welcome to my blog and welcome to my little adventure cycling Africa from north to south.
You may ask why I’m doing such a rather crazy thing and to be honest I probably would have asked the same question only a couple of years ago myself.
Until recently, I never thought about cycling longer distances – let alone continents! – but considered a bike as something to go with from place A to place B while trying to avoid every hill possible. I hated cycling in the rain and I loved it in plain sunshine. You may recognize yourself in that (that excludes Chris and Rowena!).
It all changed in 2008 when Bürte went to France to cover the Tour de France (it’s always the girls we have to blame!). As she took the car, I found myself stranded in tiny Langenhagen. Without a car in the middle of nowhere.
As public transport is a nightmare in South Lower Saxony (and an expensive, that is!), I didn’t have much choice but to re-dusk my fateful mountainbike to stay mobile. Well, at least in a way. After my first journey to Duderstadt, the local „metropolis“ just 8 Kilometres away, I certainly knew why Langenhagen belongs to the so-called „Bergdörfer“ („mountain-villages“). To cut it short: it was a sweating nighmare.
However, after a while I started looking forward to those saturday mornings when I had to cycle first up and then down to Duderstadt market to do my weekly shopping, only to reclimb back with heavy bags full of goodies.
As the Tour de France had started in the meantime I followed the race on TV and watched in new fascination the beauty of cycling a proper bike. Everythink was so full of pride and elegance! I wanted to look the same, and suddenly I found myself on the bike without having a reason – cycling for fun. My first „long distance trip“ went as far as Seeburg, a mighty 30 kilometres round trip over two hills and a challenge I not only survived but enjoyed very much. And boy, I was soooo proud!
Three month later I bought myself a proper racing-bike.
Since then, I’ve cycled about 15.000 kilometres mostly in Germany and France and climbed some of the „holy cols“ of the Tour de France such as the Mount Ventoux, the Izoard and the Restefond/Bonette. I had become a cyclist or a “randonneur”, as the French say.
End of 2009 the german bike-magazin „Tour“ ran a story about a bike-race from Paris to Dakar. 7.000 Kilometres on a bike, all the way through France, Andorra, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauretania and Senegal was a challenge that very much appealed to me. The next race was planned for September 2011 and I decided to join it. Happiness was all with me when I received an e-mail from the organizer in May 2010 telling me the race was off due to the unstable political situation in Mauretania. I was all but down as I had already been very much looking forward to it.
And now it wasn’t to be!
I couldn’t accept my fate and looked for alternatives. Thanks to the internet I found the Tour d’Afrique. An even bigger challenge, but much different from Paris-Dakar. With Paris-Dakar we would have cycled almost only on proper tarmac roads. The Tour d’Afrique, meanwhile, is a much more challenging race as the surfaces are somewhere between smooth tarmac (Egypt), very rough bits (Northern Kenya) and sandy strips (Namibia).
It took me a while to decide wheather I would like it, but as more I learned about the Tour d’Afrique as more I was fascinated by the whole idea to cylce the continent from north to south. In June I signed in.
Today in about three months I will find myself under the pyramids of Egypt, ready to start the most challenging adventure in my life (at least since becoming a Bristol Rovers supporter). I cannot wait to start, and cycling has very much changed for me since I decided to join the Tour d’Afrique. Not only mentally but also in form of preperation. I need to train on rough ground, I need to cycle long-distances (in July I went to Hamburg just to watch the first semi-final of the World Cup with Stachel and Nele, a lovely 500 kilometre round-trip for 90 minutes of football) and I need to do some work-out on my body (two days ago I found myself in a gym with some of these muscle man I always considered as a bit weird…).
The Tour d’Afrique will roughly cover 12.000 kilometres (7.500 miles) and starts January, 15 th in Cairo. I’ll be flying from Munich to Egypt on January, 10th and meet my fellow riders there. Organized by a company based in Canada, the race is in its ninth year and considered the longest and toughest bike-race in the world. We will be about 60 riders going the whole distance and a couple of more riders who only cycle parts of the distance (find my fellow riders here: http://www.tourdafrique.com/tours/tourdafrique/rider-profiles).
It’s a stage race with about 100 stages varying from 80 km (50 miles) to 200 km (125 miles) (average: 123 kilometre or 77 miles) depending on the surface. We’ll have about 20 rest days and different challenges such as time-trials and mountains classification on the way. I’ll be riding a Focus Mares cyclocross-bike with several sets of different tyres. The organisers supplies us with three meals every day and transport our tents and equipment in a lorry. The support-team includes a nurse and a mecanic. Camps are somewhere on the road and we will be sleeping in our own tents.
Cyclics are divided in racer and tourists. Only racer are competing in the Tour d’Afrique. Every racer decides for him or herself how to do the Tour d’Afrique. Some riders take it very seriously and cycle as quick as possible and aim for the “title”. Other wants to enjoy the culture and the landscape as well and take there time for stops, talks and some sideseeing. However, there is a certain time you have to arrive at the night camp or you’ll drop out of the race (you are allowed to carry on as a “tourist” then, though).
I’ll be a racer taking time for stops as I don’t want crossing Africa without really “seeing” and “feeling” it.
And being honest: I wouldn’t win the race anyway. Even if I chosed to cycle top speed all the time…
What I’m aiming for is EFI. EFI stands for “every faboulous inch” (or “every fu**** inch”, depending on the physical state of the rider). To achieve the EFI status you have to cycle every single inch from Cairo to Cape Town by yourself, never jumping on the lorry the organizer provides for those who are not able to carry on. But this being Africa, one should always be prepared for the unexpected.
Saying this, I nonetheless hope to make it to Cape Town on my bike. May, 14th I will know more.
The biggest challenge on the Tour d’Afrique isn’t the sheer amout of miles or the four months on the saddle but to cope with our “competitors” on the roads. Especially lorry drivers consider cyclicsts as third-class participants and are known for being rather reluctant using the brake for them. So I will supply my bike with two small mirrors and train my ears to “hear” the danger coming up in order to jump aside wherever necessary (and possible). „Luckily“, some of the car driver here in South Lower Saxony have a similar behaviour to those African lorry riders so it’s good training ground. Nonetheless, I probably will be telling some gruesome stories here once we hit the road.
So far, so good. If you like to “follow” my little adventure stay tuned to this blog as it will be updated (in English as well as German) frequently from now on. You may learn a bit more about my training sessions with the muscles man in the gym, my trouble getting visa for Sudan and Ethiopia and how to stay „fit“ despite the upcoming winter.
Take care, and “Goodnight Irene”