Bicycle Diaries

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Travelogue - Days 1 - 12

The Lonely Road Challenge – a symbolic journey of activation and activism.

There was one other person who believed in this from the start… Grace Meadows - and she and I set up what is now “The Lonely Road Foundation”. What we knew was that we had to grab attention and raise the level of awareness for the issue of HIV/AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children to the point where people asked themselves: “Am I doing enough?”

This is a journey to activate the hearts and minds of all those who believe they belong to the African society, and a fight against apathy and a lack of “citizenship and patriotism”. Above all, “The Lonely Road Challenge” is a journey that will hold out a hand to those who have lost everything, and give them something that returns their dignity and their humanity.

Day 1 – Tintswalo at Waterfall to Magaliesberg

The day dawned with a brilliance that blessed the moment and the impending event. For me, this day signalled the start of a journey that began over a year ago after a chance encounter with a twenty month old child at an orphanage who was being “trained” to be self-sufficient. She was one of many babies who only learn how to speak aged 4 because there are not enough adults to speak to them.

The setting for the launch event was beautiful; the Waterfall Equestrian Estate is exquisite and while it perhaps ran contrary to the purpose at hand, it was their generosity that made the launch event possible.  And so, Tintswalo at Waterfall became the starting point for a Lonely Road that I will only learn about in the days ahead.

Support was tremendous, evidenced by the appearance of friends, family, conscientious cyclists, supporters, contributors and the media, Catherine Strydom from 5fm, Reuters TV, the SABC, Getaway Magazine, Directors of The Lonely Road Foundation, Kaelo Consulting and the Potential team (my business partners and friends), New image Cycle Club, the wonderful people from SmithSavage, Think Bike and members of the public. All these people came to see me off and show that they care about and support what we are doing.

After interviews, speeches, hugs, kisses and some tears; I headed out with about 25 – 30 cyclists who allowed me to lead them out, and I was embarrassed to be in front. This will probably be the first and only time I will ever lead a bunch of cyclists. It was a little chilly but this was soon a thing of the past. “Think Bike” were amazing and with military precision they marshalled, patrolled, guided, protected and drove us out of the estate and into Kyalami along Woodmead drive towards Pretoria. After a few “monster” hills and more than a few beads of sweat, we turned west towards Diepsloot.

We reached the junction of William Nicol and, suddenly caught up in the drama and hype of the moment as well as the command of Think Bike marshalls, the Metro Police allowed me to continue on the N14 - a national highway and off-limits to cyclists… but who was I to complain. This was an opportunity to do something that few get to experience and I revelled in the moment. So I continued on the N14 and waved goodbye to the cyclists who returned to Waterfall Equestrian Estate.  Now I was truly alone and unsupported.

The solitude was enormous and I felt drained and exhausted at the monumental task ahead. I had covered only twenty kilometres and still had five thousand four hundred and eighty left to go. “What have I done?”. All the doubts in the world bombarded my thought processes and I struggled to cycle as fear and paralysis gripped me. After a few kilometres I got back on track and focussed on one thing – getting to Magaliesberg!

For the next seventy kilometres that singular thought sustained me until I reached the Magaliesberg Hotel. Along the way a car stopped on the roadside and two young men jumped out. My first thought was “here we go, not even 40 kilometres on and jacked in Jozi!” As they grabbed cameras from the trunk of their vehicle, my second thought was “over-eager journalists trying to get an extra scoop of this delicious story!”. They hailed me down and I willingly stopped, pulled out my best “Blue Steel” and “Magnum” poses - please note that I threw in a “Tiger Claw” and the very sought after “Lion” pose, as well. Modelling done, I asked which publication they worked for and they asked me who I was! “What, you mean you don’t know who I am?” I said rather obnoxiously. Moabi, one of the gentlemen, piped up “No, but you looked like someone doing something so we stopped to make sure we have proof that you’re crazy!”

It turns out Moabi is from the Department of Social Welfare and he will be our first contact into the very department the Foundation will need to access. Amazing how life works, and I hadn’t even got as far as Roodepoort!

It was a great day and particularly pleasing to reach the hotel and take advantage of accommodation that can be described as luxurious compared to some of my “lodgings” to come.

I was joined by some friends who were there to wish me well and share in a last supper before the long and lonely road was to become a reality in more ways than one.

Day 2 – Magaliesberg to Koster

“This was easy!” I thought after a long ride the day before – so I ambled into breakfast nonchalant, full of bravado and delusions of achievement. I procrastinated the morning away and was intent on using up every minute of my accommodation before checkout time. At 12:15 I donned my unflattering but rather useful cycling gear and pretended to be focussed on the task at hand. Having packed and loaded my steed, the Mongoose Meteore Comp (provided by New Image Cycles and Integrated Marketing), I headed out towards Koster.

Before I had turned onto the R509 to Koster I was faced with a stiff breeze that gave me an ominous feeling that this particular short stretch of seventy kilometres was not going to be as easy as I had anticipated. True to form, the breeze yapped and bit me like a pack of African wild dogs at the back of the Great Migration. This was truly about survival of the fittest. The breeze became a wind and the dogs’ teeth became sharp as the temperatures dropped to below twelve degrees Celsius.

After an arduous 4 hours into the biting wind I stumbled into Koster to the respite provided by my magnanimous hosts Overtuin Guest House, owned and run by Suzette Odendaal. What was lacking in opulence was provided in warmth and caring and this was the kind of overnighting I needed after being beaten by the beastly breeze. It felt like being at home but with delicious Ferrero Rocher chocolates on your pillow and a huge bath to soak some sore muscles.

Day 3 – Koster to Zeerust

This was to be a day of risks and adventure. I had investigated the route from Koster to Zeerust and there was a “Grondpad” gravel road that wound through the farms of the area and was supposedly “reguit” straight to Zeerust. I was going to shave ten kilometres off a one hundred and ten kilometre ride – this was worth it!


Firstly, it was cold, very cold. Secondly, it was a gravel road that was bumpy and provided no relief for an already painful behind. After about fifty kilometres I was ruing the moment I thought about taking this so-called shortcut. Lesson learnt - a shortcut is a euphemism for ‘Other Mistakes’.

Again, a chance encounter with a mountain of a man. Old Oom Ben Duminy of Benkoe Lions; a man of prodigious girth, humour and character, who spent the better part of a half an hour with me while I rode between his rather vast lands. Although we were diametrically opposed in almost every facet of life I felt a strong connection with the man as he fought lions on his lion farms and he respected my sense of adventure.

Eventually I arrived in Zeerust, a welcoming site after such a difficult road, with a bruised and battered bum that would take the better part of a week to forgive me.

My lodging was at a place called Marico Bushveld B&B. They graciously gave me a one hundred rand discount in support of my mission, which is greatly appreciated.

Day 4 – Zeerust to Gaborone (Botswana)

This was a day I was looking forward to. Country number two and a long stretch to cover into Gabs. As I left Zeerust (five kilometres out of town) there was a signpost stating that Gaborone was one hundred and twenty kilometres away. Straight after that signpost was a monster of a hill that would make even the toughest of cyclists cringe. I attacked the hill as if it were the last of the Alps climbs in the Tour de France, and would only really pay the price later that day.

It was long. It was hard. It was painful. But eventually I got to the Kopfontein border post – this was going to be a great day! Passport? I had left my passport behind to get certified and had forgotten to pick it up. Now, who was the idiot? Country number two? Maybe not. I phoned Grace, who promptly got into her car and drove it to the Botswana border. Alone and unsupported - and was I happy I wasn’t too far from home.

By that time it was way past 17h00 and I was in for a night ride into Gaborone. This was going to be dangerous in the day and now to cycle at night was to flirt with real danger. Lit up like a Christmas tree and shining in all kinds of reflective gear I smashed the last twenty nine kilometres to my accommodation in one hour and ten minutes. Fear was all I was experiencing. Pain was the product of my exertions earlier that day. Thank goodness for rest days!

Day 5 – Gaborone (Rest day)

I’ll take it! Say no more!

Day 6 – Gaborone to Rasesa

My destination this day was initially intended to be Mochudi, and a light warm-up ride turned out to be a slightly longer but very enjoyable spin. I eventually found a place to sleep in a sleepy but industrious little village called Rasesa. My lodgings were menial but decent and I can only thank my lucky stars that I had a sleeping bag with me because it was cold and a sheet and blanket was all that they provided!

Day 7 – Rasesa to Dibete (Camp Stop)

I was up early and had every intention of munching this day and pitching camp for my first time since I was a boy scout back in the early ‘80’s.

I must say thank you to Biggz (nickname) and his mate who stopped on the roadside to give me one hundred Pula. I guaranteed them that I would deposit the equivalent in Rands (roughly R114) into the Foundation account in September when I return to South Africa. What was special about this gesture was that he had heard me interviewed on Yarona FM, a local Gaborone radio station, and was inspired to do something! Big ups to Biggz!

As I rode on to Dibete (which is a two rondavel town with a police station), I came upon roadworks. This spelt trouble and, although the engineer in charge said I could ride on the roadworks for the first ten kilometres, I needed to get at least sixty kilometres into this section. There was no shoulder on the alternate road and the dirt path that ran alongside was a sandy meander that was more useful to the cows and goats that roamed along Botswana’s highways than it was to a heavily weighed down bicycle (I am hauling almost forty kilograms of gear and supplies).

After three hours of fighting with sand and rocky roadworks I decided to pitch camp. This is a simple affair as my North Face Tadpole tent is a handy 1-2-3-UP kind of design. It wasn’t, however, designed for -2 degrees Celsius and again if it wasn’t for my Firefly sleeping bag I would have had to thaw for at least three hours the next morning.

I was lulled into sleep by the cow- and goat bells which rang out all night. At 02:00 in the morning a roaring sound woke me and I scrambled up only to realise that I had pitched my tent not less than twelve meters from the railway line. I was to have the pleasure of another roaring alarm at about 06:00 again.

Day 8 – Dibete to Mahalapye

This was a day better forgotten but one that I will always remember as a true test of character and determination. I will only list the problems I experienced and leave it at that.
  • Twelve hours on the road
  • Cold
  • Wind
  • More roadworks
  • Sand roads that forced me to push the bike thirty kilometres
  • Wet tar that got stuck on me, my tyres and all over the bike, forcing me to drag the bike off the road and spend two hours scraping tar off the wheels just to allow me to keep going!
  • No food
  • No accommodation in Gaetsho Lodge where I had arranged to stay, but I eventually found shelter at a wedding venue called “Seduda”
  • Two hours to clean the tar off the bike with paraffin at Seduda!

Special mention must go to Willem, Chris, Sarah and Blondie (who lost her passport and because of her lack of identity I forgot her name as well!) for buying me Energades and nuts to keep me going! Thanks guys, and keep listening to 5fm on Tuesdays and Fridays around 17:40 for live updates.

Day 9 – Mahalapye to Palapye

This turned out to be a strange but enjoyable day! I rode sixty eight kilometres because I took the turn too early for Palapye and found myself in the town and not the “Route” town, which I found out later was different. I was about to sign up for some shelter when I asked if there was anything closer to the highway.

Ten kilometres on from where I turned off was a whole community that literally thrived on the Gabs-Francistown-Maun traffic. Well put that back on the legs will you! I eventually found my home at a place called… wait for it…

“The Secret Place”

I know, you’ve never heard of it right? Well neither had I!

It was relatively inexpensive and menial, but it had hot water - what more could a weary traveller ask for?

Day 10 – Palapye to Serule (Camp Stop)

All I can say about this day is “Freaky!”. For four hours I rode in a windstorm and only covered about fifty two kilometres. My voice recordings will give you an aural sense of what I encountered.

Exhausted and wind beaten, I curled up in my tent and slept till the cows came home… which was at about 01:00, and ding-ding did it make my night! I should have recorded that sound just to play back for you as well.

Day 11 – Serule (Camp Stop) to Francistown

After the previous day and Day 8, this actually was a breeze. A cool seventy kilometres on and I am at rest stop number two and the last town before I reach ZIMBABWE!!!! Country number THREEEEEEEE! The excitement was intense and, as I rode into Francistown with a Botswana TV crew following me, I realised that I have already covered over 870 kilometres in the past 10 days of riding, pushing and struggling.

Day 12 – Francistown (Rest Day)

Thank you to Metcourt Lodge and “The Grand Palms” for hooking a brother up with some great accommodation.

Thank you to Nando’s Francistown for providing me with lunch - and what a feast I had! A half chicken and peri-peri chips with chicken livers and soft rolls. Mmmmm! I think this was the best meal I’ve had since I left Johannesburg. It was a rather festive lunch with the press, centre management and Nando’s staff all getting involved. Thanks guys - you made it a very memorable day.

A few thoughts on Bike touring…

Know your bike. It is very important to know what a bike can or cannot do. If you have not ridden it enough before you set out, many small things will come up for you to “run in” and this was my experience. I had no choice but to get a bike a few days before leaving and she is a “beaut!” - a Mongoose Meteore Comp kindly supplied by New Image Cycles.

Ride your bike in, cycle at least 500 to 1,000 km on your bike before you set off. A bicycle is like a car it needs to be ridden in so that the moving parts settle into position and you can then adjust the cables and springs accordingly.

On this section of the journey it was a departure from country number two, Botswana, and entry into Zimbabwe that created a certain amount of anxiety and apprehension about what I would encounter.


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