Hi, I’m Tanya Edwards! Along with my partner, Simon Bihr, I am cycling 20,000 km from Germany to South Africa. We are connecting the tiny dots of our respective hometowns, seeing how the landscapes, weather and people slowly change.
We also love to rock climb and what better excuse than to do it than on this trip? Well, other than carrying all the climbing gear on our bicycles, along with the rest of our home. So far, our journey has taken us through 19 countries, 15,000km and a lot of highs with some blood, sweat and tears in between!
Why we are doing this cycling adventure
Travel was our goal, but how we did it was the question. We thought of a car, but the cost of buying one, renovating it, paying money to cross borders, insurance was just too much. We therefore decided to cycle! The biggest pro of bicycle touring is how affordable it is. There are, however, many more reasons to cycle. Here are a few:
Your senses: the everyday experience on a bicycle is all about your senses being alive. You don’t just see the world through a glass window – you hear people greeting you, you smell the flora and fauna or the good chapati being fried, you feel the wind on your face (or on your back if you’re lucky). The world around has an effect on you and visa versa. The slower pace of a bicycle just amplifies this experience.
The accessibility means that you can go where cars and motorbikes cannot. You can push a bicycle into the bush and camp. You can carry it over a river. You can push it into the courtyard of a family home. You can be less or more visible when you want to be. This gives you many options, from where to spend the night to which roads, or sometimes bush paths, to take.
People are excited when they see us! It’s different to them, the bikes make us seem interesting and somehow, they respect our journey. We have met people from different walks of life but one thing was all the same when we met: their reaction to us and our journey, purely because we were on bicycles.
Fixing a bike is also easier – every time we have a flat tire or squeaky chain, we are back up in no time.
The trials: all of these pros don’t mean cycle touring is easy and plain sailing. Let me be clear: it is hard. There are days with many mountains to climb, strong headwinds to fight, over 50-degree temperatures to cycle in, lightning just a few hundred meters from you, hail and heavy rain. You get sick with diarrhoea and vomiting and can get a dangerous heatstroke. Sometime, you can feel like an animal in a zoo while people surround you and stare.
As a woman, I have to sometimes deal with aggressive and misogynistic men on the road. There are many problems to solve every day. But after a while, it doesn’t feel hard anymore, because you just get used to it. Your body gets used to the physical strain. It gets used to eating less food for longer hours on the saddle. Your hands finally stop getting numb from holding the handlebars. It becomes daily life. And when you see how hard many, many people’s lives are in this world – you just don’t complain. Instead, you enjoy the privilege that you have. You enjoy what the bicycle and the road give back to you.
What I’ve loved most
Getting back to nature. Enjoying the wildlife as much as we can. Falling asleep in our tent to the sounds of insects and waking up to birds calling. Feeling at the mercy of mother nature and her weather patterns. I also love that I have pushed my limits and my comfort zone. I have redefined what I thought I was capable of. It is not just a theory or a goal anymore, the finish line is close. The achievement of completing it will be incredible, but the journey itself has been the most rewarding. The experiences that I have gained and learning to communicate and solve problems better have been invaluable.
Dealing with some of the people of Ethiopia. Children were throwing massive rocks at our heads, they constantly tried to steal stuff from our bicycles, adults demanded money and grown men with machetes ran at us shouting for money! Not to mention the blocked roads, protests and political instability.
In Egypt, we had to deal with police trying to control us. They would follow us in convoys without our permission and, when following us, forbade us from staying with or interacting with locals (who were amazingly friendly). They even wanted to escort us out for dinner which was frustrating. The rest of the African countries we cycled through were filled with friendly faces and just amazing people!
Another big challenge has been witnessing the environmental devastation humans have done to this planet. We saw reduced habitat for wild animals and the last wild havens disappearing due to explosive population growth. The threat of poaching, especially of rhinos, is desperately sad to hear about. This is why we are trying to raise money for Save the Rhino during our trip – any donations are welcome. Here is the link to donate: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/rockroadrhino
Greatest memories so far
There were so many, but I will try!
Characters & wild places: a highlight was meeting ‘Mrs. Hook’, a loving stray cat who had lost an eye and was very sick when she found us in Croatia. She adopted us and allowed us to treat her eye and find her a home through an amazing animal shelter (Animalis Centrum) in Split. The clear, cool waters of the Croatian coast. The vast wild areas of Greece and the deserted beaches of Turkey. Discovering the ancient world of Egypt. Crossing the Eastern Desert with shards of black rock jutting out of the ground. The Sahara desert of Sudan was surreal. Camping under the endless stars of the night sky, witnessing the bright zodiacal light, coming across herds of wild camels and camping next to them… it felt like a dream.
Hospitality: the hospitality of the people in Sudan. We, as strangers, were invited into many homes where we felt like part of the family. The ladies gave me very lively henna parties where we would make delicious Sundanese spicy coffee, starting from roasting the beans. They designed henna on my arms, hands and feet, dabbed homemade perfume on me, shape my eyebrows with a blade and dressed me in their traditional tob.
Wildlife: Wild camping with elephants a few meters from our tent – this was very scary but exhilarating. Giving a two-year-old baby rhino called Meimei a mud bath at Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. Tracking rhinos at the stunning Borana Conservancy, Kenya. Cycling past four of the big five – both black and white rhinos, elephants, buffalo and two lions! Many giraffe, zebra, beautiful antelope, baby warthog and plenty more. Seeing the chimpanzees in Kibale Forest in West Uganda! What a day. The Serengeti showed the variety of the animal kingdom at its best. We also got to see the Wildebeest Migration. Hiking up Ol Doniyo Lengai – one of the most active volcanoes in Africa. Appreciating the view from the top over Lake Natron, the only breeding ground for flamingos in Africa.
Our tent being surrounded by over 20 elephants in Malawi and visiting the most peaceful and silent place – Nyika Plateau. Hiking up huge granite rocks and watching a lightning storm from the top of it at Mutinondo Wilderness in Zambia. Seeing the Kasanka Bat Migration – 10 million fruit bats flying all the way from central Africa over the top of our heads was just one word: spectacular!
Camaraderie: cycling and camping with other cyclists has also given us some of our best memories. We share a very unique, common experience allowing us to bond quickly. Also, the smaller everyday things like pumping borehole water with ladies in the evening, staying with families and making many kids smile at the sight of us has given us a lot of joy.
Greatest lessons learn
It has changed my view of Africa and its people. Being from South Africa, which has a high crime rate, I unfortunately grew up with an atmosphere of fear. The reputation that Africa gets as a whole in the media and the idea many people overseas have of Africa in general is deeply concerning. Many people told us that we were mad and on a suicide mission. Or as someone asked, “but what about the lion?” There is a lot of misinformation out there. What we have come to find is that Africa if full of wonderful, friendly people. Except for Ethiopia, we have felt very safe. In fact, the only thing that has been stolen from us – our solar panel – was in Europe. South Africa is still ahead of us and I am very intrigued to see it with the eyes of a cycle tourist. We also (fortunately) found out that lions are not waiting in the bush to kill you. Actually, it is sad to realise overall, how much less interaction we had with wild animals than with humans on this trip.
Our next bucket-list adventure
I have three countries ahead of me: Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. So those are my next three adventures. We are especially looking forward to the dramatic landscapes, orange sand dunes, canyons, wildlife and bush paintings of Namibia! We also hope to do the Garden Route and Wild Coast of South Africa before we arrive in Port Edward, my hometown. After that, who knows? We will give our bicycles and butts a rest. Cycling through Scandinavia to the North Cape or cycling Iceland is floating around somewhere at the back of our minds, though.
Tips for other women who’d like to go on a cycling adventure
Physically, if I can do this – other women can. This was my first big cycling trip. I had only done a handful before and the longest was four days. So if you are thinking about doing it but are not a cyclist, remember – the bicycle is just a tool! I did not train at all. We took it easy at the beginning to get our bodies in the cycling mode. You don’t need to be an athlete to do this kind of trip.
The, about the safety aspect… Sometimes, Simon has a very different experience on the bike to me. However, I have never felt in serious danger because of my gender and I do think it is safe for a woman to cross Africa. I would add that you might want to dress consciously. A lot of areas are still very conservative and cover their knees and shoulders. In some places, like Sudan, this applies especially to women but also to men.
Other than that, just jump on the saddle and enjoy the ride!
Follow Tanya and Simon’s adventure:
For more stories about couples embarking on incredible adventures, check out Kirsten Arnold’s #AdventureShare about the 80,000km road trip she and her husband took through Southern Africa.