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Tomas Zejda: From Slopestyle to Kilimanjaro

Aug 8, 2022 at 13:15
by Dartmoor-Bikes  

Last year, two Czech bikers decided to do something you just don't see usually. Climb Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, and ride it down on bicycles. This crazy idea could not have originated in the mind of anyone other than our biker Tomáš "Leader" Zejda. He got his friend Ondra into it, and when there were two of them, they only needed someone to document the whole thing. And Patrik Paulínyi was more than a suitable candidate for that. You can find out how it all turned out in a document that you will only find in this blog so far. Be sure to read an interview where you will learn a lot of behind-the-scenes info from the trip. Enjoy!

Firstly, tell us why Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa?

Tomáš: For a simple reason. Because it is the highest mountain in the world, where you can go more or less without some great experience and climbing equipment. The goal was to ride at least some part of the mountain on bicycles, so Kilimanjaro seemed to be the best choice. A few people had already gone there with a bicycle, so we knew it was real.


Will you introduce us to crew members? Who took part in this trip?

Tomáš: Apart from me, there was my friend Ondra, who is always for any "stupid" idea, so when I told him, he was 100% determined that he wanted to go with me and I knew from the first moment that he is one of the few who will try it with me, even if it should not turn out successfully. And the moment we were two, we told ourselves it was enough for us because the fewer people, the easier it would be. And that it would be a shame to climb such a high mountain without anyone documenting it. So the guys from Horsefeathers, who sponsored this trip, recommended Patrik Paulínyi. We didn't know him before, but he liked the idea and had time, so we agreed. And I think it worked out great.

From the left Patrik, local guard, Ondra, Tomáš.

Patrik, what came to mind when Horsefeathers asked if you wanted to climb Kilimanjaro and shoot bikers?

Patrik: Kilimanjaro has never been so interesting to me that I would like to go there. I was always discouraged by the fact that you must go there with guides who carry your stuff and really "pamper" you there. But I liked that the guys decided to go there on bikes. I immediately realized that this might lead to an interesting document. I was excited about it from the beginning, and I was looking forward to contributing to what I am doing and I would be able to experience it with them.

And did you get along? People who didn't know each other before going to Africa on this trip?

Patrik: Each of us was a different character, but we complemented each other somehow, so it was great. Tomáš is a mega fun guy, and he and Ondra were sometimes like Pat and Mat, haha. So I had fun, and I enjoyed the trip with them.
Tomáš: I also really enjoyed it. Of course, different situations arose now and there, but they stemmed from the fact that we had a problem with our guides, not each other. We three had a friendly atmosphere with the humour that belongs to such trips. Because if we were taking it super seriously, we would be unnecessarily stressed by situations that are not important to deal with in such conditions. If your life's not at stake, nothing is at stake. I liked that there were a lot of question marks at the beginning, both about the hike and the guides, and Patrik, but in the end, it turned out to be great.


Let's move on to the trip itself. As you mentioned, all three of you met at Vienna Airport flew straight to Africa, and how did it go from there? Did you arrive and have a few days to acclimatize? Did you find the guides, or did you have everything agreed and prepared in advance and go straight on the hike?

Tomáš: I don't like planning very much, I prefer to go with the flow and believe it will always turn out somehow. So what had to be planned, I planned, but most of the things I tried to let be. I like to do things a bit in that good old punk style. When we arrived there, we had two days to acclimatize and only on the spot did we decide to go on a safari. But in the first minutes, the first disappointment occurred because we did not see any animals or safari.

But you have a photo with a giraffe..

Tomáš: Yes, we saw some giraffes and zebras in the end, so we were thrilled. But we had the expectation that we would ride our bikes through the country and watch the animals, but in the final, we were not even able to ride our bikes, due to the incredibly bad terrain, which also led mostly uphill. But some nice shots came out in the end, so we laughed.
Patrik: I had terrible remorse about that safari at the time. Because that was my idea, they had to ride the bikes in the worst terrain while I was sitting in the car. We only found the giraffe I was grateful for because I already felt so nervous about it. We just expected that we would ride there directly between the animals, and they were rarely any.


What was the biggest fail that happened to you?

Tomáš: There were more of them, but probably the biggest fail was that they didn't let us take our bikes. On a bike trip. Where the documentary about bicycles was filmed. At first, they promised us that we could go on them, but then they changed the planned route and chose the one that was a normal trek on stones and roots, where it was impossible to go on our bikes. And that was repeated for another two days, so we already said that it probably won't be quite good when we come home with a bike documentary where we just walk. Our bikes were probably brought there by car, but another failure was that my bike broke. My brake exploded, and it was a problem that had to be solved at 4000 meters above sea level without any tools and without service. So we were trying to fix it in a punk way. Sunflower oil does not belong there. With the mouth, that definitely should not do this. But somehow, it worked out fine, what a bizarre. Not to mention that I didn't remember it at the top in that euphoria and adrenaline. With a mortgage and a pregnant girlfriend at home to ride down Kilimanjaro with one brake, it was not 100% on my part. So we had the trip spiced up with a few awkward situations, but I think it diversified the documentary, and I just like that it's mostly like that. We have many real authentic shots and people should see that, so it's good that we've also experienced the worries and negative things there.


How long did it take you to climb it?

Patrik: After two acclimatization days, we started the ascent. The first day to the camp at 2700 metres above sea level, the next day to 3700 metres above sea level, the third day we had the acclimatization day, the fourth day we went to 4700 metres above sea level and on the fifth day we were up. So the ascent took five days. On the way down, we then slept lower in that camp and the next day, we went down. So together, the ascent and the way down took us six days.

You can see in the document that you were quite sick at the top. Did you expect it would be so physically demanding to climb 5895 metres above sea level?

Patrik: I wouldn't say it was physically or mentally demanding, but rather that you don't know how your body will react to that height. The problem is, that you can't prepare for it. Because I was not at such heights before, I did not know how the body would behave. Even some great athletes don't have to be able to make it up, just because of that height, but you may just meet retirees who are fine with it. At the highest part of the ascent, you have to make tiny steps so that you don't go out of breath, so the result is that you are walking very slowly. Just to give you an idea, I was already out of breath from drinking water. While I pulled that sip of water out of my camel bag, I was absolutely out of breath. You just drink one sip of the water and then breathe it out for half a minute.


So your lungs can't handle that altitude, do they?

Patrik: Yes, but so does the heart. You have a much higher heart rate because you have less oxygen in your blood, so your heart has to work faster to oxygenate your body. Which is demanding on the heart, lungs and the whole organism. There was also a moment at night when the strong wind started to blow, and it was cold. My and Tomáš'es feet started to freeze, and I caught such a minor crisis that I was out of energy, so I put on all my clothes. Mentally, the situation worsened when we met a guide who was returning and had such altitude sickness that he could not even stand on his own two feet and was rolling there on the ground. The water in our camel bags froze, so it was all such a mental slap. Then it was better for a while until Ondra and I got sick. I felt like I was going on autopilot mode. It was all like a dream, I didn't realize where I was and how wonderful it was there. I just walked. When we were up there, suddenly someone handed me my phone, I didn't understand why he had it, and only then did I realize that he was taking pictures of us because we were at the top. I just had some memory gaps, I can't describe it. It was weird. And in that state, I had to start descending. In pain. I was still sick on the way down, but when I descended the first 1000 meters of altitude, I felt my condition improved as I lost that altitude. In the first camp, the boys were waiting for me, who rode it down on bikes, and they're all the sickness was gone and I felt fresh again as if nothing had happened. For how sick I was up there, it seemed completely unbelievable how it all suddenly disappeared, and I was completely fine. And I could go on and envy the boys another 10-kilometre-long ride down to the next camp on the bikes.


Tomáš, weren't you sick?

Tomáš: Not really. I was tired. I realized I was weaker than normal, but I didn't want to admit it, and it somehow worked out for me.

Did any of you have a moment when you thought you wouldn't reach the top?

Tomáš: Well, at one point, Ondra said he wouldn't go on. He looked broken, and his expression showed that he wasn't well, but he was motivated by the fact that we wanted to continue, so he leaned on the bike and continued slowly. Patrik also started to feel sick, so the whole situation escalated, but from the beginning to the end, I believed that all three of us would just climb up there.
Patrik: As far as I'm concerned, even though I was physically sick, I was relatively well mentally, so I knew that I would somehow just make it, even though I felt awful. But mentally, the hardest thing for me was the moment I already mentioned, when we met a guide with altitude sickness that fell to his knees. The wind came, it was cold and our camel bags with water froze. It bothered me then, and I realized it wouldn't be that easy. But when we got to the top, I felt lucky and was already convinced we would make it.


You climbed the last part at night and just arrived at sunrise. How was it? Suddenly, after those five days of walking and suffering, health problems, climb up there and experience the sunrise on Kilimanjaro?

Tomáš: It was the best! It was great. At that moment, I realized how lucky we have nice weather. We had a beautiful sunrise, climbed up there, and all the unpleasant situations we experienced along the way, with these views and the euphoria of being at the top, completely disappeared. We could return home with our heads held high.

On the top of Kilimanjaro

Was it possible to ride the whole Kilimanjaro down on the bikes? Was it possible within the terrain?

Tomáš: Yes, in the end, it was surprisingly much easier than I thought. It was also great to pass all those vegetation zones at speed. At first, we rode almost on the snow, and finally, we ended up in some rainforest in the meantime, we passed about 4 or 5 more zones. So it was great, and as I said, I rode down with one brake, Ondra even fell once, and it was crazy. It scared me, but fortunately, he was fine, so we kept going. It also occurred to me in retrospect what a problem it would be if, unfortunately, something happened to him. How would it be solved at such an altitude? But luckily it was okay, and we enjoyed it.


Let's conclude with a general summary of this trip, as you evaluate it from the rider's point of view, Tomáš?

Tomáš: It is a dream come true and has motivated me further in this direction. I liked it, it had some added value for me, and it was one of those truly unforgettable experiences. I have already started planning another expedition, but this time without a bicycle. It wouldn't be entirely realistic on it. I can only say that it will be high. I take Kilimanjaro as a dream come true, but I want to find out if I can climb even higher. And then even higher. And then the very highest, haha.

[PQUESTIONPatrik, how would you rate this trip from a cameraman's perspective? Would you do it again?

Patrik: I would do it again. I liked that thanks to those bikes it was much more interesting. It diversified the whole story, and I enjoyed the whole shoot. It was also a huge experience because it was my first trip outside Europe since the beginning of the covid. I enjoyed it. I was even happy during some stupid drive from the airport when we were sitting in a minibus and going to a hotel or at the local market. I was happy that I could enjoy the world again, and it was an honour for me that the boys called me, and I was able to turn this trip into some pictures and a documentary.

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