For Tómas, it was always going to be the whole continent or nothing at all. Having spent 7 weeks cycling across America, Tómas decided it was time to give Africa a try. So the 25 year old from a small village in Kerry, Ireland, set off on the trip of a lifetime. We caught up with Tómas to hear more about his Adventure through Africa, from the top of Egypt to the bottom of Cape Town.
I hadn’t grown up dreaming of cycling continents – or really cycling at all! I started cycling properly when I was 17 and I really enjoyed the freedom. Being able to take off cycling when it pleased me or best suited me, being able to cycle as fast or slow as I wanted and the freedom to go wherever I felt like going was the best. But round about 17 I realised there was a wonderful world to explore and being able to explore it on two wheels would be incredible.
When I was 21 I decided to cycle across America. It took 7 weeks – 3,000 miles from California to Florida. The journey took me through 7 states in total: Cali, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. It was a huge success and it was a great place to test out cycle touring.
I realised once I’d completed my America trip that America wasn’t enough. I needed something bigger, something better – something that would take me out of my comfort zone completely. I was about to head back to university to study to become a teacher and I realised that at that point in my life, everything was set up for another big trip. I was 24, careless, adventurous, in need of something crazy and had no personal commitments – no kids, no mortgage, no job tying me down. I needed to do it now and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.
Of course my family weren’t too pleased with my decision! Most people thought I was a bit mad for choosing to cycle the length of Africa. Of course your family will be worried – parents will always be parents no matter what age you are! But they were so supportive from day one and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. While I was in Africa, I was in daily contact with my family and my friends would message me as well to check in on me. Support like that is key, because sometimes you need to feel that love or that arm around your shoulder telling you everything is going to be OK.
My route took me through 11 different countries, starting in Egypt and ending in South Africa. From Egypt I travelled onto Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. From start to finish it was about 11,000 km in total. To be honest, I knew it was going to be a bit of a crazy trip, a trip that would certainly take me well outside of my comfort zone. Arriving into Cairo cemented to me how crazy it was going to be. Cairo is just a mad city, it has a population of around 20 million people. Even just walking around the city made me uncomfortable as I’m very much a countryside person. But this was going to be part of parcel of the trip so I adapted as quick as I could and embraced my new surroundings.
On average I probably cycled about 100km a day, which isn’t bad going considering the intense heat I found myself in on an almost daily basis. Temperatures I would just never experience in Ireland! There was no real need to do crazy miles, the longest I cycled in one day was about 190 km. Other than that, I stuck to doing about 100 km or a bit more and that was more than enough. It wasn’t a race, I could take my time and enjoy every moment. Terrain wise, I pretty much cycled through everything. Every terrain is challenging in its own way. For example the desert was tough because it was so isolated, the Ethiopian Highlands were challenging as I was climbing up to and beyond 3,000 meters, but I probably found the rolling hills of Tanzania the most challenging purely because of the heat – it hit up to 40 degrees and about 60/70% humidity. Extremely tough conditions to cycle in, especially on a fully loaded bike.
I knew that cycling such a vast distance was going to be tricky but I didn’t really do anything special, training wise. I’ve never followed a training regime, I don’t have a special diet or anything, I’m just a simple guy who likes to ride a bicycle! Cycling is my hobby, so I would have been out on the bike most days which kept my fitness pretty high. The difficult thing for this trip was preparing mentally. I knew I was going to struggle, but that was part of the challenge. I was leaving behind my family & friends. It was always going to be tough, especially as I knew there would be some very isolated stretches. But I made sure I enjoyed my time at home prior to departure as again, there is no point letting these things get to you. I did my best not to think about it all.
Saying that, I did find the loneliness a really challenging part of my trip. I come from a pub in a small rural village in Kerry. I’m around people all the time, so in parts of Africa where I would hardly meet people during the day it indeed was a struggle. Nothing beats human interaction. The low periods were tough. I questioned myself intensely – was I just a mentally weak person? Making a mountain out of a molehill? Over reacting/thinking? But then I realized I was human, and I had feelings, and sometimes those feelings can hurt you and bring you down. I know us men like to think we’re super tough, but sometimes you just need to let your emotions take over and accept that we have feelings that can sometimes make us feel crap. As much as it sucked feeling low like that while I was by myself in countries I had never been to before, I’m glad of the experience. Those low experiences made me stronger and more determined than ever to reach Cape Town. And I did meet other cyclists along the way, so I wasn’t alone the whole time. That company was great, it really helped to have like-minded people pedalling alongside me.
Considering the loneliness I did experience, maybe it makes sense that the best part about my trip was the people I encountered from start to finish. In this day and age and the way Western society is nowadays, the African people renewed my love for the world again and restored my faith in humanity. For example, in Sudan, the locals always invited me to eat with them. Eating together in a group is the norm, and when they saw me alone, they always invited me to sit with them, eat together and drink tea together. Anytime I would cycle into a rural village in any of the countries I passed through, the locals would approach me and ask if everything was OK, or if I required help etc. The locals I met are the kindest, warm hearted & nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of encountering in my life.
I was lucky enough to meet some truly incredible people who I’ll never forget. Some of the Masaii Mara tribe folk, some important political figures such as the Vice-President of Uganda, the Ugandan Minister of Sports and the Head of the Ugandan Cycling Federation, all of whom were really incredible. I was also fortunate enough to meet the Irish Ambassadors in the various countries we have embassies in which was great too. All the encounters were so memorable, I’ll really treasure them.
When I finally reached Cape Town, after seven months of cycling, it was the best feeling in the world. I was elated. It was a super tough trip, and as soon as I saw Table Mountain which dominates the Cape Town landscape I broke down crying. Knowing what I had gone through to get to this gigantic landmark, my emotions got the better of me. It was an incredible moment and one I’ll saviour for the rest of my life.
I really do believe that travelling by bicycle is incredible. You can go anywhere you want, while staying super fit and getting loads of fresh air. If I had any advice for anyone thinking of heading out on a cycling expedition it would be just to go for it. Don’t over worry about it and don’t let people talk you out of it. If you really want to do it then you’ll absolutely make it work. Have fun, smile as much as you can, and be willing to make a ton more friends. Plan a little, but there is no need to over plan. Be willing to adapt & be flexible, things won’t always go right and that’s when you have to stay calm and think on the spot to figure out another plan. In my opinion, bicycle touring really is the best way to travel!
To read more about Tómas’ cycling adventure in Africa, click here.