Thursday, May 26, 2011

TDA 2011 - Final thoughts

I made it! With no previous cycling experience, I participated and completed the Tour d’Afrique – cycling from Cairo to Cape Town covering just less than 12,000km over 4 months. To give a very short summery of the trip, over 120 days, cyclist basically have to complete 95 Argus rides with 25 rest days in-between covering 10 African countries over all various terrains.

I have never really traveled too much in Africa, so this was the idea trip to realize this goal of mine. What better way to experience the sights
and sounds of Africa on a bicycle. And what an experience it was! Some things that stood out for me in the countries was the pyramids and old history in Egypt, with the Nile which really is the life support of that country, to the surprisingly very pleasant Sudan, with the most hospitable people that you will ever meet and also the most extreme hot conditions. Then onto Ethiopia with beautiful scenic rides (the most hills by far of all of the countries) and (unfortunately) the rock throwing kids adding a lot of adventure and frustration for the riders. Then onto Kenya and Tanzania with some excellent but very challenging off road sections (still not sure how that one stretch in Northern Kenya can be classified as a road, it is literally just lava rocks in the middle of nowhere). Both countries were very similar in scenery and also visiting the Ngorongoro Crater was a highlight of the trip. Then heading into more familiar territory, cycling in Southern Africa, onto Malawi along the lake and then to the “real Africa” as the locals call it, Zambia. Seeing Vic Falls from a helicopter ride was another highlight. Crossing over Kasane we headed onto the elephant highway, where in the place of cows etc, elephants walk along this stretch of road. A plane ride across the Okavango Delta really gave one an impression of how vast and majestic this piece of land is. And then onto a lot of the rider’s favorite section, Namibia, which to me already felt a bit like home. Cycling through this country that changes so much in scenery (all stunning and I probably got my best pictures here), on very good off roads and also passing by Sossusvlei. The South African section was the shortest of all of the countries, where we cycled along the west coast towards Cape Town.

My own experiences
It is such an amazing journey, challenging you physically and emotionally, and certainly the toughest task that I have undertaken too date. With no previous cycling experience at all (furthest I cycled before this was back in my youth days to and from school) and on this trip having to cycle an average 125km a day on any terrain imaginable and in any weather condition you can think of (besides snow), the trip really does take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions all cramped up in 4 months. From the highs of seeing all this stunning natural scenery, seeing my continent first hand and meeting these incredible people to the lows of having to cycle every day even when your body aches and you are very sick, to missing family and friends and just being mentally and physically tired and drained. But to cross that finish line in Cape Town, with all those riders that you shared this journey with, your family and friends that have supported you through this journey, waiting there for you, is a truly amazing experience and I still get goose bumps if I think about it. For me, the trip also had special meaning, as I was returning to SA to live and work here after a 5 years overseas stint, so in my mind, when I was starting this trip, I was cycling back home.

Anyone can do it
Theme for this trip for me was “dream it, plan it and live it”. I believe there are a lot of people out there that want to do something adventurous. It might not be on this scale, it may be less (or even more). But take that step, do not just dream it. Plan it as well and live life to the fullest. Enjoy the moment. And you can do a lot more than you think you actually can.

In summery, would I do the trip ever again? No. But was this trip the adventure of a lifetime, then a definite “Yes”!!!!!! I leave you with this final thought, anything is possible, just trust God and believe in yourself.


Victory pose - I did one at the pyramids and now one at Table Mountain (which you cannot see becasue of the fog)

TDA 2011 - South Africa

9 May  2011 – Felix Unite to Springbok (crossing border) – 133km
What a surreal feeling, crossing the border into SA after 12km in the morning! It feels surreal and even as I am writing this, the feeling has not sunk in yet! Finally, back home, back in my country.  The ride was very chilled and I was just trying to capture the moment, let it sink in and enjoy it, even though the scenery there was nothing really to see. I was seeing things my in mind, replaying where we have been, crossing countries borders etc… It as always one of my highlights of the trip, crossing over into a new country. It was also pretty special, as we were now going to my mother’s town where she was born and spend most of her childhood. The best moment of the day came when I crossed the border and I could actually start making some phone calls from my phone, not having to pay an exuberant amount of money to make it. When we got into town at the camp site, I had to go make a stop at the biltong shop, stocking up on some much needed “good stuff”.  Still have to watch what I am eating, still going crazy on the food and sweets. Martin had to help me with my back wheel again, as I needed to replace spokes again. The back wheel probably needs a complete overhaul, but will just have to wait until the trip is over. For now it just has to make it to Cape Town.

Saffa's just after the border from Namibia into sunny SA  

10 May 2011 – Springbok to Garies – 117km
General observation – the area around here is a lot more hilly and mountainous than I thought, I was expecting these long flat stretches. We woke up to a very cold morning (not since Egypt has it been this cold), everyone was on warm clothes and leg warmers – I was using my long cycling shorts for the first time in 3.5 months again! There was a lot of fog in the morning, and it was a pretty weird feeling cycling for the first 20km’s, because you could literally not see further than 10m in front of you. So you just cycle on, going suddenly going faster as you hit a descent, or suddenly go a lot slower, as you cycle on an ascent. There was a lot of hills that we had to cycle, but feeling good on the bike and also being hardened for 4 months on these type of hills, make it very doable. You just hit the granny gear, and then just tap away. Do not look up too much and just get into a good rhythm.  I was one of the first to be in camp, 13:30, which gave me lots of time to set my tent up, relax and also walk around town (although Garies is pretty small and takes 30 minutes then you are through it).  Feeling of getting closer now, closer to Cape Town.  The nice story of the day was that I basically by chance bumped into Jolanda Rust, who is cycling around Africa unaided (respect!). She just started her trip heading up to Namibia, and here we were almost finishing ours. She was looking for accommodation and got told me the locals that a big cycling group just arrived in town and was at the camp site, so she headed there and found the TDA. She immediate asked for me, as she knew I was doing this trip (we were supposed to meet up in JHB before our trips started, but too to time constraints, it never realized) and we had a very good chat. One thing though is her bike is extremely heavy, like in crazy heavy and if she does pull of her trip, she will have legs the size of a tree!

The masked avengar - the morning out of Springbok - very cold and foggy

11 May 2011 – Garies to Strandfontein – 162km  (beach camp)
It was a pretty long day in the saddle. I just dislike everything over 150km. 120km is fine, but after that, it gets long. Even if you average 27km/h, which is quick, covering that distance will still take you a few hours to do and makes for a long day in the saddle.  I said my goodbye to Jolanda in the morning, wishing her well with her journey lying ahead (which will be long and hard). The scenery for the day was not much to see, but rather just a lot of rolling hills (more up than down).  At about 70km on the N7, we turned off onto dirt road (R363) to Strandfontein.  It was a pretty miserable last 30km’s in, there was  a huge head wind and I got a slow puncture, which I was hoping could make it all the way into camp and that I would not need to replace it next to the road (which I hate).  The camp site was stunning, right on a cliff overlooking the beach! Truly one of the best campsites we stayed at, it was just sorry that we could not spend longer time here, as most of the riders came in pretty late due to the tough ride in.  It was also pretty cool while we were cycling when we could see the Atlantic ocean for the first time. It made you realize how far we have come. Also some of the riders braved the cold Atlantic water, including myself and went for a swim (or more a cool down).  This was our last tough ride in. I was slightly annoyed by the fact that we could not buy any liquor in town (they do not have any), we had to buy in the next town that was 7km away – the TDA could not use their common sense and drive to the town and buy some beers and sell it to the riders – especially since the staff were drinking loads of beer while cooking food. And then they made way to little dinner tonight, forcing a lot of riders to eat some of their own biscuits etc. And they also could not use their common sense to take out some break with jam or something and give this to the hungry riders instead!

Saying goodbey to Jolanda

View of Strandfontein - camp site was just overlooking that beach

12 May 2011 – Strandfontein to Elandsbay – 74km (beach camp)
What a relief! I nice short ride in (which I cannot remember when last it was this short).  Most of the day was on dirt, but nothing compared to Namibia or Tanzania. Everyone was in a pretty relaxed mood, and ready for some serious Coke stops at Lambards Bay at 40km out. What else would you want to do in camp so early in any case? It was pretty misty and cool in the morning, but after lunch it cleared up really nicely.  There is a real sense of achievement settling in with the riders, exspeciallyy the racers, it is almost over and then can relax now. Also very funny, more people are smoking now, especially some of the racers, which I found very weird. Patrick, Chris and myself had a great Coke stop at Lambards Bay at this very cool coffee shop, where we had the most divine chocolate cheese cake – a lot of the other TDA riders also stopped here and very soon the place was packed with us (we stayed there for over 2 hours)! It was a very chilled out ride into campo, but one thing I did notice, the longer you hang out and stop at places, the more difficult it is to get yourself to cycle again. Got some very bad news, one of the trucks brakes failed, so trying to turn at a T junction, the truck got flipped onto his head and basically squashed into half of its original size! Luckily nobody was hurt, expect for the bikes that was on the truck, were all damaged beyond repair .It was great getting to the beach camp early, also realizing that we were just 2 days away from the end! I had a incident with one of the Dutch riders (no names) where I actually had to call the guy out and tell him he is behaving like a 18 year old! I just had it with his comments and remarks and even though it was just 2 days out, thought that he should know what a idiot he is and some very silly and rude comments he was making.

Patrick, Christina and Megan at the coffee shop at Lambards Bay

13 May 2011 – Elandsbay to Yzerfontein – 146km
My last almost 150km ride for a while! I really just wanted to get this over and done with. I cycled for most of the day by myself, which gave me some time to reflect upon the journey, what I have seen, where I have been and also that it was almost back to reality and that I needed to get a job! I probably did one of my fastest stretches of the whole trip in the morning, I was flying and cycled all the way through to lunch without stopping (even beating some of the riders there!).  I was in this great mode with the right music playing. After lunch I was a bit slower, but I still got into camp earlier than most of the riders (where I also punched out my racing tag for the last time – yay!). The camp site was very nice, not on the sea, but very close by and also walking distance to some restaurants and the beach. So I headed off for some food and drinks at the shops close by with some of the riders (and also to stack up on my booze for the evening – the cycling was basically over so the celebrations could start).  After the riders meeting where we got all of the details of tomorrow’s big ride in and Chris managed to finish a bottle of wine by himself (and got drunk in the process), we started with the celebrations (and we were also waiting for our last meal, seafood being prepared by Steve).  You could just sense the relief and joy in the camp while everything was a sip or two of their celebration drinks. We later that evening went down to the beach to burn Bastian’s tent as a sacrifice for the trip, although it did not burn the way that I thought it would and it was quite an effort in the end ot get it to actually even burn! I then headed back to the restaurant where Chris and Patrick were having their meals (they do not eat seafood so they went to the restaurant instead).  Chris was pretty drunk at this stage and I was having a few very good laughs with (and at) him! Some people stayed out late, but most of the people were still in bed at 9pm. I was in at around 10pm. I must admit, I though the drinks would be a lot more intense and celebratory ,and in the end, it was a bit of  a let-down. The location made it very difficult – we should have been at a bar from the start which could accommodate so many people.  It was still funny though when some riders bikes got “wheels” and decided to go “walk-a-bout”…….

Last riders meeting - getting all the instructions for the big day tomorrow

14 May 2011 – Yzerfontein to Cape Town – 91km (finally…….)
The final day, the final count down. It was finally here, after 4 months of blood, sweat and tears, the time has come. It was the nicest feeling knowing that I had to put my tent up for the last time (not that I was having problems with it, but just that I was going to be spending the coming nights on a bed).  I was very keen to get going as quick as possible, and hoping big time that my back wheel would hold on for the last 91km. From Bloubergstrand at 61km we were going in a convoy with  the TDA riders and other riders from Cape Town., and if I got a blowout, which there was a good chance of, I would have to cycle with someone else bike in. And I felt my bike at least deserved to go over the finish line with me.  The riders got to the lunch spot at Bloubergstrand and that was where the celebrations had begun, getting lovely platters of cheese, cakes, biscuits and even wine.  I was also interviewed by some guy from Supercyling (the program shown on Supersport). Unfortunately we could not see Table Mountain from our lunch spot, because of all of the fog that was blocking the mountain, but that did not stop the riders celebrations and victory photographs that were being taken (with Robben Island being the preferred backdrop now). Still felt surreal at this stage what was about to happen and that it was almost all over. We met up with the Cape Town cyclist here and then started our cycling towards Eco Park at Green Point Stadium. I was really struggling to keep my excitement in check at this stage. What my last ride go bye quicker was that I cycled with Oom Theo and Johan (Stephanie’s brother) part of the last stretch, so I had some very good company.  I also had some time cycling alone at this stretch, which gave me a chance to reflect back over the last 4 months, where I started and what I had achieved……the auditor from “little” Cayman with no cycling experience just cycled across the African continent!  We met up with a another group of cyclist at 4km out, including some skateboarders etc at the Convention Centre. Then the last stretch I was very glad that it ended with me cycling with Chris, Patrick and Terry into Eco Park. Sharing a few very good laughs and jokes the last km or so. As we cycled in the last km, we got applause from the Cape Town riders that were standing in a queue for us cycling past them, which made me really proud. When I cycled over the finish line, I just raised my hands into the air, saying thanks to God, whom had stayed with during this whole trip. I just cycled in and felt this sense of achievement. It was over. I could not contain myself, and when I saw my mother running over to me, I just threw down my bike, and hugged her for so long and started crying. Then the rest of the family arrived and I had to pull back the tears and give them hugs as well. One of my highlights was of course seeing Stephanie for the first time, after 6 months! Big hugs and kiss, although it felt like I did not know how to kiss anymore (being 4 months on the road will do that to you).  And I told her at that stage, “dis verby” – it is over. I was so appreciative of my family being there, it definitely made the moment more emotional for me, but I also enjoyed it so much more. We then had out medal ceremony, which turned out to be longer than I hoped for, but was still very nice receiving our medals. All of the riders then headed back to the Ritz to pick up our bags, for the last time. Paul Wolfe, who won the race, then by accident, fell of the truck ladder and broke his heel (how ironic, when everything was over and he was EFI and won, this happened).  I then went then with my parents to the place mom had rented out for us for the weekend, which was very nice and good to get away from the whole TDA thing. It was over and I wanted to spend time with my girlfriend and family. We headed to the dinner events at the Waterfront that TDA had arranged, and it was amazing to see a lot of the people now completely clean shaven (Chris looked like another man!).  There was then some awards handed out by the staff, and I got the “almost EFI” award, which I felt was a pretty cool award. They also ran a slideshow covering the whole 4 months of the trip with nice music accompanying the pictures., making us relieve the trip in 6 minutes, But at the end, I was still very glad it was over. 4 months away is a long time and there was still this feeling that I wanted to get back to the real world.

I am still amazed by the whole journey and very glad that I was able to complete it in the end.  I leave you with this final thought, trust in God and believe in yourself, anything is possible. What a trip, a trip filled with memories and emotions all cramped into 4 months.  Would I do it again? No! Did I have the adventure of a lifetime? Yes !!!!(for now J )…….

Last time putting op the tent in the morning

Very happ to be back with Stephanie

Proudly Saffa boytjie

Saffa's getting our medals

With the family