I planned this trip for over 4 years and occupied my mind for hours on end, thinking how cool it would be to ride my bike through the continent I had moved to 10 years ago. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that I just completed the first stretch of Tour D’Afrique; still pinching myself that this is all real and the sand between my teeth are not from the Karoo.
First 4 Days Before the Tour Start
It’s been an unbelievable two weeks of surprises, new friendships, delicious Egyptian food and tones of flat out riding. I had my first crazy moment when I saw Anne, a previous colleague of mine, next to the luggage carousel in Cairo. What are the chances out of all places? Not even properly awake after a night flight from South Africa I was thrown right into my next surprise, my missing bike! I spent the following 24 hours on a mission to find my bike and get it to Cairo. Pierre (my husband) was moving mountains from Cape Town and eventually located the bike in Johannesburg which then was put on the next flight to Cairo. When I picked up the bike it wouldn’t fit into the taxi (of course), and just like African style, we drove with it halfway sticking out navigating our way between 20 million cars on a highway where the secret language of car hooters dominates. And just like that we arrived at the hotel alive and with my bike. The bike box had been opened somewhere between Cape Town and Cairo, leaving me with racing pulse while assembling my bike bit by bit and eventually finding all the pieces together forming part of my Epic Specialized. The double shots of whisky tasted great that evening.
And because challenges come never alone, my next big mission was waiting just around the corner. My missing Credit Card. I am a very efficient person with a system in place for most things affecting me on a daily basis. The card not in my travel wallet meant it was either stolen or left somewhere in an ATM, and could not have been somewhere else in my bag. After another 24hour mission impossible, it turned out that I had indeed left it at the ATM by the airport to pay for my Visa. Many falafels later, hours of Cairo traffic jams, rounded up by Egyptian music and a serious intake of Cairo’s polluted air I held my Credit Card in my hand again. The same evening another double shot of whisky was in order.
After two days of missioning around it was time to concentrate on the tour preparations i.e. packing the daily and permanent bag, making sure the bike is in a good condition, attending tour briefings and a couple other administrative things. We were given space for two 90 litre tog bags which are split into one daily bag that we can access each day and one permanent bag only accessible on rest days. Given that I took half of Hammer’s nutrition stock with me, I was left with little space for other things. My permanent bag consists of merely Perpetuem, Recoverite, spare parts, medical supply and electronical equipment. Everything else is squeezed into my daily bag, including camping equipment, Solar and Power Gorilla, toiletries, portioned nutrition, supplements, cycle kits and casual clothes. I am pretty happy with the set up and have everything with me that is essential to me.
The Tour Begins: The Egypt Part The morning of the Friday, 15th January was then finally the official start of the tour. I think all the riders were happy to get on the bike, leaving all the planning and admin behind. We were escorted with heavy security to the Pyramids and another 20 km to the outskirts of Cairo. After about 90 km we arrived at our first rough desert camp, testing for the first time my tent pitching skills and washing procedures without water. Everything seemed so up-normal on that first day and I found myself many times wondering around the camp site trying to remember what it was I wanted to do. Out of the comfort zone at full force.
Now, 16 days later everything seemed pretty normal. We ride our bikes each day for 4-5 hours, pitch the tent, put solar panels up to charge the power bank, have bottle or wet wipe showers, clean the bikes, keep you guys updated on social media, have the next day’s rider briefing then dinner and go to bed at around 7pm. Wake up call at about 5.30am, pack everything up, 6.15am coffee and breakfast, 7am start the ride. Repeat.
In larger towns like Safaga, Luxor, Aswan and here in Abu Simbel the routine obviously changes a bit especially on the rest days, consisting of doing laundry, cleaning bike, lots of sleeping, eating, and a bit of sightseeing.
The riders on this tour are a wild mix from all over the world, including Canada, USA, England, Scotland, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and last but not least South Africa. The group is a bit smaller compared to previous years with I think 22 riders so far. Some more will join along the route and some will leave earlier. It’s a wonderful bunch of individuals all with the common quest for adventure and love for cycling. The support team of the TDA are working pretty hard to get this tour safely from one place to the next, mark the route, set up lunch stops, have some food ready when the racers arrive in the camp, and prepare dinner. This is just the tip of the iceberg and much more logistical stuff is going on in the background like driving the TDA truck from Cape Town to Cairo in December. It’s very impressive to see the team in action and really appreciate the amount of effort they put into making this trip memorable for all the riders.
EFI and the Race
Tour d’Afrique has a timed component in addition to its expedition format. Each rider has a choice of either taking part in the expedition without being timed or on the other hand ride timed on the official racing days. These are usually the days less dangerous to us riders. So far we had 7 out of 10 days marked as ‘race’. At this point I have no idea where I am standing but should be somewhere top 5 out of approx. 15 racers. I believe the race results will be up soon and updated more frequently over the coming months. For now, I am just aiming not to lose too much time and stay with the cyclos as best as possible without going too much into my red zone.
EFI means that riders attempt to ride Every Flippen (F=up to imagination) Inch of the tour. This is of course my main goal! Riding the whole thing without needing to get on the truck. Cross fingers I stay healthy and strong especially through Ethiopia.
Overall, I have been feeling fantastic and strong the last two weeks. My bike set up is almost perfect. A larger front ring would be great for more force on the flats but well, in the greater scheme of things it does not really matter, does it?
The Tour D’Afrique organisers have been working with a local agency that have been with us since Cairo. It’s fantastic to be able to tap into the local knowledge, and be able to experience a country through the eyes of locals. Some of the Egyptian riders are part of the Alexandria cycle team and used the miles for their base training. Very cool to connect with likeminded riders from other countries. Thank you Tamer and your family for inviting me to your home and serving us such a wonderful delicious feast. Mohamed for the support en route, and the Emeco travel team Ramon and Hashem for guiding us safely through the Egyptian desert.
Most of you know by now that I am a fond supporter of Qhubeka. With Tour D’Afrique I want to create awareness of the great work Qhubeka is doing and aim to collect enough donation to buy 300 Buffalo Bicycles at the end of my journey through Africa. Donation link and more info here: https://katjasteenkamp.com/qhubeka-world-bicycle-relief/
For daily updates and impressions on my tour through Africa follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
We’ll be crossing the Sudanese border tomorrow. I am not certain how the internet connectivity will be and might not be able to send updates as frequently as before.