The Peace Corps used to give motorcycles to every volunteer, but they stopped doing this because most injuries and deaths were associated with crashes. They switched to bicycles, giving nice Treks that could withstand the abuse of the rugged roads and environments that we live in. Unfortunately, I assume because of budget cuts, they now give a bicycle subsidy. They give enough to buy about 2/3 of cheap Chinese made bike, like a Huffy. Today’s blog post is about my bicycle purchase and my 113km (70mi) ride back to Bonga.
My site mate, Chuck, is from Oregon and loves the outdoors and adventure. We have already purchased machetes for our explorations through the jungle, but we wanted bicycles to start venturing further out. We decided to buy a bike in Jima, a larger city 70miles away, and ride them back. We left early on Saturday morning, catching the 5:30am bus and arriving at 10am. This gave us ample time to shop around and get the best bike. We eventually solicited help from a local Ethiopian friend; he could help us get a local price (they tend to charge foreigners more). After a couple hours we decided on the purple Phoenix from Haggis Bike Shop. The Purple Phoenix is the Cadillac of cheap Chinese bicycles, since the other options had plastic pedals and cranks. The bike does not come assembled so we had to get it fully serviced for 50birr ($2.85), this service costs about $80 back home.
On Sunday morning we set out, leaving around 5am. Our goal was to get out of Jima (a crap hole) when everyone was asleep and before there was too much traffic. We got out successfully arriving to the rural outskirts before the sun was fully up. Unfortunately, we got out of town too early because we could see some shapes move in the distance. As we rode closer we realized it was two hyenas. Hyenas are generally scavengers but they often hunt,especially during thefasting season, ending April 15th here.
Hyenas also don’t kill their pray, they start eating them alive.
As we slowed down, one hyena s stopped and looked back at us, eyes glowing in our headlamps. Chuck and I decided to dismount and slowly walk backwards. Running would only entice them to chase and eat us. There was ½ built shack, with no door, 100 meters back that we could take refuge in if necessary. The bikes we bought also came with electronic noise makers, we were “honking” them and keeping our lights pointed towards the beasts as we went back. We decided to not ride on until it was fully light and there was traffic on the road, hopefully scaring them away.
Chuck took advantage of this moment to use the bathroom, while he was behind the building, I looked down the road and there was a third hyena 100 meters the other direction. I could also hear movement in the trees to my front. I was armed only with only a rock, 2 1/2” knife, and my electronic noise maker. Hyenas hunt in packs and I knew I was surrounded, but they are also skittish and it was best to hold my ground showing no fear and making noise. After a tense 45 minutes, the traffic on the road picked up and we were confident that we could ride on. There was no hyena attack and Chuck didn’t get caught with his pants down (although you could say they scared the crap out of him).
After another 15km we finally hit our first section of asphalt. The whole road from Jima to Bonga is under construction, although it is only paved in sections. The asphalt greatly increased our average speed from 8km (5mph) an hour to about 11km (7mph). These are not speeds to brag about, but our bikes weigh as much as a small horse and we were on a steady climb from about 1600m (5250 ft) to 2150m (7050 ft).
When we got to the top of the hill, about 40km (25mi) into our trip, we took a nice long rest. The summit is in the middle of a beautiful forest and a great place to relax. We also knew that we had a mostly down hill ride to the Gojeb River, at 1300m (4275 ft). The next 25km (16mi) was a great ride, getting our purple phoenix up to a max speed of 61.3kmh (38mph). We also discovered a few problems with our bikes at their max speed, such as the brakes. The brakes actually don’t work, with even a slight decline the stopping speed is about 100m (100yards).
So that was fun.
At one point I had a bus driving up the hill on the far left, one passing me immediately on my left, and a steamroller driving up hill on my right. This was a steep hill and I was going about 50km, so I had to shoot the gap avoiding the bus while not getting run over by a steamroller. Avoiding death, we eventually got to the Gojeb River about 65km (40mi) into our ride and started our assent back towards Bonga.
The next section was about a 20km ride up 500m. Not the hardest ride but the exhaustion was starting to creep up on us. We had not ridden a bicycle in a 1 ½ years, and 80km (50mi) into our ride, we were tired. We had to walk a few sections of the hills, but we eventually made to the top and then to a small town called Gimbo.
Gimbo was a great mental boost for us because it is only approximately 20km to Bonga, mostly downhill. Before hitting the road we grabbed some dinner, or first sit down meal all day. We needed our energy because this section of the road was the worst. This area is under heavy construction and is completely torn up. At times we would have to ride on the shoulder, around ditches, and over rocks, but we eventually got to Bonga. As we coasted down the hill into town I could feel nothing but pure bliss.
It was not the longest ride of my life, but it was the most difficult. We did not have nice equipment, I had to ride in pants because I don’t own any shorts (it’s not culturally appropriate to wear them in town), and we were not in great shape. It was also challenging because every 5 meters we would have someone ask us were we were going, why, and where is our car? We finally arrived at my house after 9H 15M of riding time, 4H 45M of stopped time. A moving average of 12.2kmh and an overall average of 8kmh. A great ride that I would love to do again!