Tour d’Afrique: The Ultimate Social Experiment
Here we are in Mbeya after a tough seven-day stretch through the heart of Tanzania from Arusha. Why was it tough? There was a lot of climbing, it was mostly dirt road which meant a lot of sand, mud and rocks, and there were several longer-than-usual riding days.
The upside of this is that we took the road less travelled through Tanzania and were exposed to aspects of the culture (not to mention giraffes, baboons and other fantastic wildlife) that we would have missed had we cycled along a dull highway shoulder for seven days. Despite some challenging stages matched only by the Desert Sands section in southern Sudan, the riders are in good spirits. Which brings me to the topic of this blog: the riders. In specific, the mindset of the riders.
It takes a certain kind of person to sign up for a four-month cycling tour from Cairo to Cape Town. It’s not something you do on a whim, and it’s not something you can drift through casually, even if that was your initial intention when you arrived in Egypt.
Cycling aside, this is a group of strangers (at first) who have been on the road together day in and day out for two and a half months now as they each put themselves through a considerable physical and mental test. So naturally, you can’t help but notice changes in people’s behaviour, attitudes and general approach to making it all the way to Cape Town.
For some riders, the change has been quite extraordinary to watch. Riders who often used to cycle half-days and be utterly exhausted of a night are now riding the full day every day then going for a wander through the local villages in the afternoons. Riders who were disheartened to learn they wouldn’t have the option of a shower tonight or would be none too impressed that the local bar’s Wi-Fi didn’t work are no longer fussed about campsite conditions, instead improvising or making the most of it. Where cuts and bruises used to be a source of distress, now they’re a source of show and tell at camp or simply shrugged off in a “shit happens” kind of way.
There’s also a growing sense of camaraderie amongst the group. Coming into Khartoum I saw one cyclist riding along with his hand on another rider’s back, helping push her up a hill as she was struggling. I’ve witnessed multiple riders offer to put up an injured rider’s tent for him while he was getting patched up by the medic. People are more than happy to lend each other spare tubes, bike equipment, camping gear and chargers when needed. Riders are also increasingly helpful to the staff. When a cyclist isn’t riding one day for whatever reason, they help the crew set up the campsite, unload bags, or offer to wash dishes.
It’s a wonderful thing to see this group of people – people with different backgrounds, different lifestyles, different interests and different ways of coping with hardship – evolve together throughout the tour and offer a helping hand when it is needed. As I sit here writing this, half a dozen riders from five different countries who would never have met each other if they hadn’t all had the insane idea of riding a bicycle 12,000 kilometres across Africa are sitting around a table drinking coffee, chatting, laughing, and squabbling over who gets the pleasure of buying everyone a slice of cake. In short, if you want to grow as a person, broaden your horizons, appreciate the upsides in life without being fazed by the downsides, and make friends for life from all over the world… join the Tour d’Afrique.