Transfer in

Transfer in

As I write this I’m sitting on an overland bus, not your normal bus, a 4x4 raised truck with a safari windowed 24 seat cabin. It means business, and is an indication of what is ahead.  We’re setting off from Nairobi on a six hour trip deep into the Kenyan bush to a place called the Mara where the Migration Race will start.  Tomorrow it begins, 650km and 8000m climbing over four days tracking the migration journey of the wilderbeast, from what I hear it’s gravel on acid.  This is the fourth edition and it’s already become a mythical event.  It’s part of the Amani project, created to give African riders a race of their own in their homeland, one that would bring the competition to them while also delivering an aspirational event for the local people and up-and-coming riders.  Ultimately that’s the mission of Amani, to offer a pathway for young Africans to enter the world of cycling.  Kenyan is synonymous with distance running and endurance athletes, the exact physiological type suited to professional cycling, yet cycling isn’t an option, the cost is more than prohibitive, it’s an impossible sport to even dream of for almost all young Africans.  Amani wants to change that: through their foundation their vision is to make the impossible possible, make dreams a reality.

Beside me on the bus is Rob Gitelis, good friend and owner of Factor Bikes, being here taking part was his idea, I got a message from him in December, “Let’s do the Migration Race.” So here we are.  Factor were one of the first cycling brands to support Team Amani, beginning three years ago, when I asked why, he said, “Because it was the right thing to do.”  Which kind of sums up how Rob makes decisions.  He’s passionate about the project, on a par with the Tour de France, different but the same, I’d go as far as saying it fills him with more pride and purpose.  Once upon a time Rob was a pro bike racer, he stopped quite young, settled in Taiwan and quickly became a one man innovation machine when it came to bike design and manufacturing.  Transferring his chemical engineering education into carbon fibre innovation.  He ended up being the wizard behind the curtain for many of the most respected bike manufacturers, they’d go to Rob to solve their problems, and make the bikes they didn’t know how to.  Eventually he got bored off this, figured he could do it better on his own, and Factor was born.

We both arrived yesterday morning, our first mission was unpacking and repacking, we’d both brought more than we needed out of fear of forgetting something important while knowing we’d have to decant into a smaller bag for the five days of camping.  As I emptied out the mother-load I said to Rob, “Bet I’m the only person here with a cashmere jumper.” He replied from behind me, “What, one like this?” I turned around to see him holding out in front of him his own cashmere jumper.  Good start.  I educated Rob on the Cape Epic method my sister had introduced me to of creating daily packs of clothing and nutrition, we methodically separated everything out and I blew Rob’s mind with modern nutrition protocols, he cannot fathom the amount of fuel we’ll be taking on board.

The bus trip continues, we just had our first stop, on the ridge entering the Rift Valley, it’s spectacular.  I got chatting to another traveller at the road side (I don’t feel we’re riders or racers here, traveller seems more appropriate), he did the Migration Race last year, I asked how it was, “The most amazing experience of my life.”  I asked why, “It’s simply incredible, wilderbeast running next to you, elephants crossing in front…” He was racing yet he quickly understood it was so much more than a race.  Which is good, because I’m not here to race.  Rob and I are here for the experience, we want to have the bandwidth to appreciate and absorb everything that happens.  Make moments, create a peak experience that will stay with us.  This is Rob’s primary motivation for coming, he says he’s put too many things off, always said next year, he realises now that next year never comes, we’ve just got now.  

We're doing it in style, we have all the gear, and even with my recent gravel exploits pretty much no idea.  I thought we were the most inexperienced here as everyone else is radiating spirit of gravel.  Fortunately, and surprisingly, I bumped into fellow travellers Chris McCormack (Triathlete legend) and Nick Gates (former Pro Cyclist) at the hotel last night, they genuinely are clueless.  Chris is on a mountain bike that a sponsor gave him in 2012, never unboxed until he took it to the shop last week.  Nick has a gravel bike but has never ridden if off road, and was shocked to hear that gravel tyres are suppose to be run at approx 25psi versus the 80psi he was riding.  Neither have a bike computer, don't even own one, they learnt that it's quite important to have one, that we have maps to download and a route to follow.  So they were frantically on their phones trying to download an app that would do the job for them.  It got better the more we asked them, they were unaware tubeless tyres were de riguer, that electric gears were reliable, and that bar-ends on a mountain bike went out of fashion in the 1990's. There are two route options, the Zebra being the shorter, the Leopard the longer.  Chris and Nick are doing the Zebra with six others, they have a following car, and as I type this, two hours into our overland bus journey, they will be boarding a small plane in Nairobi to take them the 45min flight to the Mara. In comparison to them Rob and I are the embodiment of the spirit of gravel.

We're riding the Factor Ostro Gravel, the lightest/fastest gravel bike out there, in a signature edition livery, rose gold with a hint of teal on the fork.  Black Inc 34 bomb proof gravel aero wheels with Schwalbe Overland 45 front and rear tyres for Rob and Vittoria Terreno Dry 47 front and 45 rear for me, foam inserts for both of us. Contrary to Nick Gates we'll be riding approx 25psi.  Black INC Aero bar stem system with double roll bar tape. I'm using a WTB Ti Silverado saddle, same as my mountain bike as I'm prioritising comfort, Rob is on a Selle Italia SLR 3D, maybe not so comfortable, but what he knows.  SPD pedals for both of us, I’m using my MTB trail pedals which are a bit heavier but have a slightly bigger platform which I like as they feel a bit more roadie.  Saddle bag rescue pack, the Astro Gravel comes with extra mounts, I’ve fitted a top tube frame bag that bolts on to the frame, and I’m using the third bottle cage mount under the down tube for to store a gilet and arm warmers, just in case. Muc-Off saddle bags with full rescue resources that somebody else will have to help us with.  We’ll both be using USWE hydration packs to bring our water carrying up to 3l.  As for apparel we’ll be in the CHPT3 SCC3 shorts and jersey, a kit I designed to handle exactly this sort of event, essentially a lightweight road aero kit with cargo pockets on the shorts. As for protection we’re POC all the way, the gravel specific  Omne Helmet and face shield Devour glasses.  We’re fully equpped for speed, and as ever we haven’t sacrificed style, which is handy as we’re not going to be going fast.

Right now we’re going very slow, we’ve been on the road for seven and a half hours, last two and a half at a crawl on rain damaged dirt roads, we’ve been stuck twice, seen baboons, zebras and warthogs, somebody asked if warthogs are dangerous, Rob knew, “I know most of my animals from the Lion King. The warthog wasn’t very nice.”  And we literally just stopped to look at an elephant. This is a very special transfer.  STOP PRESS - our third moment of stickiness, this time it looks terminal for the first truck, one carrying bikes apparently.  Road is blocked so we’re going proper off-road to get round it, shit’s about to get real…

Made it to camp, eight and a half hours later, two trucks got stuck, some adventurous travellers got out and walked the final 2km, we had no idea we were that close.  On the bright side we got to see some giraffe on our detour.  It appears the trucks that got stuck have our bikes and bags, well Rob and mine anyway, so we’re just chilling awaiting the race briefing, stress free soaking up the experience.  The Migration Race hasn’t even started and I already feel like we’ve been on adventure.  This is going to be good.