I woke up as sore as if I had laid on a bed of rocks with the devil making a plaything of me all night. Every muscled part of my body painful to exertion. I doubted I would ever make even 50 kilometres on this day.
My sluggish preparations ensured that I started very late, at almost seven o’clock. I was greeted with ghastly headwinds and a merciless climb that I had noticed the evening before. I’ll be superman if I do the 50, I regretted to myself.
But the morning was beautiful and on its beauty and against the cold wind I bent on the bike. The red earth from harvested and bare tilled fields was blowing into lazy early morning dust bowls. Blue jays singing and skipping on small thorn trees beside the road. Small determined weaver-birds torturing their voice boxes trying to compete against bright canaries and succeeding only when the larger birds paused their song. And then a hundred doves swooshed dipping in front of me sounding like a whispered whistle. There is alot that is graceful about doves and pigeons. Their adorable, gentle wildness and truly benign dispositions traps one’s imagination and begs admiration as it did mine that morning ; as it did scores of other men and women that have been led in the past to compose verses and songs for them in every language.
Be that as it may, three hours later I’d done 38 kilometres when I came to a steep and continuous climb of about a 3 kilometres to the top. The top of which neither my spirit nor my body were willing to reach. On the other hand, my stomach and the Devil were swift to remind me of a tin of sliced pineapple I had carried out of Yabelo and to point out a shade nearby. I am yet to make an acquaintance with anyone that refused suggestions of the quartet namely the body, the spirit, the stomach and the devil, and lived to tell it. So, wanting for that reason to spare my life, I sat.
There stopped, after a short while, two young women one after another about quarter of an hour apart on their way to get water from a muddy man-made water pan nearby. Both had, as usual in these parts of our planet, that rare odd beauty usually used by artists to depict persons like the queen of Sheba, Delilah, the woman who stripped for King David, Mary Magdalene upon seeing Jesus wink or those other interesting characters narrated in an equally interesting book. I was fascinated to see flirtations disregard language barriers. My wandering eye, and their generous smiles required no words to render the language we shared eloquent. And I shall talk no more of that.
After resting close to an hour, I had accumulated enough guilt to tackle the climb after which I was pleasantly rewarded by an equally long downhill run. You see, my friend, in this mountainous country, gradually gaining altitude on (long) climbs don’t necessarily come with the luxury of a downhill run. Or are never as long or as slanting.
The path to a sound mind while on and after a cycling tour is to depart from being annoyed by things like punctures and injuries that don’t involve broken bones. That said, I suffered three punctures not long afterwards, on both wheels at the same time- two on the front one. I had three spare tubes but discovered that both were leaking from the nozzle. On a turn of events like this, it is pardonable to be irked. Thus, I sat on a bare ground beneath a shade a small distance from the road and mended the punctured ones. A small group of boys unwisely chose this time to try and sell me coloured marble. Another hour lost.
The decision to carry an old time map in place of a GPS gadget begun bearing bitter fruits. I had calculated the distance from Yabelo to my next stop, Hagre Marriam to be about 80km or slightly more, but when I hit 80 there was not even a sign of a mud hut. My mind started wandering and replayed to itself the loss of my small inflatable mattress that I left in the truck from Marsabit to Moyale. Where was it right now? Who was using it? I hoped it was the small girl with his smaller brother who had been travelling alone. But it would have been so good to have it with me today because was going to check into the celebrated Starlight Inn. Camping on a hard ground.
The fantasies of the unsung amenities of the Starlight Inn for example acres upon acres of bedroom and urinal, were immediately wiped on the sight of two carcasses on the road. One of a vulture and the another of a large jackal. I was intimidated to think of jackals as large as this. I instantly advanced several theories to explain the close proximity of the two departed. And they are as follows.
That this jackal was hungry and determined to get a meal from any moving object that it wished to take a bite out of a moving car. Or perhaps, he was deliriously hungry as to want to jump quite high to catch the vulture and consequently fell in front of a moving car. Or this. The vulture, having been starved and desiring to make a meal out of a famished jackal pecked him and raised a quarrel as to who had the right or the might to feed on the other. In the ensuing squabble the two friends drifted to the road and were both ran over.
If my theories were right and the character of hungry wild animals in this country were to be infered from our two friends, what child-play barrier would of a solo tent with a tasty human be to jackals this hungry. I should never camp anywhere in this country without an army on guard. Onward and upward I rode, motivated to find a stone-walled shelter to spare myself from the wrong part of the foodchain.
Several kilometres from that deathly scene, I begun the downhill that I like to refer to as The Descent to Hades. On this instance, I rode and felt like a Kamikaze bomber pilot, for I did over 80km/hr for the first time in my life on that descent. It was also where I hit 500km since I started. It gives me still that odd feeling dead people must get when they remember how they died.
Then came a smooth corner, still dropping and I halted into the new town that had come into view. It was a hot late afternoon and I was thirsty and very hungry. I shall remember this town fondly for I never tasted a more satisfying or sweeter soda than the cold coke I had in Fincawwa (feen-chah-wah). I learnt that Hagre Marriam was some 30km from Fincawwa.
I shall tell later of this town but tonight, Hagre Marriam was going to miss the honour of a napping traveller. I got into bed at eight o’clock with my eyes disregarding the sinful amounts of coffee I partook earlier.