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Pedal Africa

July 23, 2012

Hi, welcome to the road. To find out what is going on, please click on any of the markers and this will bring up the blog post for that day. Once the trip has finished there will be a story post below picking out our favourite bits from the trip. I hope you enjoy, and if you have any comments or suggestions please contact me 😄

In June of 2012, five students from the University of St Andrews set out on an epic journey, cycling across Southern Africa from Beira, Mozambique, on the East coast, to Walvis Bay, Namibia on the West. Almost 4,000 kilometers of cycling, over plains and mountains, to the spectacular Victoria Falls and through the dusty Savannah of the Kalahari Basin. Money was raised for the six nominated charities of the University of St Andrews, and the other half funds were used to a One Water pump. The 'PlayPumps' are powered by children's merry-go-rounds, and provide an accessible and sustainable source of clean water for hundreds of sub-Saharan communities.

 

Off the Road Story

 

So many wonderful people and stunning scenery. Incredibly tough terrain at points (see north of Lake Kariba and the start) and many mechanical problems (all but one, we were able to get through) all well worth the effort. Some serious re-planning had to be done on the road due to the first sand road and the broken derailleur but this meant that we got to see more of Zimbabwe, which was a bonus. Everyone we met was so kind and helpful, we ended up cooking for ourselves only twice throughout the trip due to everyone's generosity.

 

 

During our time in Africa, we didn't see too much wildlife apart from Botswana where we encountered elephants (see the beginning of Botswana), ostriches, and eland to name a few. The Okavango Delta is highly recommended for this route. Taking the mokoro in to the delta was so relaxing and peaceful, and so much wildlife all around.

 

Problems Do Happen

On this particular trip problems most definitely happened. This started off when we had to turn back to the main tarred road at the beginning when Ro's derailleur bent catching in the sand. Due to the area we were unable to get a new compatible one so we bent it back into shape and zip tied the joints back together. This managed to hold all the way to Harare where we were able to replace it, but this was just the beginning...

  

Heading into remote areas that we had planned, we had decided to take a BOB Yak bike trailer to allow more space for food and water. This meant that Stuart had quite a heavily laden bike, particularly on the back. Coupled with rough terrain this was a recipe for disaster. Throughout Zimbabwe Stuart had a spoke replacement, but the route north of Lake Kariba was where the wheel really got battered. The rock and sand meant that the double walled rim broke into 5 sections, which miraculously held under the pressure of the tyre until Livingstone, Victoria Falls. Here, we went to the local market to find a solution.

 

We were running 700c wheels to get the easiest ride but these weren't very common in the areas we visited. This lead to the only solution being a worn down single walled rim that had been used on every bike. Initially this was no problem, a few broken spokes but strong enough. Towards the end of Botswana though, cracks started to appear. These slowly got bigger and bigger until sections started to fall. Zip ties and tape kept me on the road until 15km from the end. By this time a quarter of the rim on the left had fallen off which meant that when a puncture hit, Stuart got a slow sinking feeling, literally! The wheel bent in half leaving a very broken bike and rider (spiritually only - fortunately) in the road. The only course of action left was to hitch with the bike, bags and trailer to the end with a sunglasses salesman in a rented 3 door car.

 

Things are rarely ideal on the road and creative thinking is a god send. Zip ties and tape can get you a surprisingly long way when it needs to. The key is to be familiar with your bike and how it works. Spoke issues were a continuous throughout the trip but manageable because we had brought spare spokes and knew how to rebuild a wheel. Whatever the trip, try to get familiar with your equipment before you go.

  

People Are Great

How to pick a short story from the vast number that we experienced? So many friendly faces that helped us cross this great land. A particular one that stands out was in Namibia when Stuart separated from the group due to spoke issues. Heading a couple of days in front of the group to keep the trip on schedule, Stuart made it to the town of Gobabis which is where we pick up. 

 

I made it to the town around midday after a very early start from the border. Having a pizza from 'The Pizza Hut' I needed to find a bike repair that would have spokes that fitted a 700c bike. Cycling around from mechanics to tourist information, nothing was forthcoming until a guy shouts to me, 'Fancy a chat?' Cycling with a fully laden bike and trailer you attract quite a bit of attention and I am always up for a story so I thought why not. We get talking and I explain what I've been up to and my problem, fortunately he knows someone that owns a repair shop and has a pickup that he can take me in. So we head to the shop and sure enough they can fix it but it will take the rest of the day, but Fonk, (best named guy award), has a friend that runs a B&B in the town, Annaliese's Place B&B.

 

We head over, I drop my stuff off and clean up, and Fonk takes me out for a spot of shopping to get supplies. It turns out that he helps run a soup kitchen in the shanty town which he kindly takes to show me but not with out picking up a double bed and tens of passengers in the pick up. We head back to the bike shop where my wheel has been rebuilt and we part ways.

 

Next morning I sit down to breakfast with Annaliese where we get chatting about everything. Such a knowledgable woman; it was fascinating to hear about the history of Namibia. Finishing up, I get my stuff together and go to pay and she insists that all she wants for payment is a message in her guest book! I meet up with the others who have been battling the winds and we sit down for pizza. Unfortunately, in our excitement we forgot to watch the bikes and Emmey's phone got stolen 😢 The staff in the pizza shop, however, talk to some locals and they think they might be able to find it. We have to head, so I leave my phone number with them and tell them that I know Annaliese.

 

Heading off, we held little hope for the phone but a warm feeling that people were willing to help. Later that night however, I receive a text that they have found it and Annaliese can send it by courier to Windhoek by courier - spirits were high! Whilst on the road we hear a car honking, not unusual, that then passes us, stops and flags us down. In the area, there were so few roads that the courier had passed us before and was able to deliver the phone to us on the road 😄

 

Every time I think about this story, it reminds me that there are good people everywhere, and that strangers are friends you haven't met yet. It is always important to be aware of your situation and not to become complacent, but so often we treat this as a need to be closed off and wary. From a simple question of 'Fancy a chat?' so much warmth and goodness unfolded. For me this is what travelling is all about.

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