Route Map

Route Map

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reflecting On Africa

I remember back to December 2008 when I first saw the Tour D’Afrique website. I was sitting in front of my computer contemplating doing something big for myself…You know maybe an ironman, maybe a vacation to a long lost dive site, maybe a volunteer job somewhere. When I came across the website after several random google searches, I knew I had found it. I immediately pulled out my credit card and paid the 100 Euro fee to save a spot. I thought to myself that if I just paid the deposit it would be enough of an incentive to do the trip without further ado. Biking across Africa seems to be a “do-able” challenge when you are warm and sitting on your couch 16000km away…The problem is, Africa is big, really really big. When I told my friends and family of the plan, they fully knew I was going to undertake this, as I rarely say I am going to do something that I don’t follow up on. Everyone was supportive but thought this was a crazy undertaking. I am not so sure exactly when I decided also that it was indeed a crazy undertaking. Maybe it was in Cairo when I heard the distances for the first week. Maybe it was on day two at 165km when the truck picked me up in the dark and I couldn’t make the last 3 kilometers because of the headwinds… Maybe it was in Dinder with the corrugation or when the kids were throwing rocks at me for the hundredth time in Ethiopia… or during the 22km climb out of the Blue Nile Gorge…or on the lava rocks in Northern Kenya or the aweful dirt roads in Tanzania or during the hail storm in Botswana. I don’t know exactly when it was, but there was a point I realized biking across Africa was not as easy as I had thought it would be.

Reflecting on the trip is difficult. Four months is a long time to remember. Not only is it long, we have been through a lot, on a personal level, as a group and as an expedition. We crossed through 10 countries, each one being so incredibly different and unique that each country felt like a trip in itself. We changed money and languages and terrain so often that each day felt fresh and exotic and new despite the fact that our routine was so ingrained in us. We would wake up and pedal and pedal and eat and pedal and sleep and then wake up and do it all again. Each day a new distance, new coke stops and new vistas. The constants of this trip for me were the familiar faces that I saw each day on the road, at lunch and at camp and the amazing friends that helped me get through each day no matter how long it was or how hard it was. The days I will never forget are the ones that seemed the hardest at the time, biking out of the blue nile gorge with Mark and Georgie, riding through the headwinds with Sam and Steve on day 2, having Dave make me a cheese sandwich as I changed a flat tire at 90km into Dinder at 5pm, my 11 hour day through Tanzania with Captain Erin, The non race day that my racer friends Rod and Juliana rode with me and days and days that Dan and Jenn painfully rode my speed and supported me even though they could have been in camp with their feet up.

Africa has changed each and everyone of us on this trip whether we wanted the change or not. We have seen and felt things we may or may not have been prepared for, we have pushed ourselves harder than we may have wanted to but at the end of the day we are coming back to our lives a little bit more knowledgeable and a little bit stronger for what we have experienced. The simplicity of this life we have lived for four months is refreshing and helps us to see we can live with so little and still have happiness.

This has been the hardest blog that I have written because I am sad it is over. My body is certainly glad it is over but this trip has changed my life in so many ways. I think that Dave Arman wrapped up the trip the best in his blog for the TDA, entitled “Looking Back” so I will copy and paste that blog post here, because no one can articulate it better than him!

Thank you Africa, for all you have taught me about myself. Thank you to the communities and villages that opened us with welcome arms. Thank you to the many people who stood along side the rode to cheer on strangers as we biked through your home towns. Thank you to my countless friends and family that have supported me along the way with emails and letters and packing help and drives to the airport and picking up bikes and spares. Thanks to my mom and sister who flew to Capetown to see me cross the finish line of this epic journey. Thank you to the other TDA riders with special thanks to those that rode with me and supported me through the tough times, as I passed over the laugh/cry barrier, as I struggled over the lava rocks and dirt and up and down the hills of Ethiopia and biked more than I ever dreamt was possible. Thank you to those who rode in the rain and wind with me and thank you to all the adventurers who shared this journey with me. Thank you to the staff of TDA and Indaba for the food and support and hard work and laughs.

And the last thank you is to my body for holding up despite the constant abuse and struggle I put you through- we did it, body soul and mind, we biked across Africa!

Looking Back
How do you describe the best/worst/most intense 4 months of your life? I’ve been asked to write up a little thing about the Tour D’Afrique, a four month-long bike ride from the top of Africa to the bottom. Ever since I was a boy I’ve dreamed of going to Egypt. Pictures of pyramids and mummies and The Sphinx captured my imagination. Now not only was I going, I was going to begin a huge journey there. On a chilly January morning, myself and about 60 other riders were taking off on the adventure of a lifetime. Bicycling from Cairo to Cape Town seemed like a good idea at the time. How hard can it be to ride a bike down a continent? Why do I do things like this?

Earlier today another rider and I were discussing the fact that we only have 747 more kilometres to go. This used to seem like a pretty big number to me. Now I’m not even remotely fazed by it. It almost seems too easy; is there a catch somewhere? There always is. We’ve ridden over every type of terrain imaginable: sand, loosely packed gravel, corrugated dirt roads, lava rocks, and occasionally even paved roads in good repair. We’ve ridden on bright sunny days, horrendous thunderstorms, bitter cold mornings, and I even got hailed on once (hail? Aren’t I in friggin’ Africa?). We’ve ridden through the deserts of Sudan where there wasn’t another soul on the road (I was listening to my ipod one day and forgot about the folks on the lunch truck that drove by; they had a good laugh at my expense when they caught me dancing whilst riding). We’ve ridden through Ethiopia where each and every child in every single village expects you to smile and wave at them (they’ll pelt you with rocks whether you wave or not). We’ve ridden past the pyramids of Egypt, the waterfalls in Malawi (life doesn’t get much better than getting off the bike and soaking yourself under a waterfall on a blisteringly hot day), and the barren wasteland that seems to compose most of Botswana. We’ve seen elephants, zebra, giraffe, springbok, and an entire barrel full of monkeys. We’ve met starving children in Zambia (I tried to give them my broccoli... Mom, they didn’t want it either). We’ve gotten rides in tuk tuks, cabs, backs of pickup trucks, matatus, the odd dump truck, and a few guys even rode camels for a bit. We bungee jumped from Victoria Falls (well I didn’t, I’m far too much of a coward to do something like that), climbed Kilimanjaro, visited monasteries in Ethiopia, went swimming in the Nile (never try to skip a stone when you’re wearing your keys around your wrist; swimming isn’t always just for fun) . We went on safari at the Ngorogoro Crater, and stayed in tiny villages where everyone who lived there was at least distantly related. We went from huge cities where no one noticed us, to small towns where all the people would come out and watch us stop and drink Fanta, and rode through the suburbs of Nairobi which look identical to suburbs everywhere. We’ve suffered from diarrhea, saddle sores, broken bones, back pain, leg cramps, and daily exhaustion. We’ve complained about poor service in restaurants, long days, each other, people watching your every move, each other, overly inquisitive children, mobs of unruly boys, and each other. Yet each day we’re up and ready to start again. Every day on this trip has brought some new adventure, which is kind of amazing since every day is fairly similar: wake up far too early, eat breakfast, ride your bike a ridiculously long distance, eat lunch, ride even further, eat dinner, then go to bed.

The one thing that has made this trip truly unforgettable is the people, individuals from 20 or so countries with nothing in common other than being idiotic enough to sign up for a trip like this. It sounds like the tag line to a bad reality show. People that you normally wouldn’t acknowledge if you passed them on the street suddenly become you’re best friend. I now know more about many people on this trip than their own relatives do. When you have a 6 hour day ahead of you, with nothing to occupy your time other than pedal and repeat, you start talking to folks quite a bit. You discover their dreams and aspirations. You discuss what really matters, because there is no TV. You also discuss your favourite episode of MASH and why Dick Sergent was better than Dick York. These are people and conversations that will stick with you for life. However, these same people wouldn’t recognize you if you were to get a different shirt, because they only know you in the three you wear every day.

I’ve been asked if I’d do this trip again, the answer never varies, “Not in a million years!” However would I recommend this trip to others, without a moment’s hesitation. This trip will make you appreciate what you have at home. It’ll also make you realize what your life has been lacking. It will make you weep with both joy and sorrow (occasionally at the same time). You will feel more alive than you’ve ever felt, often when wishing you were dead. You will be ecstatic to crawl into your tent every night and eating oatmeal in the morning will be the best thing you’ve ever tasted. You will never want to go home, but miss it with all your heart. I could never do this again, but in my head, and for the rest of my life I will be doing it daily.

-- Dave Arman

Sunday, May 16, 2010

South Africa Gives us the Final Test

I’m not sure what I expected as I crossed the border from Namibia into South Africa but whatever I was thinking I was very wrong.  Maybe I thought there would be a 3% downhill grade with tailwinds to Capetown, or maybe a conveyor belt that you get on and put your bike on too and it would magically transport you to Capetown. What South Africa really is to a tired biker is a lot (A LOT) of uphill climbing. We have been averaging 1000 meters up per day, with some descents too, but a whole lot of uphills. My legs are tired, my mind is tired and I feel over the whole biking 100+++kilometers per day thing. I think four months of this lifestyle could quite possibly be my breaking point, but finally Capetown appears like a long lost friend on the road signs. The first time we saw it “Capetown 611km”, it required a double take, as if the place we have been biking towards for the last four months actually exists? Amazing. Definitely picture worthy. Hilarious though that even at this point, so close to the final destination the 611km, is truly just a joke to us, as we have a few more kilometers to go as we have to detour off of the main highway onto more (yes you guessed it-DIRT roads) because bikers are not allowed on this next busy stretch of highway. In two riding days we will be ready to begin the final convoy into the finish line in Capetown. 
There is a mix of anxiety and excitement and exhaustion amongst the riders and a lot of nervousness about returning to regular, real life after this, whatever “real” life is anyways. I am looking forward to seeing my mom and sister at the finish line. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Newest CBC Radio Interview

Link to second radio interview podcast.

Read the Globe and Mail article about the trip and my glowing description by the reporter:

Entering the Home Stretch

It has been a tough week. Actually a tough country, Namibia has challenged me mentally and physically in the final days of the tour. Maybe you could say that Namibia was my “lowest low” (thank goodness I still had some “travelling beans” (Thanks Chris Hatton) to get me through. Not that the dirt was “THAT” hard, but with the combination of the weather, rain, wind, sun and long long days. There were definitely some tears shed. The landscapes were mind-blowing and the country was awe-inspiring however some days the fatigue in my legs and the exhaustion of knowing that camp was still another 9 hours of riding away made the views less impressive. We rode near to the Fish River Canyon (the second largest dry canyon in the world next to the Grand Canyon) and then some riders rode their bikes, I opted for a ride in the jeep to the edge. It was amazing.

The good news about reaching the "lowest low" already is that everything can only get better from there. Therefore I am assured the "highest high" is just around the corner in Capetown on May 15...Yesterday I tried to change my mindset, which was easy to do with the morning vista of riders riding over the crest of a hill with the sunset coming up behind them. The day was our last “mando day” and for good reason with 128km of dirt followed by 46km of pavement against a horrendous headwind. My legs felt tired from the beginning of the day, which is a common thing these days. However I thought that once we got off our final off road stretch things would get easier…Nope. The headwind started and it was late in the afternoon and I could feel the hot Namibian desert sun burning the back of my calf and my lips. I arrived at the junction with the gas station and fast food place (8km from camp…) and a friend had rode back here to wait for me. We had a quick burger and fries and lots of coke and rode the final stretch. Even though it was a very tough day and I rolled into camp as “the slowest rider that rides” as the sun went down minutes later I felt very privileged… Privileged that I was riding my bike from sunrise to sunset, privileged that I had just got the opportunity to see Africa in a way that not many people do and privileged that I could take enough time off of work to get to do these things.

I am anxious and nervous for the end but at the same time ready for the next life adventure and whatever that holds. We still have six riding days into Capetown with some difficult days due to the prevailing headwinds from the coast. Energy levels around camp are low although spirits are high with the end approaching. Winter has definitely made an appearance this last week as long pants, and fingered gloves have again come out of riders bags for the first time since Egypt and Sudan. It no longer feels so hot and humid like Africa and I am looking forward to going back to the summer in Canada. Unlucky for the people from the Southern Hemisphere who have to go back to winter… We are hoping for nice weather in Capetown as then there will be a lot of spectators there to see the finish line.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Unrecoverable Exhaustion Meets the Last Offroad Dirt Section: Welcome to the Namib Desert

The rest day seemed to come and go this time and left me wondering, “When do we get to rest?”… We have to deal with the final offroad dirt section. For the road riders this is daunting at this stage in the game, the mountain bikers may be looking forward to it, however they are also tired. Day one of the offroad proved to not be that difficult, but long and very very hilly. I arrived to camp after 8 hours very tired and my legs were very sore. Day two ended in tears I hate to say, as headwinds and downpours just finally broke my spirit. How I was going to get up and ride another day before the rest day was unknown to me. I am lucky that I have made some very very good friends on this trip. People helped me with setting up my tent, cleaning my bike and trying to rejuvenate my spirit all at once. Thank god for that, because it help bring my day today, “from tears to beers” as my friend Jenn rode all day with me despite her excellent placement in the race and the fact that she lost hours. We had a bit of a tailwind today and I actually got to Sousseveli before noon which gave me a day and a half of rest day instead of only the one day which is what usually happens.

We now are on the Home Stretch. It is unbelievable when I think that in a little under two weeks I will have biked myself from Cairo to Capetown. We have 5 days on dirt (with really long days) and 6 days on pavement into Capetown where my mom and sister will be waiting at the finish line. My body is ready to be done, but I am not sure how the rest of me feels. I am really going to miss these new friends and this amazing adventure that I have been so privileged to get to come on.

Sousseveli is in the Namib desert, literally in the middle of nowhere. It has unbelievable scenery and the kind of sanddunes that you imagine when you think “sanddunes…” It will be great to see

Last day of Riding into “the Windhoek Rest Day”

Today was one final test of the “century week” and what we were actually mentally and physically capable of. It was one of my hardest days on tour thus far. I was up most of the night with a headache, not a migraine, but a headache brought on by a massive knot in my neck of stiff muscles. This didn’t make getting up any easier, especially since I have reached the part of the tour that I have entered a zone of unrecoverable exhaustion. The team time trial was this morning, which I had to skip out on, I just decided to get on my bike and ride and *hopefully* make it through the day. Some of the fast racers, my friends decided to take it easy today and ride with me which was really nice because I generally never see them unless it is at camp. We goofed around in the morning and had a good time riding together. At lunch the headwind had become much stronger. We carried on , as the day was 160 again. At 110km we rolled into the Windhoek International Airport for a “coke stop” and then as we pulled out we were facing very difficult hills and headwinds. My body was still very tired from the last four days of intense, difficult riding so every minute felt like it hurt me. At one point I got off my bike and sat on the side of the road feeling sorry for myself. We had started to pass large estate homes and it has been the first time in a while that it was evident that there is some money in this area and the “culture shock” of the trip is coming to an end. The difficult riding began to take a toll on my psyche and I started to feel like I wish the end was more in sight that it is. I got on my bike again and finished off the day, ending in the beautiful, but modern and “developed” city of Windhoek. This city is beautiful but could have been in North America or Europe or anywhere for that matter. It didn’t feel like Africa anymore…

When we arrived at camp to see many other tired, spent riders it was evident that this day had not only challenged me, but others too and the last dirt section is just around the corner, where were we going to muster up the energy to pull that off? Well we had a whole day of mall trips etc. to figure that out, oh yeah, but only after we had changed our tires and done our laundry and multiple other “rest day chores..”

Four months is a long long time.