The final days on the road

Friday 15th August
Kibuye-Kinunu
Distance-62km on Congo Nile Trail
Road food- bananas

A massive buffet breakfast (I can feel my body getting used to this) with a beautiful view of Lake Kivu. The first 15km is on the road and a 45 minute climb. Turning onto CNT it keeps going up but now it’s loose stone so pretty tricky. Today Obed the guide is a lot more on it and directs us onto a single track which goes up and down really steep tracks, alongside the lake which is stunning and the road keeps on going and going (without a guide it would have been very difficult to navigate all these dirt roads and single tracks) Eventually arriving at Kinunu it has a great vibe, we stop for warm cola and the locals come and hang out. You can see there’s a little more wealth here because of the coffee plantation. A woman approaches me and goes for a really big hug I think she appreciates the girl power on a bike thing. I’ve cycled all over this country and have not seen one woman on a bike. Which is why I believe the women’s team is important.
I thought we’d arrived and the lodge would be in the village but damn it’s another 40 minutes apparently. It’s been a warm day and I am drained I’ve ridden down a track for nearly 9 hours again. After a long sketchy descent we arrive at the lake side coffee plantation lodge. It’s beautiful. They make us dinner and it’s a massive buffet for two. Perfect.

Saturday 16th August
Kinunu-Musanze
Road food- bread, pastries, warm coca cola.
Distance-105km- 45km single track 60km over mountain and down the other side.

Final day of riding. I know it’s going to be a tough one. The breakfast at the coffee plantation by the lake is incredible. Fresh pineapple juice Papuya, great coffee, omelette, fresh bread, fresh jam and a stunning view of the lake. I ate as much as I could fit in.
We step outside and there’s 15 turkeys looking at us, they’re weird birds, the males come toward us side by side spreading there tail feathers looking big as possible. Gobble gobble gobble gobble in perfect unison. It’s funny but intimidating and they keep coming. Eek. A local lad chases them off and the birds are totally submissive. It’s funny I think myself as a robust farmers daughter but they scared me. Bad news the road goes straight up the way we came, steep steep gravel track. We follow the lake Kivu coast line for an hour then turning in land, it’s a two hour climb up a consistent 15% track. As I reach the top we’ve come up into the clouds and the heavens open in monsoon style. I keep going until I reach a food hut. There’s another cyclist in there. Now, I’m going to back track four weeks here, before leaving I popped into the new local Bikeshop to ask for a cardboard bike box to travel with. When explaining what I was up to he said he had a friend who lived in Rwanda and did bike tours. Dan is a dude and gave me an email intro with his mate Tom in Rwanda and invited Dan and his business partner to my leaving party. Any how it hadn’t worked out with seeing Tom in Rwanda until now. As I approached the hut with the rain coming down in the middle of no where this cyclist said you must be Nancy. It was Tom! We sat sheltering from the rain eating pastries and warm cola surrounded by locals for what felt like an hour and had a really good chat. He’s lived in Rwanda many years and gave real insight. After the rain eventually stopped I found Obed across the road hanging out in the local salon. Pictures below. I’m pleased to say it was a long descent down the muddy track. Before a two hour climb on the road and down the other side to Musanze. As we’re arriving back in town I see a stone flying straight at us, this is no accident, followed by a man looking possessed running at me. Shit. We collided but Obed jostled him away. I’d been warned of this happening from Kimberly and it happened right at the end of a 1400km tour. Bit shaken up we carry on and now both exhausted the 4% 6km climb up to team Rwanda drains the last bit of life out of us. I’m done and I’m home. It’s wicked to be back and it’s only an hour until dinner. Hurray. We all eat together with the lads who’ve had the BMX training camp. Great food and an early night. I feel my work is done.

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Local hair salon

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Mountain biking The Congo Nile Trail

13th August
Musanze- Gisenyi
Mountain biking to start of Congo Nile Trail
Road food-0
Distance- 67km

I woke this morning with itchy feet. Today I must hit the road. I spoke to Kelsey at team Rwanda who says I can’t mountain bike on my own down trails and offers a guide. One of the original Rwandan team riders, Obed. As the morning goes on my body tells me it’s bloody knackered from the muddy mountain trek the day before. Not far to ride today though.

Obed and I roll out at 2.30, later than I would like but it won’t take long. We set off and start the two and a half hour climb which is longer as we’re on mountain bikes. Obed is happily chatting to the locals which keeps them off my back wheel. The rain gets heavier and heavier. We finally get to the top and it’s a 15km descent to the lake. The rain hurts my face, you can’t see the road for water and I’m pelting off the side of the mountain as fast as I dare. It’s cold but I’m secretly loving it. Drop like a stone. As we descend you can see a peachy haze of light below. I’ll take that as a sign it’s not raining in Gisenyi yet and I’m right. It takes us a long time to stop shaking when we hit town as only in minimal summer kit but I feel quite satisfied. I think it’s because I had that life in own hands feeling when coming off the mountain.

14th August
Gisenyi- Kibuye
Distance-106km yes off road!
Mountain biking Congo Nile Trail
4.619 metres of climbing
Road food- squashed jam sandwich stolen from breakfast, 2 samosas, nuts, cake and fresh milk served at cow temperature.

It’s dry thank god, we meet for breakfast at 7 and we’re served a banquet. Back on the bikes head up the hill for 40 minutes before seeing the Congo Nile trail turning. The road is bumpy, stoney and uneven so fun on a mountain bike. I’m enjoying myself I’m feeling strong and relaxed on the new bike. The kids are begging for sweets so some tourist must have thought it a nice idea to give them sweets at some point. The hills are very long and a lot steeper than paved roads. Obed asks people along the way to double check we’re on the right route. We keep going and going and the climbs get longer and steeper. Then asking someone who says we’d passed our accommodation 30km ago. Shit. I’m not turning back. Miles away down on the lake I can see buildings it must be Kibuye. It’s 3pm so we head for it. Luckily I’m feeling strong and can handle it. Nearly 9 hours off road and accidentally cycled half the Congo Nile trail. Feeling epic.

Watching a storm cross Lake Kivu which is beautiful and apparently it’s rained north all day. My brother contacts to say he’s having a baby. Two worlds hey.

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Back to the highlands and team Rwanda

10th August
Distance-130km
Road food- bananas, honey sandwich from breakfast & biscuits
Nyamabuye- Musanze and team Rwanda

Sunday morning
Top of mountain in the mist, gospel singers song floating through the mist. It felt very spiritual, followed by an ominously long decent (what goes down must come up)
Map said 100km, road signs 85km actually distance 130km with a Lot of climbing as heading back into the highlands.
Photo below is of a lad who ran up the mountain with me, they seem to love hanging out with umuzungus. Once you’re past the ‘give me money’ bit they’re okay. It’s just there’s so many kids here.
On the final 6km climb back to team Rwanda there was a head wind so I tucked in behind a bike taxi and let him do the work (wheel sucker I am but not daft) Rolled in at 4 and felt great to be back yet totally done in.
Using internet for the first time in 7 days I was able to upload the routes onto Strava. The amount of climbing is what I would have done in the Alps. No wonder I’m tired. Watched a thunderstorm roll in and the rain came down hard whilst sitting on the porch at Team Rwanda, its coming to the end of the dry season. I feel safe being back and feel i can let my guard down.

11th August
First rest day
Food- anything I can get my hands on.

Below is a photo of Weston picking salad for lunch. He’s a BMX pro and coaches the team. Team Rwanda have an expansive vegetable patch which grows all year as it’s temperate here.

Spent the day chilling out and planning the next move. Eating, lots of eating my metabolism has shot up. Diane from ‘Outspoken cyclist’ in the states asked for an interview so had a skype call in the evening with her. Two English lads staying with the team who are climbing the volcano tomorrow. ‘Space for a little one?’ I ask. So a second day out the saddle which is good as the saddle sore could do with another days rest. That’s enough detail.

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At Furthest point and feeling it.

Back through the forest
8th August
Road food- 2 eggs and bananas.
Distance- 100km

Today was a planned rest day in a good hotel on the edge of the forest but it’s empty and no internet. Boo. So hit the road again back tracking yesterday’s route. Riding through the national park is so different as there’s no people only monkeys and sounds of the forest. Until I see my touring buddies. ‘Friends Friends!!’ I’m so happy we have a chat talking of pubs of far away things in the middle of the forest in the middle of Africa, it’s pretty special. They’d camped in the middle of the forest paying 30USD each as that’s the price you pay to be in the woods. Mind you I can’t talk with ‘treating myself’ to something I didn’t actually like, the hotel and cost 128USD. Rwanda is savvy with tourist USD. You can see the money goes straight into the community from schools to health centres.

Second part of the forest was heavy going with big machinery and more dust. The Chinese build these roads, it’s local workmen with Chinese foreman. I was getting hungry so trying to find somewhere to eat with no workman around was tricky. I feel too vulnerable to be around people alone in the wood so settle with sitting on a bolder cracking my egg open. A lorry stops up the road and someone hops out and walks toward me. It’s probably innocent but I’m back on the bike, I’ll eat the egg on the go. Coming out I saw hundreds of well ordered huts on the hill and as I came closer there’s a sign for ‘refugee camp’. Apparently these people are coming over from DR of Congo.

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9th August
Gikongoro- Nyamabuye
Distance 110km
Road food- boiled eggs, bananas and peanuts.

Beautiful early morning light when I set off in a village on top of a hill which was a 15 minute descent. Hundreds of people carrying produce up the climb. Along the river valley bike taxis waiting to peddle the fresh cut produce to trade.

I’m tired. It’s a hot day and everyone wants to interact and there’s lots of hissing. I know in Rwandan culture they’re just trying to get my attention but today, please no more. I’m saddle sore and have no go. People are so surprised and excited to see a the white woman on a bike and I’ve nothing to give. The hills were long and the local buses were especially aggressive. Was nice to finish at a hotel I’d visited before. Tried my luck on the large dairy milk in the shop as worried it would taste different but it’s the same. If i’d eaten that much chocolate that quickly I would have felt a little guilty but it was amazing. Thank you Cadburies. One more day of riding tomorrow and I’ll be back with team Rwanda. Thank god I need a break as ridden 1000km already.

South West Rwanda toward Nyungwe Forest

6th August
Nyamabuye to Gikongoro
Distance-105km
Road food- flatbread and fruit

This morning I woke to a small market which popped up outside my room. Watching from above to see people interact, it felt quite fly on the wall. See below.

After egg and bread for breakfast I set off starting at a cross road, my journey could go two ways and for one fleeting moment I considered heading North back to team Rwanda. Short lived though. It was thank god mostly descending to start. It really lifted the spirits. I’m getting used to the attention, people are mostly amazed to see a white woman on a bike. Feeling more relaxed I stopped for more water and freshly made flat bread, it was quite pleasant sitting with the warm afternoon sun on my face and watching the world go by. There were less big lorries and more variety of landscape, following the river and finally a massive climb (image below) The bicycle taxis were holding onto the back of lorries (only moving slightly faster and bellowing smoke) They were inviting me to join but I know I would fall off and my Strava mentality wouldn’t allow it. I finished at Gikongoro it was easy to find the only hotel and the trees surrounding the hotel were filled with fruit bats (see image below) I spent sometime watching them that evening.

I heard the Muslim call to prayer for the first time since arriving in Rwanda, as books say there is a small population of Muslims here.

Back to the not laughing, My life in London is amazing with excellent friends and a brilliant freelance job which gives me a fantastic lifestyle. I’m relaxed happy and laugh a lot. Now in Rwanda on my own I’m focused and making myself vulnerable by cycling on my own. I feel constantly challenged so it’s not fun yet very rewarding in other ways.

7th August
Gikongoro through Nyungwe Forest
Road food-eggs and bananas
Distance-100km

Packed myself up, got the touring get up on and wheeled the bike to breakfast and low and behold two more bike tourers. I was so happy to see my own breed. They’ve travelled for 5 months and decided to do some spontaneous bike touring in Rwanda. It was quite an accomplishment they picked up everything in Kigali including camping gear.
They set off before me and I met them on a hill. The bikes aren’t good and the weight is unbalanced so they were walking up a lot of the hills. That’s brave I wouldn’t want all those kids grabbing at the bike as you’re dragging it up the long hot climbs. I was very happy to see my comrades again though if only briefly.

As I was heading up another long hill surrounded by a eucalyptus wood kids were coming out of the trees. they were the poorest I’ve seen yet, covered in dirt, runny noses, clothes or rags rotting off and no shoes. They were hissing umuzunguoooooo hiss hiss money money’ running toward me as I was cycling up a big hill before long there was around 10 all running around me begging for money. I’d like to say I stopped and gave them money but I didn’t, I road hard up that hill to get away. The next 30km was broken roads with massive lorries and machinery working as I entered Nyungwe forest. A lot of dust, working the bike through gravelly sand and big drops to the forest below. I took it steady, 90 minutes later I road into the most perfect road with very little traffic. Stopped at a information spot to get water and a guide approached asking what my cycling jersey meant, I explained it’s an island which belongs to Spain. He said that in Rwandan ‘Ibiza’ means natural disaster. That was very funny!

Now it feeling like a national park, to cycle through somewhere like this and be alone with what feels like dense and noisy yet peaceful ecosystem. The decending out of the forest was delicious, smooth, fast with incredible corners. Coming out of Nyungwe Forest and into well ordered Tea plantations it was a short ride to the hotel. I was treating myself but was disappointed. It had the most breath taking views (image below) but it was empty and the staff acting robotically around me. Weird. Good buffet though. IMG_4595-0.JPG
Early morning market

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Here’s the empty hotel with breath taking views.

Getting into the swing of things

Day 3 and 4 of Rwandan solo bike tour.

Monday 4th August
Kayonza- Kigali
Distance 80km
1000 metres of climbing
Road food- 1 large samosa with a grizzly meat and an egg filling.

It’s a still morning by the lake with plenty of unusual birdsong. At the guest house I ordered porridge and coffee which took 45 minutes to arrive and served in a flask. It’s like watery starchy soup. Flour and water I think, with sugar and powdered milk on the side. Not what I was hoping for, but hey it’s fuel. Image below

It’s Monday so everyone’s up and about the usual umuzungu umuzungu (White person) comes from every child. They generally run with me whilst going up hill shouting ‘money, give me money’.
Bicycle taxi follow for a few kilometres as well. Sometimes That’s okay, when I don’t have the patience so wave them to leave.
You need to watch out for lorries, sometimes they just want to keep there line so want your bit of the road. Luckily there’s a walking path you can roll onto. This is standard African rules of the road, the bigger you are the more rights you have.
The image below is of a fish farm. You can see how intensely farmed this place is as well. Image below.

Second time entering Kigali was a bit more successful. After asking a couple of moto taxis I arrived back at the hostel (I’ve not found a map that works for this city) No room at the Inn though but I feel positive they’ll have a cancellation and go for lunch. When I return a beds come available. Result. During the afternoon and evening I hung out with fellow travellers and had fun. We court moto taxis, went out for dinner, drank at a bar and seven of us squeezed In a cab. We had to divert our route to avoid the police. Ha ha. Whilst letting out a big belly laugh I realised I’d not laughed in a couple of days. Perhaps this is solo cycling, being focused and alone In a strange country doesn’t give you the opportunity to laugh. Adventure isn’t always funny. Right?

Tuesday 5th August
Kigali- Nyamabuye
66km
1700 metres of climbing
Road food- 2 small samosas with grizzly meat filling. I won’t eat this again.

This morning felt relaxed with only I thought 50km to ride I was in no rush. So let Kigali envelope me by just rolling into the city centre. After a lap I was ready to hit the road, it maybe the cleanest city in Africa but it’s still hot, polluted and intense.

Heading west started my days riding. A good friend gave me a compass before I left and is the only thing in the cockpit. It’s brilliant especially when exiting Kigali! I saw two local road cyclists as I was leaving town. Hello! The road is not avoiding hills, up and down up and down and each climb takes at least 25 minutes. I’m sure there’s more up than down. It’s was a hard 60km. Arriving at Nyamabuye I found the b&b straight away with a big en suite and plenty of space for me and the bike. There’s a Rwandan style buffet downstairs. It’s satisfying but there’s way too many carbs, a little bit of chewy meet and hardly any protein. I think staying with team Rwanda has rubbed off on me. One of the biggest hurdles Kim and Jock face in building a women’s team is there diet. What vegetables they eat are boiled to mush, they consume ominous meet, never heard of a salad and all meals are predominantly carbs. Drinks are seriously sugary, I saw a guy put three table spoons of sugar in coffee and that’s the norm. As Rwanda is a developing country the vogue figure is bigger rather than cycling slim, this is especially a problem with the women. The men generally come from a cycling taxi back ground so do well quickly. The women’s team is more of a slow burner but in some ways more important for the country as it empowers the women.

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Porridge?

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Fish farm

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Kigali you eat me up and spit me out

Day 1 & 2 of Rwandan Cycle tour

The morning I started the solo tour Jock and Kimberly gave me in detail all the bad things which have happened during there 8 year stay in Rwanda. Mob mentality, people hitting you with sticks, kids throwing stones. They’ve been amazing and were worried for me so making sure I was taking precautions. In fact Jock kindly lent a long tyre pump to double up as a weapon. With this on my mind I turned on Strava and hit the road at 0830hrs. Musanze is the densest populated part of Rwanda so hundreds of people lining the road going about day to day business, I past many wedding processions singing and looking amazing. However I was on edge and kept peddling and didn’t put my feet down until 110km later in Kigali. There were two 45 minute climbs, my start point was higher than finish and still managed 3,500 metres of climbing (a good day in the Alps)
I under estimated Kigali the capital it’s bigger, dirtier and busier than I thought and after an hour of riding around I was lost (the guide books says it’s totally confusing as well) I admitted defeat and hopped in a cab with bike on the back seat and was at the hostel in 10 minutes. The hostel I was recommended is more traveller based with plenty of NGOs and journalist in the mix so a good base for me. The bike was safely stowed in the storage cupboard with the Christmas tree and after showering and washing the kit I went to socialise. The people who new Rwanda laughed at my worries and one guy had come from Tanzania going through the border at night and hitched to Kigali. This put me at ease.

The next morning I was up and ready to head south visiting a genocide memorial (a church) and finishing in the wet lands. Having looked at more maps of Kigali I was confident I new my route out. Cycling through the city was quite peaceful as it was a Sunday morning and comfortably found my route. However as I was on a long decent which turned into a dirt track I looked at my compass which said I was heading East. Damn. I decided to stay on the road until I came to a paved mane road which thankfully I did. I was planning on heading East at some point anyway so I rolled with it. Kigali had ejected me in the wrong direction! I will be heading into Kigali many more times so I’ll tame the beast.
With my mind more at ease I enjoyed the second day a lot more, there was more flat and the climbs didn’t go above 5%. It was an easy 80km. At one point there was a stretch of road with no people (you can’t believe how densely populated it is here) this meant I could relieve myself in a bush. I arrived near Kayonza by the lake there was no one else there not even wifi so it’s very peaceful, maybe a little too much so. I’m now as far East in Rwanda as I can go on a bike as it’s all national park from here on in (not even my big tyre pump can help me) I’m sitting writing this in my notes on the phone, I’ve just seen an Otter and a Kingfisher on the lake. That’s proper nature not this half assed safari nonsense. Just saying.

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First few days in Rwanda

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I’ve been made to feel very welcome at the team Rwanda base with great accommodation, food and advice. Yesterday I cycled up the local mountain with one of the trainer’s. Today I road 80km on my own passing tea plantations and many many people.

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The views around here are stunning and the hills endless. With the roads being so well maintained and no gradient above 10% it makes for amazing cycling.
Tomorrow I leave Musanze and team Rwanda in the north east and head south 100km to the capital Kigali. This is the start of my Solo cycle touring of Rwanda.