Proudly South African at US Xterra Champs

The Long Way Down: On a bicycle

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Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman may think they did something special by travelling from Cairo to Cape Town on motorbikes, but they ain’t seen nothing yet! Next year I will be joining approximately 50 cyclists and 10 staff members when we set off on our bicycles from the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt with the soul aim of arriving in Cape Town four months later. Why? The question really should be why not, shouldn’t it?


It’s called the Tour d’Afrique and in its 10-year existence it has helped approximately 400 people to complete the cross-continental journey on their bikes. That’s less than the number of people who’ve summitted Mount Everest, in case you were wondering… The tour lasts approximately 120 days, of which almost 100 are spent cycling. During this time, participants travel through 10 countries and cover an average of 120km per day, depending on the terrain.


TO RACE OR NOT TO RACE
Though there aren’t any yellow or polka dot jerseys to be won, the expedition is in actual fact the longest timed stage race in the world. You don’t have to race every stage, or any of the stages for that matter, but there are those who want to cross the finish line in Cape Town as overall winner. There are also those who want to achieve EFI status (Every Fabulous Inch, or your choice of F-word), but usually only about 12 people manage to finish the race with their EFI status in tact. The rest have to give up and catch a lift with one of the support vehicles to camp at some stage during their trip, either because of injury, illness, bad weather conditions or any range of factors you can come to expect on a 12 000km journey through Africa. But for most of the participants, the Tour d’Afrique is about enjoying the ride and experiencing Africa from the best seat in the house.


JUST KEEP PEDDALING
Though cycling through Africa sounds like a daunting task, the Tour d’Afrique makes it possible for anyone to do it and takes a lot of the logistics that surround an epic trip such as this out of your hands. They provide support vehicles, all meals and accommodation, and sort out border crossings for you. All you have to do is keep on peddaling, pitch your tent and keep yourself healthy.


Anyone can take part, whether you’ve just finished school and are looking for an awesome gap year, if you’re retired and looking for a challenge, or whether you need to get away from it all. What this experience does is strip you of all your worldly possessions and worries – you forget about paying rent, the rising price of petrol and what you’re going to get back from the taxman. It makes you focus on only one goal, getting to the finish line, and life seems simple again as everything goes back to basics. All you need is a good dose of determination, a thirst for adventure and a strong bum.


WHAT WILL I DO?
Joining the tour as communications officer and photographer means I will jet off to Egypt in January, meet the team and cycle south until we reach Cape Town, all the time taking photos and videos and writing press releases and blogs.


I will get to experience the craziness that is four million people living in one city in Cairo, the friendliness of the desert people in Sudan, Ethiopian children pelting me with rocks, cycle past Mount Kilimanjaro and through the safari capital Arusha in Tanzania, peddle my way through the Serengeti plain, experience the Victoria Falls, cross the Zambezi on a unique ferry, make my way down the Elephant highway in Botswana and finally head down the west coast of Namibia and South Africa towards that first, glorious sight of Table Mountain and the Mother City.


I will have to make do with no showers for days on end, as there will only be fresh water at one or two overnight stops per week (depending on where we are in Africa). I will have to learn to use a satellite phone and upload stories and photos with an internet connection slower than in the Northwest Province in the nineties. I will have to learn how to deal with the inevitable saddle sores. And I will have to get a load of vaccinations and injections, although unfortunately none exist for diarrhoea. It’s going to be long, hard, dusty, muddy and dirty. It’s going to be excruciatingly hot, freezing cold and extremely uncomfortable, and it’s probably going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s hopefully going to change my life. And I can’t wait.


For more information on the Tour d’Afrique and the other tours they offer, visit their website at www.tourdafrique.com.


WIN the Tour d’Afrique history book
As part of their 10-year celebration, the Tour d’Afrique has published a beautiful coffee table book, Celebrating Ten Years of the Tour d’Afrique Bicycle Race and Expedition. The book documents the history of the Tour through a collection of stunning photographs and riders’ anecdotes, and provides insight into this incredible journey.


One lucky reader can win a copy of the book by sending an SMS to 34110 with the word RUN and their name. (Each SMS is charged at R2. Competition open from 24 November 2011 to 13 January 2012. The publisher’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.)

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