Cycle ride

Post script

Two months after finishing in Cape Town, although our own productivity levels have tapered off somewhat, a few journalists have taken some interest in our trip and written their own accounts of our journey.

In South African press:

And in the UK:

A word from our sponsors:

And from Chobe National Park:

Our year in pictures

We thought our arrival into Cape Town Waterfront warranted a final blog post, on account of all those who were good enough to be there last Monday and deliver the warm welcome home.

Below are a few photos from our final moments of the trip and beneath that, some which tell the story of how we ended up there.

We’re done with riding for now.

Still friends.

Worth the wait.

And in order to make it to the waterfront:

China: departing on day 1 with 18,000km ahead of us and a lot to learn.

Kyrgyzstan: cold times.

Tajikistan: perhaps the most spectacular riding of the whole trip.

Uzbekistan: early mornings to avoid the heat. And conveniently, the tourists.

Kazakhstan: pleased to be in Aktau (at first), signalling the end of the Central Asian leg.

Georgia: has a lot going for it, and ended up as one of our finest months.

Turkey: a mosque in every town.

Greece: a more relaxed time. With cotton fields and a dash of ouzo…

Egypt: mainly dreadful.

Sudan: the surprise package of the trip. Peaceful days and nights.

Ethiopia: barely a yard of road was ridden without passing someone. A truly frantic country.

Kenya: some youngsters learning the Maasai way of life.

Tanzania: a mixed bag. Some tough riding but a rewarding country.

Zambia: interested locals. The help and hospitality in Zambia was tremendous.

Namibia: long desert stretches and tiring days.

South Africa: tears at our first sighting of Table Mountain, on our penultimate day.

The End

If you sit on a bicycle in western China and ride it for 18,226 km you should eventually end up somewhere near Cape Town in South Africa. And that’s exactly what we did. After 326 days, 17 countries, an inordinate amount of coca-cola and a few hiccups along the way, we rolled into Cape Town Waterfront today on the same bicycles that departed Kashgar in mid-May last year. Bodies and bikes are still in one piece after taking a bit of a hammering over the last eleven months, though crucially, the marriage is still intact.

Our final route.

One of the most frequent questions we’ve encountered over the last few months is what we consider to have been the hardest part of our trip. Without a doubt, the most difficult part of this journey for us was deciding to start it. This required giving up our jobs, forgoing income for a year, locking up our possessions in a warehouse and deciding to sacrifice almost all of our savings; all of which seemed very counter intuitive at this stage of life.

Was it all worth it? Absolutely.

Job done.

Some Thanks…

A few words of thanks are necessary at this point, to the people who have helped make the last year pass as smoothly as it has.

Firstly, to our expedition chief Tom Rock, who has diligently watched over our progress since day one and who has juggled his responsibility of becoming a first-time father with tracking our slow progress during the last year. Excellent work Tom, you can take tomorrow off.

To the several folks who helped provide security information as we approached some of the more dubious countries. Specifically, to Brian Beckett and staff at Plan International, Jon Williamson and the security advisors at BG Group, and to Tim McNeill at MI6. Collectively, you managed to cut a relatively smooth path for us.

Thanks also to the many people who have seen us at various stages along the way, usually providing a much-needed bed, a feed and a drink, including:

Imogen and his family in Osh Guesthouse, for your invaluable help in getting us on our feet and on our way. To Jane and Haydn Johnson for sharing the joys of Istanbul with us and shipping almost an entire bicycle in their suitcase. To our most frequently met companions: Jos and Gary. Tristan, Phillipa & Jamie for a wonderful evening of whiskey and good chat in Nanyuki. To Victor for his invaluable wheel fixing connections. Jon and Jude for the Christmas Fajitas in Nairobi. The superb hospitality and New Year celebrations shared with Claire and Niall in Arusha (and of course our very memorable Crater experience). To Nicky at Kisolanza Farm for transforming an overnight stop into three nights of great food and comfort. Neels and Georg at the Kings Highway for all the information and connections south of Zambia, and to Moses for welcoming us to his family home.

To Colin and Natasha in Lusaka for a weekend of good times (and oddly, shoes). Paul & Irena and all at the Mkushi Country Club, for showing unbelievable levels of hospitality and kindness to two complete strangers. To  Jocasta & Barbara for a weekend of sheer indulgence on the banks of the Zambezi. To Murrae & Miles Godbold for introducing us to the wonders of the Chobe River, and finally, to Duncan and Cath for our stay in Swakopmund and the home-cooked Michelin star cuisine.

The Finish…

Thank you also to all of those that showed up today at Cape Town Waterfront and provided what turned out to be a fitting end to this journey. We appreciate it.

Thanks to you all. Here’s to the next chapter.

Closing in

As we cycled over the Orange River into South Africa, we could immediately sense crossing a frontier into this most famous of African nations; we could almost taste the exquisite wines, almost feel the immense sporting pride and almost hear the frustrations toward an inept government. The more tangible indicator however, was the much welcomed distance marker to Cape Town, which signaled the final of the many mileage countdowns we have entertained ourselves with over the past few months. The tarmac roads of the north were a welcome relief, although the surprisingly tricky hills we could have done without at this stage of the trip. We left the barren north behind and headed for the rugged and beautiful west coast which has delivered us both excellent seafood and sunsets.

There she is…

Sunset over Doringsbay.

We have now climbed our last hill, ridden our last un-tarred road and eaten our final meal of pasta con chicken stock cube – only some of which we will miss. Having spent the last year concerning ourselves with questions of where we will sleep for the night and where our next meal will come from, it’s a little daunting to be re-entering into a world where admission of these two questions will stand you out as a quite incompetent individual. For now though, we have the joys of some pleasant – albeit windy – beach camps to reflect on how exactly we got here.

The Western Cape…toward our finish.


The Fish River Canyon

Namibia’s Fish River has a few unique attributes. Firstly, there is water running down it, which, based on our experience of this country, is a rarity.  Secondly, it lays claim to be Namibia’s longest river, although given the aforementioned observation, doesn’t exactly face stiff competition in this department. The most notable feature of the Fish River however, is the canyon that bears its name.

We had debated up until the final moments of tackling the gravel tracks and unfavourable winds, whether or not it was all going to be worth the effort. Though thankfully upon arrival, the Fish River Canyon did not disappoint. Although playing second fiddle to the Grand Canyon of Arizona in terms of scale (a fact boasted on numerous information boards), it certainly still carries a fair bit of grandeur itself. The canyon made for some spectacular viewing and would serve as a thoroughly worthwhile geology field trip, if that’s your thing.

Fairly Grand…

The tourist lookout.

This has not been our friend in Namibia. In fact, it has taken part of our soul!

A fitting end to what has been a rewarding country to ride through. Certainly, Namibia can be considered – and has often been referred to – as ‘Africa for beginners’ or ‘Africa Light’, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It probably represented one of the most hassle-free months of our trip and is likely why we were so reluctant to leave. Grand(ish) canyons aside, given the excellent hospitality (that seemed to thoroughly appreciate the calorie needs of a cyclist), the peaceful solitude of nearly the entire country, and the excellent camp spots, a lot of good came from Namibia for us.

South from here.


The Namibian Kicker

As we entered the penultimate country of this ride, we lulled ourselves into a false sense of being close to our finish line. A quick calculation though, revealed that we still had one-sixth of our total mileage to cover and Namibia it turns out, is not particularly conducive to swift travel by bicycle. This is a country with only two million inhabitants and for context; Ethiopia is of a similar size but has squeezed around 100 million people within its borders. Depending on your information source, this place is second only to Mongolia as the most sparsely populated country on earth. Simply put, there is an awful lot of nothingness in Namibia.

Our entry and introduction to this country was the Caprivi Strip, an odd extension of land to the northeast which seems like it should probably belong to someone else. In fact it did formerly belong to someone else, before Herr von Caprivi negotiated with the Brits for the land to be annexed for German Colonisation efforts, in order to allow access to the Zambezi. It seems odd that it still exists as such today and from what we could tell, serves only to provide a 400km introduction before arriving at the actual country.

Animal sightings on the Caprivi: much promised, nothing delivered.

Some of the locals.

Our route towards the west coast was spectacular and ultimately provided some cooler weather, our first sighting of an ocean since Egypt, and a much-needed bike repair shop. Once re-stocked, we departed for what would prove to be some of the thirstiest miles of our entire trip. Attempting to carry enough water for the inland leg toward the isolated stopover of Solitaire was entirely futile, as we came to rely heavily on passing motorists to top up supplies who thankfully – out of sympathy or otherwise – were pleased to oblige. Even with such generosity, this was not an easy few days and as we fell asleep each night under the remarkably still and silent desert sky, the recurring thoughts occupying our minds were all water related.

Early mornings to avoid the heat.

Breaking through the tropics.

Embarking on the inland journey from the coast.

Despite the relationship-testing conditions though, there is much to be taken from Namibia. Firstly, this country stands as a fine example of how beautiful a place can remain when we humans don’t mess it up. What’s more, the historic German influence – although fairly indefensible in its origins – has left behind a legacy of some hearty German cuisine and fine beer. Not ideal for desert crossings on a bicycle, but when we return in an air-conditioned motor home, we’ll certainly indulge.

Africa’s crossroads

International border crossings have become standard practice for us now and generally pass without incident or effort. It was with this complacency that we floated across the Zambezi River – on a platform of questionable buoyancy – toward an area of the world that can probably be considered as expert-level border crossing. Standing in Botswana, with Zimbabwe to our left, Namibia to our right and Zambia directly behind us, the passport stamps were flowing thick and fast and the currency touts seemed to pounce whenever we paused to get our bearings. This situation ultimately saw us entering three countries within sixty minutes; the final of which involved a short boat ride to what turned out to be the surprise package of Impalila Island, located at the very eastern tip of Namibia. In a much anticipated visit, Fran’s parents had kindly made the trip from South Africa to introduce us to this area, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Crossing into Botswana.

Finding our way.

Our days of rest on this trip are generally spent fixing things, washing things or tending to admin and usually leave very little time for much else. Thankfully while at Impalila this was not at all the case. In addition to the invaluable catch-up with family news, trying (in vain) to summarise the last nine months of our lives, and enjoying the abundant wildlife, we also indulged in the activity for which the area is famed: Tiger fishing (although our party of four certainly experienced varying degrees of success in this regard). Riding through Southern Africa it is easy to see that one is spoilt for choice in this region when it comes to national parks and areas of natural beauty in which to allocate your time, but overlooking the serene setting of Impalila Island would have been an error.

Elephant spotting:easy

A tranquil morning, but limited success for the women.

An Impalila Island highlight: a pretty substantial 2,000 year-old Baobab tree.

The planned route after leaving the Island was through Chobe National Park (in Botswana) towards the Namibian border. However, upon reaching the park gate it became apparent that this was not a road commonly taken by cyclists. Despite our protests and pleads to ride through, when the opposing argument included that ‘many lions and other animals, make it not safe for you’, our stance became somewhat weakened as we slowly retreated to Plan B. This unfortunately involved our first major backtrack of the trip – to Zambia – which in turn, meant floating once more across the Zambezi.

Sunset over Chobe National Park.

Back to Zambia.

Finally, in some bicycle news, one of our rides has unfortunately been operating as little more than a single-speed for the last 500km. And not a single-speed in the cool hipster sense of the word, rather more in the exhausting, heart-attack-inducing sense. As such, the bike shop which apparently waits only a few hundred kilometres away cannot arrive soon enough.

The two Queens

Queen Victoria did a pretty solid job at securing a legacy for herself, what with all those lakes, stations, mountains, cities and concert halls named in her honour. She must have been particularly pleased with herself though, the day she found out that she had also bagged naming rights on the waterfalls. Victoria Falls lies on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe and – although there are probably a few Canadians that might disagree – it would be hard to imagine a more awesome way in which water could possibly fall. For our entire journey through Zambia, despite encountering overwhelmingly pleasant and helpful people along the way, we couldn’t help but feel that this was a country lacking a main event. The Falls well and truly filled this gap, and it’s easy to see why Dr. Livingstone would have got so excited by the whole ordeal.

The highlight.

Looking ridiculous is a prerequisite for visiting Victoria Falls.

However, this Natural Wonder of the World was somehow easily upstaged by the company with whom we enjoyed it. One of the drawbacks of this trip for us has been the long absence of family and friends, particularly during some of the more trying times.  Because of this, our arrival at the Falls was counted down toward like a child does so before Christmas, and for a very good reason, as we were spending the weekend with the closest of close friends – the only disappointment of the whole affair being that we couldn’t carry her away with us in a pannier when we parted company. Throw in some outrageous hospitality from a fabulous woman who appeared to be living in Mick Jagger’s house, and what resulted was a weekend that removed us from our usual routine to provide a brief reminder of normality, in a setting that was anything but.

Someone very special turned up. And then we all cried.

Mick’s house on the banks of the Zambezi.

It’s all so fabulous.