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Old 06-22-2013, 06:44 AM   #1
Osadabwa OP
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Thumb Dar Bikers in Western Tanzania, AKA the "Lound of Rakes Tlip, 2013"

So we set out for some of Africa's iconic lakes. We would follow tracks we knew were good, and some from Google Earth we hoped existed. There were seven of us, and our plan was to ride around Lake Rukwa to Lake Tanganyika and finish up at Lake Nyasa/Malawi if all would go according to plan.


Above: The route starting in Mbeya and rocking counter-clockwise around L. Rukwa to L. Tanganyika, down to L. Niassa back up to Mbeya

But with us, things rarely go according to plan. There was insult and injury, sound and fury, and blood, sweat and beers. Nevertheless, we did see our lakes, and had a hell of an adventure doing it.

So, enjoy the teaser pics while I try to put together a ride report. There are a lot of good photos and some uncharacteristically good helmet-cam footage to comb through, so it could take some time. Be prepared for tse tse fly bites, river mishaps, mishkaki and chips mayayi, Konyagi and Splite and warm Kilimanjaro, a Cobra, a wicked tall suspension bridge, long days of deep bush, broken bikes and broken bones, beautiful lakeside sunsets and ugly, dusty faced Dar Bikers.

Karibuni.


Above: Some food, some riding and a bit of river SCUBA diving


Above: An erect reptile, deep bush and a busy KTM mechanic


Above: Ominous words and some lake shore scenery


Above: A bit of everything you want in an African ride

That's all for now.

Link to Day 0
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Osadabwa screwed with this post 06-30-2013 at 02:20 AM
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Old 06-22-2013, 08:57 AM   #2
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This is gonna be great ! ! ! ! !







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Old 06-22-2013, 09:23 AM   #3
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Old 06-22-2013, 10:02 AM   #4
N-m
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I gotta ride with y'all some day. Africa has been calling me since I first learned of maps.
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Old 06-22-2013, 02:11 PM   #5
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Looking forward to your report.



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Old 06-22-2013, 04:55 PM   #6
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BRING IT!!!!!!

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Old 06-22-2013, 07:10 PM   #7
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can't wait to see the latest ride...............
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Old 06-23-2013, 02:35 AM   #8
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this should be good
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Old 06-24-2013, 04:58 AM   #9
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You on Swahili time?
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Old 06-30-2013, 02:14 AM   #10
Osadabwa OP
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Thumb Day 1: Dusty tracks to the river - Mbeya to Gua

Coffee morning. Frail, pink light on the distant hills.

[PubQuiz at breakfast]: You know about Napoleon’s wife, right?

Eager to go, loading bikes took ages. The venerable XR 600 already down with a puncture in the parking lot. An ill omen. FundiPhil does the change even though it’s not his bike. Setting precedent.


Above: Breakfast puncture repair

It was big dirt past the Mbeya Range. Dusty dirt. Fesh-feshy dirt. The kind that puffs and piles as you ride through it, pulling at your tires. The light was already angry with us it seemed. Long stretches with trees and fields and a handful of humanity. An old brick cattle corral and squeeze chute next to an empty weekly market area looking ghostly and dry, suspiciously smell-free.


Above: Dusty exodus

Galula church, built almost a century ago by French White Fathers, would have seemed decidedly out of place if it weren’t for its run-downedness, which matches the rest of the country. Awful lot of work to just let turn to dust, but that’s a common and boring story here. The tracks from Google Earth I made had launched us north, but weren't exciting enough for the boys up to that point. There was grumbling among the troops. We needed a morale boost.


Above: FundiPhil and the sugarcane, a lone baobab, Galula Cathedral

So we doglegged it left on one of the other options from my digital recon mission. Track was smaller, more inviting. Fast, but narrower. It was choose-your-own-adventure kind of riding in some places. Still dusty. Very dusty. Moon and Mars dusty, also sandy and deep and the bush was thickening. There were few humans to behold apart from the seven of us raising an ungodly racket and atomizing the planet with our tyres.


Above: In and out of the dust, bottoming out in the Songwe River Valley

All that dust took us to the river I’d seen on Google Earth. I half expected it to be dry, but it wasn’t. As usual, Bean took the first baptismal drop without hesitation. Following his success, we took turns crossing without incident until an overeager and winded PhatBilly twists one too many times on the throttle and lurches up the riverbank into the adjacent field, crashing to a stop in the thorn fence and riverine spike-reeds. Observers local and imported found the sight equal parts puzzling and amusing.


Above: Fording the river

Wet but drying fast, we climbed out of the valley on the escarpment’s brushy flanks. High plains up there. Big views. Dry, scatty, scratchy were yonder hills and the sun like a slap in the face. So we stopped for drinks and a bike fix (Ajax’s something or other bolt was misaligned). Then later, at the Amani Hotel in Bilajina village, we devoured rice, beans and beef until we were warped and bloated and only really wanted to sleep it off among the bones and chewed up fatty-cartilage joint bits like drunken knights of some cast away plastic-clad order.


Above: Billy's fall and our beverage stop


Above: Pay first before service (that means YOU, dusty biker hooligans)


Above: Mr. Bean's hungry for beans

But instead, we lit fire to the bikes. Another big dirt spread us out wide to avoid choking on one another’s dust. Nobody complained and the bikes ate it up. The stony outcroppings and bluffs on the horizon, the lack of people and cars, the wide blue sky’s vacuous depth, gold mining camps (formal and otherwise) and bush fires set the scene for the next act and entertained the senses.


Above: Bikes, buttes and brushfires

GilleMonster’d broken a subframe bolt on the 690 (If you’re keeping track, that’s 3 mech-issues so far). He had the sense or the luck to stop beneath a beautiful widereaching shadetree to allow us to help or supervise (blue collar/white collar) according to our willingness and abilities. Monster, Bean, Ajax and FundiPhil used chisel, hammer and hacksawblade (yes, Ajax carries all three) to remove the remains of the bolt while PubQuiz and I offered advice from a remote position and PhatBilly putzed around the edges feigning helpfulness.

Two bikes passed in the meantime, carrying who knows what. Then appeared the googly-eyed, skirt- parka- and Wellington-wearing, oversize-helmeted, nutjob biker apparition from the north. Batshit only touches on the crazy here. He was flying towards us on an AG intent on some point in the distance and suddenly slammed on the breaks halfway past as if he’d only just caught sight of us. Disembarking, he mumbled this and that to an uncomprehending FundiPhil, commented sagely on the operation taking place on the 690 and posed for a few photos before vanishing into the dust like a fart in the wind. An odd, but good omen he turned out to be.


Above: Nutballs and broken bolts, strict division of labour

Because from there on, the road rocked. Deep sand. Thick forest. Nobody at all to be seen or imagined out there. The perfect temperature. The acute afternoon light flashing through the trees like a strobe at a rave, speed taking the place of X in our veins. Good honest riding.


Above: Afternoon light to Gua

Then, Gua all of a sudden. Our destination for the day. A little village, but a good one, with respectable digs (6 good rooms, concrete floors for the bucket bath and a cramped little storage closet for GilleMonstar to sleep in) and a competent outsourced staff (beers from the hotel, food from some lady acting as impromptu take-out and boiled egg and salt-roasted peanut delivery) that catered for us well above expectations. Cleaned up, and gassed up in advance for the next day, we worked on bikes and bodies as the sun sat and the kids thronged.


Above: PubQuiz the thorn surgeon, FundiPhil on the bike

Night fell and Thomas (local drunk and considerable pain in the ass) arrived to chat. PhatBilly, perhaps giddy with the day’s ride, attempted politeness awhile before asking him to excuse himself (PhatBilly used other language) repeatedly until it became a rally cry for the team: “Rock Off Thomas!” We chowed down on a kilo of salty peanuts, sorted breakfast’s delivery, and devoured a massive rice and bean feast. The next day would be a long one on a small track through the wilderness. And not all of us would make it through unscathed.


Above: Nightfall and Thomas

Here's 6 minutes of the day's best clips... save one. Chasing Monster in the deepest dust, he suddenly vanishes into a cloud so thick it blocked out the light. I approached in the eerie twilight to find him waving like a lunatic next to the horizontal 690, frantically trying to keep me from ploughing into him. I swore I had the helmet cam going, but alas...


Above: Mbeya to Gua, day 1's dusty riding and a river crossing

More to come.

Link to next day.
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I used to have a link to my African rides in my signature line, but every time I check it doesn't work. So, if you want to see Kilimanjaro, the Kilombero Valley, a bunch of short trips around Dar and another long one to Mozambique: go to my profile.

Osadabwa screwed with this post 07-05-2013 at 09:19 PM
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Old 06-30-2013, 09:34 AM   #11
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Old 07-01-2013, 05:26 PM   #12
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Cool vid
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Old 08-12-2013, 01:36 AM   #13
Osadabwa OP
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Thumb Day 6: The Plot Thickens and the Track Narrows

[Ugh, actually day 7... wish I could edit the subject line!]

Up on time. Another great breakfast. Ajax had the map out and between bites quizzed the staff about options for getting back to the main Sumbawanga road at Namanyere without retracing our steps. Chris and Louise said they’d had a guest try it on a bike and fail. I’d looked on Google Earth and had found only the sketchiest of potential paths. We were all but resigned to just head back the way we’d come when the tall waiter said: “yes, there’s a track from Ninde to Namanyere”. And so, typical of us, we ignored the preponderance of evidence and went with one guy’s opinion because it was what we wanted to hear.


Above: Chris and Louise at Lake Shore Lodge, their best-dressed-guests

We bid farewell to Chris and Louise (lovely folks, great hosts – thanks for the epoxy and the 5L of fuel!), paid our bill, and lit out for the trail to Ninde, a small fishing village hunkered along a beach south of Kipili. The mid-morning light was that cool-yellow-almost-white particular to cold-season African mornings and the calm lake waters sat like wine in a goblet. The bikes all started with no fuss, and it appeared the KTM’s epoxy-job of the day before was going to hold. Everything was going according to plan again!


Above: Our bill, the day’s first few kms

Well, not exactly. Or rather, not for long. The epoxy held for only enough time to get back through Kipili town and south a few clicks. Then it gave to the pressure in the transmission and ejected the clutch fluid into the dust, leaving FundiPhil clutch-less. All agreed that this was no big deal; so long as the track remained relatively open he’d be fine as long as somebody was always ready to get him rolling enough to crank over the engine in 1st gear. So, we put the specter of a bad omen out of our minds and cruised down the road.


Above: Morning flora and fauna, FundiPhil getting a pushstart

Rolling up and around the contours of the land, the track gave us numerous good looks at the lake and fishing villages below. It was a great way to start the day: blasting an interesting track into unknown territory, saving ourselves from backtracking. Made us wonder aloud why the hell we live in Dar when so many places in Tanzania are so much more attractive. (Answer, of course: money).


Above: Views from the Kipili-Ninde road

The road danced its way up and over hills among monument-like rocks. Speeds slowly increased as the guys started getting into it. Then the road abruptly ended. Not in a village, not at a crossroads, it just ended. Like the bulldozer got tired and went home. More likely, the contractor ate the money and went home. Beyond the cut, a footpath continued its journey toward Ninde, so we followed it.

The track was fairly wide – like the kind you get where there’s bicycle and motorbike traffic – which makes for some fun riding, but I was conscious that one of our party didn’t have a clutch to help him ease his way through sticky sections, and the track was doing some pretty sharp turning in relatively rugged terrain. I was sure Ajax and Bean would pull the plug and we’d have to go back.


Above: Where the big road became a track

But I should have known otherwise. Ajax can’t say “no” to a new track. No matter what mechanical, physical, spiritual issues may be plaguing the guys behind, he can’t not explore the thing to find out where it ends. And once again, there was a local guy there to egg us on. Standing with his donkey in the track, this kid told us “yeah, sure, there’s a track to Namanyere…”.


Above: Donkey boy and monkeybikers

And to be fair, all signs were looking positive, really. The track was easy to see and there was even a substantial hand-made bridge over a river to navigate (on hindsight, maybe that river is why the road didn’t reach Ninde). The existence of a trail didn’t seem to be in question… the question was: did it make sense to continue, seeing as FundiPhil had no clutch. Ajax’s answer: yes. And who could say no? It was awesome out there.


Above: The wooden bridge, proof the track was maintained…


Above: From Lakeshore to the little wooden bridge

Not long after the foot bridge, however, we came to a crossroads. One track clearly continued on to Ninde, the other track led East into the interior, in the direction of Namanyere. The trail was fairly wide at first, but once we’d passed through a couple of fields, it virtually disappeared. It looked like very few had walked it, let alone pushed a wheel on it for years, and it started climbing almost immediately. Needless to say, FundiPhil was struggling. So, at last, Mr. Bean does the right thing and volunteers to ride the ailing bike, giving Fundi his perfectly good 450. Now we were ready to continue. If Mr. Bean had a rough day due to the broken bike, nobody would probably lose sleep over it.


Above: Committing to the little track in the woods

I was loving it. Those kinds of tracks aren’t about ripping around corners or lifting up cumulonimbus clouds of lung-choking dust. They’re discovery tracks. The kind that make you feel like an explorer. There’s no way to know if it’ll take you where you want to go, or whether you’ll come across impassible obstacles en route and be forced to turn back. They’re like an itch that has to be scratched. We wouldn’t turn back unless we had to.

And we were lucking out. The track looked like it would meet up with the scratch I saw on Google Earth, which gave Ajax and I some hope. Of course, what I knew that others didn’t know was that in places the gradient exceeded 20% and there were large stretches where I couldn’t see any track at all. Still, it gave us something to go by, so we pressed on, across several tricky water crossings and through some beautiful forest.


Above: Mr bean on foot, Mr Bean on bike… Dr. Dorky and Mr. Ryde


Above: Ajax and I navigate some water




Above: A GilleMonster through the forest

To say the track was tough to see is understating it somewhat. Long grass and uniform forest made any hopes of racing through this section impossible, and with the stream crossings and downed trees coming every so often, it didn’t pay to carelessly twist the throttle anyway. More than once I connected with a stump or rock that reminded me that all of us were just a twisted knee away from a very difficult rescue.

The slow pace was obviously was a problem for Mr. Bean who could neither idle his bike nor finesse it through technical areas. So, we devised a plan that would ensure that Bean never had to stop riding. Ajax would go ahead with the GPS. At a technical spot, he’d figure out how to get around it and I’d watch him. He’d then continue up the way and I’d show PubQuiz how to cross who would show Mr. Bean. By the time Ajax was arriving to the next rough patch, I was there to see him clean it and we’d start over. It worked fairly well and we made decent progress.


Above: Ajax in the long grass


Above: PubQuiz in the long grass

We were ascending quickly. At some point, the track stopped cutting across drainages and began following a ridge which afforded some spectacular views of the forest below through the trees. We didn’t stop much, but when we did it was impossible not to be impressed by the remoteness of the place we were in.


Above: A wicked looking spider lording over a spectacular hillside viewpoint

Occasionally the track would open up a bit where the grass was shorter or the soil more rocky. I’d take the opportunity to try to zip through the trees to catch up Ajax who was plodding ahead staring at the GPS. The track would be an amazing mountain bike trail… if you’re fit as hell.


Above: A rare open meadow and a very purple flower


Above: Fundi and Monster and Ajax

With our system well tuned and progress being made, we stopped for a biltong break at the other side of a wide river. PubQuiz’s bike had drained his oil reservoir, again, and we filled it up using the leaves of a tree for a funnel. On the tree where we’d parked, a Blair Witchy looking tree hieroglyph in the silent forest gave the place a sense of total otherworldliness.


Above: Posers, hieroglyph, leafy funnel


Progress up to the river... and PubQuiz's baptism in said river

Little did we know that the track was about to get trickier. After the river, the pitch of the trail began to increase and the packed-dirt singletrack gave way to rocks and ruts. We were struggling to clear technical sections fast enough to keep Mr. Bean from killing the bike, so he just blasted ahead, bouncing over the stones like they weren’t even there.


Above: Ajax coming up

We’d cleared many rises, but we finally met our match. The rocky track led to a very rutted climb that simply didn’t look like we were going to be able to ride. I was having premonitions of us dragging each bike one at a time up the damn thing, not knowing if it would be just one of many to come. While Ajax and I were walking the steepest sections to see if there was a logical line, the Monster cans up the 690 and just starts riding. But he doesn’t come straight at it. Instead he follows the contour a bit, out in the grass away from the trail, curving slowly up until he reached the top. It was a brilliant piece of work and saved our collective ass. One by one we followed his lead.


Above: PubQuiz finding his hillclimb-line, the Monster ascends from his blazed trail

After the hillclimb, it wasn’t long before we saw signs of life. First a few bee hives, then a field, and eventually a house or two. The single track became a double and the speed tripled as a result. We were all filled with a sense of accomplishment, and were being rewarded with a pretty decent return into Namanyere. There were a few muddy spots, some sandy patches and Monster managed to turn the 690’s shift pedal into a pretzel on an unseen stump, but otherwise it was smooth sailing from there on. Mr. Bean, being able for the first time all day to see where he was going, exploded into action, flying down the track after Ajax and racing him all the way to town.


Above: Fundi and the first hut, some mud and a bent shifter


Above: My favorite photo from the trip… this guy’s outfit either belongs in a museum or on a runway


Above: Roads appear, fields and dust



Spirits were high over lunch. Nobody expected we’d get into such interesting riding, and once we were in it, we all thought maybe we’d never get out again. It took several hours longer to get from the lake to Namanyere than if we’d backtracked, but nobody was disappointed. That track was certain to be a major highlight of the trip.


Above: Fundi and Bean celebrating in Namanyere

It was after three as we set off from Namanyere. We were behind schedule, so rather than get creative with the GPS, we set a course for Sumbawanga to make up some kms. It was 90 clicks of big dirt, but the sights along the way were lovely. The main road cuts along the top of a high plateau with views of hills hanging on the edges of the horizon on all sides. The road was a mess with construction equipment everywhere. In another two years it’ll be just another slab.


Above: Christianity on display, relics and recent



Above: Afternoon pastoral scenes


Above: Moving toward the sunset

We arrived near dusk, showered and filled up on beer and beef.

Plan for the next day: Descend the escarpment in search of the swinging bridge

Definitely stay tuned for that… HERE is the link
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I used to have a link to my African rides in my signature line, but every time I check it doesn't work. So, if you want to see Kilimanjaro, the Kilombero Valley, a bunch of short trips around Dar and another long one to Mozambique: go to my profile.

Osadabwa screwed with this post 08-19-2013 at 01:37 AM
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Old 08-12-2013, 06:22 AM   #14
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Another epic post in a great RR. What was the elevation difference that day, must have been a good couple of hundred meters at least?
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Old 08-12-2013, 07:07 AM   #15
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It was big dirt past the Mbeya Range. Dusty dirt. Fesh-feshy dirt. The kind that puffs and piles as you ride through it, pulling at your tires. The light was already angry with us it seemed. Long stretches with trees and fields and a handful of humanity. An old brick cattle corral and squeeze chute next to an empty weekly market area looking ghostly and dry, suspiciously smell-free.
Hemingway could not have put it better. Marvelous! Simply marvelous!
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