Cape Town The finish.......Newsletter Part 1of 2

Beyond the Saddle ....Cairo to Cape Town
Howard Fairbank
Wed 13 Jun 2007 19:57
Finally arrived in Cape Town on May 12, 2007

Position is 34:2.93S 18:33.18 E

Howard Fairbank

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   Issue #15 - Part 2


Table Mountain, The Finish line….Part 2
A Solo Bicycling Perspective!


Durban, South Africa, 23 May 2007

Hope you enjoyed Part 1 of my ‘Final’ Newsletter…as promised this is Part 2 and definitely ‘The Final’ Beyond the Saddle!

Having completed the last 3500 km on my own, I found the cycling experience to be a very important aspect of the holistic experience, and hence my devoting a newsletter to sharing it with you. Unlike the first months of this four month adventure, it wasn’t an ‘obviously exotic´ section filled with exotic people and cultural experiences. This section was more subtle -  firstly, an appreciation of a more fundamental nature and ‘un-spoilt ness’ (rare in these times), and secondly, my overcoming and then embracing the physical and emotional personal challenges cycling this terrain presented. I do understand that some readers may not find this perspective of interest and apologise for clogging up your inbox if you are one of those!

For context and reference, I thought it probably useful to describe the extent of support provided by the Tour d’Afrique organisation prior to me ‘going it alone’:

Essentially, the cyclist is provided with four meals a day. These being a breakfast, then an on the road, ‘lunch’, a wholesome soup on arrival at the day’s finish camp, and then a hearty stew (usually) and vegetable dinner at around 6 pm. Energy bars were provided for on the road ‘snacking’. Virtually unlimited water and electrolyte drink was available at all the food points complementing the 3 litre carrying capacity carried on my bike.

The route to be taken each day, including the total distance and overnight stop point were set by the organisation. Riders had the freedom to start each day’s cycle any time after first light, but needed to be off the road by sunset. Although a controversial issue on the tour, on most days an overview of the terrain for the day ahead was provided. I say controversial, because some days it was so inaccurate it would have been far better to have no information at all about what lay ahead!

A support truck transported each rider’s personal effects, camping equipment, and bike spares to each day's endpoint. The truck was also available to carry riders not wanting to ride a day, and to pick up riders who had problems along the route. Although I vowed NEVER to get on the truck, the truth is, this truck was there, and this support basically eliminated any SIGNIFICANT personal risk, or the need to deal with major crises on one's own.   

At the end of the day’s cycle, the overnight campsite became a tent village as riders finished the day's cycle, and erected their tents around the organisation's support trucks which provided the communal infrastructure - including first aid, bicycle mechanic and workshop facilities. In hindsight, this was ‘very luxurious’, and enabled riders to ‘just focus’ on the day's cycling, riding the same light, unloaded bicycle they would ride at home.

Having done a lot of extended adventure solo cycling myself, this support structure was initially very rigid and stifling for the adventure spirit in me, but as it was part of the whole package I got used to it and even questioned myself on why I would contemplate dropping the support for the ‘harder’, solo option. But each time I came back to the same conclusion - the comforts were not nearly as valuable as the increased sense of satisfaction, freedom and adventure that I would have by taking on the additional risk and ‘discomfort’. From your own life you may understand this and know the satisfaction derived from an activity is often directly related to how challenging and difficult it was to achieve. The difficulty we often have is dropping our comforts and volunteering for the more risky less certain path. My experience is that EVERY time I have opted for the more uncertain path, I have never regretted it!  So that’s the main reason why I decided to go it alone!

Having said goodbye to Ruth who successfully completed her cycling goals and headed back to London as planned, me having just turned 50, and the group having left Livingstone the day before…… I can vividly remember my feeling of slight apprehension and excitement as I contemplated the new road ahead:  The potential challenges, dealing with the total isolation and self-sufficiency issues, and then questioning whether my ‘tired’ bike was up to the new challenge of its new and heavy load. This is what the comforts do to us….they make you feel you can’t get by without them…and cause one to doubt one owns well-proven ability!!  

Life is full of compromises and trade-offs, and packing my bike was one of those….the option of lots of rations, emergency equipment, spares and comforts for ‘peace of mind’, versus a ‘just the essentials, take a risk/survival only’ approach. I opted for this latter approach as it translates into fast, easier cycling, and less stress on the bike. (Well I thought I had, but after meeting the mother with the four kids walking the desolate Kalahari Road (Part 1 Newsletter story)  I thought I was still very comfortable and really just fooling myself…..She REALLY had only essentials, I was still ‘very fat and comfortable´ with no REAL risk.) At the next town as I dumped some ‘essentials’ I wondered who would have the most fulfilling and satisfying journey. I know it's not all about that, but when does our need for comforts and luxuries blind us from experiencing real deep personal growth and truly meaningful earthly things? (I am reminded of the early days of the tour when we were cycling through the Sahara etc, and I saw many of the group riding with Ipods providing ‘escape from the boredom’ while they cycled through magical lunar-like scenery! I guess we are all different!)

To try and help you see a bit more into my cycling journey through this final section from Livingstone (Zambia) to Cape Town (South Africa) I provide some more specifics:

Firstly…..Some Boring (and Personal!) Stats!

  Distance Cycled this Section:    3485 km

  Days actually cycled:                19

  Days of luxury / resting! :           4 days

  Average km cycled per day:       183 km (234 km was the longest day)

  Hours cycling per day:               7-8 hrs

  Average cycling speed:              Around 26km/hr (very terrain dependent)

  Road Profile:                             95% good quality tar road, 5% good quality dirt   
                                                  road.  50% flat, to very flat! 10% lightly undulating,
                                                  20% moderate undulating, 20% hilly/mountainous.

 ´Sleep´ Places:                          Cycle days were split between roadside camping
                                                 ´wherever I felt like pitching my tent´, to Bed and   
                                                 Breakfast/Guest Houses in small towns. Rest days
                                                 were ´My luxury accommodation’ time 

 Typical ‘Wake up’ time:               1hr before sunrise (typically 5am local time)

 Typical daily ‘Start cycling’ time:  1hr before sunrise

 Typical ‘End cycling’ time:           Sunset (Typically 6 to 630pm local time)

 Typical ‘Go to sleep’ time:           8 pm local time

 Liquid consumed on cycling day: 6-8 litres (Water and cold drinks)

 Food consumed on cycling day:  5 servings of instant flavoured oats with 500ml milk, 2
                                                  peanut butter sandwiches, apple and banana for
                                                  breakfast. Two to four (yes!) hamburgers (or similar
                                                  chicken, steak dishes) with potato and vegetables and
                                                  a banana for lunch (maybe two stops). Two energy
                                                  bars as snacks along the way. Tinned fish, butter
                                                  beans, peanut butter sandwich, and tinned fruit for
                                                  dinner. Chocolate snack before bed! (This is a typical
                                                  day, obviously food was very village availability  

 Supplements taken daily:          1000mg Vitamin C, Whey Protein boost, Potassium
                                                + Magnesium supplement, Dynamisan Vitamin /
                                                Mineral / Amino Acid diet supplement

 Daytime weather experiences:   Sunshine everyday and all day, except for 4 hrs of
                                                electrical storm and torrential downpour (see later),
                                                and light rain for the day before finishing in Cape Town

 Evening weather experiences:    Beautiful clear starlit (and mostly moonlight) evenings
                                                every evening without exception.

 Winds:                                     Mostly ´from heaven’….light to moderate tail winds,
                                                other than one horrible headwind day (see below), and
                                                a few days of crosswinds.                         

I guess it paints a picture of a man (no…‘a someone´, no sex was implied!)  who was cycling a ‘fairly large’ number of kilometres almost every day, in beautiful weather, almost ideal terrain, and leading a very simple, nomadic and isolated existence.

This translating into doing a huge amount of exercise, all day in the sun, binge eating and drinking, and then retiring to bed early for a BIG rest to enable the body to recover to be able to repeat the performance the next day! (How I’ll miss the unlimited bingeing!)

I can promise you, that for me it WAS fun, often exhilarating, being in these ideal conditions out there in big wide open spaces, virtually on my own, no responsibilities to anyone other than the environment, and the few but important decisions in MY hands. (I do understand that this may not be a picture of ´paradise´ for many of you, but I merely hope to convey as vividly as possible, the picture of my humble experience, so it maybe has some use in your journey!)

You probably can also understand how I enjoyed the contrast of the luxury food and rest on the days off!

Cycling Long, Straight and Flat Desert Roads…..They can be enjoyable!

Firstly I think it is important to have a common picture of these roads:

Basically the Trans Kalahari Highway from the southern tip of the Okavango Delta to 30km before Windhoek is a 600km example of one of these roads! Windhoek to Keetmanshoop is another 500km example. More ‘pure’ examples are many of the 1-200km sections that form part of these longer stretches. So if you have driven them, you will already have a picture…if not, here is a description:

They are characterised by the following:

-           Roads in excess of 100km in length that attempt to connect two remote and desolate desert towns by the shortest possible route. This being across a very flat terrain, that typically is ´horizon-less’ but for the exception of some distant spectacular mountain silhouette that seems to move because it never gets closer.

-           Depending on the road designer’s ‘flare and innovation’ these roads are either ‘dead straight’ (medium creativity design and the Namibian style!) or ‘illusionary snaking’ (high creativity with innovative safety design, the Botswana style!) Both are very straight roads, with the latter design having a ‘wake up wiggle’ every 10 or so kilometres that attempts to fool the user that the road course is changing. After a while, the predictability of these wiggles almost defeats their purpose and they become an unnecessary extension to the straight line distance between the two towns.

-           In the middle of the day there are mirages at both ends of the road. These aren’t the fighter aircraft type but hopelessly misleading apparitions of a cool and idyllic lake rest point ahead.

-           If using these roads on a bike before sunrise one doesn’t have to worry when first seeing the lights of an oncoming vehicle, as it's probably doing around120 km/h (the speed limit) and you have at least 12 to 15 minutes before it passes you!.

-           There is very little passing traffic on the road, being only freight trucks, or 4X4 adventurers who often travel in convoy, waiving at ‘that poor cyclist’ for company as they pass by.

Hmmm…So how can cycling these roads be fun?

When I thought of doing this Cairo to Cape Town trip, these roads were the thing I worried about most…whether I could keep focused and motivated, and how could that be fun. With this in mind, I even told the organisers I may only go as far as Vic Falls or Windhoek.

Well what a pleasant surprise - not only did I find these roads much easier than I thought, I actually ENJOYED them. I had failed to factor in a special-ness that would overcome all else….the feeling of being out there on my own as an insignificant living thing in this huge wide open part of the planet. Boredom wasn’t an issue, as the look and feel of the environment changed so dramatically from sunrise to sunset, and I so looked forward to the riding time between 4pm an sunset everyday.

As I travelled through it and looked deeper, I found many other living ‘things’, for most it’s their home and they know nothing else. All are survivors, deeply in touch with their environment, living off what it offers, and not expectant of much more than what they have and the hope every new day brings. These ´things’ including lonesome herdsman, antelope, ostrich, hyena, a range of birds (mainly predatory), rock rabbits, field mice, and snakes. It was camping out next to one of these roads one night that I had the fairly unnerving experience of a spotted hyena approaching close to my tent. It was interesting to see modern day examples of the San (Bushmen) people, these people standing out for me as those most able to appreciate and embrace what I was just touching on experiencing out there on my own. (Sadly I wasn’t able to bring myself to photograph the people along the way, as it just seemed that they were so private and it would have been too much of an invasion of their privacy.

One Horrible Day out there!

As you would imagine, it wasn’t all wonderful days and easy going:

I was occasionally reminded how focused and in tune with my mental state I was and what happens if you lose it:

On one or two days along the way I failed to internalise the day ahead and mentally prepare myself for the day's cycling. After months of cycling, this had almost become a sub-conscious process, albeit a critical one. This horrible day in the middle of the Kalahari (Botswana side) started like that…I knew I hadn’t set a clear goal for the day, and was just setting off from my campsite in the ‘middle of nowhere’ to ride to ‘somewhere’!

Some 50km into the already difficult ride, I made a planned detour to the village of Tshootsa (previously Kalkfontein) and welcomed a distraction from the lovely owner of the only store in the town. She told me a moving story about her life’s journey leaving the village in search of riches linked to the tourist trade, having a wonderfully intellectually broadening time, but then missing something and returning to where her soul was, and starting this little business. I stayed much longer than I should have, but then pulled myself up and said…"I’d better go I still have a long cycle ahead!

Soon after that, an ‘evil’ headwind popped up! Remember I am on one of the above long flat, straight roads, so there are no significant bends or mountain wind shadows to provide hope of relief…it's just straight, straight, straight! A few months before I took the odometer off my bike because in conditions like this I find it best to not know how slowly you are going! The road side boards giving distance to Mamuno (Botswana border post town on Namibia / Botswana Border) ‘every 10 km’, told me that with the headwind, my progress was now depressingly slow and I still had a long way to go!

The lovely woman at Tshoota had said to me there was nothing at Mamuno, but 8 km before Mamuno there was a place called Charles Mill that had ‘everything’! Why wasn’t it even on my map I wondered? Ok don’t raise your hopes because if it was anything it would surely be on the map. ….

It's times like this that one has to do the impossible….use the mind to move the mind onto some interesting and potentially absorbing distraction subject….As you would imagine, this was required a number of times in the past four months, so subjects were getting scarce. With the end of this bike adventure so close, and a new one about to begin, pictures of my ‘lonely’ yacht Solone, the Azores, and thinking of my next sailing adventure, is a reminder of what became a timely and absorbing distraction subject for this difficult day!

I finally got to the Engen service station at the turnoff to Charles Mill. (Wonder why the brand matters here!) Botswana is a very cyclist-unfriendly country, as all the villages and towns are set a few kilometres off the main road, so one has to make an effort to visit the towns! After satisfying my priority thirst, I then asked one of the attendants ‘How far it was to the TOWN?’ Now being literally in the middle of nowhere, he challenged my natural instinct to ‘turn up the volume’ on my already irritable mood, by replying ‘Which town?’ I said ‘Mate, there is only one f…ing town here’. To which he correctly replied ‘It’s ONLY a village (ie not a town), and it's one kilometre down that road’!

Charles Mill turned out to be a nice little place, and a very hearty chicken meal restored my spirits, and helped with some much overdue goal setting!….I had done 120km to that point and agreed with myself that I would do the 8km to the border, and then aim to camp some 40km beyond that. I set off and as expected the headwind had increased, but I was now focused! No problems with border formalities, but some large darkish clouds had formed. I stopped to chat to a local herdsman, and then asked him if it was going to rain later. He vehemently shook his head, saying ‘Definitely not’. From my young days with the Zulus in South Africa, I had learnt that they had a 6th sense for predicting short term weather, so I thanked him for telling me what I wanted to hear, convincing myself that he knows better than me,  as he is also one of those ‘sixth sensers’.

Well I should have followed my better judgement. Within an hour I was cycling in a violent and very nearby electrical storm, bucketing rain pelting my body, and gale force head wind now really testing my commitment to the freshly set cycling objectives! No point crying mate….look for the positives! I could see this was blowing over and the hope of a beautiful, windless, rain free, sunny last hour to the day gave me the resolve to fight on. An hour later the rain stopped and although soaked through, I was granted my special hour to sunset. Post storm conditions were so exhilarating my mind turned so positive that I cycled beyond sunset until the light was too bad, and was blessed with another special bush campsite - the just reward for a really difficult day!

Approaching Windhoek… I get reminded that it’s not all in my Hands!

I had spent five days since the luxury of the Okavango Delta, roughing it ‘out there’ in the Kalahari and being un-shaven, un-showered and physically tired I was looking forward to the comforts of Windhoek. (Yeah, like you, I miss them after a while!)  I was really motivated and enjoying the start of the mountains some 30km before Windhoek, when my bike started making a terrible grinding noise, which I eventually traced to the pedal system, and probably the main bottom bracket bearing. (This was brand new at Cairo) What concerned me is how quickly the condition was deteriorating and I had some largish hills ahead. I slowed down to nurse the bike, and then at 25km to Windhoek I felt the rear tyre getting soft, and realised I had a puncture. It was clear this had come about from being aggressively forced off the road onto thorns a few hundred metres earlier by a huge truck 'passing’ me. Co-incidentally, I saw a sign for a Bed and Breakfast just where I started riding on the rim. I decided to get off the bike, push it in to the B+B and go and have a nice leisurely breakfast and then fix the puncture without stress. I walked into the dining room of this very upmarket German run B+B, and straight into the startled, and instantly unfriendly owner. Asking for breakfast he almost reluctantly pointed me to a table with a beautiful view on the surrounding mountains. I proceeded to the men’s room to wash my ‘mechanic’ hands, and on looking at myself in the mirror I understood the owners reaction to our meeting….five days of roughing it, that just woken up hairstyle, and a face full of not rubbed in sunscreen (freedom and no mirror in the bush!), I was looking a very unlikely customer. I cleaned up, came out and apologised for my earlier appearance, which seem to rescue the situation turning it into a truly special breakfast.

I then proceeded to fix the puncture, only to have my only pump (new one for the trip too!) break in my hands as I was literally pumping the last stroke of the repaired tyre. (A spare pump is on the list of back-up spares that got torn up when in Livingstone. I opted for the faster, easier cycling option.) Well at least it happened at the end of the repair process, and the tyre was hard and I could ride on.

Now I had two potentially ‘critical’ issues to deal with:  If I had another puncture and / or if my bearing seized, I would need outside assistance, and probably in the form of a lift to Windhoek, and that would compromise my trip objectives. (Referencing the mother of four again…..this was far from a case of life or death crisis though!)

The 25km to Windhoek were nail biting, as I wondered which way fate would treat me. Windhoek is a sizeable city, yet because it is situated in a huge ‘bowl’ encircled by mountains fencing it from the desert, it is hidden from view as one approaches. For one not knowing Windhoek, the sign indicating '5km to go' would seem to point to either a very small town (ie no bicycle shop!), or the 5 should be 50 and I still had a long way to go! Even though I new Windhoek well, this ‘logical’ conclusion seemed to increase the downside odds of the game fate had just forced me to play.

It was my ‘lucky’ day, because virtually as I entered the city limits an advert for adventure gear directed me to the best bike store in Windhoek! It was 11 am Saturday morning, and I remembered the whole of Windhoek closes at 1pm until Monday morning, and my bike needed quite a bit of work! The owner warmed to my cause and with a team effort I rode out of the shop at 2pm with a new bottom bracket bearing and axle, and the whole drive chain replaced (front and back cogs and chain)…Oh and also a new pump!

Essentially, the bottom bracket bearing had seized (the noise I heard) and had then gouged a deep groove in the axle. I do find it amazing that almost state-of-the-art equipment fails after a relatively short test. I was reminded that the equipment today is largely designed for short races where toughness and endurance are compromised for weight and speed. Very few customers want a bike to go 12 000 hard kilometres without a change of components!

For those who were startled by the extent of my roughing it aspects above, by 8pm that day I’d had a wonderful indulgent cleanup in my downtown Windhoek hotel and was dressed in my ‘best’ attire sitting in the ‘Warehouse’ theatre/lounge, watching an Afro-centric Namibian band at the live launch of their first CD. It’s one of the things I just love about this wandering life….being able to move between these lifestyle extremes, and using my bike or boat to take me there.  

My final thoughts…..

These four months have been a truly amazing adventure that no doubt will have long-lasting implications on the course of my life journey and future views of the world I live in. Surprisingly to me (probably not to you!), it’s been very difficult this past week accepting that it’s all over and life moves on. I am determined to not lose the memories that together will provide a more holistic picture of what this whole ‘thing’ was REALLY about. I do not know what the product of this will be yet, but as a subscriber, if appropriate, I will share the end result with you. 

I sense I may have disappointed many subscribers by not including a ‘proof I did it’ photo of me crossing the official Tour d’Afrique finish line. Well for those that know me well, you will know ‘dog and pony’ shows are not my forte’! For the records, I did wait a day for the group, and then ride in with them on the 12th of May to the Cape Town Waterfront ceremony. (So picture attached.) I did feel if I was being used as a marketing tool standing under a ‘Cairo to Cape Town’ banner receiving a medal with others in the group who had not cycled the whole way and when the going got tough chose the easy support truck option. This, in my opinion, was commercial marketing devaluing the enormity of what some of a small and elite sub-group of us had done….that is, cycle every single kilometre of the route from Cairo to Cape Town. In the crowd was a guy who I’d met along the way and who cycled the whole way on his own unsupported……He had no need for a medal, public accolades or fame, just the more valuable and long lasting prize within, that nobody can take away. Riding in with the group was very much about personal closure for me rather than about the superficial public recognition.   

As this is my final newsletter to you, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest and support. If you were one of the many who emailed your encouragement to me along the way, I would like to specially thank you, as I valued it immensely. I have really enjoyed trying to bring to you what I was experiencing, and look forward to sharing more of my adventures in the future.

Your Donations …Next Step:

With regard to fund raising donations, within a few days I will be sending out a short email to you, setting out the process, dates, and how you go about it. So please look out for that.

In the last few days I have been in contact with both The African Conservation Foundation, and WaterCan, and there is a high degree of excitement and expectation around the fundraising potential of the 'Beyond the Saddle' subscriber community.

Now I am ‘Off the Saddle’…..I am happy to answer any specific questions etc you may have. This newsletter will be the last communication on the africa.cycle.trip email address, so please address any mail to me at my original howfair {CHANGE TO AT} bigpond {DOT} com email address.  


May 12th Finish Line in Cape Town, under the Tour d‘Afrique Banner.


My bike pedal-less on the workshop stand in Windhoek. Was I glad to make it unassisted to this haven.   

Puncture day….on a long, straight and flat road. 4 punctures that day, finally tracked to a rim tape problem. Lonely stuff ‘out there’!

Big Botswana Valley.  A sign ‘warning’ one about a ‘feature’ valley ahead. This ‘dip’ is a rare highlight feature on a Long, Straight and Flat road!

Trans Kalahari sign:  Just a road sign to many….to me the mother of all Long, Straight, Flat roads…..Conquered with fond memories!

The sunrises were a wonderful ‘end to the beginning’ of the day….. I’ll miss those starts to the day.

A very special point in the trip. I had just crossed the Orange River border between South Africa and Namibia, and this was the first sign that said ‘Cape Town’….I had tears in my eyes!


This is Pico Volcano, in the Azores. Each day my boat stares at it waiting for my return. An image that helped me through the ‘horrible day’.

Dreaming about Solone. There she is with just a glimpse of a cloud covered Pico in the background. Together soon to start the next phase of my adventure life.

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