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Magazine Article January 2016 South Africa

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Magazine Article January 2016 South Africa

  1. 1. saddle safari | MTB | 9392 | MTB | saddle safari Race review | kenya kenya riding high in laikipia XC n e x t r a c e 12-17 July 2016 There were tough days in the saddle and some challenging climbs as the 2015 Laikipia XC explored the foothills of Africa’s second highest peak and the high rangelands of Laikipia. But, says Stephen Strong, the rewards were many: riding through plains of game, falling asleep under starlit skies to the sounds of the Kenyan wilderness – and the ever-present spectacle of Mount Kenya dominating the landscape. Photographs by Mid-Ego Fotography
  2. 2. saddle safari | MTB | 9594 | MTB | saddle safari am Sunday 12 July 2015. Day 6. Final wake-up call in an hour. The air is crisp and cold, the sky clear, ablaze with stars. Mount Kenya is a dark shape looming against the star-lit sky, a lot closer than it was yesterday. Yesterday! Yesterday was particularly brutal: 90km, 2 200m of climbing back up the mountain, eight and a half hours in the saddle. Welcome to the Laikipia Extreme Challenge, a Kenyan wilderness MTB adventure! We started out six days ago, on Tuesday 7 July, from Naro Moru River Lodge on the western slopes of Mount Kenya – fresh and enthusiastic with little technical skill (in my case) but a pleasing level of fitness after four months of hard training. Little did we realise then quite how sausages; not much protein for breakfast for the riders that day! Tired legs quickly woken up by the adrenaline of anticipation of another day of riding in the wild. Day 3 was my personal crash day. 75km with 1 500m of climbing and a long, seemingly never-ending, undulating 30km to the finish, during which I forgot to feed properly. Result: a blood sugar crash on the finish line. “You sounded as if you were giving breech birth to a cow” was the encouraging comment of an earlier finisher! Not a pleasant place to go, but remarkably easy to come back from – a bottle of sweet drink with a pinch of salt and almost right as rain again. Day 4 saw us descending 1 000m over 8km down the most stunning, free- fall, slippery, sandy, rocky extreme this challenge was going to be, for both riders and organisers alike. Day 1 was a 50km climb up 1 000m through the wonderful forests of the mountain to where we are now, on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya near Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club; a shortish but slow and interesting first day in the saddle. Some route deviations took us through thick undergrowth and over boulder-strewn lava fields, which broke the derailleur of one of the rider’s bikes. In this challenge you either fix it or get to the end as best as you can; he got to the end, broken derailleur and all. Day 2 was a stunning 65km slide down the mountain, north through the Lolldaiga Hills, teeming with wildlife, to the wide open plains of Borana Ranch on the plains of Laikipia, our home for singletrack I have ever ridden. My lack of technical skill meant hanging onto the brakes all the way down. Result: boiled away all the brake fluid in the back brakes by the time I got to the bottom. Luckily the only way home was a torturous climb back up the other side of the incredible valley, having crossed the valley floor in upwards of 35°C through thorn country and glue-like sand riverbeds, where there was not much use for brakes. Another 55km done. So, back to day 5, yesterday. 90km, 2 200m of steady continuous climbing. The climb started from Borana Ranch, up through the Ngare Ndare Forest in the northern foothills of the mountain, and on up through the wheatfields of Wangu Embori farm, and on up through the hagenia the next three nights. The ride was easy, flowing and fast, mostly downhill (but still recording 950m of climbing) with the vista of northern Kenya always ahead, making it hard to concentrate on the road sometimes. Riding through herds of elephant, zebra and giraffe is an experience not to be forgotten. Luckily the buffalo were far from the track and contentedly chewing the cud under spreading acacia trees. The nights at the Borana campsite were gorgeous – no light pollution here, falling asleep after hard days in the saddle to the sounds of the Kenyan wilderness: hyenas singing in the distance, lions roaring close by, elephants feeding on the acacia trees on the other side of the valley. Hyenas also breaking into the kitchen tent and stealing tomorrow’s bacon and Race review | kenya “day 5, 90km, 2200m of steady, continuous climbing to the moorlands above 3000m altitude, taken one pedal stroke at a time. Brutal”
  3. 3. 96 | MTB | saddle safari Race review | kenya forest to the moorlands above 3 000m altitude. A long, hard climb – taken one pedal stroke at a time. No other way to do it: you cannot multiply those pedal strokes. An exhilarating free fall (mostly) back down to Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club at 2 300m altitude. Brutal. The wake up call comes. Today, Sunday 12 July. The last day. A short ,“easy” 40km (with 700m of climbing) double loop through the forests of Mount Kenya. A last push for tired legs, a last chance to climb hard, and descend fast. Finally crossing the finish line at the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club after riding a total of 375km, climbing nearly 8 000m in a gruelling, exhilarating, wonderful Kenyan wilderness mountain biking adventure. Thank you Team Laikipia XC … see you next year! Stephen Strong Day job: Administration director for a Kenyan-based agribusiness Based: Nairobi Mostly rides: Nairobi and environs Favourite riding spots: Limuru area north of Nairobi, Laikipia (of course!) and Brisbane, Australia Years riding a MTB: 5 Age: 53 FAST FACTS WHAT: The Laikipia XC is a six-day mountain bike stage race that takes place in the vast wilderness of central Kenya every July. There’s also a two-day option that joins the race for just stages 5 and 6. It’s open to teams of two (male, female or mixed). WHERE: The route covers 450km over six days and about 10 000m of climbing. It runs through the foothills of Mount Kenya (Africa’s second highest mountain), up into the stunning scenery of Laikipia and finally into and around Mukogodo Forest, all straddling the East African Rift Valley. Famed for its spectacular views and diverse terrain, the race snakes its way through steep, rocky singletrack, open savannah and virgin forests that border the legendary Ewaso Nyiro river. The two-day route is 120km and features about 2 900m of climbing. WHEN: 12-17 July 2016 (6 day route) and 16-17 July 2016 (2 day route) WHY: Riders will have the opportunity to witness some of the most spectacular landscape that Kenya has to offer and dominate some world-class mountain biking trails. You ride through a number of different conservancies and have the chance to experience seeing game while riding a challenging route. HOW: Register on www.laikipiaxc.com

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