An (almost) endless journey: the Tour d’Afrique

A common workday daydream is to embark on a vacation that never ends. One adventure outfitter called Tour d’Afrique Ltd. comes close: a cycle tour of Africa from Cairo to Cape Town.

Tour d’Afrique is a four-month odyssey across the back roads of Africa. Riders notch up 11,953 km (7,375 miles), hundreds of blisters and a lifetime of memories over a four-month period.

In 2003 the first tour set a Guinness World Record for the fastest human-powered crossing of Africa but this is by no means a race purely for professionals. Everyone from students to retirees, double amputees to diabetics have tackled the journey.

From the starting point at the Pyramids of Giza, riders average 123 kilometers (77 miles) per day making their way south through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and finally South Africa.

While the front group are intent on winning the race or, at very least, a stage or two, the middle pack, known as AFI riders, are determined to cover every expletive inch, hence their name. Bringing up the rear is the Back Pack, keen to soak in the landscape and culture at every opportunity.

A very short list of the wonders this pedal-powered odyssey takes in include Egypt’s Karnak Temple; Tanzania’s Ngorogoro Crater; The Great Rift Valley known as the cradle of mankind; Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall on earth; Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon on earth; the Okavango Delta, one of the richest wildlife regions in Africa and its botanical opposite, the vast Dune Sea of the Namib Desert where virtually no life exists. Finally, Capetown’s crowning glory, Table Mountain.

Dehydration is the main danger but as Dave Arman who rode the Tour d‘Afrique in 2010 admits, that there were some rather perplexing challenges to overcome. “In Ethiopia every child in every single village expects you to smile and wave at them. Whether you wave or not, they’ll pelt you with rocks,” he says. Equally, there are some unexpected rewards en route. ”Life doesn’t get much better than getting off the bike and soaking yourself under a waterfall on a blisteringly hot day.”

For most riders, the Tour d’Afrique is a once in a lifetime experience. “I wouldn’t do it again in a million years,” says Arman, “but I’d certainly recommend it to others without a moment’s hesitation”. Yet there are a handful of hard core cyclists like fellow racer Jethro De Decker who like to take it that one step further. After finishing the race in 2010 he set of to complete the Freedom Challenge, an arduous mountain bike race traversing South Africa’s rugged terrain from west to east. For some, this almost endless journey is just too short.