11 messages :: read>
Yesterday was filled with a variety of emotion - worry, elation and then frustration, all in just a few hours. Such mammoth overland challenges not only test your physical state, but your mental stamina as well. My mental state has been working overtime and it won't be until I return to the UK that I will be able to sit down and evaluate everything that has gone on.
During the planning stage of this project, there was just one major road that had to be tackled and overcome without any damage to the vehicle or drop in its performance - Moyale on the Ethiopian/ Kenyan border to Isiolo just north of Nairobi. 300 miles of the most harsh landscape that you have ever seen - a lunar landscape of jagged boulders in which a track snakes its way through. This would be the ultimate test of the Land Rover as its components were slowly destroyed as you made your way south. The tyres would be ripped at from all sides, suspension shaken to pieces under the relentless pounding, engine ripped from its mounts, dust engulfing every cavity in the vehicle. Could the Land Rover survive this and still continue on its race to Cape Town?
We started our long and slow journey south from Moyale at 19:30 on Saturday 23rd October with two armed guards accompanying us. Oh yes, bandits knew what this road did to cars and preyed on those that could not make it through fast enough progress or broke down and became stranded. With nearly 200kg of extra weight that hadn't been accounted for when building the car, we made our way into the darkness.
Progress at first was good, as we tip-toed along a sandy track - easy we thought! I was behind the wheel as we weaved along the track, dodging rocks and pot-holes. Our security guard Adam who was sitting in the front suddenly gestured to me to switch on the auxiliary spotlights. There in the gloom was a shadowy figure. I was told to stop and Silus, the other Police officer jumped out of the back and cocked his weapon - we'd only been travelling for 5 minutes! It was just a local man walking back to his village, but it was quite clear that our minders weren't going to take any chances with our safety.
A further 5 minutes passed and I was quite happily weaving from one side of the road to the other to try and pick the smoothest path, when we approached a narrower section. the left side looked better, but as I came within no more than 20 yards, I suddenly realised that the black section I was aiming for was a 20 foot drop into a dry river bed below! As I slammed on the brakes, we screeched to a halt, skidding up to the drop. That could have been the end of the whole expedition!
My turn behind the wheel now, I'll continue this later.
We settled down to the long haul of crossing this Kaisuf Dezert region of northern Kenya. As with the rest of our route through Africa, we were guided by the excellent 'Tracks4Africa' gps mapping that had been programmed into our Garmin sat nav. As is always a sensible back-up, we carried normal paper maps with us, but as good as they are, they are no match for the Garmin / T4A combination. Addis Ababa looks like a simple straight through road, but not a chance as we were taken down narrow streets to link one major road to another and all doing so in the dead of night with barely a readable road sign to go by. However, no more than 30 minutes later and we were driving out the other side of the capital and on our way south to Moyale.
We were all extremely impressed by the T4A mapping and its accuracy, so when it suggested that crossing all of Kenya's 937 kilometers would take only 15 hours 8 minutes we accepted its better judgement and incorportaed these figures into our route planning calculations. with both Garmins set up on the dashboard, we had one zoomed right in to show turn-by turn detail to any hazard coming up, while the other showed an overviw map of northern Kenya. Unfortunately it didn't take us too long to realise that something wasn't quite right. We pushed on as hard as we dare, wary of the relentless destruction that was being subjected to the Land Rover. The vehicle shook violently as we bounced over the corrugations trying to find a speed that would make our ride more comfortable. No matter what we tried, we couldn't seem to get much about 10mph. T4A reckoned on about 9 hours for this road - at this rate, we would take 31!
We hoped that the track would get better, but it got worse as it turned into a vast sea of fist sized angular rocks that had been spewed out by an ancient volcano. We slowed even more and as the sat nav recalculated the arrival time in Cape Town, it wasn't looking good. My schedule put us at 10 days 21 hours to reach Cape Town, but we were already around 5 hours behind due to the problems of getting into Ethiopia. Add another 12 hours for the extra time on the road to Nairobi and we were getting close to a time of 12 days. This sounds great, but as with all overland trips and in particular those to Africa, the inevitable delays will happen - we weren't home and dry yet. The potential lead over Eric's time was gradually being eaten away and we hadn't even survived the trecherous 300 mile leg across the desert.
Hour after hour went by, the poudning on the vehicle was relentless, the tyres must surely being ripped apart and the suspension pounded to destruction. We swapped drivers every couple of hours, while the remaining two team mates huddled together in the back of the Land Rover. After four hours we stopped at a military checkpoint and parked up for a few minutes rest and shared our Wayfayrer meals with our guards.
With a clear sky and full moon to light our way, we could just make out the landscape that we were driving across - it was nothing like I had seen before. For as far as the eye could see in every direction, was a sea of angular boulders, ranging from those the size of your fist to the size of a small car.
The rocks were slowly replaced by sand and then red mud as we climbed up to Marsabit and we sighed a relief that we would be able to finally get out of second gear and finally get moving. Our prayers were not answered as low cloud rolled in obscuring our view and the heavens opened. the red mud became slippery and our speed reduced even further!
Finally, the clouds lifted, there was a glimpse of sunshine and the track became smoother. Rocks and mud were replaced by corrugated gravel. There are two choices when tackling corrugations, slowly, where the vehicle is shaken to pieces, or fast where you litteraly float across the surface. We tried a middle ground, but the ferquency of the Land Rover's suspension worked against the corrugations and made the vibrations even worse. Driving slowly would have meant yet more time to the overall journey, so we tried the fast approach.
It takes bottle to drive fast on corrugated tracks. Each hump of the corrugation is about 8 inches apart and by driving fast the sjuspension simply doesn't have enough time to react and push the wheel down. The wheel simply jumps from one hump to the next, making the ride so much smoother. Problem is though, you have to get up to at least 50mph, the steering goes incredibly light and there is almost no 'feel' between you and the vehicle as it floats about riding on the ridges. Worst of all though is that because the wheels are barely in contact woith the ground, your brakes don't work! This is fine until the corrugations are replaced with large pot holes or a rock in the midle of the road - you need your brakes to work!Comments on this article
|By: Mike Flexmore||When: 26th Oct 2010 02:23|
These African border crossings seem to be the biggest problem on this trip causing you huge delays. You appear to be coping well with the driving and the vehicle is holding up which is good. At least you can catch up on some sleep now.
|By: Rosemary Allen||When: 26th Oct 2010 00:26|
Hi Mac, Steve and Chris, I have flown over Africa many times and always knew it was a vast continent, but your blogs make the point so much more. The descriptions of what you are seeing make it all so interesting, and I have nothing but admiration for you all. Wish we coulkd be there to see you arrive. Good luck on choosing which option, and we wish you God Speed and a safe and sucessful completion of your epic journey. Best wishes, Rosemary and Maurice
|By: Wayne Ball||When: 25th Oct 2010 22:13|
Haven't been online for a few days now so plenty to catch up on. Seems as though you're making great progress through some really rough terrain. Hope you're all coping well and not fallen out yet. Wish I was there sounds great. Keep up the great work. Hope you beat the record. Good luck and all the best.
|By: Clare||When: 25th Oct 2010 22:11|
9 days exactly as I write and it looks like just 2 more countries to tackle - the end is in sight. We are all willing you along - the blogs are great guys. Clare x
|By: Tina Mac||When: 25th Oct 2010 21:17|
Great blog Andrew! - very interesting & full of drama. Sophie will love to hear these stories when she's a bit older. You've crossed yet another country since I last checked. Well done - I'm so proud of you all. And thanks for all the exciting news from you, Steve & Chris. Love m xxx
|By: Stephanie||When: 25th Oct 2010 20:52|
Well done so far Mac and the team, must pick your brains on how to dodge future Volcanic ash disruptions to travel! Your parcel might be waiting for you in Harare - only 20 years late! Keep smiling!
|By: Geoff Popple||When: 25th Oct 2010 19:50|
Having recently done this same route I can relate to all you say in your blog. It is an experience that I will not forget. Well done guys you are doing well
|By: Jo Wells||When: 25th Oct 2010 11:16|
Well... even if your blogs are few and far between - they are well worth waiting for Mac....!! My fellow passengers were staring at me on the way into work as I was oohing and aahing at the thrills and spills as they unfolded on my phone! Quite a commute you are having! Great stuff. Jo
|By: Mike F||When: 25th Oct 2010 10:47|
That's cruel to stop your story there Mac...... I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation!
|By: Peter Crichton||When: 25th Oct 2010 10:39|
Hi Mac. Glad your into Tanzania. Great progress. If your still aiming for the border at Tanduma, you should be there before dark. Crossing here in daylight is much better - it's a busy and (I think) a dangerous place. An African "Klondike" best described it when I was there! It was the only town in Africa where I felt vaguely unsafe in daylight hours. Travel safely, Peter
|By: Sam Rutherford||When: 25th Oct 2010 10:31|
You're going well - in MoroGoro there's a great little hotel where you could take a short break, just a day or so. Have a beer, chill out... ;-)
Seriously, what's the rush?