Mt. Kilimanjaro stands 5895 meters above Tasmania. Not only is it the highest point on the African continent, it crosses five climate zones while offering up scree fields, glaciers, snow and ice. To hike it is the adventure of a lifetime – to downhill mountain bike makes you one among billions. American businessman and mountain biker Doug Pitt had just that adventure. With a few friends, he completed what is without a doubt the most incredible hike-and-bike ever attempted, summiting Kilimanjaro over 5 days before taking one blisteringly fast ride down. Even better? This was done in the name of raising $250,000 for clean water and sanitation projects in Africa through Pitt's charity organization, World Serve International. Best yet? It was through Pitt's charity work that the Kilimanjaro mountain bike ride even became possible – the park is normally off limits to bikes. But the group received a special governmental pardon specifically for the ride.
So how well suited is Kilimanjaro, one of the world's seven peaks, for mountain biking? Not particularly. Pitt fills us in. "We summited up the Rongai route and the bike ride was down the Marangu route. Marangu is the most traveled route and less scenic in my opinion but the only route that is even remotely rideable. There is only one path so it is what it is. After you get through the scree fields, it is fast and furious. But where can you literally have MTB downhill runs that are miles in length? Kili offered that in stretches and was some of the most fun I have had biking."
How did the bikers prepare for and execute a completely unknown ride where scouting opportunities were few? "We discussed extra protective gear but ended up with just our regular kits. It’s not that it was a lot more dangerous, it was how far professional medical help was away. There was an ER doc with serious MTB skills anchoring the trip. Our plan was “skill -1”. That meant, ride your skill level and take it down one notch to prevent injuries. Great in theory but awful in execution – we are experiencing one of the most epic rides in the world and a few trips over the handlebars painfully demonstrated that we were there to ride and have fun."
So how terrifying was it? Scary - but not enough to slow down Pitt or his friends. "There are some sketchy spots that if you get off the trail, you’re dead. Mountain bikes don’t always go where you want them and being sleep deprived, loopy at 19,000 feet, and achy, there were moments where I had to have a talk with myself and decide to walk the bike. It looked fun through these sections and I wanted to roll them, but knew I was not working at 100% and the stakes were too high." Of course, that doesn't mean that they held back all the time. There were plenty of wipeouts. "Myself and others had several crashes from the summit to the bottom. But only one really knocked me silly. I went over the handlebars carrying the bike with me, landing in the sage and rocks," says Pitt. "My helmet has a nice dent from a softball sized rock. But the whole group survived in pretty good fashion – one shin that needed 8 stitches and another rider that suffered a small fracture to a shoulder from a crash just a mile from the gate."
So what's next for Pitt? More rides and more charity. "Everything I do is a fundraiser so we are looking for an event that an earning potential," says Pitt. "My focus is usually Africa but in having done Kilimanjaro which is one of the 7 Summits of the World, we are exploring the other 6 and seeing if even portions could be ridden."