Lake Turkana & Mt Kulal - A week in Kenya's Desert North

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Osadabwa, Oct 19, 2015.

  1. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
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    DAY 1 – JUST GETTING OUT OF TOWN: LEWA


    At long last, it was time to return to Lake Turkana, up in the wild North of Kenya. Last time I was there, I was crossing the continent, or much of it, and the unforgettable feeling of the place has had me keen to go back for 11 years. I had set aside 10 days of riding with 4 other guys and had made GPS tracks to follow that would take us up riverbeds and through mountain ranges. My trusty 1985 Honda XL600R would be my steed – running strong after 30 years and the addition of a new stator – and the other guys would be aboard a mix of big adventure bikes. Here’s the breakdown:

    Gun it Gary: BMW F800 GS – Gun-It is a fast old buggar and would be using this trip to break in the bike he calls “the Blonde” after fitting her with stiffer fork springs.

    Panic Mechanic and P-Cross: Yamaha 660 Tenere’s – These guys rode their bikes up from South Africa a year ago on an epic trip recorded HERE. They’re camping masters, and having a genuine mechanic on the trip is certainly a bonus.

    Rawlence of a Labia: BMW 1200 GS (AKA the Buffalo) – Rawlence is a big lad and can handle the big bike, but would he manage Turkana? My money said Hell No, but this wouldn’t be his first rodeo up North, so the jury was out.

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    Above: The bikes, bikers and their not-so-PC (but eerily accurate) emojis

    Leaving Nairobi is always a chore, but Rawlence made it nicer by keeping us off Thika Road and away from the money grubbing, corrupt, feckless and immoral Kenyan Police that lurk in shadowy places and extort money from hapless adventure riders. We hit back roads that took us through field and farm, up along the border of Mt. Kenya National Park and back down to Nanyuki where we hit Springfield for some tasty, Cro-Magnon-sized chicken choma.

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    Above: Moving up into the cool flank of Mt. Kenya

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    Above: Huts formerly surrounded by trees are now in the open

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    Above: The bikes arrive in Nanyuki

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    Above: The Springfield choma joint, Nanyuki

    After gorging ourselves and passing by Nakumatt for a few take-away six-packs of White Cap, we bumbled out of town on a tar road choked with British military coming back from an exercise somewhere in their wicked huge vehicles. The Mechanic couldn’t help but chuckle at how many broken down Land Rovers we saw in the mix… “Should drive Land Cruisers, Muppets!”.

    Arriving to our first overnight spot was brilliant. A mate of P-Cross’ had given us the use of his plot inside Lewa Wildlife Conservation Area (Cheers, Z!). Once we finally found the gate (P-Cross’s memory is for the birds) we were treated to a lovely ride past giraffe, impala and warthog. At the place, a lovely spot with a lawn stretching out toward the dusty hills, we rinsed off and quickly began telling lies and boasting. Gun-It in his trade-mark sari looking like a washout from some religious cult.

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    Above: The Lewa overnight spot… not exactly roughing it

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    Above: Happy to be here… if only that old man would clothe himself

    It was a long, hilarious night… one I paid for dearly the following morning. Something about a beer can pyramid and a bottle of Jameson… I was brutally hungover, but the ride had begun. Northward ho!

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    Above: A snapshot of the night and the morning after
    #1
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  2. WHYNOWTHEN

    WHYNOWTHEN where are the pedals?

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    841
    Location:
    closer to Baja
    Yay
    #2
  3. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    DAY 2 – PUSHING INTO CAMEL COUNTRY: NGURUNIT

    My churning guts and pounding head were not the only issues to contend with come morning. It had rained all through the night and a couple of knowledgeable locals told us that “if you’re going to try to ride to Kipsing, you’d better remove your low fenders or the mud will remove them for you.” As I didn’t have a low fender, I didn’t see the problem, but since absolutely everyone else did, we had to wimp out and abandon the first of our many hairy-chested goals. Goodbye Kipsing Lugga, hello bloody Isiolo Tarmac. (Linguistical aside: “Lugga” is Kenyan English for dry riverbed.)

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    Above: What do you mean we’re not riding the lugga?

    Leaving Lewa, it was damp enough to be sure, but not sloppy, greasy or remotely unridable. The gorgeous morning and crisp air did my hangover some good, but missing out on Kipsing Lugga was a let-down and didn’t set a good precedent for the ride.

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    Above: Morning out of Lewa

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    Above: P-Cross leaving the conservancy

    Eleven years ago, the Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale road was hell on earth. A long, straight, corrugated torture chamber of seasonal heat or muck with the occasional bandit on hand to loot your goods. For a long time it was the only major non-paved bit of road between Cape Town and Cairo. Nowadays, anyone crossing Africa is treated to America quality tarmac complete with painted lines for most of the way, which will completed soon. Although this will be a huge boon to one of Kenya’s most neglected regions, linking their cattle and goats to better markets and their shops to lower-cost producers, it means major change for anyone who knew the place before and we were feeling it. In Africa, you can’t feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere if there’s a tar road going through it.

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    Above: Anytime bikers are taking selfies while riding, it’s too easy

    Uninspiring as the road was, the scenery still takes your breath away. The openness of the place and the complete lack of traffic or people is (for the moment) still awe inspiring.

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    Above: Panic posing with Ol’ Lokwe (to add to his collection)


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    Above: Me on the left and Rawlence giving the thumbs up by the Buffalo on the right

    At Laisamis, the tarmac ends and we diverted from our northerly trajectory. Our destination was the valley leading to Ngurinit – a small town forgotten by time that Panic described as “so far off the beaten path, there aren’t even plastic bags littering the ground” – and we were all eager for what would surely be a beaten old double track through the dust. Not so. Road crews had been at work and we found a fairly new murram road being improved as we rode. Still, it was good to be off that tar, and the scenery was getting weirder by the moment, with hundreds of camels around and big, stony hills cowering under threatening skies.

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    Above: Camels camels camels

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    Above: Camels and the Buffalo

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    Above: Yamahas eating it up

    It was just getting good when the GS 1200 made its first show of off-road insufficiency. Rawlence and I had stopped long enough for me to top up the oil in my thirsty XL (one clear downside to a vintage ride) and were in the process of catching up with the others when I lost him in my mirror. A series of three whoop-sized bumps in the road which had made me giggle had bent his swingarm support (insert proper terminology here) so much so that it was rubbing on his tyre. At first, we thought it was the end of the line for the overweight Buffalo, but the Mechanic’s know-how and some elbow grease kept her rolling to crash another day. We removed the offending part, split it in two, and humped and bumped and reefed it back into some semblance of linearity. Meanwhile, clouds built on the horizon and the sun had passed its zeinith. Time to move.

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    Above: Pretty place for a breakdown

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    Above: Spot the problem

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    Above: Rawlence and Panic assess the damage

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    Above: I lend a hand bending the piece back in shape and Rawlence re-fits the wheel

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    Above: Left: “What is this thing doing out here?” Right: Can we ride yet?

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    Above: Local curiosity

    Having sorted the Buffalo, we could commence with riding. Instead of struggling through sand and stones, however, we found ourselves opening throttles. Gun-It reached 140 kph, and I sang along at 120 for miles and miles. The road was excellent, mostly sandy and damp from recent rain, and we just flew through the scrubby camel country and unique, toothlike stone hills. What I expected to be a long day of sand and stones was effortless and strange.

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    By lateish afternoon, the road was corralled into a stony enclave where a wide, sandy riverbed wandered through unnaturally green acacias. There lies the village of Ngurinit. The place was just plain quaint. The outskirts were dotted with the stick-and-rag igloos common in the North and the little town centre was a sand track with a dukas among the trees. Panic noticed plastic bags aplenty strewn about and declared it the end of days. The rest of us thought it was pretty cool. We tooled around in search of the best place to camp, crossing and re-crossing the sandy riverbed and getting in practice for the following day: a full-on, no-way-out adventure up the Milgis Lugga from Ngurinit to Wamba… a riverbed a kilometre wide going through the heart of the Matthews Mountains, touted to be some of the most beautiful, out-of-reach places in Kenya. I couldn’t wait.

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    Above: The Buffalo fords the sand river

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    Above: The Buffalo falls in the sand river (don’t forget to disable traction control…)

    We settled on a place and began to unpack. Rawlence organized food and beers to be brought (poor guy was our de-facto interface with the locals as everyone assumed he was a tour guide) and we set about getting ourselves ready to chill. The surroundings were spectacular with stone faces everywhere, and we had the camp to ourselves. We chowed the heaps of food they brought, pounded the beers, laughed a lot and collapsed in a snoring, farting mess in the cool Ngurinet breeze. It’s a wonder nobody fell off the containers in the night in search of the loo.

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    Above: Our cool digs: sleeping bags under bed nets beneath the elevated shade and P-Cross in the refreshing outdoor shower

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    Above: Settling in


    A bit of video wrap-up
    #3
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  4. Edmond Dantès

    Edmond Dantès The Kanto Pain

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    853
    Location:
    Château d'If
    Good stuff! Nice to see vintage metal, your '85 XL600 out there holding its own against those XTs and that bloaterbike, the GS!
    Looking forward to more.
    #4
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  5. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    67,825
    What a great adventure!! Thanks for the report and pics! :clap
    #5
  6. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    DAY 3 – WHAT…? WE’RE HERE ALREADY? – LOIYANGILANI

    Up with the sun, I’m dying to hit the Milgis Lugga. I’d mapped it on Google Earth from Ngurinit, both the riverbed itself and the road that parallels it, just in case the sand was too dry to move in. The prospect of getting dirty was appealing, struggling a bit, testing our gear and setup, camping in the rough if need be. But, I was overruled. Before I knew it, we were on our way out the valley to South Horr. I presumed it was because the big bikes would struggle too much, but it was odd given how much we’d all crowed about doing it in the lead up. Talk, as they say, is cheap, and now I was clearly in the minority of those keen to go for it.

    Swallowing this disappointment, I followed the crew out of the village. The scenery was so lovely it was hard to stay grumpy. After all, even though the road was fairly new and therefore not really challenging, a bad day of riding is better than a good day of most other things and this was far from bad. So, attitude adjusted, I settled in and blasted the dirt.

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    Above: The place is just plain mysterious

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    Above: Giant Loop adjustment… zip ties to the rescue, and a Desert Rose in bloom

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    Above: Panic on the nice, neat graded dirt

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    Above: A watering hole chockablock with camels

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    Above: Gun-It looking up the valley

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    Above: That riverbed would have been perfect for riding… just sayin’

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    Above: Yeah, show them how it’s done… give it a little throttle here to make a splash…

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    Above: Nuts.

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    Above: P-Cross making a better go of it

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    Above: Fesh in the system and a lovely riverbed we also didn't ride in

    The southern approach to South Horr is gorgeous. Unlike so many places in Kenya, short-sighted entrepreneurs have not yet poached all of the mature trees, so the riverbed and the even to some extent the hillsides are covered in acacias, leaning over the road and reaching wide toward the sun. The road was nothing to write about, but the scenery couldn’t be beat. I was loving it, though aware that we were now well into the Northern territories and wondering why the rush.

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    Above: Gun-It gunning it

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    Above: S. Horr Valley

    In South Horr town we stopped for fuel and Coke and to discuss what the hell we thought we were doing. It was only mid-day and we were an hour away from Lake Turkana, our goal for the trip. I had 10 days to play with and it was only day 3. I offered to take us around to Tuum or up to the Southern tip of the Lake, but was vetoed again. For whatever reason, we were putting challenging or unknown things off until later, which didn’t seem wise to me. Better to explore early while everyone’s still fresh than to wait a week. Alas. To Loiyangilani we rode.

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    Above: Birds of a feather

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    Above: Getting to know the locals of South Horr. On Left – being warned about a Turkana Roadblock. On Right – being promised anything for a few seed pods from the shade tree.

    North of South Horr, the road that used to be just a double track in the sand and stones had become a sort of super highway in the making. Wider than many tar roads in Nairobi, the graded track blasted us toward the soon-to-be source of the wealth: a massive wind energy project being constructed just south of L. Turkana. The consequence: all that territory once so remote and virgin will very soon change forever with the influx of people. Is that bad or good for the area? Jury’s out. Is it bad or good for motorbike riding? It was bad, at least from my perspective. For me, the better the road, the worse the riding.

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    Above: Big road, big views

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    Above: My favourite desert bird

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    Above: off the road it still looks like Mars

    We were stopped by a group of Turkana who asked (and got) money for our safe passage. Their complaint was the lack of jobs they’re seeing from the wind farm. I guess 51 years of Kenyan leadership that has had virtually no interest in improving the north, not with infrastructure or schools or anything, has resulted in a population not qualified to do much apart from goat herding. When Turkana are hired for work, it’s as security guards because they’re tough as boot leather and mean as hell. These qualities, plus their fierce independence, clan loyalties and near utter lack of education do not, I suspect, make them sought-after workers. They do have guns though, so we commiserated with them and paid to pass.

    In no time, we were catching sight of Lake Turkana. The Jade Sea. The Birthplace of Mankind. It is an amazing sight. A massive desert lake with no outlet surrounded by stones and sand and dotted with inactive volcanic craters. Again the road was the Lite version of years past with long stretches of cement plastering over the steepest stony sections, but the heat was the same, and the ever-present wind. It is breathtaking… literally. It’s so dry it’s hard to breathe. You drink, you sweat, you ride. Stones fly, camels gawk. This is Turkana.

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    Above: First Turkana Views

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    Above: Cement making the approach a much easier prospect

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    Above: Spectacular and stony

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    Above: Turkana Traffic jam

    Once parallel with the lake, the road returns to a simple stone track through the boulders. It’s unchanged from its state of decades before, and the Buffalo was struggling. In a moment of rashness or bravado, Rawlence flipped off the traction control (whatever that is) and gave the big 1200 a nipple twist only to end up facing back where he came from atop a broken aluminium pannier. It took three of us to right the ship and get him turned around, and a few strips of rubber to hold the mangled pannier on until we could set it right.

    After all the fuss, Rawlence was approaching heat exhaustion, so we all joined him in a dunk in the sea. Panic had planted the idea in our heads earlier by diving in fully clothed (helmet, boots, coat and all), and Rawlence now did the same. We all lounged in the brackish, sour smelling water and emerged baptised from the heat, temporarily.

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    Above: Buffalo Down

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    Above: Baptism in the Jade Sea

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    Above: Turkana homesteads in the stones… unbelievably hard people

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    Above: Trees sprouting from a dry riverbed and an XL in the stones

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    Above: Local accommodation and Gun-It waiting as usual

    Arriving in Loiyangalani in the late afternoon, Rawlence took us to the aptly named Palm Shade Camp which offered basic digs, showers and – most importantly – shade. This place was thermonuclear even at the relatively cool time of year, so shade was a must. Last time I was there, I crashed at a joint with a pool, but the years have led to neglect and the overpriced dump is no longer reliable so we opted for coolish beers in the coolish shade. In no time, we were back to lying and boasting, bragging and cussing. Three of us went for an evening walk in hopes of seeing the sun set over the lake only to see a plastic-strewn wasteland get darker by the minute.

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    Above: Which way should we go?

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    I kept asking myself what we were doing in Loiyangalani already on day 3. Why on Earth did we hustle to get here so fast? It may have been then that Gun-It declared he needed to be home by Sunday... which was 3 days early. I tried to ignore that crap, we had agreed on a 10 day trip and if he needed to go home early that was his issue. What we needed was a plan. Options were discussed. The most exciting of the lot included us riding to Sibiloi National Park on the Lake’s middle, hiring a boat, and going over to the West side for some serious dune riding. Another idea was to risk dangerous fuel and water shortages to attempt an Ethiopian border run to Ileret. Or we could ride up the stony shore and camp on the mysterious Lake Turkana. All of the options sounded awesome. I went to bed sweating and dreaming of the adventure to come.


    Above: Quick video recap
    #6
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  7. Johnnydarock

    Johnnydarock Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 6, 2009
    Oddometer:
    536
    Location:
    Redondo Beach CA
    Great trip so far! Thanks for taking us along.
    #7
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  8. gperkins

    gperkins graeme

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2012
    Oddometer:
    1,730
    Location:
    NSW, far south coast.
    I love it. It's RR's like this that keeps me coming back to ADV/R.
    #8
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  9. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    DAY 4 – LATE START, LONG, AWESOME DAY: BUSH CAMPING NEAR MT. KULAL

    Up with the heat after a night of battling mosquitos. By all accounts, Rawlence and Panic were the most assiduous dudu hunters in the group. We set ourselves to the task of squaring the aluminium pannier, but to no avail. Even the five pound hammer I brought along plus a car jack couldn’t make it right. Rawlence would have to bungee it for the rest of the trip.

    And where were Rawlence’s boots? In a moment of hyper optimism and inexplicable belief in human goodness, seasoned biker and Kenyan national Rawlence made one of the cardinal errors of living here: he gave somebody a job and paid them in advance. His boots, kind of an important bit of kit, were out in the village somewhere while the repairman slept off his booze and miraa hangover under a tree. It was late morning when the unrepaired boots finally reappeared, and Rawlence had no choice but to duct-tape them together for the remainder of the journey.

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    Above: Five pound hammer and car jack can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again

    So where were we headed? Across the Lake? Up to the border? Along the stony shore? Nope. None of those ambitious plans worked out in the end. The Lake crossing couldn’t be organised, the border seemed it would be a fool’s errand due to lack of fuel, and nobody was keen to sweat it out along the lakeshore only to bake on the rocks. For some reason, proceeding farther north wasn’t on the table, so the Chalbi Desert and the big dry lake bed near Kalacha were out, and we also vetoed the idea of just staying put for a day to explore the area. In the end, we opted for a loop around Mt. Kulal. This was okay for me because it would be the first time in the trip that we’d be exploring new territory for everyone, and we’d follow one of the roads I’d found on Google Earth. It left open the question though: after today, then what? Ignoring that elephant as usual, we fuelled up and rode out into the heat.

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    Above: Fueling up Turkana style

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    Above: Watchers watching

    Leaving Loiyangilani is a treat for the senses. The road itself is nothing special, very well graded these days and not difficult going, but the colours it takes you through are mad. There’s white sand, black pumice, red dirt, even green stones… it’s a kaleidoscope of geology left over from volcanic hell no doubt. And desolate… there’s just nothing out there.

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    Above: Green stone field

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    Above: Dust trails

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    Above: Camels and more camels

    On a hilltop just below the road that grinds out of the lakebed, camels on all sides and a brilliant sky above, chewing a fruit candy I waited. And waited. Gary had gone ahead and vanished, so I rode back about 10 km to see what was wrong. P-Cross’s Tenere had a puncture. Glad it was nothing worse, I pretended to be helpful, took pics and handed out sweets. In no time, we were back on the road, unaware that we were seeing the makings of an unwelcomed pattern.

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    Above: The first pinch flat

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    Above: Climbing out again

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    Above: Inhospitable

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    Above: Rock and roll

    Not 20 km farther along… another puncture. Same bike, same issue: pinch flat. Obviously the stony road demanded higher pressure from the heavier bikes. I was comfortably blasting along with a mere 22 lbs in the front, so I was surprised P-Cross was having issues with 34 lbs in his… just bad luck, we guessed.

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    Above: The puncture gave us a chance to hunt artifacts and enjoy the wasteland

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    Above: Another uniform patch of land… up close, some of the stones were fine crystals

    For hours, we’d been saying: Cokes in Gas? And finally we arrived. Gas is the next village after Loiyangilani that consists of a conch-shaped wind-proof Catholic church, a bunch of cloth igloos and a few tin-roofed shacks near a water hole and some palms in the dirt. Gabra country, the people have a different dress and look from the lakeside Turkana. I arrived early and found the Coke spot. A big mama in red with beads and earrings sold me the sodas and I marvelled at her, her shop, and her beautiful but astoundingly young daughter (no more than 14) nursing a mohawked, pudgy, wide-eyed baby.

    While we had our Cokes, we had the brilliant idea to have some local yokels patch the two tubes P-Cross had already damaged. Another rookie move. It took over an hour (whereas I can patch a tube in 10 minutes) and the look of them when we got them back was not inspiring. Still, I was eager to move on because we were approaching unknown territory. We’d break off the North Horr road and swing back South along the East side of Mt. Kulal, the little mountain chain that lords over the Lake. Our destination for the night: Gatab, a small village on the mountain’s top.

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    Above: The church, the huts and the big mama

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    Above: A spear ready by a hut

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    Above: Are we still waiting?

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    Above: What to do? At least there’s shade.

    The backside of Kulal road was everything I hoped it would be. It was the kind of road I came up to Turkana to ride. Little more than a double-track through the sand and a bull-dozer track through the rocks, the road hits all manner of terrain and the XL was eating it up. There were brilliant long stretches of fine gravel and sand, deep, stone-filled luggas to cross, and sections of pointy stones that must surely have been constructed specifically to destroy machines. Gun-It and I were in heaven, but not everyone was as keen.

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    Above: Under a wind-blown shade tree, Kulal in the background

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    Above: Love that lateral dust trail! Wish I had a better zoom!

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    Above: Camels were calving all around us… this one was a day old

    P-Cross was busy patching his third puncture of the day. He had something like 38 pounds of pressure in that tyre but it was still pinching. He was now maxing out his preload, running on awful pressures for sandy conditions, slowing down so much he wasn’t even getting his jollies, and the tyres were still blowing out. Gremlins? Turkana curse?

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    Above: Another one… Panic Mechanic is confused

    The big 1200 wasn’t exactly loving the rocky sections either, but I have to hand it to Rawlence. That man was riding that stupid bike like a boss. He couldn’t be too cavalier for fear of damaging the swing arm on the bigger dips, and the slow, loose stone sections made his life hell (bloody thing has a 19” front wheel), but when he got to a more open area it was scary to see him go. Following along behind was awe inspiring… big bike bucking all over the place and Rawlence perched on top with his back strait as a board just going for it, easy as you please.

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    Above: The Buffalo in the stones

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    Above: Panic emerges from a stone river crossing and one of many dead goats along the trail

    Gun-It and I were racing ahead, enjoying the ride maybe a little too much. Behind him, just out of the dust, I see Gun-It approaching a rocky river crossing. The brake light comes on for a brief second, and then he’s bouncing, lunging sideways into the ravine. When I catch up, he’s perpendicular with the road and shaking his head but still upright. He’d taken a fistful of brake which lifted the rear wheel. Something in the Blonde’s BMW brain killed the engine, leaving him with no power to extricate him from trouble. It could have been ugly… the man – nearly a century old if you account for experience – is held together with gristle, titanium and the clothes on his back. A big fall would have meant big hurt, and that was close. Luckily, the only tumble he had was sometime later when a wait-a-bit bush snagged his jacket and pulled him off the bike at 2 kph. He he he.

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    Above: Gun-It outsmarted by a wait-a-bit

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    Above: Sunset and a fresh-dropped camel, still wet and wobbly

    Gun-It and I met the junction as the sun was an extended hand’s width above the horizon. At that same time, P-Cross was repairing yet another puncture and people were feeling pretty used up from the long, hot day. Assuming each flat costs us 30 minutes; P-Cross’s mishaps alone ate 2 hours out of our day! This is why we used to ride mousses in Tanzania, but that was on lighter bikes. There was nothing for it but to keep repairing.

    Since the area was empty and the ground hard-packed sand, we just drove 200 meters into the bush and set up camp for the night. It was brilliant. I cracked open the Bullet Bourbon I’d brought and the guys whipped out the camp stoves. Panic had some British Military rations of unmentionable origin and vintage that were astonishingly good. Added to that was some hard salami, fresh carrots (I admit, I teased him about these in Nairobi and praised him for them in Turkana) and a couple packs of Ramen noodles. We feasted and watched a very starry Milky Way spin away around our heads.

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    Above: "Rough" Camp


    Above: Video Recap
    #9
  10. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    DAY 5 - CLIMBING INTO THE COOL: MT KULAL

    We awoke to a tangerine and pomegranate explosion in the East that slowly consumed the grape cotton ball clouds that extended from horizon to horizon over our heads. The calm and cool of the morning was just the ticket to pull us out of our tents. Somebody fired up the stove and we had our instant coffee too, which was just what was needed to send us running to the bush for an early morning squat. Aaah, nature!

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    Above: Sunrise and Rawlence breaking the calm with the five pound hammer

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    We decamped pretty quickly given our thick heads and rumbled in a line back through the bush to the main road. The first thing we saw was a man with an AK-47 walking toward us and waving for us to stop. No thank you, sir. A wave, and on we went. It was too early to be dealing with nonsense. If it isn’t one thing it’s another: either they want to just ask you inane questions (where are you from? Ah, but this bike is strong… how fast can it go…?), or they want to pretend that you’re trespassing and ask for reparations.

    With the sun at our backs, Gun-It and I blasted over our shadows on a sand and fesh-fesh road and were treated to a rare and awesome sight. A cheetah appeared, walked into the road and stopped long enough for Gun-It to signal to me to stop. I killed the engine and coasted up in time to watch the lithe feline slink off the road and into the bush, vanishing instantly. Amazing she can survive up here with all the guns. Godspeed you, fast killer.

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    Above: Cheetah in the morning

    We curved around and began climbing Mt. Kulal, approaching roughly from the south. The road was in good nick, and the morning light had everything painted with soft pastels. There was another run-in with a gun-carrying guy who walked at us and didn’t step off the track, forcing us to ride over the gravely berm in the middle to pass him by. This is typical behaviour of the warrior class. They’re young and macho and expected to be. To me it’s ironic that although they’re armed and possibly deadly, they all wear their hair just so, keep beads dangling all around them to accentuate their delicate cheekbones, and flaunt their wiry, hairless thighs beneath the brightly coloured mini-skirts that are, like, all the rage this season… anyway.

    At a routine stop, I noticed that something was amiss with the XL’s rear end. Sure enough, broken sub-frame. The left side was cracked straight through. Guess I was really enjoying that rocky stuff the day before. It was good that there was an African Inland Church mission in Gatab with a workshop… we could only hope there’d be somebody there to help me out and that they also had a welder. Otherwise, it’d be me fashioning a splint out of a pair of tyre levers and several lengths of inner tube rubber… also bloody strong.

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    Above: On approach

    The climb up to Gatab was spectacular. The road cruises right past a massive rocky canyon that looks like it could still hold species unknown to mankind. We twisted and turned, climbing and grinding along. There was the canyon on one side and wide views of the stony plains and Lake Turkana on the other. We were riding on maximum morale during that climb, but I was keen to get my frame sorted out…

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    Above: The canyon side

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    Above: The Lake Turkana side

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    Above: Suck in your guts, boys, tuck in your chins

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    Above: Teneres

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    Above: The five of us, high on Kulal

    Gatab is a tiny village. There is no clear centre and it seems to just dead-end up against the mountain. The road leads directly to the AIC mission, so I introduced myself to the watchman and was told to go up to the workshop. There, a short, stocky mzungu in blue overalls met me with a surprised but kindly grin and a German accented “are you lost?” I explained what we were doing and that I had a bit of an issue with a broken motorbike frame, and asked if he could help. Could he ever. Over the course of the afternoon, Jacob (that’s the man’s name) welded the crack on my frame and added a metal brace to strengthen it with such skill that all of us just watched with amazement, his kids brought us tea and home-made bread with honey, his wife invited us to dine with the family, and on top of it all he offered us the use of their guest house that had views over the Lake. It was humbling. I can be cynical about mission work, but I can’t fault this human being’s selflessness. Asante Jacob.

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    Above: My frame before

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    Above: My frame after – stronger than new


    Above: Workshop talk

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    Above: Scenes from around

    After lunch, we offloaded bikes and set up sleeping quarters. Rawlence and Gun-It took beds in the house while the rest of us pitched tents in the yard. After doing a bit of laundry, and while Gun-It took a serious log-sawing nap, the rest of us set out to explore Gatab. We wanted to see if they had bottled water (nope) or gasoline (also nope), and then we got it in our heads to find out if they had beer (yes siree!). We made the rounds, got our beers and returned in time for a spectacular sunset over the Lake. The night was raucous. While the wind roared, we ate and told stories, drank and lied. Stars everywhere. Awesome day.

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    Above: Gatab recce – motorcycles yes… gasoline, no… and what’s that call-box doing there?

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    Above: Sunset over the Lake – Panic showing the size of… his shoes maybe

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    Above: P-Cross boiling water by head-lamp
    #10
  11. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    DAY 6 – LEAVING SO SOON?: MARALAL

    It had not been a restful night. The wind howled cold and menacing all night long, pushing my tent over at one point so that I had to get creative with the tie downs. Still, we were all up at dawn and watched the Lake materialise under the soft pinks and blues of morning below. Breakfast was served, the guest house’s leech field replenished, and we were off. We bid Jacob a hearty thanks and good bye and asked that he use our donation for something good up there on our new favourite hilltop. I know he will.

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    Above: Headless selfie… doh! And the Buffalo descending the mountain.

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    Above: Teneres coming down

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    It had become critical at this point. Our time, our location, and our destination were all in the balance. We were on the South Horr road already, only half way into our ride, committed to not going further north and following Gun-It toward some long-promised excellent riding that so far had been mostly main roads. Atop the mountain, we were debating what to do and the consensus, I thought, was to ride around to Tuum, maybe explore that side a bit. We knew there was a place to stay, and there was a shot we could crash at the famous Desert Rose Lodge nearby because Gun-It is pals with the owner. To my dismay, come morning, the Tuum road was declared “too sandy”, so we should just return to South Horr and go round the bottom. For whatever reason, whether optimism that things would change, or herd mentality, I went along with it. In a blink, we were in South Horr.

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    Above: Now Panic was having punctures… again in a picturesque spot at least

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    Above: Same S. Horr spot… same little calf… now the Buffalo with a puncture

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    Above: Rawlence is the only really nice guy in the group… here he is buying candies for the hordes of kids

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    Above: Of course the repair kit is in the busted pannier… sod’s law

    Off we went, heavy of heart in my case. While we repaired bikes in South Horr, Gun-It confirmed that in fact we would not be welcome to drop in at the Desert Rose (perhaps not surprisingly given the fact that it’s an uber-exclusive, 5 Star, mega luxury boutique hotel), nor could we ride the Kipsing Lugga and Borana escarpment up to the plateau due to an alert we received of tribal violence (Samburu and Turkana at it as ever) so our new plan of action (or rather, Gun-It’s as our de-facto leader) was to get South as quickly as possible to ride somewhere in Masai Mara. This was tempting enough to agree to, but as we were going, I realised that since he had also placed additional time pressure on the ride, it would not be possible without some seriously long, dull days of big dirt or tar. Buggar me.

    So, not unlike a man who falls out of his raft into the rapids, I was swept along for the ride. There was little to do but try to enjoy whatever we ended up with and not focus on the fact that we explored very little that was new or challenging, that we only scratched the surface of the North, and that we would be home several days early… that last bit being anathema to motorbikers worldwide and to me in particular. Stuff it back. Enjoy the scenery. Make the best of it. Here we go.

    South Horr Valley was lovely as ever. The road isn’t bad going and rumbling over the hills is great. It looks a lot like Wyoming, I thought… particularly the high-quality murram roads. The similarities end there, however, as evidenced by the funky signboards we met at the turn off to Tuum… lots of discussion about peace and images of weapons. We were in hostile lands indeed. I bid the turnoff goodbye with a pang of regret… I have fond memories of Tuum and the Desert Rose.

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    Above: The Maralal road, Desert Rose mailbox and an unintentionally ironic Tuum Parish sign…

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    Above: the Tuum sign is a bit worn 11 years since I saw it last

    Once again, the mythical roads of yore eluded us. In an effort to ride something better than the main drag to Maralal, we deviated toward Barsaloi on what apparently used to be a wonderful little double track, but was now just another well maintained road with ominous pro-peace signage every so often along the way. Our favourite was the one that said, “War: The Banquet of the Hyenas. We want Peace. Respect All.” and depicted bloated corpses being stalked by the hunch backed scavengers. Graphic… and odd as hell since on the other side was a promotion for Barsaloi as the “Cleanest town in Samburu County” with “We (heart) our catholic church” at the bottom.

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    Above: Toward Barsaloi

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    Above: A river crossing and a very colourful shot of my very favourite old bike

    For sure, the scenery was pretty nice. We ducked in and out of snatches of trees in wide riverbeds and were rolling straight toward the distant escarpment upon which sat a very ominous thunderhead. We needed to keep moving, but punctures continued to plague us. The Buffalo had managed to pinch flat a tubeless tyre! It was touch and go for awhile to see if they could make a double-plug work. They lost six of them in the effort, but at last one took.

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    Above: Barsaloi puncture repair… why does the Buffalo only flat in populated areas?

    Despite not being thrilled with the program, I admit the afternoon was a lot of fun. From Barsaloi, an old road pushed through the bush right up to the escarpment. We were still getting punctures, but the air was cool and fresh with nearby rain, so it was less like torture to change them (says me, who didn’t actually have to change any). We rolled smoothly on sandy packed roads until we got close to the mountain’s flank where some slick clay and big recent washouts made it really interesting riding.

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    Above; Teneres coming up

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    Above: Washouts and a Peace sign… see what I mean about the fancily dressed killers? Samburu guys on the Left in their cute red hair, feathers and skirts… Turkana on the right with blue clay and ostrich plumes in their hair… what’s missing are the AK-47s… guess the Catholic Church wanted to pander to cultural idealism which is always the first thing to be trotted out when trying to shrug off bad behaviour or pointed to when trying to get back “to the old ways” which, ironically were never peaceful.

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    Above: At the end of the rainbow and nearly the end of the ride

    I was getting into the riding. The mud and rain added a level of interest, as did the choose-your-own-path kind of riding around and over wash-outs and river beds. The evening light added that special quality to the day that twists throttles and has you blasting for more. At the village at the bottom of the escarpment, we found a big “ROAD CLOSED” sign which promised more fun to come. The climb out was steep and rocky and afforded lovely panoramas of the world below. The hardest point on the climb for the big bikes was to navigate around a new section (they’re putting in more cement…) which would either work out fine or end in a tumble down the side. With no incidents to report, we summited in the golden light, happy and united for the last time in the trip.

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    Above: I like our odds

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    Above: Get skinny, Buffalo!

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    Above: Last hoorah


    Above: Some video
    #11
  12. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Day 6 – GROUP COLLAPSE: BACK HOME

    When the wheels came off, they came off fast.

    We woke up and got our bikes loaded. Our plan continued to be vaguely aimed toward Masai Mara, though it was clear that the geography would not be on our side. We struggled to come up with an interesting way to get there given we were somewhere in the middle of the country and the Mara is in the south with a lot of built up areas in between. We decided on a road Rawlence knew well that would drop us down onto Lake Baringo, promising a few hours of roughness and a good meal at the end. We’d regroup there and see what to do. I was thinking maybe break from the group and head West toward Mt. Elgon. I didn’t get the chance.

    Right off the bat, P-Cross had another puncture. And because we were so eager to leave town, we didn’t have any fresh tubes left. Rawlence managed to round some up in a nearby village, but it wasn’t a good start to the day. I made the best of it by chasing around a Kori Bustard, the world’s largest flying bird, on my bike. At 4 feet high, he looked like he could have taken me.

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    Above: Leaving Maralal, the Kori Bustard

    We trundled along. The road, everyone agreed, was horrible. Brutal stones embedded in corrugated murram, nothing much to look at, etc. Just not good stuff. And more punctures. It was starting to add up. But at least we’d be off that road soon. We all stopped to regroup in the shade and soon after Gun-It blasted away down the road. I followed, since he said he knew the way. After awhile, though, I didn’t see lights in my mirror. Used to this by now, I pulled off and had a wee rest. Half an hour later, the three guys come along. They were pissed off. Gun-It had missed the turn miles back and they were waiting for us to return. Here I was, but Gun-It was still nowhere to be seen as usual. Eyes glazed over. Brows furrowed. It was the beginning of the end.

    Then my tyre went flat. I fixed it. Then Panic got a pinch. He fixed it (with a great deal of animation). Then we were going to eat in Nyahururu where Rawlence knew a place, but Gun-It vetoed it, saying, lets go just down the road. Then we were riding tar for a bloody hour and nobody knew why. It was a mess. Finally, everything exploded; or rather everything just fell apart, which was a shame because an explosion is what was needed. I was looking forward to lunch in order to a) get some food in me to calm me down and b) declare my desire to abandon ship. I was sick of being led. The plan to go to the Mara seemed doomed. I still had 4 ½ days to go and wanted to make the best of it, alone if need be. When I got to the lunch spot, though, I didn’t get the chance. The Teneres had opted to bail out without discussion, and one of the buggars had my phone. I shouted a curt good-bye to Gun-It and Rawlence and burned rubber.

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    Above: the last decent moment of the ride, me fixing a flat

    What a damn shame. I ended up back in Nairobi, furious as hell and four days early. I have never left a ride early. The map below shows how screwed up it was, and just leaves me feeling like such an idiot for not taking control of my ride. I have nobody to blame but myself for that. I'm a big boy. I’ve learned my lessons, and am trying hard to put the bad stuff behind me and focus on the good stuff because there was a lot of good stuff.

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    Above: The ride map. I switched it off after Maralal

    Next time, I will do things differently..

    Out.
    #12
  13. top_dog

    top_dog ADVrider wannabe

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2010
    Oddometer:
    77
    Location:
    Brazil
    Shit Happens!

    Thats why I usually ride alone.

    But how wold you deal with the ak47 guys alone?
    #13
    Osadabwa likes this.
  14. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Hey all,

    Thanks for the comments.

    gperkins, glad you enjoy it as much as I do. I have many others stacked up from Tanzania that match this one in terms of length and craziness

    E. Dantes - Yes, the old XL most certainly held her own. In fact, she came out on top if you ask me. Two of the other riders have taken note and are in the process of trading in their big tour bikes for XR650Rs... the Big Red Pig would eat Turkana for lunch... and wouldn't be scared away by stones, sand or riverbeds

    top_dog - I reckon you'd be in about the same position against the guys with guns with or without other riders. If anything, people tend to be even more curious and kind to a solo biker than when you're in a big rumbling group. Guess it would depend on the person though... all that talk about war and peace up there tells you there's a subsection of the population that'd just as soon shoot you as talk to you.

    Cheers
    #14
  15. Caymen8

    Caymen8 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2009
    Oddometer:
    135
    Location:
    Rocky Mountain High
    Thanks for another terrific ride report. I love the photos. And group dynamics are always interesting. Much more fun to hear about than actually be involved in. :rofl
    #15
  16. just jeff

    just jeff Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2012
    Oddometer:
    4,014
    Location:
    LacLaBiche Alberta Canada
    Hey Osadabwa!
    Good ride report! Too bad about the outcome. Seems that you just got with the wrong group of bike styles and riders. Like you I prefer the back roads and trails but have a tough time finding like minded riding companions. I did a 4500km off pavement trip this summer solo. Much easier to decide what to do when you only have yourself to argue with!!!
    Best Regards....just jeff

    From my trip round the middle of Canada
    DSCF0171.JPG
    #16
    Osadabwa and Edmond Dantès like this.
  17. OnTheWay

    OnTheWay Rock Liu Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2014
    Oddometer:
    1,354
    Location:
    Shenzhen, China
    How epic! Thanks again for taking the time to share everything with us. Having gained much information from ur RR.
    #17
  18. Edmond Dantès

    Edmond Dantès The Kanto Pain

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    853
    Location:
    Château d'If
    'E. Dantes - Yes, the old XL most certainly held her own. In fact, she came out on top if you ask me. Two of the other riders have taken note and are in the process of trading in their big tour bikes for XR650Rs... the Big Red Pig would eat Turkana for lunch... and wouldn't be scared away by stones, sand or riverbeds'

    Osadabwa,
    Wooow, that was quite a different report ending from the usual, kumbaya 'I got home to the wagging dog's tail and hugs and kisses from the wife' type endings!

    I had a '05 XR650R for a number of years, and regret selling that beast of a bike so bad...The damn thing used to boil like a kettle in the slow stuff though until I slapped a fan on her.

    Your ride reports are well-written, entertaining, and from a spectacular part of the globe. Thanks for posting them, and keep them coming.:thumbup
    #18
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  19. Faceplant

    Faceplant Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2006
    Oddometer:
    262
    Location:
    Swahilistan
    Time you came back for a ride in Tz. You know we love you, all is forgiven....
    #19
  20. ADVer

    ADVer Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2006
    Oddometer:
    431
    Location:
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Thanks for that awesome ride report and wonderful pictures.

    I had the opportunity to visit Lake Turkana around 25 years ago. What an awesome place. We came in from Lodwar and spent the day at a deserted lodge on the West Bank. Dinner was a goat bought from and prepared by a local. We spent the night in the bed of a Land Cruiser pick- up. A memorable day and night.

    Ps- Tusker and White Cap did not come in cans then.
    #20