Tour d’Afrique: Crossing a Continent by Bike

09
May
2012

A couple of weeks ago I put up a guest post on riding in Africa that was not totally accurate.  So today we’re posting the inside look by someone who’s done it countless times….Paul McManus, a guide for Tour d’Afrique.  Whether you’ve always wanted to do something like this or just want to read about the fantastic adventure of cycling Africa, you’ll want to have a read and check out his pictures.

Crossing a Continent by Bike

by Paul McManus

What’s it like to join a bike tour across a continent?  How do you prepare?  Who does these things?  Are all good questions.  None of them can be answered quickly.  In fact at Tour d’Afrique, where I have worked as a guide for the last 4 years, we have a series of about 22 updates we send to each rider who registers for our tours that answer those questions and a few more.

But let me try to give you the 10,000 foot view here and at the end I’ll throw in a few bits of random advice I’ve learned over the last 4 years of guiding tours for Tour d’Afrique.

One of things you’ll learn to appreciate on a journey like this is the simplicity of life and the daily routine is a part of that.  The distractions of everyday life don’t exist, no facebook notifications or emails.  No phones ringing or tweets pinging etc… It’s always a bit of an adjustment for the type A’s out there but soon everyone adjusts and life becomes quite pleasant.

Here’s how the routine generally goes:

Wake up at dawn:

  • Pack your tent, sleeping bag etc… into the support vehicles
  • Coffee should be ready when you’re done packing
  • Breakfast is ready 30 minutes later

Breakfast:

  • Lasts 30 minutes, Usually consists of oatmeal, bread and spreads, fruit and muesli (that’s granola for you non euro types)

Ride your Bike:

  • Ride the day at your own pace and stop when you like.
  • Depending on the tour we average up to 120 km a day but….

– When we’re climbing the Pamirs in Tajikistan we’ll do more like 60 to 80 km in a day
– When we’re battling the rocks in the Dida Galagu desert we’ll do 80 – 90 kms a day
– When we’re riding through the pan flat Kalahari in Botswana we’ll do up to 203 km in a day
– Of course sometimes you just have to ride naked, regardless of the distance

Coke Stops:

  • We encourage you to stop along the ride, chat with locals, have a coke (if you’re lucky it might even be cold).

Lunch:

  • At a little past the halfway point of the day
  • Usually Consists of sandwiches and fruit

More Riding:

  • After lunch continue riding to camp, take your time and enjoy the scenery
  • Have another coke stop if you like, or take a few pictures, you never know what you’ll see…

Arrive in Camp:

  • At Camp you’ll find your bags waiting for you
  • We’ll have tea and soup waiting for you as well
  • Every evening we hold a rider meeting to go over the next day’s route

Dinner:

  • After 120 kms of cycling your pretty ready for dinner.  Eat lots, since your burning 5000 –
  • 8000 calories a day you’ll most likely lose weight no matter how much you eat

After Dinner:

  • Relax and enjoy the evening
  • Most everyone is asleep by 9 pm (you did get up at dawn after all)
  • Every 5 – 6 days we have a rest day. No cycling, quite a bit of beer drinking.

Repeat:

  • Depending on the tour, repeat the above 42 – 129 times!

A few other thoughts and words of advice:

You’ll Pack too Much:

Everyone does their first tour.  Try to pack as light as you can.  One of the really nice benefits of being on 4 months tour through rural places is you learn how simple life can be, and how little you actually need to enjoy it.  It’s one of the lessons we hope every rider brings home with them.  Living simply is good everyone.

Don’t bring a $5000 bike.  Bring a $500 bike:

When travelling with your bike you want strong, reliable, easy to fix in the middle of the Kara Kum desert kind of gear.  That means steel, not carbon.  Shimano LX not SRAM Red.  The nice thing is that most of the reliable, durable stuff out there is a lot less expensive.

You’re probably in good enough shape now:

It might surprise you to learn that many of our clients are not cyclists.  Some of them become cyclists after their first tour with us, but they are not when they first sign up. You get in shape on tour.  If you commute 20 minutes a day twice a week you can do this.  Of course you should train for something like this.  I strongly recommend it in fact. But certainly don’t let a lack of fitness be an excuse not to do it.  If the time is right, take the plunge.

You might get married:

I know that sounds crazy. But it’s amazing to me how many people meet their wife / husband or boyfriend / girlfriend on tour.  Social life on tour is a big part of being on tour.  At the very least you’ll make some lifelong friends.

Adventure is not always fun:

To expect that everyday will be fun and carefree is a mistake.  This is an expedition in the truest sense, an adventure.  And like most adventures there will be parts of it that suck.  It’s hard to have an adventure without some real mental, physical or emotional challenges and our tours usually will present you with all three. Your boundaries will be pushed in ways you can not expect or prepare for.  It’s what I like most about our tours but if that’s not your thing well…

So that’s it, a cross continental bike tour in a nutshell.  Each tour is a very different experience. It’s the people on the tour that make it great and I think that’s what really separates a tour from a solo trip.  If you have question or advice of your own I’d love to hear it in the comments section below, or you can email me directly at paul@tourdafrique.com.

 

This guest post was put together by Tour d’Afrique tour director, Paul McManus.  Paul designs and guides cross continental bike tours for Tour d’Afrique Ltd, best known for their annual Cairo to Cape Town Tour.  Check out their website, www.tourdafrique.com and be sure to contact him with any questions you have.

Enjoy Your Ride

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