Cycle Across Africa
We Share The Same Journey From Different Places
Sometimes, the best adventure stories may not be the ones we read, but the ones we can read things into.
There‘s obviously much that has happened throughout this journey which, for different reasons I choose not to include. It should go without saying the experience of cycling through Africa alone is not always fun, in fact the past few weeks (as you will read) were often consumed by dark moments, times of utter boredom and genuinely unpleasant situations.
It is never apparent at the time but neither is it coincidence, that seemingly negative experiences are actually the ones that have brought about the biggest personal changes . Southern Tanzania was a difficult time that took me from one end of emotion to another, it brought me down, it lingered with negativity – I wondered what to do at a time when everything seemed so hard…
A rude awakening, no matter how hard it seemed before – at no point had the lifestyle on a Cycle Tour seemed so difficult. Lacking fitness after staying in Malawi for so long, the overall logistics of the adventure were bringing forward a serious test.
Following the border crossing, two days of non stop climbing ensued in heavy rains but the altitude brought a nice coolness and the most incredible 30km back down the other side. At that moment things were actually looking good, the previous two days climbing were instantly forgiven and the bike was rolling downward into another dramatic landscape……
Staying in Bed
Unfortunately, that particular morning was a rare moment of joy on the Great North Road. For the next 600km, with no hard shoulder – a dangerous stream of speeding trucks and buses from Dar Es Salaam’s busy port left me in a constant state of frustration. The heat was intensifying and when you add all this to undulating hills, loneliness and a determined following of bed bug/mosquito bites, it made for a pretty miserable time. I really struggled just to get up in the mornings.
Unstimulated, I rattled onward and by the time of each nightfall, found myself escaping into a book, the life and story of someone or something far removed from the day ahead. I wouId have been lost without my books, it was great relief until I closed them again. To be quite honest I‘d love nothing more than to resort to bad language on my Adventure travel blog by describing this period of the trip as being “COMPLETELY SHIT“, but I won’t because I‘m not like that.
“The time to change was yesterday, the time to wake up is now” Judge Judy
After a week of misery, this dire situation took a dramatic turn one evening when I realised two things 1. That my face was resembling the ugliest expression known to mankind and 2. I needed to man up. There was no denying it, my attitude completely sucked, “You are annoying me on my personal journey across your continent“ – who did I think I was, demanding everyone and everything to get out of the way? I was at my most ugly. The reality that I was still capable of being so self-centered was both disappointing and eyeopening – rather than being able to press this negativity onto an anybody else, I was left to suffer my own bad company for a change. It‘s quite humbling to realise you‘re not always a fun person to be around or that you burden others when feeling negative – I guess everyone has an exagerrated self image they like to talk about that isn‘t really the way it is.
Facing Hard Truth
Admittedly, realising how to look on the brightside was not the easiest of things to do but in the end there was no option. When I turned to someone for help, there was nothing but hard truth and it had come to the point when facing up to it, was the only way past.
These “annoyances“ happen when you decide to ride a bicycle through Africa and my first mistake was thinking of them as obstacles rather than part of the challenge. The conditions weren’t even bad for “African standards“, the road north of Nairobi and in Ethiopia would be far more intense . I guess it’s still never as bad as it seems – building up an exagerrated picture in my mind is a common occurrence on trip and something I am still fighting.
Trucks continued to run me off the road, the sun blazed high in the sky and one hillclimb ended at the start of another but the world seemed a very different place from then on. Justifying the difficulty of the situation was never going to change anything – not the weather on the worlds hottest continent and not the mountains that had been there long before an invention called the bicycle. I may as well have been wishing one of Africa‘s largest shipping operations to close Dar Es Salaam port, just so I could cycle along in precious silence.
The best thing about cycle touring returned as I noticed gradual changes in the surroundings, the winds taking new direction, the soil a slightly more red, dusty appearance. I passed many tea, coffee and sisal plantations. Sao hills forest, large swamps and numerous villages where everybody seemed to know my name – Osama (Bin…). I looked up one morning to see a completely different tribe staring from the side of the road – they followed their cattle closely, it wasn‘t the tourist vibe you find in many a Tanzanian tourist spot – dressed in red cloth and holding spears, these Masai were living their lives traditionally.
It’s Getting Better and….
If I had “faith“ I would say someone was now smiling down again. No amount of narrative could accurately describe the feeling of vulnerability in this scenery, giant peaks piercing into the clouds on either side, minaturised by blue skies and hillsides resembling Lord of The Rings scenery. It was getting late and the sun going down, an entire green valley covered top to bottom with thousands of haunting Baobab Trees – it was quite simply the most beautiful place I had ever seen. I stopped on a long straight for photographs and remember shaking my head in disbelief “How does it keep working out this way?“. Was it coincidence to once again find something so memorable immediately after being so low..
Picture it, cycling along an open road, lost in thought with the sound of birds in the trees. It was quiet for much of it but suddenly to the left, a frantic movement in the bush. Before I had time to wonder what it was, two startled giraffe were already running alongside as I cycled and as if this wasn‘t enough, black, white, brown – the colours of Zebra and Impala.
Cycling and wild animals..
Safari‘s are one thing, watching animals in their natural habitat is another but to be alone, completely exposed in the middle of Africa and have these wild animals run past, well – it‘s indescribable really. They were everywhere, I continued snapping photographs on either side of the road for the next hour, Memories. Having spent many hours sat at home watching National Geographic and the lives of famous adventurers, this seemed so far beyond any possibility for a mere mortal like me – I was no longer reading a story.
OnWards & UpWards
The Road north
After travelling east as far as possible, the road turned North again. Tall, jagged peaks showcased the Usambara mountains on the right hand side while to the left, Masai tribes men, women and children continued to work an endless African scrub. The terrain was much kinder now, I was much happier, not even floods of sweat or bumpy roadworks could dampen the spirit. Traffic all but disappeared and scenes reminscent of the Serengetti on National Geographic reminded me how the worlds most famous National Park lay unfenced just over the horizon.
I imagined a time when pre-historic life ruled these plains, when bushmen skavenged amongst the most frightening and very real dangers. I pictured the first explorers arriving in this terrifyingly unknown land with lions, leopard and howling packs of hyena. I wondered what must they have thought upon reaching this snow capped mound in front of me, hiding beneath rain clouds swirling around it’s peak. It was the highest mountain in all of Africa, I was halfway to Cairo – Kilimanjaro.
To be brutally honest…
It knocked some sense into me in Southern Tanzania telling myself ” to man up” . It’s obviously a saying often used in banter amongst a group of guys but there was a time when I felt the brunt of it for real. With no idea how to react, my response to this ex-girlfriend was in typical guy fashion, “pretending” to be unphased and calling her an idiot. Really, my ego was completely shattered at the time – she was right, I needed to man up. As much as breakups still present a most dreaded memory, I at least learnt something from that one.
Similarly on this trip it seems all too easy for me to think up external reasons for why I find it so hard but as with “pretending“, the process of doing so never gets me anywhere – they were only excuses really.
My point is, I learnt to be brutally honest with myself in order to take responsibility. Everything that presented itself during that time (as with the girl) was a result of my own actions, nothing else. The excuses were leading to very negative feeling and a world of self doubt, I had been clawing for reasons why it was so hard, clutching for hope it would go away. In the end, the only way out was to accept nobody was going to do it for me – that it was not going to get easier by placing the blame elsewhere, feeling sorry or looking for excuses. No. More. excuses.
The Past Six months
The past six Months of the cycle in Africa have been madness, truth and laughter but maybe not always as cliche and happy as I like to describe.
Even so, it has been a huge learning curve for me – a lesson not to accept the limitations set by others, to stop thinking I don‘t have the same opportunity or that I am unfortunate, unlucky, unable or different – they are all excuses. There have been saddening lows in the past, crushing loss and hurt over the years but once again everyone has loved and lost, everyone has problems, everyone has felt the same at some point – despite having to dig deep, this cycle tour is slowly stamping out all the excuses, teaching me to take responsibility.
African Memo – We Share The Same Journey From Different Places
I‘ve missed a lot of memo‘s in life but not this one: it‘s not acceptable to keep looking for reasons to justify why anything is hard – there’s not always karma on a cycle tour or in life itself, no favours and trucks will always be left behind on hillsides, while frustrations are forgotten with mistakes.
To take complete responsibility is to decide the future, it is a choice – not something that “just happens”. I keep thinking it‘s the trip but maybe I‘m just getting older, maybe I‘m learning that as you get older, life gets harder and the last thing anyone should do is make it any harder, especially on themselves.
So from now on I do myself a favour, I stop lingering with negativity when it comes around, I take responsibility and take comfort in knowing that bad times stay in the past where they belong. It is often forgotten about when times are hard but just like “being honest”, it takes a concious decision to be positive. Time spent cycling in Africa has brought an answer to my own question about what to do when everything seems so hard?
When life seems hard, don’t just accept it. Choose to be brutally honest and choose wisely
you can stay down or you can decide to get back up