re near Suyani, around 40km to Maralal. Djo and I think about our options. We aren’t feeling the idea of sleeping here and decide to get to Maralal on a shared headlight. It feels safe to continue with the wider road and slightly more traffic than we remember from last year.

There are some dark clouds building up over the mountains and this area is chilly at night. We stop to wear rain gear over our mesh jackets.

Darkness. Now we get a bit wild. Djo is riding directly behind me and around 1-2m to my right. There’s no room to swerve, so we basically just gas through the mountains. We’re doing 30-55 on the bumpy rough road and I’m doing some of it standing for better visibility. It takes some synchronising and skill to ride on one headlight! On uphills or corners I’m basically riding with zero visibility for an instance until his light catches up. It feels thrilling and I let go, setting a decent pace.

At some point what looks like a gentle bump turns out to be a ramp over a deep ditch. We can’t even see the bottom of it. My bike takes off and we’re just lucky that I was doing good speeds, otherwise it could have been a nasty fall.

At 8:30pm I text my people that we’ve arrived safely. We find the fuel stations closed and look for a simple hotel and restaurant in town. 

Day 12 – Maralal to Nairobi

Noone’s looking forward to these last 330km. Tarmac. Kenyan drivers. Nairobi air and noise.

So we fuel up chap chap and hit the road to Nyahururu. It turns out that the entire Kisima stretch has been tarmacked since I was here last, and only a few kms are missing to close the tarmac all the way to Maralal.

153 clicks to Nyahururu where we fuel at Shell. I have to slap Djo as he is nearly dozing off from the tarmac boredom – it’s extremely understimulating after an adventure ride. 

We get lunch in Ol’ Kalou and continue via the Aberdares route through Engineer and connect to the Naivasha Highway from Njabini. I am always nervous about the Soko Mjinga stretch to Limuru, moreso without headlights but Djo leads, fighting off oncoming traffic with his many lights, and we find the highway not as busy. At the Gitaru traffic, I lane split between a bunch of police pick-up trucks, who are returning from some activity out of town. One of those annoyingly hyper white baby trucks cuts off two of the police trucks and gets reprimanded. I nearly fall off my bike laughing, but instead turn left to the Western Bypass and reach home in under 20 minutes.

HOME! I stop at my mama mboga and source a huge bag of mixed greens. After all the noodles and cabbage! My askari asks me whether this is when I’m back after all these many days. 👀

It turns out that my house key was in that hip bag. My good friend who keeps my spare key makes it across town to save me from camping in my own parking lot.

After the ride is before the ride

There’s the washing to do, and the bike repair to think through. There are limbs to rest, and bruises to admire. There’s the GPX route recording to analyse and laugh about. A million photos to review: two phones and two helmet cams. It’s amazing to relive some of the scenery and hilarious encounters on the road.

Over the next days, Djo drip feeds me with photos of my unintended dismounts until my phone’s memory jams.

And mech training. Laughing through the curve balls. Dinner conversations and friendship. Mungu akubariki!

As the trip replays in my head, I randomly break out in laughter throughout my day. It feels sooooo good. I come up with the many routes I still want to try out. I plan for my dirt bike training. And I realize that traveling on the bike for weeks and months doesn’t sound such an impossibility anymore!

At  Bikers’ Prayer Day I realize just how many bikers had followed our trip via Djo’s posts on AMD and my insta page. I answer many curious questions about the trip. I also realize how few people know that Turkana is not Marsabit and that there are ways to get to Lodwar that don’t involve tarmac. If only half of you go out there and go a bit wild for a few days, I’ll be very happy!

My biker pal predicted that I will need a week to recover (I trust him, he’s a doctor!). That week ends today. I am still in that meditative high, that flow state. But I am also still exhausted! Nairobi noise and air pollution don’t help.

Now, there’s this badass somewhere at the beach, my partner in crime, my re-invention muse and my business ally. She understands life with a rare intensity.

Martha penned down exactly what the trip felt like so I’ll just close this with her poem. Don’t miss to buy her book!


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Losting around Lake Turkana – Western shore up to Todonyang (Part 1)

My bike, tent, a book and me. I plan to fall off the grid completely for my January leave.

A TZ roadtrip to Lake Tanganyika sounds amazing until I read up on our neighbor’s rain seasons. Maybe explore Western Kenya’s greenery instead? 

That’s when my pal talks about riding to some remote places up North. This hits the right spots in my brain. A ride around Lake Turkana? 

Turkwel hinterlands. Turkana Boy. Kibish. The Ilemi Triangle! Ethiopia. Finally to Ileret! Through Koobi Fora and Sibiloi National Park. And a chill return through Loiyangalani. Two weeks of stones and sand.

The big unknown was crossing the Ethiopian border considering their state of emergency and some customs and pandemic questions.

We put together our route ideas and come up with 3 options upon reaching mwisho wa nchi in Todonyang: Explore the Ilemi triangle and proceed to the Marsabit side via Ethiopia (Omorate), or if that would prove difficult take a boat to Ileret – or if all fails, return to Western from Kibish along the Ugandan border.

All 3 options sound epic. The full plan would have around 2300km of which around 750 tarmac.

A bunch of route options from Todonyang onwards

The stars start aligning nicely when I email the Catholic Mission in Todonyang and they actually respond and two of their staff happen to be in Nairobi and meet me for coffee. On the same day I bump into Hamish, an adventure rider, at Pallet and he shares good vybes and photos from a recent ride he did in the area.

Between finishing up work assignments we manage a pre-meeting to think through the logistics: luggage, tents, first aid, cooking equipment, food, tools, bike spares. I am keen to stay below 15kgs luggage. 

We plan to be self-reliant for at least 4 nights. I frisk Carrefour but the best menu we come up with were some vegetables and githeri in tins and noodles. And tortillas with tuna. Why is there more tinned cat than human food?

Life would be so easy as a pet!

I am carefully optimistic about my bike and relevant riding skills. Something always breaks on my trips (you just never know what!), but I had gotten a few crucial parts of the bike replaced recently, which were worn out by previous adventures. 

I just clocked 22,000 km in my riding career and am slowly graduating from the advanced beginner status. I’ve done around 1,200km adventure off-roading so far, nailed sand riding on my Loiyangalani trip (link) and successfully tested gravel riding with luggage over Christmas (link). The days through Sibiloi would be the most challenging, with the few people I know who’ve ridden there saying it’s difficult and rough riding terrain. 

Juuuuust in case
When you’re wondering what you’re missing!

The final question on my mind is whether my pal and I will kill each other on this trip.

Have you met Djo Thefu? He rides 7 times my engine size and I’m far more chatty than his introvert nature might handle. He’s a Tutajua Tu person (“We’ll see”) and I love some good old German certainty. There was only one way to find out.

When we exchange emergency contacts on the first day of the trip, it feels like a trust pact is signed to get each other home safe, or at least ‘somewhere safe’.

How do you write about such a journey?

One that Djo will also write about? After all he’s one of our if not the best story teller of 254 adventure riding.

Well, this is my story of riding around Lake Turkana. The 125cc story, one of a lover of the universe, of curiosity and encounter, a story of a woman singing over the bones!

Enjoy!

PS: And thank you for signing up on DjoThefu Stories to join us on this trip. Leave a comment! And hopefully you’ll choose to pay the premium subscription. It allows you to contribute towards the trip and writing efforts, and indulge in brain-teasing adventure narrations (3 months at less than a boda’s oil change!).

Day 1 – To Kainuk (Turkana) via Chemolingot (off-road route)

My co-rider’s Super Tenere is faster and more comfortable, so he’s cool to ride the 400k plus to Kainuk in a day, but considering there’s another 10 days off-road following, I’m not feeling it. We agree to meet at Marigat and hit the rough road together from there. 

I arrive at Nakuru the night before in an eventful night ride (link) that has me replace a mirror and curse a driver to suffer a painful death. I aim to leave Nakuru at 8 but boy, the traffic jam is unexpected! Once out of town through Kabarak, the road is empty.

Heading northwards from Nakuru town

After unsuccessfully stopping at several spares shops for an extra clutch cable, I get some work done at the lounge of Hope Cottages in Marigat.

Djo arrives at Shell Marigat around 12:45pm. That guy looks so prepared. He could probably survive on the moon. Looking at his luggage I wonder what exactly I forgot at home and what drama it will cause somewhere in a stone desert.

Dude is oozing adventure experience

We hit the remaining tarmac towards Chemolingot. I am soooo curious how the day will go. 13 months ago I went to Eliye Springs via this route at the beginning of my offroad riding career (link) and had several heart attacks on the gravel, crossing rivers and ended up breaking a foot peg.

A lot has improved:

Near Loruk the lake had swallowed the road, but has since released it again. The tarmac is destroyed but it is dry to pass. The offroad from Chemolingot was graded and is far less bumpy, and the down hills are less gravely. 3 or 4 bridges are done where last time I had to ride through rivers (or rather ask someone to do it for me).

Enjoyment tupu
Last time I SWEATED at this river, yo!

Oh – and my bike handling skills and confidence have gone up 10 fold. It’s an enjoyable route in Baringo and then West Pokot counties and we zoom between the hills at around 40-55. I’m relieved that we’re getting the opportunity to get in sync on simple rough roads before the more adventurous stages. I love stopping for pictures and it turns out this works well for him. 

For some reason most cameras just can’t capture this guy’s face

This is also the day Djo introduces Akoth to the general public. At this point I don’t know yet that this will be my best documented roadtrip ever, photographically speaking!

How it starts

We reach the tarmac at Marich Pass at sunset, by around 6:50. It is another 20km to our destination (Calabash – which you will find directly on the right side of the highway marked by two sign posts, not where Google Maps says it is), but I have a work call at 7pm so we stop so I can take it from there. The network collapses halfway through my call from a brilliant 4G to “don’t even try to send an SMS!”. Djo has been waiting for an hour for me, and as I give up on my call and we depart, he somehow drops his prescription glasses. We ride to Kainuk in darkness and as he notices, we turn around to look for them, but to no avail.

And this is where the losting of dear and useful items on this trip starts!

We check in at Calabash approx 10km before Kainuk around 10pm. Some locals watch a Chinese kung fu style movie on TV but the kitchen is “closed”. Well, just that it’s open and I can see the pans from afar. We convince a lady on staff to warm one of our githeri tins and cook rice for us. This simple dish tastes heavenly after a long day of dust and oxygen.

The full moon shines through the trees and I enjoy a bucket shower outside my hut. I feel tranquil and invigorated at the same time. I really need this trip: A break for myself and to link up my soul and nature. 

310km done, of which 100 rough road!

Day 2 – Kainuk to Lodwar via Naipal (the sand!)

We wake up and pack our stuff. There’s something about luggage on a bike: You carry the same same stuff, but it fits differently every single day! 

Packing up at Calabash in the morning

We head to Kainuk for fuel and water. Yeah, this picture is Kainuk in Turkana county. Street lighting and tarmac you won’t find in most Nairobi estates.

Kainuk town

From here we head onwards to Turkwel Dam on a tarmac road. I have passed this junction before. Not once. I was told it’s not safe to venture in here. And that there’s not much to see anyways.

Posing at the Turkwel Dam junction

Today we will explore this route for over 180km and let me not pre-empt, but people say a lot of things. If there’s one thing to take away from this whole story it is to choose your dreams. Give the potentially epic a chance. Lean into your curiosities. Go for it! 💃 ✨

But first we run into a barrier. We’re told there’s a 100 bob charge ya county for using this road. It doesn’t exactly add up, because there really is no other road to most of the towns behind this point. We ask for a receipt which is duly written, but I’m very sure the cash won’t reach the county.

Procedure muhimu

As we reach the gate of the Turkwel Dam & Power Station, the security team explains to us the registration procedure. We proceed to meet the in-charge in his office for a chat and I scout the staff quarters in search of a toilet. Yeah, the sum of these little detours is what usually gets you in trouble at the end of the day, but what’s the point of coming all the way up here without a little exploring?

Chat with the security team at Turkwel Dam

We then ride on to the dam through some steep mountain twisties with amazing views. What looks like a railway line built by aliens are the power lines to evacuate the power.  Djo shows off some cornering skills and once at the hilltop we roll on downwards until we spot water.

Y’all hold your horses please – the corners have a lot of gravel
Bikes and water bodies: Always an amazing sight!

As we reach the dam itself, we’re informed that we’re not allowed to take pictures for security reasons. Is this a technology patent issue or do terrorists need close-up photos to destroy this important piece of infrastructure? We stroll around the dam wall for a few minutes, but on realizing the time, decide to start moving. I’m sure Djo describes this much better in his story…

Now, the off-road starts right at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful scenery, twisty narrow gravel track through trees and dry rivers. On dirt I usually need a few kms to sync with the bike and road for the day. Djo quickly disappears in front of me as I feel my way into the bumpy, slippery surface. I chuckle at this terrible start.

We had been told of an option of connecting from Nakwomoru to the main tarmac near Kalemngrok through a bridge, but aren’t exactly keen to do the Lokichar route. Djo in fact hates the idea and throws me a stern, disapproving look for even entertaining the thought.

It gets smooth and fun, and we drop the idea of the bridge to the tarmac fast. Riding through the villages, I get some fascinating micro glimpses into the Turkana culture. The place feels fairly untouched, much better than the highway experience. Young boys mind large herds of cattle. A mzee approaches Djo and it turns out he’s the same mzee who was earlier called by the camp staff to identify a good route for us. 

At some point I stop and retreat behind a thorny bush for a call of nature and place my hip bag on my bike. That’s the last time I see it. When I realize 20km of sandy trails later that I must have lost it, I quickly calculate whether it’s worth going back. If we go look for it, we will surely be caught in the dark up in the sandy Turkwel river near Lodwar. I have my ID, DL and spare bike key in my jacket. My power bank and first aid kit is in my backpack. Thankfully! I calculate that the hip bag only had my backup water bottle, tissue paper and sunscreen, so I decide to let it go and hope that whoever finds it will enjoy using it.

yes, that bag :-S

In one village we find a group of 20 young men sitting under trees. We park in the shade to drink some water and one helpfully approaches us in English and guides us on the way  “We’re discussing some issues we’re facing”.

As we ride into Naipa for a really late lunch, we find elders chilling under a tree along the road on the traditional pillows (with my best English let me describe it as an elevated wooden plate). As we climb off the bikes and stretch, the kids assemble in colourful wear. I am not sure if they were 50 but they were many. 

Someone points to the one hoteli, where we are served pilau in the backyard of someone’s house next to some baby goats tied to a tree. The kids stand around the bikes and watch us eat from across the fence. Some guy keeps running around with a huge knife, while another one offers to bring the bikes to the backyard, probably in hope of a tip. It’s equally magic and ridiculous. 

The lunch place has tight security

We have to keep moving, with 87km to go and the sand intensifying.

I’m getting better at sand! I raised my handlebar slightly juzi and am now able to sail the laggas standing. It’s a complete game changer on sand, as the bike’s wagging tail tickles my control freak brain far less. I use Shakir’s vroom vroom technique and it sure does work. I can’t believe my luck and practice this at different speeds and try different standing postures. Even Djo is getting better at sand! The Super Tenere is not light but we’re moving at 35-45. 

Bodas recommend a panya route that turns out to be an epic single track between trees. I start singing in my helmet. And noone is falling!

Isn’t this beautiful?
Riding along Turkwel river, we expected sand from feeder rivers, but YO!

Then we get to Turkwel River – a 400m wide sand river that I well remember from last year’s Eliye trip. The sun is setting. We slide around in the tire tracks. Camels are crossing. We goof around and pose for pictures. 

Bodas try to block our pictures, demanding cash to photograph ‘their’ camels. It’s one magic sunset experience. I feel like staying forever, yet it’s another 40 clicks to Lodwar!! 

Beach vybes
Movie scenes

Chasing sunlight on medium to deep sand for another 25km. I lose Djo far behind me. I hate the idea of leaving him but then again he’s probably better at lifting his bike alone than I’m able to ride in sand at night. At some point I stop and he catches up with me with the last sun rays. Ati he stoped to check on a vegetable garden project he once participated in 😳

I chase after a local rider to find the best tracks for a few km, when miraculously – TARMAC! I can’t believe my eyes but do not argue with fate. 

Black happiness

As we get to Lodwar town, the tarmac ends randomly and the mud puddles start. It must have rained just a few days ago. Maps navigates us to the Kobil peti and we fill up the tanks. From here we move onwards to a place we’ve both stayed in before (Gracious Guest House) and find the entrance demolished for road constructions. We can’t be bothered otherwise and ride through the neighbours plot to reach the gate.

After haggling for the room rate, we’re served some delicious fish and I’m jubilant enough to order a cold beer.

Dinner at Gracious in Lodwar

Day 2 done – 225km, of which 160km offroad/sand.

Djo and I don’t talk much over dinner, and instead exchange photos of the day. We experienced the exact same trip and I marvel at how our lenses capture and our social media posts process the moments uniquely. He’s a comms specialist and artist and I start thinking that he’s probably really good at what he does: telling stories that stick and move people.

Day 3 – Lodwar to Nariokotome

It’s a beautiful, calm Sunday morning. I sing through a whole gospel album while showering. Then we take a stroll through Lodwar looking for breakfast and top up some canned food at Kakumatt Supermarket. 

Good morning from Lodwar!

One of my biker friends who follows my road trips inquires whether there have been any mechanical challenges on this trip so far. I send him a side eye emoji, not yet knowing that I’ll later squarely blame him for how the day ends.  B, you know yourself!

Leaving the hotel through the demolished entrance is slightly easier now that we can actually see what we’re navigating.

Warming the bikes

We head out to Kalokol via the tarmac, which has been extended towards the lake. Gunias of dried fish are carried towards Lodwar by bodas.

Road from Lodwar to Kalokol

On our touristic to-do list were the Nasura Pillars, which we find freshly fenced but inaccessible. We take pics through the fence and hope that future visitors will be furnished with insightful information about this prehistoric cultural site.

The last handful of kms aren’t yet tarmacked and roooouuugh.

Once in Kalokol we enlist a welder to reinforce my right footpeg which has suffered southwards from the 100km of standing on the bike yesterday. I’m not taking it personal. He also fashions a pair of tire levers, as somehow Djo’s got lost. 😏

Djo exciting the Kalokol public

We then look for lunch and start moving up North at 3pm or slightly after. The fun begins. We have 75km to cover up to Nariokotome. Riding parallel to the lake shore will mean crossing all rivers flowing toward the lake. From Google Maps Satellite we can see at least 10 wide river crossings and hundreds of small ones. With “river” of course we mean lagga, a.k.a. sand. It had recently rained heavily which ideally would help us find juicy compacted sand. Still: By our calculations we are at least 1 hour behind our plan already. 

The road has corrugations and seems relatively busy with proboxes and bodas. After the beautiful previous day on empty remote tracks even a car every 5 minutes feels rudely crowded. The sand turns darker and there are some pebbles and stones.

This probox is having fun on sand

We find one truck stuck in a deep muddy river. The rain must have been nuts and we’re glad we’re here at the exact right time.

The sand here feels different than the one yesterday. It’s less compact and I slide more. Sand is not forgiving to a hesitating throttle hand. I’m also trying to do good speeds and on a downhill I get overly creative with my choice of lane and randomly hit a deep hole. Of course I go down. Djo might have died of laughter behind his balaclava but helps me lift the bike without showing it. 

In my entire riding career I have dropped my bike less than 10 times. From the top of my head I can remember two drops on the Loiyangalani trip, one in Taveta sand, one in Naivasha on a slow tarmac right turn and two side stand faints in hilly Murang’a. In the spirit of letting go, I’m about to generously double or even triple my stats on this trip.

Downhill sand, uphill sand, straight sand, sand in corners. As Djo takes the long route…

After crossing a river, I realize the front light is somewhat loose. As I stop to figure out what is going on, I see that the entire metal holding the headlight broke off. It’s 6:20pm.

We try to tie it with bungee cords, but it doesn’t look like it’ll work on the bumpy road, so I suggest to remove the light entirely.

Failed attempt at repair

We unclip the connections, put the light in Djo’s bag and calculate that we have less than 10km of sunlight left – unlikely to even reach the next small town, Nachukui. We try. At some point I pass a sizely homestead and it hits me that it might be a better bet to camp at someone’s home than going to a small town after dark trying to convince someone at the shopping centre to allow us to camp.

We agree that I will go to the homestead and ask for permission. Less threatening. I talk to the lady in Swahili but as the mzee is not home, we don’t get far. Without male permission we won’t camp anywhere, reasons Djo and suggests we ride back a bit where he saw men walking.

Turns out one of them is the local teacher. Jackpot! Boniface is heaven-sent, one of the many angels we meet on this trip!

He brings the school’s gate keys and allows us to pitch our tents, and shows us where the rain water is kept. I take a shower with two litres of rain water, while Djo cooks dinner. 

Noodles with Door Knobs, it’s been said

Today we did around 120km, of which 50 tarmac.

I lie on my bike and watch a million stars in the dark Turkana night. The locals are singing and playing drums – we’re later told they’re celebrating the rains. I feel blissful listening to them – my back is stiff and hurts, so I decide to stretch a bit on the ground – reluctant considering there could be all kinds of crawling insects. After doing my part of the dinner chores (dishes), I sleep around midnight.

Day 4 – Road to Todonyang!

Waking up around 6:30 for sunrise snaps.

Last time I camped in a school yard?

The intention was to fold and pack the tents so we are out before the kids arrive. But a conversation with the teacher about the school and the kids’ realities takes longer. When their nomadic families start moving in search of greener pastures, the kids drop out for some months.

Around 8, the kids start walking in one by one placing their piece of firewood and cup in the right spots and start playing. It’s just adorable how focused they are. 

The school’s kitchen

We buy some water in Nachukui and as we cross the lagga past town, on my left I spot a tall statue on the left. We ride up the river to find out what it is and enter a whole church compound complete with a windmill and walks of the cross. We spend an hour exploring the place and one of the catechists shows us around the church. It’s a beautiful church.

Ceiling paintings that would make Michelangelo rejoice.

My favourite depiction of Noah’s Ark ever

We climb the bell tower and get the view of the area. The bell was made in Germany and has an engraving with an ubuntu type message in both German and Turkana.

Such a beautiful view, as we listen to some gut-wrenching stuff

We’re told that water is a huge challenge. Forget farming. Even just drinking water! All wells on the first 7-10km around the lake come out salty. You’d have to drill in the mountains and pipe the water down to the villages near the lake. Quite doable technology you would think! After all it would flow down by gravity.

But we’re told the politicians just come and talk. Ask for votes. Nothing happens. Over decades. So people survive on rain water and salty water. It’s nuts!

Another 10k of dry dusty throttling and we arrive in Nariokotome without much fanfare. Where the Turkana Boy was found. One of the touristic highlights of the trip!  Hopefully it’ll work out, after the Kalokol pillar disappointment. We park at the locked gate. No sign, no phone number, no nothing. 

A lady walks up to us, she is highly unwelcoming and mumbles some words that we can’t understand. Is it Turkana? Or Swahili with a strong accent? I sign the guest book as Akoth. The lady opens the gate and as we walk to the pillar, she says elfu mbili. 2k? We understand that for the last 10 days noone has signed the guest book, but wow. We didn’t expect to pay, especially with no official signs anywhere. Djo negotiates her down to 200, which is what we have in small cash. She gets properly pissed off, but given the whole exchange happens while walking, we’re already at the skeleton (or rather the metal dummy skeleton).

We take a few snaps because there really isn’t much to see or read, or be told. The most complete prehistorical human skeleton ever discovered on this entire planet, and there is zero information. Facepalm.

We gear up and head onwards up North!

The scenery changes to bright sand again. A mountain range becomes visible on the left meaning we’re approaching Lowarengak. It’s a busy small town, larger than the other shopping centres we’ve passed. A mixed population and a bunch of shops and hotels. Nice flair. We strike up a boat option to help us cross the lake, should we not be able to ride via Ethiopia. The negotiations are stuck at 23k but we take the guy’s number anyways. 

After lunch at Ghana Hotel, we chat with the owner about potentially crossing the lake via boat. He suggests to get some advice from the Maritime Police Patrol so we ride out to the beach.

They are highly reserved, but share the number of a boat person on the Eastern shore, who could pick us up.

Then back to the road and upwards to Todonyang. Now the road becomes even more deserted. It feels like no-man’s-land already! The tire tracks are very faint now and we ride through bushes between the lake and mountain. We stop a boda to ask if we’re on the right track. We’re basically 20km from the River Omo Delta and the Ethiopian border. Sand. Dried mud sand. At some point the risen lake comes close to the road. 

And then: Open square kilometres of empty plains. I’m cruising standing along the lake on flat land void of any plant. Breathtaking. I repeat. Pure bliss. I don’t think if I’ve ever ridden in such fresh air – I feel like removing my helmet and raising my arms while riding. I guess the dopamine just blew my mind. 

Arrival in Todonyang – how do you describe this terrain with words?

We spot houses in the distance and a mobile phone mast. Sometimes you can’t wait to arrive and sometimes you want the journey to last forever.

We enter the gate of the Catholic Mission before 4pm. Our first day of arriving with ample day light – purely because we scratched the Lokitaung detour off the day’s route. They got a whole workshop for their cars and we fuel the bikes from bottles. It’s 180 per litre. The manager points us to the Father who shows us where to pitch our tents. I spend the rest of my afternoon washing my hair and doing some laundry. I also find that my period started – a whole 10 days early. Thankfully I have all my supplies but can’t help but wonder what triggered such a hormonal drop. Does this happen to other female riders, too?

This evening we chill with Fr. Wycliffe, who is in charge. Fr. Andrew who I had chatted with earlier, is on duty in another mission nearby. We have amazingly tasty goat and potato stew for dinner. We learn about the work of the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle, their different locations and pastoral and community development work in medical, education and peace work up here in the border region (check them out under this link: http://mcspa.org/). Cross-border trade is hardly existent due to the volatile peace and climate situation up here. People rely on livestock, and farming seems impossible, considering the water is salty. They (and most other institutions in the county) find it challenging to employ skilled locals as workers, and we realize most of their skilled staff are from “downcountry”. Over the years, they were able to place some local youths in vocational training to hopefully change that situation.

The government housing scheme for the village has failed the locals’ needs and interests. Considering no community consultation was done, the housing layout doesn’t meet cultural needs and imagine that: no latrines were built. In short: Watu walikataa kuingia and preferred their stick houses.  

The mobile phone mast that we earlier saw is still under installation and could become a life changer for the local community that is currently off-grid. Obviously Safaricom takes business decisions on where and when to install masts, but local politicians are likely to sell the mast as their achievement in a bid to gather votes in the August run-up.

Tourism is stunted by the fact that there is no official border crossing. To leave Kenya here, you have to get an exit stamp in Lokichar, Eldoret or Nairobi.

We just shake our heads listening to the stories. We also hear about the reverse osmosis machine, the youth peer mentorship program, the dispensary and the schools the mission runs around Todonyang. Their other locations have other focus areas including agriculture.

Around 60km done today – all sandy roads and tracks.

Day 5 – Todonyang to Lokitaung

Our day starts with a stroll down to the lake. The rising water levels make it a bit harder as it’s all very muddy. I am inspired to climb up one of the windmills that pump water to the mission, but quickly acknowledge my monkey skills suck. 

We saw these “Kijito” windmills from Thika all around the lake

Meanwhile, Djo walks around fascinatedly looking for some bird eggs. Did I mention that these morning detours mess up a smooth evening arrival? Hold that thought.

We then decide to take the bikes to the workshop. Djo sorts the Tenere’s cooling system with some silicone in thirteen seconds, but my headlight proves more “finicky”.

First, the workshop guys weld the metal holder back to the bike. While the welding itself takes 15 minutes, knowing which cables on the headlight to connect to what cables on the bike ends up being challenging! It’s a colourful spaghetti salad (it makes sense in German!). Thankfully Djo takes charge with the workshop team who seem ready to just plug and play with the cables, potentially causing a short. The earth cable was quickly identified using that machine thingy thing. But even with systematic testing it takes us an hour to get my high beam and low beam working again correctly. Zero network here, so I can’t call my bike people in Nairobi. Just as I lose my shit and open my mouth to suggest that we don’t really need the light working anyways, cause who even rides at night, it suddenly works perfectly! 

My co-rider of an artist entertains a discussion thread on FB about his trip with Akoth. You (I mean: I) can’t read his mind or face in person, but this long morning workshop session gets processed on facebook and has his friends chime in to discuss my good looking headlight. Live and let live!

After tents and luggage are packed, we have breakfast at 12. The priest joins us and we add lunch on top of the breakfast. We debate our route for the day:

We see two options to Lokitaung. Long route via Kokuru – at least to step into the Ilemi Triangle!! Security-wise he’s less in favour: if we meet youth herders (who are usually armed), we may be stopped for cash or gifts. We brainstorm an idea of paying a local boda to ride with us, in which case we’d be under his protection thus safe. Second option is the twisty road up the escarpment. When I bumped into Hamish earlier in Nairobi, he showed me epic pics of this route – I was sold already then.

The priest advises us to go back south 60km and connect to Lokitaung on the new tarmac. He strictly believes we shouldn’t do the twists, and with some probing I realize he’s concerned we may fall and get injured in a remote place with no network. Djo asks if cars can pass the route. The answer is affirmative. I catch Djo’s eyes and know exactly what he’s thinking.

We leave around 2pm, possibly the hottest time of the day. We aren’t learning, are we?

We pass by the graveyard where Turkanas are buried in a mass grave, the victims of the 2011 massacre, a result of blind retaliation between two neighbouring communities along the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. Peace work up here is tedious! So few resources and they need sharing. A single incident can easily be blown out of proportion as the priest tells us the backstory that we hadn’t found on mainstream media before.

We have reached the most Northern point of our trip and return south, crossing diagonally through the plains from the lake towards the mountains. We ride on dried wet sand soil. It’s like crème brulé. Treacherous as there could be mud under the dried crispy surface. 

Suddenly my dashboard goes off. Then when a few sandy corners later the bike stalls randomly in the middle of a sandy stretch, the starter is unresponsive. I can’t kick it either, which suggests the battery is fried or there’s a short in the system.

It’s hot. We’re standing in sand in the middle of nowhere. No tree for shade. I suggest disconnecting the battery to just run the bike on the kick. My battery is under the tank so we quickly remove the tank then Djo disconnects the battery. I would have no idea where to start and no network to google. The bike works on the kick. Yey!!

Onwards. It is so beautiful. 

Change of scenery as we approach the mountains

Finally: Network! I catch up with my pal and expert for my bike about the bike issue and he suggests we check whether a fried LED might be blocking the electric circuit. I promise to do this later. 

Suddenly a police truck appears randomly behind me in a lagga. I nearly choke and stall the bike. I let them pass before gathering my energy. It’s HOT but I kick the bike and continue. I catch up with Djo and we ride along smooth tracks crossing laggas up and down through the middle of nowhere. Finally houses and kids herding goats. A few camels.

We meet the Lowarengak-Lokitaung road just 500m from Lowarengak.

I’m so disappointed hoping we’d come out closer to the mountain but well. We turn right towards the mountains and enter a car track full of pebbles. It’s pretty rough and difficult to ride. As we get to the mountain foot 5kms later, we’re shaken and stirred and tired of pebbles and rocks.

Kumbe!

We enter a gorge that is filled with pebbles. On google maps it’s a 13km twisty road. We got that wrong. It’s actually a riverbed up an escarpment.  There’s small pebbles, medium sized pebbles, larger rocks, sand and water. It’s incredible. We use what feels like 20 minutes for the first kilometre and stop to exchange some learnings on how to ride on this mess.

Sometimes we get to 15. But mostly I’m stuck in first gear with my feet down, while Djo’s dinosaur ploughs smoothly through the pebbles on 2nd gear. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s constantly 200m ahead of me, already around the next bend, taking pics as he waits for me. I find a boda panya route to cut some of the twists, but it’s not helping me enough. 

Looks so scenic – feels so difficult!!

I don’t count how many times my bike stalls. I have to keep kicking it, it’s hot and there’s no breeze up here whatsoever.

Because I’m riding in tire tracks, I get thrown off easily if I’m too slow and hit the left or side wall of the tire track. I’m still trying to master the technique and pick up speed. 

smoooooth sailing – right?

I later post this beautiful picture on my instagram. It looks so elegant. Picture perfect. Djo must have captured the exact one moment when things were flowing, because vitu kwa ground were looking and feeling very different. I am getting brain fog and only piece the events on these 13km together later based on helmet cam pics.

Out of nowhere, I fly and land a good 2m from the bike on my right side. I’m not hurt (I think). My dropped bike leans over deeply into the second tire track. There’s no way I can lift the bike here. Fuel is running from the tank. And my beautiful new Naivasha mirror breaks! I kneel and manage to lift the bike and rest it on my thighs to just stop the fuel from pouring. Exhaustion sets in. Djo who had stopped for photos catches up and we lift the bike together. My heart is pumping but I’m hell-bent to figure out riding on this surface.

I have another drop on my left side. I hate it when I fall and can’t figure out why. Where’s the learning here? I take a minute to just think and remember the main tip for offroading being lifting the gaze and avoiding to stare down. I decide to try it.

Just as I move slightly more smoothly, my headlight seems to come loose and starts dancing. As Djo pulls out his spanners, I take a 3 minute nap right there on the stones. I can’t remember the last time I was that exhausted. I sleep and drink water and laugh all at the same time. As I open my eyes, I find a bunch of kids standing around me. They seem more interested in Djo’s bike than the mzungu sleeping on their play ground.

Taking pics from my river bed

I’m sure you will find a picture of the scene from Djo’s helmet cam in his story! He wouldn’t miss the opportunity to tell it like it is while serving akoth choma.

After catching my breath, we keep moving. Now we’re also trying to make mile. It’s 6:24pm now and we got over 8km left to go – with no idea what terrain awaits us ahead. It could get worse, right?

Then I reach a dry but slippery rock slab. It’s not too steep but I miscalculate the route vs my bike’s power and get stuck halfway. I decide it’s not worth breaking my leg trying to manoeuvre around so I wait for Djo to catch up and push the bike. The kids say that there’s a boda track avoiding the steep slabs. We discuss our options but it doesn’t look that bad and we don’t feel like going back (it’s not our level-headedness that got us here at this time of the day after all!).

It’s getting more interesting!

A minute later we hit some steep, wet rock steps and more kids joyfully assemble around us, they laugh and jump around and offer to help us push the bikes up the slabs.

I mean what the heck. How is this road even on Google Maps?

Djo is warming up to the adventure. The Tenere jumps up steep rocks with water flowing down – highest bidder to my mpesa will get the video.

Let me not lie – the Spirit needed longer legs at this point

“You’ve got the right tires for this work!” – Djo praises my bike when he climbs off. I hear it loud and clear.

After one or two more, we get to smooth soil. Sunlight is ending. Djo tries to light my way, but this being a twisty narrow track it’s futile. It’s blinding me more than helping. A bit of up and down entering Lokitaung. A final steep rocky uphill that I gas up in darkness. 

It’s fascinating: All the dirt riding in darkness has me improve my bike handling skills drastically: The less I see, the more my body does the right thing instinctively. There must be a transformational learning point here.

Tarmac! We celebrate. 

We ask two men for a place to eat and sleep. They tell us they want none of our tents in their town but point us to “Burundi Guest House” where we can please leave some money in the local economy. We laugh and ride over sharing a headlight on a mix of tarmac and dirt.

The lady orders food for us. Bucket shower. Mosquitoes under the torn net. Sleep.

Not more than 55km done today but WOW!

Day 6 – Lokitaung Prison and the Lake Crossing

Morning breaks over Lokitaung. It’s actually a nicely green place between the hills. I count my bruises on my right knee and thighs. It occurs to me that if I had worn my thigh bag during yesterday’s falls, I might have injured my hip. Maybe that’s why I lost it on Day 2?

We examine the electronic issue on my bike further and find that one of the LEDs in the headlight is fried, thus blocking the entire circuit. We disconnect the headlight’s cables and reconnect the battery. My heart sings at the idea of continuing this trip with the starter working!

Morning in Lokitaung

We look for breakfast and then ride out to visit the prison where the colonialists incarcerated some leaders of the independence fight from 1953 onwards (IIRC).  As if Kapenguria and Lodwar weren’t far enough – they took them here.  How scared was this white power?

Djo posing at Kenyatta’s cell’s door

The prison is being manned by APs, one of who is a KTM 990 rider. We have a good chat about his time in Lokitaung and regret not having more time as he describes some offroad adventures around the town to various hills. Just half a day’s ride without luggage would be such a treat!

Serious offroading opportunities around town

But our next stop is on the other side of the lake. We don’t even consider taking the gorge back down (Intellectually speaking I can’t recall why), so from here we take the new tarmac road back down to the lake. Do you know how every time you hit the rough road after tarmac you have to recalibrate your brain? Well, we’re getting good practice here, with a dozen off-road patches across this tarmac road. Basically they left all the river bed crossings as rough roads. 

There are also some corrugated parts today which is how I figure out that I actually injured my leg yesterday in that fall. It hurts quite a bit on the outer side of the knee, and I have to hover the foot while riding.

The tarmac from Kachoda to Nachukui

Given the road isn’t on maps (satellite images hugely outdated), we can only guess its length. It ends up being around 60 clicks of tarmac via Kachoda and we came out pretty much near the school where we camped two days earlier.  With every km tarmac going south, we will have to cover some sand going north again 😉

By now we’re communicating with guys in Ileret. Fuel stocks are low, so we fuel in Nachukui knowing well we may have to drain it when loading the bikes on the boat.

Rule 1: Fill the tank when you see fuel!

We plan for a quick 50k on the known sandy rough road to Lowarengak passing the Turkana boy once more. But my bike is bored by doing this road again and throws a curveball: I realize that one of the two bolts holding my fork is missing, and the other one is loose. We tighten it, but within 2 km it’s loose again.

Djo asks me whether I have nail polish on me. I shake my head. “Nail polish is a very good threadlook”, he says in his matter of fact voice that will have you either pull up a chair to sit down and listen, or ignore him, depending on the shape of your ego.

We reach Lowarengak and set out to replace the bolt. I find a “downcountry” fundi. Djo has enough of me losing things and instructs me to go source some nail polish while he drains the dinosaur’s fuel into a jerrycan. I walk from shop to shop and I’m met with unbelieving and regretful eyes. They are being wonderfully Kenyan about my ridiculous request and make me feel like they usually sell a huge variety of nail polish but just today morning it ran out. 

Finally, I find a half empty bottle of blue in a salon. The lady offers to make my hair as well as my nails, but on hearing I want to use it to repair my motorbike, she nods understandingly and says “You have to try. It might work!” Life can be so simple if we lift each other up in our craziness.

I have to go back to Lowarengak for braids

While I feel very lucky to not experience any cramps or other menstruation symptoms this time round, I nearly forget that I need a toilet before the second half of the day, esp the boat ride. After that’s sorted in some family’s compound’s latrine, we move onwards to the boat. The boat guy turns out to be a broker and introduces us to another guy who’ll take us. We ride through sand, more sand and finally beach sand to the water. 

A bunch of guys are ready to help us load our luggage and bikes on the boat. Djo rides his bike into the water next to the boat and stops in the middle of the crowd. I read from the group’s body language that something is not adding up. 

Small meeting

The guys are asking for 2k! He tells them 500 bob. They load his bike on the boat and (an 8 seconds job) and walk back to deal with mine. I’m still draining fuel so they have to chill. I don’t know why they decide to have the conversation in Swahili but Lowarengak being a cosmopolitan place they might not share a language. The 5 dudes debate why this guy with the white person only gives them 100 bob each. I realize that the mama with the many kids wouldn’t get any cash if this is their maths. She speaks no Swahili and has no phone so I can’t mpesa her anything. We finally find a loose 100 to tip her. A key learning for this kind of trip is to carry lots of small change. Or large cash of course.

It’s 3:20pm by the time my bike is on the boat. Turns out the captain is actually the turn boy and the captain himself is another guy. I chat them up to pass time and to raise my levels of confidence in the success of our journey. Between 2-3 hours is the promised crossing time and I’m getting mentally ready for another sand ride in darkness. 

Before we lose network signal I let some fellow riders know where we are and what we’re about to do. Sitting in their Nairobi offices, they seem highly confident in the safety of our endeavours. My friend later tells me she started dreaming of sending choppers and bikers to the rescue. Pole for the palpitations but bless you always, N!

The lake is around 35km wide here and we’re moving between 10-15km/h depending on the waves. It feels painfully slow, especially considering I have to sit in the middle of my bench. The moment I lean to the right, the propeller doesn’t shika the water well, and I’m told “Sasa imekataa, kaa kati kati”.  There’s no network for most part of the lake crossing so I get into some meditative state while keeping my eyes on the horizon to avoid sea sickness.

Entering Marsabit on the water route

By 5:30pm we are 1km off the land on the other side according to Maps and 2km according to my visual estimation. The lake’s water level has risen so much that we’re riding the boat “on land” (Maps satellite images are heavily outdated!) for quite some time. The captain has a hard time finding a landing spot and we ride northwards along the shore for a few more kms to find a spot to reach land safely. 

What Maps says
Things kwa ground

Finally, the two jump off the boat and pull us to land. 

Our phones have switched to Ethiopian network, which is as +251 as our round the lake trip will get.

A bunch of friendly locals and curious kids await us. We don’t exactly have much cash left to tip, but the Marsabitians help offload our bikes either way. I exchange some pleasantries with the boat guys about arriving safely being more important than being on time. One day my government will ask me to surrender my passport.

We wade to the knees in smelly water with tons of dead fish scales floating and slip on muddy grounds. My jeans get soaked and Djo’s boots are full of water. 

Finding a clean plastic vessel to pour the fuel back into Djo’s bike turns out a bit tricky, and by 6:45pm all we can think of is chasing sunlight on the remaining 10km down to Ileret through the sand.

But the universe loves us: The widest lagga has been fixed up with concrete and the road resembles a slightly sandy highway. Some corrugations, which we hit with 50-60, and on arrival in Ileret, Djo spots the illuminated cross of the Catholic Mission, which he suggests to follow. I really can’t see any cross, but some teenagers point us to the kanisa and a minute later we actually reach the mission. We greet the priest who just walks into the compound from evening mass. “Hi! Are you Fr. Benedict? (Yes). Can I ask you a crazy question? (mmmhhhh, okay?) Did you just switch off the cross?”

We all laugh heartily about the cross lighting our way but disappearing midway and me doubting Djo’s sanity (I never saw the cross!). The priest shows us a few camping spots and we choose the one on the hill top, pitch our tents and scavenge the left-overs from the dinner of some cheerful NGO workers who are in town. We would have cooked (noodles!!) but instead devour ugali cabbage. The shower is heavenly and we get to charge our devices on solar and let everyone know we made it alright to Ileret! 

Day 6 done: 55+ tarmac, 50k offroad and 40km water

We’re halfway through our trip. Some incredible memories made!

Everyone’s healthy and no bike turned submarine. Team vybes are strong so far and our humour and patience sort out the little occurrences along the journey. The intimidation of riding with Kitui Djothefu has reduced, despite the fact that he’s keeping his shit together way too well while I keep dropping the bike. My bike’s mechanical issues give him something to use his brain power on, which I believe he’s secretly happy about (who rides for 6 days without music??).

Our route plan has two more day stages to Loiyangalani (which is just as good as home!). That night I bathe in the feeling of accomplishment and success!

Good morning in Ileret

Are you having fun reading this? It’s hard to write about a 12-day trip! Maybe this should have been a book instead!?

Short break before we go to part 2: Some key logistics & ride preps

Y’all have asked me questions about my experience planning for the logistics of such a ride. Here you go:

Safety Gear? 

1. I swear by my mesh jacket up here. It’s 35°C and you’re riding off-road meaning you’re highly physically engaged while riding. Sometimes you move at 10 km/h with no breeze, and sometimes you stand in the sun figuring out your next steps for a few minutes. 

2. Boots: Off-Road boots would be much more ideal to protect feet, ankles and shins. My riding boots are armoured and high but in comparison to offroad boots leave 2 areas of my legs exposed to risk: If a foot gets stuck between rocks or twigs while riding the ankle may twist or break. The footpegs can causes bruises on the calves.

3. Knees and thighs: My riding jeans is two sizes up and therefore airy enough to not sweat. Just the thought of wearing those velcro knee guards or tight jeans makes me sweat. You could also get mesh pants (Check at Gear Hub on Likoni Road!). I fell on my side a few times, collecting bruises on the side of the knee (where the knee padding does not reach). So that’s my next thing to figure out. I will also endevour to have as little as possible luggage on my body in case of falls. The hip bag got the memo and said goodbye before my first unintended dismount.

Luggage?

Knowing what to carry and what is useless is the first step. Finding the right bag solution to carry your stuff is the second, equally important step.

Basically, with these vibrations, everything will fall and tear and break. The dirt, sand and dust will penetrate all fabric and zips. 

I follow Kinga’s advice and put all my luggage including the tent and mattress into one large speed bag (a basic, dirt cheap 75l canvas bag with a roll-down closure from Germany). Good idea because the tent bag would have torn completely on these roads if I had carried it separately. I tie the speed bag down symmetrically with two (EU normed) straps with metal buckles and then fixate them further with bungee cords. After the first bumpy kilometer of a day my items would have moved around a little inside my bag and then I stop to lash the bag down again more tightly. It works pretty well after I figure it out on Day 3 or so! I love that I only have one item to watch in my mirrors. Sorry, mirror singular. Muuuuch better than losing my contact lenses because of a torn backpack zip in Eliye last year…

Only disadvantage is that my tools are inside the bag – making them hard to access during the day. They would be more ideally placed in a tank bag.

I also had a very light backpack for my water, snacks, first aid kit and power bank.

Djo has a cool saddlebag combination from Red Mamut, allowing him to store his clothes separately from the kitchen and camping equipment. It also has separate pockets for first aid kit and tools. So where we don’t camp, he can just remove the bag with his clothes and has an easier time packing in the morning than I do – my bag needs packing from scratch every single day.

Bike love?

A 1,300km rough off-road ride is not a joke on any bike.

Carrying tools, yes, sure. But do we even know if we really have all the tools for our bikes? Does that spanner which I have actually fit between that awkward plastic and metal to tighten that nut?

Check bearings, fork, suspensions and seals – and don’t be afraid to replace things before departure. Consistent use of thread lock or even use of lock nuts in crucial spots would have been really ideal (giving myself a side eye for this oversight) and saves you time on a daily bolt check. Carrying extra spark plugs and throttle/clutch cables is key. We had a full puncture repair kit incl. pump and tire levers. And the nail polish.

Medical side of things?

How’s your nutrition and fitness generally? I don’t mean lifting weights but having endurance for many 12-hour days in a row. While on the road, staying hydrated is a major strategy to safe riding. If you’re not peeing, take 10 minutes and finish a whole bottle of water, please. Start and finish your day with an extra litre. A few sachets of ORS are standard. First aid kit and skills (!) are a must. We didn’t plan to need to remove ticks from our bodies, but indeed the 1st aid kit had tweezers. An air evacuation cover is obviously ideal and rather affordable.

Knowing the route and directions?

20km up here can take 2 hours as we impressively proved enroute to Lokitaung. We used several apps with different map material to piece together our route before departure (MapsMe, Gaia and Google Maps Satellite view). In addition, we always confirmed on the ground whenever possible, even the most basic information about the terrain, road, distance, weather, safety etc. As expected, the more relevant intel comes from local riders, not people who use cars. We got it wrong a few times. Gathering info from other riders is also helpful, as panya routes exist that are not on Maps. 

Excited to find out what went down on the remaining half of the trip?

Continue with Part 2 here (link) for the deets on the Marsabit and Samburu adventures with some incredible moments with 6 million year old fossils, riding through Sibiloi National Park, advanced mechanical challenges and some bone-shattering night rides!


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Whisperings of Cheper | Part 4

Trouble checks in! There’s a long stretch of road that is just a sand basin, pure deep sand. There are very few car tracks and absolutely no motorcycle tracks. Motorcycles don’t pass here. Riding slows down to a crawl. Looks smooth in the photos, but believe me, it’s a sandpit!

We are about 100 kilometres from Loiyangalani. For sure, we are not making it there. We change our target destination for the night to Gas town. This is the “highway” upon which we dreamt of cruising. All this time, no one passes by. Not a car. Not a motorbike. No one.

Here is just dance session.

Large regions of sand and craziness.

Zooming in on Maps shows how vehicles go off the main road to avoid going mad. We don’t know this, and we are going mad now. The squiggly section of the red line is where I next fall in the sand.

We stop to evaluate our situation. It’s about an hour and a half to darkness. We are hardly doing 15kph.

Discussing our options. It’s clear we are in deep shit!

Akoth goes ahead.

I fall, but Akoth doesn’t see it, she keeps going. I have to take some bags off to lift the bike.

Bags off. This is the reason why I got quick release bags.

Lifting…

Restrapping bags.

Onward soldier!

Looks smooth and nice, but you can see the dance in the handlebars!

I try to ride the side of the road. It’s better, but deep trenches and ridges force me back into the sand basin.

The torture goes on forever…

…and ever…

I finally meet Akoth, she is stopped after the crazy sandy section. She tells me that she also fell just a little after we parted. That was just comedic! 40 minutes to cover 5 kilometres!!

Giving each other some quick sort of therapy for the trauma we just endured!

We keep going, but soon we have to stop again and figure out this shit. It’s getting dark. Akoth wants a plan. My plan is simple: we keep going. But she doesn’t have a headlight. The road is terrible, we have graduated from crazy sand to crazy gravel. It’s a difficult ride. We are slow. And another problem: we have not fuelled since Illeret. We are not sure we have enough fuel. We agree to keep going, and try to make it to Gas.

Another stop to confirm with each other that we are actually in deep shit, that this is reality, and not some bad dream we shall wake up out of. Yep, it’s shit. Deep. It’s hit the fan biggly. Monumental covfefe!

All this time, we have met absolutely no one. Not a single soul.

We find a sign and a junction. A very cute sign… Complete with a nice little cute gable roof over it. But nothing is written on it…

“Very useful sign!” quips Akoth, smarting with sarcastic frustration.

We check our maps. The road to the right looks less used, but it is the one to Gas. The road straight on goes to North Horr. We take the right. On my GPS, I loaded the track I used last time, and we are far from it. I’m a bit confused about that, wondering why we are on a different road.

We take the right.

Akoth goes ahead, to make use of the little remaining daylight. I take some photos before following along.

The road is still crazy, difficult to ride gravel, with two deep vehicle tyre tracks. One has to stick to the tyre ruts. If you touch the walls of the ruts you risk losing control on the gravel. Lighting such a road with artificial light doesn’t help matters, It’s even more difficult to read the road, and more so for Akoth who soon has to rely on my headlights.

Vast landscape of nothingness…

Akoth says she sees better with the white light than the yellow one. I switch my main headlights on to the high beam, in addition to my yellow spotlights, to get the bright white light.

Another stop to check our sanity.

We are tired, but we plod on. We have to ride in a certain formation for my headlight to be useful to her. It makes things even harder. I need some momentum to ride the gravel well. Akoth is slower and coming down with fatigue too. She has been riding such gravel with ease, but is not doing so well now. The sudden stops throw me off my rhythm. It’s been kilometres upon kilometres of going up a long incline. We keep hoping we will reach the horizon, and on the other side, the gravel will end. We will be able to cruise faster. We consider camping out here, but we do not have enough water. We keep praying to happen by a settlement, a manyatta, people… But none appear. We are tired, but we plod on…

And all this time, we meet no one. Not a car. Not a motorbike. No one.

Suddenly, it hits me why we are not on the path I recorded on my GPS two years ago. I rode to Sibiloi with a friend, and now I remember that we left the main road and followed some motorcycle paths for many kilometres before coming back to this road. We did not pass through his section. The motorcycle path was way better. We should be on that motorcycle path!

I tell this to Akoth, and we check maps to see where that motorcyle path rejoins this road. Maybe the road will be better after that. It doesn’t. It runs kind of parallel to the road we are on for a long distance. Cofveve!

Akoth goes down.

We keep going…

I look at my GPS and see that we are approaching where the motorcycle path joins this road. We reach it, and I notice that it doesn’t join, it crosses this road from the right and goes on to the left. I rush up to tell Akoth I think we should turn left and follow it. We stop and discuss it for a moment…

“Is my light getting dimmer?” I ask Akoth.
“Yeah, it is.”

I switch off my bike’s ignition in horror. I flip all my light switches off, switch the ignition back on, and try to start the bike…

Nothing.

My battery is flat.

Suddenly it’s quiet. As quiet as an expansive gravel-floored tomb.

And dark. Pitch black. Except for our phones’ screens.

Shit!

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Whisperings of Cheper | Part 3

I come around a bush, and there is the pool… Except there’s a naked local woman in it, bathing, waist-deep in the water. She pauses scrubbing herself and glowers at me. Our eyes lock for a moment, both of us caught by surprise. I hastily turn around and walk back up. So, once again, I don’t have photos of the pool. If you want to see it you will just have to visit the place yourself, ey?

We need fuel. We have been assured that fuel is available in the village, but neither one of us wants to ride today. Not even a few meters. We agree to buy the fuel in containers and bring it to our bikes. But we don’t know how much we need. After a half-hour or so of separately scouting around, I am left to fuel the bikes. Akoth has a work call to make. I go to the village to a place that sells fuel at 10 litres for 2000 shillings. I need to do this quick because the sun is going down, and I must enjoy and photograph the sunset.

Finally, sunset…

Dinner today is, again, another feast worth of kings. We have conversations with the other guests (they are leaving tomorrow too) and later settle into our tents for the night. But not before Akoth spots a small brown scorpion rushing from under her tent.

Pieces of Akoth’s bike that are no longer attached to the bike.

Goodnight.


Day 8:  Friday 28th January, 2022 | Illeret to Koobi Fora

I have bad memories of Koobi Fora and Sibiloi National Park from my trip two years ago. I have always wanted to go back to exorcise those memories, and hopefully create good ones. I wanted to ride through there last year solo, but was told that the security situation in the park was not good. Today it’s all systems go. I’m excited about that, despite the lurking anxiety.

Good morning. After breakfast, we pack up to leave. While packing up my tent, I disturb the peace of another scorpion that runs out from underneath it.

Packed and ready to leave, but I’m busy watching Kevin Kamau Muchai, the building and construction technologist, giving building tips online. Two years ago you could hardly send a text message here. Today I can watch a video online.

Posting a trip update on Facebook.

A little photo session before leaving.

We stop at TBI to take some photos at the gate.

Rehydrate.

Life goes on. If you know you know…

Straightening Akoth’s handlebars.

Adjusting her clutch.

Carcass by the roadside.

We are riding the Illeret-North Horr road. We need to find the junction where we branch off and make entry into Sibiloi National Park. Like I said earlier, my traced GPS route is not helping us. We navigate by phone.

Akoth goes ahead, as usual. After a bit of riding, I slow down. We have gone too far, we should have turned into Sibiloi already. I stop to check the map, and sure enough, we missed the turn. Akoth shows up, she has also turned around. I turn around too, and we slowly make our way back, looking for the junction.

We run into a herdsman with some cows at the junction.

How did we miss the sign?

We can’t understand each other, but I figure he is asking for medicines. He is friendly, even runs around to collect sticks to put under my side stand so the bike won’t sink into the sand as I get off to take photos.

We pause, to check with each other, and confirm that we are committed to this madness. Yes, we are.

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Whisperings of Cheper | Part 2

He sorts out Akoth’s footpeg issue and makes me a pair of tyre levers. I don’t like the tyre levers. They are a far cry from my Buzettis, and will be really difficult to use in case of a puncture. I don’t like them so much that I never even take a single photo of them.

I also buy a spare clutch cable. I tell the guys seated outside the shop that I’m not happy about how they are giving us high prices.

“What can I do to be one of you, so you can be nice to me?” I ask. “I should marry one of your daughters!”

They tell me that that is ok, I just need to give them 300 camels.

“Where will I get 300 camels?” I ask.

They also express interest in Akoth. “Leave her with us, they say.”

“Give me 300 camels,” I say.

I have another phone conversation with someone whose home is Kibish, about the possibility of going around the lake through Omorate. The moment I mention that I’m with a white person, he tells me to forget about it. The Ethiopians are real jumpy right now, and they might think it’s an investigative reporter. And just like that, we bury any thoughts of going through Omorate.

We need to find a place to have lunch.

We find a hotel after looking around.

Done with lunch, we leave and head north. Going to the KWS camp and the fundi has eaten up some good time. It’s running late now. We don’t know the condition of the road north. Our options are to go find out or spend the night in Kalokol. We go to find out.

Kalokol.

Leaving Kalokol.

The road north turns out to be not as sandy as I thought it would be. If you look at maps, it closely follows the edge of the lake, and so I expected it to be as sandy as the one heading south towards Eliye. But it still is rough, and not fun to ride.

Corrugation. Tough.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we shall not make it to Nariokotome before dark. We discuss options, one of which is to find a way to the lake and camp by it for the night.

This should be Kataboi.

Can you spot Akoth?

Akoth stops. Her headlamp is moving around too much. It’s threatening to fall off. We hope to tighten whatever is loose, but find that we have even bigger problems. The bracket holding the light is breaking off its support. It needs to be welded back. Not a roadside fix. We try to hold the lamp still with bungee cords, an effort that proves futile. We eventually decide to remove the lamp altogether from the bike. It’s the heaviestheadlampintheworld lamp! That’s a German word. No wonder the bracket gave up! I’d give up too! The headlamp ends up in my poor pannier bag.

My suspension creaked in protest when I placed that heaviestheadlampintheworld headlamp on my bike.

That eats over thirty minutes of our time. Things are now getting desperate. We need somewhere to stay for the night. We can camp anywhere, but we did not stock up on enough water. We are not sure the little we have will last us a night in this heat. Our option is to find a way to the lake, or camp at any village we come across.

We stop a truck in desperation and ask the occupants if there is any shop nearby where we can get water. They say no. We ask if they can spare us some water, which they do.

We reach a small settlement. Akoth is running fast ahead, trying to cover as much ground as she can before dark. She is flying, now that we have shifted 50 kilos of heaviestheadlampintheworld headlamp from her bike to mine. The next small settlement we saw on maps is 6km away. I, however stop to chat a man and a woman by the side of the road. I ask them if there’s anywhere nearby we could buy water. They say that there is a shop nearby. I ask if there’s a way to the lake. They tell me that the only way is the dry river we just crossed a few hundred metres behind. I get the feeling that this would be a good place to stay for the night. I run to catch up with Akoth.

We decide to go back and stay at that settlement for the night. We reach near some huts, and Akoth says she will go and talk with them and see if they can allow us to camp at their homestead for the night. I say ok. There are some women in the homestead, and she starts a conversation with them. I can’t hear them, but I’m not hopeful. I can’t see a man. I do not think these women will make such a decision without a man present.

Akoth calls me over. I try to talk with the woman, but her body language is enough to tell me we won’t get anywhere. I instead ask her if there’s a place we can get water, a shop. I thank her, and we walk away.

“They can’t decide without the man,” I tell Akoth.

We keep riding back. A short distance away we spot some mabati structures by the side of the road, and some men chilling on chairs outside. The men turn to look at us and run towards us as we slow to a stop…

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Whisperings of Cheper | Part 1

It is said that the Turkana people don’t bury casualties of war. They leave them in the open fields, to be devoured by animals and birds.

In May 2011, bandits from Ethiopia, armed with AK 47 assault rifles assaulted a group of Kenyan traders who had gone into Ethiopia to buy food. This happened at a time when there was lots of barter trade across the border between the Turkana of Kenya and the Daasanach of Ethiopia, despite incidents of cattle rustling. This attack is said to have been a retaliation, but I have found it difficult to know who started it all where. This brutality, and the resulting counter-attacks left at least 42 Turkana people dead. Casualties of war. The ones not to be buried.

The Tondonyang Catholic Parish laid these casualties of war in a mass grave, that today remains a stark reminder of the savagery of war. A giant tombstone crowned with a simple cross sticks out into the clear blue skies like a sore thumb against the expansive plain landscape.

This mass grave is the furthest north Akoth and I went on our January 2022 adventure ride to Northern Kenya. And it is the furthest north I have ever gone.

In January last year, I did a solo motorcycle trip to Turkana and Marsabit counties. You can read that whole story here. On my way up, I did not want to use the usual Kapenguria to Kainuk to Lokichar to Lodwar tarmac road. I scouted for a new route and found a scenic and enjoyable road that goes through Kacheliba and Lorengippi, places I had never been to before.

I wanted a similar experience again: To get to Lodwar using a road I have never used before. Poring over maps revealed a road from Turkwel Dam to Turkwel town, via Naipa. It was difficult to get information on this route, but I happened to consult someone on Facebook who said that indeed it is a passable road. And safe.

The plan solidified.

Having slaved over work through the December holidays, I decided to up and go immediately I wrap up some projects mid-January. I was ready. My bike was ready.

I informed a small group of bikers of my plans and asked if anyone was willing to jump onboard, we go suffer together. It’s difficult for people to make time off work in January. But Akoth could, and this brave soul stepped up.

And that’s how I ended up doing this trip with Akoth Manu, a toughasnutsKenyanGermanlady. My space bar works fine. You will understand as you read the story…

I was anxious and apprehensive about doing the trip with her. I have had bad experiences with riding buddies in the past, and the last thing I wanted was to wish I did the trip solo. My solo trips have been heaven. But I decided to just go for it and see what happens. We had a little chat online, and I could see that she was anxious too. There was an unspoken understanding in the air that if we find out we can’t get along we shall amicably part ways. We left it open, it could work, or things could go south.

I knew she has done several tough trips north, including one solo trip to Kakuma and back, and she knew I too have done the same. The knowledge that none will be babysitting the other was kinda comforting to both of us.

And so, a couple of days before the trip, we were both studying maps, talking to people, and getting as much information as we could. We also met once and came up with a loose trip plan. Loose, because there were just too many unknowns to make any solid plans around.

But what is an adventure without unknowns, ey?

The grand plan was to make a loop around Lake Turkana. Go north along its west, nip into Ethiopia at the top through Omorate (after possibly visiting someone in Kibish), and come down south along the lake’s east side, through Illeret.

The plan.

Well, the actual trip did not go that way, for reasons you will find out as you read along. So many things did not go in any way we planned. Every day’s plan turned into a whirlwind of chaotic adventure and unknowns.

So, dear reader, welcome to chaos.

Not complete chaos, though. Somehow, things worked out. Akoth and I worked well together… Kinda… And we met good people along the way who were kind to us, who made our travel possible and gave us lots of useful information.

I have tried to pen the events as accurately as I can remember them, and to put as many photos as possible. I aim to genuinely share my awesome experience with you. I hope, in the end, to make you feel like you were on this trip with us! My work will be done well if you slump into a hangover after you are done!

Before we begin, here is a rough outlay of how the trip actually went (for me), in terms of days and destinations:

Day 1: Nairobi to Kainuk [463 km, about 107km off-road]
Day 2: Kainuk to Lodwar, via Turkwel Dam, Kapelbok, Naipa, Turkwel [224km, about 175km off-road]
Day 3: Lodwar to ECD School [100km, about 70km off-road]
Day 4: ECD School to Tondonyang [188km all off-road]
Day 5: Tondonyang to Lokitaung, via Lowarengak-Lokitaung gorge road [57km off-road]
Day 6: Lokitaung to Illeret, via boat across lake [149kms, 56km on tarmac, 40km on boat]
Day 7: Rest Day, a visit to Turkana Basin Institute
Day 8: Illeret to Koobi Fora [102km off-road]
Day 9: Koobi Fora to Nowhere [151km off-road]
Day 10: Nowhere to Loiyangalani, via Gas [69km off-road]
Day 11: Loiyangalani to Maralal [235km off-road]
Day 12: Maralal to Nairobi, via Nyahururu, Njabini [343km, 20km off-road]

Total: 1981km, 1227 off-road

And here are a few tasty bites from the upcoming banquet:

Tarmac ends.

Marich at dusk.

We run away from a fund raiser.

An interesting lunch session.

Kalokol Pillar Stones fenced off now.

Falling.

Cooking door knobs.

Beautiful sunrises.

Bonding with ancestors.

This…

Paintings.

Awesome roads!

Boat ride.

Beautiful sunsets.

Falling.

More lovely, smooth roads.

Our bikes making love.

Petrol stations.

Akoth’s bike taken apart.

Alright, enough of that. Let’s start properly from the beginning, shall we? Sit down, and let me tell you about my trip north with Akoth.


Day 1: Friday 21st January, 2022 | Nairobi to Kainuk

Today is a longer day for me than it is for Akoth, who left yesterday and spent the night in Nakuru. We agree that she can keep going, and we can catch up at Marigat. I need to move quickly, because the last 100km of our trip will be off-road, and we don’t want to be caught up by darkness.

Fuelling up the previous night.

Got a bunch of SD cards to save photos in.

Morning of Day 1, all packed up, ready to roll.

Leaving home, two hours later than planned.

Nairobi – Nakuru highway.

Naivasha.

Idiot of the day. Akoth’s mirror got broken yesternight by a driver pulling this exact stunt.

Showing the idiot the good finger.

Nakuru.

Nakuru town.

First stop at Kabarak. It’s getting warm, some clothes have to come off. I give Akoth a call, and she tells me she is already at Marigat. She will do a work call as she waits for me.

Nakuru – Marigat road.

I get to Marigat, roll into a petrol station, and there she is. She just got here too, after wrapping up her work call.

We fuel and catch up. We need a plan. Akoth has another work call to be done before end of day. We are not sure we will reach Kainuk before nightfall. She may have to do it somewhere along the way. We decide to have lunch at Chemolingot and think it over some more.

Marigat.

Akoth leaves Marigat town and goes ahead, while I go to nearby shops to shop for sandals.

Leaving Marigat.

This bridge is now done.

This one not yet.

Friendly stop. “Mzungu ako mbali?” “Hapana, ako tu hapa mbele!” “Sawa!” “Sawa!”

The situation at Loruk.

We arrive at Chemolingot, and have lunch at Mama Juniour’s.

Yummy!

We also discuss Akoth’s meeting and decide that she can do it at 7 pm. We estimate that we will be at Lomut by then. A chat with some security people had informed us not to go into Marakwet County. At Kolowa we will hang right to stay in Baringo County, and get into West Pokot county, avoiding the route through Tot.

After lunch, we hit the road. A few hills later, the tarmac road ends. It’s 1543hrs, and we have 100km of off-roading to do!

The sides of the road have been cleared. Looks like they are building and expanding the road.

Bridge at Sigor.

Sigor.

We are doing quite well. Akoth can have her meeting at Marich or Kainuk, instead of Lomut.

We reach this bridge near Marich, and I can’t believe my eyes! It’s now a proper bridge!

Last time I passed here, this bridge was a twisted mess below:

We agree that Akoth will make her call at Marich.

Joining tarmac to Kainuk.

Marich.

I message and chat with guys on my phone, and take dusk photos as I wait for her to be done. The network here is terrible.

Marich at dusk.

Once she is done, we leave. The plan is to spend the night at a place called Calabash, some 17km away. I have already spoken with Winnie of Calabash about our arrival. Winnie has also been very helpful in getting me information on security in the area, and on the condition of the road we intend to use tomorrow to Lodwar.

I have been to Calabash several times before, and I know they have signboards starting a few kilometres away. I’m in front, looking out for them. I see one signboard, approach it, but I just can’t read it. Akoth can read it. We reach another signboard, and again I can’t read it, but Akoth can.

Suddenly it occurs to me what is wrong! I bring my hand up and touch my face… I don’t have my glasses! I removed them and placed them on the bike at Marich while wearing my balaclava. Then I put on my helmet, got on the bike and rode off. I have no idea where I might have dropped them!

I inform Akoth of my predicament, and together we search for them on the bike, hopelessly hoping to find them hanging in there somewhere.

Nothing.

Just about two kilometres from Calabash, we turn around and start riding back, searching for my glasses. We scour the road hoping to find them lying somewhere, unsmashed. Strange thing is, my vision seemed to have been pretty good before I realised I did not have my glasses. Now I can’t see shit! We ride up to our previous Marich stop and look around.

After a while, I have to accept the loss. We leave again, tried, aching for a rest, and head towards Calabash. I’m pretty sure I packed a spare pair in my bags. It’s not my latest prescription, but it’s better than nothing.

We arrive at Calabash and park our bikes next to the sitting area. I get some bags off my bike for the night. I packed stuff so I can leave some bags undisturbed when not camping out. But there’s no food. In the spectacle of the spectacles, I forgot to call ahead and ask them to prepare food for us. The cook has gone away for the night. Ruth, the lady in charge, tells us that we can get some rice. That works. We will have some rice with a can of githeri I carried. Another lady is nice enough to make the food for us in the kitchen, as we get shown our accommodation.

One of Calabash’s dogs keeping an eye on me.

They have nice little huts, clean and well ventilated. The bathrooms and toilets are outside. We are the only guests. The huts are a little distance from the reception area, and we take our bags down. Some containers of water are brought down for our use.

After we have our simple dinner, we go down to rest our weary bodies. We are sweaty and dusty, though, a shower is mandatory.

Sorry.. A bath.

After settling in, I step out without warning. Akoth shouts at me. She is not using the bathrooms, but is bathing from a bench outside the hut.

“Don’t come this way, I’m taking a bath out here!”

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Farcing Champagne Ridge

I started cycling about three months ago. The other day, a female friend asked me if cycling “adds stamina.” I remained tight-lipped about that.

This adventure ride I had, that I’m about to narrate to you, might just be the proverbial brew that lets loose secrets held behind these tight lips. The title of this story is apt, so if she is reading this, hang in here to the end, lady, I just may answer you…

Like I said, I started cycling three months ago. During that period, I’ve been looking for like minded lunatics to hang out with. Today I think I found the right mix.

A friend sent me a poster for this day adventure ride event organised by an outdoor adventure company @adventureescapadeske. It was not barbarically priced (KES 1500), so I jumped in with both pedals.

On the day of the ride, we check in at around 8:30am, ready to see what adventure our guides have prepared for us.

Morning arrival and preparations.
Getting to know each other, and a quick briefing on the route.

We are to ride in two groups, one group to do a shorter and easier 20km, and the group with higher levels of of lunacy to tackle the 40km track. I appoint myself as one of high levels of lunacy, and opt into the 40km group. If I die, I die. Hardly anyone in the group seems keen to do the 20km stretch… Some seem undecided, but there is a general gung-ho spirit to go 40.

Trouble starts immediately we set off. It’s a long steep incline getting out of here. Really steep! Jacob’s ladder to heaven reincarnated!

Tony, our guide leading us out.
Quickly wearing my SPD shoes…
And off we go…
The climb begins…
And gets even climbier…

Mid-climb, my chain pops off. I took my bike for service yesterday, and the fundi told me my small front ring has a bend, one he couldn’t straighten at the time. I need the small ring on the hills, but the bend is causing my chain to keep falling off…

Putting back the chain…

I reach the top of the hill where some of the faster guys are waiting for us. I’m heaving and wheezing like an Omicron-stricken walrus. My limbs are shaking, I feel a bit dizzy, and I’m clinging onto my bike for balance. My lungs and my legs are burning red.

Top of the hill.
The rest arrive, some pushing the bikes.

It’s like 300 metres into our ride, and the gung-ho spirit we had a few minutes ago has been flogged to death, and replaced with what-the-hell-am-I-trying-to-kill-myself-ho.

The three ladies promptly drop out of the 40km plan. They will do 20km with another guide. We, the boys, stick together, doing 40 with our guide, Tony.

We set off…

A few minutes later we hit this climb that knocks the wind out of our sails. But we sail on…

Tears! Tears only!
We stop to wait for each other. It’s adventure, not a race.
We stop here for a breather, and I realise I have been here before, during an adventure motorcycle ride with Tina. Beyond that fence is a small dam, and on that day we had a chat with the dam’s caretaker.
Onward…
Zebras!

We take another break at a shop, and buy some water and bananas.

After this we take a descend into a riverbed. We can’t ride over the large boulders and have to carry our bikes…

Another break, with a bit of tomfoolery.

As we set off, I realise my rear wheel is flat. There’s a thorny branch stuck to my tyre.

Flipping the bike to repair the punctures…
The others come back to help…

I carried a new spare tube, and choose to swap the punctured one with a new one, since the old one already has about four patches. My ride buddies repair the old one, anyway, even as we put in the new one. The repaired tube goes into my bag.

We set off…

At a rocky climb, our guide goes down. It’s a technical section, and his shoe refuses to unclip as he tries to steady himself. His shoe is still stuck to the pedal, and I have to help hold the bike up so he can free himself. No one is hurt, everyone is good natured about it, and we keep going.

Another break…

As we set off, I notice that Brian’s rear wheel is flat. And thus begins another puncture repair session in the sun.

Yo! You are flat!
Sinia mzima wa wali!!
Them: Helloooooo…
Me: Aiiii! Hiyo ni luga gani? Sielewi! Habari zenu?

Once the leak is patched, we put the tube back and air it up. Or try to. Coz after trying three different pumps, the tyre won’t inflate. The tube still a problem. Out it comes again, and we find another big hole. We have no idea how we might have missed such a big hole before. We patch it.

We set off. But a minute or two later, Brian has disappeared behind us. We come back, and find him with the same tyre flat again. Since he and I use the same tyre size, I offer my tube that we had repaired earlier.

Where is Brian?
Back to the sunny workshop.
Another break to wait for each other.
My chain pops off again at another climb.
He stops mid-climb to take a breather.
Top of the climb.
He makes it to the top, cycling.

Another break, and a probox grinds to a stop near us. The driver asks if we know Kinja. Anyone who has been in the cycling arena for a while knows Kinja. Kinja is a certain man who is almost 50 years old, but is the living nightmare of 20 years olds at local races. The probox zooms off, leaving us wondering how he knows Kinja.

After this we head over to a look out, a place to take in the view of the Champagne Ridge. We push our bikes through the thorny landscape to avoid getting punctures.

Climbing out of there.

The probox shows up again, and the driver tells us that he is a retired cyclist. He used to ride between 1999 to 2008. You who is asking me about stamina, were you born even? But I shall answer you… Maybe…

It’s now the last stretch home. Abraham and I take the lead. We push hard. We are fighting wind and dust. We reach the last hard climb, eager to conquer it and roll down home. It’s so steep and bumpy, even cars are getting stuck.

My chain breaks.

Very steep climb. One of those cars was stuck, and struggling to keep going up.
My chain snaps.

I left my chain tool at home. I saw Tony with one, but we have left them some kilometres back. Luckily, nothing is lost. I find the popped rivet in the sand. We try to hammer it back with rocks, a futile attempt.

Trying to hammer the rivet back with rocks.

Tony arrives and fixes it with the tool, as easily as if he were sipping tea. I won’t be leaving my tool at home again. Lesson learned.

More mechanical problems… Brian’s (another Brian) bike has shot its stem bearing or collars… Or something. His steering is loose. Tony advises him to push it all the way back. Riding it is dangerous.

Home stretch.

And so we limp home, to find the girls napping on the lounges. They finished their ride about an hour ago and have just been waiting for us to arrive.

We end our adventure day over a sumptuous meal of ugali, goat meat ,chicken and fries, swapping our day’s stories and getting scratched by resident cats.

I hadn’t ever met half of these people before, but I have a really good time with them, a camaraderie built on the foundation of thigh-powered two wheeled adventure. As one of us would put it, “Thighs save lives.”

Anyone who wants to know if cycling adds stamina, just show up for one of these adventure get-togethers, and bring up the topic after a whole day of tempting fate, when everyone is high and giddy on adrenaline. Verily verily, you will get answered.

THE END.

Did you enjoy this story? Want another? Read about my solo adventure motorcycle ride to lodwar, through Kacheliba and Lorengippi, and my terrifying trip across Lake Turkana on a small boat with my motorbike onboard, and camping for a night among the El Molo, the smallest tribe in Kenya, and eating a tortoise… Ah… I’ll just leave you to read it HERE.

Go HERE to see all my stories.

Farcing the Toposa

She is fatigued. Her head hangs limp to one side as she wearily walks through the mall’s hallway. She carries her helmet as if it weighs ten kilos. The moment we see each other, smiles break out on our faces. I go in to give her a hug, but she doesn’t just hug me, she puts her whole weight on me and we almost topple over, before I recover my footing and catch us. Tintin just rode alone from Nairobi to Kitale, and she has never ridden this far and long before. Timam and I are already in Kitale, having ridden over a couple of days before.

Our plan is to reach Nakodok, the border of Kenya and South Sudan. What we don’t know is that in the following couple of days, the three of us are going to ride harder and further than we all have ever done before. We have no idea what amount of thrill, pain, fatigue, danger and adventure awaits us. And spurs of boisterous flatulence, of which this shall be the first and last mention, for the sake of our dignities.

We have no idea how much the three of us will need and depend on each other for survival and strength. We have no idea how many times we will drop our bikes. We have no idea how many times we will disagree and get angry at one another. We have no idea that we shall find ourselves seated in an OCS’s office, producing our IDs and explaining ourselves. We have no idea that we will have to hire police escort for a section of our trip. We have no idea… Well, why don’t I just tell it all to you properly from the beginning? Grab a cup of coffee and sit down…

NOTE: This trip happened in July 2019, and I wrote this story immediately after.

Two years ago, my father, a brilliant high school humanities teacher, passed away. May he rest in peace. He did not just pass away, he was poisoned with insecticide, as the autopsy and lab tests later confirmed. There is an ongoing inquest into his untimely death that curiously happened just a few days after he received his pension, and withdrew a lump sum of it from his account. On Wednesday 3rd of July 2019, there was supposed to be a court session to hear testimonies. This was the reason Timam (my friend and lawyer) and I had to be at Kimilili law courts on that day.

Wakili Timam is a friend I made two years ago, a few weeks after my father’s burial, actually. I had been arrested for a minor traffic offense. I refused to bribe the arresting cop and refused to give his breakdown vehicle hooligans any cash, so he took me to Parklands Police Station and threw me into a stinky cell. Before my phone was taken away, I managed to post the happenings to a bikers’ Whatsapp group and ask for help. After about two hours, I was informed that my lawyer was outside, and I could see him. I had no idea who the hell that was. I had never had a lawyer in my life!

So I walked out of the dark cell, wearing one shoe (if you’ve ever been arrested, you know), blinking at the brightness outside, to be met by the sight of a stout dark man wearing a leather motorcycle racing suit, and official suit and tie under it. He looked really smart, a fact one of the police officers couldn’t help but point out later. That’s how Timam and I met. He says I looked pissed off, like I was having a really good time in there, and did not appreciate the rude interruption.

We have done many rides together since, including a dash to Moyale border. He is a brilliant chap, at least in the moments when he is not being painfully vexatious. He also can get loud, and his jokes sting with caustic raucousness. The introvert in me gets worn out real quick. But our friendship has miraculously stuck. When he snaps into lawyer mode, the instant transformation from dork to genius is startling, even a bit eerie. The lawyer is focused like a hawk. The lawyer cuts through muddle with brilliant clarity and conciseness, peppered with a passion for doing the best for his client, including a willingness to travel distances and remote places for the sake of his client, as you shall see in a bit. He is the kind of lawyer you want by your side. Once the lawyer is done with his job, the irksome braggadocio checks back in with vengeance.

He is also the kind that will do something everyone else says can’t be done. Like overtake speeding Landrovers on a rough offroad on his motorcycle. A sport touring bike that is supposed to be really awful at offroading. “It’s all in the mind,” he says… He rides a Kawasaki Ninja 400.

Our journey begins on Monday 1st. I pass by Parklands Snap Shot Kenya shop (Thanks for the huge discount!) to buy some SD cards, and also pass by Tintin’s workplace to bid her farewell.

Leaving home.
Checking pressurees.
Bidding Tintin farewell.
Timam ready to begin trip.
Waiyaki Way.

As we approach Limuru, my bike loses power and starts spewing out puffs of black smoke. I struggle to catch up with Timam to let him know something is wrong. We stop somewhere, I get out my tools and begin tearing into the bike. We have left late. Our tentative plan was to ride to Eldoret through the Kabarnet-Iten curvy road. It takes almost two hours to get my bike in good condition. See, I usually work on my bike myself. But the days leading up to this trip have been really busy with work, I had to give my bike out to someone to work on. I gave him some directions on how to adjust the carburetors, but it seems I gave wrong directions, and the adjustment needed was the opposite of what I recommended.

Anyway, we get back on the road, but the Kabarnet-Iten road is now out of the menu.

We get to Nakuru past 7pm. A quick stop, and we choose to go on to Eldoret. I’m quite familiar with the road, my lights are good, and I have a new helmet with the visor still good. I’m good to do the night ride. I just pray we don’t get heavy rain. It drizzles a bit, but for most of the way, we are alright.

We get to Eldoret about 10:30pm, get invited over to dinner by one of Timam’s friends, and we spend the night on the floor of their living room.

I wake up to find this guy staring at me.
Timam used to live in Eldoret. Here he catches up with some of his old friends…

The next morning we set off for a small town in North Bungoma County, the home of my late father. We have some business to do, including hunting down someone who had some dealings with my father. This hunt leads us into a busaa den, and the sight of our motorcycles makes the clients scamper away, thinking it’s the police who have come to arrest them. Later that afternoon we find ourselves in the living room of a rather ascetic elderly lady, listening to her tell stories of my late father and my mother, and intertwine them with stories of herself and her late husband.

It’s a rather emotive but productive day. I take Timam to my mother’s home, so they can know each other, and we spend the night there. It’s a calm and quiet evening, reminiscent of my mother’s calm and quiet spirit. We drink good tasting tea made with milk straight from her cow, and feast on her peculiar mandazis. But the day can’t end without Timam doing something asinine. After washing his hands in readiness to eat dinner, he wipes them dry on our (absolutely shocked) black cat…

Wednesday is court day. We run late. The hearing is not happening today anyway, turns out it was moved to November. We agree that the lawyer who has been handling this issue should be promptly fired. Most importantly, Tintin is riding today from Nairobi, to meet us in Kitale so we can head north together.

We had never heard of a place called Nakodok before. One of the things Timam and I do is have a phone conversation, each of us with Google maps in front of us, wanderlust teasing us. We wondered what border point has eluded us. Following the road north past Lodwar led to a point on the Kenya-South Sudan border called Nakodok.

“Let’s go to Nakodok,” we said.

It sounded far fetched. As far as we knew, there is no tarmac road all the way north from Lokichar. I had done Lokichar-Lodwar before, and the 90km took me three hours to cover. We have no idea what lies beyond Lodwar. We don’t know what the security is like. Some days after this discussion, we learn that two legendary Kenyan riders that we look up to are doing the same route, and onward into South Sudan. We look at the map and dates of their planned route, and the dates of our business in Kimilili, and make a decision to piggy back on their trip. Well, their trip did not happen, but it spurred us to do ours. Thank you legends.

Let me tell you a bit about Tintin Tin Tina. (Link to her account of the same trip at the end.) She is tall and built like a supermodel, with a delicate demeanor. If you met her on a day when she is all girly in dress and make up, you’d never imagine that beneath that deceitful veneer lurks an untamed gritty behemoth, drunk on wanderlust, complete with the resolve of a soldier on a mission. Mother of one, she is kind of an enigma. One moment she is nice and sweet to you, and the next she is burning a crater through your soul with original scalding sarcasm. One moment she needs your help, a damsel in distress, the next she is telling you to shove your manly cavalierly somewhere the sun don’t shine, she can handle things on her own. One moment she is looking into your eyes and asking if you are alright, and the next she is giving you the finger. She is gentle and kind, though, always sensitive to people around her, overladen with what some call emotional intelligence. Or conscientiousness. Or agreeableness…

Some weeks back, I found myself somewhere along Waiyaki way, seated at a restaurant table with Boniface Mwangi, waiting for other bikers who were late. We were waiting for them, so we could ride together to Naivasha to welcome Throttle Queens back from their East Africa tour. Throttle Queens is a group of lady riders that includes Boniface’s wife.

Two bikers arrived, one of them a tall regal lady. Now if you are a lady and you ride motorcycles, you know how difficult it is to be regal in motorcycle gear. I stood up to shake her hand, prompting Boniface to make a quip about how my mother brought me up well. Those who know me know that’s lies… This lady was Tintin. I still don’t know why I stood.

Farcing the Jade Sea | Part 1

Choppy lake. On a boat! My bike onboard. A coxswain with questionable sobriety, keen to show off. My bike being thrown about. Me waiting for a rope to snap at any moment, and for the bike to flip overboard into the crocodile infested waters. Praying that the rope would snap clean off, so the bike doesn’t take the whole boat down with it… My swimming skills are as abundant as chicken milk…

I’m here staring at the white water splashes, wide eyed in bewilderment, and a question keeps ringing in my head: Is this how stupid people die? It’s a fine line between genius and stupid.

However, a few hours into the boat ride, I’m fast asleep – on the same boat under the same conditions. Humans get tired of being bewildered.

That is how day 4 of my 8 day trip to Anam Ka’alokol went down. “Anam Ka’alakol” means “the sea of many fish.” Anam Ka’alokol is what the ancients called Lake Turkana, before a foreigner “discovered” it and named it Lake Rudolf, or The Jade Sea… And before Kenyatta named it Lake Turkana in 1975.

The Jade Sea called me again, and I answered. I have been to the lake a number of times before but, this time, I had a strong desire to use a route new to me, and to cross the lake on boat with my bike onboard. And to visit the islands. And to see the El Molo people again. And many more things that I ended up not doing because I had made some awfully wrong assumptions in my planning.

I scoured the internet looking for any info on this route, and found none. I message a Lodwar resident asking about this route, and he had almost no info on it. There remained just one choice: to go out there and find out for myself. And now I will tell you all about it, with tons of photos to boot. (If you ever come across a 1600km trip report with more photos than this one, show me!)

I will tell you a lot of things… I will tell you about towns I went through…

Beautiful landscapes…

Good people…

This hotel…

Yes, that’s a hotel!

This hottie I met…

This monument…

Bagayo, the enigmatic coxswain and his two litre bottle of Cocacola…

Beautiful sunsets…

Donkeys…

Children…

Getting stranded with a damaged bike…

And many, many more. As usual, it will serve you well to read the story part by part in sequence, without skipping anything, even photo captions. This way you will get the most out of it, and not get bewildered by unexplained references I make as I keep progressing with the story.

Now, sit down. Let me tell you about my January 2021 solo motorcycle adventure to Anam Ka’alokol…


Preparation

I’m both excited and anxious about this being a solo trip. I plan to follow a route I can’t find any information on. Google Maps shows no road there, but a different map does show a road. I do not know if it’s passable, or the state of security. Perfect ingredients to an adventure, ey?

As usual, I begin by laying out of the floor the stuff I intend to carry with me. This helps me to see everything at a glance and not forget stuff. I have reached that age. A friend helps me put together a basic first aid kit. I hope I won’t ever need it. I also get some canned and dried foods.

I make some adjustments to my after market rear shock. More preload. Fiddling around with the rebound damping… These later turn out to be the most valuable adjustments I make. Day and night difference in handling and confidence.

While giving the bike a quick last look-over, I notice that the bolts holding the front brake master cylinder to the handlebar are a bit loose, or so I thought. I try to tighten them, and end up breaking both bolts. Now I have no way to mount the master cylinder, which mean no brakes, no side mirror. No trip! This is how a simple ten minute job becomes a half day ordeal.

I go to the local chuma fundi to see if he can help. The broken bolts are stuck in the cylinder and can’t come out, even after trying some welding tricks. (Gotta be careful with heat here, the cylinder has rubbers and delicate things in it.) Finally the fundi brings out a tap and die set, much to my surprise, because I do not expect a fundi in such a small market place to have such tools. He says he used to be an engineer in some big company. He drills out the broken holes, taps in new threads, and I’m good to go. My trip starts tomorrow, and I really do not want to postpone it!

Broken bolts

Engineer with his assistant.

Tap and die set!!!

Before I go to bed, I pack all the stuff into my adventure bags and put them by the door. I also load up the maps I have drawn into the GPS unit.

I have been looking for gas canisters for my Campingaz 206 burner and recently found a shop selling them cheap, and bought two. I mount one canister to the cooker and it doesn’t quite work well. The sealing rubber has grown old and, before I can realise what is going on, the whole canister is empty, my hands are freezing from the leaking gas, and I’m genuinely scared I’m going to blow up my house!

I try to reinforce the sealing rubber with some polythene bag, and mount the second cannister. It works, but I can still smell it leaking. I altogether dump the idea of carrying it, and decide I will cook with firewood.

Bags by door.

Don’t buy this piece of shit.


Day 1 | Nairobi – Kapenguria

Day One’s plan is to ride from Nairobi via Nakuru, Eldoret, to Kunyao, a small town north west of Kapenguria. I had done an online search for a place to sleep there, and found a small hut that seemed to invite guests over. A call to the place proved otherwise. The mzungu owner of the place was not amused that I called him, and seemed to be reminded that he should remove his phone number online. He later sent me the area chief’s number, telling me to talk to him.

Meh! Not gonna do that.

I decide to go there and figure things out on the fly. Good thing is that I have a tent, food, and water, and I’m ready to sleep anywhere safe.

Kunyao.

The plan to ride to Kunyao begins disintegrating right in the morning, as it takes me too long to leave home. While packing the bags, I realise that I’m carrying just too much stuff, and I start losing weight. I leave a lot of the canned food behind. I had gotten a lot of food because during my last trip to northern Kenya, I lost appetite and got sick of eating fish, the most available food in the region. Coupled with not having been exercising regularly, I eventually got so weak and got such crazy sugar craves (a doc told me it was a sign my body was eating itself). You can read that full story here.

Weight cut, I strap the remaining stuff onto the bike, and gear up. It’s time to begin the trip!!

Packing the bike.

Departure selfie.

I have a group of family and friends (henceforth referred to as “my people”) who have agreed to follow my trip updates, and whom I have promised to give moment by moment updates of my whereabouts and plans. This is especially important since I’m travelling solo. I have requested one of them to be on standby in case I need help or rescuing.

Telling my people of my departure.

Leaving home.

Heading towards Naivasha.

I stop at Buffalo Mall Naivasha to get some few things.

Buffalo Mall, Naivasha.

Don’t ask…

One of several bikes on display at the mall entrance, for sale.

The journey continues…

Disturbing roadside wildlife.

Getting disturbed by middle-of-the-road humanoid wildlife.

Getting into Nakuru.

I need to pick some more things here.



I also need to get puncture repair glue and some extra patches. I hope I won’t need them!

He tells me where I might find a puncture repair guy.

Finally I find the place.

The boys help him do the math.

Updating my people.

A little chit chat with this biker. He does Nakuru to Eldoret in two hours, he says…

…and I get back on the road. Leaving Nakuru.

Road to Eldoret.

I get into Eldoret where I intend to briefly meet my sister before proceeding on. Since I left late, it’s clear that I won’t get to Konyao today. I’m resolved to spend the night at Kapenguria.

Eldoret.

Meeting my sister.

Leaving Eldoret.

I leave Eldoret and head towards Kapenguria. Here I use a road I have never used before, suggested to me by one of my people, the road through Cherangany. This route avoids the truck-ridden stretch from Eldoret town to Maili Tisa, and the rough, narrow road to Kitale town, and Kitale town itself. The road through Cheragany is in good condition, and the ride is a relaxed breeze.

Sibanga.

I stop somewhere to take a leak and enjoy the sunset. Google maps tells me I’m 24km from Kapenguria.

Maili Saba junction with Kitale-Kapenguria road.

After covering over 30km I stop, wondering why the 24km are not over. I check again, and find Maps had lied to me before, I’m now about 30km to Kapenguria town. It’s getting dark.

Finally I get to Kapenguria.

I like filling up before settling for the night.

Camera art.

I get to a hotel recommended by one of my people and book a room. The room is very clean and nice for the price. And I get to park my bike right outside my room. Convenient. There are a number of guests in the other rooms. A young lady is checked into the room next door.

Getting to the hotel.

The room.

As soon as I check in, the whole town is plunged into darkness. No power. I go to the restaurant and order some food, and sit at a table to wait in darkness. One of the workers brings a candle to my table and lights it up. I’m just warming up to the idea of a romantic candle lit dinner when Kenya Power absolutely ruins it by restoring power.

Me: AAWW! I’m gonna enjoy candle lit dinner.

Kenya Power Sadism Officer: He is having too much fun with the darkness, put the power back on!

Dinner.

After dinner I go back to the room, unload a couple of things from the bike, and take a shower. Just as I settle into bed, communicating with loved ones and falling asleep, loud music starts playing from a bluetooth speaker somewhere. I can tell that it’s a bluetooth speaker because it keeps reconnecting loudly, and the music keeps being interrupted by phone calls. I’m hoping I’m too tired to care, that I will just black out, regardless.

I’m not too tired to care. After turning and tossing a while, I drag myself out of bed, wrap a kikoi around my waist and go outside to see where the music is coming from. It’s the lady neighbour. I knock on her door softly, hoping not to find myself facing a sour half naked boyfriend with a bulge… On his chest, I mean…

I find myself facing a sweet half naked girl, who opens the door wearing only a t-shirt, with nothing else below the waist. I effortfully force my eyes away from her thighs, up to her face, and I smile apologetically…

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Farcing the Jade Sea | Part 2

And that’s it! I have shown you the whole of Lorengippi. Unless there’s a big market place hidden somewhere, you have seen everything. I stop. I want to see if I can find a place to eat lunch here… Yeah, I know, I know…

A curious group gathers around me. As usual, they are hesitant to approach me untill I remove my helmet and reveal that I’m just an unkempt vagabond.

I ask if there’s place to eat. A hotel.

I ask how “Lorengippi” is pronounced. He points at the sign behind me, like, can’t you read, stranger?

The sign behind me.

“What does Lorengippi mean?” I ask.
“It means ‘the water is red’ ” they tell me.

Dejavu. When I was in Illeret, I was told “Illeret” means “the lugga of blood.”

The eighth wonder of the world is someone wearing a padded jacket in this heat!

I turn around and go to look for the hotel.

Still trying to find my way to the hotel.

The problem is that I’m looking for a big-ish building, brick walls and iron sheet roofing, maybe. But when I finally find it, it’s nothing like my imagination. In fact, I rode right past it on my way in.

This is it. The hotel.

I pack my bike outside the fence.

That’s the dining.

The hotel owners, chefs and waiters.

The hotel interior.

Preparing my food. Githeri and chapati, that’s all there is.

I say proper prayers before I dig in. I have to.

More food walks in.

Just begging to be eaten.

Really begging to be eaten.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing over there?

After eating, I decide to take a nap under some acacia trees before carrying onwards to Lodwar. I bring a piece of canvas from my bike and spread it down under a tree. I take off my gear, lay down and fall asleep for some minutes.

It’s time to leave now. I pack up my stuff. I know that the road ahead promises lots of sandy patches, but I hope I won’t be too overwhelmed by it. I’m still terrible at sand riding, and even worse when tired.

Ready to leave Lorengippi.

The hotel compound.

They show me the way to Lodwar. Just follow the road, don’t turn anywhere, they say.

That’s a beautiful dress.

Leaving Lorengippi.

The sand begins…

I meet a car, which would be the only car I meet till Loregum. We pass each other then he stops, so I stop too. He reverses, and we talk a bit before going our ways.

The ridges on the road caused by vehicles are killing me. I make some small adjustment to my rebound damping.

Photo time.

My bike standing next to oppressive patriarchy.

I’m starting to have trouble. The road has unpredictable sandy patches, it’s been a long day, I’m tired. My pace is now slow.

I stop to take a short break and rehydrate.

Riding past more patriarchal structures.

Mars grew some vegetation.

What is that?

Lorugum.

I decide to take a short break, check my maps, and communicate with my people. It’s sandy everywhere, so I just stop on the road.

Out of nowhere a man appears, yelling and pointing at me. He seems really angry at me. He is angry because I have stopped my motorcycle on the road. I’m blocking traffic he says.



Just have a look at this traffic pile up I have caused!

I tell him that my motorcycle is overheating, and I have stopped to let it cool a bit.

“Weka kando!” he says, with such authority. I’m beginning to wonder who he might be. Looks like someone who once tasted authority over people. Kinda like gate guards. He is ordering me to put my motorcycle on the side of the road, so he can fine me, or punish me somehow.

I refuse.

“This bike is heavy and now has little power because of overheating. I can’t push it to one side into the sand. Unless you help me, maybe?”
“Okay I will help you!”

I slowly put my phone in my pocket, put on my glove, start the bike, and zoom off, praying I don’t fall in the sand here.

A minute or two later, I come to this.

Holy Mary!!

It’s Lorugum’s River Turkwel crossing point, and the bloody longest sandy lugga I have ever seen in my life!! I pause at the bank to take in the sheer sight. I have no choice, I have to cross here. I rarely jump into riding situations I consider risky, just for the sake of it. If it’s not on my path to my destination, if I don’t have to, to get to my destination, I avoid it. But this is right on my path. Sink or swim, this is it!

Toe in the pool…

I dip into the river. The sand is fine. Deep and fine. I make a mistake. I think that following the car tracks will destabilise me, so I make my own way across the sand. Big mistake. Somewhere in the middle, I start sinking till the belly of the bike touches the sand, and my rear tyre is spinning useless, sinking me deeper. I use a technique I saw on Youtube to come out of such. (See it here.) I correct my mistake and make my way back to the car tracks. Vehicles compact sand a bit, and I have better chances there.

While I’m muscling and swearing my way across, I notice a biker with a pillion about a hundred metres to my left, who seem to be having a better time crossing the sand. I’m glad to see them. If i get completely stuck I’m sure they will come to my aid.

Going back to the car tracks.

Back on car tracks. Life is better here!

The bikers to my left are way ahead of me and seem to be making good progress.

Almost there!

There!

I’m a bit surprised that I get across before the other bikers. I look behind, and they are still way out there in the river.

The other biker’s pillion has gotten off the bike, and is dragging along a sheep. The rider is still deep in the sand, muscling his bike across.

They tell me that I chose the wrong path across the river. That the way they used is better. But I doubt it. It might be better till half way, but he struggled too much on the last stretch, yet he has a light bike with no luggage. We chat a bit as they tell me the condition of the road ahead, then they zoom off. I take one last photo of the mega-lugga, and proceed with my journey too.

The road is just lugga after lugga. Sand, sand, sand.

After a long while I meet this guy. It’s just natural to stop and talk, because you go for long distances without seeing anyone. He tells me that I’m about done with the most sandy sections of the road.

We say bye to each other, and just at the moment we lose sight of each other, this happens:

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