My name is Walter Kitundu and I'm an instrument builder, musician, artist, bird photographer, teacher, and motorcyclist. I also write a motorcycle blog called 12 seconds ahead. I rode to Alaska the summer of 2015 on a bike I affectionately call Nyumbu, which is Swahili for wildebeest.
Wildebeest undertake great looping migrations following the rains through the Serengeti in Tanzania. I happen to be from Tanzania and embarked on a great looping trip of my own. This journey was the very beginning of a much larger project that will someday see me motorcycling the length of Africa, but that is a story for another time...
It was a dream I'd had for a while but I wanted the impact to be more substantial than merely soul searching on two wheels.
Around mid-June, I started in Chicago and found my way to Prudhoe Bay via the Yellowstone, Seattle, British Columbia, Hyder Alaska, the Top of the World Highway, and the many communities, small, towns, parks, and cities along the way. Eventually I found myself facing the last four hundred mile stretch known as the Dalton Highway. I ventured north of the arctic circle into 24 hour sunlight and crossed the massive Brooks Range into the vast tundra that stretches northward to the Arctic Ocean. It was as close to the Serengeti as a wildebeest can get in the US.
Then I rode home through Anchorage, the Top of the World Highway, Jasper and Banff, and down to San Francisco before heading home to Chicago. The trip will covered 12,235.3 miles and took 6 1/2 weeks.
Why I took this trip
Initially, the main reason was personal growth. A few years ago I lost my dad and, in some ways, I lost my way. The grief led to anxiety and the bike was a promise to myself to get out into the great wide world and heal. Happily, it has been working. Through motorcycle travel I have indeed learned that it's much easier and more thrilling to do a thing, than to sit and ponder that very same thing. Trying to grasp this entire trip at once in my mind was a little terrifying, but in reality the trip itself was broken up into 40 days, each one holding its own promise and telling its own story. Reality is often more manageable than the worst case scenarios we indulge in before stepping out the door.
As an artist I've had the great privilege of indulging my imagination and making a living finding interesting ways of interpreting the world. Whether through music, instrument building, creating installations, or photography, I've always wanted the work I do to be substantive. I'd like to contribute something concrete and this motorcycle trip was no exception.
My mother's name is Mary Ellen Kitundu and she lives in Tanzania. She is President of the Board of Directors for International Health Partners Tanzania. My uncle is Dr. Jesse Kitundu and he is a preeminent physician and former head of pediatrics at Muhimbili hospital, in Dar es Salaam. Apart from being wonderful human beings, they are also deeply capable and respected professionals, powerful educators, scholars, and dedicated health care workers with a dream... to build the first free standing children's hospital in Tanzania.
This isn't just a dream. After years of hard work navigating the intricacies of government bureaucracy, nurturing honest community relations, developing a clear understanding of the dire need for local expert medical care, fostering a fundraising network, connecting with volunteers and medical experts in Tanzania and abroad, and pursuing reliable and long lasting construction techniques, the hospital is finally opening this year!
But the opening of the hospital is just the beginning. It's happening as soon as is possible in order to begin providing care, but new buildings, a birthing center, surgical ward, patient accommodation, gardens, and more are in the works.
One of the main needs for a new hospital that will serve thousands of children and their families is an ambulance.
The ambulance can transport mothers in labor, who might walk, ride a bicycle, or get there on a motorcycle if a car is not available, which is difficult in labor or in a crisis. The ambulance can also transport critically ill patients (if they need more advanced care) to the national hospital in Dar es Salaam. Though the ambulance is intended for ill children it can transport adults too. The hospital focuses on kids but will provide care to people of all ages.
There is also something called "pre-hospital care." That's the care you get in the ambulance when you're being transported to the hospital. This is desperately needed in Tanzania. If you, or your child, is sick or injured someone might take you in a passenger car with no training or support. Many people die on the way to receiving care. Our ambulance will have oxygen, IV's, and even an EKG and defibrillator installed. Since the hospital is in a fairly isolated area, there is great need for this.
While we were raising money for an ambulance, some thoughtful Canadians donated an old ambulance to the hospital. While we didn't meet our goal of $12,000, we did raise enough money to completely outfit and upgrade that ambulance so it can best serve the mothers and children and patients of Zinga. This is a resounding success for A Penny A Mile! If somehow the vehicle is not up to Tanzanian standards (the roads), the money will go toward purchasing the original local ambulance vehicle. The much needed funds will insure the best ambulance and best outcome for the hospital.
This trip was a great milestone in my life. I am working on a written/photographic account of the journey that will be available soon.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
If you have any questions feel free to contact me at kitundu(at)gmail.com