Getting into Brazzaville after the Kinshasa cops and the insane chaos of the Brazzaville/Kinshasa border crossing (generally considered one of the worst in Africa) was a massive relief. At The Hippocampe Hotel– a travelers favorite, I planned on spending a couple of nights relaxing and touring the city while I waited for the Gabonese Embassy to open on Monday. While there, I started to review my planned route along with reading others route experience in the hotel’s travel book. I’d pretty much assumed I was going to do the southern Dolisie route that is pretty much standard, but I started to read about another route, a northern route running deep into Congo before crossing into Gabon- one that wasn’t necessarily much better (roads in Congo can make you wish for Angola!), but had much less truck traffic and was simply more interesting. No one had done it during the rains, but since the major complaint was deep sand, that seemed like it might work for me- I’d much rather ride deep sand when it’s wet than when it’s dry!
After getting my visa on Monday, I set out on Tuesday morning for the northern route I’d read about. And the Devil himself pulled up a chair to watch the show…
The first part of the day was a breeze- generally good tarmac and light traffic made for a quick and enjoyable ride. Around mid-afternoon I hit the turn off for the border and, it seems so obvious now, trouble.
While the water gave the sand a more stable form, it also let it create the kind of deep ruts that it normally can’t and let clay mix in with it…
It actually wasn’t too bad, just slow.
I finished the day fairly happy. The road really was crappy, but you could ride it, and the sand kept the ride rather soft- no bouncing and smacking against rocks!
The next morning is when things took their inevitable turn…
The sand started to mix with the red earth and create deep trenches- some deep enough that my panniers on both sides had to scrape through them.
About an hour and 10km later, things took another turn…
The water had completely saturated the sand/dirt and started to create deep pools. Some would be barely ankle deep, others would easily reach mid-thigh. The only way to check was to stop and walk the pool before riding through it- a couple of feet in any direction could easily be the difference between pushing though and drowing the intake or exhaust of the bike.
As I was going through this mess at an average of about 5km/hr, I made a serious riding error. I was using my feet all the time to balance the bike and even paddle through some tricky patches. When I got back in an area of deep ruts, I left my feet light on the pegs and kept slowly going forward. Before I knew it, my left foot got hooked by part of the rut and dragged back behind me until it got caught between my pannier and the rut. The movement caused me to drop the bike- well lean it against the rut- on my foot. The result was my foot painfully pinned between the rut and my pannier with with weight of both me and the bike on it. My other foot could touch the ground, but couldn’t get any leverage since all the weight was pushing in the other direction. I couldn’t push with my pinned foot since it was bent backwards and any movement caused more than my standard stream of curses to fill the air…
The situation was painful and unpleasant, but not really dangerous- worst case there were some not too old foot prints in the mud, so I could expect someone to walk by at some point. Until then, I was able to make a plan to swing my right leg over the front of the bike and back into alignment with my left. I started to take off my rearview mirror, windscreen, and… Person- a person! A couple of minutes later and I was on my feet and feelin’ fine! Fine, assuming I didn’t put any weight on my left foot and went to ‘Advil as Tic Tac’ mode. Live and learn I guess.
So back to riding, until a most glorious sight!
Yes! Gravel or something!
Riding onto the gravel and slowly cresting the top of the hill I was in heaven. And the Devil was on the edge of his seat.
Ahead of me was another endless ribbon of muddy sand. Turns out they had graveled some of the steepest hills since even the big transport trucks couldn’t make their way up in the mud. That beautiful gravel was simply a 500 meter mirage.
That sound? Yeah, it was just the Devil falling out of his chair as he laughed like he hadn’t since GW Bush and T Blair met.
So back to the grind for another few hours…
Until, literally on the line of the border….
So, while I can’t say if I made the right road choice or not, I can say that the road I chose was certainly an experience!