Lunch time at Mwala…it’s time to unleash my goodies and “console my body” (kupigia mwili pole) for the 70 or so kilometers already covered. So I looked for a shady spot under a tree and unzipped my bag to retrieve my lunch. As I had pointed out earlier, the sun and her family seem to reside in Ukambani. I thought cycling under the heat would only cause me sun burns and dehydration but I never pictured my bananas being “liquefied” as well.
Anyway, I couldn’t care less…I took my sandwich spread with banana paste 🙂 and drank my juicy dope. Seated on a stone by the roadside, looking all white from the dried sweat and with my helmet and a dusty bike, I definitely attracted attention. Some passersby concluded that I was one of those people going back to shagz (countryside) only that I was either crazy or too broke to board a matatu. Even the matatu drivers who passed by honked wondering if I needed a change of transport mode!
Google maps only!
A few minutes after my lunch and well-deserved rest, this gentleman approached my “restaurant” area asking if I needed any assistance. I appreciated his kindness but told him I was fine, just refilling my tanks for the next stretch. In the spirit of keeping the conversation alive (and to test the myth that Kambas can’t be trusted where distance estimations are concerned), I asked him how many kilometers I had to cover before reaching Kitui.
“Ah, Kitui ni hapa tu. Kitu kama 36km na umefika. Kwanza ni mteremko all the way” (Ah Kitui is just 36km away, and it’s downhill all the way)! Interestingly, according to google maps, I was still 86km away!! At least he got the “6” part right…right?
And I didn’t know how much this number, 6, would haunt me in the next few hours. Turns out, the “downhill all the way” stretch was characterized by three mega-hills and at several points I swear I cycled at 6kph! It felt like I was walking my bike, only that I was on it as well…but determination, resilience and the power of mazgwembe kept me going.
Anyway, somewhere along the way, between Makutano and these hills, a young man on a black mamba (single-speed steel bike) swooshed past me. His shirt flapping with the wind and his rickety bicycle squeaking with every push of his pedal. Now let me explain something to you real quick. I am NOT a competitive cyclist…in fact, I do not enjoy competing especially for prizes. The ride itself is rewarding enough…the adventure through scenic sights and the feel of the cool wind on your face…all, to me, are way better than pushing so hard on the pedals, fingers tightly clenched on the handlebar and with gritted teeth in order to claim cycling gory. Don’t get me wrong though, I love watching these competitions and I have mad respect for the competitors – Tour de France is my isht yo..:)!.
At that very moment though, I felt like competing with this chap. Not because there were any prizes, but just for the thrill of it…oh and to teach him some respect! I mean how could he try to embarrass me with my flashy 12kg, 27-speed aluminium Trek 7500?? With furrowed brows (like Bruce Lee’s in Enter the Dragon), a shift of posture to Time Trial mode and a simple change of gears later, I was on top speed huffing and puffing after him…like a charging bull! 🙂 Of course I had an unfair advantage, and after a while he couldn’t keep up. Nobody messes with me and my Trek!!
After I left the young fella at a place called Wamunyu, the ride got steeper but more peaceful and scenic. On several occasions I was torn between mourning the pain that the hills caused me and celebrating being in such beautiful landscapes. The hills rise majestically high, the greenery is just splendid, the rivers run wide and gently…and the road snakes higher up but traffic-less. I had to be a tourist and take photos amidst my struggle, sweat and clenched teeth.
I remember cursing the guy who told me it would be downhill all the way…and myself for not having read the stats on google maps correctly. But once atop those hills, and after another snack break, the roads were gentler, wider and smoother. The scenery was the kind I had only seen in adventure cycling movies…and I felt like a star for a minute. It felt great riding away from the sunset and watching as my shadow grew longer, gliding over tarmac or the grass. It felt awesome watching the orange glow of the sunset changing the look of everything around me. And I wondered…I wondered, in that moment, if I could be able to change the things around me too. If I could possibly inspire someone…and make the dull glow.
Not too long after, I came to the boundary of Machakos County and Kitui County. The sun was growing weaker, and I could see herdsmen driving their cattle home. I needed to put some more power on my pedals if I was to reach Kitui before nightfall. Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist the urge to take some more photos…and have photos of me taken (otherwise how else would you know I was there). Coincidentally, the cameraman I chose also wanted to appear in my photos by all means…:)
Kitui was only 15km ahead and I had to ignore the burning sensation on my legs, the soreness on my butt and the numbness on my fingers. I had to push on…to pedal faster even, for I was in new territory. And because my mother once told me not to play after dark, especially in strange land, I cycled even faster. The late evening breeze hit me as I joined the road from Embu to Kitui, and there was more traffic, more lights and more flying bugs (I was lucky not to swallow any). And then finally…Kitui town!!