Eleonora

Lush green, heat and red gravel – Journey around Rwanda

Nils Laengner

Lush green, heat and red gravel – Journey around Rwanda

Bike Touring Collection by Eleonora

With lush landscapes, warm and friendly people, breathtaking wildlife and plenty of smooth tarmac roads, the Journey around Rwanda bikepacking adventure challenged my preconceptions of Africa. Far from being dry and dusty, Rwanda is green, vibrant and one of the most welcoming places I have visited.

When I received an email from Simon, the organizer, last December, it didn’t take long to convince me to take part in the event. It was very last minute, I had four weeks between my sign-up and the event itself, so there wasn't much time for preparation. But since it wasn't my first long distance event, I knew what to expect and knew that my body was capable of doing it.

The second Journey around Rwanda took place at the end of January 2021. Due to local Covid restrictions and curfews, the organizers skipped the race and transformed it into a bikepacking event. The course took the riders all around Rwanda; on smooth tarmac roads, dusty gravel tracks, technical single trails and—thanks to frequent thunderstorms—into some mudfests.

On the six-day ride, participants got to enjoy the amazing scenery Rwanda has to offer, spent time with locals and spotted many different monkeys. The main challenge: ride every day without breaking the local curfew that was in place between 6pm and 4am.

I knew that Rwanda is called "Land of a 1,000 hills" (or “Le Pays des Mille Collines” in French,) so I was very minimalist about the things I brought with me: I had a small saddle bag and a small toptube bag—that’s it. My key item was definitely the sunscreen! Other than that, I brought a repair kit, a spare bibshort, arm and leg warmers, a rain jacket, some underwear for the night, a toothbrush and some toothpaste.

Riding in the heat was one of the main challenges for me. On most days I left very early in the morning to have enough time for a very long lunch break where I was avoiding the heat.

Sometimes I felt like a superstar; cycling through small villages with children running after me, cheering me on and trying to race me as they ran. But I was quickly thrown back into reality whenever a local passed me uphill, on one of the typical single speed bikes, loaded with an extra 20 kilograms (44 lbs) of corn. During one of the climbs, I had a local riding beside me acting as my pacemaker. After about 5 kilometers (3 m) of climbing up the hill together, he said, "Hey Sista. Good bike, but you slow!"

Read more about Eleonora's journey on our blog: blog.komoot.com/race-around-rwanda-2021/18836.
For more information about the event visit racearoundrwanda.com.
All pictures by Nils Laengner | nilslaengner.de

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    12:18
    115 mi
    9.3 mph
    5,850 ft
    5,700 ft

    Most riders opted for an early start in the morning. There was a long day ahead and both locals as well as veterans had warned about the heat that can hit the Akagera National Park in the afternoon. Every few minutes, there was another rider leaving the hotel and hitting the road.

    There are a few hills to get over when getting out of Kigali and soon a couple of small groups had built up to ride together. As the first 80 kilometers (50 m) went by on smooth tarmac, it was time to get on to some dusty but fast gravel towards Akagera National Park. The gravel quickly turned into a single track and the faster bunch of the riders got caught in a thunderstorm. There’s little place to hide out there, but luckily the Rwandans were friendly enough to let the riders hide in their shops and huts.

    Customize
    © OSM

    Rice Baby

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    Rice fields left and right - fascinating to cycle through them.

    Tip by
    Eleonora
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    Dirt track to single track

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    Make sure to fill up your water bottles in the village just after passing the river. There will be no other refill option for about 40 kilometers (25 m) - and it can get really hot!

    Tip by
    Eleonora
    15:20
    125 mi
    8.2 mph
    10,100 ft
    8,450 ft

    Is there anything better than starting your day on a flat-ish gravel section with a sunrise just behind the lake? Day two of the journey offered quite a bit of gravel with absolutely stunning scenery. But don’t be fooled by the flat start. Soon after, the climbing started and did not stop for the rest of the day.

    Many riders underestimated the last gravel section of the day up to the Twin Lakes and were more than happy to finally arrive at the African Rising Cycling center, just before the curfew. They greeted everyone with warm food, a hot shower, a comfy bed and even spoiled all of us with a bike washing service and a bike mechanic to fix smaller issues.

    Customize
    © OSM

    Lake Muhazi

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    If you get up early in the morning, you can see the sun rising on the other side of the lake.

    Tip by
    Eleonora
    © OSM

    Twin Lakes

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    A very tough climb but the views make up for it! Don't underestimate the time it will take to get to the top, a descent in the dark can be a bit tricky.

    Tip by
    Eleonora
    10:23
    106 mi
    10.2 mph
    9,850 ft
    11,525 ft

    Some riders seemed to have gotten too used to the spoiled life at the Cycling Center and when it was time to leave in the morning, they opted to sleep in.

    I had my mind focused on the 200-kilometer (124 m) day lying ahead all night and woke up around 3am without an alarm. I really enjoyed the morning hours on the bike, being up before everybody else and having the roads for myself. Then I witnessed how the rest of the world was waking up. Hearing the birds sing and seeing the sun rising gave me a lot of energy for the rest of the day, which was lined by some of the most amazing scenery Rwanda has to offer.

    Making it up to the Gishwati Forest without pushing my bike was a good challenge and I was treated with a fast 30 kilometer (19 m) descent on tarmac to Gisenyi afterwards. Only to learn that there are even steeper roads hidden around the next corner. The Congo Nile Trail includes some of the steepest gravel sections of the whole course and rumors have it that only one rider made it up there without pushing the bike.

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    © OSM

    Gishwati Forest

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    You'll feel like riding in the Swiss Alps, we promise!

    © OSM

    Last Downhill

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    Make sure to keep an eye out for the views of Lake Kivu. It's worth adding an extra stop in the downhill.

    Tip by
    Eleonora
    11:00
    67.4 mi
    6.1 mph
    8,275 ft
    6,925 ft

    After three long days in the saddle, this was the first short day. A nice 100-kilometer (62 m) ride, without much elevation, considering the Rwandan hills I had previously experienced. Instead of leaving around 4am as was typical, almost everyone slept in. After a sleepless night with one mosquito attack after another, I also decided to sleep in and left the hotel at 6am.

    Two extra hours of sleep helped me climb the gravel section like a young gazelle. The tea plantation tempted me to stop for a cup of tea, but I convinced myself to keep on pedaling.

    On the 25-kilometer (16 m) gravel downhill that followed, which had been advertised as a fast gravel highway track, I realized that one more extra tube might have been a useful thing to bring. Rwanda’s gravel proved to be rather sharp and the late start in the morning took its toll when the afternoon sun hit—just in time for the last climb of the day, which was also the steepest one.

    Apart from that, my legs still felt quite great. Thanks to the curfews and bikepacking style of the event, they had a great rest every night and I also ate a lot more than I would have during the race, so there was more time to recover and stay fresh until the last day.

    Customize
    © OSM

    Tea plantation gravel

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    Lots of small tracks through the tea plantation, sometimes on gravel and sometimes just on grass. Incredible views over the whole plantation - take a minute to stop and enjoy!

    Tip by
    Eleonora
    © OSM

    Rainforest gravel

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    Can be technical at the top but will get easier the further down you get.

    Tip by
    Eleonora
    12:36
    84.5 mi
    6.7 mph
    9,050 ft
    9,500 ft

    The last steep climb of yesterday did bring one good thing: 7 kilometers (4 m) less to do today! Shortly after leaving the hotel, we reached the entrance of the Nyungwe Rainforest. Thanks to our early departure we saw an amazing sunrise inside the rainforest. Birds started chirping and monkeys were running around on the road to find food. It was quite easy to forget the climbing through the rainforest with such a surrounding!

    There is no day in the Journey around Rwanda where there isn’t any kind of gravel involved. The King’s road proved to be a rather rocky path that became slippery when another short thunderstorm hit. But again, I survived and made it to the hotel, tired but happy.

    Customize
    © OSM

    Nyungwe Forest National Park

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    Try to spot the different monkeys in the forest and also keep an eye out for some of the most colorful birds.

    Tip by
    Eleonora
    © OSM

    Kings gravel

    Bike Touring Highlight (Segment)

    Quite rocky in the beginning, with even a little cobble section. Later on the gravel becomes really smooth and there will be a few rolling hills to keep your legs moving. There are a few villages where you can buy water and food along the route.

    Tip by
    Eleonora
    10:31
    97.2 mi
    9.2 mph
    5,475 ft
    6,725 ft

    It was hard to believe this was the last day already. Everyone was keen to reach Kigali around lunch time, with few finisher drinks waiting. We all became friends during the last week, and so everyone was super keen to hang out just a little longer after the riding.

    After another early start and a morning-thunderstorm, it didn’t take long to hit the gravel section. Quite a few parts of the route turned into a little mudfest, resulting in one final test of everyone’s gear. With a few more technical issues, some riders opted to take the road to avoid being stranded in the wilderness with no more spare tubes. I got lucky and pushed on through the original route, which rewarded me with one last day surrounded by the greenest Rwanda landscape.

    Customize
    © OSM

    Once smooth gravel, now tarmac

    Bike Touring Highlight

    They are currently building a tarmac road along this stretch, so it is a very fast road right now. Make sure to still look to your left and right though, because the scenery is quite different to the rest of Rwanda (hint: not that many hills).

    Tip by
    Eleonora

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    6
  • Highlights
    11
  • Distance
    595 mi
  • Duration
    72:07 h
  • Elevation
    48,600 ft

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Eleonora

Lush green, heat and red gravel – Journey around Rwanda