Mammoth Ride You don't have to be Lance to compete in a new trans-African bike race, just a little crazy
This is an article from the Nov. 18, 2002 issue
When they were brainstorming ways to promote cheap, environmentally friendly transportation in Africa a dozen years ago, Michael de Jong and Henry Gold kicked around a lot of ideas before they settled on this modest proposal: a 6,600-mile bike race from Cairo to Capetown that would take riders past ancient temples, through wildlife reserves, along the edge of the Red Sea, up and over Ethiopia's Blue Nile Gorge and across the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Estimated time on the road: four months. "We thought a simple bike race across Kenya just wouldn't catch anyone's eye," says de Jong.
The inaugural Tour d'Afrique, which begins on Jan. 18 at the Great Pyramid of Giza and ends on May 17 at Capetown, South Africa, has so far caught the serious attention of 80 people who have met the requirements of a basic medical exam, a $7,000 entry fee and 17 weeks of vacation. Though the event is touted as a race--riders will be covering an average of 66 miles a day for 100 days, with 20 rest days--Gold and de Jong welcome relay teams and anyone who wants to treat the event more like a tour, even people who can spend only, say, six weeks covering part of the continent. But the organizers hope the event will eventually grow to the point at which one has to qualify to get in, as the Ironman did.
It's hard to imagine, however, what would qualify as a qualifier, as there are few races that even approach the Tour d'Afrique in sheer length. It is more than three times longer than the Tour de France and won't include any of the pampering riders in that event are used to, such as daily massages, nice hotels, French food and a small army of mechanics popping out of a support car to fix a flat. ("If you're going to get a breakdown, you're going to fix it," says Gold. "This is man against the elements.") In addition to extra tubes and flat repair kits, participants are expected to bring their own camping and cooking gear (which will be transported by truck along the route) and be prepared to live primarily off the dried food and occasional local vegetables provided by the race organization.
Both Toronto-based organizers bring to this ambitious endeavor a passion for Africa and a lifelong cycling jones. De Jong, 38, grew up in Amsterdam, where the bike is the primary mode of transportation. Gold, 50, a former electrical engineer who helped establish a Canadian version of the international relief organization Doctors Without Borders, grew up in Czechoslovakia, where a bicycle Race for Peace passed through his village every year. "We're both very interested in promoting the idea of sustainable transportation in Third World countries," says Gold. "If you can cover Africa on a bike, of course you can use it to go to work."
There are no professional cyclists in this year's field. Racer Lori Schmidt, a 40-year-old software company administrator from Alberta whose admirably flexible boss has given her the four months off without complaint, has been cycling for 12 years and considers herself an average cyclist. The longest tour she has done to date covered 250 miles--"not even enough to get out of Egypt," she says. But she is undaunted by the prospect of four months in the saddle, facing unknown terrain and culture. "I expect it will change me somehow," she says.
Charles Giles, a 62-year-old civil lawyer from Tucson, hopes to find that he hasn't changed all that much since 1992, when he was one of about 50 racers in the one and only Great Australian Bike Challenge, a 3,000-mile coast-to-coast journey that took him 24 days to complete and included a racer mutiny in Alice Springs. "I don't expect any events like that in this race," says Giles, the oldest participant so far. "This seems like a wonderful adventure and a great way to see Africa. Also, as I get older, I want to see what I'm still capable of."
Whatever pace the riders set, says Gold, "it'll be too fast a journey to really experience Africa. But I'm sure they'll get a hell of a kick out of it." --Kelli Anderson
For those whose wanderlust isn't sated by the monocontinental Tour d'Afrique, there's Odyssey 2003, a yearlong, 14,500mile, six-continent jaunt that begins in L.A. on New Year's Day. This adventure is not the first of its kind: You may recall Odyssey 2000, which began with 246 veloheads who had shelled out $36,000 apiece but ended with less than a quarter of those cyclists, many of whom made the trip sound less like an around-the-world joyride than a Homeric odyssey fraught with hazards. A class-action lawsuit brought by six bikers seeking refunds is pending in Washington State. Still, the event's organizer, Tim Kneeland & Associates, says that it has received enough applications (four) to go ahead with its $73,000 2003 ride.
561 Feet that free diver Francisco (Pipin) Ferreras says he'll dive in honor of his late wife, Audrey Mestre, who drowned after reaching that record depth off the Dominican Republic last month. After the attempt Ferreras, 40, says he'll retire from the sport.
For more adventure, go to siadventure.com and check out these features:
--Flashback: the 2001 Eco-Challenge in New Zealand --Lake Aguamilpa: Mexico's unsung bass fishing treasure --SKI magazine's buyer's guide and other gear stories
WHAT IT TAKES One 5'11" man, one 6'11" kayak and 40,000 miles of ocean: Pack right and pack tight
Surf kayaker Brad Ludden goes to the Baja next week to jockey for waves with the area's notoriously territorial board riders. "Surfers don't like sharing waves with surfers," he says. "Guess how they feel about sharing with paddlers." Next summer the 21-year-old is off on a seven-month, around-the-world trek with four other paddlers. Here he lays out his gear.
1 KAYAK Dagger ID 6.9 ($1,059) (www.dagger.com) This new design features inflatable sides, allowing you to tighten or loosen your boat around you while in the water, which is super key for surf kayaking. When you're waiting for a set to roll in you want to be able to stretch, but when it does roll in you want to be tight in your boat.
2 SHOE Nike ACG Toketee Kayak Bootie ($60) (www.nikeacg.com) I'm proud to say that I had a hand in the design of this item. It's the ultimate kayak shoe and essential to any trip--ocean or river. The design of the middle strap was influenced by a surfboard leash. Who says surfers and kayakers can't work together?
3 SOUND SYSTEM Nike PSA 128 Max ($200) (www.nike.com) If you love music (like me), have a million CDs (like me), really don't want them stolen (like me) but still want to have music on your trip (like me), then take one of these (like me). If this li'l MP3 player gets swiped, you don't lose your whole CD collection, just the player.
4 PADDLEWEAR Stohlquist Gore-Tex Gripp Dry Shorty ($310) (www.stohlquist.com) This shorty is bomber. It's sealed at the neck, biceps and the waist. It keeps the sun off and also has gaskets to keep the water out and the air in. A swim in the huge waves we're going to see off the Baja could be ugly.
5 SLEEPING BAG Big Agnes ($129) (www.bigagnes.com) This unique lightweight summer bag and winter overbag is perfect for this trip (or anywhere). It packs down small, and only the top half has insulation, so you won't fry. The bottom half has a sleeve for your mattress so you won't slide off it.
6. Seven2 R series whitewater paddle ($350) (www.seven2.com); 7. Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien ($20); 8. Nike ACG Dri Fit Tech Top ($29.95) (www.nikeacg.com); 9. Adventure Medical Kit ($49) (www.adventuremedicalkits.com); 10. SealLine Baja 5 dry bag ($12) (www.rei.com); 11. Therm-a-Rest Standard ($50) (www.thermarest.com); 12. Nike ACG Ascent Compass ($199) (www.nikeacg.com); 13. Nike ACG Water Shorts ($30) (www.nikeacg.com); 14. Mountain Hardwear Conduit SL bivy sack ($105) (www.mountainhardwear.com); 15.Snapdragon sprayskirt ($160) (www.snapdragondesign.com); 16. Rock Hedz Polo helmet with carbon-Kevlar layup ($139) (www.rockhedz.com); 17. Nike Interchange sunglasses ($99) (www.nike.com); 18. Petzl Tikka head lamp ($28.95) (www.petzl.com); 19. Flora Pure portable water-filtration system (no longer on market); 20. Lifeline USA's Power Push Up II exerciser ($37.95) (www.lifelineusa.com)
OUT THERE One hardy writer gets a taste of big-time adventure racing
Sink or swim? As I waded into the frigid water of the Colorado River, hyperventilating and contemplating the pending 50meter sprint through the surging current, that phrase suddenly seemed an apt description of my situation as a Global Extremes competitor. It was late October, and I was in Moab as one of 50 entrants in the first leg of this most punishing of survival games. Over five months a series of adventure races held in five locations around the world would, in reality-show fashion, whittle the field down to five finalists. Their prize: the chance to climb Mount Everest next May, with the ascent shown live on the Outdoor Life Network. As Global Extremes producer Rick Ridgeway had put it in his prep talk, "Prepare for the most grueling physical challenges of your life."
Of course, in a field full of triathletes, ultramarathoners, backcountry skiers and Alpinists, challenge is a relative term. I came to Moab never having run an adventure race, marathon or triathlon. But after three days of high-altitude mountain biking, bouldering, climbing, running and--yes--swimming the Colorado, Everest or not, I have a sense of what it takes to reach the summit. --Yi-Wyn Yen
For more on her experiences in Global Extremes, go to siadventure.com.