Cycling through Kenya and the Great Rift Valley
24 June 2016
You can also listen to these podcasts directly from the Old Mutual app, which is available here.
Thanks for downloading and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking, I’m Gerald de Kock. We talk all manner of things mountain biking, be it riders, be it races, be it trails, events. Well, it takes us all over the country. Indeed, all over the continent. We’re going into the continent today because we’re going to be talking about an event in Kenya called the Standard Chartered Rift Valley Odyssey.
It’s an event that happens every year in September, five days, six days, three days. I’m not exactly sure where we’re going this year with it, but Eric Nesbitt is here with us. Eric, it’s your passion, it’s your event, thanks for chatting to us. Firstly, where did the idea germinate?
Eric Nesbitt: It germinated at the end of a really long ride, my buddies and I, cause we’d been racing all over the world, literally. And we didn’t have a race in Kenya, so we decided to put our own event on. That was it because we have fabulous countryside. We created the event and here we are, seven years later, still going strong.
GDK: What’s the essence of it?
It’s not about the time it takes
EN: Pure mountain biking for mountain bikers. We created the event just for the riders. It’s not for anything else other than the absolute pleasure of riding in the most stunning landscape in Kenya.
GDK: Now, I do know a little bit about it, and timing hasn’t been something you’ve done before, is that still the case?
EN: Still the case, yes, we do record timing, but it’s not important whatsoever. If you want to ask for it, well, we’ll give you your time for the day.
GDK: That immediately removes an edge of racing about it. So it’s about, I’d say trails, but you don’t actually build trails.
EN: No, we don’t, not at all. All the trails are natural, they’re footpaths, they’re donkey paths, livestock paths, farm tracks, absolutely natural. As we find them, we ride them.
GDK: What are they generally like, those trails?
EN: Generally, they are, I’d say smooth. But the terrain is rough, there’s lots of bush that we’re riding through. There are technical sections on it, but it flows. There’s nothing in there that is technical, that you’ve got to hike over unnecessarily. If you have to hike over a section, it’s cause it’s the only way to link two sides of a valley.
Seeing Kenya in an amazing way
GDK: And therein lies the other side of it. It is Rift Valley Odyssey, so just tell us from where and where it takes you?
EN: It’s five days, it takes us from just outside Nairobi in Limuru. We start at 2100m altitude climb up to 2700m and it’s 50km of single track through forest. Then we drop into the most incredible scene of the Great Rift Valley. For the next four days we criss-cross East to West. Generally heading North along the Rift Valley. We end up Lake Nakuru National Park. We actually cycle through the national park, which is a very special moment. It’s the only time they allow cyclists into the park, is for us, very unique moments in there.
GDK: You’ve encapsulated the event in a very short space of time, but it’s about so much more isn’t it? I think this year you’re talking about going up to 3000m above sea level?
EN: Correct, yes. I finally found my axis –
GDK: You go up and down –
EN: Yes, for 3000m and we will cross it. Yes, we’re going up and it’s all about the descent from 3000m.
GDK: There has to be some reward after all that hard work. Look, for us South Africans, it’s obviously a great adventure and something to put on the Bucket List. But it’s not a get in your car and drive up there on the weekend. I suppose you’ve got to make it quite an event?
EN: Yes. We try to pack the most in, most trail miles per air mile. The day before is an optional prologue, which is two hours of absolute pleasurable cycling through the tea plantations. We then go into a tea factor and we look at the whole manufacturing process. From picking through to cupping the tea and packing the tea.
We try to give everybody a real wholesome experience while they’re out there. Travelling from South Africa, depart on the Sunday and you get back on the Sunday and you have a full week out and you have six days of fabulous riding.
A friendly MTB scene in Kenya
GDK: So, what’s the mountain bike community like in Nairobi? Is it active and thriving in numbers?
EN: Yes, active, thriving, growing, always busy, every single weekend we’re out riding. We’re so lucky in that we can ride straight out from the house and we hit the trails from my house, it’s 500m. I’m on dirt trails through the farms. Rural Nairobi is wonderful for mountain biking, it truly is amazing countryside.
GDK: Are you well received? You’re riding through a lot of communities there, who perhaps don’t see mountain bikers and particularly an event as well, that often. Is it something they welcome?
EN: Yes, very, very welcome coming through. Nobody has offered anything more than a jumbo and a hello and where are you going? Then they shake their head when we tell them where we’re going to and they say oh, you can’t be going that far!
GDK: In essence, I suppose it’s a boutique event, a smallish event. But where are you getting your numbers from to come and ride the Rift Valley Odyssey?
EN: Yes, entries are limited to 100, half of those are taken up by Kenyan entrants. The remaining half internationals coming in, most from South Africa and across Africa as well, Southern Africa. Many coming out of Europe; from Belgium, Netherlands, UK, as far as the US and New Zealand, people have come across for it.
The constant allure of two wheels
GDK: Where have you come with mountain biking, where did that all start with you, before the RVO, where did it come from?
EN: Well, my whole life has been in sports. I was actively riding motorcycles since I was four years old and grew up doing motocross and trials and endure. Then went into rallying and then went back to cycling. I never stopped cycling, so throughout my life I’d always had a bicycle and always been cycling, despite all the motorcycles I’ve been racing.
GDK: I take it there’s an adventure spirit in you that’s obviously formed past of this RVO. But you’ve also looked to ride all over the world as you said right at the start?
EN: Yes, absolutely. I love to travel. I love to cycle. If I can combine the two, then perfect. I’ve just come back from Namibia where I rode six days in the Namib Quest. Fabulous event, very similar to the Standard Charter Rift Valley Odyssey. I love the A to B to C format of events. I will keep searching out events across the world and my next destination, hopefully, will be New Zealand, to ride the Pioneer in 2017. That’ll be the next far-flung destination.
GDK: Let’s get back to your trails on the Rift Valley Odyssey. It’s GPS guided, so there’s no marking of it, it takes a lot of hours on the trails to map it all out.
A challenge to put on, but very rewarding
EN: It does, yes. The route itself is 450km, every year I do probably about a 1000km in total of driving, motorcycling and cycling, to perfect the route. I’m constantly searching out new trails. Cause there are always new trails opening up, or new parts of the countryside that I’ve always wanted to go into and lo and behold, there’s something there. So, it takes about six months of constant trail searching to create the route.
GDK: A lot of the game roams free there, doesn’t it?
EN: It does, yes. Through the communities, and the farms, it’s roaming free. Then you have the private conservancies and we’re extremely privileged to go through some of them; including Soysambu Crater Lake Conservancies and its wildlife viewing extraordinaire, on a bicycle.
GDK: Lake Nakuru in the national park, there’s been some pretty special sightings there as well, haven’t there?
EN: Yes, there were. Last year, as we were going through on day five, there were 14 lions across a trail. They were very busy, a bad day to be a warthog. Because they were munching on one of them.
But Kenya Wildlife Service was on hand for us and they had all the rangers. So when we came past as pelotons we all stopped and took our photographs. Just standing there with a bicycle, 25m from a pack of lions is a special moment.
An accommodating and catered experience
GDK: Wow, that is quite extraordinary. Accommodation, we get used to tented accommodation and that sort of thing in our stage races, what are you offering there?
EN: We offer more luxury. We have cottages available and we have large safari-style tents as well, with two beds. All your linen provided, all standard dome tents that you’re familiar with here. For those who wish to self-camp, predominantly, the Kenyan entrants; that want to just come with their own car and self-camp, we cater for everybody.
GDK: On the ride as well because there are actually options not to do the full six days, but to do only some days.
EN: Absolutely, there’s nothing compulsory. It’s not a race, it’s about the adventure, so as long as you’re having an adventure and you’re having a great time. If you don’t want to ride the entire route, then we do provide an optional B route. Which is there as a safety valve really, to get you back into camp quicker. Should you need to, for mechanical reasons or something. Or if you just want to get back to camp earlier and enjoy the swimming pool, by all means, nothing is compulsory.
GDK: If we want to learn more about it, where should we go?
EN: On our website, www.riftvalleyodyssey.com and it’s on there, plus all the other events that I run, they’re all on the website.
GDK: How many years is this year for RVO?
EN: This is the seventh year.
GDK: You just keep doing it, you love it?
EN: I love it, absolutely.
GDK: Eric, thanks for chatting to us about the Standard Charter Rift Valley Odyssey. May it go well this year and for many years in the future.
EN: Thank you.
GDK: And keep riding.
EN: Absolutely, I’ll keep riding.
GDK: Eric Nesbitt from the Rift Valley Odyssey, Standard Charter Rift Valley Odyssey in Kenya. As I said earlier, it happens in September every year, just check out that website. Make it a mission if you’re a mountain biker because I think here in South Africa we are spoilt, we have a lot of lovely events; but I think we need to explore beyond our boundaries. Into Africa there are some incredible events. Get out there and take it on one year. Thanks for downloading and do so once more, thanks very much to Eric Nesbitt and we’ll chat again in the future, cheers until then.