If doing this trip once has others questioning your sanity, doing it twice must confirm its missing. As this is my second time leading this wild, beautiful, and challenging trip, you could say I've fallen hard for the old trade route. My goals this time around, are getting fewer people lost, and finally discovering the fabled peanut butter merchants of Central Asia ;)
“‘Happiness is only real when shared’: I think this counts for a whole spectrum of experiences and emotions—pain, hardship, excitement, joy, for instance—and explains why sharing an adventure or journey with a group makes it so very real!”
Who would have thought that growing up on a farm and a career in rural healthcare would prepare me for a job like my job at TDA? I always had the desire to travel and even though I thought working here would be too good to actually come true when I sent in my job application, here I am, six tours and 28 countries later. I’ve learned more about the world and myself then I ever expected.
With so many incredible memories—and so much food shared, so many friends made along the way—it will take me years to process everything I’ve experienced courtesy of TDA. Highlights of my travels so far include finishing the North American Epic (NAE) in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, cycling Central Asia’s Pamir Highway, Abdul’s pilaf in the parking lot, Colombia, pan con chicharron, Patagonia, a massive thunder storm in Zambia, Hami melon, Madagascar, Samarkand, walnut and honey spread on fresh bread and topped with whipped yak cream, eaten in a warm yurt… and the list goes on! It’s amazing to realize that everything I experience with TDA will have an impact on my life long after these adventures are over.
One adventure I don’t expect to have again is the one I had in Mexico, when we discovered Hurricane Patricia was heading right straight at us. Monitoring the storm’s progress through the night—from stage 4 to stage 5—seemed so unreal. By 5:00 a.m., CNN was calling Patricia the strongest hurricane ever measured on planet earth. A few hours later, we loaded all bikes, riders, kit and crew onto an extra van and bus … and took off, tails between our legs, because Patricia was shaping up to be a beast! By nightfall we were safe and sound in the heart of tequila country, and, as Patricia lost most of her fury at landfall, the party at our lodgings ramped up.
There are so many wonderful aspects to working with TDA but key amongst them are travelling with purpose, meeting people from all over—and the food!
“Good afternoon, my dear dream merchants."—TDA rider arriving at the office in Toronto for a visit.
I started with TDA as a local cyclist in Brazil during the Vuelta Sudamericana in 2009. I had just finished a long solo cycling trip through South America and I was invited to join the first couple of sections of the tour to help with the language. Once I was back home I started volunteering for the company, doing everything I could to spread the word about TDA. Eventually they decided that it was only fair to hire me.
It’s really hard to choose a place or a tour that was special, but both scouting and leading our first Trans-Oceania tour was certainly out of the ordinary. I had ten weeks to scout the whole thing from Medan to Sydney and spent nine of them trying to wrap Indonesia.
I recall a particular day in Indonesia that the riders later named "The Wall". Henry and I had been discussing avoiding a stretch of highway we weren’t happy with. We’d seen an alternative on the map but the road was privately owned by industry and we were having trouble getting the getting the permits we needed to use it. When we arrived, we saw local people using the road, which was a trail, so we decided to have lunch there to give me time to scope it out. A local guy on a motorbike took me up the steep trail to check it, flag it, and take notes and waypoints. At some stage, the trail got so steep that the motorbike couldn’t get both of us up, so I walked the rest of the way before calling staff at the lunch spot to tell them the route worked and to give them directions. It was a bit improvised and out of the ordinary but it was functional.
Because I knew what this steep route would put the riders through, I decided to wait and touch base with the first to complete it to see what they had to say about the experience. The first couple of cyclists showed up with big smiles on their faces and said they’d loved it but that they didn't think I should wait for everyone because there was sure to be some aggravated rider who would probably punch me. I decided to stay and wait for that punch, and while a few people did arrive looking ready to smack me, the angriest of them all actually just gave me a big hug. After a good shower and some good food everyone was in fine spirits; in the end, this day turned out to be a rider favourite of the whole trip.
Working with TDA is really the perfect job. Not only do I love both travel and bicycles, I also love watching people achieve things of which they never imagined themselves capable. Finally, this job allows me to share these loves with a wonderfully diverse group of people.
Hi, My name is Gergo [Grrr-go], I'm from Budapest (Hungary). After many years of bike touring with my family and friends in the late 80's and 90's, a few seasons of mountain bike racing, and quite few years of just sitting in an office, in 2005 I've read an article about the Tour of Freaks... I mean... the Tour d'Afrique. Next January I found myself in the start line of the 4th edition of TDA, and completed the tour successfully in 2006. Since then, I did a couple of Orient Express tours, Amber Route, Trans Europa, Odyssey and PubRide. In 2007 I also crossed the Himalaya by bike, riding from Lhasa to Kathmandu including a ride to Mount Everest North face base camp where this photograph was taken.
Sharita van der Merwe
“The thing I love most about my job is watching the social dynamics unfold.”
For as long as I can remember I’ve been stripping, fixing, and riding bicycles. As well, I knew from a young age I wanted to explore, travel, and see the world—my dream at one time was to fly airplanes. However, it wasn’t long before I realized that flying in a straight line from point A to point B wasn’t for me!
When I left school I had no direction, no idea of where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do, once my dream of flying died. In 2003, I saw a magazine ad of a bunch of cyclists lined up in front of the Giza pyramids and I became hooked on the idea of doing that but I had to choose between taking a four-month cycling trip across Africa or going to Warriors Boot Camp to get educated. I chose Warriors and the programme equipped me for life by giving me a solid foundation. There, I was free to discover and explore who I was and to test physical and mental endurance. Having my attitude and my comfort zone constantly pushed readied me for all sorts of real-world challenges. I stayed at Warriors for three years, then cycled solo across Africa when I was 22 years old. In 2009, I landed the job as TDA’s assistant tour director on the Cairo to Cape Town trip—and the rest is history.
Ever since, Africa has been my baby and my favourite. I’ve worked on other tours—the Silk Route, the Bamboo Road, Ruta Maya, Magical Madagascar—but Africa is my full-time project and has lately included TDA’s complex tour of West Africa.
I’m based in beautiful Cape Town; when I’m not here, I’m scouting, exploring, problem-solving somewhere in the world and revelling in the adventure of being alive.
TDA has taken me to 80 countries and my most incredible off-the-beaten-track expedition was the West Africa scout in 2017, especially Guinea—I’d never been to a place so remote, rough or wild. I fell in love with Africa all over again on that trip. The stories are epic and endless!
There’s never a dull moment with TDA, because you absolutely never know what’s going to happen next.
"Travelling, moving, waking up every day in a new place means I have a thousand memories of different homes all around the world."
I used to work in an office developing softwares in Quebec City and one day I decided to quit that lifestyle. Being able to take only a trip or two per year wasn’t enough anymore—I needed to travel full time. In 2013, I bought a bicycle (that's right, I only had one from Canadian Tire at the time, but I quickly concluded a Surly LHT would better fit my needs) and went on my first bike tour, solo, starting from home and riding through Canada, the US, and Haiti. A year later, I was in Vancouver looking for a job and someone told me about TDA and their recruitment ad for Australia. I applied, bought an airline ticket to meet TDA in Adelaide, and the following month I was enjoying my new outdoor office from the saddle of my bike!
An incredible country I've cycled through is Haiti. The scenery is stunning and every 100 kilometres is an adventure, but best of all is the local folklore. I have many stories about this mysterious country and one of my favourites is about the werewolf living on the island. The Haitian werewolf is a shape-shifter able to impersonate any animal. It transforms at night—any night, even if there's no moon—and is always looking to feast on human flesh. The only way to avoid an assured death at this creature’s hands is to sleep in a house with a roof. I like to bush camp while cycling and Haiti was no different. I would sleep out in my sleeping bag in the mountains or on the beach, sometimes in my tent, sometimes under the stars. Every night the locals would warn me about the werewolf, genuinely worried I’d be eaten as I slept. Some invited me into their homes, and once a group of five friends volunteer to check on me every hour of the night. People were surprised every morning I woke up alive and some started to believe the werewolf didn't have an appetite for strangers.
There are a few reasons I like to travel so much: for one thing, I always want to have new adventures and face new challenges. And I love discovering new things—food, stories, places, people, cultures … you name it! With TDA, any and everything can happen—we’re constantly exploring the globe and we introduce fresh tours every year. As you can imagine, scouting and leading tours fulfill my desire for the new to perfection.
“Working outdoors is phenomenal.”
When TDA need local support for translations in Turkey in 2014, I entered the picture. Before TDA, I lived year-round there, in Izmir. Now I live on the road eight months of the year; the rest of the time I’m in Turkey, either applying for visas or rock-climbing.
Sometimes on a tour our failures are as incredible as our successes. Being defeated as my tour attempted to climb a new route on Koca Sarp, a rocky mountain in central Anatolia, is an experience I’ll always remember.
I’ve seen so much of the world with TDA. My favourite place I’ve been so far is Meteora, Greece. Probably the greatest pleasure of cycle-touring for me is never spending more than two days in a row in the same spot.
Overland and cycle guide for the past 9 years. Looking forward to another TDA experience and meeting you all in Cairo and along the way.
Flinging spanners, clicking gears, juggling bike spares & creating working bikes from the disasters that get placed in my work stand. See you guys at the next crazy location.
“Sitting around on Friday afternoons in the TDA office, drinking beers, gazing at the wall-sized world map and brainstorming new tour ideas.”
I rode the 2006 Tour d'Afrique and ended up chatting with Henry over dumplings in Chinatown about a job. Twelve years later, I'm still here, as Office Manager.
Working for TDA has given me the chance to make so many memories. On the third day cycling in the sand and rock on unmarked tracks in the Sudanese desert south of Wadi Halfa during the 2006 Tour d'Afrique, I remember stopping, exhausted and filthy. Looking around and thinking “What the hell am I doing here?”, but with a big grin on my face—a really big grin.
I also remember being in southeast Asia in 1990, watching from “the comfort of the bar"… as a bus bound for Singapore pulls in. A mad rush ensues. People throw their bags and children through the open windows and clamber into the door, all this as the bus backs into its parking spot. People wanting off the bus are forced to bash their way past the people forcing their way on. A polite Westerner (about 6'3", 220 pounds) makes a futile attempt to board. He is no match for the locals and as the bus pulls away, the bus door spits him out, pack and all.”
For me, the best part of the job is the unpredictability: phone calls in the middle of the night about lost riders, elephant attacks, missing passports and vehicles that can't be turned off for days on end. You just never know what's coming next.
“A mountain biker at heart, but bike touring pays the bills!”
Most of the time, I work at the TDA head office in Toronto as the IT Manager, but I also sometimes work on the tours as needed, either as a guide or a bike mechanic. I landed here because my uncle mentioned to me he had a friend—Henry—with this crazy bike company, the friend and I met, and the rest is history.
I studied Business and IT at university, and my previous job was at an exotic car dealership. In my own time, I do more mountain biking than touring, and usually find nice trails to ride wherever our tours take me. Outside of TDA, I’ve cycled across Europe and half of Canada.
The Pamir Highway was a peak experience for me! As a mountain biker, I always love the roughest, crappiest roads our tours travel on. My favourite day of the entire Silk Route was actually the day that most of the other riders thought was the worst—it ended with a long switchback descent on a rough gravel road.
Every day brings a new challenge to solve, whether here in the office or on the side of a road in the desert. I really value that element of my job and relish it immensely.
“Seeing the impact the tours have on participants gives me great satisfaction.”
I set up TDA in 2002 with the hope of creating a truly unique bicycle adventure in Africa, where I spent a significant amount of time in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The idea was to have fun but also to advocate for cycling and donate some bikes to health care workers in Africa.
I love seeing and experiencing the world so any new place to explore gives me great pleasure. My favorite experience has to be arriving in Cape Town on the inaugural Tour d’Afrique and proving to all the skeptics and naysayers that it could be done—because we did it.
Another story that sticks out was when I wasn’t feeling well in southern Tanzania and took a room in the Baptist Conference compound in order to be close to the toilet. I took my money belt off and put it on a chair. In the morning I put on my cycling clothes but forgot the belt. That afternoon arriving in camp I realized I’d left the belt behind. When I made my way back to the Baptist centre it was gone. Since it contained a substantial amount of money I reported the loss to the local police, who decided to investigate. They got a list of the people who worked at the centre and proceeded to go from house to house, ransacking each one. I felt sick to my stomach and asked them to stop but they refused. In the end, they took me to the police station, insisting they needed to write a report.
Afterwards, I took a local express bus, which actually stopped every couple of kilometres, loading and unloading dozens of people on and off a van that had nine seats. Eventually, the bus reached its destination but I needed to hire a taxi to get to the campsite. The taxi driver and I struck a price and off we went. After a while, the driver decided he’d driven far enough for the price and wanted to drop me in the middle of nowhere in the dark. I prodded him on and he continued for a bit before wanting to stop again; we repeated this exercise several times. Right as we neared the camp, the taxi’s motor died. I pushed the car to the side of the road and paid the agreed amount, adding a generous tip, but the driver was unhappy. It turned out there’d been a misunderstanding—I’d offered him $15 but he’d understood $50. The misunderstanding grew into a heated argument and drew a small crowd. Suddenly there was a huge bang and I felt a whoosh of air as if a bullet had just missed me—a truck without lights had hit the taxi full on. I was convinced people had also been hit but although the taxi had been demolished, no one was hurt. The next morning, one of the staff asked me if I recalled what I’d said after the bang. I didn’t so he reminded me, repeating what I’d said: “What a day I’m having.”
I love my job because it lets me cycle the world and because of the endless possibility for unique experience it affords me. I also derive immense satisfaction from seeing the way tour participants are affected. For most of them, our cycling tours are life-changers.
“I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world. I learn so much each time I travel and with each new project and new tour we launch.”
I first found a TDA brochure when I was a sales manager at Duke's Cycle in Toronto. I met Henry and convinced him to give me a job in the office. That was over a decade ago now.
My love of all things bicycle started when I was in high school: I lived in the country and my friends were six kilometres away, in town. A bike was the easiest way to meet up with them on weekends. This started my interest in cycle touring and I did my first big trip at age 17 with some friends—a month of biking around Lake Erie, covering 3,400 kilometres from our hometown Kirkland Lake, in Northern Ontario.
Some of my favourite TDA travel memories are from Kyrgyzstan. Also Ethiopia, as well as France. And of course can't forget Namibia, and Ireland, and, well...
I love to travel and I feel very fortunate to have had an eclectic mix of travel experiences. Whether it’s trying fermented mare's milk in a yurt in Kyrgyzstan, eating “spagbol” prepared by our talented tour chefs after a long day of riding, sipping strong espresso in Venice, or sitting street-side for lunch in Paris, my travels always have food at their centre. Food and cycling—the combination can't be beat!
Working with TDA is all about variety—food, cycling, challenge, problem-solving, meeting people from all over the world, getting a glimpse into the way others live elsewhere and gaining knowledge from them, and learning to be humble.
“There are few experiences in life that compare to riding my bike through beautiful landscapes in faraway lands.”
The circumstances that led to me becoming TDAs accountant date back almost 35 years. In 1985, after studying Africa in University, my then girlfriend and now wife were hired by Henry Gold, to work for CPAR, a small humanitarian NGO he was leading at the time, on a medical famine relief project in Ethiopia. I spent 12 years with CPAR before becoming Executive Director (and Accountant) for a sports non-profit - the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA). In mid-2007, I convinced Henry, who had founded TDA in 2002, that I was the numbers oriented guy to do the job. Today I work for TDA about 70% of the time while also serving as PDGA International Director.
I've also been a TDA client 7 times now and these journeys have all had their magical moments. Spinning through Iran - pinch me, I'm dreaming!, across Turkey - where east meets west, down Chile's remote Carretera Austral, and into the canyonlands of the American southwest, to name a few. Completing the Tour d'Afrique and winning a couple of race stages is another. Eating super fresh Octopus ceviche and a massive Shrimp cocktail in the town of San Felipe while scouting Baja California. And of course, meeting TDAs amazing clients from around the world and the "salt of the earth" local people along the way.
On a macro level, TDA is a spirited little company that seizes the day and refuses to accept the words "no can do". This anything is possible attitude enables TDA to provide intrepid travel experiences of a lifetime from the best seat in the house - your bicycle, and people like you and me to break through their personal barriers.
On a micro level, toiling as company accountant is way more entertaining and challenging, transacting as we do in a myriad of major and obscure currencies, than most positions in the seemingly humdrum field of financial management.
“I caught the travel bug young, while staring up at airplanes and wondering where they were going. It hasn’t ever really left me.”
Before TDA (which is quite a while ago now), I had several relevant passions. I was a serious bike racer for quite a few years. Then I lived long summers in the boreal forest planting trees, followed by winters of bike couriering in Montreal. The next step in the skill set—cooking—was acquired at culinary school and by working for some of the best chefs in Montreal and Vancouver. And all of this was interspersed with traveling however and wherever I could around the globe.
With TDA I’ve experienced so many incredible sights, smells, sounds, and more. The memories to ponder later on while in the communal rocking chair are endless. In particular, I feel exceptionally lucky for the professional and personal relationships developed with people from around the world over more than a decade—it’s in these relationships that windows to so many cultures have been opened, so many ways of being witnessed.
I also feel fortunate to get to watch tour participants as they delve into nomadic life on our journeys. Each day, whether easy or grueling, is a trip into the unknown; the simplicity of these days brings people together while at the same time offering grand rewards.