Documenting the epic ride on her social media, French ultra-cyclist Caroline recently posted an animation of a rider pedalling across a map of Africa. Spoiler: it’s been a long one. Underneath the post, she lays out the bare stats of the ride from Cape Town to Mombasa: 40 days, 6 countries, 6,438 km. While concise and easy to digest, the animation does not show it all.
Those who follow the pair on social media will be acutely aware of how those 40 days and 6,438 kilometres have felt like much longer. And despite it being just one continent, it could have been multiple.
Before they landed in Africa, you – just like us, perhaps – probably had visions that Caroline and David would cross the continent under blue skies and uninterrupted sunshine. And that’s partly true: From Cape Town to the border between Namibia and Botswana, the conditions were comfortably on their side. But once the pair passed the Tropic of Capricorn, everything changed. From here on, things were about to get more difficult.
‘From Botswana to Mombasa we were held prisoner by the rainy season, heavy roads with difficult surfaces and – worst of all –a ruthlessly unrelenting headwind that tested the limits of our endurance. Sure, we expected this, but it’s one thing to expect it and another thing to start riding in Kenya with skin that’s not just wind-burned but now being burned by the hot African sun that just re-appeared, without having anywhere to hide,’ explained Caroline.
Challenges aside, this section of the round-the-world ride was not short of inspiration: On the border of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, the pair hit upon the iconic town of Livingstone, a name that rings bells amongst Scots in particular. Tucked just inside the border of Zambia, it’s the gateway to Victoria Falls and its matchless beauty.
As they rode on, low clouds settled in and set the scene for the whole second half of the ride, which meant that David’s dream of taking a closer look at Mount Kilimanjaro was scuppered.
In fact, the conditions hampered the route’s almost perfect potential to embrace the other 6,000 meter-plus snow-covered peaks in this area. Once they started the long climb near Mount Meru, the pair hoped that the clouds would part to reveal panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, but they would not shift. Too bad, they reasoned, but David and Caroline have vowed to return to this area, which lies on the border of Tanzania and Kenya and was made famous by Hemingway’s short story Snows of Kilimanjaro. ‘Knowing the quality of the roads, it would be better to return on mountain bikes rather than gravel bikes,’ Caroline adds about their future plan.
‘Africa gave us a different horizon every day – even twice a day sometimes. In a matter of hours, you can pass from a savanna filled with elephants, giraffes and antelopes into a region that’s more similar to the Massif Central in France. It’s a place that changes with every kilometre you travel, not just in terms of location, but also through its environment, which ultimately changes the emotions that you feel. We experienced it all, with amazing highs and seriously low moments too. But as soon as we reached Mombasa, both David and I were certain about one thing: we need to come back, ASAP.’
THE BIKE OF THIS ARTICLE
JENA OLIVE GREEN; GLOSSY
Jena is a carbon gravel bike, designed to give you more freedom of choice when you go out for a ride. Jena was designed to satisfy any of your needs, whether it is performance on dirt roads and single track, or adventure, exploration, and bikepacking.
Jena is a light, reactive, and easy-to-handle bike with racing-comfort geometries, and able to adapt to the multiple uses required of a gravel bike.