NDUNGU, TZ--When I chose this bike tour, I blithely dismissed the caveat that the route was for advanced mountain bikers. "I ride on Mt. Tam all the time, and the Coastal Mountains, too," I told myself. Granted, on these rides I'm slicing my gazelle-like road bike along meticulously banked pavement. "But hey," I asked, "how much different could it be to muscle a fully loaded Sherman tank through steep corrugated trenches?"
A lot different, I quickly learned on day 3 of our ride. The 40-mile journey started with a plunge down the side of a mountain and ended with a climb up the sheer wall of a 15-foot-deep ravine. Throughout, boulders bounced my bike hither and thither, sand sent its back wheel shimmying, and tight switchbacks added more torque and centrifuge. Meanwhile, gravity pulled the impending disaster ever faster and faster. In many sections I just wanted to get off and walk, but the path was so pitched that descending with my heavily laden bike was dangerous, if not impossible.
By the time we arrived at our guesthouse in Ndungu--a venue whose decor and clientele made it an excellent location for a war crime--all I could do was retreat to my room for a good cry and an orange Fanta. (Orange Fanta tastes just like St. Joseph's baby aspirin, and so it is the perfect accompaniment for all post-traumatic regressions to childhood.)
As is so often the case, though, a few simple cycling rules--mental skills, really--kept me in my saddle, if not my right mind. They were:
1) Plan, and then have confidence in the plan. I bite it hardest when I doubt myself and then try to change the plan at the last minute.
2) Believe in the machine, and have faith in engineering.
3) Don't look where I don't want to go. The body follows the eyes, and so keep them trained on where I want to wind up.
4) Hills are never as bad up close as they seem from a distance.
Writing them out, I see these skills aren't half-bad guides for living--another gift from the mountains of northern Tanzania.