Really!?!?! Get out?! The entire African continent? Yup!
Click on the map to see where my travels will take me over the next 4 months. This is the basic schedule with dates and locations. All camps are approximations.
Technology is a wonderful thing… when it works. Depending on connectivity and the wonders of the internet, you MAY be able to track me (and the Tour) on a daily basis. If everything works and I have access to a data connection…
Four months ago I flew to Egypt to embark on a crazy journey that would have me cross an entire continent on my bicycle. Looking back to the beginning of this trip, it’s amazing how green and naive I was. Fuelled by enthusiasm and determination (and later Coca-Cola) I was ready to take on Africa, or at least that’s what I thought. Three days ago I completed that journey and now with the wealth of experience behind me, I understand what most people thought when I told them what I was doing; “That’s amazing! Your $&¥%ing CRAZY”!
Now as I return home, it’s almost fitting that I’m retracing my pedal strokes by flying from Cape Town to Addis Ababa and then from Addis to Toronto (via a refuel stop in Dublin). The flight path home, closely retraces my bicycle journey. The enormity of the 116 day voyage completely undone in eight hours of flight. To me it’s a prime example of how modern technology is robbing us of incredible life experiences. We pay a high price for wanting everything instantly and not relishing the effort it takes to get somewhere or do something. The world would be a better place if we just slowed down a bit. Why hike or ride somewhere when you can drive or fly? Sometimes it’s worth being exposed to the moments without a barrier. Seeing an elephant in the zoo can’t hold a candle to the raw awe inspiring feeling you get when one walks out on the road in front of you. Even sitting in a safari vehicle seeing the animals in their natural habitat paled in comparison.
But I’m getting off track…as I sit here in the plane, literally looking down upon the continent, my journey seems ridiculously ambitious. Thinking about my accomplishment and what it took to complete, I feel both proud and very lucky. I was a tiny grain of sand moving a cross a vast desert. With the help of ten amazing TDA staff members and our entire group of riders I rode Every Frikken Inch (EFI) of the trip. I didn’t get sick, I didn’t have any accidents and I didn’t have any major mechanical issues. Ignorance, naiveté and stubborn determination got me through most of the riding…well that and some pretty spectacular landscapes to ride through. Not really knowing how hard this would be really helped remove any fear there might have been. I can honestly say there was only one time on the tour when my determination wavered, our first scorcher of a day in Sudan. Riding in the 45C+ heat with no shade to be found and my Achilles’ tendons still screaming almost beat me. If a TDA support vehicle had passed me during one of my “down” moments, I might just have stopped riding and got on; but that didn’t happen, and I toughed it out.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to revisit each country we rode through and do a final summing up of my thoughts and feelings on each one. A little TDA post mortem if you will. So stay tuned. I’m not quite done yet.
The last days ride was not at all what I was expecting. The morning started very cold and very wet, in fact the inside of my tent was the wettest it’s been on the entire trip, and it didn’t even rain. All the moisture was from condensation. My sleeping bag was wet, the clothing I hung out to dry was wet, inside and outside of the tent was wet. Everything had to be packed wet. Perhaps this was the perfect reminder of how easy we’ve had it in terms of weather.
The start of the days ride actually had to be delayed about fifteen minutes because of how foggy the roads were. Visibility was very low and made for dangerous cycling (the possibility of being hit by a car was much higher). When we finally did get underway, the fog and the sun made for some very beautiful and ominous views. I tried to get some photos but there was so much moisture in the air the lens on my phone would fog almost instantly. It made for some eerie but blurry pictures.
When the fog finally lifted it revealed a beautiful rolling hills landscape, with green fields and assorted farmlands and pastures. Again, not what I was expecting so close to Cape Town.
I cycled along at a very leisurely pace for a few hours, taking my time and enjoying the last ride of the tour, then I noticed the time. It was already 10:30am and we had been told we needed to be at the lunch spot by noon for the last 17km convoy into the city. I needed to pick up the pace. There was still 25km till lunch and the wind had decided that it was going to try and push me back to Cairo. I crawled along at 16km/hr for good half hour struggling with every pedal stroke. As if the wind wasn’t enough, a huge wall of fog loomed up in front of me. Why it was there and where it came from, no one knows, but it was enveloping the ancient lost city of Atlantis. Seriously, I found Atlantis. Maybe if historians just followed the road signs they would have found it faster. As it turns out, Atlantis is a suburb of Cape Town, and not the mythical magical city as told in legends; It’s really sketchy (picture District 9 and Slumdog Millionaire). At about ten kilometres from lunch a sharp right turn gave us a brief reprieve from the debilitating wind and I managed to make up some ground. Then all of a sudden, civilization appeared; a traffic light! I’ve seen maybe three of them (working ones) since Cairo. That’s when it all finally sank in for me…the tour was just about over (cue the sappy melodramatic music).
To my surprise I was the first rider into lunch. Clemont, our fastest rider on the tour, decided to voluntarily give up his EFI status and took the truck to lunch as a personal statement that he was just here to enjoy the ride and that it didn’t mean anything to him (much respect!). I thought with all my dawdling and picture taking on route that I’d be in the middle of the pack, but it turned out everyone else dawdled more. At lunch there was a wonderful spread of snacks and fake champagne, a little pre celebration, celibration. We ended up starting the last convoy about an hour later than planned. The dawdling was contagious and a bunch of riders had to be picked up or pushed hard to get them into lunch ASAP.
Once into the convoy, the 17km went very quickly. Unlike previous convoys where we crawled along in heavy traffic and lung-choking exhaust, this one was smooth, clean and very upbeat. We chatted amongst our selves as our police escort blocked traffic and chaperoned us to the finish line. Then with mixed emotions we made the final turn into the Lagoon Beach Hotel. The sidewalk was lined by friends, relatives and loved ones of many of the riders. It was a very emotional moment for all. Tears and smiles intermingled as we all fought with conflicting emotions. We were finished. All that remained was the distribution of medals and the celebratory dinner.
We all stayed up late into the evening (WAY past out 8:30pm bed times) chatting and reminiscing about our journey. Africa has been completed, top to bottom, east to west. Saying goodbye, then lingering, then saying goodbye again. A tear, a hug, turn your back and walk away.
Our final sunset over Table Mountain here in Cape Town. The journey is complete. I’ve made it. We’ve made it. This ragtag bunch of cyclists have made it across an entire continent. It’s been a long day filled with highs and lows that I need to digest for a bit before making my full post on the last day of the trip. For now, I just wanted to drop a quick note letting everyone know I’ve made it successfully and safely to Cape Town. After a good nights sleep and some thought, I’ll post more details of our last ride.
Today has conspired to remind me of home. Perhaps is a fluke, perhaps it’s because tomorrow is our last day and home is on the horizon. The day started with a nice sandy ride past a small fishing community that reminded me of the east coast of Canada, a place called Glace Bay in Nova Scotia. Then a few minutes later as I cycled alongside the Atlantic, the smell of saltwater and seaweed reminded me of visiting my Aunt as a kid out in West Vancouver, BC. Later, I passed a road sign that said Aurora was up ahead… what the hell!? No word of a lie, I grew up in a town called Aurora. So here I am ten thousand miles from home and its memories are all around me.
Our last full day of riding was a bit different today. After spending the morning in my usual solo mode, we were forced to group up into larger ten person+ groups so we could be police escorted along the highway (R27). It was a bit silly since the section of “highway” we were riding was just a two lane road, no different from any other road we’ve been riding for the last four months. It’s only difference being it had an “R” designation and I guess the rules say “when a group of cyclists are on a R series road they must be accompanied by a police escort. The funny thing is the road had a double wide shoulder that made for extremely safe riding, but I guess some bureaucrat somewhere felt the urge to fill out a form. Who am I to deny him/her the pleasure of approving form 307-F7-994C and duplicating it in triplicate. Sometimes you just have to give of yourself.
Tomorrow is our last day of the tour. We are now less than 100km from Cape Town! Everyone is excited and sad that the journey is at its end. Tonight before dinner we had nice little “Jersey” ceremony where all the riders received their “Cairo to Cape Town” cycling jersey. The TDA staff personalized each one with and “award” tailored to the cyclist receiving the shirt. For me, I won the “Coca-Cola” award (I definitely consumed the most Coke on the tour). The awards were all either humorous, like “the slowest rider” award for one rider who beat everyone to camp almost every day, or heartfelt like “the Wonder Woman” award for a woman who started the tour very green but pushed hard and became a much stronger cyclist by the end. It was a really nice way to end the evening. Now all that remains is one more night in the tent and 93km of road, then the finish line awaits!
This tour is filled with people from all over the world. Some of them live only a few minutes from me in Toronto, some came from the other side of the planet. We’ve been crammed together in the same moving caravan for four months and we’ve all managed, somehow, to get along. We were told it usually takes about two months for the group to have its first meltdown. If you spend long enough with a group of strangers, eventually one of the little things will drive a person to snap and lose their temper; that’s never happened. I think that’s a testament to how tight this group is. No one has got bent out of shape for “sitting in my chair”, or “hogging all the ketchup”. We have all behaved like adults. Who would have thought a group of cyclists could do that?
I’m not the most social person around. I find it difficult making new friends, so at the start of this tour, the thing that scared me most was the people, not the fact I had to cycle 10,000+ km through strange and potentially dangerous countries. People. I’d rather crawl through a minefield naked rather than walk into a room filled with 31 complete strangers. It took me almost two weeks to just learn everyone’s names, but now there isn’t a single person I wouldn’t consider a good friend (well except Lisa, I REALLY dislike her 😉). In two days we will be finished this journey and I probably won’t see most of these friends ever again. Is that just the way things work? I hope not. I’m going to make extra effort to stay in touch. This has been a special trip with special people, even Lisa.
We’ve seen a lot of spectacular sights as we’ve ridden on this tour. Thinking back over the last 110+ days, we’ve cycled past The Pyramids in Egypt, the Blue Nile Gorge in Ethiopia, stunning tea plantations in Tanzania and jaw-dropping vistas in Namibia. However it’s not always the rides that are special, sometimes it’s the destination. Today was one of those days. Cycling from Garies to Strandfontein was less than spectacular, in fact it was down right dull. There was 130km of “meh” (paved) and 30km of “Zzz” (dirt). The landscapes were uninspiring until I made the turn down the last kilometre. As I descended the hill, there in front of me was a vast expanse of blue, the Atlantic Ocean. After all the riding we’ve done across this essentially dry continent, the sight of enormous amounts of water reminds me that we’re just tiny specs on this giant blue marble we call Earth.
Tonight we are eating dinner and watching the sun set over that immense pond that separates us from our homes. Our friends, our families and our loved ones are all going about their business somewhere on the other side. Perhaps they are wondering how things are going. Are we safe? Is everything ok? Well, tonight as we sit by the ocean watching the sun dip below the waves and listen to the surf crash onto the beach below us, the answer is a resounding “yes”.
Tomorrow brings us our last three days of riding, but for tonight we sleep under sea of stars next to an ocean of peace (and a lot of water).
The start to the day was cold and damp; a rare thing. We began the morning under heavily overcast skies, as if the dawn was sad that our journey was almost complete. There was a very light misting of water on things as we packed. Most of the cyclists were wrapped up in every piece of clothing they owned and huddled around the coffee table to try and get warm. Myself, I just switched from my T-shirt to long sleeves. Once on the road, I heat up quickly, and today we had a big hill right out of camp. It’s the perfect way to warm up, a big slow climb. The overcast lifted slowly as the morning progressed and by about 9:30am the familiar patchy blue sky had returned. The cool temperatures remained to make the cycling nice and comfy.
Remember what I’ve said about “short days”? 116km on paved roads…easy, right? Well, nothing is easy after sitting on a bicycle for 84 days. My legs ache, my back aches, my butt aches and today “The Return of the Undulation”. Lots and lots of fair sized hills added up to over 1,300 metres of climbing. The nice part was the surrounding mountains; although small and worn, they were quite beautiful. The sandy hills of Namibia have been replaced by more rounded, rocky boulder-riddled hills. One nice thing about today’s undulation was that the last 20km had three distinct and long descents. The undulation I dislike most is quick ups and downs. The three descents were two, four and six kilometres long with shorter ascents between them (we descended 700 metres more than we climbed today). While they were not terribly steep and a strong headwind prevented me from getting any really good speed (max of 60km/hr) they were a lot of fun, none the less.
Tonight we are in a tiny town called Garies. We have the luxury of being forced into hotels (we’ve booked every room in town). The local campsite we would normally stay in has not been maintained and wasn’t suitable for human occupation (but a camp in the middle of the Sudanese desert was!?) so here I lie in a cozy hotel room. I totally won the hotel lottery too! I’ve lucked out and got a single occupancy room. Most of the others have to share accommodations. This whole, sleeping in a bed thing is weird though. I’ve not slept inside for almost four months now. What are these big puffy white things?
South Africa: Our tenth and final country (11th if you count my one day visit to Zimbabwe)! It’s hard to believe I’m here. At the start of this journey it seemed almost impossibly far, now it seems like only yesterday we were cycling past the pyramids. Despite being ready to finish this trip I’m very excited to be here. Seeing the end has given me a new verve; a new drive. Like a world class paddler seeing the finish line after pulling hard for 950 metres; muscles aching, heart pounding, pushing harder those last few strokes to the finish. Seeing the end gives me a new inspiration to finish strong and finish well.
The border crossing itself was simple. A few stamps and police check and we were cycling down a South African highway. The road on which we are traveling (N7) is nicely paved and has generous shoulders to keep us a safe distance from the speeding traffic, not that it’s an overly busy road. The day’s ride took us through a series of small boulder strewn foothills and then out onto an open plain that, over the course of about 50km, rose slowly to another set of small mountains. It was a simple ride that got me to camp just after 2pm, which left lots of time for me to pop into the small town of Springbok to do the money exchange and SIM card dance one final time. With the last SIM card acquired, so ended day 111 on the road. Only five more cycling days to go!
I never get tired of looking at the sky here. Every time I look up there is something spectacular happening. A sliver of a moon rising over a fiery red sunset, a golden orange sunrise illuminating a slowly wandering dust cloud, a midnight sky filled to bursting with stars, a simple puffy white cloud hanging in a sky of purest blue. The endless variety on this vast continent is both inspiring and humbling. In the almost four months I’ve been here I’ve seen more than a lifetime’s worth of spectacular sunrises and sunsets. At home in Toronto I’m usually cursing the sun as it peeks through my bedroom window, prodding me to get out of bed and do something. Here the dawns and dusks are events to be watched and cherished. This may sound overly dramatic but I’m pretty sure every single person on this tour would agree with that statement. There is a reason the Egyptians worshiped Ra, The Sun God. There is a spectacle here that’s almost primal. That exploding ball of fusion 140 million kilometres from earth is baked into our DNA.
Ok, I’m done with the “touchy feely”, now back to reality: Rest day! If ever I’ve needed rest, it’s now. We just finished a body punishing 8 days on tough dirt and gravel roads and just crossed the ten thousand kilometres cycled mark (for those of us who have cycled Every Frikken Inch!). Other than the usual laundry washing and chain cleaning/oiling I’ve had a wonderfully recuperative day. I slept in until a super late 8am! I convalesced a few hours while trying to catch up on my blogs.
I nearly caused an international incident by swimming in the Orange River (the border between Namibia and South Africa). I spent a good thirty minutes floating in the river, my feet and legs weightless in the current. Most of my aches and pains have disappeared and I’m ready again to ride the last six day segment of the tour. Tomorrow we cross into South Africa.
Today was our last day of dirt roads and I’m actually sad to see them go. There are only a handful of us that actually enjoy the dirt, so the majority of the group is glad to bid the dirt goodbye. Sure, there were several sections of corrugated sand where I cursed up a storm and vowed to murder each and every grain of sand and their families, but the overall experience was positive. There might be the odd patch of dirt in South Africa, but the vast majority of roads will remain paved.
The ride itself was wonderful. The air was cool and the gravel was perfectly maintained over the majority of the ride. For about 40-50km we skirted the Fish River Canyon. Off in the distance to our right, the canyon meandered through the landscape, slowly carving its mark into the bedrock. Eventually we left the canyon behind and made our way through a small set of foothills.
Once on the other side we were greeted by the strange sight of huge fields of green in the desert. The fields all turned out to be grapes. Large vineyards (or grape farms, as some people call them) have popped up all along the Orange River next to the border with South Africa. A small shanty town has also popped up to house the many day labourers needed to manage the massive fields. I’m unsure if I should be feeling sad or happy for the people here. They all live in tiny six foot corrugated steel or thatch hut boxes with no power or water. The corporations that manage the massive fields don’t seem to have any interest in building community housing or any sort of community infrastructure. On the other hand, they are providing employment for a large group of people who have a very limited skill set; all so we can have a nice bottle of rotten grapes with our dinner.
Oh, and I’ve gone back and posted some pictures to the last four days of blogs. Go back and take a look if your so inclined.