Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro has been climbed thousands and thousands of times. But biking Africa’s highest peak is an idea that was so off-limits, it was officially illegal, until Doug Pitt and his team of singletrack ambassadors pushed for the first sanctioned hike-and-bike ride up and down this 19,340-foot peak for the important cause of clean drinking water for all. At Eddie Bauer, we thought the cause and the trip sounded so rad that we outfitted the mission with full kits of First Ascent gear. Our only condition was that they would tell us the story when they returned. Then we waited for what promised to be an epic singletrack saga of downhill descents on one of the Seven Summits. This is their story of a truly epic hike-and-bike, or what Pitt calls his greatest mountain bike descent of all time. —LYA Editor
Words and Images by Doug Pitt
Bike down Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa – check. Climbing Kili is a bucket list item for many, but biking down? Bikes are illegal on Kili, so it’s impossible. Well, just three weeks ago, it became a reality as we hosted the first-ever sanctioned mountain bike ride of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Even as the country’s goodwill ambassador, our government contacts (thank you, President Kikwete), our raising $250,000 for clean water projects, and country PR, it was still a monumental task, and although promised months ago, only officially came through while we were in the air traveling to Tanzania.
First the climb – this was my second time and for some reason it seemed more difficult than before. It is not a technical climb but with a summit of 19,341 feet, altitude can cause a number of issues for flatlanders. Climbing is not a joy for me, but knowing I would be allowed to bike down was the carrot to keep moving. We did bike up about 15% of the climb. There were some fun stretches to bike up, and many in our crew were willing to try a lot more. But with the goal being to get to the top, our guide smartly knew we only had so many matches to burn and made us put the bikes away on the third day.
The ascent was taxing, but real suffering comes from the people in the villages dying of waterborne illnesses—our reason for doing this event. The World Bank says that in many remote villages in Tanzania, two of five kids will not reach the age of five due to waterborne illness. As I have held some of these kids, I know this is a horrific and painful existence and way to die. Our nonprofit is WorldServe International and we have nine water drilling rigs in Tanzania. It is exciting just to see a new well become operational; but then infrastructure can start and we see schools, sanitation, churches, medical dispensaries, agriculture development, and sustainable life become possible. Having the ability to take a hobby that we love and fund these kinds of developments is an amazing win-win.
On a personal note, I can now honestly say that I have ridden the greatest mountain bike ride of all time. Period. As we ride away from Uhura Peak, where the famous Kili summit sign sits, we traverse a ridge with the glaciers of Kilimanjaro actually below you on both sides. This is truly magical and I don’t know how any ride could trump this – it’s a simply stunning sight, and I grin the whole way down. It is a short ride to Stella Point, where you get off the bikes for a stretch. I am cold, tired, oxygen-deprived, and not exactly thinking clearly, and a miscue here on the path would be my last.
We encounter some hike-a-bike through the scree fields and make idiotic attempts to ride in it. On the path, off the path, all while our lungs are screaming for air. Whoever thinks going downhill is easy has never climbed a mountain. Kili is no different, but was adrenaline-filled and an absolute blast in the saddle.
This Kili climb and ride takes us through five climate zones, which meant a change in the paths we were biking. After the scree, it was on – long downhill descents cluttered with water bar crossings, which made for fun obstacles and a reminder that we indeed had brakes. Every bit of the full suspension is tested on my Trek Fuel EX, clipped in and bouncing down paths. I laugh as I pass a porter who stands shocked at seeing a biker and simply mutters, “You crazy.”
We drop into dream descents of super-long singletrack that we roll so long our legs were burning from standing on the pedals and picking through or over the rocks. Kili is not designed for biking and there were some trips over the handlebars—but that’s mountain biking anywhere and rightfully deserved while riding one of the Seven Summits of the world. It was painful at times, but for people who love mountain biking, “epic” doesn’t even adequately describe it.
The final mile is fast and slippery. Thirty miles an hour on loose rocks has all of my attention. I know I am trying to savor the last bit of Kili and then I see the gate. I slow, not wanting it to end, but cross knowing I have just experienced something amazing. A bucket list item? Sure. The greatest ride of my life – check.
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