Cycling Africa

The next great adventure | BLOG#2

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I’ve heard it many times while travelling “the reason people don’t travel is because of fear”. Usually the people saying this have been on many interesting adventures around the world and love nothing more than going on about how others are wrong for using excuses such as “I wish I could do that BUT” or “you’re lucky, I couldn’t do that”. Really, the people who say these things are self absorbed idiots, I should know – I used to be one before this Cycle tour Africa.

Actually, the reason why people don’t travel is usually because they have priorities. I really admire the commitment it takes to raise kids, work hard on your career or focus on studies and watching many of friends and family persevering with both makes it obvious to me that these things are so much harder than travelling on an Africa overland tour by bicycle.


Expectations for the cycle tour Africa

Prior to this trip, I had a reasonable idea of what to expect travelling on an Africa overland tour by bicycle, and this reasonable idea was miles off. It has been enjoyable for the most part, but what you imagine it might be like and the actual reality, are still two very different things. Here are a few thoughts on everything I have learnt so far on the cycle tour Africa.

The Bike is heavy, the road is hard

It’s heavy, never talks back and I have even given it a name, Forrest.

However, the dirt tracks on an Africa bicycle tour rattle the crap out of your bones and not even a singsong is possible without sounding like a goat. You see, the tracks are often half the distance of tar roads and far more scenic, but this usually makes for less than ideal cycling terrain. South African roads have been pretty good so far, but I am conscious there are far more challenging trails on a cycle tour Africa.

Horseflies Bite

They are driving me crazy. I can’t outrun them, they happily bite all day long and usually in what I have learnt is the most irritating place, the back of my legs. I risk everything in an effort to retaliate and have even thought about taking a taser to one, but considering I’d be aiming it at my own body, it’s probably best to stick with the slapping.

Nothing lasts forever

It gets tough (understatement) but there’s no room for negative thoughts no matter what you do in life and I needed to keep moving.

Last week I was faced with the mother of all mountain passes, it was never-ending, tearing my thighs to pieces, and in 30 degree heat. With motivation wearing thin, I began stopping at various point during the climb and was bordering heat exhaustion. It could easily have felt hopeless, but after a few stops I began telling myself that “Nothing lasts forever”. Amazingly this actually worked and two hours later, I was stood on top of the mountain wondering if this was one of those moments, when it was okay to have a little cry to myself.

Honestly, it was the first time, in a very long time, that I experienced a distinct feeling of pride and the whole world seemed to glow when I came across this shaded picnic table a few minutes later.

Cycling solo across Africa


No desire to meet Simba

On an isolated stretch toward Elands Bay with my eyes fixed a few metres in front of the bike, I didn’t see it until the very last second and my heels shot up faster than any white man you’ve ever seen. Two feet away, a black cobra coiled itself while facing onto the road and I rolled right past without any idea what was happening.

It was only afterwards too, that I would learn of the species of this scary looking reptile, but unfortunately I did not overcome my fear of snakes through this experience. There were more that day and they mostly roadkill, but I couldn’t help wondering what would I do if a snake bit me? It would take ages to get to the next town.

It was a reminder of the wildlife down here and a reason why wild camping alone is always on my mind. Despite my hopes of keeping this adventure travel blog interesting, I’ve no desire to meet many more snakes, lions or any other scary animal on my cycle tour Africa.

Finding shade

The effort it takes to move a touring bike uphill on a Cycle tour Africa is nothing compared to the sun beating down, which makes heat exhaustion the biggest danger. It becomes a very serious matter as finding shade is often difficult, with no buildings or roadside trees around. Cycling the Northern Cape of South Africa would leave me in some pretty stupid situations, like being found fast asleep in the middle of some road-works.

I love roadworks, they usually go on for a few km so my trick is to go about half way, find a road sign, sleep underneath and just hope it takes them ages to find me)


Solo Travel Blog: How it feels to be alone

I feel it’s important to be honest on my solo travel blog and admit how I struggled desperately with being alone in the first two weeks. Cycling the Western Cape was a series of ghost towns after complete with an enchanting mist rolling in from the sea. It would be quite pretty to see, but then I would easily go a whole day or more, without speaking with another person. In fact, when I do try to speak my voice seems so unprepared for the even, that it begins to break and sound terribly erratic.

All these dusty dirt roads and mountain passes are the most remote surroundings I have ever experienced, and it is often so quiet that this eerily silence becomes almost too loud.

However, it turns out these factors were something I needed on the cycle tour Africa. I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be here and that being alone was a choice.

Strangely, the silence, the time alone and unfamiliar surroundings was now giving me the most incredible opportunity to get to know myself, something I believe is usually absent from most people’s routine in the busy city.

cycle cape town to namibia

cycle cape town to namibia

South Africa (Close to Namibian Border


Happiness is only real once shared

“It’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person”. Oscar Wilde

After a hard day of punctures and dirt road across the mountains, I arrived in Nuwerus. It seemed like a bizarre and backward town, but it was here, where I found Hardveld Lodge and Cuevas, the owner. I ended up staying an extra night such was the hospitality.

Cuevas provided complimentary dinner, wine and locally fresh picked honey, as we sat at his quaint kitchen table and spoke about travelling Africa overland. On the second day, I even joined him on a trip to the vet in Vredendhal with his dogs and enjoyed sitting on a small bench while the locals went about their daily routine.

Despite him mentioning how much he enjoyed my being there, it was me who was truly grateful as Cuevas is the first person I will remember on this solo adventure and our time chatting reminded me that “happiness is only real once shared”.

A few days later, South African bikers, who it turned out were journeying Africa overland and had also stayed with Cuevas that week, stopped to ask if I was the “Irish adventurer”. I wondered what was an adventurer? and felt embarrassed for how many glasses of wine I must have had in Hardveld lodge to refer to myself as such a thing.

As the bikers disappeared over the hill, myself and the bicycle had a little laugh together as we imagined passing them later while then tried to fix their big shiny BMW F850’s. Now that, would have been happiness shared.

Real men don't need motors

Help comes from the unlikeliest of places

During a bad fall in the Northern Cape I damaged the front wheel. I’d had enough for the day so decided to wait for a vehicle to take me 15km back to a town I had passed earlier. It seemed like forever until at last, a white pick up was trundling down the hazy road on the horizon. Too hot and tired to hold out my thumb, and unwilling to take no for an answer, I stood right out in the middle of the road as the car approached and waited. It was only at the last moment I realized that it was in fact, a police van.

I was still happy though as I was sure they would help, and they did, they threw me and the bicycle in the back of the van with 2 prisoners on their way to court.

Coming to the bikes rescue

The bike in the police van

The bicycle in the van

Take the good with the bad

A re-occurrence over the past two weeks on the cycle tour Africa is something which likely happens in all of our lives at some point in that just when something bad happens or we’re not feeling good, something special follows to help restore our faith.

After two hard days cycling the Northern Cape and not much in between, I got up at 4am to head for the Namibian border. It should have been exciting but instead I cycled up the town hill in darkness singing Abba “You’re so vain” to myself – except each time I would substitute the word “vain” for “stupid”. It didn’t stop there, after some brief karaoke, I continued with a half hour argument about why I couldn’t just do something normal with my life.

Cycling the weight of a tank uphill, while having an argument with yourself at 5am in the morning doesn’t make life any easier.

It must have been during this argument when the road evened out and the sun began rising over the mountains alongside. I cycled on 15kmh, 18kmh, 25kmh ….now it was completely flat and moving over 30kmh!! I was now laughing hysterically and wondering what was going on? The setting couldn’t have been more perfect and the rest of that day was every cyclists dream – all flat and downhill. I covered 70km in 3 hours on what was by far my favourite day thus far and when I rolled up to the border post, the officer reminded me of how far I’d really come in the past few weeks:

“Vehicle Registration?” …Bicycle

“vehicle registration??”…Bicycle

“Bicycle?!”          …yeah

“haha are you serious?…..crazy”

Tomorrow the desert awaits: "Everyday you should do something that scares you".

It’s not about fear it’s about…..

A friend recently messaged me to say she was “living vicariously through my trip until her next adventure”, I absolutely loved this message, her attitude obviously being that it’s not even a question of whether or not another adventure was coming up (go Andrea & Wiley) – we should all try to think this way and look forward with positivity.

After crossing the Namibia border, I know the oldest desert in the world is ahead tomorrow morning and likely a taste of what is to come on the Africa bicycle tour. It’s hot and this is without doubt the biggest challenge I have ever faced in life. Truthfully, I’m nervous and if you’re wondering what other fears I’ve had about doing this trip alone? Imagine you were here instead of me, alone on the bike, living in a tent, think of everything that might scare you, everything you could worry about and there….this is your answer.

When is the best time for adventure?

So far the bike trip, like life itself, is rarely easy and finding your way can be a challenge so in this sense we are all in the same boat. But for those of you unable to plan your own adventure just yet, remember – when the kids are old enough to fend for themselves, you finish college or finally decide to take the career break – there is plenty of time for the next great adventure, travel or even just new experiences in general.

It’s not about fear, it’s about “getting all your ducks in a row”, and sticking with them.


Derek Cullen is an experienced overland tour leader in Africa. He is best known for cycling across Africa and writing about travel in Africa for many online media publications. If you would like advice or information for your trip to Africa, you can speak with him directly through the LiveChat box!


  1. valerie cullen carter

    November 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Well I was right Derek, when I said I was really looking forward to your next chapter. This is amazing, YOU are amazing. I am on my own journey too at the minute, somewhat different to your’s lol. Your so right though we have to stay positive. Somedays it is easier to get down, or want to give up and keep stacking up all the excuses “NOT TOO”…. but then yeah something or in most cases someone inspires us to keep pushing ahead, usually by showing us the smallest of gestures, but it’s enough to kick our butts and get moving again. I have to say both our parents were very strong individuals and we must never forget were our own strength comes from. We saw all four of them battle for their lives. So Derek, keep on peddling you can do it. As i said last week I can’t wait to read your book. Heres a suggestion for your bicycle naming…. Siobhan.. irish for Joan xxxxxx. Stay safe , VAL

    • No Hanging Around

      November 16, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Book?! haha all true Val thanks for all the nice comments!!

  2. Caroline coogan

    November 16, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Derek I’m loving the updates on your trip ! fair play to you , keep safe Caroline

    • No Hanging Around

      November 16, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      Nice one Caroline, it’s great to have people enjoying the journey 🙂

  3. Cara Casey

    November 16, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Wow Derek this is unbelievable!! Seriously I am inspired.. such a brave thing to do and how you describe it is unreal. Best of luck out there, be safe. I hope to get all my ducks in a row 🙂 What a man?! xx

    • No Hanging Around

      November 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      CARA!! sort those ducks out, thanks it’s awesome to hear such cool things being said about what I’m doing – stay in touch…The South should be NOTHING compared to what I’m headed for lol

  4. Maria

    November 16, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Who knew you were such an articulate adventurer big D?! Beautifully written – took me back to the flatlands of Africa and never-ending roads. Where are you cycling to? Keep the updates coming and please stay safe! Want at least one of my next adventures to involve my favourite Irish man!! Good luck Derek 🙂 Xxxxxxx

    • No Hanging Around

      November 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      Exactly what competition do I have on the “irish guy” front anyway (not that it would matter haha)…where am I cycling to? I hope to find that one out also!

  5. CianAaronMikey

    November 16, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Hi Dewek,

    Your nephews have been reading this with great excitement (so go easy on the vulgarity ha). Fair play to you on your big adventure and you have surpassed how far we thought you’d get on your bike (genuinely well done!!!). An inspiration to us all, no doubts about that!!

    We have a family meeting planned later to discuss names for your bike so I will revert back. Personally I think you should call it Fianna Fail as they’ve been riding us for years so now is your chance!!

    p.s. when the kids are all grown up there isn’t a snowballs chance in hell i’ll be doing what youre doing!!

    • No Hanging Around

      November 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      Alright lads haha this was so good to read and good idea for the bike name although there’s a rule between me and the bike – we don’t talk politics or religion?

      Never say never Andy!

  6. Lorraine Valentine

    November 16, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Thrilled to be reading your blogs again Derek….Ahhh you gotta name her ” Pricilla ” with the Elvis Connection for Michael… although i’m not sure he would be too imrpessed about you riding her through the desert.. You will make me push on now when i’m tired on my bike and do that extra few km! xx

    • No Hanging Around

      November 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      Cheers Lorraine haha actually I like the sound of Priscilla….believe me, if I had the choice I probably wouldn’t do the extra few km meself lol


  7. Paul Cullen

    November 16, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Fair Play to you , well written I must say! As for a name for the bike? ……. what about Percy?… that way I’ll never have to do any of that mad shit but when you’re back and on the Late Late show talking about yourself and Percy’s adventures, most people will think It was me with ya. Keep her lit

    • No Hanging Around

      November 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      Ha very clever that, Imagine me on the Late Late……imagine lol

    • No Hanging Around

      November 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      And thanks btw that’s a massive compliment, are you okay Paul?! haha

  8. Cormac Ryan

    November 17, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Another serious read and write mate ,awesome stuff. You knew a lad that went to Firhouse C.C could use big words haha! No seriously man absolutely Trojan effort and I am riveted reading each paragraph as it is just you and no bull ,out there living the dream .Fear is a huge thing to overcome for so many and you are certainly doing that on this epic journey ..and I deffo concur with the Book idea . As for the name of the bike ,”mo chara ” is perfect and it’ll fuck you round at time but will get you there in the end like all good man ,keep dreaming big ..and sure otherwise what would ya be doing but sitting in the speaker 😉 beir bua a chara .

  9. Phelim Warren

    December 4, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Derek, just getting to your blog, wonderful stuff, vivid, self-deprecating and typically Cullen (those who I know anyhow). Keep it going and fair fooks man. Bike name suggestion would be Kimmage, after the nearby place in Dublin, the cycling journo who has had a similarly Rough Ride and finally The Three Lovely Lassies who may also give you a rough ride on your return.

    Keep safe.

  10. No Hanging Around

    December 4, 2013 at 9:24 am

    haha loving the suggestions for the bike! Phelim very kind words, seriously thanks – I’m not sure people realise just how much all the well wishes are inspiring me onward – it’s company on the road sometimes when I think about it! Cheers, Derek

  11. Samuel Jeffery

    December 15, 2013 at 5:38 am


    This is a really inspiring journey! I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and also Brendan Van Son’s adventures through Africa.

    • No Hanging Around

      December 22, 2013 at 8:13 pm

      Cheers Samuel,been following your site for a long time now – love your own sense of adventure:)

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