Ride4Lions Day 3 ~ Magical Mountain Splendour

Hemingway’s legendary ‘Green Hills of Africa’ was our view on #Ride4Lions for most of Day 3 as we headed straight from the exquisite Crater Camp into the towering #ChyuluHills. I wanted some high-angle views of the riders, so cranked off half an hour before the group into a #Kenyan version of mountain fynbos.

With the early rays of light brushing the verdant foothills in gold and green, #masai cow bells echoed all round as I ascended towards the high plateau. Twice I found my way blocked by free-ranging and feral Masai warriors and their herds of Nguni cattle, but despite their fearsome appearance and lethal-looking spears, they proved to be more interested in my bike (and lack of vehicle).

One of the younger warriors even offered me some of the local #Masai staple, a mix of cow milk and blood. I went with my ‘gut feel’ and cautiously abstained, but this surely must rate as an exceptionally potent endurance drink, if you think about the carbo/protein mix.

By now, I could see the riders slowly battling it out with gravity as they wound up the gnarly switchback track. The thorn veldt savanna had given way to a mix of montane forest and waving grasslands, while dense mist forests clung to the summit peaks and ridge lines.

I let the front runners catch up to me at the apex, and grabbed a quick 15min to spin off the route and explore inside the emerald magic of these high-altitude woodlands. Ancient ficus trees, gnarled creepers as thick as my thighs, and a fecund under-story envelops you as soon as you step into this diverse ecosystem, with birds by the dozen; I even got to eavesdrop on a gaggle of purple-crested touraco.

The front of the field was still lounging at the tea stop when I pedalled in a few minutes later, spawled on scatter cushions, ottomans and Persian rugs under the broadly spreading branches of a old lucky bean tree. As usual, the Great Plains Conservation team had pulled out all the stops, with immaculate tables groaning under a sublime spread of gourmet goodies.

Re-energised, we set off on a 17km downhill stretch on what I’d definitely rate as the chamagne section of the whole #R4L. A grassland track bombed us onto a cattle footpath, swashbuckling along a grassy ridgeline. We then blasted beyond a small village and this is where the Trail and Tar wheel conversion on the Giant Bicycles South Africa really kicked in. The 275+ tyres bit like a pit-bull into the washy corners, and once or twice – when I had to evade errant boda-boda motor bikes on the white-knuckle descent – I could straight-line some dodgy off-route lines without as much as blinking an eye.

The morning’s three-hour climb was null and void in less than 30min, and in the process a splinter group of us had managed to rattle off-route into the arid plains below. We fortunately bumped into one of the ever-present Big Life Foundation vehicles, who soon had us back on track to meet up with the rest of the #Ride4Lions crew.

Down here amidst the baobabs and acacia, the temperature was at least 10-15 Degrees Celsius higher than up in the mist forests, and we were soon slogging it out in the sweltering midday heat. Superb sightings of giant eland, Masai giraffe, plains zebra – and even a gorgeous flap-necked chameleon – bouyed us on as we cranked game trails to where the gorgeousness of ‘Plains Camp’ awaited.

A #Masai ceremony, ice-cold #Tusker beer, massage therapists, starry skies and five-star food awaited the riders in camp, and everyone went to bed knowing that we only had one more day of this incredible #MTB adventure to come …

More info on the charity work done by the incredible Great Plains Foundation can be found at www.greatplainsconservation.

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