For a group of eighty cyclists, the peleton was unusually quiet as it meandered its way through the Cape Town city limits. The cool fog concealed the summit of Table Mountain and provided pathetic fallacy for the emotional state of these brave adventurers.
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Four months and twelve thousand kilometers ago, they departed from the Great Pyramid of Giza for this epic journey south. In enduring the trials and tribulations of this one hundred and twenty day long expedition, this group of strangers have become family. Together they celebrate their triumphs and encourage each other to overcome the myriad of challenges and obstacles.
Just a few kilometers away is the finish line at which point everyone will have to try to find their way back to the life they lead before arriving in Egypt. For some the conclusion marks a monumental personal achievement and they are overwhelmed with pride. Others are consumed with anxiety as they will soon embrace loved ones and family. But for all there is an unspoken sorrow not knowing when or if they will reunite with the people that they’ve shared these unforgettable experiences with. As hugs are exchanged and tears fall, it is truly a bitter sweet moment masqueraded by marching bands and eruptions of champagne.
The Tour d’Afrique is an annual cycling adventure unparalleled in magnitude. The race/expedition passes through ten African countries; Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Each border crossing is marked by a stark contrast in the language, food, music, clothing, money, vegetation and geology of the previous country. Traveling at the pace of a bicycle facilitates the appreciation for all these changes.
Although it is a race and an expedition, this adventure is not reserved for elite athletes. Since its inception in 2003, participants have ranged in age from nineteen to seventy- five and eighteen different nationalities have been represented. Cycling ability ranges from amateur racers to purely recreational. The supporting infrastructure permits anyone to participate. It is a staged event, where each day the route navigation is explained
and marked. Cyclists need only carry the bare essentials as the support trucks carry all personal equipment and the staff prepares four meals in attempt to satisfy the participants’ insatiable appetites. The international staff consists of not just drivers and cooks, it includes, medics, bike mechanics, logisticians, navigators and communication specialists prepared to deal with any situation that may arise. Owner and company founder, Henry Gold describes it as “Ordinary people doing something extraordinary.”
The route explores the diversity of Africa’s history and wilderness. It visits the monuments and ruins of the ancient cultures of Egypt and provides time to enjoy the modern societies in Lusaka and Cape Town. Participants can retrace the footsteps of Dr. Livingstone or sail to an island monastery on Lake Tana. The desolation and bareness of Kenya’s Dida Galgalu lava rock desert is juxtaposed by the fertile lands and over population of Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. Africa’s big five can be seen from a bakkie in the Ngorongoro Crater, but it’s more exhilarating to pedal past a bull elephant in the savannahs of Botswana. From the scuba diving Mecca on the red sea to the beautiful beaches on the Atlantic in the Western Cape, the highlights are countless.