We left Arusha this morning excited to get on the mountain. We traveled to the north side of Kili to a route known as Rongai. It is an additional 90 minutes of driving, but the ruote is mostly used by locals, and not many of them. Given the nature of our trip, it was felt that we would be better off avoiding Mangaru, known as the Coca Cola Route, since it is the most popular and crowded route. The group ate a light lunch at the gate, which site at 6000′. I spent that time organizing my supplies, and making rounds with Boniface (Boni) to check everyone’s baseline pulse ox , heart rate, and liters of water consumed for the day. Each biking climber is assigned two porters, one to carry your large duffel, and one assigned to your bike. James is my duffel porter. He can’t weigh more than 130 pounds, but he’s strong like bull. Joseph is assigned to my bike. He is also slight of build, but he is considered one of the top porters, getting the nod to shoulder the bike, which is a special, and to this point unheard of, privilege. He would be instrumental in the days ahead, but for today, he didn’t have much to carry.
Drew told me that when he led cycling trips across Italy with Davis Phinney and Connie Caprenter, the guides’ instructions were to never allow a client to win. Seems odd, but the reasoning was that the guides were expected to be elite riders,which makes sense. Otherwise, why would you pay someone to guide you when they can’t keep up? The range of riding ability in the clientele was wide. From Esther, who had ridden a mountain bike three times before this trip, to Matt
O, who is signed up for the BC Bike Race this summer. The initial path from the trailhead was steep, loose, and technical. For the sake of conserving energy, all the clients hiked this section. As for Jenn, Stu, Steve, and I, well, we were there as guides. So we rode out from the gate, and cleaned that section, despite the warnings and admonition from Ake that we needed to keep things in check. Gotta show em a little magic, you know?
After the initial rough section, the trail smoothed out a bit, though it did consistently climb for the duration, and there were still quite a number of technical bits. The trail snaked through dense forest, and the warm, humid air was a stark contrast to the thin atmosphere to come. Many of the riders wisely chose to walk sections, which we encouraged. Ake was already concerned that some folks were burying themselves too early. Rongai camp #1 sits at 8000′. Ake grimaced as many of the group exerted themselves well beyond the threshold he had planned for the day. But we all made it to Rongai Camp intact, though a little sweaty.
The group is in good spirits, and we are all excited for the days to come. The only treatments I needed to administer so far were moleskin for blisters and bandages for Steve, who sliced open his toe on a lava rock at a potty stop on the bus ride over. Evening rounds confirmed everyone’s good health, and we all hit the sack early.