Tangled Up In Tanga

Sadly I had to bid farewell to my new friends from Dar es Salaam, but Northwestern Tanzania and Kenya are calling my name. With a new tire, replacement phone and a strategic plan to see the coast of Kenya, the great parks of Tanzania and onward nothing else could go wrong. Or could it?


Have I run out of good luck?

I couldn’t find the bisecting shortcut from Dar to the northern road to Tanga, so I had to swing out of my way to catch the road north. Unfortunately, this meant traveling through the busy route outside Dar through outlying towns and villages. With masses of people walking on bicycles and the ever so present and chaotic dalla-dalla mini-bus transport vehicles, I jockeyed slowly out of Dar. Unfortunately, the road through these towns features the obnoxious and sometimes not well visible or signed speed bumps. Catching one of these off-guard not only tests the suspension of the bike but sends a shaking and bouncing wake-up call that jolts your body awake.

Approaching one of these dangerous obstacles about 40km outside of Dar I grabbed the clutch as I prepared to downshift to slow my approach to the speed bump. Just then snap, and I grabbed a handful of air. My clutch lever just hung like a limp limb with no resistance. With 49,376 miles on Doc’s clutch cable, it had been stretched to the point of no return and simply gave up — in the middle of a nondescript but populated village outside Dar Salaam. Damn.


I had to get my jacket off, pull out my tools and get to work before roasting in the Dar es Salaam sun.
I shot this photo before a crowd of about twenty gathered around me and Doc.

Though early the heat of the sun combined with Dar’s notorious humidity, my roadside repair would tax me. But thanks to my lucky pre-trip wisdom, in June 2005 I had fitted a spare clutch cable on the bike and threaded it alongside the original. Now some travelers I’d met along my journey had ridiculed me for exposing this cable to the elements, now for over two and half years. But roadside with a growing crowd of curious onlookers and thrusting hands wishing and offering to help me, I was happy that they would solve this inconvenience with a simple swap.


I had the forethought in 2005 to thread a redundant clutch cable alongside the original in the event of a failure. Good thing!

Well, maybe not so simple. The previous cable had been stretched and stretched. Adjust for the new cable at the lever still made it difficult to fit the clutch-linkage end of the cable. I didn’t want to adjust it at the transmission, so I tried to pull and compress the cable and fit it into its proper place. That’s where I was happy for a strong hand. Though dripping with sweat and reddened further by the scorching sun, and in less than an hour we fit the new cable on the bike, and I was on my way. Eager to get away from the growing crowd roadside, I pushed on. Unfortunately, I neglected to test the adjustment before leaving, so another few miles down the road I had to pull over and spend more time getting the adjustment right. Not a problem, I pushed on.

The long way to Tanga passes through farms, villages through thick bush on a tar road in fair condition. At the turnoff in Segera about 200km, after my clutch cable snapped, I headed toward Tanga passing several industrial cement production facilities until finding a suitable petrol filling station. During my refueling, I neglected to switch the ignition off, and my PIAA driving lights remained on. Not a problem except that in since burning out the first bulb in Buenos Aires and the second somewhere in Zambia, finding 35w H-2 halogen replacements has been impossible. Plenty of 50w and 100w available, but the lower wattage impossible. The BMW F650GS has a generator, and its battery is ill-suited for high-wattage accessories; therefore the safest option is the 35w option for these lights. While I know I push the limits of the generator by using 50w bulbs in the lights, it’s not a problem at higher RPMs. I try to be cognizant and switch the lights off when riding on rougher roads or in city traffic where speed and RPMs are much lower. Well in the few minutes it took to refuel the lights drained my battery and Doc refused to start. I recruited a few passersby, and fortunately, the road in front of the petrol station had a slight decline making pushing Doc somewhat easy. But my pushers were lethargic and after the second ill-fated trying to push start, and the English-speaking driver stopped and asked if I needed help, then pointed to a service garage just a half-block from where my last failed jump start. The third time was the charm and maintaining my RPMs I waved and gave thumbs up to my support crew and headed toward the road to Mombassa.


Some of the crew that watched and tried to help but sometimes interfered during my roadside clutch cable repair effort.


After about five miles the road turns to dirt. With sharp protruding rocks at points combined with silty dust and menacing marble-sized gravel. I had less than two hours to get to the border before dark. Mombassa sits an hour or less from the border on what they told me is a good tar road. Eager to make time and arrive in the questionably safe Kenya before dark, I cranked on the throttle while Doc bounced and squirreled and rattled its way up the corrugated road. I was doing okay until I came up behind a dalla-dalla mini-bus crammed with people including couple kids hanging on the roof. The silty dusty and gravel was spitting at me as I rode behind. I wanted to be in front. Driving smack in the center of the narrow road I wanted to pass him. Not much room on either side but with a little torque and throttle I’d be past him in a matter of seconds, just as I’ve done a hundred times or more on this journey. I twisted the throttle. But boys on the room smiling as they watched. Just then the bus jerks into my lane, I lean on the horn, but it’s too late. My front tire washes down the sandy embankment, and I go down with a crash. The bus just moved on until it disappeared in a cloud of dust.

My fingers hurt. Doc was down. And my right forearm and knee were sore to the touch. After taking a couple photos, I flagged a guy on a bicycle carrying a couple of huge bags of charcoal to help me right Doc and then rode out of the ditch. The spirit sucked out of me, and the pain in my hand is worrying me. I thought I broke my pinky and ring finger on the right hand. The right-hand mirror was broken, and the brackets holding the Jesse bags tweaked more than I’d seen to date. Things weren’t looking good for Doc and WorldRider.



I decided to go back to Tanga.I remembered the service garage I pulled in, and after explaining my plight to Rashid, the owner of LAL, he put a team together to follow my instructions in how to right the brackets and get the Jesse bag fitted once again. Speaking in an African-Indian accent, Rashid said, “Maybe it’s a good thing you crashed, Mr. Allan,” he offered condolence, “I don’t think you should go to Kenya now, anyway. Many problems right now.” Rashid continued referring to the massive violence and political problems that have plagued the once model African nation since the disputed elections in late December.

Maybe he’s right. But I wasn’t thinking Kenya at this point. I wanted an x-ray. One of his workers took me to a clinic just a half-mile away and fast-talking Swahili to the Indian head doctor, I was in the radiology room in about ten minutes. And $7.50 later I had my x-ray and confirmation that my fingers weren’t broken nor dislocated. They were merely severely sprained.

By the time I got back to Rashid’s workshop the team had finished working on Doc, and my Jesse bag hung secure and stable. “How did you do it so fast,” I asked Rashid. “Did you take the rear bracket off?”

“Nope,” he smirked. “Besides a good magic man never tells his secret.” He never explained how he did the work so fast. Even better, I was lucky that he had a couple hose brackets in the correct size to fit my PVC-tube toolbox to the engine crash bars because in the crash two of the four clamps broke. The bike was better, save the broken mirror glass and my aching appendages. When I tried to pay my bill, he simply said, “You’ve had a tough time enough today, don’t worry about it.” He didn’t charge me, and no matter how I tried, even to pay for the clamps, he refused my money. Once again touched by the kindness and support of strangers. My faith in humanity is reinforced at every turn on this journey.

By now the sun was setting and there was no chance of going to Kenya. I found a nice hotel, cold beer and a warm meal. This wasn’t supposed to be how I continued my journey through Tanzania — new tire and all.


The team at LAL in Tanga that helped get Doc’s Jesse bags right again.


The kind and generous Rashid on his cell phone in front of the office of his multi-business enterprise.


A quick photo of one of Tanzania’s finest peace=keepers outside the hotel in Tanga.

6 replies
  1. Angie
    Angie says:

    Hang in there Baby…. So sorry to hear about your spill… Glad your fingers weren’t broken, but I know from experience that sprains can hurt MORE than breaks!!! Sending you good vibes and good luck!!


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