A Decade Of Reflection On The Tour d’Afrique
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the four most formative months of my adult life. Even now, I look back on that time and learn more lessons, take in additional nuance, and savour spectacular memories.
In January of 2007, I flew from Toronto, Canada, to Cairo, Egypt to work as the bicycle mechanic for the Tour d’Afrique. During the job interview months prior, I was asked what I thought I would do if I had a gun pointed at me. I really had no idea what I was getting into, only that it would be unlike anything I had ever done.
Once on the ground in Cairo, I quickly started meeting everyone as I assembled client and staff bikes. Everyone seemed cool, but retaining names seemed almost impossible. A week later, I had already been through one round of stomach upset that started on day one, and I was able to name the brands of all but one of the bikes on the trip (Gunther, I will now never forget you had a Cannondale). Rider names were still not sticking however.
By the time we had hit Sudan, I started to feel like this wasn’t some dream, but in fact was my life – at least for the next four months. Sand caused mechanical failures I had never seen in nearly a decade wrenching and riding on the clay and loamy trails of home. At points the idea of restoring bikes to perfect function seemed like a shimmering oasis on the horizon, replaced instead by the reality of simply trying to get through another day.
My recollection of the route is framed by experiences along the way: One late night in Ethiopia, I had the first real coffee (and second-ever coffee) of my entire life while out with a South African client and a 12-year-old street hustler; I experienced a dry 50-degree Celsius heat in Northern Kenya, that when combined with a sandstorm just before lunch made me contemplate what life must be like in a convection oven; the word “road” took on a much more liberal interpretation, as did the phrase “rolling hills”; during a side trip to the Serengeti, I wondered whether the vocal lions in the distance would have any interest in cutting through the wispy nylon fortifications of my tent; rain-soaked clay dampened muscles and emotions equally on the Dodoma road, before we had a chance to ease sore bodies in the waters of Lake Malawi; the elephants of Botswana – as frequently seen at the roadside as deer and moose in Canada – were a perpetual shock; the ability to buy a chocolate cake in Windhoek.
Now, as I consider what I have done in my time since the Tour d’Afrique, I realize the foundations that trip laid. No matter what I was presented with on any day, I simply had to accept that as my fate, and do what I could to move forward. On a bike, all you have to do is push the pedals around one more time, and then repeat. That perseverance will accomplish what passion, enthusiasm, ideology may not.
But beyond these lessons, the realization that while there are many differences between people, there is so much that binds us together. In the midst of news reports about ideologically driven attacks and the protests dominating current events, I savour the memories of meals and conversations shared with locals during my travels. We spoke of our families, our ambitions, our loves and fears. Invariably, we would connect across religious and cultural gaps, relating as humans. When I think now about the Tour d’Afrique, beyond the images and landscapes, it is the memories of the people that have endured.
Travelling to such amazing places opened new perspectives that continue to influence my life every day a decade later. I could have stayed home, taken a different job, and never realized what opportunity would have been missed. Instead, Tour d’Afrique informed not just who I am, but also what this world can be.
Dean Campbell works as a writer, editor, and communications consultant in Canada, working to tell the stories of high-performing people. He has covered three Olympic Games, is one of the official media partners for a national motorsport championship, and is a regular contributor to Canadian Cycling Magazine. When he’s not in front of a screen, he’s on his bike riding in the Gatineau hills, or out with his dog, Bryson. Find out more and get in touch at deancampbell.ca