the definition of 'a long way' is akin to that of asking the length of a piece of string; ask enough questions and you'll obtain enough differing answers. better usually to couch your answer in kilometres, as that will always seem to be more impressive to those who don't cycle kilometres for a living. or even for a weekend or so.
the act of traversing great distances by bicycle is hardly what could be regarded as a novel event. there are more than enough people doing so at any given time of the year and pretty much across any continent you care to mention. not being one blessed with the travel gene, at least not when associated with the saddle, i find the object of such quests to be a tad on the obscure side. i'm never sure whether undertaking great distances over specific time limits is in an effort to impress me, and by implication, the rest of us, or whether these are challenges without which those individuals cannot continue their normal lives?
this is perhaps to oversimplify the knowledge that certain portions of humanity will always have need of so-called superhuman efforts and it would be naive and unnecessarily derogatory to dismiss these efforts as simply so much fluff on the outer edges of (in this case) cycling life. it seems highly likely that this is an overt case of you-had-to-be-there.
scotsman, mark beaumont first came to public prominence as one becoming practised in the art of distance cycling when he completed a round the world trip, thoughtfully documented by way of word and moving picture for episodic transmission on the bbc. it is rare that those possessed of the adventure demon and the physical prowess to follow it through, have also the presentational skills to satisfy any public interest. i may be guilty of demeaning others who have also blazed a trail across various portions of our planet, but i cannot deny that beaumont's round the world trip made for entertaining television more because of the man himself than his admittedly gargantuan undertaking.
africa solo begins not with tales of the darkest reaches of this often mysterious and fragmented continent, but the unfortunate and near catastrophic incident that predicated the subsequent bike ride of almost 11,000 kilometres from north to south in a matter of 41 (and a bit) days. in january 2012, beaumont was a member of a team that set out from morocco to row across the atlantic to barbados, a trip that did not end well. in fact, it ended with them all turfed into the water by a rogue wave, capsizing their boat in the process. they were rescued by a taiwanese cargo vessel en-route from venezuela to cairo.
not entirely unconnectedly, cairo subsequently became the starting point for beaumont's trans-africa solo bike ride, the subject of this particular tome.
in the intervening three years, beaumont plied his previous trade as a tv presenter, travelling the length and breadth of the commonwealth to provide snippets of the lives of those who would eventually travel to glasgow in 2014 to participate in the commonwealth games, but i figure it's safe to say that 'once an adventurer, always an adventurer.'
"At 6,750 miles, Cairo to Cape Town is three times the distance of the Tour de France, twice the distance of the Race Across America and with exactly ten Everests of climbing. I wanted to do it solo and unsupported."
i tend to think that there are not many of us confrotnted with such devilish statistics, would see that as an opportunity for a very big bike ride. and despite it being the sort of distance open to record-breaking as touted by the guiness book of records, it's perhaps not even a suspect in the 'my, that sounds interesting' vein that might produce a tv documentary with accompanying book. as i stated in my opening paragraphs, there has been no end of exotic challenges undertaken on the bicycle since its invention. surely one more might reasonably be filed in the 'oh no, not again' category?
however, no matter my, or your opinion of what might seem a somewhat self-seeking undertaking, that assumption would be to discount the not inconsiderable documentary talents of mark beaumont. though he may come across as a tad aggressive in relation to an insatiable desire to ride further and faster than is probably good for his health, he owns a remarkable ability to write clear, concise and captivating narrative in a style that has you emulate his own eagerness and probably read at least one more chapter than originally intended.
"Fast miles are like fast money: the more you get, the more your greed grows and the more you need, desperate to cover miles before luck runs out."
for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on the bicycle with little or no support in remote parts of the world, he freely admits he's not much of a mechanic, as witnessed by his fear of the potential complexity of replacing a gear cassette. and he's a braver man than i to have ridden his carbon koga road bike laced with shimano's di2 electronic groupset across a continent that ironically sufffers from frequent power cuts. but aside from detailing his daily pedalling exploits, he has a keen eye for observation and a beautifully laconic way of expressing it.
"The full name for the [police] force is the Tourism and antiquities Police - a fitting name for a country that in my opinion looks back a lot more than it looks forward."
africa's fragmentation forms the backdrop to beaumont's record undertaking (a record, incidentally, that i'd rather they'd kept for the narrative, rather than announcing that the butler did it, on the cover). the 41 day trip took him through egypt, sudan, ethiopia, kenya, tanzania, botswana and ultimately south africa, where the only notable commonality would be our western need to refer to the inhabitants as african.
i well know that i would not ever have considered subjecting myself to the potential dangers (often unrealised) of such a massive trans-continental bicycle ride, but in truth that's what gives rise to a healthy admiration for a man who, despite his own misgivings, went ahead anyway. trips such as this are easy to dismiss as ultimately pointless, especially from the comfort of a sitting room armchair. however, that's often because secretly we wish we had the guts to be the one in the saddle.