Is Colombia Safe for Cycling?

‘It is going to be tough, it’s going to be exciting, but it is also going to be beautiful’ – Ambassador Federico Hoyos

After inquiring with our Operations Manager, our South American Epic tour leader, the Ambassador for Colombia in Canada, and a Colombia based cyclist/filmmaker the answer to the question is an enthusiastic YES!, followed by a more measured but it will be tough. That is about the simplest way to sum up cycling in Colombia. But let me elaborate a bit.

You have likely heard of world class cyclists like Nairo Quintana, and you might have seen a video or read some stories of people cycling through Colombia – either  solo or on organized tours (such as our South American Epic) but what is it really like as a cyclist? Is the traffic terrible? Are you going to be kidnapped or robbed by drug cartels or FARC rebels?

>>Learn more about cycling through Colombia on the South American Epic

I have been fortunate enough to ride my bike in many places. Cycle touring through Romania, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan and beyond has taught me that very few places are what you expect them to be. I have travelled to Colombia but never on a bike, so I thought I’d ask around and get some further insight about cycling in Colombia by people who really know. I am sure many of you would love to hear what they have to say about cycling in Colombia.

Colombia is Stable and Secure Says Ambassador Federico Hoyos

Through the friendly Colombia Tourism team at ProColombia here in Canada I was able to pose a few questions to the Colombian Ambassador to Canada, the Honourable Federico Hoyos. He says that “21st century Colombia is a young and vibrant country.” More in his words…

Tourism in Colombia is steadily increasing year after year, due to a change of image and outside perception of our country. Colombia is an innovative and modern place…added to the fact of stability and security.

Colombia is very well-known for having some of the best cyclists in the world like Rigoberto Urán, Cochise Rodriguez and Nairo Quintana! Due to our beautiful topography, to our mountains, to our very steep slopes, Colombia is a great country for cyclists worldwide. It is going to be tough, it’s going to be exciting, but it is also going to be beautiful because you’re going to see everything: you can see the mountains,the beaches… deserts… in one single country.

Besides, you will sense the warmth of our people who will welcome you with open arms, and you will also get a taste of our food along our roads, which changes from one region to another. And we have great weather too, all year long. It is nice, warm and stable, which of course also contributes to making Colombia a great cycling destination.

Thank you to Mr. Hoyos for taking time out of what is surely a busy schedule to help us with this article.

Colombia is Full of Cycling Enthusiasts says Miles MacDonald

Miles, TDA Global Cycling’s much respected Operations Manager and experienced world traveler, agrees with the ambassador and shares some helpful safety tips.

In Colombia, drivers are both used to cyclists, and also tend to go out of their way to give cyclists their deserved space on the road, and that is a great advantage for safe cycling.

From TDA’s experience bringing groups of cyclists to Colombia, and information from local Colombian sources, the security situation on the ground is stable in the vast majority of regions of the country. So it’s good to do some research when planning a route in Colombia. It’s also good to stick to a few good practices that are best followed anywhere in the world.

Miles’ Tips for Cyclists on Staying Safe in Colombia

  • Keep your cycling to daylight hours
  • Ideally cycle with a friend
  • Know where you are going, and read up on the area and roads you’ll be cycling and place where you’ll be sleeping.
  • Be wary of crimes of opportunity (such as bike theft from leaving your bike unattended or unlocked)
  • Be defensive minded towards traffic
  • Be cautious around dogs along the road
  • If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts

You Have to Surrender Yourself to Colombia Says Gregg Bleakney

Gregg cycled the Americas (North and South!) in 2006 and planted roots in Colombia where he runs his film production company, WhereNext. As he says “Colombia is the holy grail of both storytelling and travel.” His most recent project is The Birders – in search of rare endemic birds of Colombia. He also created this video for us: Why cycle South America – all shot in Colombia.

Just over a decade ago, most of Colombia’s spectacular landscapes were completely off limits… and unthinkable on a bicycle

Just over a decade ago, most of Colombia’s spectacular landscapes were completely off limits to road tripping in a car, and unthinkable on a bicycle. It’s so great to see the guys in our office, most of whom are cyclists, planning and plotting multi-day routes during their lunch break. Most of the time they are traveling on roads that have never been mapped on Strava. It’s truly a period of discovery.

Nothing in Colombia is easy. It’s a place where joy on two wheels is commonplace–but you’ve got to work for it. The more you surrender yourself to Colombia, the more the country will tow you in its wake of joy. My advice is to be like my adopted Colombian street dog, sniff around, talk to strangers, get carnal. Use your time in Colombia to indulge your curiosity.

Cristiano Shares Some Words of Caution About This Friendly Nation

Having been the tour leader for our various tours in South America over the last decade and having cycled throughout South America himself, who better to finish this off than someone with on-the-ground experience.

More and more international cyclists have been visiting Colombia, whether touring, racing or just attracted by world famous climbs like Paso Letras, which we take on the [South American Epic]

As long as you know where you are going [and avoid known narco guerilla areas] I consider it pretty safe. Having said that, in 2022 there are presidential elections and things could eventually take some kind of a U-turn, [or] improve even more. In my opinion, if you want to cycle in Colombia, now is a great time to do so.

There was a slogan from the government a few years ago that said: ‘Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay’… the main risk of cycling in Colombia is the same as cycling on any shared road anywhere in the world, motorized vehicles. Also, the ups and downs can be really long and really steep, so it is easy to gain a lot of speed on the downhills.

There is no other country in Latin America with anywhere near the amount of cyclists as in Colombia. I’m not talking only commuters and rural cyclists, I’m talking also about athletes. So in general drivers know how to behave when there are cyclists on the road, when they are not cyclists themselves.

People are extremely friendly! I do not remember one aggressive encounter there ever! People are always smiling. If travelling alone, you will always be invited into people’s houses etc.

>>Read Cristiano’s blog ‘Colombia’s Crazy Cycling Culture’

My Final Thoughts on our Travel Misconceptions

So in conclusion, yes it is safe. And yes, there is many a hill to climb in Colombia. That is the one point everyone – including the Ambassador – all agreed on, so make sure you do some training.

When we haven’t been somewhere ourselves, we have no choice but to base our impressions of a place on a small fraction of reality, and a large amount of assumption. So check yourself and make sure it’s real risk and not just fear holding you back. This is certainly not the first time we’ve written on these topics of perception and risk.

That’s not to say there aren’t risks – there are. You need to educate yourself, and be cautious and clear eyed about any travel to a new place where cultures and customs are different than what you are used to. Use some of Miles’ tips above and once you have done that, take it all in. Pedal hard. Breathe deeply as you experience all that Colombia has to offer.

>>Read more about Colombia: Countless Reasons to Cycle Colombia Now

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South American Epic

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This challenging expedition offers you the best opportunity to explore the vastness and diversity of South America by bike. In keeping with the TDA…

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Looking for answers cycling from Casablanca to Cape Coast on West Africa en Vélo

After two months of cycling we have arrived in Songon, a few kilometers outside Côte d’Ivoire’s metropolis, Abidjan. We are now in the final stretch of our inaugural West Africa cycling expedition and, by the time you read this, we will have passed through a place called Axim; 64 km west of the city of Takoradi in Western Ghana.

Until a few months ago I had no idea there was a place called Axim. Now I am intending to stop there for a few minutes and ponder a man called Anton Wilhelm Amo, without a doubt one of the few persons I would wish to meet in my afterlife and the most famous person that comes from this town. At this point you may scratch your head and ask who is this Anton Wilhelm Amo.

In a recently published book called The Lies That Bind, the author Kwame Anthony Apiah tells a story of a five-year-old boy who was kidnapped from Old Axim in 1707, and given as a ‘gift’ to Anton Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick –Wolfenbuttel. The boy, Anton Wilhelm Amo, then went on to become a philosopher and a lecturer at Halle and Jena universities in Germany. He mastered several languages including French, German, English, Latin, Greek, Dutch and possibly even Hebrew. He also studied medicine and astronomy and, after all this learning, he decided in his middle age that renaissance Europe is an interesting or perhaps not so interesting place and he went back home to Axim where he became known as a ‘Great Sage’.

Anton Wilhelm Amo Statue (public domain photo)

When cycling off the beaten path in Africa, we encounter literally thousands of children who can work themselves into a frenzy over the apparition of a white cyclist passing through their villages. My typical response is to wave at these children and wonder what kind of talents they would have – if they were given the opportunity to discover and use them.

I have no doubt that the Great Sage and soothsayer would have been worthy of listening to and providing me with enlightened advice. Perhaps by standing in Axim or in Shama (another 80 km further on our journey where he is buried), I will be able to gain some insights and make sense of the world as it is today.

In some curious way it is fitting that I want to stand still and hopefully gain some wisdom at the places where Anton Wilhelm Amo came from and passed away. I actually began this tour in Morocco by trying to find the burial place of another great sage that the western world knows next to nothing about. According to Wikipedia Ibn Tufail was “an Arab polymath, a writer, novelist, philosopher, theologian, physician, an astronomer…who is most famous for writing the first philosophical novel called Hayy ibn Yaqdhan. I came across Ibn Tufail on a wonderful CBC Ideas radio program, which discussed his leading role in creating the Enlightenment. (You might recall I have written on the African Enlightenment before.)

pictured above, Ibn Tufail (public domain photo)

According to CBC and Wikipedia this work became “one of the most important books that heralded the Scientific Revolution and European Enlightenment, and the thoughts expressed in the novel can be found “in different variations and to different degrees in the books of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant.”

Wikipedia goes on; “The novel also inspired the concept of ‘tabula rasa’ developed in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) by John Locke, who was a student of Pococke.[13] His Essay went on to become one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern Western philosophy, and influenced many enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley. Hayy’s ideas on materialism in the novel also have some similarities to Karl Marx’s historical materialism”.

Cycling from Casablanca to Cape Coast has been a great journey, an opportunity for learning, a physical and mental challenge, a stimulating and often exhilarating experience of wonderful human interactions and of the little joys of day-to-day living and sight seeing. It is also a route that exposes one to all the problems of modern life on the planet, from poverty to pollution, from mismanagement to poor governance, from corruption to greed, from overpopulation to climate change, of exploitation and survival. For myself at least, it has proven to be a route where one is faced with many philosophical questions that men such as Ibn Tufail and Anton Amo could point the way towards understanding. In short a journey where one will often be out of his/her comfort zone and will confront the world as it is and his/her own reactions thereto for better or worse.

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TDA Global Cycling Blogs: Staff Picks for 2018

The past 12 months have seen our office staff, our field crews and our guest bloggers create some pretty amazing content. Here are our favourites for each month of 2018.

January – Once Again

TDA Global Cycling’s Operation Manager, Miles MacDonald, reflected on his numerous experiences in the Sudan over the years.

Nomadic motion has become home like, and yet in the last weeks while surrounded by the same desert sands, under the same mesmerizing nights of stars and against the same frigid morning winds, it is not the feeling of home I know from 13 years ago, or from more recent years on the tour, it is unique and a separate experience unto itself. Given definition by the local inhabitants whom chance allows myself to encounter, by the individual participants and the stories they bring to the tour, and by the staff who set the tone and direction of the journey.Read more.

February – 9 Surprising Reasons To Cycle Southern Africa

Cycling in Southern Africa can bring you to some of the world’s most iconic sights – Lake Malawi, Victoria Falls, the towering Red Dunes at Sossusvlei and Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Over the years our riders and staff have discovered some lesser-known but equally interesting attractions.

If you are cycling south towards Mzuzu, your route will begin with with a stunning, if challenging 1000m climb up onto the country plateau. Congratulating yourself on making it to the top, you might just miss one of Malawi’s, if not Africa’s, hidden gems – a bamboo bridge first constructed in 1904. WTF – that makes it 114 years old. Each year the local villagers get together and make the needed repairs, ensuring it lasts for another century or so.Read more.

March – The Water Shuffle

Tour d’Afrique Assistant Tour Director, Stephanie Thornton wrote a nice piece from Nairobi about how her experience cycling through Africa was a wake-up call, pointedly reminding her about how fortunate those of us that have access to safe drinking water at all times really are.

Men, women, and children populate the shoulders of the roads in Ethiopia. Donkeys and horse carts carry litres and litres of water daily. In the vast rolling hills of Ethiopia it’s almost impossible to imagine where families might get water. Now in the arid Northern Kenya, watering holes seem scarce and local herding boys shout for “maji” – the Kiswahili word for water – instead of money or sweets.Read more.

April – The Beers Of The Pub Ride: Little-Known, Weird, Unexpected & Occasionally Appalling

Michael, our resident TDA Global Cycling beer expert, put together a collection of brews for the riders on the inaugural Pub Ride to keep an eye out for….for better or worse.

(I)n 1777, Frederick the Great banned coffee, stating “It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects… My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors.Read more.

May – Bamboo Road 2019 – 5 Exciting Changes To The Route

The innovative and restless minds at TDA Global Cycling rarely rest. We are always looking for changes that will make our cycling adventures even better.

Taiwan. This compact island has it all – colourful temples, vibrant night markets, soothing hot springs and friendly people. The scenery is outstanding – tropical rainforests, stunning gorges, rumbling volcanoes, towering sea cliffs and incredible ocean views. Our route will circumnavigate the island, including the unspoiled east coast with its picturesque fishing villages and endless beaches and coastline.Read more.

June – A Waffle And A Tipple With The Ancestors

Veteran TDA Global Cycling master mechanic Doug Percival has practiced his trade in many far-flung corners of the globe but here he returns to his family’s homeland in search of his ancestors.

Oddly enough, the castle was a gift to the daughter of the Earl of Dunbar in 1214, and Dunbar is a name on my fathers side, dating back to the 1100’s… Standing on the hill, where some small original walls still exist, with a 360 degree view of Scotland to the north and England to the south was a strange experience, and certainly had me pondering on the millennia of family that had stood in the same place, with the same view…how the World has changed, what those walls have seen!Read more.

July – Fashion On The Silk Route

Silk Route Communications Officer and Gaelic Fashionista, Elaina O’Brien took the opportunity to remind us that while cycling is important, cycling in style is even more so.

With the summer in full swing, our riders have been sporting their favourite seasonal looks on the bike, and we’re loving the variety of trends and styles. The fashion in the field throughout the Silk Route has been funky, chic, and classy.Read more.

August – 5 Reflections On My Unsupported Bike Trip In Grizzly Country

Long-time TDA Global Cycling staffer Shanny Hill took some time off this summer to remind himself what unsupported bike touring was like. And to deal with his fear of bears…

I followed the recommended advice: carry bear spray and make a lot of noise. If you ask my brother I might have followed that advice a bit too closely. With images of grizzlies in mind, I got in the habit of blowing my whistle frequently. Really frequently. Every minute or two. Every day. For 10 days straight from Banff, Alberta to Whitefish, Montana.Read more.

September – Cycling In Iran As A Woman

Our Silk Route Communications Officer, Elaina, took a closer look at what it was really like pedalling through the Islamic Republic of Iran as a female cyclist.

Although there are strict formal guidelines for locals and tourists alike, there is indeed some wiggle room for tourists. Authorities will generally leave you be unless you’re clearly pushing the cultural boundaries. Locals are more than happy to see foreigners travelling in their country so they are more understanding.Read more.

October – Four Things You’ll Never Know About Madagascar From Watching The Movie ‘Madagascar’

Our good friend David Houghton, who cycled the inaugural Magical Madagascar trip in 2017 contributed a guest blog highlighting 4 reasons for anyone to consider cycling Madagascar…instead of watching the Pixar film.

Is Madagascar more than four bumbling animals who escape from a zoo and meet up with a ring-tailed lemur named King Julien XIII? Hell yeah. Is Madagascar, located off the southeastern corner of the African continent, a challenging place to get to? Hell yeah. Is Madagascar one of the most unique and rewarding places in the world to ride your bike, an island that’s a microcosm of our world that’s also home to vegetation and animals you’ll see nowhere else on the planet? Hell yeah.” Read more.

November – Objects In The Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear…

Our West Africa en Vélo staff member Sophie DeGroot penned a wonderful essay on how cycling can help you become an active participant in your travels instead of a passive spectator.

Too often tourism is a one-sided affair. A bicycle is a fantastic mechanism to shift the power dynamic between the tourist and the local. Literally removing yourself from a spectator’s box makes you more approachable and evens the playing field in which interactions take place. The people you meet, the places you see are not just closer than your mirror suggests, they are a part of your everyday experience.Read more.

December – On The Shores Of The Arctic: Pingos, Metallica & MukTuk

It is a rare thing, indeed, when we suddenly find ourselves able to include a destination, previously inaccessible to cyclists, in one of our expeditions. When we heard that the remote town of Tuktoyaktuk had recently been linked to the rest of the world by road, we knew we had to make it the starting point for the 2019 North American Epic.

On September 3, 1995, Metallica and other popular bands flew into Tuk, putting the little village in the international news. The bands played a concert in Tuk as a publicity event for Molson Brewing Company promoting their new ice-brewed beer. Dubbed The Molson Ice Polar Beach Party, it featured Hole, Metallica, Moist, Cake and Veruca Salt. Canadian film-maker Albert Nerenberg made a documentary about this concert entitled ‘Invasion of the Beer People‘.” Read more.

 

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Did The Bike Move For You: 5 World Shaking Cycling Events

We all know that cycling is the answer to many of life’s problems – from climate change to depression to obesity to traffic gridlock. As HG Wells once admitted “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” Looking to the future we can perceive “bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world” (Grant Peterson – Bicycle Designer) but bikes have also had an incredible impact on human history in the past 200 years. As our perceptive West African Assistant Tour Leader, Sophie DeGroot, recently pointed outA bicycle is a fantastic mechanism to shift the power dynamic”, be it between tourists and locals or men and women. The 1900 United States Census Report noted, “Few articles ever used…have created so great a revolution in social conditions as the bicycle.

Here are 5 excellent examples of the ways in which the bicycle has shaped our world.

1. Women’s Liberation – You’ve Come A Long Way, Bicycle

Susan B. Anthony, the American social reformer and women’s rights activist, wrote in 1896 that she thought the bicycle “has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world,” and that she “rejoices every time I see a woman ride by on a bike.” As JR Thorpe writes “In ways both explicit and subtle, the invention and popularization of the humble two-wheeled bicycle in the 19th century helped move the cause of female equality and freedom forward in the modern world; even today, there is no more feminist way to get around.” After centuries of being severely limited in their freedoms it is hard for us to imagine just how liberating it was for women to simply get on a bicycle and ride as far as they liked in whatever direction they chose. The bicycle also had practical applications in the struggle for equal rights. English suffragettes would ride around on bicycles with “Votes For Women” banners in the 1910s and regularly blocked Winston Churchill’s motorcades with bicycles. They even had their own special bike designed with the colours of the suffrage movement.

Recommended Reading:

The Feminist History Of Bicycles

How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women’s Rights

How the Bicycle Emancipated Women

2. Creation of the Road Network in America – Take The Lane, Hell, Take The Road

Roads were not built for cars.” This assertion may come as a complete surprise to most drivers on the roads today but there is solid evidence to back it up. In America, roads were originally built for stage-coach travel but the construction of vast networks of rail lines effectively killed off that mode of transportation. Roads fell into disrepair and were mainly used for local travel. It was the growing popularity of the bicycle for local travel in the mid-1800’s that led to the demand for paved roads and later the interstate system. Groups like the Roads Improvement Association – a lobbying group created by the Cyclists’ Touring Club in 1886  and the Good Roads movement organized by the League of American Wheelmen were instrumental in pressuring governments to respond to these requests. Without the efforts of cyclists, motorists would not have as many roads to drive on. Unfortunately, the debt owed to cyclists by motorists is long forgotten. The bicycle movement, however, is reemerging as a potent political force, demanding more space on the roads for cyclists and even their very own infrastructure like cycling superhighways.

Recommended Reading:

Roads Were Not Built For Cars

History of Roads in America and First Federal Highway

19th Century Cyclists Paved The Way For Modern Motorists’ Roads

3. The Invention of Flight – Bike Mechanics Rock’N’Fly

Without the bicycle, the airplane may never have existed. In the early 20th century, most members of the scientific establishment were convinced that human flight was impossible. Thankfully, not everyone agreed. In fact, a Binghamton newspaper editor in 1896 presciently wrote “The flying machine problem is liable to be solved by bicycle inventors. The flying machine will not be in the same shape, or at all in the style of the numerous kinds of cycles, but the study to produce a light, swift machine is likely to lead to an evolution in which wings will play a conspicuous part.” As it turned out, many aviation pioneers were also avid cyclists. In 1895, the Wright Brothers began manufacturing bicycles, the “Van Cleve” and the “St. Clair.” Later they they used the equipment in their bike repair shop to make glider and airplane parts. Their experience provided perhaps the most important insight that led to the invention of the airplane, that a plane didn’t need to be stable. Like a bicycle, it could be inherently unstable and could be flown in the same way a bicycle is “flown”: by a rider making constant, tiny, unconscious adjustments. The Wright bothers later revealed that “our idea was to secure a machine which, with a little practice, could be balanced and steered semi-automatically, by reflex action, just as a bicycle is.

Recommended Reading:

The Untold Story Of How Bicycle Design Led To The Invention Of The Airplane

A Bike Ride Through Wright Brothers Territory

The Bicycle That Flew At Kitty Hawk

4. The Idea of Radler Beer – Cycling’s Cooling Culinary Contribution

Beer and cycling goes together like peanut butter and jam, like Sonny and Cher. Nothing tastes better than a cold beer after a long, challenging ride. The invention of Radler has been widely attributed to the Munich innkeeper Franz Xaver Kugler in 1922 although some believe that it existed for about a decade prior to that. In any case, the legend goes like this – Kugler apparently built a bike path from the city to his beerhall, the Kugleralm. One weekend a large group of thirsty riders arrived Kugler’s bar. The bartender (Herr Kugler himself), realized that he was almost out of beer. In order not to disappoint his customers (thirsty cyclists are not to be trifled with), he mixed what beer he had left with lemon fizzy water, ingeniously claiming that he was preventing the cyclists from getting too drunk to ride. The resulting drink was so well-received by the refreshed riders that it grew to become incredibly popular in beer gardens in Munich and beyond. In honour of the riders that had forced him to come up with this new beverage, he named the concoction “radler”—which translates to ‘cyclist’ in German. In fact, Kugler’s Beerhall still exists today for those cyclists eager to recreate this refreshing legend.

Recommended Reading:

What The  Hell Is A Radler

Radler Beers Celebrate Cycling and Summer

Etymology of a Radler

5. The 2003 Tour d’Afrique – Part Expedition, Part Social Experiment, Part Madness

Prior to 2003, there were certainly a number of long-distance cyclists such as Annie Londonderry who rode around the world in 1894-95 but it was not until early 2002 when Henry Gold began preparations to create a cycling expedition from Cairo to Cape Town that long distance cycling really took off. He was undaunted by the enormous skepticism and a mountain of logistical challenges. Henry wrote at the time that “We’re off. Thirty three cyclists, followed by two supply trucks, carrying everything from spare parts to a nurse, roll away from a shadow of the Sphinx on the first leg of an 11,000 km adventure. Foolish or courageous – I am not sure which. We’re planning to ride the length of Africa in 100 days of biking.” The first group of riders arrived safely in Cape Town in May 2003, coincidentally establishing the Guinness World Record for the fastest human powered crossing of Africa. This success helped with the the popularization and democratization of long distance cycle touring, bringing with it the rise of the bike packing movement as well as a host of cycling companies offering supported tours ranging from a few days to many months. The 2003 event proved that just about anyone could cross a continent on a bike. I should know – I did the 2006 Tour d’Afrique having never cycled more than 60kms at a time – and that was just once! In addition, the Tour d’Afrique and its sister Foundation pioneered the idea of donating bikes to Africa, inspiring other organizations to do the same.

Recommended Reading:

10: Celebrating 10 Years of the Tour d’Afrique Bicycle Race & Expedition

Tour d’Afrique: By the Books

Cycling Across Africa: Then & Now

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The High & Lows Of Desert Cycling

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” – Bob Dylan

Dylan, as often was the case, got it right. While cycling the west coast of Africa from Morocco to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, the answer is indeed ‘in the wind’. If anything, besides the fact that one is cycling in the spectacular grand Sahara, it is the wind that will make the day either pure joy or pure hell. Well, I may be exaggerating a bit, but ask any of the participants on the West Africa en Vélo, how one day they can easily reach the point of breaking down and start crying, only to feel an immense exhilaration 24 hours later.

Of course, this could also be because the desert has a way of heightening one’s own senses, allowing them to wander in every which direction. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that all the monotheistic religions have origins in the desert and those deserts have played such a key role in their evolution. The silence of the desert can bring out the best and the worst in us.

Perhaps it is the sand that does that. The sand can just lie there and look romantic and be a perfect backdrop for another majestic sunrise or sunset. One can luxuriously walk barefoot through it, feeling the sand sensually caressing one’s soles. However, when it joins forces with the wind, the sand will torture you, penetrating every pore of your skin. If that were not enough,  combined with the velocity of an oncoming truck, it will sandblast you with such force that you will feel like your skin is peeling off.

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West Africa en Vélo

FULL TOUR

Join us on this unique cycling expedition and explore West Africa from Casablanca to Cape Coast. Clocking in at just over 2 months and 6,200 km…

So, are these elements the reason the desert attracts some of us while others find it repellent? Or is it because, in the desert, one can look at the night sky and wonder about Little Princes on other planets? Perhaps it is simply because in the desert we can test whether we are the rare individuals, who like the bushman of the Kalahari, have the ability to listen to the stars singing.

When Laurens van der Post one night
In the Kalihari Desert told the Bushmen
He couldn’t hear the stars
Singing, they didn’t believe him.
They looked at him,
Half-smiling. They examined his face
To see whether he was joking
Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men
Who plant nothing, who have almost
Nothing to hunt, who live
On almost nothing, and with no one
But themselves, led him away
From the crackling thorn-scrub fire
And stood with him under the night sky
And listened. One of them whispered,
Do you not hear them now?
And van der Post listened, not wanting
To disbelieve, but had to answer,
No. They walked him slowly
Like a sick man to the small dim
Circle of firelight and told him
They were terribly sorry,
And he felt even sorrier
For himself and blamed his ancestors
For their strange loss of hearing,
Which was his loss now…

David Wagoner wrote this poem about the desert and the man who authored such books as the ‘Lost world of the Kalahari’. Like van der Post, I, no matter how hard I try, know that I can not hear the stars singing. On the other hand, I do have 13 reasons why you should pick a desert and cycle across it.

In the last 15 years I have biked through the Sahara a couple of times, the Atacama desert, the Stuart Highway’s deserts, the Turkmenistan desert, the Gobi desert and many others. As long as I can keep cycling, I will look for more deserts to pedal across, always listening for those elusive singing stars.

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The High & Lows Of Desert Cycling

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” – Bob Dylan

Dylan, as often was the case, got it right. While cycling the west coast of Africa from Morocco to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, the answer is indeed ‘in the wind’. If anything, besides the fact that one is cycling in the spectacular grand Sahara, it is the wind that will make the day either pure joy or pure hell. Well, I may be exaggerating a bit, but ask any of the participants on the West Africa en Vélo, how one day they can easily reach the point of breaking down and start crying, only to feel an immense exhilaration 24 hours later.

Of course, this could also be because the desert has a way of heightening one’s own senses, allowing them to wander in every which direction. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that all the monotheistic religions have origins in the desert and those deserts have played such a key role in their evolution. The silence of the desert can bring out the best and the worst in us.

Perhaps it is the sand that does that. The sand can just lie there and look romantic and be a perfect backdrop for another majestic sunrise or sunset. One can luxuriously walk barefoot through it, feeling the sand sensually caressing one’s soles. However, when it joins forces with the wind, the sand will torture you, penetrating every pore of your skin. If that were not enough,  combined with the velocity of an oncoming truck, it will sandblast you with such force that you will feel like your skin is peeling off.

RELATED
TOUR

West Africa en Vélo

FULL TOUR

Join us on this unique cycling expedition and explore West Africa from Casablanca to Cape Coast. Clocking in at just over 2 months and 6,200 km…

So, are these elements the reason the desert attracts some of us while others find it repellent? Or is it because, in the desert, one can look at the night sky and wonder about Little Princes on other planets? Perhaps it is simply because in the desert we can test whether we are the rare individuals, who like the bushman of the Kalahari, have the ability to listen to the stars singing.

When Laurens van der Post one night
In the Kalihari Desert told the Bushmen
He couldn’t hear the stars
Singing, they didn’t believe him.
They looked at him,
Half-smiling. They examined his face
To see whether he was joking
Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men
Who plant nothing, who have almost
Nothing to hunt, who live
On almost nothing, and with no one
But themselves, led him away
From the crackling thorn-scrub fire
And stood with him under the night sky
And listened. One of them whispered,
Do you not hear them now?
And van der Post listened, not wanting
To disbelieve, but had to answer,
No. They walked him slowly
Like a sick man to the small dim
Circle of firelight and told him
They were terribly sorry,
And he felt even sorrier
For himself and blamed his ancestors
For their strange loss of hearing,
Which was his loss now…

David Wagoner wrote this poem about the desert and the man who authored such books as the ‘Lost world of the Kalahari’. Like van der Post, I, no matter how hard I try, know that I can not hear the stars singing. On the other hand, I do have 13 reasons why you should pick a desert and cycle across it.

In the last 15 years I have biked through the Sahara a couple of times, the Atacama desert, the Stuart Highway’s deserts, the Turkmenistan desert, the Gobi desert and many others. As long as I can keep cycling, I will look for more deserts to pedal across, always listening for those elusive singing stars.

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