Cycling Safari on the Elephant Highway
Have you ever wondered what a cycling adventure in Africa would be like? Sumreen Azam shares his story of a 1576 km journey known as the Elephant Highway.
After putting this post up and getting a response from Paul who works for Tour d’ Afrique I was about to pull it and take it off the site. I’ve decided to leave it on there for now because I think the idea of the post will help inspire people to look into cycling in this part of the world…and that’s a good thing. This post might be mostly made up, but I’ve taken out the parts that Paul mentioned as being false. I invite you to search out more stories on cycling the Elephant Highway and other parts of Africa, or contact Tour d’ Afrique themselves and get more information on tours and races. Paul is going to get some great stories from some of their clients and we’ll be posting those African Cycling Adventures in the near future.
Cycling Safari on the Elephant Highway
by Sumreen Azam
From the age of four, I have been in love with anything to do with cycling. I was the first kid in the area to lose my stabilizers (training wheels) and from that moment I have spent more time on a bike than off it. Around the same age, I began to develop a fascination for everything African; I was obsessed with exotic sounding places and learning about the magnificent animals that lived there. Even as a child I was determined that one day I would visit Africa and explore for myself.
Fast forward twenty years or so I was still biking every chance I got, but had not yet realised my dream of travelling to Africa. I decided the time was right to do something about it, and started researching different options available for tourist visitors. It was during this research that I had the wild idea I could possibly combine my passions for visiting and exploring Africa and my love of cycling. It was at this point that I discovered the Tour d’Afrique.
The Tour d’Afrique is an annual event where groups of cyclists ride the 11,800 km from Cairo, Egypt in the North down to Cape Town, in South Africa. That’s right, the Tour d’Afrique takes riders the entire length of the continent. As with many endurance events the ride is broken up into 8 different sections, with people joining, and leaving at every stage. I decided to try my hand at riding one of the most challenging and visually stunning sections, known as the Elephant Highway.
I brought my friend Tim along and both of us flew into Botswana, and as soon as I stepped off the plane I realized that the extreme heat of Africa was nothing like I had ever imagined. It was obvious immediately that the training we had done in the UK was great for stamina but a million miles away in terms of heat and humidity. It is one thing to read about it, but even my wildest imagination was no match for the reality of this baking heat. Tim compared it to roasting in an oven, and even before we mounted our bikes we were both wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.
Later in the afternoon we set up our bikes and rode out of town. I had attached a trailer to the back of my bicycle to carry the supplies we would need. During the course of my research about the trip, I realised that out in the vast wilderness that surrounds the Elephant Highway we probably have to travel for a couple of days without being able to resupply. The trailer was loaded up with tools, spare parts, food and our camping gear.
We had only pedaled a few hours outside of town before we realised that we were already starting to lose the light, which happens very quickly in this part of the world. We set up camp, and watched the huge African sun sink majestically over the horizon. I went to sleep that night with a smile from ear to ear.
The next day we pedaled for several hours and took the opportunity to stop in a few villages. Every village we stopped at the people were very welcoming, no doubt some were a little surprised to see a couple of white guys pedaling into their little African village, but they offered fantastic hospitality to us with plenty of food and drink. We saw a huge variety of wildlife during that first day, including several of the magnificent elephants from which the highway is named.
Tim and I soon developed a pretty good routine for our cycling safari, we would wake up in the morning and make fresh coffee and eat breakfast. We would then pack up the camp and start pedaling south. We would stop during the heat of the day in a village if we found one, if not, then we would take shelter beneath a tree during the heat of the day. The fierce African sun made seeking shade a necessity. Even the animals don’t move around on the Elephant
Whenever we passed through a village, we would stop for at short break to chat with the inhabitants, here we would resupply and they would provide us with information about how far we would need to ride to the next village.
There were some days where we failed to see another living soul during the course of the day and at one point we cycled for two days without seeing any humans.
The trip took us two weeks to complete, and we pulled into Windhoek with a real sense of accomplishment. We had cycled an average of 70 miles a day, which is a pretty good haul through the African heat.
It is important to ensure you have great equipment; fortunately Tim works for one of the leading bike shops in the UK and was able to provide the right bikes for this trip. Our bikes performed brilliantly and other than a few punctures which were easily repaired we did not have any problems at all, on what was the trip of a lifetime.
I would love to hear of other African bike adventures, if you have one then please share your experience.