The Congo Nile Trail, Rwanda

My dad and I beginning the Congo Nile Trail

The Congo-Nile Trail is located on the Western side of Rwanda, along Lake Kivu which separates Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. In March, my dad joined me while I was on a work trip in Rwanda to ride part of the trail.

Lake Kivu.

The idea to ride the Congo-Nile hatched last year as I was doing some research for work about bicycles in Rwanda. In one interview someone mentioned that Western Rwanda was a popular bikepacking destination, and I remembered that my friend Derek rode the trail some years ago (check out his far more beautiful photos and thoughts here). I began to do a bit of research and had the rough idea that I’d take some vacation while in Rwanda for work and ride part of the trail that the internet warned me was intoxicatingly beautiful and hillier than any terrain I’ve ever ridden.

When I told my dad about the idea he responded without hesitation, “Can I come?” My dad is approaching retirement, maintains an admirably YOLO attitude towards life. He is down for any adventure, especially if it involves mountain biking.  He wasn’t thrilled with my vague plan to buy a bike in country and figure things out along the way, so we instead hooked up with Rwandan Adventures who connected us to a guide and booked places to stay along the way. As luck would have it, our guide, Rafiki, is a retired pro cyclist from the infamous Team Rwanda, and we couldn’t have asked for a better companion on the trail.

Rafiki, one of the original members of Team Rwanda. He has raced the Cape Town Epic 3 times!

The internet was not joking about the hills. In truth, in our 3 days of riding I don’t think we ever rode on a flat trail for more than 10 feet. We were always going up or down. Most of the trail is wide, rocky dirt roads, connected by single track trails. Before hitting the final section of pavement that brought us to the finish in Kibuye, we passed 3 or 4 cars the entire time.

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Women’s Bike Programme – Nairobi

This is a post I originally wrote for Bikes Not Bombs.

Last year when visiting our partner Cycloville in Nairobi, Kenya, I hosted a workshop with women cyclists in Nairobi and asked the question “what are the barriers to women cycling?” According to a 2013 study, 96.9% of cyclists in Nairobi are men.  I often hear the same responses just about everywhere in the world: sexual harassment, lack of time, lack of money, domestic labor responsibilities, feeling unsafe, riding a bike is not considered ‘ladylike,’ and girls not learning to ride when they’re young. It is sadly comforting that women from most parts of the world face very similar barriers to cycling.

After this workshop, BNB partnered with Cycloville to pilot a Women’s Bike Programme (WBP), aimed to get more women on bikes. We decided to start with one of the simplest barriers to address: learning how to ride a bike. During a 3-month pilot in 2016, 110 girls and women in Mathare learned how to ride bikes through WBP. While I’m here visiting I asked Kiki, the Women’s Bike Program Coordinator, if we could arrange a bike ride with the new graduates from Learn-2-Ride. On Sunday, March 12th, 18 graduates and 4 instructors went to Karura Forest in Nairobi to go for a bike ride and to talk about the experience of learning to ride a bike.

It’s hard to describe the energy of nearly 20 twelve and thirteen year olds to go on a bike ride, especially when biking is something new and therefore a little bit scary but mostly just exciting. Add onto this energy that most of these girls don’t leave Mathare that often. As one of the largest slums in Nairobi, Mathare is both in the center of Nairobi and also a world apart. Girls might leave Mathare once a week to visit family, but most of their lives are spent within the borders of a small but populous slum. Karura Forest is only 4km away from Mathare, and visiting to go for a bike ride is an exciting excursion outside their normal routines.

After unloading bikes from the truck, we were off for a ride through the forest. It took less than 2 minutes for the first fall on a downhill, but even scrapped knees couldn’t dampen the riders enthusiasm. We rode up long hills and down long descents, as many girls learned that shifting your gears does really make a big difference. After an hour’s ride through the forest we ended with snacks of milk, bananas and donuts – the perfect combination!

We ended the day with small group discussions about cycling. To get us started I borrowed one of my favorite activities I learned in Adult Instructor Training (run by Youth Programs at BNB) where you line up teams to have people go head-to-head to be the first to touch the right tool on a tool board. I adapted the game to bike parts and we divided into 3 teams as girls raced to be the first to identify different bike parts. We started with easy things like seat, frame, and tire, and ended with rear hubs, stems, and derailleurs that sometimes even stumped instructors.

Last we sat around to talk about what it had been like to now know how to ride a bike (‘exciting,’ ‘fun,’ ‘hungry,’ ‘tiring,’) and why it’s important for women to ride bikes. As we were getting towards the end I asked if anyone had questions for me, and one girl raised her head and asked “do you lose your virginity when you ride a bike?” From the looks around the girl, it was clear that she was not the only one who was concerned about this. Kiki jumped in to emphatically say ‘No! You do not lose your virginity riding a bike. I ride my bike around town everyday, and not a day goes by that someone doesn’t tell me that I’m ‘ruining my goods.’ But I know that they are wrong and that it won’t stop me!’ Kiki’s conviction convinced the girls and they all looked relieved.

The same girl then turned to me said “I want to ride bikes like Kiki someday.”

The Most Beautiful Ride. Ever.

I spent the last hour of the ride today trying to go through a list of memorable bike rides in my mind sorted by continent, and to compare if any of them were more beautiful than this. I decided that no, no ride I’ve ever been on has been as beautiful as this.

I asked my friend Kiki to go for a ride with me while in Kenya and she recruited her friend and coach Sam to led us on an incredible ride through coffee and tea farms outside Nairobi. These pictures don’t nearly do enough to capture the landscape. And the single track was too fun and steep to think of stopping for action shots. On rides like these it’s hard to stop yourself to take out the camera, because that would mean doing anything other than looking around with a gaping open mouth in amazement.

It was crazy to me how quickly we left the intense urban density of Nairobi, which I haven’t left for the last two weeks, and found ourselves within 30 ish minutes riding on dirt paths through farms. The singletrack led us through steep quick descents, over creeks, and up steep tracks on the other side, and then some long long climbs connecting them. It felt like we spent 85% of the day climbing, but then were rewarded with a long swooping downhill back into the outskirts of Nairobi (which was on a highway, full of trucks and buses, and much more like the riding I’m used to in Nairobi).

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Monday Inspiration

Idk what this has to do with Ikea, but listening to her talk about riding and feeling how a city breathes by riding the streets is definitely making me want to just walk out of my job right now and ride bikes.

2016: Mixed Emotions

It was a roller coaster year, starting with a lot of intense highs and really positive experiences and events, and ending with some real lows and feeling pretty lost.

Gravel grinding with my parents in Vermont.

Good things:

  • Went to Kenya and Tanzania and met a bunch of inspiring bike organizations, and hosted a women’s bike forum in Kenya which was successful and rad
  • Got a promotion at work to a fancy title with ‘director’ in it
  • Bought a condo
  • Entered a bunch of mountain bike races for the first time. Won some of them. Quit a race: a first for me. Had a lot of fun. Pushed myself. Got to spend a lot of time riding with friends and getting to know mountain biking trails in Massachusetts. Spent a weekend riding at Kingdom Trails.
Strategic Planning meeting with Cycloville in Kenya.
Selfie after winning my first ever mountain bike race, which was during a snow storm.

Not great things:

  • The World. A criminal, racist, misogynist, every other type of bigot President-Elect. I feel like its hard to talk about why 2016 was a tough year without pointing this out.
  • Stopped playing bike polo. I still have a lot of mixed emotions about this. Even if I play again at some point, I’m glad I took a break for a while.
  • Smashed my face and wrist in the Blue Hills, which was not only expensive , but I felt pretty rattled by the concussion for a while and couldn’t ride my bike for a couple months. Still can’t ride on trails.
  • Lost confidence in where I’m going in life and what I’m doing on this planet. I’ve felt really directionless the last few months, which is a scary thing to me because I’ve always been someone with a lot of direction and momentum moving towards something.
Smashed my face. And let me just say, this was a flattering photo of what my face looked like.

And on that note, I look towards 2017 hoping to build on the many good things about 2016, and to both be more comfortable with feeling a little lost, but also hope to feel a little less lost.

Rachel Atherton Winning Run

Ignore the crap about how she’s good because she trains with her brother. She’s good because she’s good.

Rachel Atherton best runs on Red Bull TV

Posted by Red Bull TV on Tuesday, December 20, 2016