30 days around the countryside with Baisikeli Adventures

By Hannah Randa

30 days around the countryside with Baisikeli Adventures
Rakesh Young Okuku is the founder of Baiskeli Adventures - a cycling tour company that organizes cycling trips across different parts of the country. Having spent the last 30 days on his bike touring the countryside, TPS catches up with Rakesh and he shares his experience going solo for a cross-country bike ride.

Tell us about this particular trip? 

I've been cycling for the last one month from Nairobi heading to and exploring the western side of Kenya. Currently I’m in Port Victoria but my next destination from here is Kakamega. I have gone through Suswa, Naivasha, Mau Narok, Njoro, Maili Sita (Nakuru), Lake Solai, Subukia, Lake Bogoria, Tenges, Nyaru, Kipkabus, Nandi Hills, Kisumu, NdereIsland, Mbita, Mfangano Island, Usenge, Mageta Island and River Yala. 


How many kilometers do you plan to cover?

I have no set distance in mind for this but daily I ride between 50-100km depending on the specific destination of the day and how I feel. This is more of an easy tour, for once. Previously, I'd ride 150km plus per day on 5-day trips. 

What’s the longest distance you’ve covered?

In a day, 180km (but not in this particular tour). In a week, 930km.


Do you stay in hotels on your bike rides? 

I do a mix of camping and cheap lodging. I carry a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat but if I feel too worn out, I stay in a hotel. 


How do you prepare yourself for an epic bike ride?

The biggest component is the mental preparedness. I have to envision myself completing the whole tour before setting out because only then can I feel confident enough to start. I plot outa rough route picking random locations on the map and saying I want to go here and here and here then try to connect them using the roads I see on the map. However, I also prefer to leave a whole lot of the route to chance, let it surprise me. For one, I prefer dirt roads over tarmac roads. The more mysterious or remote the route seems, the more appealing it is to me.


And what's in your bag?

Currently, on top of my camping equipment, I'm carrying a change of clothes (2 t-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, a pair of trousers, 2 sets of cycling clothing, a pair of shoes, a warm sweater, several pairs of socks, a pair of sandals, a rain jacket, camp light and basic toiletries. 

What makes you believe that you'll make it (cross-country)?

I suppose it's experience that's given me the confidence. I've been doing solo bike touring since 2014 so I'm confident in my physical and mental capabilities. I also trust my equipment. I have a sturdy mountain bike that's taken me over many treacherous trails comfortably. 


What landscapes have impressed you? Any places you’d like to revisit?

Oh they are too many to count. The most surprising ones though were on the route from Kongoni (Naivasha) to Mau Narok; going around Menengai Crater from Olorongai; riding along Lake Solai or descending into Subukia Valley; and climbing the 24 hairpins from Chebutei to Nyaru. But ultimately, nothing beats the views across Lake Victoria especially at sunset, be it atop Gembe Hill or on any of the islands. 

What challenges have you faced so far?

Besides occasional bad weather(rainstorms) and a case of stomach flu, I've had my phone stolen by a young man I requested to take a photo of me on Gembe Hill. I turned my back on him for a few minutes and he simply took off downhill with my phone. It was actually hilarious. Thankfully, that was my old phone though it had a better camera than my new one. 


Are there a lot of people taking up biking? How are they pushing themselves to cover more kms?

Oh the cycling community has grown tremendously in the recent years and even more this year, fueled by theCovid-19 situation I believe. Lots of people are keen to push their bodies to the limits and then some more just to see what they are made of. I know a couple of guys who cycled from Nairobi to Mombasa (approximately 500km) in under 24hrs. Actually 15hrs to be precise. That aside, cycling for 100km+distances has become a weekend norm for most people now. 


How often do you manage to get out on your bike?

I get out as frequently as I can and want; really since it's also my job. I used to commute with my bike in Nairobi a lot more before but I see myself getting more inclined towards trail and cross country riding instead. It's more peaceful this way. 


Do you go cycling by yourself or in a group?

I cycle alone when I need to unwind and discover places. I do group rides for work. 

Do you listen to music when cycling?

Oh yes, but only on days when the mood is low and I need a little motivation to keep going. I usually prefer not to listen to music while riding because I like concentrating on the voices within my surroundings. 


How do you see the impact of Covid-19 as you pass through the countryside?

There are many remote places where tourism as well as local businesses have been severely affected. A shopkeeper in Kamukunji, Solai area, told me how since the pandemic begun, his sales at the shop have dropped as people now struggle to prioritize their expenditures. Many hotels and attraction sites I visit also speak of a decline in visitor numbers this year. However, the more interior I go, the more I realize that the curfews, physical distancing and mask-wearing protocols don't seem to apply.