Thanks to James and Rachel for keeping the blog as we went round. I thought it would be good to add some thoughts, now that we're home.
This has been quite an adventure. What started off as a vague idea became possible when Rachel (James' wife) said 'I know someone who'd be up for doing that...'! Little did she know what she'd volunteered her husband for!
James has been the ideal expedition partner from the beginning. He has the travel experience, laid back but organised attitude to balance my paranoid checking of everything, strength of character, determination and cycling abilities to pull off what was always an optimistic and ambitious project.
We had planned a route of 965 miles with only 12 days to ride it. This was always going to need tailwinds, perfect health, minimal punctures and perfect roads to ride. 80 miles per day is a long way in the UK on smooth roads with coffee shops and cafes every few miles and cool temperatures. The ability to push the limits knowing that if things go wrong the NHS will pick you up (by helicopter if needed) and sort things out is a luxury we take for granted.
In Tanzania, 100 miles from the nearest hospital, things could not be taken for granted. While bottled water and a (often refrigerated) soda could be found in almost every village, food that we would eat was harder. At 80 miles per day we would need 5000-7000 calories per day! Chips and omelettes save the day in Tanzania, rice and beef / goat else where. Biscuits and ground nuts filled the gaps. Fizzy drinks have never seemed so good for you!
For nearly 6 days we ploughed on against the heat and hills. As a 70kg weakling, I for once had the advantage. Basic physics means that every kg makes every hill harder on a bike. James is a bigger build and had a much heavier bike set up. As a result every hill was a major effort in the heat. There were many hills and many of the days felt comparable to cycling across Devon on the hottest day possible!
This took its toll. After a few days it was apparent that James was struggling much more than me. I had saddle sores that helped me to empathise better with my pain patients, but I didn't have to dig deep on every hill. There were many, many hills. Up, straight back down and then straight in to the next was mentally exhausting. James was struggling to keep up with food and calories, yet kept going. Meanwhile I was learning to cope with the reality that we couldn't get all the way round in the time available.
Much of our inspiration had come from reading the works of Mark Beaumont. He is an incredible man who first cycled round the world at 100 miles per day, carrying much more than us and solo. We marvel at how folk can do that. His more recent record was 78 days for 18000 miles (with full support crew) riding for 4 lots of 4 hours each day!
We felt inadequate compared to that and amazed at the ability of the professionals to dig deep and manage deep suffering day after day, yet still keep going! We're not like that. Guinness had declined our world record application. Without such pressure, there was no point pushing ourselves to dangerous extremes just to try and achieve an arbitrary aim.
And so, on day six, with 20 miles still to ride, James having already declared that he knew his limits, light fading and the hills growing; we admitted it was time to change priorities. We called it a day and found a ride to Mwanza. Taking the pick-up motor bike was probably the most fun part of the whole trip! It cost about £3 for 20 miles and then we found the smartest hotel in town for the night. $70US each for double en-suite!
It was then easy to plan a rest day, taking the bus for 2 sections of the planned ride to Chato (itself a mini adventure - 2 white men turning up in the bus station with bicycles negotiating transport caused quite a stir!) to resume the ride.
The west side of the lake is much less inhabited than the east. It was hot and poorer with food and drink stops further apart. Internet was fairly absent too. Our plan of local SIM cards for our phones didn't really work outside of Uganda. Daily distance was dropped to 60 miles from 80 per day. Sometimes less. Punctures occurred more. Linguistic skills challenged further! Our hottest days occurred here and some of the biggest hills. But we plodded on and got round. Eventually crossing back to Uganda and on to near Kampala, where the Amigos team met us to avoid riding the dangerous Kampala traffic.
So we rode 766.75 miles out of a planned 965 miles. This still over 100km per day on a pioneering route in difficult conditions.
We're proud of what we did. And really we achieved all our aims. This project was about so much more that riding around Lake Victoria. It was about adventure (we had plenty of that). It was about fundraising for Amigos and Wings (nearly £5000 given including Gift Aid! Huge thanks to our amazing supporters!). It was about working as a team and coming back still friends from an expedition that could easily end never speaking again! We said we would ATTEMPT to ride 965 miles around the lake. We did.
What have I learnt? I've learnt that friends are more important than achievement. I've learnt a lot about Africa. I've learnt to appreciate home much more. I've learnt to apply chamois cream from day one. I've learnt that simplicity is releasing in life. I'm much better prepared for the next adventure.
As for James as a partner for this - there was only ever one man for the job. There still is. I look forward to our next adventure.
There's still time to donate! We'd love our blood, sweat and tears to raise as much as possible for Amigos and Wings! https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/lakevictoriaride