The starting point for the Tour d’Afrique. Nine people will be completing the journey, along with 12 cyclists going part of the way, and 10 support staff. (Fabio Pulito/Flickr)
You’ve heard of the Tour de France, but what about the Tour d’Afrique? For the 13th year in a row, cyclists from all over the world will be biking 7,500 miles over four months from the Sphinx and pyramids in Cairo through 10 countries to Cape Town, South Africa. Along the way, participants in the 2015 Tour d’Afrique Cycling Expedition will ride alongside the Red Sea and the Nile, past ancient temples, through the Sudanese Nubian Desert, and up and down the biblical landscapes of Ethiopia’s rugged Simian Mountains. After crossing the equator in Kenya, they will pedal past legendary Mount Kilimanjaro, to Lake Malawi, Victoria Falls, and along the edges of the magnificent Kalahari and Namib deserts, en route to the finish. So who are the people completing this epic journey and why are the doing it? Yahoo Travel found out.
See amazing photos from the Tour d’Afrique on Yahoo Travel’s Instagram.
Why TDA: Timothy Peter Illes is an Australian citizen (with a Hungarian passport), but the trip will take him back to the place of his birth — South Africa. Illes’s family left Cape Town when he was just 18 months old, and this will be his first time back. The tour will also be a testing ground for a research project the university student is working on. He’ll examine how athletes cope physically and mentally during an extreme endurance cycling race. Illes is also raising money to set up a water distiller in Jimma Hospital Ethiopia, where he will be working for a few months after the Tour d’Afrique.
His take: “The idea of standing in Cairo next to my bike looking at all the other keen riders just before the start is petrifyingly exciting. I think most of us will be thinking, ‘What the hell are we doing?’ Truthfully, I am scared of the whole trip — I am scared of hungry hyenas, lions with big teeth, people with big guns, people throwing rocks at me, rare African diseases, the Sudanese desert, being dehydrated, and having to do a Bear Grylls with [drinking] my urine…. However, despite all this insanity, I really have no doubt that I will finish the race. I’m not sure whether I am just a complete masochist or if I am completely in denial — yet for some reason the TDA is something I just have to do. I read about it, and I simply couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s an insane obsession. I cannot wait.”
Ivan Zimmermann, 39
Why TDA: From South Africa, Ivan Zimmermann is launching a program called Leaders Never Quit through the South African Institute for Chartered Accountants. The program aims to collect a can a kilo — one canned, nonperishable item for every kilometer Ivan cycles. The food will be donated to the underprivileged in South Africa.
His take: “I imagine that when we leave, I will be thinking about the power of making a decision. And that I am actually doing this! I will think of family and close friends. My fear is to get out of the Cairo traffic alive!”
Ben Evans, 35
Why TDA: Ben Evans has lived in the same town in Surrey, England, all his life, and now he’s ready for a major change. He’s selling all his possessions and leaving his home, his job, and his friends to go experience the world. The TDA is a step in that journey.
His take: “I want to become a different person in a different place with a different outlook. I don’t want to die wondering what it’s like in the desert, what elephants look like in the wild, and what it’s like to live in Sudan or Malawi or Ethiopia. During the race, I will try to let all the amazing new experiences fill my mind. Out of all the potential concerns — bugs, bandits, scorpions, lions, dehydration — my biggest worry will be not having a toilet or toilet paper.”
Mary Jane Winch, 49
Why TDA: An American, Mary Jane Winch is cycling to celebrate a big birthday: 50. Along the way, she’ll be visiting her 50th country, too.
Her take: “I am apprehensive that maybe my back won’t make it, but I’ve received a ton of support from co-riders via e-mail — before we have even met each other. It makes me much more at ease to know like-minded, supportive people will be with me along the way. I am so excited for this trip. I have dreamed of Africa for over 20 years, and it is so fitting that I will make this trip for my 50th birthday. I’ve saved Africa as my last continent left to visit.”
Eric Beurton, 44
Why TDA: For Eric Beurton, who hails from France, riding a bike is a way to meet new people, experience new cultures, and discover the world. This is his second cycling challenge, and he is hoping to become the first 7Epics club member to complete all seven cycling challenges (North American Epic, South American Epic, Trans-Europa, Silk Route, Bamboo Route, Trans-Oceana, and Tour d’Afrique). He’ll also be raising money for Association Petits Princes, which helps children suffering from serious diseases such as cancer.
His take: “When I pedal away, I’ll be feeling the sensation of freedom to start riding Africa and happiness to visit more than 2,000 years of Egyptian history. I will also be thinking about my two children and whether I will lose my EFI status — riding ‘every f***ing inch’ from Cairo to Cape Town without getting picked up by the support vehicles.”
Why TDA: Canadian van Vliet loves adventure and new experiences and challenging herself. She saw the TDA as the perfect, epic way to spend her gap year from school. She is also fundraising for the Tour d’Afrique Foundation.
Her take: “The idea of slowing down and getting to see such an incredible part of the planet on my bike is mind-blowingly amazing. Now Africa and my bike are the only two things I am capable of thinking about. When I picture riding out of Cairo, I think I made ridiculous decisions and didn’t think this one through, though that thought is always quickly drowned out by the white noise of pure excitement. I’m really not exactly sure who I will be thinking of. My family will absolutely be on my mind — there is no way I could do a trip like this without their support. My biggest worry is that I will be unable to handle the culture shock and the mental aspect of the ride simultaneously. Or how much my butt will hurt during the next few months.”
Mark Peterson, 59
Why TDA: Peterson is from Alaska but currently lives on the road. About to turn 60, he has celebrated his landmark birthdays with some increasingly crazy activities: dog sledding across the Yukon wilderness in his 30s, skydiving in his 40s, and a bike trip across the U.S. and a full Ironman triathlon in his 50s. This may be the last decade he can accomplish something so physically demanding, so “now is the time,” he says.
His take: “Most likely my thoughts will be fairly mundane, such as, ‘I hope I can negotiate these roads and traffic without getting hurt or run over.’ I’ll no doubt be thinking of my wife, and of course, since I’m from Alaska, I’m sure I’ll be thinking, ‘I can’t believe how hot the Sahara is.’ ”
Karen White-Smith, 59
Why TDA: White-Smith, a Canadian mother of two adult sons, has reasons very close to her heart for undertaking this challenge. Two years ago her happy, healthy husband of 32 years died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Devastated, her dark days turned into weeks, then months. As the cloud lifted, White-Smith decided she had to do something extraordinary for herself and for his memory. “I wanted to do something that would excite me, challenge me, make me a stronger person, allow me to understand more about the world, the trials of others, their hopes and fears,” she says. “The Tour d’Afrique appealed to me.”
Her take: “As a child I dreamed of going to Africa, no doubt inspired by films and books of giraffes, zebras, lions, acacia trees, and savannas. This dream never left me. But as everyone knows, life gets busy, and there are the good things that bind you to home and a life of family, friends, and work. Now I get to experience Africa up close — to see, smell, feel, and interact; four months to peddle along in a meditative state, with time to think about the past, the present, and the future, to read books, listen to music, meet new friends, and to say goodbye to my best friend [her husband]. My plan is to be open to whatever comes my way, to enjoy the good and accept the bad, to laugh as often as possible, and to be a good friend to my fellow riders and staff.”
Doug Pearson, 55
Why TDA: From St. Louis, where he lives with his wife, Pearson has two grown kids. He has been cycling for 16 years but has done nothing on this scale before. “I view this trip as a challenge to stretch my learning — intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
His take: “I am sure TDA will challenge me in more ways than I could possibly imagine. My hope is that I can bring these experiences into my work to help others transform, as I am transforming my own life. I’ll be thinking things like: ‘Can I do this? What have I forgotten?’ I will also be thinking of my wife, Carolyn, who will be joining me later at Victoria Falls.”