Originally posted on Giordana Cycling on October 25, 2018.
RIDETZ is a 10-day cycling trip that benefits The Foundation For Tomorrow (TFFT), an organization that secures quality education and support for orphan and vulnerable children in Tanzania. The epic mountain biking route takes participants from “Kili to the coast,” beginning at Mount Kilimanjaro, winding through rural Tanzania, and then finishing at the Indian Ocean. The scenery, miles, mud, rain, and sweat are only a part of the impact of the trip. The real journey is found in visits with the children TFFT supports, where riders witness TFFT’s mission in action– all culminating in a truly life changing experience.
“Pole kwa safari [I am sorry for your journey]” was a frequent greeting we received while cycling through rural Tanzania. Particularly on the days when it was raining or we were climbing. We wondered what the villages would say if they knew it had no practical necessity, just fun!
RIDETZ, the 400 mile adventure ride from the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the Indian Ocean to benefit The Foundation For Tomorrow, completed its 5th trip this July.
Over the course of 10 days, we traversed from the heart of Maasailand, tracing the foothills of Kilimanjaro and the blue mountains, down the slave routes that dominated in the 19th century, into the ancient Usambara mountains and finally to Pangani gateway along the ancient trade routes. But before we hopped on our bikes, we visited TFFT’s programs to allow the riders, who had raised over $38,000 for TFFT, to see the impact of their commitment.
We met with four TFFT scholars and alum at home, school, and work. TFFT scholars are selected based on vulnerability, often a lack of access to education, proper housing, and regular meals.
The day’s experiences would prove to be fuel on our journey. When we grew tired and discouraged from days spent entirely in sand or an endless uphill, we reflected on Angel, Upendo, Nicemary, and Agnes. As one rider said,
“They were why we ride: for these very kids, for the power of their education, for the possibilities of their future. Every stroke of our pedals is for the brightness behind their eyes, the beauty in their innocence, and the brilliance in their minds.”
We brought motivation with us on the road – in the form of 16-year-old TFFT Scholar, Neema. Having only four training sessions leading up to RIDETZ, she eagerly jumped on the bike and joined us crazy Westerners for ten days. She shared frequently about school, her family, and her aspirations, as well as her love for Justin Timberlake! It was very special to have her along for the ride, as she informed us about her country, its culture and traditions. It was her presence that made our group feel like family.
The next morning, as we gathered up our gear, full of anticipation of the adventure ahead, we rode to a sendoff celebration hosted by TFFT staff, scholars, and local students! We spent the morning meeting everyone, then they sang the Tanzanian national anthem and wished us well as we biked away.
While the most direct route to Pangani would be 275 miles along the tarmac highway, RIDETZ follows old slave and trade routes. We add an extra 125 miles to our journey for multiple reasons – most namely, the opportunity to see off the beaten path Tanzania, places most will never experience. It is a true mountain biking adventure: sand, gravel, mud, rocks, and dirt made up our major roadways.
The first half of the ride is full of sand as we rode through the plains of Maasailand. The sand was met with antipathy, but also perseverance from each rider. We learned quickly how to shift into the lowest gear, sit up tall, and pedal fast.
Maasai are a pastoralist tribe, which meant herds of livestock were frequent roadblocks. Many nights our camps were on a Maasai village’s land. Our crew hired the village elders to watch over our camp at night and many of the Maasai would make their way over and perform a ritual or show off their dress.
When not getting stuck in sand, the days were spent riding up hills as we went up and around the Pangani River and Nyumba Ya Mungu, Swahili for ‘House of God’ – admiring Tanzania’s tremendous and diverse scenery and a perfectly clear view of Mount Kilimanjaro.
After long mornings of riding, we were welcomed into villages for chapati (bread) and tea. When we sat to eat, the neighborhood children would come out to stare at their visitors. It would often result in a photo shoot and dance competition. The kids, full of energy and curiosity, loved to see photos of themselves and reenact these crazy Americans every move!
On day six, after five hours riding up towards the Usambara mountain range, we dropped our bikes for the afternoon and began a four-hour, 10-mile hike up to Irente. The trail did not have switchbacks, resulting in steep climbs throughout our 1000m elevation gain. Because of the heavy rains, the trail was muddy and overflowing with vegetation. While every step required thoughtful effort, the team was grateful for an afternoon exhausting a different set of muscles.
The wonder and adventure of RIDETZ comes from riding on rarely travelled roads. It is an unscripted journey across 400 miles of rural Tanzania. Never was this more clear to our team than during days seven and eight.
We began our two day journey up and down the mountain range, which was met with heavy and constant rainfall. This year’s rainy season brought the most rain to Tanzania since the 1970s. While the typical Tanzanian rainy season ends in May, locals warned us that they had seen continued heavy rainfall during these last two weeks of June.
The heavy rainfall created a unique set of challenges for the next two days. We had white knuckles from riding the brakes on the downhill. As nearly all the roads we travelled, the mountain passes were unpaved. Therefore, the rainfall created heavily mudded roads. When trying to ride or walk our bikes through it, the tires and gears clogged with mud every few steps.
The mud led to moments of carrying our bikes on our backs, as well as putting the bikes on the cars and driving or hiking when our guides deemed it unpassable on bike.
On a few occasions, our support trucks also got stuck in the mud and the entire village would come out to offer advice, help dig, or watch. It was in those moments we experienced the truest nature of Tanzanian culture – generous, communal, and welcoming.
Our final day was a long ride to the coast, happy to be back on gravel and rocky roads.
The first sight of the blue ocean gave us a burst of energy that lasted until we finally jumped into the ocean – the salt water starting to wash off days of mud and dust.
During our last dinner together, we celebrated a hardfought ten days of cycling, the joy of being surrounded by strong and kind people, and TFFT’s impact on this country we had come to know and love so intimately.
RIDETZ reminds us of the power of community. From the crew, guides, and villages who make the ride a possibility to the staff, scholars, and families that allow TFFT to address vulnerability through education. We, as riders and fundraisers, are very grateful to have experienced the beauty, power, and transformation that come from uniting for a common goal.
The Foundation For Tomorrow (TFFT) addresses vulnerability through the power of quality education. With consistent and thoughtful investment in students and teachers in Tanzania, we offer orphan and vulnerable children the opportunity to succeed. Our holistic services include access to quality schooling, health and psychosocial support, and life skills programs. TFFT also works to improve the quality of instruction, resources in the classroom, and school management to ensure widespread, sustainable impact.
The team is so grateful to Giordana Cycling for outfitting us in the highest quality gear that kept us riding comfortably through all that Tanzania threw our way.
Interested in the next RIDETZ? Register and roll with us here: www.teamtfft.org/ride