They’re off!

After months of preparation, the Tour d’Afrique 2009 started on January 10, with the first two members of the Lonely Planet relay team – Scott Kennedy and Sharif Rashedi – heading out with the other riders from the start-line in Cairo. Ahead of them: about 20 days of riding and 2000km of desert road, as they make their way to Khartoum, the end of Stage 1 and start of Stage 2.

And that’s where I come in. My name is David Else. I’m the author of about 30 Lonely Planet guidebooks – including several on Africa – and I’m riding the next stage of the relay for Team Lonely Planet with my colleague Quentin Frayne, from LP’s Melbourne office. In a couple of weeks we’ll be flying (Quentin from Australia, me from the UK) into Khartoum, ready for Scott and Sharif to hand over the baton. Then it’s our turn to keep cycling south through Africa, aiming for Addis Ababa.

And as it’s the middle of winter here in Britain, I must say I’m looking forward to seeing some sunshine. I’ve been going out on training rides for the past couple of months, but rain, snow and icy winds are not always conducive to enjoyment.

The training is not very scientific. It involves a fast ride every Saturday morning and another longer ride about once per week. I started in October, doing about 80km in a day, then increased the distance slightly each time, until about 120km or 130km was comfortable. On Boxing Day, I burnt off the Christmas calories (or kilojoules) with a 150km ride around Salisbury Plain. It was dry, but very cold, and all the while I was thinking ‘only a month until I’m in Africa…’

And now it’s about 18 days to go. My bike has been serviced, and I’ve got a dozen spare inner-tubes ready to pack. Fitness-wise I feel prepared for the distance, although the heat and gravel road conditions are an unknown factor. Not to mention the altitude as we pedal through the Ethiopian Highlands. But at least I won’t have to worry about Arctic gales.

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