Climb out of the valley
Stage 48 (29): Makongolosi to Mbeya
Up early to clear the classroom in which I’m squatting; double- and triple-check that I’ve retrieved and packed everything in the pre-dawn darkness. So far so good; no children yet appearing.
Thunder rumbling as we have our breakfast but as yet at least, no rain. Away in good time just about 7:00 and as mentioned, today will be all on tarmac. Not great tarmac (basically a chip deal sort of surface) but tarmac just the same. Through and over the inevitable speed bumps, we clear Makongolosi proper and turn east on the B345 road; this will eventually swing southward and climb out of this valley to a point overlooking Mbeya and the East Africa Rift (or at least, a small portion it in which Mbeya is located).
A perfect day for cycling; overcast but roads still dry, and temperature right around 20°. Traffic is light and there’s a reasonable shoulder. Minor cross to head winds from time to time, but generally not bothersome. The ride today is essentially all Up. No serious grades at all in the morning, but the legs know that we’re gaining altitude. I seem to make reasonable time and make the lunch stop by about 10:30, not bothering to stop for a break.
I do make one stop, though, having almost run over a little tortoise who seems to be determined to cross the road. I turn and go back to carry the little guy across and place him pointed to what think might be his objective, a pond about another 50 m off. My good deed for the day, perhaps.
This country is so green. Another observation is that many Tanzanian houses and buildings have these very dramatic high-pitched roofs with angles (there must be a term for these, but if so, it's unknown to me). Perhaps they’re designed to shed major rainfalls?
On after lunch and the grades pick up but still nothing dramatic. However, about 10 km from lunch, that all changes and we’re into 6-8% grades. The road just keeps rising in front. It really doesn’t look like anything but when I look at the Garmin during a breather, I see I’ve gained over 1200 m and I’m no where near the end. Then at about 80 km, it gets really serious with 10-12% grades and switch backs. My rear derailleur won’t hold on the 34 sprocket which is a leg-searing nuisance but not much to be done at this point. I confess to walking the bike up and around a couple of these steeper switchbacks; I’m really pooped, and I think I’m starting to notice the thinner air (although that just might be me over-thinking).
The scenery is very impressive, even with the low cloud cover. I see terracing on the steep hillsides and then further along what I am later advised are tea plantations. Around one switchback and I’m hit with a chilling headwind; really cold air almost makes pull my jacket on, but not quite.
Then I’m into pine trees and passing what maybe are roadside settlements of road or forestry workers? There are supposedly gold workings in this region but I can’t report seeing any evidence other than some quartz float and veins running through the road cuts. These switchbacks just continue; lots of false summits to give me hope, but then…
Colleen (tour leader) pulls up in the Hilux, asking if I’d like a sweep. No, I’ll continue to the top. As arranged, Colleen will wait for me at the high point, and give me a lift down the hill into Mbeya. The descent is steep and a little technical in places, plus a fair amount of flood debris on various corners. We all thought not a great idea to tackle with only rear brakes. I’m definitely ok with that decision.
Finally make the summit; 2100 m or so gain on the day. It didn’t hit me in the face like the Blue Nile Gorge did, but still a stiff climb.
Easy Peasy descent being driven down! I manage to secure a room at the hotel and welcome the first shower since Singida some days past. Then to the bar… a very lively crowd tonight, lots of laughter.
Rest day tomorrow.