After a lightning visit home for my mother’s 100th birthday, I arrived in Kenya after a 16-hour journey; a direct flight to Addis and then connecting through to Nairobi. I had left with hand luggage and was returning with two large bags and a box. My brief sojourn home was an opportunity for my fellow riders to give me orders for spare parts, camping gear and an assortment of goodies. I had four bulky mattress, replacements to replace the ones eviscerated by Ethiopian thorns, spare cycling shoes, a camping hammer, tubes, chains, a bike computer, bike bags, cycling gloves, headlamps, buffs, grommets, pegs, camping towel, no tube sealant, M&Ms, hazelnut wafers and a new wheel (thus the box). The biggest surprise was the eight tubs of chocolate chip cookies dropped off by the mother of one of the cyclists.

I rushed to make my tight connecting flight hoping the luggage would make it as well. As I waited by the baggage carousel, with each revolution of the carousel it seemed increasingly unlikely. I was about to head off to do the paperwork for lost luggage—it didn’t seem as if any more bags were coming up the ramp, when it gave a lurch and the very final items were disgorged. My bags. I was relieved because I wanted to have everything perfect for my return. I was so eager to be back with my nomadic tribe.

It was a fine homecoming. Warm greetings, large embraces, stories exchanged. I realized then that I was back but I had missed something, as if some part of me had been excised. It wasn’t the days on the bike. It was in the stories that they recounted. Many said something to the effect, “I can’t remember if you were there when we we were…or did…or saw….” For them there was a seamless continuity, past and present melded, participants in a collective drama. I was as one who had lain in a coma or had suffered a bout of amnesia. There would now be reference points that would forever elude me.

I received a shock the day after my arrival in Nairobi. “Thank god you’re here” one of the riders exclaimed rather more dramatically than called for. I looked blankly at him. “Haven’t you heard?” I landed on Saturday. On Sunday the exact same flight, Ethiopian Airways 302, and same plane, the Boeing 737, had crashed shortly after take-off killing all on board. When I had booked my flight I had hesitated between those two dates.

The sense of random peril was underscored by the fate of two of our riders while I was away: both strong and competent cyclists. One was thrown while racing down a hill having hit the speed bumps that materialize haphazardly o the roads here. One side of his helmet was demolished; he emerged, although he remembered nothing of the accident, grateful to have come out of it with bruises and a fractured collarbone. The other rider, W, in a similar and instantaneous slip of the wheel, escaped with severe bruising. He, the tallest and strongest of us, showed me the deep yellow and blue across his left shoulder. I couldn’t understand how he hadn’t broken anything. The collision was so evidently a violent one.

T tells me a story of what he had witnessed the day before. He was nearing the end of his cycling day, about 200 yards from the turn off to the campsite. He could see a woman just ahead leading a donkey cart looking to cross the road. From behind him a truck is coming up fast. The woman misjudges its speed, starts to cross. The truck rams through smashing woman, donkey and cart. The woman is killed instantly; the donkey’s braying fills the air for, what seems to T, an eternity. The truck doesn’t stop; it rushes on.

How quickly, in a blink of an eye, lives could be turned upside down. We were not doing a Sunday school ride around a park; we were crossing Africa, in environments and situations that could present danger. I was mindful of this as I got back on the saddle. We were heading out of Nairobi to the Tanzanian border. The traffic, we were told, is insane. Proceed with extreme caution. Cyclists here are invisible.

It is a difficult 20-kilometre ride out of the city. Trucks and buses hurtle by, dangerously close on the narrow two-way road. Others rush towards us, in the wrong lane, passing cars and cramming back into their lane at the very last moment. Motorcycles weave in and out of the traffic brushing by us. It is a relief to find ourselves finally in the countryside only to discover that much of the road has been torn up and we’re on rough detours with traffic choking us on great clouds of dust.

At our lunch stop that day I learn that two more of our riders have suffered serious accidents. One is rushed to hospital with what turns out to be a badly dislocated elbow, which will put an end to his ride. The other has a badly sprained back.

We are here. We are taking risks. We know that. The accidents are sobering. They upset us for these riders are part of us; part of the family that we have become. No one wants to stop; no one hesitates about carrying on. The two who must recover are intent on rejoining the Tour as soon as they physically are able. Is it possible that we have chosen to do this because of that very edge of danger and uncertainty?

The next day we are back on the road. We will arrive in Arusha and take a pause; a couple of days to explore some of the remarkable landscape and wildlife of Tanzania.