The 2019 Elgon Enduro was the pinnacle of my nearly 10 years of riding and racing bikes in Uganda and East Africa. It was far removed from the inaugural Mount Elgon bike race where, in 2011 I had cobbled together an 18km course, had a borrowed hardtail and raced in board shorts and trainers along with a handful of enthusiastic friends and acquaintances I had convinced to join me for some two-wheeled fun and plenty of cold beers on the mountain!!
And so by contrast 2019 was a two day multi-stage Enduro, with proper trails, dug and shaped for weeks leading up to the race by myself and my new Swiss friends Adi, Benji and Ruben who came out to help (More about them later). We had a media team, race doctor, electronic timing and a whole lot of passion, blood sweat and tears in the making.
My good friend Em Ward came to take photos and put in some incredible work all weekend and I think captured some of the essence of the race. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
Day 1. Four ‘classic’ enduro stages all held in a zone called ‘mini Utah’ and fingers rock. Fast steep natural trails. Dry dusty rock and loose stones on 3 of the stages and one in the dirt. Kids and livestock everywhere. Lots of shouting and cheering from the locals! Good vibes!
We spend a lot of time working with the local communities to help us build the trails and marshal the event. The trails are for the most part walking trails and donkey trails, in certain places we’d move rocks, build berms, fill holes and occasionally scratch a new trail into the hillside. It’s fast flow, natural, raw, hot, loose riding. I remember getting to the end of stage 1 and my lungs were on fire, I’d given 110%. Approaching 30 degrees and a good few hours of riding left it was to be a long day!
The end of day one. One broken wrist, a few minor scrapes and a lot of tired racers.Time to load up, get home clean up, feed and go have some sundowners!
The sunset lookout in Sipi Falls. What. A. Spot. !! This is the place to sit and watch the most amazing sunset. Feel the warm wind against you. Stare and ponder the mountains peak behind you and to enjoy the company of friends. Truly no better place to be.
Day one was cool. For sure, mini Utah is RAD! But it was just a warm up. Just a little something to make sure everyone was ready for the main event. Day two. Time to open some eyes to what Enduro is and what Eastern Uganda has to offer!
Stage 1. Chameleon. It starts in a village called Mulungwa on the edge of Mt Elgon National Park. We loaded bikes early, drove for an hour and unloaded by the still under construction ‘high altitude training camp’ in Teryet. This is where Uganda’s best runners live and train. In fact On the day of the race I saw Olympic marathon Gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich out training. Think clean, cold, thin air. Teryet is about 2600m ASL – early morning this place is cold, late morning it’s still cool, it feels harder to pedal uphill. This place is rad! From Teryet we rode 3km through a valley to Mulungwa where we had a second breakfast arranged and took tea and chapati before the first stage of the day. And what a stage it was!
Chameleon. Nine kilometres. fire road, single track, punchy climbs. Rock slabs, drops, and long, oh man it’s long. Our man Adi, the fast AF Swiss DH racer who became my intern, who had been out helping me for the last 6 weeks rode it in 19.20min. that’s 19min of flat out pinning it. I was pretty stoked to be only a minute slower. What does 20 min of an enduro stage feel like? It’s a lot of pain. Those punchy climbs are lactic pumping through the veins. But that downhill, oh the endless descent. Through trails, paths, fields, through a couple of families houses, through the banana plantations on and on and on, and this place, they’ve never seen mountain bikes until we came a few months earlier. The stoke was high! Everyone was buzzing by the time they crossed the line!
It’s a hard race
Poor Sam or poor bike? Sam is a legend, owner of Kayak the Nile, one of the world’s best kayakers, husband to Em the photographer, Sam and I go way back and were at Uni together in the UK many moons ago. Still not sure how he broke 4 spokes within an hour on my spare bike though!! HA!!
There’s a rad trail that comes off the main road and winds down through the banana plantations. If you take a right by a church and ride through a couple of fields you get to this incredible spot. Theres some fun singletrack with a sheer drop off to your right and views of Mt Kadam ahead of you. It’s an Epic place to take a moment to contemplate life and mother earth. And it’s a solid photo opportunity!
We never quite found the perfect trail to race in this zone, but it does link the most extraordinarily long Chameleon trail to the last of the weekend, ‘Dragon Lady’. There’s a story to the name but maybe for another day. Let’s just say the last trail of the weekend has a sting in its tail. Pretty long at 5km+ and pure rock. Rocks on rocks, slabs, baby heads and loose stones, just fast gnarly rocky fun the whole way, but you can still ride it pretty much flat out. Also as we approach the savannah below at 1100m ASL it gets hotter and hotter, it’s physically tough, takes solid concentration and lots of opportunities to break yourself or your bike!
The cool thing is at the end of Dragon Lady, once we’ve ridden out past the Manyatas and past the Acacia thorn bushes, around the creek and along the dusty roads to the trading centre called Ngenge, you can still see the mountain top where we started, some 30km back and nearly 2km higher elevation. It’s the ultimate East African Enduro tour, and we just raced it! RAD!!
The Elgon Enduro has always been a grass-roots event. Done for the love of the sport to share the place and the stoke. The winner has always won a fine bottle of whisky and most other prizes involve alcohol! 2019 was a year where I tried to bring the level up a notch, In discussions with EWS to see what it would take to have a regional event – how can we work together to grow the African series. I think I proved we have the trails, we have the event logistics dialled in. Safety, evac and medical plans were there. Media team was there and race timing went up in sophistication. We just need to grow the level of the sport and continue to develop Enduro in the region so the level of riding improves and we can increase participation. It can happen, Mpora Mpora we’ll get there!