“By the way, will there be a few other beginner cyclists too? Because the last time I tried a cycling event like this, when we started I blinked and everybody was gone!!”

This was a text message from one of the Baiskeli Adventurers who had just signed up for our August Lake Naivasha Bike and Camp adventure. Excited and anxious, she genuinely wanted an assurance that she would not be left behind. That the group of cyclists would not zoom off into the horizon and leave her “beginner-self” eating their dust. Ironically, she ended up being the fastest cyclist in the group. But that’s beside the point.

So, how do you convince beginner cyclists that our adventures are not out of their league? How do you make it clear that it’s not a competition but everyone is a winner, cycling at their own leisurely and fun pace? There was no direct answer or the catchiest response to give at the moment.

“Word of advice, don’t blink at the beginning of the ride. In fact, don’t blink at all during the ride”, I responded. Before you laugh it off (like she did), let me first explain.

Baiskeli Adventures does more than just take you out for cycling. Every adventure, though focused on cycling, goes beyond the simple act of sitting on the saddle and pedaling away. So, don’t blink. Not at the beginning of the ride or anywhere during the ride. Why? Here’s why.

There are cyclists standing beside you at the beginning of the ride. Probably beginner cyclists too. Helmet on, faces lit and ready. Look at them. Strangers brought together for one goal – the pursuit of memorable memories. Look at them. People from diverse backgrounds, of all shapes and sizes and colors. Look at them. How many faces can you recognize now? Few maybe. None, sometimes. But they form part of the experience you are about to embark on, so don’t blink.

As the ride begins, most beginner cyclists fumble with their bikes. It’s a strange feeling sometimes, especially if you have been off the bike for a while. But cycling is a skill one never forgets. Once it is ingrained in your mind, you will always find your balance and enjoy the ride. Keeping your focus on the road and the person cycling closest to you, you are safer in the group. Where necessary, our guides are always willing to assist.

Then you get the rhythm. Your legs can spin the pedals almost effortlessly without constantly having to look down to find the pedals. Your body relaxes into it and you are now enjoying the moment. You can lift your eyes off of the handlebars or the road winding its way ahead. It is time to acquaint yourself with your surroundings. Eyes wide open, don’t blink.

As Ernest Hemmingway said, it is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. The views and the dramatically changing scenery all around are somehow more visible to the traveler on a bicycle than the one driving. You are closer to nature and nature is closer to you, just like on our adventure around Lake Naivasha. You see the sights clearer and smell the scents all around even more. So don’t blink or you will miss a breathtaking sight of hills and valleys and lakes and open savanna. Don’t blink, or the wildlife may pass you by. The gigantic yet gentle giraffe may stroll past you unnoticed. Don’t blink, beginner cyclists or not, because unless you see and feel it, the adventure is incomplete.

“Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this, a Lakeside Bike Tour. Most people go a lifetime, without such special moments.

I’m standing at the top of Gwasi Hills with the waterfall rumbling away beside me, and the expansive view of Lake Victoria before me. All to myself. I feel the hot yet smooth rock on my bum and barefoot. I have just had a shower sitting under the cold pouring waterfall and now the breeze sooths my skin, quite a relief from the hot sun we have been cycling in. It is not always that you find yourself deep in Mother Nature’s heart like this with nothing but beautiful vistas. Colorful butterflies flap their wings creating a rainbow of colors before my eyes. Unseen insects chirp deep in the grass and bushes creating a whole new tune along with the waterfall’s. My thoughts drift away for a moment. Drowned in the wonder around me.

How can I keep this moment forever etched in my memory? How do I carry it with me back to the chaos of city life?

So I close my eyes and empty my mind. I need the past gone so this new experience can become a long lasting memory. I clear enough space to safely tuck this precious moment in time. I will sure need this raw tune of nature. Unedited. Uncorrupted. It’s all mine in its original sounds and sights I see. A photographic memory of the distant blue lake, check! Of the clear water in the stream flowing before my feet, check! Of the greenery in the farms and the hillside, check!! All the great vibes sunk in.

So if by any chance you see me rather withdrawn and silent in the middle of life’s craziness, know that I’m replaying this moment in my mind. Over and over till I come back here.”
– An excerpt from my journal written on site – Gwasi Hills, Homa Bay County. Have a feel of what our Lead Adventurer felt with the upcoming Lakeside Bike Tour.

Kenya is, in many ways, synonymous to “safari”. Bike safaris in Kenya introduces the traveler to the country’s world-renowned wildlife, stunning landscape and vibrant cultures. With a variety of cycling trails through conservancies in Athi River and the Hell’s Gate National Park; a challenging climb up the green tea highlands and ultimately Mount Kenya; and the dusty cycling tracks in the heart of Maasailand at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley, anyone looking for bike safaris in Kenya is spoiled for choice. But let’s make it simpler for you with our 7 best bike safaris in Kenya:

Bike in the Wild – Swara Plains

Just 35km out of Nairobi (Kenya’s capital), there lies a 20,000 acre wild animal conservancy at the foot of the Lukenya Hill – Swara Plains. With a dazzling diversity of wildlife (giraffes, wildebeests, antelopes, hartebeests, zebras, ostriches and several other bird species), Swara Plains is perfectly set for a unique cycling safari for cyclists of all abilities. It’s not every day that you get to cycle with wild animals anywhere in the world while enjoying the expansive views all around – Ngong Hills and Nairobi city visible in the far horizon. The jumpy wildebeests may try to outrun you on some parts of the trails making for an even more spectacular man versus animal showdown.

Around Lake Victoria and Her Islands

Usually, the mention of Lake Victoria is associated with Kisumu City. Yes, it may be the largest city by the lake (at least on the Kenyan side), however, for the ultimate adventure, one has to go further to Homabay county – precisely, Mbita. Mbita is the gateway for all adventure seekers around the lake with cycling trails going as far up as the Gwasi Hills, past small fishing villages only a few kilometers from the Ruma National Park. A 40km winding cycling trail lies by the lakeside providing stunning views of the crispy blue waters of the lake and the numerous islands on it. One Baiskeli Adventurer once likened it to Croatia’s lakeside trails.

For the more adventurous, Rusinga and Mfangano Islands offer additionally spectacular cycling trails. On Mfangano island however, the roads are a lot hillier and rugged but with amazing views too. You can take some time off the saddle to wander through the villages, explore the sacred forests and the rock arts on the hills and learn their relevance to the local Suba community. A detour to the Tom Mboya Mausoleum on Rusinga Island also provides a sneak peek into Kenya’s and Luo’s political history.

Kiambu Tea and Coffee Farms

The Kiambu area is notably known for its extensive green tea and coffee fields. These farms are not only beautiful on your drive by, but also provide some of the most adventurous cycling trails in the country. Depending on one’s confidence and bike handling skills, you can choose between the tarmac roads, jeep tracks and single tracks. The single tracks are the most tricky yet overly thrilling as one wheezes past one tea bush to another. In most places, you need permission from the farm management before riding through the trails. However, there are also public roads that cut through these green valley. Be prepared for some steep climbs and equally steep downhills on the most part. The epitome of these adventures is to be standing at 7000ft looking down at Mt. Longonot’s peak and Nairobi’s skyscrapers in the hazy horizon.

4. Hell’s Gate – Gorgeous Gorges and Geothermal Spa

Named for the intense geothermal activity within its boundaries, the Hell’s Gate National Park is a remarkable quarter of the Great Rift Valley. Spectacular scenery including the towering cliffs, water-gouged gorges, stark rock towers, scrub clad volcanoes and belching plumes of geothermal steam make it one of the most atmospheric Parks in Africa. Hell’s Gate is an ideal venue for full day bike safaris from Nairobi where, in addition to the bio-diversity that includes raptors, visitors can enjoy rock climbing and a natural spa. Following the buffalo cycling circuit (named after the ferocious herbivores that roam parts of the park), one gets a stunning view of Lake Naivasha below, Mt. Longonot and Mount Suswa on the Eastern side of the park. There are Maasai manyattas within the park as well and you can pass by a talented metal-smith’s shop or the beadworks market for a souvenir.

Karura Forest – Waterfalls, Caves and Trails

Karura Forest is probably the most frequented cycling destination in Nairobi and it’s rightly so. The forest provides an array of cycling trails for all cycling abilities; from easy 5km loops to the technical 15km loops featuring some steep ascents and single tracks. This is ideal for families and leisure cyclists looking for a few easy minutes on the saddle as much as for the hardcore cyclists aiming to tear the trails and break a sweat. Choose your trail wisely before heading out as it is easy to get lost for the first timers (despite there being clear markings). A short stop by the waterfalls and Mau Mau caves only spices up your cycling experience.

6. Ngong Hills and The Wind Mills

Popularly known as a hiker’s destination, the Ngong Hills also offer a stunning backdrop for many Baiskeli Adventures including our Bike to Barbecue adventure and The Great Rift Valley Tour. For the more adventurous, there are open roads ideal for bike safaris leading up to the gigantic wind mills. One can cover anywhere between 30 and 70km circumnavigating the seven knuckles. Currently, the Nairobi – Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway is under construction with the 5.3km tunnel expected to run not so far from the base of the majestic hills.

7. Pinky Lake Magadi

From the edges of Ngong Hills (Kona Baridi) to the bottom of the Rift Valley (Lake Magadi) over a stretch of 80km, there is an asphalt road snaking through Maasai countryside; wild, shrubby and expansive savannah. In the heat, your wheels spin on the winding Magadi road to an oasis of cooling swimming pools by the day and warming, therapeutic hot springs for the evening. As you near Magadi, the mass of scarlet salt crust, pink flamingos and the peculiar smell of the soda ash welcomes you. Camp out wild under the starry African night. Breezy as it may be, enjoy the warmth of the bonfire, sample some Maasai-style barbecue and enjoy some campfire games. Come morning, a sight seeing trip (on or off the bike) introduces you further to the beauty in this very remote area. This is ideal for your weekend bike safaris.

Mother Teresa, her face painted in black and white and her words bold, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love” commands a presence within these corridors. Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, are all immortality sharing their wisdom with the children that live here as well. This is part of the library section at Child of Mercy Orphanage Center. To one side, the books are carefully arranged – different categories suitable for different ages. At the center of the room lies their newly acquired batch of second hand bicycles, some already in need of mechanical service (you know how kids can be rough on their bikes).

Further down the hallway is the girls’ dormitory. Once it was hosting all the 43 children (boys and girls) in a tightly squeezed set up. However, since a month ago, the boys have been transferred to a separate dormitory. The one right outside the building. The one which Baiskeli Adventures, in 2015, raised funds for through the first edition of Capital to Coast Charity Cycle (C2C).

Child of Mercy Orphanage Center (COMOC) opened its doors in 2008 and has since seen not only a gradual increase in the number of children it accommodates but also an upsurge in its capacity. Jessica, the director, speaks of a humble start and a continued growth by the grace of God. From two children to 43 – orphaned, destitute, neglected, molested and those whose families are unable to fend for them, COMOC has grown into a family unit of its own. The children, under Jessica’s and her staff’s care, can gleefully and properly be children and grow up into decent adults before exiting at 18 years of age.

When I first came to COMOC in 2014, having cycled 600km in 4 days from Nairobi to Mombasa, I was just a young jaunty man out for adventure. I was in search of new experiences, fresh from college and newly employed. Nothing could have ever prepared me for what I was to experience at the orphanage when I walked in with a friend of mine, my pannier-laddened bike in hand. The warmth. The joy. The innocence and the love that I saw in these children’s eyes made my four-day painful and lonesome adventure all worth it. I could see myself in them. I could see my childhood as an orphan in their smiles behind which lie the horrendous loss (for most of them). I could see a spark of hope, a hunger to be better tomorrow than today and that got me. But I had nothing to offer them except my life story and my bike since I had eaten up all my money on the road.

Fast forward, one week later, having shared my visit and interactions at the orphanage with my friends, I came back to the orphanage on 1st January, 2015 with shopping worth Ksh. 25,000! And it didn’t stop there…

Four months later, Baiskeli Adventures was born. Born out of a desire to create and share cycling experiences with the world. Born out of an inspiration to transform lives through passion, experiences, love and laughter. The goal was and still is to make each adventure more than just cycling but a wholesome experience involving and impacting on people from all walks of life. And with that, the concept of C2C was initiated to give back, particularly to the orphanage from which the inspiration sprung – COMOC.

In December 2015, a group of 19 cyclists hit the road from Nairobi to Mombasa, retracing my cycling trail, and in 4 days made it to COMOC. Despite the heat, exhaustion, strenuous distances and body aches, this group of happy and jubilant cyclists made the first edition of Capital to Coast Charity Cycle a reality and with it, a total sum of Ksh. 600,000 was raised. All of which was our little contribution towards the completion of the new dormitory (budget totalled approximately Ksh. 3million).

The ride was done. We had done our part and there wasn’t more we could do, or at least I thought so, but plan another C2C. Eight months pass by, we are engrossed in our weekly routine of cycling adventures in different parts of the country, occasionally checking up on the orphanage in preparation for the second edition of C2C. The progress being made on the dormitory slowly starts to come to light. Turns out, C2C 2015 in itself may not have managed to raise the whole amount needed but opened the door for the friends/networks of the participants to come in and push it further than we hoped we could.

Now I’m seated here, almost one year later, in the newly completed ground floor of the boys’ dormitory. Junior and Lewis are marveling at the new book I just brought them, the one I hope would be a great addition to their library. We are sitting on the veranda with the tastefully painted walls all around us. Everything looks bright. The future looks even brighter and more likely achievable. I will soon go out to play with the kids and then later go to the beach but they all keep asking me one question: “mtarudi tena na Baiskeli?” {Will you (and your friends) come back again cycling?). Yes!

Capital to Coast Charity Cycle 2016 is the second edition of this amazing adventure that gives adventurous cyclists an opportunity to tour the country, challenge themselves and make an impact. This year, unlike in 2015, we will cycle approximately 700km in 6 days through 7 counties and across 2 countries (Kenya and Tanzania). It’s an adventure that will take cyclists from the heart of Kenya, Nairobi, to the original Administrative Capital of the country, Machakos on day one; To Makindu via the scenic Wote route on day two; To the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Loitoktok on day three; To the breathtaking surroundings of Lake Jipe and the Tsavo beyond the Taveta border on day four; and finally to Diani via Maungu, Samburu and the Shimba Hills on days five and six. Picture yourself running into the welcoming arms of the evening waves on Diani beach knowing the six days of adventure are over. Then the following day, we spend time at the orphanage and hand over our contributions. How does that sound? Epic, no?

So many projects at COMOC need well-wishers’ support and Baiskeli Adventures’ primary concern is to fully complete the dormitory to the first floor. Any assistance in that regard (monetary or in kind) or for any of COMOC’s projects is highly welcomed and appreciated. Intrepid individuals can also sign up for this highly rewarding cycling challenge here.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi (on the library’s wall).

Towards the end of last year (2015), a bunch of cyclists (myself included) were embarking on one of the craziest and toughest Baiskeli Adventure so far: cycling over 600km from Nairobi to Mombasa over Christmas period to raise funds for Child of Mercy Orphanage Centre. The orphanage needed support in finishing the constructions they had started for a new dormitory and we (the adventure hungry cyclists), for lack of anything better to do, needed the challenge.

Day One – Nairobi to Kitui

So on a bright Tuesday morning (the 22nd day of December, the year of our Lord 2015) a group of nineteen cyclists convened near Nyayo Stadium along Mombasa road for what was to be a whole four days of saddle time. All the pleasantries exchanged, we hit the road at half past seven. The sun was indeed smiling upon us and the morning breeze kissed our faces as we maneuvered the ever present morning traffic on Mombasa road.

Before long, we were on Kangundo road dodging potholes and watching out for sand-loaded lorries which ply that route. I was the last person having chosen to let everyone lead first because I believed I had the power to catch up…always! Bad move! Especially since I had not taken breakfast that morning partly because of too much excitement (and a little bit of stupidity). I mean, who goes out to cycle 160km on an empty stomach? Yes, day one (Nairobi to Kitui) was 160km…and the hills on that road…just wait, I will tell you!

So about 30km into the ride, I stopped the bus for some bananas. Did you know bananas are a cyclist’s best friend? They come in handy just about any time when the body is too weak but the mind is still willing to push on. I gobbled down two bananas and just like that, I was alive again! Well, just alive enough to catch up with the rest at the first official snack and water point.

Looking at the faces all around, I could see a mix of excitement, anxiety, pure disbelief and hope. Excitement maybe because it was the Christmas season (yippee, Santa is coming). Anxious because it was the first day of the long tour and nobody knew what awaits in the next 500+km. Disbelief because, as one of us put it, we were just ordinary people doing something extraordinary. But of course we were hopeful that “we gon’ make it men! We gon’ ace it!” – Maganjo Kimani.

Every man/woman and their muscle power for themselves, the road for us all!! The gaps started widening with the leading bunch proudly calling themselves Team Mercedes. The rest were either Team Probox or Team Nduthi (Motorbike). Caste system in cycling for sure! But the love remained.

At the second refueling stop, we had our lunch in preparation for the assault on the climbs to Kitui. That was in Mwala where we joined the tarmac road after a short off-road stint from Kangundo town. For the first time since the start point, we got to see each other for a while (maybe longer than necessary) before realigning ourselves into our cycling castes one more time.

Team Mercedes maintained the lead and met the treacherous climb on Yatta Plateau first. This is the kind of hill that makes you want to quit cycling, especially if you are new to biking. It starts out easy having come down flying from the opposite direction. You see the road curving up the hill on a gentle-looking slope. So you realign your position on the saddle, shift your gears to a comfortable spin, lower your head and keep pedaling hoping that when you lift your eyes again, the pain would be through.

But alas! One corner turns to about four others! Each revealing what seems to be another gentle slope, only it’s not gentle on your thighs…nor on your will to continue. Kabuga aka Boogieman, one of the cyclists, had had enough of this madness by the second bend and I found him sitting on a stone by the roadside waiting for the bus. I cannot blame him at all because this deceptive climb only gets worse the higher you go. Dismounting and pushing your bike is even harder than just grinding uphill.

I remember the previous year on my solo tour along the same road (and having been lied to that it was downhill to Kitui), I could only manage to cycle at 6kph. I had my panniers then (2014) so this time, I wanted to average at least 10kph.

Up the hill I caught up with Susan, aka Villageur, who ironically prefers spinning uphill to coasting downhill! She was in her element, pushing down those pedals like she was igniting some motor. Like the harder she pedal, the higher the chances of her bike’s hidden engine coming to life. But she made it to the top. Jeff and Sam half cycled and half walked up the “Katangi Lung Buster” (our inaugural name for the climb) and rejoined us at the top. The Boogieman also eventually made it up and joined the Big Boys.

“Are we really cycling to Mombasa?” one of the cyclists asked. “Geographically, we should be going downhill not up like we are heading to Mount Kenya!” I understood the concern and explained that this particular hill (and a few others before Kitui) was only there to make the ride a little more exciting. But their faces did not register the excitement I was talking about right away. It was all sweat and pain with another 60km between us and Kitui.

For many of the cyclists who were still at the back, this was a breaking point. The point where one rethinks their choices in life and wonder whether it was smart to choose sweaty cycling pain over parties and Christmas goodies. One Bouke, aka Oyibo, took this moment to curse the hill in all the languages he could speak and when that did not move it, he got off the bike and lay by the roadside waiting for the rescue bus.

However uncertain and painful day one seemed, the idea of putting a smile on the orphans’ faces on Christmas refueled all of us. Of course the home cooked dinner that night at Musyoki’s place was so heavenly and highly needed that by the second plate, we had all forgotten the day’s struggles and looked forward to the next day with renewed hope.