The Final Turn of the Pedal

 

Ethan and Xiao Bar cross the line

Ethan and Xiao Bar cross the line

 

 

As I write, heavy early-afternoon clouds have just obscured Cape Town’s Table Mountain. After two brilliant days of sunshine, the threat of rain is very real. If indeed it showers, the drops will be the first I’ve encountered since I left Windhoek more than two weeks ago. (All in all, the Tour d’Afrique has been very lucky this year, especially during the stretch in South Africa, where cold and wet are seasonally appropriate.) But even if there is rain, it won’t matter. I’m no longer in the saddle and don’t yet miss it. Yes, as suddenly as it began, the Tour d’Afrique 2009 has rolled to its finale, a long long long road from its first day in Cairo.

Picking up the saga where I left off on the Namibian-South African border, after a welcome day of rest, the group crossed into the Tour’s final country and then spent six consecutive days doggedly ticking off the remaining 750km to Cape Town.

At first the land was much like what we’d experienced in Namibia — vast stretches of relatively arid emptiness. I don’t know why I imagined crossing to South Africa would suddenly usher in a change in terrain. Wishful thinking, I guess, especially after the nerve-rattling pummeling over dirt and gravel in Namibia. I confess that the continued monotony was a bit disappointing, but at least there were a few more towns along the way, most with more services (especially Wimpy fast food restaurants). And, hallelujah, we were pedalling on pavement, a fabulous relief!

Of course, there were still plenty of challenges: long days (an average of 125km per day), long slow climbs, unremitting rolling hills, a chilly night of frost, several early mornings of thick drenching mist, 70km more on enough-already corrugated gravel roads and, for the final two days, sapping head winds. In fact, as several people commented, there was just never an easy day. Some combination of factors always brought with each new sunrise a new promise of tough trials.

But Xiao Biar and I endured. As everyone did, with growing determination, especially the EFI riders, their target inching tauntingly closer each day, road signs counting down the distance to Cape Town.

And then, on Saturday 9 May, on a brilliantly sunny and warm afternoon, all the riders converged on a beachside assembly point just 30km from the finish. Table Mountain — could it be the world’s biggest finish line — beckoned in the near distance, adding to a sense of growing excitement that, believe it or not, after four months and almost 12,000 kilometres, the Tour really was almost over.

Two by two in a 70-rider police-led convoy, we then rolled without mishap to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront and a thundering, triumphant welcome. The music of local minstrels could barely be heard over the roar of (sometimes teary) well-wishers gathered to celebrate epic determination. A public ceremony ensued — medals presented by Cape Town’s acting executive to riders who had started in Cairo, special honours showered on the race winners (all from South Africa!), Tour d’Afrique Foundation presentations of bikes to local charities — and then… and then…

Finisher's photocall

And then the Tour d’Afrique actually really was over. Just like that. I was only involved for 1750km and two weeks and my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction was huge. I can only imagine what the riders who’d been on the road the whole way felt, many showered with accolades from friends and family who flew in from all over the world. All the hardship, the physical discomfort,  the mental knocks, the healing wounds — all of it suddenly a memory, a fabulous and enduring memory.

That evening — which lasted well into the next day’s early morning — riders, staff, family and guests enjoyed one final Tour dinner. More awards, more recognition and a slide show drummed home the grand qualities of what the Tour riders had undertaken together, had supported one another through, had come together around. It also made me realise just how much I had missed.

But I am honoured (and a little humbled) to have been a part of it for the short time I was, to have been one of two to carry the Lonely Planet jersey across the finish line. I just hope I did justice to the strength of will and thigh of all who participated, as well as the vision of the man who enabled us to join this great adventure. 

So, to all of you — the Lonely Planet riders (Scott and Sharif who went from Cairo to Khartoum, David E and Quentin who slogged from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, Jim and Carlo who conquered the ‘roads’ between Addis Ababa and Nairobi, Martin and Rana who loved Nairobi to Iringa so much they stayed on with Tony and Fiona from Iringa to Lilongwe, Nate and David N who took on Lilongwe to Victoria Falls, and Tom and Mara who after Vic Falls to Windhoek passed the baton to me and Xiao), the other riders and the staff — congratulations and many many thanks.

Who knows where next we may find our wheels spinning. Silk Roads 2010 anyone?

~ Ethan Gelber

The Final Turn of the Pedal
As I write, heavy early-afternoon clouds have just obscured Cape Town’s Table Mountain. After two brilliant days of sunshine, the threat of rain is very real. If indeed it showers, the drops will be the first I’ve encountered since I left Windhoek more than two weeks ago. (All in all, the Tour d’Afrique has been very lucky this year, especially during the stretch in South Africa, where cold and wet are seasonally appropriate.) But even if there is rain, it won’t matter. I’m no longer in the saddle and don’t yet miss it. Yes, as suddenly as it began, the Tour d’Afrique 2009 has rolled to its finale, a long long long road from its first day in Cairo.
Picking up the saga where I left off on the Namibian-South African border, after a welcome day of rest, the group crossed into the Tour’s final country and then spent six consecutive days doggedly ticking off the remaining 750km to Cape Town.
At first the land was much like what we’d experienced in Namibia — vast stretches of relatively arid emptiness. I don’t know why I imagined crossing to South Africa would suddenly usher in a change in terrain. Wishful thinking, I guess, especially after the nerve-rattling pummeling over dirt and gravel in Namibia. I confess that the continued monotony was a bit disappointing, but at least there were a few more towns along the way, most with more services (especially Wimpy fast food restaurants). And, hallelujah, we were pedalling on pavement, a fabulous relief!
Of course, there were still plenty of challenges: long days (an average of 125km per day), long slow climbs, unremitting rolling hills, a chilly night of frost, several early mornings of thick drenching mist, 70km more on enough-already corrugated gravel roads and, for the final two days, sapping head winds. In fact, as several people commented, there was just never an easy day. Some combination of factors always brought with each new sunrise a new promise of tough trials.
But Xiao Biar and I endured. As everyone did, with growing determination, especially the EFI riders, their target inching tauntingly closer each day, road signs counting down the distance to Cape Town.
And then, on Saturday 9 May, on a brilliantly sunny and warm afternoon, all the riders converged on a beachside assembly point just 30km from the finish. Table Mountain — could it be the world’s biggest finish line — beckoned in the near distance, adding to a sense of growing excitement that, believe it or not, after four months and almost 12,000 kilometres, the Tour really was almost over.
Two by two in a 70-rider police-led convoy, we then rolled without mishap to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront and a thundering, triumphant welcome. The music of local minstrels could barely be heard over the roar of (sometimes teary) well-wishers gathered to celebrate epic determination. A public ceremony ensued — medals presented by Cape Town’s acting executive to riders who had started in Cairo, special honours showered on the race winners (all from South Africa!), Tour d’Afrique Foundation presentations of bikes to local charities — and then… and then…
And then the Tour d’Afrique actually really was over. Just like that. I was only involved for 1750km and two weeks and my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction was huge. I can only imagine what the riders who’d been on the road the whole way felt, many showered with accolades from friends and family who flew in from all over the world. All the hardship, the physical discomfort,  the mental knocks, the healing wounds — all of it suddenly a memory, a fabulous and enduring memory.
That evening — which lasted well into the next day’s early morning — riders, staff, family and guests enjoyed one final Tour dinner. More awards, more recognition and a slide show drummed home the grand qualities of what the Tour riders had undertaken together, had supported one another through, had come together around. It also made me realise just how much I had missed.
But I am honoured (and a little humbled) to have been a part of it for the short time I was, to have been one of two to carry the Lonely Planet jersey across the finish line. I just hope I did justice to the strength of will and thigh of all who participated, as well as the vision of the man who enabled us to join this great adventure. 
So, to all of you — the Lonely Planet riders (Scott and Sharif who went from Cairo to Khartoum, David E and Quentin who slogged from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, Jim and Carlo who conquered the ‘roads’ between Addis Ababa and Nairobi, Martin and Rana who loved Nairobi to Iringa so much they stayed on with Tony and Fiona from Iringa to Lilongwe, Nate and David N who took on Lilongwe to Victoria Falls, and Tom and Mara who after Vic Falls to Windhoek passed the baton to me and Xiao), the other riders and the staff — congratulations and many many thanks.
Who knows where next we may find our wheels spinning. Silk Roads 2010 anyone?As I write, heavy early-afternoon clouds have just obscured Cape Town’s Table Mountain. After two brilliant days of sunshine, the threat of rain is very real. If indeed it showers, the drops will be the first I’ve encountered since I left Windhoek more than two weeks ago. (All in all, the Tour d’Afrique has been very lucky this year, especially during the stretch in South Africa, where cold and wet are seasonally appropriate.) But even if there is rain, it won’t matter. I’m no longer in the saddle and don’t yet miss it. Yes, as suddenly as it began, the Tour d’Afrique 2009 has rolled to its finale, a long long long road from its first day in Cairo. Picking up the saga where I left off on the Namibian-South African border, after a welcome day of rest, the group crossed into the Tour’s final country and then spent six consecutive days doggedly ticking off the remaining 750km to Cape Town. At first the land was much like what we’d experienced in Namibia — vast stretches of relatively arid emptiness. I don’t know why I imagined crossing to South Africa would suddenly usher in a change in terrain. Wishful thinking, I guess, especially after the nerve-rattling pummeling over dirt and gravel in Namibia. I confess that the continued monotony was a bit disappointing, but at least there were a few more towns along the way, most with more services (especially Wimpy fast food restaurants). And, hallelujah, we were pedalling on pavement, a fabulous relief! Of course, there were still plenty of challenges: long days (an average of 125km per day), long slow climbs, unremitting rolling hills, a chilly night of frost, several early mornings of thick drenching mist, 70km more on enough-already corrugated gravel roads and, for the final two days, sapping head winds. In fact, as several people commented, there was just never an easy day. Some combination of factors always brought with each new sunrise a new promise of tough trials. But Xiao Biar and I endured. As everyone did, with growing determination, especially the EFI riders, their target inching tauntingly closer each day, road signs counting down the distance to Cape Town. And then, on Saturday 9 May, on a brilliantly sunny and warm afternoon, all the riders converged on a beachside assembly point just 30km from the finish. Table Mountain — could it be the world’s biggest finish line — beckoned in the near distance, adding to a sense of growing excitement that, believe it or not, after four months and almost 12,000 kilometres, the Tour really was almost over. Two by two in a 70-rider police-led convoy, we then rolled without mishap to Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront and a thundering, triumphant welcome. The music of local minstrels could barely be heard over the roar of (sometimes teary) well-wishers gathered to celebrate epic determination. A public ceremony ensued — medals presented by Cape Town’s acting executive to riders who had started in Cairo, special honours showered on the race winners (all from South Africa!), Tour d’Afrique Foundation presentations of bikes to local charities — and then… and then… And then the Tour d’Afrique actually really was over. Just like that. I was only involved for 1750km and two weeks and my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction was huge. I can only imagine what the riders who’d been on the road the whole way felt, many showered with accolades from friends and family who flew in from all over the world. All the hardship, the physical discomfort,  the mental knocks, the healing wounds — all of it suddenly a memory, a fabulous and enduring memory. That evening — which lasted well into the next day’s early morning — riders, staff, family and guests enjoyed one final Tour dinner. More awards, more recognition and a slide show drummed home the grand qualities of what the Tour riders had undertaken together, had supported one another through, had come together around. It also made me realise just how much I had missed. But I am honoured (and a little humbled) to have been a part of it for the short time I was, to have been one of two to carry the Lonely Planet jersey across the finish line. I just hope I did justice to the strength of will and thigh of all who participated, as well as the vision of the man who enabled us to join this great adventure.    So, to all of you — the Lonely Planet riders (Scott and Sharif who went from Cairo to Khartoum, David E and Quentin who slogged from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, Jim and Carlo who conquered the ‘roads’ between Addis Ababa and Nairobi, Martin and Rana who loved Nairobi to Iringa so much they stayed on with Tony and Fiona from Iringa to Lilongwe, Nate and David N who took on Lilongwe to Victoria Falls, and Tom and Mara who after Vic Falls to Windhoek passed the baton to me and Xiao), the other riders and the staff — congratulations and many many thanks. Who knows where next we may find our wheels spinning. Silk Roads 2010 anyone? ~ Ethan Gelber

Arrivée

 

Dawn in Namibia

As the Tour d’Afrique arrive s in Cape Town at the end of its four-month trans-continental journey everyone’s in a reflective mood. Here are a couple of quotes that sum it up from us:

“I’m beachside in Montezuma, Costa Rica but definitely wishing I could be riding in to Cape Town tomorrow at the finish of this year’s Tour d’Afrique.

 At the risk of becoming very repetitive I want to say – once again! – what a great trip it was. I wanted to put together a team that reflected the diversity of Lonely Planet – our authors, our different offices, our overseas partners – and I think we did that and then some.

The Tour d’Afrique is the perfect LP adventure and I am sure all 16 of our riders had a great time, I know I did. If I could have fitted it into my schedule I’d have kept on pedalling from Lilongwe. I rode out for the first 10km of that next stage and it was really painful to have to turn back.

Equally important we fitted in really well with the other riders and added some fresh flavour on each section. Just when the ‘all the way’ riders were getting tired of the same old faces a couple of new LP riders would turn up.”

~ Tony Wheeler

 

“What an incredible adventure, although I was only present for 1700 kilometres, I am proud to have carried across the Finish Line the powerful impressions and well wishes of all 16 Lonely Planet participants, all wishing they could have tackled more than they did.” 

~ Ethan Gelber

The Deep End

 

The Tour d’Afrique has reached the Namibian-South African border. After eight days on the road from Windhoek, Namibia, seven of them in the saddle, the rolling parade has covered just about 1000km of this final section, of which only 165km were not on gravel. Yes, that’s more than 850km of gravel.

It’s been very hard for me. I wasn’t in tiptop form to begin with, certainly not for the distances we have covered — the shortest day thus far was 108km, the longest 176km, an average of about 145km — but the added difficulty of epic stretches of poor road surface, which I’m neither very familiar with nor very good at, has really put me out of my element. There have of course been superb runs on unpaved roads that might as well be tarmac, but for the most part the corrugations, sand patches and vigilance required to choose a line that doesn’t run you into peril have been tough. In fact, on the two hardest days (also long ones), overall progress was at times slowed to as little as 12kph (especially when there was a head wind). And overall average speeds of 16-20kph meant that 150km took 7-9 nine hours to complete, not including rest stops.

All in all, the general consensus is that Xiaobiar and I were flung unceremoniously into the deep end, that we have been stuck with the hardest introduction to any new section of the tour. They’re not the hardest days — those honors apparently belong to the brutal roads of northern Kenya — but they certainly have left people smarting.
That being said, all seven days since Windhoek have been spectacular. Despite the relentlessness of the terrain, we’ve all been left awed by the landscape — remarkably similar to the Southwest of the US, complete with Fish River Canyon, second only to the Grand Canyon in size. We’ve also been stunned by the vast emptiness. Apparently Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries on the planet. We’ve certainly seen (or not seen, as it were) proof of that. Days and days of… nothing. Few people. Almost no towns. Bush as far as the eye can see. And that’s even when we weren’t right up against the edges of the Namib Desert, a tiny piece of which we enjoyed when on a visit to Sosuvlei.
Personally, it’s been balm for the soul: no email, no work pressure, no lurking deadlines, no late nights before the computer. I’m actually thrilled to have (temporarily) put that behind me. Then again, the physical and emotional pressures of the ride grind have been considerable. My body is exhausted, my mind desperate for a day of nothing but family and friends. Recurring cycling ailments have come back in full force: my fingers are numb from the jarring gravel roads, my Achilles is acting up, I am about as saddle sore as I’ve even been.
But, as the others who have been part of this trip since Cairo, covered almost 11,000km in 3.5 months, I’ll suck up the pain and discomfort and plod through the final 750km to Cape Town. After all, there’s something surpassingly noble about long bike rides. That’s why we’re all here.
Ethan Gelber

One Stage to Go

News just in:  LP’s Travel Editor Tom Hall and author Mara Vorhees have fininshed their stage of the Tour d’Afrique through Botswana and Namibia. They reached Windhoek, capital of Namibia, after some long and hard rides on the long and straight roads through the Kalahari.

namibia

Mara emailed to say:   Hello from windy Windhoek.  Tom and I finished today amidst thunder and lightning and rain and hail… This is not what I expected from the Kalahari…

Well done Tom and Mara. There’s now just one stage to go, from Windhoek down to Cape Town, and tomorrow Tom and Mara hand over the virtual baton to Lonely PLanet team-mates Ethan Gelber and Xiao Biar.

Look out for updates here on this blog as Ethan and Xiao pedal towards the finish line at the tip of the continent.

 

~ David Else

Windhoek Bound

Tom and Mara have crossed the border, leaving behind Botswana and now heading through Namibia with the rest of the Tour d’Afrique riders. Tom reports that the Namibian landscape seems even emptier, drier and hotter than Botswana, with the  long straight roads so characteristic of this part of Africa.

longroad

Yesterday was the longest day of the entire Tour d’Afrique: 207km. The group started at dawn, and some got into camp way after dark. Tom reports that he “started at the front of the peleton, then went to the back, then was dragged along in the slipstream for half an hour, then felt strong near the end and was pretty much first home”. Mara is also going well, cruising through the miles with EFI status firmly intact.

(EFI stands for Every Fabulous Inch – insert your preferred alternative for the ‘F’ – and is for riders who pedal the whole way.)

The next two days are both 160km (100 miles) and bring the riders into Windhoek, the end of this stage of the Tour, where Tom and Mara will meet Ethan and Xaio, the last two members of the Lonely Planet relay team, who then ride on to the finish line at Cape Town. The end is in sight…

~David Else

Wild life on the road

After the rest day in Maun, Lonely Planet’s two riders, travel editor Tom Hall and author Mara Vorhees, are continuing through Botswana and Namibia on their way to Windhoek. As well as elephants, recent wildlife encounters included an unexpectedly large anteater. 

 anteater

 

 

More updates will follow soon. So today’s post is an opportunity to recall Tom’s little adventure of a few days ago. This time in Tom’s own words:

 

The Elephant Highway stage of the Tour d’Afrique is famous for two things: our two-tusked friends and long days in the saddle. But why stop at 150km, when 300km sounds far more fulfilling?

 

My fourth day riding the Tour had been, like others before it, tough but thrilling. Once again I was getting a huge kick out of  riding, sometimes in groups or pairs and sometimes alone, pinching myself that I was on two wheels speeding (sometimes) through the Botswana grasslands and salt-pans.  

 

So much was I enjoying the day that when I stopped at a refreshment fill-up I forgot how to ride my bike and fell over, grazing my knee like a schoolboy in a football match. This mildly painful incident occupied my mind for the next 25km, by which point I began to consider that I may have ridden, assisted by a hefty tail-wind, right past our bush-camp for the night.

 

It was at this point that the odd part of the human brain which defies common sense spoke up. ‘We’re going to Maun then. It’s only another 130km. There is a swimming pool there.’ And on I went, aiming for Maun. Thirty minutes later, I hit a giant pothole and blew out both tyres. An hour on, I found a little shack selling cold drinks that no other rider found. It may have been a divine intervention.

 

Thirty kilometers from Maun I got another puncture and, exhausted after nine hours in the saddle and the searing heat, stuck my arm out as a truck went past. Astonishingly, it skidded to a halt and the driver gestured for me to climb in. I soon reached the verdant oasis of our hotel and met the four other riders who’d (intentionally) done the double day.

 

Unbeknown to me, the lack of mobile phone reception meant my “I am going on to Maun” message hadn’t got through to the Tour d’Afrique camp. I am now buying several beers for the guys in the support crew who were chasing after me in the truck almost all the way to Maun.

 

But like everything on the Tour, easy-going bonhomie covers a multitude of sins and when the other riders arrived I was greeted like the runaway fool I was and have enjoyed a day of gentle ribbing. Naturally, I am accused of being colour blind (missing a multitude of pink ribbon flagging the camp) and working for a company called ‘What planet am I on?’…

 

~Tom Hall

 

 

 

 

 

Tom on a Mission!

Latest update from the Tour d’Afrique in Botswana:

LP’s hardy travel editor Tom Hall was enjoying the ride so much yesterday he somehow missed the camp spot, and just kept on cycling down the Elephant Highway.

elephant-highway

 

After doing another 80km or so (on top of the day’s 160km) Tom realised something was wrong, but decided going on was better than turning back. He managed to phone someone in the UK who in turn phoned the Tour d’Afrique base in Canada, but they couldn’t get a message to the Tour d’Afrique support truck. In the end, the truck chased Tom nearly all the way to Maun, the end of the NEXT day’s ride.

 

So Tom, by accident, has combined two days in one – a total of 270km. A good ride, and impressive under usual circumstances, although in this case (in Tom’s own words) his little endurance exploit ‘caused a bit of a stink’.

 

Still, at least Tom will enjoy the rest day tomorrow…