Saturday, 17 November 2012

Training and Preparations...

Feeling pretty confident
So here I am, no experience on a bicycle whatsoever and I have decided to take part in the longest cycle challenge in the world, namely the Tour da' Afrique.

Well, go big or go home, I always say... Once I set my mind on cycling though Africa the fun part started... 

Training and Preparations!!!!

Waiting at the start...
Firstly, I arrived home after being overseas for almost 3 years and I was ready to start my training, but my biggest problem was that I actually don't own a bicycle. The only "interaction", one could say, that I have had with a bicycle was when I won a blue BMX bike from a lucky packet competition when I was 11 years old. My auntie, took my cousins and I to the movies in Vredenberg and as a treat we each got a Lucky Packet. In this packet you find the usual cheap toys, sugary sweets and a leaflet adverting silly things for kids. I for some reason studied these leaflets and found a competition one could enter. At the time I don't even think I knew what the potential prize was, but I entered it anyway for the hell of it. And then a few weeks later a blue bicycle was delivered to our farm as a prize.... I must have been the only kid that entered, cause I'm usually not the lucky one in the family. I rode this bike until it got it's first puncher, and then it sadly sat in the shed to rust. We live on a farm called Doornfontein - direct translation Thorn Fountain - so not the most bicycle friendly environment.

However, the problem of no bicycle was quickly solved when cycling enthusiast and family friend, Rudolf Gruber, offered to lend me his old mountain bike and so I had wheels to begin training. My dad took off the front wheel and placed it in the back of the car to take back to the farm from Cape Town. The next morning early I am awake and excited to begin my training, but the wheel was still off the bike... Too embarrassed to wake someone and ask for help, I attempted to put the wheel back myself. I was quite pleased when I seems to be successful, and thought to myself "well this isn't too difficult, I don't know what all the fuss is about". Little did I know... My brother in-law, Micheal, stepped outside and saw me playing around my new toy and upon inspection, he burst out laughing and pointed out that I had successfully put the front wheel on backwards and failed to connect the breaks... Well "A" for afford!! And so from then on I got idiot proof lesson on everything Bicycle and Cycling. One must understand, I truly had no clue about anything bicycle related and now a few weeks ago I made the decision to cycle through the African Continent from Cairo to Cape Town... I can see why some might think I'm a little crazy, but these nothing like a good challenge to keep me focused and get me motivate.

The Langebaan Lagoon Cycle Challenge
Our farm is absolutely perfect for training proposes, it's got plenty sandy dirt roads that go on for miles and miles with little traffic, but lots of snakes. On a daily bases when I get up for my morning rides I see at least three snakes en route on hot day, mostly the black mole snake and other times I get the surprise of coming across Cape Cobra or Puff adders, which get the heart racing. I have scouted out a good 55 km cycle which provides a long stretch of difficult off road conditions, few climbs, sandy patches as well as the baking heat from the South African sun. I like to think I got most of the African terrain and weather conditions covered in my training, but nothing can truly prepare you for Africa, and that excites me. I cannot wait to be challenged physically, mentally and emotionally and I believe the African continent will put my character to its biggest test yet.

I participated in my first ever bicycle race, namely the Langebaan Lagoon Cycle Challenge. At the time of this race I had only been riding my newly borrowed bike for about a week. I entered the 80 km challenge and to my surprise and everyone else's too, finished in 3 hours and 30 min. After the race when I chatted to fellow riders and told them I only started cycling a week ago and the next cycle challenge I'm planning to do will be the longest in the world, namely the Tour da' Afrique, they all thought I was joking or crazy. This reaction is my best, because I'm far from crazy, I'm just bored of doing whats expected. I thieve off the unknown, unexpected and searching for the next exciting adventure.

My legs feeling a little sore after the 80 km cycle, but it's my most rewarding pain...

Friday, 2 November 2012

Small small world...

Do you find yourself saying: "When I have time I'll do this and that or someday when I have enough money saved I'll do this and that..." But that someday, time and money never seems enough and the opportunity passes you by, because you made excuse after excuse to delay your commitment. Well, recently I found myself making many future plans and no effort to take action.

I always spoke about how I wish I could just do some of the amazing adventures you see on television or read about in books. When I asked myself "Whats stopping me???" I had no answer and could not find a convincing excuse to help me procrastinate any longer. At 24 years old with money saved after my time working on the yachts, I could afford to take a few months off a do whatever I liked. Whether it was backpacking through South America, learning to kite surfing in Vietnam or cycling through Africa, if I finally pushed myself to commit it is all very possible. I have the opportunity to do it now, because there is nothing tying me down. I am young, fit, healthy, single, unemployed and hungry for something to challenge me physically, mentally and emotionally. And so I decided to stop talking about all the amazing things I plan to do someday and actually take action and do it now.

Taking the plunge in West Palm Beach, Florida. This is when it all started, I'v always wanted to try skydiving, but I delayed doing the jump for ages because people thought it was crazy, dangerous and unnecessary.  When I finally let myself commit and actually do it, I had the very best time... Since then I approached all potential adventures, challenges and exciting opportunities with a new open-minded attitude.
My research allowed me to came across the Tour d' Afrique cycling challenge, which is an organized tour starting in Cairo, Egypt on the 11th Jan 2013 and finishes in Cape Town on the 11th May 2013. The full tour riders travel through 11 countries and cover a distance of 12000 km from start to finish. Everything about this tour made me excited and it was an easy commitment... I contacted the Tour d' Afrique cross-continental bicycle touring company based in Toronto, Canada. They said it was very last minute, but there was still space for another rider. Immediately the preparations to cycle from Cairo to Cape Town began.

In the beginning stages on my preparations, Justin kept telling me about a South African modern day explorer who had come to Saracens earlier in the week to do a motivational talk for the rugby team. This young, energetic guy told stories about his most recent trip which was kayaking around Iceland with Dan Skinstad. However, his first adventure which kick started his career was about being the first man to circumnavigate the African Continent by bicycle. While Justin was telling me about this explorer by the name of Riaan Manser, my memory kicked in and I realized that I have actually met him before. I doubted myself at first, but when I looked at the picture on his book, I was almost sure that 5 years ago, when I was starting my career on the yachts, I sat next to Riaan Manser on a flight from London to Cape Town. I had just quit my job onboard a 45m motor yacht based in Antigua and was heading home to study at Stellenbosch University. We swapped stories the entire flight, Riaan told me all about his trip around Africa as he was busy promoting his book "Around Africa on my bicycle" and I told him all about my time on the Super Yachts and the amazing places I got to visit. The conversation we had was fascinating, and I remember thinking how I wish I was brave enough do something like cycle around Africa.

So when my sister in-law, Georgina, put me in touch with Riaan to set up a meet and greet I was super excited, just to see him again. In the back of my mind I wanted to ask if he maybe remembered me: "I'm the yachting girl that sat next to you on a flight years ago..." But then I thought NO NO NO!!! That just sounds a bit weird, especially since Riaan has become fairly well recognized over the past few years, he might just think I'm a creepy fan. So to keep myself from embarrassment, I kept my mouth shut... But then to my surprise, Riaan asks me over the phone: "Sorry Tess, but this might be a strange question, did you work on the super yachts before, cause I think we sat next to each other on a flight sometime ago???" I was shocked to say the least and over the moon that he remembered me after all that time. Small small world, cause here I am now 5 years later and asking the man himself Riaan Manser advise about my cycling challenge from Cairo to Cape Town, which I believe he inspired on that flight from London to Cape Town.

In the end, it seems as though I am brave enough to do something like cycle though the African continent.