One Eye On The Road, One Through The Lens - A Cycle Ride From Cairo To Cape Town - Chris Evans - Friday 4th February 2011
Reporter: Ernie Metcalfe
I was very pleased to introduce Chris Evans who has been a friend of the family for many years and to give the vote of thanks. As Chris quickly explained this was no mere bike ride, but a feat of physical and mental endurance lasting 120 days. The bare facts are that 35 people (29 men and 6 women) left Cairo in January 2003 to cycle to Cape Town on the first 'Tour d'Afrique' in an attempt to get into the Guiness Book of Records. The oldest competitor was 64 and the youngest was 21. The distance was 11,000 kms (6875 miles) on a mixture of dirt, sand and metalled roads, through ten countries with a total of over 500 hours in the saddle. Temperatures varied from 51°C in the Sudan to -6°C in South Africa.
It sounds daunting enough when put like that. Those of us lucky enough to see the slides and hear the description soon realised just how tough it was.
Chris told us he had always loved adventure and photography and the prospect of this ride offered both. The downside was that it was self-financed and required months of preparation. This was not helped both before and on the ride by constant squabbling amongst the organisers. As this was a first there was little advice about equipment, clothing, food etc. So there was a great variety of cycles, gear and camping equipment - all self provided.
The route from Cairo was south through Egypt into the Sudan where many villages were deserted, but where there was a warm welcome when people were met. Then, in contrast, came Ethiopia with the most hostile and aggressive people and the most awkward customs officials. Next was Kenya with probably the worst roads and then into Tanzania. From there it was into Malawi before crossing briefly into Mozambique, and then Zimbabwe where, much to their surprise, they were left alone by the officials and police. Next was Botswana with precautions against foot and mouth disease and finally South Africa and once again good roads.
The ride was accompanied by first one and then later two support vehicles. A typical day would be to pack up camp, have breakfast from the support vehicle (invariably porridge), and set out on the road as soon as possible, usually in small groups, following the directions given. These were often no more than short notes written on the side of the support vehicle. There were no proper maps and at one point in the Sudan the guidance was 'keep the Nile on your right' and you're going the right way. If by chance you cross the Nile and it is still on the right, you are on your way back to Cairo! The support vehicle went ahead and stopped about 2/3rds along the day's designated ride to provide lunch and a welcome rest break. Then it continued to the camp site. Camping together was essential for security reasons and to be fed from the support vehicle. Though riders were free to scrounge whatever food or water they could along the way.
The campsites provided some interesting experiences. In Egypt the tourist authorities insisted on them using pre-designated campsites with armed guards. This resulted in some uneven cycling distances with the longest ride of the whole expedition being 115 miles on the second day.
In Kenya they woke up one morning to find the campsite littered with elephant dung. A Ranger surmised that a herd had passed through in the night, possibly even stepping over some of the tents. But more irritating were the fire ants which could bite through groundsheets to get at you.
The only place where there was any real pilfering was in Malawi where a bicycle was stolen. However after a big fuss and the passing of a little money the bike was soon returned.
On the ride itself each rider was responsible for his/her own welfare including route finding. Though riders, more often than not, would be in small groups hoping the one in front knew where he was going. There was also a small truck to pick up stragglers who could be as much as four hours behind the leaders. At times the food and water supply was inadequate, so again self-help was necessary. A nurse was on hand to help with the scrapes and falls and the inevitable tummy troubles. Riding in the support vehicles was available for the sick and injured, but to get into the Record Book the whole journey had to be ridden. This was the final incentive when the going was toughest.
Eventually Cape Town came as a real relief from all the aches, pains and saddle sores. Chris was one of the nine who finished the full ride and made it into the Guiness Book of Records. Well done! You deserve to be there.
There were about twenty Ski Club members present to hear a fascinating talk about a real adventure. This was illustrated by some exceptional portrait photography of local people and stunning scenery, accompanied at times by African music and rhythms. Those who stayed at home missed a very good evening.