Is it a Race or an Expedition?
Both! Ive been told about 20% of participants are endurance athletes who will be racing, 60% are in great shape and will try to cycle the whole route, and the remaining 20% are slightly more interested in taking their time, chatting with locals etc. I’m aiming to fall in the bottom of the 60% (that may be slightly ambitious given my limited training however).
Who organizes the Tour d’Afrique?
The Tour d’Afrique is a non-profit organization based in Toronto. They organize similar expeditions on other continents. Staff members are avid cyclists, outdoor enthusiasts, travelers, humanitarians, and adventurers.
What support is offered on the tour?
The company will have four support vehicles including a food/water truck and one to transport my baggage from campsite to campsite. Cooks will prepare all meals. Bike mechanics will be available for more serious repairs (we are responsible for flats, adjusting brakes, cleaning chains etc). In addition to a nurse who has been on the tour before, we will have a doctor on staff this year. The remaining staff provide logistical support.
What is the typical day like?
A typical riding day begins at 7:30 AM. By then, I will have packed my tent and gear, had breakfast, filled my water bottles, and readied my bike. Just past or around the half way point each day (biking days vary from 60km on rough country road to 200km on paved roads with wind in your back) the lunch truck will be awaiting my arrival with sandwiches, fruit and drinks. After a brief lunch, I will be on my way to the campsite where a warm soup awaits. After the soup is time to put up my tent, clean up (assuming there is water), do some basic bike maintenance, and get ready for dinner and the next day. Depending on how fast I cycle, I will have plenty of opportunity to explore nearby villages, lakes, mountains etc.
What about baggage?
I am allowed to bring two 90L duffle bags with a combined weight of 100lbs. For a detailed list of my gear see The Gear page.
Where do we sleep?
On the Tour d’Afrique we will be sleeping in a combination of campgrounds and bush camps. Camping is mostly in organized campgrounds, but on about 1/3 of the nights it will simply be a bush camp alongside the route. These bush camps often do not have any facilities for washing, and water, other than drinking water, may be carefully rationed, especially in desert areas. The campgrounds will typically be on the outskirts of towns and cities along our route. On rest days we are often camped in or near larger cities where water, tourist attractions and shops are readily available. Apparently there are many opportunities along the route to stay in a basic hotel.
How did I train?
I am in decent shape (ie I tend to go to the gym on a regular basis, with a 1/2 hour run and 1/2 hour of weights while I’m there). I biked often in the summer and early fall, though my longest ride (ever) was 80km (about 40km short of an average day on the tour). That being said, I didn’t do any exercise for the months of September and October 2011. In November, I did about 15 classes of hot yoga. In December, I finally started spin classes. These have been completely miserable and a rude wake up call. After 10 classes though i have seen some definite progress. I am aiming to do 10 more before I leave. My goal in these spin classes is to build leg muscle, improve endurance, and prepare my bum for sitting in a saddle all day. Clearly, I am grossly underprepared (physically at least).
What kind of bike am I bringing?
There is no one style of bike that is perfectly suited to this tour, but there are several that do the job well. A traditional road bike is not ideal as there will be lengthy and tough off road sections. Nor is a full suspension mountain bike which will be both relatively slow and energy consuming on pavement. Bikes have to be simple and durable as spare parts are hard to come by in Africa. A steel frame is preferred (if not steel then aluminum),
I chose a Specialized Tricross. Cyclo-cross bikes are the second most popular choice among participants. It has an aluminum frame, carbon posts and 27 gears (for the mountains in Ethiopia). It combines the ruggedness of a mountain bike, with the speed and design of a road bike. With slick tires these bikes are fast on the good roads. While they do accommodate wider off road tires, the rougher off-road sections will be seriously challenging. For these, I purchased a $200 suspension seat post online ($300 at the bike stores) and extra thick bar tape. I have 3 sets of tires: one that is all-purpose (came with the bike), one that is rugged for the worst “roads” and one that is slicker for the better roads. For a detailed list of my gear including brands and spare parts (I put a LOT of time into researching what to bring) see The Gear page.
Will I have time to enjoy some of the exotic places along the route?
Absolutely! The tour has been designed to enable riders to explore some of the most fascinating places in the world on their rest days. And since the average biking day will be five to seven hours, there will often be plenty of time to explore the local environment on riding days as well.
Some of the highlights include:
-the Pyramids of Giza
-Luxor, Egypt, the site of Karnak Temple, and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens
-King Fasilides 17th century castle in Gondar, Ethiopia
-3 rest days at Arusha, Tanzania enable riders to take a safari to Ngorogoro Crater and the Serengeti
-Lake Malawi in the Rift Valley, source for many of the world’s aquarium fish
-Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River at the Zambia/Zimbabwe border
-The Okavango delta near Maun, Botswana
-Namibia’s inland Dune Sea and Fish River Canyon
-Table Mountain overlooking beautiful Cape Town, South Africa
-The desert oasis town of Dongola, Sudan
-Ethiopian Orthodox Church Monasteries on the islands of Lake Tana, near Bahir Dar
-The remote market town of Marsabit, Kenya, set on top of an ancient volcano
-The verdant landscapes of central Tanzania and the Masai Steppe
-An evening’s cruise on the Chobe river past herds of elephants and other wildlife, at Kasane, Botswana
What are the risks?
On every tour, the major problems include:
-collisions (with cars, bikes or pedestrians) resulting in broken bones, cuts, sprains, concussions etc
-repetitive strain injuries including nerve damage and foot problems
-heat exhaustion and dehydration
-digestive issues, particularly in Ethiopia
-insect bites, ranging from minor annoyances to malaria