Cycling, the Long and the Short of it


Days were measured in kilometers traveled, and wildlife spotted, and the butt pain meter. But most exciting was this day, and the 14 elephant day, including many babies, almost white from the salt pans.  When we passed most they raised their trunks in unison, trying to figure out what we were, bicycles not being very familiar.  For this reason we rode in packs when in elephant territory.

Cycling across Zambia, Botswana and central Namibia was an unshakeable dream, a tough drive of 90-214km a day, through landscapes of great beauty and also austerity.  Truck drivers frequently pulled over to warm us of lions and days were rated on the number of elephants sighted, mid level was warthogs, and a poor day, livestock.  We learned why toilet paper is called white gold, and the essentials of having a good morning flow; of coffee and gearing up bike, to tent breakdown then food, and sunscreen/chamois cream so as to be on the bike by first light, putting on as many kilometers before the African heat made us dreamily wish for chairs in the shade.  And more so much more...

Crossing Zambia into Botswana on the ferry, like most border crossings in Africa, was colorful, loud and hectic.  Nothing is ever dull, and Africa is always a place to have your wits about you.

Steve is one of the five riders doing the entire Nairobi to Cape Town journey, and we were joined by his brother Tobey in Livingstone who is riding Legs 4, 5 and 6.  Both are accomplished cyclists and photographers.  Tobey saved me when my chain fell off on a hill right in front of a displeased bull elephant.  I may have begged not to be left behind, may have.

Much of Botswana's landscape looked similiar without riders or wildlife, and with long days when I was riding in the support vehicle instead of cycling for shots, sometimes one got creative//bored//creative.


This was the "Big One" the 214km day, although I rode 164 km after shooting in the am using the good light, this was still my first century ever.  This section was interesting for all of the potholes and vehicles dodging them, meaning we were dodging both.  Roz and I kept each other company after Jen went down with a nasty injury, possibly caused by a team on team crash.  (photo : Vince Smith)

104 miles completed for me and 103 (previous day 94, and 105 respectively) Roz and I decided that perhaps we were good for cycling once we got to Maun.  Thank god for two rest days that followed.  (The heat rash went all the way up my legs, and couldnt be stopped by sunscreen, so I started wearing more layers like everyone else, in spite of the heat.  Sunscreen was no match for Africa)


As the heat of the day set it by 9 am the sky often became washed out by the fierce African sun, and mirages appeared on the rode.  When riding I would grip my handlebars with a sort of pterodactyl claw grasp, fingers going numb, holding on for dear life as I tried to tune out and fade the kilometers away.  (Typing a week later my pinkies are still numb, I am told this goes away in time.)

But the key to passing miles enjoyably in the heat, along with wildlife, was great conversation, the more distracting and scandalous the better.  Roz, Paul Jones, Jen and I had some winners which passed a good solid 20 km.  Good friends and good humor make for great rides!


And when I was with the support crew I learned about the land, the animals and the countries in a deep way, from Mark Savage, founder of Savage Wilderness and outdoor afficianado, as well as Vince, a wildlife guide and vet. In the absence of wifi or cell service they became google Africa for me and were solid, if amusingly irasible teachers.

Jen Gurecki not only was working remotely with her brand Coalition Snow, but is running Savage Wildernesses social media coverage of the entire African Spokes Nairobi to Cape Town trip.  As the subject of my Entrepreneur story, I was taking photos of her often, and she I.  It passes the time.


Although Leg 4 in Zambia, Botswana and Namibia were the least peopled sections of the entire trip, we did have moments in villages along the way, such as the time we went up the Moremi River in traditional Mokoro boats.  Village life is not at all romantic but it is fascinating and people were generally enthusiastic and open.


Cycling Africa with all things thorny, and a great deal of pointy garbage on the road, results in many flats, sometimes many in a day for one rider.   Thankfully our support crew actually enjoyed jumping in when they came upon us, and taking the fix it upon themselves, as opposed to "watching paint dry, and grass grow."  Team work makes the dream work.  Savage Wilderness put together a great crew, we were very fortunate!

Sometime I left my camera where it was and just sat in awe of the moment.  After months of training, focusing on this trip, planning and prepping to work and cycle it often floored me to realize I was riding through areas I had studied on the map.  That I was cycling by elephants literally as I had envisioned, but it was real.  We also all had moments of "what the hell was I thinking," with the aggressive distances and intense rear end pain. (photo : Vince Smith)


Most of Botswana we rode through wildlife areas, where at rest stops (ie a rare tree) signage warned travellers of the risk of getting out of their car....
Many truck drivers stopped to warn us of lions as well, which became a bit of a joke when someone went into the bush to use the facilities.


Veterinary stops soon became a familiar drill, walking bikes and shoes through disinfectant, ditching (or hiding food) so that agricultural animals on one side and wildlife animals ostensible on the other side of the fence would not intermingle diseases.  These were also poaching checks, I believe, and Botswana does some of the best work protecting its wildlife in all of southern Africa.  For better or worse, elephants have learned not to leave its borders in spite of old routes that went beyond.  They have learned the best chance of survival is here.


This is one of my favorite photos of me on African Spokes.  As photographer for the trip, and a few publications, I was not in many photos, and Vince, wildlife professional, who acted as my "fixer" shot a few great ones of me, actually working very hard here, but also making good use of the sleeping pads stored on the trailer.  (photo : Vince Smith)