If you have been following this blog and are tempted to ride from Cairo to Capetown with TDA Global Cycling in the future, or to recommend the trip to a friend or worst enemy (both understandable), here is a summary of what we consider to be the 3 main components of the tour to take into consideration: a pretty hefty bike ride, a temporary new life among complete strangers, and a chance to experience Africa in a way few others ever have (P.S. it involves camping).
A Pretty Hefty Bike Ride
TDA started in 2003 when company founder Henry Gold had a notion to organize a one-time charity bike race expedition across Africa. At the time, 30-odd adventurous souls signed up and made the trip, camping and cooking their own freeze-dried food along the way. For years the tour ran a race component in addition to the touring version in which we are participating. In 2013 the company put out a 10 year anniversary book featuring, of course, a compilation of the most dramatic photos from the years to date. Extreme images of ankle deep mud, endless goat paths and demoralized cyclists served as a poor promotional tool for yours truly, making us feel that the endeavour was beyond us. Then the race element was dropped, the Chinese laid down some tarmac and the promotional media became a little more inclusive. Last year we were fortunate to meet some previous tour participants who convinced us that it was within our capabilities. It was, it is, and we are now nearing the finish line.
There are a huge variety of bikes, a wide range of abilities and big differences in the way each participant approaches the 140 km (average) that need to be covered every day. The common denominator is that we all are happy to be on our bikes. That is a good thing, because the thing about signing up for a trip that involves cycling the length of Africa, one of the Holy Grails of bicycle touring, is that you have to actually cycle the length of Africa. Almost every morning, early as it is, unappealing as the ration of porridge has become, weary as our bodies are after the previous day’s effort, clipping into the pedals and making those first rotations feels like the right thing to be doing. Fresh air and the anticipation of the road unseen are all a part of the deal, but a love for riding itself is a must.
Living With Strangers
We talked about “Our Tour d’Afrique Society” last time around in this space (see archives elsewhere on this page). Basically, riders coexist in what can often be close quarters. We stand in line together to wash our hands, dish up our meals, use toilets and showers when lucky enough to have them, or else we share shovels to bury our business in the desert or forest. We huddle on stools often bunched together in the shade for meals, rider meetings and after the day’s ride to eat soup and decompress.
A tent makes a poor sound barrier. It is common knowledge who burps, farts and snores. Everyone is aware of which alarm goes off 1st, who is 1st with their bags on the truck, 1st at the feeding trough, who is anal about laundry, who is nonplussed about wearing the same cycling jersey for days on end.
At home, a person can retreat into their routines, their job title. No one can hide behind a facade for 4 months in this environment. Out here, the collective is going to call out bad behaviour. With 50 plus people on board now, and more that have come and gone, this is a prime location for socially oriented people. There are those in the group who manage to keep their distance and still integrate well when they chose, but this is not the ideal spot for those who need their space.
This expedition is very much a social experiment. As one of those things that need to be experienced to be fully understood, it is nice to have new friends (at a minimum through social media) to share memories with going forward. For the 2 of us, it is wonderful that we have each other.
Africa as a Backdrop
Africa is a fascinating, diverse, wonderful and sometimes challenging place to ride a bicycle. We have been lucky to avoid rain for the most part, but extreme heat presented difficulties. Challenging roads, heavy traffic in the large centres, and encroaching humanity can be intense. 4 months in a tent as a “home away from home” dictates that it really helps to enjoy camping.
We have made the argument many times that travel by bicycle lets the world in at a pace where the details reveal themselves while still covering significant ground. We have traversed 10 countries, spending long enough in each one to get a sense of its geography and it’s people. The tour has taken us through remote areas where villagers have stood behind rope barriers to watch us set up our travelling show, but we have also ventured into the big cities and seen a side of the continent that may appear to be more like our western world, but often comes with an unattractive underbelly. We have had the good fortune of visiting the Pyramids, taken a safari, seen Victoria Falls and other top tourist draws. The tour is structured so that on our days off we are meant to fend for ourselves, in a way forcing us to interact with locals, get sick on street food and (probably) realize how lucky we are to be spending most of our time in the “TDA bubble.”
In 2003 the Cairo to Capetown route was mostly gravel, another factor which contributed to the foreboding look of the 10th year anniversary book. The 15 % of the route that remains gravel brought us through areas with remote populations (Tanzania) and incredible stretches of beautiful desolation (Namibia) while testing our mettle.
Up until recently the route through South Africa was mostly gravel. We are enjoying a new coastal route which was fashioned to make the end of the tour more “friendly” for riders. The scenery after crossing the Orange River and entering the country was a continuation of the baron landscapes of Namibia. After nondescript nights in Springbok and Garies, a hard day’s cycling (the last century ride with 30 km of gravel thrown in) brought us to the upscale town of Strandfontein on the coast. There we swam in the 1st salt water we have seen since the Red Sea in Egypt, confirmation of the fact that our journey is coming to an end.
We can recommend the experience unequivocally. Riders wanted.
Thank you for reading.