Cycle Across Africa

Cycling Wildlife Corridors: What do you really want to do in life? | BLOG#7

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Change: The Process of becoming Different

I purposely avoided posting anything at New Years, there’s too much reading going around about giving up smoking, drinking less and losing weight. This has always confused me as January has always been known as a depressing month – hardly the best time to wait for and then implement the hardest change of the year!

I’ve always found putting off a New Years resolution or change until a future date adds pressure and leaves too much time for needless thoughts and procrastinating, which can easily ruin any chances of it actually happening at all. This is why, two weeks after deciding to cycle across Africa – I was here. I could have spent weeks, months, years, waiting and planning what do I really want to do in life but as I would learn while cycling wildlife corridors in Botswana, sometimes it’s best to just do it. 

wild animals bicycle

Choose to go anywhere

Next to Chobe River in northern Botswana, the pit-patter of rain on top of the tent is a beautiful thing, so soothing and the only respectful alarm clock I know. As soon as I open the tent zip I’m alone again, but this doesn’t matter anymore – the bicycle is still safely locked to a nearby tree and I can choose to go anywhere. This is my life right now, not many people are fortunate enough to get to know this feeling, but at least now I know, it’s attainable by  anyone- I am anyone.

Cycling Botswana was difficult. I made no secret of how hard it was mentally on social media, but on the last day as I cycled toward the Zimbabwe border it felt much different. It’s easy to look back with rose tinted glasses and think everything was enjoyable but actually, it was more because I realized it had been an important part of the Africa bicycle tour – there was reward for sticking it out. I had learnt to accept, and just get on with, the hard times. It was encouragement not to give up on future goals and have faith that perseverance always brings a reward.

The last week and days were spent as expected on very monotonous roads, the “Elephant Highway” a stretch between Nata and Kasane in northern Botswana was very disappointing (one elephant!) but the mind bending boredom was almost over, soon I would be in populated areas, there would be more towns and shorter distances between them.

Cycling in Zimbabwe

With an exit stamp in the passport, I was now rolling downhill through “No mans land” toward Zimbabwe. Many trucks lined the side of the road waiting to cross while cheery drivers stood around joking with each other. All eyes were on the heavy laden bicycle with giant ginger beard on top, and it wasn’t long until they started shouting compliments my way:

“Look out, here comes Caravan Man”

They shook their heads, a look of bewilderment on their faces and shortly after, another driver leaned out the passenger side of his parked up truck to ask a question:

“Are you cycling to Victoria Falls?”…”Vic Falls, Yeah”

“by yourself?”…….”Just me, Yeah”

“You are coming from where?”……..”Cape Town”

“Are you South African?”……”Irish”

**He looks down the road ahead of the bicycle “You are very, very brave”

A Jungle in slow motion

Moving off, it was as though someone had flicked a switch and the surroundings turned to jungle, I was amazed by this and when I say amazed, I was cycling along with mouth wide open. Green, everything so green, huge trees and overgrown bushes adjoining to form a sea of green as far as the eye could see.

Everything looks so different by bicycle and many sights often overlooked by car take on an entirely different meaning. The sky is more blue, the clouds more puffy, the grass really is greener and by moving so slowly, you witness these gradual changes as they happen. The further in, the more immersed I became in Africa, there were few passing vehicles and obviously no people, but I wasn’t alone – there were most certainly animals out there somewhere in the long grass.

I kept stopping, drinking in the scenery and marvelled at the sound – it was the wild alright.

The Vulnerable side of the adventure

By now I understood the feeling of being vulnerable while cycling with wildlife in Africa, so this set the tone for the morning and my paranoia reached new heights thanks to many warnings about lions from truckers en route. The bush was overgrown along the very edge of the road and a Leopard need only stick out his paw from the grass to trip me up. Sometimes I cycled in the middle of the road and sometimes on one side while never taking my eyes off the bush, but none of these “tactics” made any sense. Every little sound sent my heart racing and tiny birds were usually the root cause. When I got up close, they would scatter out of the long grass and up into the trees which  would then send me into a controlled state of panic.

looking for lions zimbabwe

I will never forget the downhills

Zimbabwe also re-united the bike with hill climbs and they were most unwelcome in such cruel heat, but once over the brow, rolling back downhill through such epic scenery made the climbs worth every bit of effort. I can’t even explain what I appreciate so much about these moments but maybe there was nothing to explain at all, it was just as it was – perfect. I figure it’s a sign of being exactly where you want to be, when you can laugh and smile that much in your own company. I will never forget those downhills, as much as the struggle to reach the top of them.

However one of my best days on the bike was still busy colliding with the most stressful. On one hand, I was excited to be immersed in Africa and within 70km of Victoria Falls, but then there was also an urgency to get through this section, get out of the park and get away from all the animals. It wasn’t a case of not being able to get the animals out of my mind, but rather the fact that I HAD to keep them in mind. I promised myself during this day, I would try to avoid any more sections notorious for lions etc (regardless of how unlikely), it’s not worth risking.

Eventually the sound of thunder rolled in the distance. They call it “the Smoke that Thunders” and the excitement was palpable, the thunder I could hear was Victoria Falls. What the hell possesses anyone to ride a bicycle across Africa? Well, after reaching this far, my guess is that it’s one way to find out how capable they truly are. Prior to the trip I had often considered finishing the trip in Vic Falls and now, standing up on the pedals, I could hear it. It would be the biggest milestone, I had cycled to one of the wonders of the world  and on the edge of town, locals stopped walking and stared in amazement at an entirely different sort of  wonder coming out of the National Park.

My Truth: The Worrying “Adventurer”

It is with difficulty, I acknowledge on my Adventure travel blog to having suffered with anxiety and fear for a lot of my life but feel it’s important so you can understand the point being made. While jumping out of a perfectly good airplane or whitewater rafting the world’s biggest rapids might suggest differently – the truth is a large part of my life has been spent worrying over meaningless and stupid possibilities.

As a child, I grew up worrying about not being as smart as some of my classmates and just another boy afraid to express himself in front of girls at school. I was confused as to why I had no career aspirations to be a doctor, accountant or teacher like “everyone else”. I wasn’t one of the cool kids and often fantasized about a day when I could be one. It didn’t stop there, this experience during my school days somehow planted a seed and followed me for years later when I dared not believe I could be as capable as, or go on to anything great like, my peers. At this time in particular I feared any sort of change.

In later life, anxiety seemed to control how I made decisions and I accepted this. When aged 24-26, I lost both parents to cancer and it ran riot. Back then I sometimes made the mistake of measuring my “success” and happiness by a job title and even then, I still found myself confused about what I wanted to do in life.

Waking up

It took 30 years to wake up and realize how stupid I was for thinking like this, for waiting on life to change. It wasn’t life’s fault, life just happens and it was me that needed to make the change. All these anxieties were nonsense: the “cool kids” only exist in school, there’s nothing wrong with being quiet, and happiness is much more attainable outside the working day.

People will always think it’s different for others but really, it’s not. Life doesn’t have an agenda that revolves around anyone in particular – it’s the very same and just as hard for all of us, even the cool kids.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. Lao Tzu

Dreams are real: What do you really want to do? 

The best thing I ever did for myself was ask “what do I really want to do?” and not laugh off the idea, no matter how impossible it seemed. I feel it’s also just as important not to allow anyone else to affect how you feel about it – other peoples fears are not a good reason to stop you following your dreams. 

 

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all

Don’t Be Afraid, To Be Afraid

It was difficult to make meaningful changes during my youth but now the reward for pursuing them is too great to ignore and time is way too short. I’m no expert on psychology but I’ve noticed my anxieties have been knocked right out of the ball park since early on in this trip – I might worry about lions (who wouldn’t?) but there’s now a distinct absence of meaningless, stupid possibilities and I’ve never felt so good and confident about everything – this alone seemed impossible before – reward surely, for facing fears. It’s made me think that sometimes the only way to make these changes , follow a passion or commit to a resolution is by not being afraid, to be afraid.

I figure why wait for New Years, why even wait for next week, when you find what you really want to do in life, regardless of how it makes you feel – you should just do it. 

Derek Cullen Irish Adventurer cycling

I'm an Outdoor Adventure Blogger from Dublin, Ireland. In late 2013 I began riding a bicycle across Africa and it was during this adventure when I discovered a passion for the great outdoors and the general uncertainty of life on the road. Next April, I am hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

18 Comments

    • No Hanging Around

      January 31, 2014 at 3:57 pm

      Absolutely Conor and thank you!

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