Betsy Welch diary: Migration Gravel Race stage 3

My arms hurt more than my legs; should I have brought a mountain bike?

Photo: Lian Saltlake

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MAASAI MARA, Kenya (VN) – I am typing this dispatch with fingers that barely work.

Can the vibration from over 400 kilometers of extremely rough riding on a gravel bike cause stress fractures in your forearms? I perseverate on this for I-don’t-know-how-long during today’s ride, and when we get to camp I make sure to ask Dorien, one of the riders who is an orthopedic surgeon from the Netherlands.

I’m not alone in the fact that my arms were in way worse shape than my legs during this race. At dinner, we had the ‘if I ever do this again’ conversation and the verdict was ‘I’m doing it on a mountain bike.’ After the past two day’s extremely rough and rocky terrain, today’s ‘easy’ stage felt anything but.

My morning started out well, and I was actually looking forward to racing. And by racing, I mean I hoped to ride with Nancie Akinyi, the Kenyan mountain biker who won yesterday’s stage. After the rude awakening of a few kilometers of hard-packed, rutted, and grass-tufted black mud, we were all treated to some fun descending. Nancie and I rode together for at least an hour or so, but soon my back started to scream; the pain plagued me for the rest of the day.

 Bikes are lined up and ready to go. They get a shower ever night, just like their riders.  Photo: Betsy Welch
 “African trees” are acacia trees, and also known as “yellow fever trees.”  Photo: Lian Saltlake

Although today’s stage was much shorter with much less climbing than yesterday’s, the cumulative effects of the race must have caught up. I don’t know how else to explain the fact that my forearms feel like someone has smacked them repeatedly, and I think that’s what’s causing the pain in my back. Long stretches of washboard and “baby-headed” road do not help.

The children always do, though, and at one point a small boy ran behind me. He gave me more of a boost than any of the gels or snacks I’ld been eating; I couldn’t let a barefoot, five-year beat me up a tiny climb!

I tried to pass the time by looking for giraffes and wildebeests. The landscape today is mostly semi-arid, and my favorite bits were when we descended into river bottoms with acacia tree canopies. These are the ubiquitous “African trees;” Mark Savage, father of race organizer James said they’re also known as “yellow fever trees” because the mosquitoes that cause the disease were frequently found in bogs nearby.

Back at camp over freshly fried samosas and beers, everyone agreed that this stage was brutal. Perhaps a testament, the men’s podium was entirely East African today. The third-place finisher, Jordan Schleck of Uganda, was riding a full-suspension mountain bike with 26’ wheels.

A service station along the route welcomes riders and warns drivers of the Migration Gravel Race.   Photo: Betsy Welch
Camp.   Photo: Betsy Welch

Although I love riding my bike, I’m pretty sure that the wild camps are what I will remember most. Today’s stage ended at another rented spot of Maasai land alongside a huge swatch of acacia trees. It’s a quintessential setting; Ian Boswell showed me a video of three giraffes sauntering proudly along the ridge.

We all showed up to dinner freshly showered and every single bike got a bath, too. Meanwhile, our Maasai hosts slaughtered two goats in our honor; the viewing was optional, but it felt important given how the animals and their shepherds have been a constant presence throughout the race.

We had so many adoring fans!   Photo: Betsy Welch
African evenings. Photo: Betsy Welch

From the clean water that has been trucked in for our showers to the incredible Indian-inspired camp food to the medics who have arrived to conduct COVID tests for people who are leaving Kenya in two days’ time, the production of this race has exceeded my expectations. They’ve let the adventure that is riding bikes in Africa unfold on its own while taking care of every other detail.

Except for my aching arms and fingers. I guess that part is up to me.

Migration Gravel Race stage 3 results


  1. Geoffrey Langat, 4:34:22
  2. John Kariuki, 4:39:40
  3. Kenneth Karaya, 4:39:40
  4. Jordan Schleck, 4:39:41
  5. Suleman Kangangi, 4:39:42


  1. Nancie Akinyi, 6:11:51
  2. Betsy Welch, 6:20:44
  3. Dorien Geertsema, 6:43:07
  4. Mieke Luten, 6:43:19
  5. Nicola Green, 7:23:01

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