The short answer to that question is that if you have to ask you’ll never understand. That is not 100% true but certainly there are people who will never get why we seek adventure or the value of taking on a big challenge.
If you’ve read this far though I’m going to assume you are not one of those people. I’m going to assume you love taking on new challenges or that you are considering trying a new adventure. Good for you!
I’ve been designing and guiding tours for Tour d’Afrique for a little over three years and I’ve given the subject a lot of thought. I truly believe that taking on a challenge that pushes you outside your comfort zone is the best way to improve your life. I’ve seen it happen in the riders on the tours I’ve led across Africa, Asia, N.America and Europe and I’ve seen it happen in myself.
I think the first thing I need to do is dispel a few myths about people who join our long distance tours. You do not have to be an uber-athlete, super fit, incredibly brave or in anyway superhuman to cycle across a continent. You do need a bike, some camping gear and a bit of determination.
Get Fit, lose weight, look better naked.
Most of us want to be in better shape. What I have always struggled with is getting in shape for the sake of getting in shape. I’m an active person but I’ve never been able to be a gym rat like some of my friends.
When you cycle across a continent you are getting fitter every day because that is what propels you forward. You are your own engine and the stronger you get, the faster and more efficient you become at completing each days ride. It’s purposeful and rewarding.
Food is a serious matter. No cross continental cyclist can survive with out lots of it. There are a lot of great things about the food on tour. For one you can eat almost anything you want and as much as you want of it. You’ll be burning around 5000 calories a day and you must replenish it.
The food on our tours is prepared by professional chefs, and it’s quite good. Not to mention that everything just tastes better when you are hungry from a day’s riding and even something as common place as a cold Coke is a special treat in the middle of a hot days ride in the highlands of say, Ethiopia.
An insiders way to travel
Cycling is a great way to see a country (or in this case 6 or 8 countries). The pace is fast enough so you can cover some real distance but slow enough that you notice things that you would miss in a car or bus. It allows you to experience the places you ride though in a visceral way that most tourists will never experience.
As we are fond of saying at Tour d’Afrique: “This is not a cycling tour in Provence”. Crossing a continent on a bike is a unique experience that will challenge you physically but also challenge your idea of your place in the world and show you places rarely visited by outsiders.
Time to Think
The days on tour are very simple. Wake up, pack your tent, eat breakfast, ride your bike to lunch, eat lunch, ride your bike to camp, set up your tent, eat dinner and go to sleep. Repeat.
The simplicity of the routine teaches you how little is really necessary to be happy and the time on the bike gives you plenty of time to think, enjoy your surroundings or chat with fellow riders.
Time to Party
Of course we’re not monks. The riding days are simple and easy going but every 5 -7 days we take a day off in a city or large down. Days off the bike are important and a time to have a different kind of fun without worrying about having to get up and ride the next day.
One of my favorite things about our tours is how they have a way of defining things for me. Once you’ve ridden 150 km on a bike riding 120 km does not seem so far anymore. After riding the extremely rough roads in Northern Kenya other dirt roads seem smooth by comparison.
Its hot you say? I can’t help but think how hot I was in the Kara Kum desert in Turkmenistan and most other temperatures seem cool by comparison.
Travel, especially slow travel, has a way of putting everything in a different perspective and broadening your understanding of the relative nature of our lives.
Making new Friends
Perhaps the best thing about our tours is the people you get to meet. I’ve met people on our tours that I would never meet in ‘real life’. That’s the great thing about cycling, people of all ages and all walks of life can do it. Our tours are international so you get to meet people from all over the world and with extremely diverse life experiences.
At first this can be intimidating. But cycling gives everyone a shared experience and camping together each night brings everyone close in just a few short weeks. Every tour creates new best friends, long term relationships and occasionally wives and husbands!
Its hard to ride across the continent without your fellow riders. You need each others support when the going gets tough (and it will) and you need each other to celebrate each days accomplishments and experiences.
So there are you are, nine reasons. Make sense? If you have questions about bike touring or about one of our tours I’d love to hear them in the comments. Next month I’ll be running a series on our blog about training for a bike tour. Sign up for our newsletter to receive monthly information about how tours how to best prepare for them.
If your keen to join me on tour my next adventure will be cycling from Shanghai to Istanbul starting in May on the 2012 Silk Route Bike Tour.