Tour du Burundi 2015

We’re finished! According to Rick’s computer, we/he did 680km in 6 days with 30 hours of saddle time, 30,000ft of climbs, and 23,577 calories burned!

Beyond the stats, it was another amazing tour. Plenty can go wrong, and very little did. Mason – the guy looking away below in the team photo at the Livingstone/Stanley memorial – tore his ligaments in a major way playing volleyball the day before we kicked off. That was about the worst thing that happened. His ankle ballooned, medical advice was to get it straight into a cast for 6 weeks, but Mason duly took the ‘Most Courageous/Nutcase/Foolish/Bravery’ award on our last night awards dinner as he cycled through most of the tour in pain but refusing to quit. What a trooper!

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This is where, so some claim, US explorer Stanley bumped into and said to a UK missionary with no other white man within 500miles: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

We had to change the route because 100+ rebels were killed a few weeks back in the North West of the country, so it took one day off the tour but we extended day 6 with a few juicy climbs and 148km of grinding along in the relentless heat. Four armed guards joined us, but as it happened were thankfully not called into action, apart from the odd photo shoot! The white one below was the worst guard by miles, but had a good sense of humour.

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There were a few near misses on the road. We arrived shortly after this fatality as the massive truck crashed into a ditch. Thank God nothing happened to us beyond Ed playing with his mileometer and not seeing a crazy man in the road, duly sending him flying into the ditch. Our guards said they would have arrested the man except that he truly was mentally ill, so they let him go. Davide, our Italian stallion, was shaken up as a cyclist came screaming down a hill in the opposite direction at maybe 40mph and clipped his shoulder – that could easily have been game over.

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Incredible solidarity always forms on these tours, which is what I most look forward to. We don’t just ride together, we also pee together!

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And there’s lots of time to take it easy on the side of the road and stuff a few more energy bars down. Below I’m talking to Rick, whose gutt had a stunningly evil reaction to the aforementioned bars, which duly won him the award for the most unfeasibly stinking man to ever walk Burundi’s hallowed turf – I cannot overstate the trauma endured by those unfortunate enough to find themselves within striking range of this ruthless veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns…!

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Having only had 4 punctures in the whole of the two previous tours, we had a staggering 15 on day 1, in lashing rains! Then it stayed largely dry until my absolute highlight hour of the tour on day 5. We were cycling both down and uphill on the main tarmac but actually on/in what was a river. You couldn’t see the road as the rain pelted down on us and streamed along the surface. Visibility was minimal as the raindrops thumped into our eyeballs. Truly, it was a stunningly visceral experience. I felt so alive and whooped with frozen delight. On one downhill, as Rick recounts, “my hydroplane downhill with full brakes and still accelerating brought me between an oncoming car and a long-horned cattle. At about 22mph I braced for impact and slipped between them.” Again with full brakes on, he hydroplaned past Tom, and we’re glad it didn’t end in tears. Sadly there are no photos to show as only a special water camera would have survived that!

Wherever we went, schoolkids streamed out of their classes, people shouted and encouraged us, it was just fabulous. In terms of money raised, at this stage I would guestimate at around $60,000 which will go to a number of our local partners, working in agriculture, health services, education and outreach. Love it!

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And for those of you who have asked about Geoff Andrews from last year, who had a terrible life-threatening accident – he’s still here in Burundi and is absolutely fine. His wounds have cleared up, leaving the odd scar, but the horrors that he experienced below are now a fading memory and he’s on great form. Thank God for that! 

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So thanks to all of you who contributed financially, encouraged us, prayed for us – it was a blast and I was deeply relieved to pack the team onto the airplane last night back to their loved ones safe and sound, with sample comments like it was the ‘best cycling tour I’ve ever done’ and ‘Simon, you said you’d give us the best 10 days of the last 5 years and truly you did’ – glad to hear it! Anyone signing up for 2016?!

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