How did we prepare ourselves mentally to cycle across huge distances, why are we writing about it and what are the positive effects it has had on our outlook of life?
Starting With Why
We would first like to start with why we began pedalling. Maybe you’re already an experienced cycle tourist, and just interested to hear our story? However this article is mainly aimed at someone that has little or no knowledge about travelling by bicycle, or spent any great length of time outdoors and living simply.
A few years ago we were in a position of being clueless about life on a bike, but did already have a taste for travel and living in a tent. This article is inspired by the conversations we’ve had with friends and passers by, and we thought it’s about time we wrote something down. Cycle touring definitely doesn’t have to be a multi year, life changing experience as it was for us. It can simply be a weekend away with a rucksack slung on your back. And depending on the length of the trip, the preparation times will certainly vary. Our rough estimate is spending around a third of the time we plan to be away, on preparation alone. For example, the first leg of our journey was one and half years, to cross Africa and Europe, so therefore, we spent roughly 6 months getting ourselves ready.
This was the first time either of us had spent more than 30 minutes at a time riding a bicycle. Why suddenly, would we think of crossing a continent, at least do a trial run maybe? A weekend away perhaps?
Before leaving our home in Cape Town, South Africa, we owned a car, had full time jobs and didn't have a lot of time to explore. Apart from short holidays and weekends away, life was spent in the comforts of our home and office. South Africa is pretty huge, there is no real public transport system and to the South and West of Cape Town is ocean. No doubt there's definitely an opportunity to cycle some routes over the weekend, but having a car killed our cycling motivation. Especially when we had the option of driving on a Friday evening, for several hours, to hike all weekend in remote wilderness. Which is what we really we wanted to be doing over anything else, and still to this day we can’t get enough of being outside in the wild.
Which brings us onto the next point. We weren't before, and still aren't keen cyclists. What?! How can a couple that has spent 10% of their waking life on a saddle, not be a keen cyclist?
Touring Needs Time
A keen cyclist in our eyes, is someone that will cycle up a hill and back, just for the love of cycling. We on the other hand will cycle up a hill, camp for a night, and maybe never return, instead we head in straight line. At least that's what has happened so far in our lives. The thing we love most about travelling by bicycle, is the way it forces us to be outside, and being outside for long periods of time has incredibly positive effects on our mental and physical health. Also we have found that if we cycle long enough, camping for days at a time, we can still arrive in the same place, that we could get to previously by car. To give you an example a favourite region of ours in South Africa, that took four hours from our home, took us two weeks by bicycle. So that's a month round trip! Put bluntly, if we wanted to explore any of our favourite spots in South Africa by bicycle, we had to ditch our jobs.
A One Way Ticket . . .
Neither of us were born in South Africa, therefore we had to go through the lengthy process of applying for a work visa, and ending our jobs, meant losing our right to stay. For us that was a big decision to leave this nature lovers paradise and push off into the unknown. Neither of us have previously shown any real interest in bikes or cycling, but somehow we have been converted by this growing religion that seems to have no direction, nor leader.
Bear in mind we are a couple, we’re not so sure that this gave us any advantage or disadvantage to following the cycle path to righteousness and eventually becoming an evange(cyc)list ourselves. Sorry that pun was awful, but it took an embarrassing amount of time to come up with, so I can't leave it out now. Anyway, what we did know, was instead of discussing an idea with that little voice inside our head, we could throw ideas at each other. Once my cards were on the table, it would be Mayu's turn to raise the stakes. From joking about the idea of cycling from South Africa to England over breakfast, to ending the day, both seriously considering, that this wacky idea was actually possible. And after no time at all this joke was becoming a reality.
What Was Our Biggest Concern?
Fear was definitely a big factor for both of us, but fear comes in many forms and is different from person to person. If you're considering a long trip because you think it will enrich your life, start looking at what is holding you back and try to get advice from people that have done something similar. The internet is brilliant for this, so don’t be shy in reaching out. Our fear was directly above South Africa, it was Namibia that scared us the most. It's a desert, and deserts tend to be pretty dry and pretty hot.
This place scared us more than any other because of the physical challenge it posed. It certainly wasn't a walk in the park, it was tough, a lot of pushing in deep sand and dealing with back to back days of brutal sun, but we survived. There is an option of taking an asphalt road all the way, but we tried to think how we would explore the country if we were back in our car. To be in Namibia, is to see it's animals and landscape, and for that we needed to get off the main road and into the country. To make our lives as easy as possible, we arrived at the border at the start of winter, still hot, but far better than rolling through in the height of summer.
And this is a really important point we’d like to make when planning a tour. Do some research and pick your seasons right. If countries are big, the season can vary depending on the area, so try to get specific.
Passion Come's Naturally
After such a long time away from home, are we still passionate about travelling by bicycle? Trying to be passionate about something is almost impossible, passion is something that should come to you naturally. And if you love what you are doing in your current situation, stick at it. If we had to force the idea of continuing after years on the road, we definitely wouldn't be doing what we are today. We became passionate about travelling by bicycle without even realising it, the passion of cycle touring just slowly sneaked up behind us and now follows us wherever we go. Before we knew it, we had made a bunch of friends doing the same thing and now we try to rope in anyone else that gets close, including you! Be warned it can be an addictive drug, but instead of ruining your life, it will most definitely enhance it. Haha that's probably what you'll hear from any drug addict, but trust us on this one.
So how to start? We’re not going to tell you how to ride a bike, or wipe your bum in the woods, instead we want to talk about getting your priorities in order. This is the most important part about the preparation process.
If the plan is going for a weekend, then wearing an old backpack with cheap tent and a foam mattress inside will do for equipment. Then the only preparation you really need to do, is drink a couple less beers on Friday night. But as a trip extends in length, there are a few more things that need to be taken care of, and the beer count definitely needs curbing if money is a concern. Our trip was spanning years, so we started with a very clear goal, cycle from South Africa to England, that was our aim and our top priority in life.
Personally we think it's easier to be clear in what you are trying to achieve, rather than say I’ll try for a week and see where that gets me. Gear is a definitely a big investment, if you decide to quit your job, give up your apartment and sell a bunch of stuff, it's going to be a massive blow to anyone's confidence to turn around and say, this is not for me. If you have the tendency to give up on ideas shortly after they've started, our advice is push just beyond near hatred of that dream you are trying to achieve. We found that the first couple of months were certainly the hardest, but once our legs stopped complaining, we really enjoyed the ride.
It's very easy for us to forget that we already have the motivation and courage to drop everything and head out for long periods of time on a bicycle, as we already know how rewarding it is to live outside. But we have learned recently more than ever, that first hand experiences are the only way to really understand something fully, so it's just a matter of taking the initial jump, everything else will fall into place some way or another. And the only way that someone is going to get that experience, especially if there is a lack of confidence, is by giving them our full support and encouragement. And once travelling by bicycle becomes the main priority, everything else will fall into place.
Speaking with a friend, we were reminded that we really have a choice in life. In fact many choices. That is something that both of us take for granted.
We know we can get a 9 to 5, rent an apartment and go out on the weekends. But we forget that not everyone realises that there are other choices, the choice not to conform, not to be tied into contracts or long periods of depth and to feel positive about living with less. If you have a feeling that life is not quite clicking into place, and the days are just too hectic to think straight. Then taking a long period of time to be outside, where it’s calm and easy to think, can really alter one's perspective on life and the reasons for living will hopefully become less obscure. Arriving in Kenya nine months after we had started, we discussed how to define happiness. We came up with the idea that happiness is felt by someone that is genuinely excited about the unknown future and how it will impact on their lives. This is how we honestly feel about our unknown future, with anxiety now as a distant memory.