Posted by: Dana | 2010/03/05

March 3 – Out of Ethiopia and off of Cipro!

It struck me today, as I cycled from our camp in Moyale, just over the Kenyan border, and I had a quick out-of-body experience when I was conscious of the enormous grin on my face. What an incredible morning! I woke up with the sun and set out on the first of four really rough riding days on rutted and corrugated dirt roads, and soaked in the views that could only be seen from these horrible roads and passed villages that could only be accessed by these horrible roads, and waved hello with an energetic “jambo” (the local greeting) to locals who live beside these horrible roads. And, to think, that I rode my bike to get here. It is truly surreal.

The border crossing at Moyale was relatively uneventful. We hustled in the morning to ride the 80km we had left to reach the Ethiopian border by noon hour, when we thought the immigration office closed for lunch. I got there just after 11AM and they closed early! After the wait, we passed through the Ethiopian side and then the Kenyan immigration office without a problem. It is amazing to see how immediate the change of EVERYTHING is when you cross the border, from Egypt to Sudan and then to Ethiopia and now to Kenya. Not only are changes instantly observable of the more superficial things like currency and dress, but of facial characteristics, language, food, religion, and, in this case, parenting. Today I was reminded what parenting involves when a young mother asked her children to step away from our bicycles at a rest stop on the side of the road. We haven’t seen that kind of supervision in weeks while in Ethiopia.

Today’s ride involved an 80km ride on a single dirt road from Moyale to a bush camp. After the Dinder National Park of Shit debacle in Sudan, I was a bit weary setting out this morning on the dirt, but quickly found my groove and cycled contentedly (albeit slowly) all day long—no falls and no tears! While I’m a steady middle-of-the-pack rider (probably towards the front of the women) on paved road rides, I rode “sweep” today, which meant I was among the very last riders in. I have learned not to care about these things. I ride at my own pace, often with others, but recently more often by myself. And I have had hours upon hours of time to occupy with singing to myself (ipod battery also died!), reflecting on job and career goals, thinking of loved ones, worrying about sun exposure, missing my nieces. I would never say I meditate, but if there is anything I do that comes close, I guess sitting on a bike for six or eight or ten hours a day would come close.

One of the things I’ve thought about for years, which re-emerged on this trip, no doubt through the encouragement of two fellow female riders, is goal I have to compete in an Ironman. It probably sounds ridiculous that during this grand adventure I would conceive of another one, but I have, and yes, I did. From Addis Ababa, I registered for the Ironman being held in Madison, Wisconsin, next September 12th. This is a goal that formulated in my mind, sometime around 2002 just as I was beginning to get involved in triathlons. In 2005, I did a half-Ironman and was inspired by the performance of several friends I saw complete the full Ironman in Lake Placid that year. The race involves a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a full marathon, 26.2 mile run. I’ve done each of the 3 segments separately but have never dared try to put them all together before, in one day, in less than 17 hours (which is the requirement to complete the Ironman). Of the three sports, cycling is my weakest, and I figure if ever there was a time when my riding will be strong, it will be at the end of this ride. I guess now the trick will be to maintain the biking fitness, while bringing the swimming and running up to speed, in time for a mid-September race. The fact that the race is in my friend, Adrienne’s, backyard in Madison, Wisconsin (Adrienne first got me interested in triathlon) and our friend, Jess, said she would come out to cheer, also helped to push me over the edge. The Ironman represents to me the absolute test of human endurance and don’t ask me why, but I am so freaking excited to give it a try.

So camp tonight is at the junction of two roads in a tiny village in Kenya where the children, motivated by curiosity, came out in droves. I had a few kids help me set up my tent. When I took off my cycling shoes to put on flip-flops, the kids went wild when they saw my red-painted toenails. They tried to wipe off the red, and looked on their fingers to see whether it was coming off on their fingers. They seemed so baffled by it—which, I suppose, is a perfectly normal reaction! Bright red toenails out here in the bush in Kenya are a little out of place. The kids love getting their pictures taken with digital cameras and then seeing the images of themselves on the screen. We all enjoyed an incredible sunset here tonight, a rainbow formed just as the sun was coming down, and the riders snapped pictures as camels, cows, donkeys, and their herders walked through camp and the children hauled water in yellow jugs on their backs from a small pond nearby.

Children seem to know a few basic words in English and I’ve already met a few teenagers and young adults who speak English well. Locals generally seem happy when I try to utter a few basic expressions in Swahili. I stopped to greet the first group of young women I saw this morning walking on the dirt road. Five women, all hauling water, were dressed head to toe in colorful layers of cloth, with beaded necklaces, posed for a picture for me. They each flashed an enormous smile of perfectly white teeth—also something we have not yet seen in Africa. I don’t know how the Kenyans care for their teeth, but their smiles are clean and bright. It feels like the next two weeks in Kenya are going to be just as perfect!

Well, I say that, because I’m excited about all that is ahead here in Kenya, but the road conditions are never far from my thoughts and tomorrow and the next day, as we ride into Marsabit, our next rest day, supposedly get worse and worse. The forecast still calls for rain, and winds are swooshing around my head this very minute, with no visible stars in the sky, and the ride we have ahead of us tomorrow is going to turn into a great big mud slide if these skies open up. On that note, I guess I’ll sign off here and look forward to whatever tomorrow brings.


  1. Dana – I have at last had a chance to read your postings from Africa. Dave and I have been traveling and are now in Sunriver Or (where we live). First of all, now that you are wondering who this person is, I am Brad’s aunt. I love visiting Loren and Brad and the girls when I am back East. They are very hospitable and have connected us to you on your journey. You have hit a soft spot with us in that Dave is a melanoma survivor. I admire your determination, your sensitivity and your willingness to connect your friends and family with your amazing journal. Be safe and God speed, Carol

  2. In Nairobi through 3/13, with room for 2 guests, including showers, laundry, Net, meals and supermarket. I’ll try to find you on arrival, to wish you well, and invite you and a friend for some indoor Kenyan hospitality. Call or email with any arrival details or special requests. I’m here all week and can have anything you need waiting. Meanwhile, Olivia’s school, Sheridan, is following your journal. They’re all inspired and envious, as I am. All the best from your Woodley family. Leigh 202-207-8744 Nairobi Safari Club 254 (20)2821000.

  3. Hey, girl! Love your posts. Keep up the spirit and enjoy the ride. But you are totally nuts to be dreaming about the Ironman in September…..only Dana could be doing that! If biking is your week sport, then the other athletes take note. Enjoy, Kenya. I loved it when I was there 20 years ago!

  4. Dude, why not set a goal to swim back from Africa while you are at it?!#@* Love ya, scott

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