Reflections after bikepacking 15,000km across africa
(1 year)

Arriving in Angola

Well I did it!

I finally made it to Luanda, Angola which brings a close to my year cycling across Africa.

The closer I got to the capital city, the busier the streets and the more it felt like I was coming back into civilisation and entering the real world once again.

After 5 challenging but ultimately rewarding weeks crossing the DRC, entering Angola felt like arriving in Europe.

The streets were paved, people left you alone for the most part, there were cars everywhere, not so many bikes and there was access to all different kinds of food.

After such a long time cycling across Africa, I feel like now is a good time to reflect on the year I had.

The planning

I first started thinking about travelling across Africa by bike during Covid. I was travelling around Australia with my girlfriend for 2 years in an our old 1985 pop-top Nissan Urvan campervan named Goldie.

Ever since my first bike trip in South America in 2017, I’d been dreaming about going on a longer trip.

One night when I was drunk in the North of Australia, I mentioned to her that I wanted to travel across Africa by bike. Surprisingly, she immediately said I could and the plan started forming.

Maybe it was because we’d both been drinking she thought it would never happen, but the idea never left my head after that. 

It became all I could think about and my focus changed from living like a bum in a van to thinking about how I would afford such a trip, how to plan such a trip and what kind of gear I would need…so I could live like a bum on my bike instead.

Over the next year, I would work in remote parts of Australia trying to earn as much money as I could. Whenever I wasn’t working I was researching what crossing Africa on a bike would look like. I started reading books and blog posts for different ideas of routes and places to visit and plotted them all on a map.

As the map and potential route started to take shape, I started researching about all the different gear I would need and the type of bike that I could take on such an adventure.

I went from not knowing anything about bicycles to starting to understand the different components of a bike and what spares would be available in Africa (my conclusion now is not to stress too much about this because unless you buy a local single speed Chinese bike, you won’t find any type of spare parts for any bike and will have to order them internationally anyway).

I eventually settled on the Priority 600x bicycle which is the absolute perfect adventure machine for this type of journey.

It was never really important to me to cycle from Cape Town (bottom) to Cairo (top). But it was a good starting point and a way to make a rough plan in my head.of how the trip would potentially look.

The beginning

So after a year of planning, it was finally time to leave and arrive in Cape Town, South Africa.

Basically since finishing high school in 2010, I’ve spent the majority of my time travelling or living overseas. So you would think that after all of these years I wouldn’t get nervous, but you’d be wrong.

For some reason, I was nervous when I arrived in Cape Town. You can read some of my thoughts before leaving in this post here.

Maybe it was because I hadn’t been overseas since before Covid or maybe it was because all of my friends and family were telling me how dangerous it would be.

I guess after planning and looking on the map for so long, the idea of actually leaving and starting such a trip was a little overwhelming.

On my second day after leaving Cape Town I was robbed in the middle of the day while riding

My phone was stolen. At the time I didn’t realise it but this really shook me up if I’m being honest.

Not only was I locked out of my Google account and Youtube channel as a result of this (I still don’t have access over a year later) but I suddenly became nervous anytime I saw anyone walking towards me in the street.

For a couple of weeks, anytime I was riding past areas with people walking around, I would clench my folded knife in my hand just in case someone went to rob me again.

In hindsight this was ridiculous, but that’s how I was feeling at the time.

A week after getting robbed, someone tried to break into the campsite I was staying at in the middle of the night and steal my bike.

And a couple of weeks after that, I was held at gunpoint in the middle of the night while camping under a bridge.

With these 3 incidents all happening in my first few weeks, I suppose it’s normal to have been feeling nervous.

And to be honest, it took me until I got to Malawi to feel 100% comfortable again. 

It wasn’t so much being worried for my safety but more worried that I couldn’t afford to get robbed again The trip would ultimately be over if that happened.

Expectation vs Reality

The main reason for wanting to visit Africa was to see the animals. To me, elephants, giraffes, lions, hippos, etc were like dinosaurs. Animals that I couldn’t believe still existed.

I really wanted to go see them for myself.

My expectation of what Africa was like was what you see in the David Attenborough documentaries. Wide open landscapes with wild animals roaming freely everywhere.

The reality is quite different, in fact, I would say it was almost the opposite. 

Besides Namibia and Botswana, there are people almost everywhere. This makes it quite hard to wild camp every night. I spent a lot more time in Guesthouses than I thought I would.

Taking the amount of batteries, solar panels, water storage, food space was definitely overkill.

Also, there aren’t wild animals just roaming around everywhere, to see them most of the time you need to go to a national park or game reserve. And most of the time, these places don’t allow you to cycle through them.

However, there are still some places where you can wild camp and cycle through parks with wild animals. 

The best countries for this are Namibia, Botswana and Kenya.

Dealing with Challenges

One thing that I got very good at during my year in Africa was dealing with challenges and finding solutions. I really surprised myself with this.

Before my year in Africa I was the type of person who got anxious when problems arose. But after dealing with countless problems and challenges throughout the year, I realised that I can almost always find a solution and the worst case scenario is normally as bad as you think.

Some of the challenges I dealt with over the year:

  • Bicycle breaking down in the middle of the desert in Namibia, having to walk 40km to the nearest house and subsequently hitchhiking 600km to the nearest bike shop
  • My phone getting stolen in broad daylight off me on my second day of the trip
  • Using broken tent poles (held together with duct tape) for 6 months
  • Getting held at gunpoint in the middle of the night while camping
  • Someone breaking into my camp to steal my bike in the middle of the night
  • Severely cracked rim on rear wheel that I had to ride on for 2,000km
  • Belt snapping while in the middle of nowhere in Malawi
  • Crashing my drone in a tree in Lion territory and having to go and retrieve it
  • Getting false charged by an elephant because I got too close
  • Camping with elephants outside my tent almost every night in Botswana
  • Riding past a Lion in the middle of the day as it was lying down only a few hundred metres away
  • Running out of water twice while cycling in Namibia
  • Getting locked up in Cameroon when they wouldn’t give me my bike
  • Getting food poisoning in a remote village in Kenya and collapsing on a small farm
  • Getting Malaria while camping in a school in Cameroon and needing a lift to hospital
  • Trying to get a DRC visa in 5 different countries over 6 months
  • Basically every day in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was a challenge
  • Police asking for Bribes, begging, aggression etc.
  • and the list goes on…
I was glad that I got to face these challenges and overcome them. I don’t think I would have been able to travel through the DRC and face the daily challenges and struggles if I didn’t first face and overcome the challenges that came before it.

Some Of MY Favourite Moments

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

I think the absolute highlight of my trip was riding through the DRC. This was the place that I was most excited to visit before arriving in Africa and it didn’t disappoint.

The Congolese people are the most energetic, emotional, friendly and aggressive people I met in the whole of Africa.

I’m happy I got to share this part of my trip with Matthias.

I’ve already been planning in my head another longer trip through DRC from northwest to east.

I wrote a daily journal while I was there and have so many more stories to share with you.

Republic of Congo

One day while I was riding next to a National Park in the Congo Jungle I had 5 different encounters with wild gorillas, some forest elephants and a chimpanzee. The silverback gorilla on the road that I almost hit gave me the biggest fright.

Botswana

I enjoyed every single day I cycled in Botswana. I would have daily encounters with groups of wild elephants as I cycled and when I wild camped in the bushes at night, I would listen as the elephants would walk past my tent

Namibia

I loved the wide open spaces of Namibia. Riding through the remote desert was really special. I’d love to return there and cycle again with my fat bike when it’s a little less hot.

Kenya

Riding with Ian in Kenya was a lot of fun. Wild camping amongst the elephants in the Laikipia region was an absolute highlight of my trip. I might be riding a section with Ian (@ridewithian) across Australia this year too…stay tuned.

Uganda

Doing a safari with my brother Tom who came to meet me in Rwanda. We went to Uganda and saw Mountain Gorillas, chimps and tree-climbing lions.

Some final Thoughts

It’s been a hell of a good year riding through Africa. I feel like I’ve become a different person who is more able to adapt to challenges and unforeseen circumstances.

Reflecting on the past year has been really fun. I feel extremely privileged that I’ve been able to have such an incredible experience.

I can’t wait to get back there one day and have some more crazy adventures.

In fact, I’ll be in Morocco on the next adventure before you know it!

Until then, thanks for reading!

I can’t wait to share all the YouTube videos of my year across Africa with you in the near future. Be sure to subscribe.

Route through angola

Route through Africa

Matthias watching the sunset
Africa
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