The Road to Kigali
Kenya, the Pearl of Africa and the Land of a Thousand Hills…
I last visited Kenya in 2012 and the infrastructure development over the past 4 years has been astonishing. Shiny new buildings have popped up in every town and city, whilst where there used to be bone-shaking dust tracks there are now endless smooth roads. The standout example has to be the new Westgate Mall. Rebuilt after the tragic terrorist attack, it now wouldn’t look out of place in Dubai. However, the one negative of all this development has been how expensive Kenya has now become across the board. Accommodation, food and drink has been amongst the most expensive of the trip and must surely hit the average Kenyan hard.
The cycling itself has been largely uneventful but because both Carl and I have visited many of the places before on previous trips has brought back great memories for us. None more so than surprising Teacher Maggie in Nakuru. If you haven’t read it previously Maggie is what links this trip together, she teaches at one of the poorest schools in the city, with several HIV positive children in her class and came on her first CWB coaching course on my second trip in 2013. She was the star coach that week but nobody could have predicted that when Carl returned just a year later that Maggie’s school would be the champions of Nakuru and be producing Kenya national players.
Following our emotional surprise, we had a short follow up interview with Maggie which you can watch below. Carl spoke about the Trustees story of Eva in the last blog but Maggie is our story and she is the reason we have been cycling for the past 3 months. This is the difference that CWB can and does make. Everything that you donate goes straight to the charity and ensure that people like Maggie can be empowered to make their difference.
We are now into the final week of the journey, having crossed into Uganda and worked our way to the bustling (read very busy for cyclists) capital Kampala. We have also been lucky enough to meet up with Emmanuel, the CWB Ugandan Ambassador and Jackson who helped on my last trip to the country in 2015. Both have a great passion for cricket and after a couple of hours in their company I am convinced that the future of cricket and Uganda is in safe hands. What is clear though is that we can and will do more to help support these two and many others like them who are desperate for knowledge, not just cricket equipment.
There are only 600km and under a week of cycling to go on our epic adventure. I’ve tried to picture the moment that we finally reach the Technical College in Kigali and how I will feel after 100 days and 6600km on the road. Reflecting back now on the origins of this trip over 2 years ago, we have achieved so much and I know all of our sacrifices and tough days have been worth it.
Now onto these 1000 hills…
Tanzania is Tough – Remind us Again Why We’re doing this?
As detailed in Gary & Clare’s brilliant last blog, there were some tough days on the bike in Malawi. However, I think it’s fair to report that most of Tanzania was considerably tougher. Cycling once again as a two, we entered the country via The Southern Highlands (should have given us a clue!) where we were confronted with two days of steep climbs taking us high up into the mountains. It also gave us a complete change of scenery where we found ourselves surrounded by dramatic mist, moisture in the air and deep valleys filled with towering pine trees. We couldn’t believe how quickly it had all changed but soon learnt that this was to be typical of the climate and landscape as we worked our way through this vast, beautiful and diverse country. One of the other differences we noted was in the level of communication. To explain; in all our previous visits to East Africa we have always laughed and accepted that, in order not to offend, the answer to most of our questions is usually, ‘YES’. Yet as we’ve made our way through Southern Africa, strangely, we’ve often found the opposite to be true, with ‘NO’ becoming the standard response to most of our requests. All very confusing. In Tanzania however, it reverted to type with the answer to questions such as; Do you have wifi? Do you have EVERYTHING on your menu? Is there a guest house in the next village? Is the road ahead flat and is it made from tarmac? Always being met with a resounding and emphatic, ‘YES!’ Of course, the answer to all of these questions should have been ‘NO’ which understandably began to make life fairly difficult for two weary travellers who have been on the road for nearly three months and were unsure of what lay ahead.
The last two questions were particularly pertinent though as from the moment we left Mbeya, our first major city, we met with terrible roads. Huge volumes of trucks have crafted deep indentations, or ‘tracks’ in the surface which we had a choice to cycle in, hoping the lorries and buses removed themselves from the ruts to overtake us, or to balance on a precipice alongside the road as the massive vehicles rattled on by. It was a very difficult few days which we did well to get through unscathed. However, we eventually found some new, Chinese built, roads and were relieved when we reached Dodoma believing we had made it through the worst. We were wrong! Very wrong and soon learnt that we’d only had a taste of what was to come.
As we left the capital via the main road heading North, first the tarmac disappeared for 10Km, then it teased us for 20 with a new road, before disappearing all together with an ominous sign indicating 200Km of road works. The sign was sort of accurate. There was indeed evidence of road works, with ginormous mounds of earth and the odd stationary digger positioned where you can imagine a road to be in ten years time, but to our eyes, there was very little evidence of any actual ‘work’ taking place. Instead what we saw in front of us was a soft sand and undulating rock path alongside ‘the works’ which would have been tough to negotiate with the latest high spec mountain bike, let alone with touring bikes each carrying 40kgs+ of equipment. It made for the toughest few days that either of us have ever had in the saddle.
Thankfully, from Babati onwards the Chinese came to our rescue again with newly built, and more importantly, finished roads which made the final few days in Tanzania significantly easier. Although by then a battling two weeks had taken their toll on our bodies pushing us close to our physical limits and testing our mental resilience to the full.
So much so, that we would be lying if we said we hadn’t questioned at times whether we would both make it to the end and had to constantly remind ourselves why we are doing this? In one of our previous blogs Jamie wrote passionately about many of these reasons and never have they resonated quite so strongly as they have done recently. There is still of course the element of self discovery and achievement involved in this challenge but at its core is our belief in Cricket Without Boundaries and everything it stands for. Therefore, for inspiration, when it came to writing this particular blog I thought I would contact Chris Kangis (one of the founding trustees) to see if he could send me some of the success stories that were included in the programme for last year’s 10th anniversary quiz as I thought it would be good to use one as an example of what motivates us. In truth, of the stories he sent the one I would like to share with you is not originally the one I had in mind. However, when reading this particular story, despite my familiarity with it, it re-struck such a chord that somehow every pedal since has felt just that little bit easier. Therefore, if you’ll allow me to move away momentarily from the details of our own journey, in the words of the founding trustees, this is ‘Eva’s Story’ and one of the reasons why we are doing this.
On the first Ever CWB project to Kenya in January 2006, we held a coaching session at an orphanage in Kiandutu, a slum area of Thika, just north of Nairobi in Kenya. The orphanage was run by KENWA (Kenya Network of Women with AIDS) and was home to children infected with HIV.
For some time, Eva had been too ill to get out of bed but, when she saw all the other children playing, she found the strength to join in. The strength to be a little girl having fun with her friends. We ensured that she scored the winning runs that day and her smile lit up the project. To this day, the time spent with Eva remains one of the most inspirational moments for CWB trustees Chris and Ed. Shortly after the coaching session, we heard that Eva had been given access to Anti-retroviral Therapy and hoped that it was not too late for her recovery. Over the coming years, we tried to find out about Eva but with little success.
Then, in 2014, CWB was running a project close by and discovered that Eva was a fit, healthy 18 year old. Eva is a courageous, inspiring young woman. She is no longer the painfully thin young girl in the photographs and is hoping to become a nurse, having recently completed her exams.
Eva’s own words mean the world to CWB and sum up why we do what we do:
“Playing cricket make me think about how I will get better, not how I will die. My life changed from there. I realised I can be the same as other children, I can be strong, I can have a future… they encouraged me to see another life, another future, another Eva.”
For any ‘CWBers’ reading this, you will of course instantly recognise this as the story that binds us all together. Reading it again though has certainly galvanised and made us more determined than ever to complete this challenge. Although we still have some tough days ahead as we head east, we now know we can deal with whatever is thrown at us. We will and have to complete this challenge for Eva and all the other thousands of children that CWB has been lucky enough to inspire over the last decade.
Two and half weeks. Three countries. And just over a 1000Km to go. Let’s do this!
The Malawi Stage!
Climb & Punishment in Malawi!
Meeting the boys on the first day, three things were clear: they were a slick operation and a tight team, this wasn’t going to be much of a holiday with 5am alarms needed to beat the worst of the sun and even then, some pretty strong tan lines were inevitable.
Every early start was worth it though: the riding was awesome. Starting out with the sunrise only made the lake and mountains more stunning and there was never much time between friendly roadside greetings to keep moral high. Particularly, when these greeting came in the form of “HELLOHELLOHELLOHELLOHELLO” chants from local kids, SUPER excited to be seeing “azungu” on bikes. The Mexican Wave effect in one village as children lined the roadside to chant at us is something that will live long in the memory.
Our 7 days of riding was pretty variable: rain and sun, long and short, flat and really, really hilly. It included the toughest, bumpiest 50km I’ve ever cycled, up many a Malawi mountain (who knew?!). All with fully loaded bikes. The weight isn’t to be underestimated – on that hilly day, I felt like I had someone hanging onto the back of my rack dragging their feet.
Once the riding for the day was done, it was time to refuel. With the excuse of not having had a proper breakfast, this often involved 3 large meals in the space of 7 hours (win), most of which came with chips. In fact, a having a ‘chip-free-day’ became a thing… a challenging thing.
Obviously, being athletes, we had to ensure we rehydrated too. While the beer ‘selection’ was a choice of Carlsberg or Carlsberg, the Malawi gin was a genuine highlight. While rehydrating, we managed to multi-task and enjoy the view: the nights we stayed on the lake shore were mind-blowing. The lake, so big it looks like the sea complete with sandy beach, is beautiful in the sun but came into its own at night with electrical storms to watch.
Rehydration also allowed us to meet characters like Mike the fisherman cum barman. He provided many firsts:
· Never before have I been served a drink by someone who has just walked fully clothed out of a lake.
· Never before have I seen someone try to open a bottle of wine (traditional cork) with a pair of ice tongs. Luckily, Gary was on hand to show Mike how the bottle opener worked.
· Never before have I been asked if I want a single or double measure of wine. I think we blew Mike’s mind when we told him we’d just have the bottle.
Whilst I would recommend a visit to Malawi to anyone, it was not without its frustrations. Perhaps the biggest was the regular shouts of ‘give me money’ often coming from Children so young that they must have been taught the phrase by adults. It was noticeably specific to individual areas (which often seemed to be the recipients of recent foreign aid projects) and tiring at times when it was the only social interaction we had in a whole village.
With my CWB hat on, it was great to see the Government pushing HIV awareness messages, often on roadside signs. Sadly we also passed numerous clinics claiming to be the leading HIV/AIDS herbal remedy clinic in the region, so the governments work on HIV awareness is clearly nowhere near done.
On a lighter note, the only other frustration was the local currency, the Kwatcha. With the largest denomination note being equivalent to £1, two weeks worth of spending money effectively doubled the weight of my luggage!
Finally, before joining the boys I knew the CWB cycle was a big challenge but now I really appreciate the scale of the beast. I did just seven days and found it exhausting. They’ve already done 8 weeks and 4000km, with 5 very tough weeks to go. The scale of the journey was confirmed when we realised that our flight home from Addis Ababa was 500km shorter than the boys are cycling. Keep pedalling chaps…
Zimbabwe, briefly Mozambique and over 3000Km takes us half way there!
‘If they knew I was talking to you about politics, they would take us away, chop us up and feed us both to the crocodiles!’ – said a man after several beers in a central Bulawayo bar who had passionately been doing exactly that for a couple of hours. I start with this quote as it seems to sum up our time in Zimbabwe rather well. Not in the sense that either of us actually felt we could be dismembered at any point (just to clarify!) but it serves nicely as a starting point to highlight one of the contradictions we discovered as we travelled through this much talked about and often internationally criticised country.
Before we arrived we knew we had to be careful who we spoke to and assumed that most would be reluctant to openly talk about politics or the government for fear of reprisals. However, surprisingly, what we found was a well informed generally politically astute community, which after very little prompting, were only too keen to share their opinions regarding The State, economics and where they saw their country headed. As the story above indicates, it was often caveated with a – ‘I shouldn’t really be saying this…’ disclaimer, but whether it was our hosts, taxi drivers, restaurant owners, men by the roadside, or guys we were sharing a beer with, we found most had a strong political opinion of some kind.
The good news is that Zimbabwe seems to be on the road to recovery and we were often told how the economy has improved significantly from where it was ten years ago. However, it doesn’t take a political scientist to identify where many of the problems still lie. As we cycled through the beautiful scenic countryside, sadly we saw with our own eyes field after field of what used to be productive farm land now barren or housing a pitiful array of crops. It is a real travesty that such a green, lush and warm temperate climate is no longer being used to its full potential in the poorer regions. A similar theme greeted us in some of the rural towns, where we noted many once splendid buildings now derelict or in a state of disrepair. It was also in a couple of these places that for the first time on this trip we didn’t always feel particularly liked or welcome. Now, this could be our paranoia and might be based on us comparing it with the extraordinary generosity shown to us so far, but when you read the history and compare it with what you hear from the people you meet, it is not a huge leap to feel potentially that our presence could have been associated with a darker, sadly government backed, period of the country’s not so distant, chequered past.
However, to continue the contradictory theme (and just in case the crocodile feeder happens to read this and decides to track me down!) the friendship and welcome shown to us by the vast majority of the people in other towns and cities was yet again unbelievable! The highlight of which was Kwekwe where the local coffee shop owner, Nick, took us to his friend Alan’s farm to meet Zulu the lion. If you’ve not seen the footage of Zulu on our Twitter feed, take a look. It was also in the same coffee shop that a guy called Tom overheard our story and passed us his details as he left with his morning coffee. He hadn’t even spoken to us properly but insisted we came and stayed with him when we made it to Harare. We obviously took him up on his offer and our two days spent with him and his family in the capital were very special. Yet again it is these random acts of kindness that will live in our collective memories long after the last pedal of this journey is taken. In this regard Zimbabwe was generally right up there and both of us agree it is a place that we are keen to revisit again at some point in the future.
And so, after twelve days, our time in Zim came to an end as we reached the border and prepared ourselves for what had been described to us as, ‘the hottest place in Africa’. It lived up to its billing. As we entered Mozambique and headed towards an imaginary town (it appears Google Maps has some work to do here!) it felt as if somebody had literally turned the thermostat up. It was a dramatic change and within a few kilometres we noticed other things had altered quickly too. Villages we passed no longer contained the standard mud huts we had seen but were instead made up of homes entirely constructed of sticks and straw. Gone now were any of the random fruit sellers by the side of the road having long since been replaced by bags of charcoal – food it would seem is too valuable to sell in these parts. Even the standard, cheery, ‘I am fine’ response to whatever salutation we offered in the morning as we rattled along, diminished, being swapped instead for an absent wave and a total bemusement at our being there. Life was clearly tough for everyone and I think I understand now why a man offered me a spliff within seconds of crossing the border post: he clearly knew what was coming! Once in Tete therefore (which was somehow even hotter!) we decided that our best option was to head east instead of North and would enter Malawi earlier than we had planned to. It did mean adding a few extra kilometres to our journey but we both agreed it was a far better option. Our final trek across country though was not without incident with the heat and terrain finally taking their toll 30K from the border meaning a night slept rough in a school classroom’s doorway. It was a fitting end to our time in the country.
However, none of our negative experiences are of course the fault of Mozambique’s people. Once again when we were able to communicate (our fault for not knowing enough Portuguese) everyone was friendly and wanted to help. It is just that their poor country has been ravaged by years of civil war and blighted so cruelly by drought that they have so little to give. Every village sells the same huge bags of charcoal on the roadside because that is all they have. I only wish we could have bought a bag from each of them as we passed by to help.
So, with Zimbabwe and Mozambique completed that almost brings things up to date with us now having reached the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe. Interestingly, despite all the travails of the last week or so, the good news is that we have earned ourselves a four day rest before the arrival of our great friends Gary and Clare who will be joining us for the remainder of the Malawi stage. Our plan whilst waiting? Eat, sleep, drink and marvel in the knowledge that with nearly 3500K under our belt we have now completed half of our journey.
Bring on the second half!
A Day in The Life!
Bulawayo – Two Days Ahead of Schedule
As our dash across Botswana came to an end and we entered the unknown of Zimbabwe it seemed a good time for reflection on where we have come from in such a short space of time and to look forward to 3 new countries in the space of 3 weeks.
Botswana is an incredibly beautiful and vast country, equivalent in size to France but only populated by roughly 2 million people. Every person is warm and welcoming, with beautiful smiles and disbelief that anyone can cycle as far as we have. Certainly 2,000 kilometres is a long way in anyone’s book and the remaining 4,500 kilometres seem so huge.
Meeting up with the Botswana Cricket Association in Gabarone and seeing the amazing facilities at their disposal gives me real belief that the future of cricket in the country can be bright but only if the efforts to broaden the playing base are successful.
The border crossing into Zimbabwe was painless, taking less than 30 minutes from start to finish. As we have become accustomed to we still had to battle a strong headwind all day and some monstrous hills in the last 10km before we reached Plumtree, the first town in Zim. All our hard work over the past week has meant we arrived in Bulawayo 2 days ahead of schedule, complete with our first puncture in 2,200km. Our reward has been to get a mountain of washing done and enjoy a bit of what the city has to offer on a rest day. Sadly Scotland couldn’t come through against the old enemy and make it a proper celebration!
So what of my reflections? Well, this journey gives plenty of time to think and to learn about yourself. There is simple joy in travelling great distances, powered only by our own hard work and determination. Often I find myself lost in thought of where I have come from, what I am seeking to achieve and what my future holds. By the very nature of the ride it is very hard to live beyond the current day and I’ve found this a hugely refreshing way of life.
I think why I chose to take on this epic challenge is deeply personal and one that only few I have spoken to understand. People may question why risk careers, relationships and ‘success’ on something so fanciful but my answer will always be that life is for living. Everyday I have met someone interesting and learned about them and their life. I have discussed politics, wars, sports, fashion and food. I have learned huge amounts about myself and I am a better person for it. I am gaining experiences that very few people can ever dream of, exploring the most fascinating continent on the planet, with how far my legs can take me the only constraint. Yes our challenge is tough – both mentally and physically – but it is also great fun.
Most importantly why Carl and I have taken on this epic challenge is to raise awareness and funds for the 10 year anniversary of Cricket Without Boundaries. What this charity does is truly amazing and we are privileged to have played our small part in its continued success. If we can raise money to allow the charity to employ more ambassadors or encourage somebody to volunteer then all the hard work will be worth it.
if you have any spare pennies please donate, as every thing goes directly to CWB: https://www.justgiving.com/thegreatcwbcycle/
So onwards to Kigali, one day at a time.
Just don’t ask me to do a ridiculous challenge for the 20th anniversary… Well maybe..
South Africa & The Kindness of Strangers.
When the planning for this trip started all those months ago, both of us freely admitted that the country we were least excited about visiting was South Africa. We were aware of the alarmingly high crime rate. We were told horror stories of how people can just disappear without a trace. We were warned how we would be instant targets for thieves and criminals. We were told how the understanding of English (or wanting to!) could be a problem – especially as we headed North (just in case we even translated and printed out a request for a bed for the night into Afrikaans). Indeed, we were even warned that simply hearing our accents or realising where we were from could be antagonistic to some – especially those with a strong Afrikaans heritage. Basically, everybody we had spoken to or met had told us to be very, very careful. As a result we had decided that South Africa was a place to keep our heads down in and get through as quickly as possible.
Well, here we are having recently completed nearly four weeks of cycling through this vast country and I am pleased to say that not one of our anxieties, or all those warnings of hostility, have come to fruition. In fact it has been the polar opposite – South Africa has shown us the true spirit of hospitality and generosity which has simply blown us away.
It started in Paarl, where one afternoon the owners of our guesthouse and their friends helped plan a diversion route for us. This was kind enough, but before long Marisce & Elgonda, together with Jenny in Tulbach, had befriended us on Facebook and begun a quest to find us further lodgings as we moved inland. In doing so they found us three places to stay completely free of charge. The highlight of which was in Beaufort West where we met Martin & Erlanca who gave us the keys to their house, only minutes after meeting, then took us out to the best restaurant in town when they got home after a long day at work. It was an almost unbelievable show of generosity: but it didn’t stop there. From here, simply by telling our story, which was always enthusiastically listened to wherever we went, we received free accommodation or meals, or sometimes both, at venue after venue. These included; The Vale Karoo Farm, Transkaroo Lodge, Magersfontein Golf Resort (we slipped in a cheeky nine holes too) and also met another lovely couple in Vryburg, Wayne & Carien-Mari, who treated us to some of the best cooked steaks we’ve ever had. Everywhere we went it seemed that people could’t do enough to help us which left us feeling truly humbled and of course extremely grateful.
But what of all the warnings? Surely there has to be some foundations to all the stories we had been told? Well, not wishing to disparage the country itself and without it personally causing us any issues, it is clear that South Africa does still have its problems. As we headed North we constantly heard about economic fears and saw how the social divide, sadly often based on ethnicity, was all too clear to see. Also, despite all the positivity shown to us, virtually every conversation was caveated with the familiar warnings about safety which seemed to reveal a culture of fear and deep mistrust of some within their own society. It did not feel like the united ‘Rainbow Nation’ that it strives to be. Obviously, some of the social issues run very deep and are things that two cyclists from the UK, just passing through from town to town, can never truly understand, but we couldn’t help but feel a little sad that there is so much potential in South Africa yet to be unearthed. The country really does have everything going for it and the people deserve a rich and prosperous society to match their own astonishing generosity.
So, there we go. One country down, eight to go! Our first couple of days in Botswana have been excellent and it was great to meet up with some friends at The Botswana Cricket Association here in Gaborone yesterday and today.
As always we wish we could stay longer, but, like ‘The Littlest Hobo’, (that’s one for all you 1980’s kids!) we have no choice but to ‘Just Keep Moving On!’ 5000K to go….
The First Two Weeks of the journey in Film…
Eat, Sleep, Bike, Repeat…
For those that have been reading our previous blogs or followed the daily tweets, you could be forgiven for thinking that our trip so far has been a bit of a holiday. We’ve reported how great Cape Town is (we could/liked to have stayed there for a week), we’ve published pictures of fine Sauvignon Blancs that we’ve sampled (The Ernie Els special was a particular favourite) and we’ve told of the unbelievable generousity shown by our new friends in South Africa. However, the thing we’ve not reported on much as yet, is the cycling. Well, let me assure you, there’s been plenty of it, with some of the days proving to be very challenging.
First there was heat to contend with. Then there was extreme heat – South Africa is in the midst of its biggest heatwave in 20 years with temperatures sometimes reaching 40 degrees in the shade. Then there was over 25K across loose boulders and gravel. Then wind – and not the type you might expect from two lads living in each other’s pockets surviving on food from roadside stops – but huge headwinds. Then hills – and not gently rolling ones either but steep ones as we passed through the mountains. Then wind AND mountains AND heat! In fact, for the first six days it felt like we were trapped in a computer game where an evil sorcerer (our bets are on you Terrace!) was inventing new levels of difficulty each day to try and prevent us from reaching his fortress in Kigali. However, we got through it and despite even having to add an extra 65K to the journey, due to us not being able to cycle through the mountain tunnel between Paarl and Worcester, we actually managed to make up a day in the programme which meant we could take our first much needed day off in Laingsburg on Sunday.
The break certainly helped and since then we have begun to eat into the distance we need to cover with a new energy. Although this may also be in part due to the significant change in landscape we have discovered as we move further inland. Gone now are the lush, green, vineyards which nest in the valleys surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks, to be replaced by vast, arid expanses of nothingness, where little seems to live or grow. We’re told there has been no rain in this part of the country since May which is evidenced when passing over each and every river which has long since dried up. Nor are there anymore outposts or small towns on route to our next destination. This means that our planning, with regards to provisions & water especially, has to be well thought out.
Our routine therefore currently runs something like this. The alarm goes at 05:00. Breakfast consists of an energy drink and possibly a protein bar if we can source one (although the cheese sausage left over from last night’s dinner was a interesting variation!). We’re then on the road at first light (usually 05:45) to try to avoid the heat. We then smash out the mileage as best we can with inevitably a few water breaks along the way. Before hopefully arriving at our next destination sometime before lunchtime. We then source food (usually a burger & chips as it’s usually all that is on offer). Stock up on what provisions we need for the following day. Snooze. Have a daily ice lolly if we can find one. Dinner (honestly, we are eating machines at the moment!). Final bike and equipment checks. Then bed for 19:30. Repeat! Ok, I agree, it’s hardly rock n’ roll but it seems to be working so far and both of us are facing up well to the challenge. Our bodies feel strong. Our sense of humours are intact. We’re still meeting lots of interesting people. And most importantly we’re still enjoying every part of this adventure.
Onwards, but perhaps with a little less of the upwards, would be nice… Cheers!
Day 3 video blog
And so it begins…
In the words of Hannibal Smith from the ‘A Team’ – ‘I love it when a plan comes together!’ and so far, after 18 months of preparation, that’s exactly what’s happened.
Despite hangovers slightly stronger than we were expecting, and complete with our new go faster haircuts (thanks Liz & Lucy!), our man with a van arrived earlier than expected on New Year’s Day and got us to Heathrow airport with plenty of time. In fact, we were so early there was nobody else at check in when we arrived and within minutes, after explaining to the staff at the desk why we had such large boxes, we had deposited them and were then quickly through to security. All good so far.
Despite it being eleven and a half hours, the flight itself was then also pretty painless, although if we’re being honest, the hangovers may have actually helped us to sleep – see, we knew what we were doing all along!
And so to Cape Town: What a city. Our first afternoon was spent reconstructing the bikes, before heading off into the city centre to find some food & to explore. The place has such a lovely atmosphere and with Table Mountain seemingly omnipotent, overlooking the city from every angle, both of us agreed it is a place we’d be keen to come and visit again at some point in the future. However, we only had a day and a half to spare and knew we had to make the most of it. What better way therefore than to rock up to Newlands Cricket Ground the following morning to see if we could catch a bit of the Test match. Again, we couldn’t believe our luck and managed to pick up two tickets right outside the gates for less than £15 each. For those of you that follow cricket, you’ll understand that it proved to be one of the best £15 we’ve ever spent as we can now say ‘we were there’ when Ben Stokes played one of the most exciting Test innings by an Englishman. It was every bit as good as it may have looked on TV. Whilst at Newlands it also gave us a chance to catch up with some friends who were also in the ground and provided another opportunity to promote the trip wherever we could. We then retired to the waterfront for a nice dinner with our friends Tim & Lucy before heading back to our B&B at a reasonable hour, to make our final preparations for the big day….
And so to ‘Le Grande Depart!’ The alarms went off at six – something we have to get used to. We were quickly into our cycling kits. Another final bike and equipment check (the bikes are heavy. In fact they now make riding a Boris Bike in London seem very easy – See, again, I knew what I was doing all along…) before a gentle ride back across town to Newlands where we’d arranged to meet with some supporters at The Springbok Pub just outside the ground. As we waited there for an hour the Director of Photography (Carl – self titled!) managed to get some covering shots of the departure whilst Jamie schmoozed anyone with the story who happened to ask what we were up to as they passed. Then at 09:00 AM on the nose, Tim & Lucy arrived, then another friend (and fellow CWBer) Paul Rowe came, with several members of his own touring party, to see us off.
And so it officially began: The Great CWB Cycle. Our first leg was a ‘gentle’ 30 mile cycle to Stellenbosch which took in some stunning scenery as we left Cape Town behind us and approached the Drakenstein mountains which surround the Cape wine region. It almost goes without saying that as expected the temperature was challenging (mid 30’s) and a couple of the hills were long and fairly steep! However, what we’ve quickly discovered is that if we can make it to the top, there will inevitably be the most stunning views when we do and what goes up, must of course also go down!
So, there we are, a great start to the trip. There will of course be some tough days ahead but so far the stand out for us has been the support we’ve received from everyone. We have been truly humbled by those of you who have messaged us, followed us on social media, sponsored us and especially those who have stopped to talk to us since we’ve been here. So many have listened to our story and offered plenty of support and advice. A stand out of which was a lady who passed us on a bike earlier on the highway (she was way quicker than us!) and asked what we were up to as she cycled alongside. We gave her our Twitter address and by the time we’d reached Stellenbosch she’d followed and Tweeted us!
Onwards and very much upwards!
1st Video blog…
21st November 2015
So, cycling, what’s it all about then?
27th October 2015
Since our last blog a couple of weeks ago there has been a significant leap forward in the acquisition of kit for the trip (mainly due to Jamie scouring the internet for bargains and both our birthdays happening to fall in October) which culminated in the exciting arrival of our brand new Surly Long Haul Trucker bikes last Tuesday.
As a result Jamie and I managed our first cycle together on Sunday when we took ourselves off on a 20 mile tour of East London and the Olympic Park ending with a well-deserved ‘Full English’ breakfast as a reward (I’m told we have to practice carb loading too!).
Now, not only was this ride significant from the project’s perspective, but it was also marked a huge personal milestone for me too as it was my first ever ride on a proper bike. Jamie reckons they are excellent. Much lighter than he thought they’d be, really smooth, yet obviously robust, the right size for us both (mines a bit smaller due to my Hobbit legs) and he says they will be perfect for eating up the mileage we are going to be doing. Me? I’m just glad they have more than 3 gears and a turning circle easier to handle than a standard Sherman tank.
In all seriousness though, I don’t think we could be happier and really have struck gold with them. As to the ride itself, well, apart from ‘stalling’ when encountering a couple of unexpected hills (due to not understanding how the gears work) I loved it and can’t wait to get out again this week.
Other developments in the last couple of weeks has seen further interest in some major cricket publications wanting to write about us and also the possibility of some significant corporate sponsorship support. We can’t be too specific on this yet but hopefully by the time we write again they’ll be a few more companies to add to our main sponsors page.
The regular Monday night quiz at the Truscott is also going well with it having already contributed over £500 towards our total – if you fancy seeing if you can take the scalp of a few Mastermind champs or a members of the ‘Eggheads’ team then please come along?
And finally… the other bit of interesting personal news I have received recently is, that having foolishly put in an application with my housemate a few months back, I have been awarded a place in the 2016 London Marathon! The race takes place a week after we return from Africa. So, here’s the question – if I do a bit of swimming in Lake Malawi does that mean I’ll have technically done my first ever Iron Man? Either way, if you’re thinking about sponsoring the project at all please bear this in mind…. 65 days to go!
“Use it to better other people”
10th October 2015
I recently watched the inspirational Rise From Ashes, a documentary about the Rwandan cycling team, which charts their progress from the genocide 20 years ago to one of their riders competing in London 2012.
While fighting back tears Jock Boyer says, “Everything else, whether it’s trophies or anything else, really doesn’t have any value unless you can use it to better other people.“
I can’t think of a better way to describe why I am doing the Great CWB Cycle. For Carl and I this is a hugely personal journey where we can make our difference.
The past 2 weeks have been really exciting for the project, with Christina Julian from Surly helping source us some amazing bikes. Christina’s belief in the project and us has been truly amazing and I doubt we will ever be able to thank her enough. Bits of kit are starting to arrive and we are getting the miles under our belts.
Fundraising has been hugely positive with us sitting at just over £900 on the back of some really great media coverage, which you can see more of here and keep an eye out for more interviews over the coming weeks.
Rise From Ashes has really got me excited for our trip. I cannot wait to ride with the Rwandan Cycling Team – who are heroes to me – in the last couple of days of our journey. I hope that The Great CWB Cycle is our moment of value.
100 days to go and it’s all The Jazzer’s fault…
27th September 2015
So there we were sat in Dukes of De Beauvoir Town, waiting for The Jazzer. We had to gather there because whenever you arrange to meet Mr Williams it has to be within a one mile radius of his N1 abode – them’s the rules! True to form though, having made us travel to him and ten minutes before we were expecting his arrival, he bailed on us! What to do? Well, the first American Pale Ale had actually gone down a treat and seeing as we had managed to acquire a table in a decent spot close to the bar, we decided to have another one. And so it began.
Jamie: I need an adventure!
Carl: Me too!
(Another beer – we had a taste…)
Jamie: Well, it’s the ten-year anniversary of CWB next year. How about doing something epic for that?
Carl: Perfect! Let’s try to emulate and pay homage to the trip made by the original trustees?
(Several beers later)
Jamie: How’s your cycling…?
This conversation took place in the summer of 2014 and somehow here we are now with only one hundred days to go before we take the first pedal on our epic 4,000 mile journey from Cape Town to Kigali. Obviously since that initial and totally spontaneous discussion the plan has developed and grown somewhat, but the premise remains the same: To have a great adventure and to raise as much money as we can for CWB.
Our planning started with the route and both of us have spent hours studying it since we fully committed to the trip several months ago. Research on the countries, including what visas we may need, has also been done. A ‘town to town’ plan (based on an average of 40-45 miles a day) has been plotted. A full kit list, including everything from spare fold up tyres to cable ties has been created. Letters to potential kit sponsors have been sent (some good early conversations, but if reading this and you happen to have a contact please share!). Our website has been built. Flights have been booked. Endorsements have been gathered (plenty more of those to come!). Some sponsors have been obtained – including a generous offer from The Truscott Arms who have agreed to donate a pound for each participant in their weekly quiz (hosted by Carl every Monday!) between now and the trip. Our social media campaign has been launched (@thegreatcwbcycle). Our respective work places have been informed of our impending departure and have been brilliantly supportive.
Training has, well… Jamie’s currently winning on this one, as Carl doesn’t actually own a bike yet! There’s still time though and several weekends between now and January have already been set aside for long bike rides. A press release has generously been created by our great mate Luke Sellers and will be doing the rounds soon. Our Just Giving page is up and running and many mates have already proved to be overwhelmingly generous. Our leaving party (vital this one!) has been booked for the 15th December. And finally, most importantly, our friends and families have been told that this actually happening and is not just some crazy idea we’ve been threatening to do for ages.
The reaction from friends has been fascinating ranging from jealously that we’re doing something they would love to do, to the standard; ‘Wow! You’re going to have a sore ar*e’ and ‘Careful you don’t get eaten by anything!’ type comments. We think/hope they’re joking about the last one! As to our families and loved ones, understandably, their initial reaction was a slightly nervous one but as time has moved on they’ve gotten used to the idea and are now fully behind us. It goes without saying that without their love and support none of this would be possible.
To conclude, as we write it seems crazy that hopefully in 200 days time we will be riding into the École Technique in Kigali having completed our epic journey. There are obviously so many things to do between now and then but I think it’s safe to say that at this point we are already almost unbearably excited about what is to come.
This is really happening and perhaps it’s all down to The Jazzer!
So, there we go – the publishing of our first blog can be added to the list of milestones reached. Please feel free to add any comments below and be sure to share any links if you would like to support us going forward.
Jamie & Carl