THE JOURNEY .
The idea of the journey was built on little more than a whim, spurred on by the inflated bravado of mild inebriation and an unshakable youthful appetite for wanderlust. Quite where the idea came from is still a fuzzy memory. Initially, it sounded absurd; let’s just get on a couple of bikes, strap some unquestionably unneeded and overweight objects to the frames and hit the road. Chance, circumstance, and serendipity would surely take over from then on.
But from where to where?
Why not a cross-continental adventure from local pub to local pub?
It sounded simple enough barring one slight logistical complication: one pub lay in a tiny
rural village in Southern England, the other in the leafy suburbs of Africa’s most southerly metropolis. In between lay numerous mountain ranges and deserts; extreme climates
and inhospitable terrains; the Arab Spring in full force; 25 border posts and the infuriating inevitability of bureaucratic complications; and over 20,000km of road littered with unexpected adventure and opportunity. This was going to be quite the mad, kaleidoscopic experience.
A CULINARY CYCLE DOWN THE LENGTH
OF THE WORLD ON A HUNGRY STOMACH.
We travelled unassisted. Our bicycles became our vastly overladen homes, carrying every piece of equipment that would allow us to live a life on the side of the road. We rode our bikes for the very first time the first morning we left on the journey, and by the time we arrived in Cape Town they were comically held together with a consortium of duct tape, cable ties and hose clamps. We had a cheap gps device; it was never turned on. We had one tent, some ripped tarpaulins, and some battered old pots to cook in. This was exactly how we wanted to travel – as basically and as independently as possible. We slept wherever we could find a patch of dry, flat, uninhabited ground . From woods and forests to building sites and bus stops. Public parks to private gardens. Wherever we went we were greeted with incredible hospitality and generosity from complete strangers – without this unconditional and wholly unrelenting support we would never have been able to carry on.
We had many mechanical and physical problems. We fell ill multiple times, we broke wheels and panniers and frames. We luckily escaped some pretty hairy moments. I was run over by a car in Croatia and then hit by a bus in Malawi. After 6,000km, in the middle of the Egyptian Western Desert the already weakened conditions of my knee deteriorated even further. I had it scanned and diagnosed in a desert field hospital and was told I had developed an injury that meant I would not be able to cycle
for the next six months.
A decision was made; I was to go on ahead to Khartoum, Sudan, and see what sort of plan could be
re-formulated. In Khartoum our rag-tag tribe would eventually swell to dizzying heights of four with the timely additions of Jimmy and Buster – two more mates that couldn’t say no to the prospect of a
trans-continental cycle adventure.
I arrived in Khartoum and was welcomed completely by chance into yet another stranger’s home, where I stayed for the next month and began my search for alternative transportation until my knee had recovered. After much scouring the backstreets and alleys, I managed to find a decrepit Czechoslovakian motorbike and sidecar – FRANK. I had it registered, licensed, and insured – the reams of insufficient paperwork and my licence were all in Arabic, a language very few people south of Sudan can understand – and then once this was completed I set off for my maiden voyage into the Sahara desert, heading towards the Ethiopian border. It was the first time I had ever ridden a motorbike.
Over the next six months I managed to drag ol’Frankie, a bike with dubious legitimacy, over five border posts. Everyday I was on the road the Frank would break down at some stage. Maybe for an hour, maybe for several days. However, with every breakdown another character entered our journey and helped us selflessly and without any expectation of reimbursement. Despite not working with any degree of reliability Frank facilitated an incredible sense of interaction and intrigue with everyone that we passed. After six months, with myself driving Frank and the others still on their bicycles, we had made it all the way down to Southern Tanzania. Here Frank decided to break down for the final time.
However, the timing was good. My knee had been given the sufficient rest period and so with even more
re-planning I got back on my original bicycle, Winston, and we completed the final 4,000 km back to Cape Town as we had always intended; all together by pedal power. We finally arrived back into the
Mother City - 501 days after we had taken our first precarious pedal.
OVER 20,000km COVERED. 501 DAYS.
26 DIFFERENT COUNTRIES .