Following our 85 mile cruise into Mbarara, it was a tough start the next morning.   I would have thought I’d have been used to the aches in my legs by this point, but it was just as tough to get going on this 5th morning.   The plan was to ride 60 miles to Rushenyi to set up a modest 40 mile finish to the Rwanda border the next day.   After eating a quick rolex breakfast (eggs with tomato and onion rolled up in chapati), we were back on our bikes and on our way.

Breakfast of Champions

We had heard that the road to Kabale had been recently fixed, but we quickly learned that the project wasn’t quite done.  The first couple of miles out of Mbarara were some of the worst roads we had seen since our trip to Gulu.  The road sections in the greatest disrepair were the areas without good drainage systems.  As a water resources engineer, it definitely provided a sort of testament to the importance of adequately draining runoff from roadways.  These rougher roads not only made travel slower, but also provided more of a safety risk, with cars aggressively passing each other in any areas wide enough to fit two cars.  The scenery provided a great distraction to the roads – as the rolling green hills provided some of the best views of the trip up to this point.

With each changing landscape, the offerings in the roadside markets also changed.  This area added fresh honey as a commodity to go with the massive avocados, mangoes and pineapples.  Going into the trip, I had been very concerned with nutrition during the trip.

When mountain biking the local trails in Maryland, I always have some trailmix, larabar, or ‘ride-treat’ (GU, chomp, honeystinger etc) with me for a mid-ride boost.  Some of the bike shops that sponsored the UgandaB2B Team (Cycle FittersEaston Outdoor CompanyGenesis Bicycles in Easton, PA and the Hub in Catonsville, MD) had provided a lot of snacks of the ‘ride treat’ variety.  Theses provided some reliable nutrition earlier on in the trip, but they were no competition for the ‘fresh-straight-from-farm’ fruits we could get at these markets.   If it weren’t for the boost provided by those avocado’s I’d probably still be in a cycling daze on the road somewhere in southwest Uganda.  We reached Rushenyi right around 2 o’clock and it was decision time – do we press on to Kabale and ultimately the Rwanda border?  Or do we set-up shop here and finish the ride the next day?

Yeah…guess it wasn’t much of a decision: a few peanut butter and honey coated ‘Nice’ cookies and our motley crew of riders was back on our bikes excited to complete our journey.  While we had all been in agreement to finish the ride, those of us that had looked at the profile of the ride before the trip, remembered the massive climbs that we were about to encounter.

I began to nervously scan the horizon, looking around at the rolling hills that had now turned into rolling mountains for the peaks we would be ascending.   Suddenly I noticed a roadway a few miles ahead running perpindicular to us along the top of a large mountain.  I chuckled to myself wondering how our ascent would compare, before I realized that we were in Uganda and there was no other road…that was the ascent we would be riding.  Gradually the conversation quieted among the team as everyone started to realize what we were up against.

So it begins…

By this point we had all gotten to know each other well enough that the goal wasn’t just to get to the top of the hill…but to be the first one there.   As if the race into Masaka had taught me nothing, I took the lead spot on the peloton and started the charge.  I was overtaken by Kevin (who stopped early…or stopped at a local maximum depending on who’s story you hear) and Muyambi would soon channel his inner animal and fly ahead of the group.

We regrouped at the top and readied ourselves for the ‘big one’ the last climb of the trip.

After a series of downhills, we got our first glimpse of the it…simply a road heading up into the mountains and disappearing.  Looks like the climb was gonna be a mystery…  Kevin, Jon, and I looked at each other with what I’d imagine is the type of exchange two heavyweight boxer’s make before starting the final round (yeah, I just made that reference) and started our climb.  Fighting off altitude sickness and struggling to respond to the eager children looking on, we gradually separated, each confined to attack the hill with no one to listen to except the voices in our head.  The road continued to wrap around ‘local maximum’s with the summit remaining ever allusive.  After 7 straight km of climbing,  I reached what I thought could finally be the top.  Not wanting to stop before I was sure,  I asked the people on top to make sure I had in fact reached the top.  Looking back the view of green rolling hills was nothing like I would have imagined months before when we were planning the trip, but it was definitely sweeter.

Soak it in

UgandaB2B team

From this point onward, it was a rewarding downhill cruise into Kabale.  As we made the descent Muyambi mentioned it was just a ‘few’ miles to the border.  After those big climbs we were all feeling a little bit wiped, but this would not only complete the ride in a day less than planned but give us a century on our final day.  With the sun starting to set, we decided to give it our all and push for the completion.  The scenic cruise offered a chance to contemplate the completion of the ride.  The five days had been a whirlwind of sorts – averaging 80 miles a day – moving across a wide variety of geographic regions.  When we later drove back to Kampala it was unbelievable to see the distance we had traveled.  I think it’s safe to say that back during the planning stages if we had actually known the difficulty of the terrain and variable road conditioning, I would have laughed at the idea of completing the ride.  The fact that we were about to complete the journey spoke to the power of teamwork, competition, competition and pure ignorance when overcoming a challenge. The ride had not only redefined what I could do on a bike, as it was almost double my previous far distance in riding (shout out to C&O Canal Ride in 2005), but provided insight into the never ending possibilities a bike offers.  Countless people transporting so many goods to market you almost have to see it to believe it, moving from village to city for work, picking up water from the local well for the day, you name it – using a bike to the most of its re-defined potential.

Bikes Redefined

I found myself inspired by the resourcefulness and drive of the people we met and left in amazement of the natural beauty we encountered.  I couldn’t help but wonder how the nation will change in the future.  With the natural resources and people hungry for more the county has potential, but the government appears to be the controlling factor, as it has been for many years.  Years of corruption and mismanagement have left the country in a stand-still, yet even more eager to expand in global impact.  We came cruising to the border – feeling a mixture of relief and excitement.  This not only marked the end of our most challenging day (100 miles and by far the most climbing), but also the completion of the ride! After a quick crossing of the border and some photos it was back to Kabale to celebrate the achievement.

Day 6, Rwanda?

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