It’s tough to put experiences like racing mountain bikes up Mt Kilimanjaro and alongside herds of giraffe and zebras into words. But for the sake of sharing the magic of K2N with you all, I’m going to try.
At times it’s easy to forget this whole thing is a bike race. But since it is, let’s start here. K2N is a 4 day race, covering just over 250km of the Tanzanian countryside. There’s only about 1km of pavement on the entire route, with the rest being a split between two-track dirt roads, game paths through the bush, and single track trails created by the local Maasai people via their regular walking routes. A large portion of the race course is on such rough, desolate terrain, it can only be reached on foot or by mountain bike.
Stage 1 is the big one. Appropriately named “Assault on Kili”, it’s a mass start at the bottom and you climb up the infamous peak to the helipad, which is the highest point a helicopter can reach on the mountain. From there you’re off the dirt road onto single track to continue climbing. The trail quickly turns into a “climb a bike” where I had to throw my bike over my shoulder and climb up two gnarly rock faces, each several hundred meters long. Just a few meters to the left of the trail is a massive cliff, straight down to the valley floor below and a view I’ll never forget.
Stages 2 and 3 are the long ones, as we got most of the race distance in crossing the rugged Tanzanian terrain on our way to Lake Natron. This is where the wildlife sightings begin, which make the long miles fly by. Just 30 minutes into day 2 after a massive 2500ft descent on rough but flowy single track from our camp on the base of Kili, I nearly forgot how to ride a bike when I saw a group of 4 giraffes running alongside Tinker and I about 60 feet off the trail. Zebras, wildebeest, ostriches, and so much more were everywhere. Some racers even saw a cheetah, hyenas, and elephants. You’re basically on a mountain bike safari.
Finally, stage 4 comes with all the technical riding you can imagine. While the shortest day in distance, most of the stage is traversing these large volcanic valleys. A good majority of it was rideable with a few hike-a-bike spots. Then it concludes with one massive descent on mostly lava rock into Lake Natron.
Going into the final day I had placed 2nd, 2nd, and 1st in the 3 prior stages. Tinker had about 17 minutes on me, so I knew the technical sections were my only hope. I went wide open from the start and tried to lose him. After the final gnarly descent, my lead wasn’t going to cut it and there were just 10 easy, flat, dirt road kilometers left to the finish. So I sat up and was enjoying a nice recovery spin to the end when my face plant took place. I really have no idea what happened or what I hit, but I will forever carry a memory of Tanzania on my face now.
The camps at K2N are one of the reasons it’s so easy to forget this is a bike race. Somehow, out in the middle of nowhere, the organizers are able to coordinate these amazing meals, beverages, and an atmosphere that creates friends for life.
Each finish line is very remote. Like, hours away from any town via car. Once you cross the line, your tent and gear are all there, ready for you, with hot showers and cold beer (again, I can’t stress enough how remote these camps are). As the sun sets, the cooking starts and everyone gathers around a snack table and shares stories about the day. As these massive dinners would get underway, we’d move over to the fire for a briefing on the next day’s stage.
This is hands down my favorite thing about K2N. There’s something about meeting someone who is trying to make the world a better place and uses his/her passion to do it. If you haven’t already, check out my longer story on Brett HERE. In a nutshell, this event was created in order to shine a global light on and raise funds for agriculture development in Tanzania. Why is this so important? Because many of the tribes here have always been nomadic. Today, a lot are being forced to settle in one place and they are becoming dependent on farming (despite no training or experience) to feed their families. This is where Brett’s organization comes in and they are making huge, tangible impacts on the area.
I’d like to finish with a quick note that I am not being paid by anyone to talk about this race. Do I ultimately want you to go and sign up for 2020? Yes. Why? Because it’s truly a race of a lifetime put on by great people for a selfless and noble cause and I’m excited to see it succeed. I hope you will check it out for yourself: https://www.k2nstage.com/