Rift Valley Odyssey (17/9/12)
I don’t often write glowingly about events which involve severe exhaustion or crashing 3 times in 10 hours. But this is an exception. This weekend, I was fortunate enough to participate in the 2012 Rift Valley Odyssey with good friend Rich (a surgeon here at the Hospital).
The RVO is a three day endurance mountain biking event, covering 240 kilometres (150 miles), with a total ascent of 4900 metres (16,000 feet).
Mountain biking here in Kenya has been life and health to me, often literally. We maintain a reasonably intense work and life schedule, which combined with living in a low-resource, developing-world setting means additional stress. I don’t mind long workdays and the challenges of working in a multicultural, multilingual environment, so long as I can balance it out with Sabbath rest and exercise.
And mountain biking has helped provide that necessary balance for me. It’s been a huge blessing.
Five weeks ago while running I rolled my ankle and tore a ligament. Thankfully not completely, nor was there a break, but it was enough to keep me on crutches. The day after I rolled my ankle, I came across a flyer for “East Africa’s premier 3 day endurance mountain bike race”…and suddenly, I had a goal and timeline for rehabilitation of my ankle! Rich and I registered that night for this ridiculously long, stupidly high elevation 3 day event, giddy with delight at being able to ride through some stunning parts of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.
Thankfully, by race day I had enough movement back in my ankle to contemplate riding. I hadn’t ridden my bike in 6 weeks, but no matter…endurance riding is very tactical, and involves lots more than fitness to complete successfully…on-the-bike nutrition and hydration, pacing yourself, and keeping your bike in good repair are crucial to finishing the race. And finishing the race is the goal.
Friday morning at 0645 we were off, catching a ride in a matatu (minivan) driven by a friend of Rich’s to the starting line in the middle of a tea plantation near Limuru. The racers were a motley bunch; normal people without expensive bikes like us, professionals flying in from South Africa, a three time Olympian from Namibia, members of Kenya’s professional mountain bike team.
Eric, the race organiser, had been knocked off his bike a few weeks prior in a bad accident by some Masai teenagers while scouting the route deep in Masai country. Rather than riding with us, he briefed us instead, among other things advising us to “trust your GPS…it is right 100% of the time..don’t argue with it!”.
At 0800, we were off. Day 1 was 91 km (57 miles) with a total 1700 metre (5600 feet) ascent. The first half was through tea plantations, forests home to elephants (which were to be “scared away” by race officials on motorbikes), and dirt tracks. The second half descended to the floor of the Great Rift Valley, around Mt Longonot, and through the grassy savannah around Hell’s Gate National Park to Lake Naivasha.
It took us 10 hours 30 minutes to complete Day 1.
It took ten and a half hours partly because I was not in shape (not having ridden in 6 weeks), but also because I didn’t eat enough on the bike in the first three hours…and I “bonked”: I hit a wall, reached a point of exhaustion where I couldn’t go any further, at the 30 km point. Thanks to Rich, who stuck by me faithfully even though at times I had to walk the bike, and A.J., a New Zealander who recognised the signs of bonking due to lack of sufficient nutrition and gave me two energy gels, I pushed through the wall over a period of 10 excruciating km’s (which I have almost no memory of), and returned to “normal” at the 40 km point and was able to ride the final 52 km’s without incident.
The above paragraph sounds worse than it was; well, it was pretty bad, but still…it was an absolute blast that I would do again in a heartbeat! Some highlights of Day 1:
–The beauty of the Limuru tea fields in the foggy early morning
–The wizened mzee (old man) shepherd waving his arms frantically yelling “pole pole” (go slow!) just before I hit a patch of slick mud and wiped out, causing a six-rider pile-up behind me
–The “is this what dying feels like?” feeling of exhaustion, muscle cramping, and nausea in the middle of my bonk
–The little Kikuyu boys who came up alongside me as I struggled to pedal up a mild incline while bonking and pushed me up the hill
–Reaching the top of the escarpment along the Rift Valley, and gazing down into the Valley at the first descent of the day at the 60 km point.
–The silence and beautiful emptiness riding through the grassy savannah at dusk with herds of gazelles and hartebeests.
–Gazing appreciatively at a herd of gazelles at the 80 km point, and failing to see the large hole directly in front of me into which my front wheel obligingly plunged, throwing me over the handlebars in my third crash of the day.
I was so stoked to finish Day 1…I could hardly move after 10.5 hours on the bike, but it felt so good to finish the race, to push through the wall and not quit when I felt like falling over and laying on the ground. I didn’t ride on Days 2 and 3 as I didn’t want to push my luck with my ankle anymore, but Rich did and finished both days strong.
And the best part of all? Both of our families came down to cheer us on, and we all stayed at Fisherman’s Camp along Lake Naivasha. The cheers of my children as we arrived in the dark, dead last (nearly) at the finish line on Day 1 were just gorgeous…”Daddy, you won! Good job!”
I am so very grateful to our kind and gracious Creator that my ankle healed in time to ride in this event. It was a great ride.