http://www.bike2013.com) and posting a few perceptions so far.
There are some things I really like about self-contained bicycle touring:
- Ability to pack everything on my bike and feeling of freedom of traveling at my own pace and direction.
- Close interactions with locals as each day sort out where to get water, food and other supplies. Getting off the beaten track and interacting with locals with a fairly light "footprint" otherwise
- Relatively economical travel
- Adjusting the trip as I go along
- Enjoying my own company as I travel alone or perhaps a few people
Tour D'Afrique is not that type of trip
However, I am having a lot of fun and really enjoying the trip so far. Just as there differences in styles and preferences and not a single approach to cycle touring, a trip like this is not going to fit a reasonable set of folks including some in this forum.
So what is this TDA like and why does it fit me despite the list above? We're on a four-month ride from Cairo, Egypt to Capetown, South Africa with 50+ riders and almost a dozen staff. 11,600km in 94 riding days and 27 rest days is a somewhat aggressive ride of ~125km/day including some unpaved and some rough roads and crossing 10 countries with their own borders, languages, rules and regulations. It all works because there is a certain amount of structure/organization to it and (in my opinion as a rider but not other relationship) because TDA is well run.
As a rider, life is fairly simple: get up in the morning, pack up your stuff and put it in your locker, eat breakfast, check the white board and then ride that days ride at your own pace with your own stops and explorations. Find your way into camp, eat soup, set up the tent, eat dinner and then relax while preparing for the next day. Along the way, have fun and see some of Africa as you travel along. Remember to wash your hands frequently.
TDA describes their rides as "self guided with support", but there is some reasonable support along the way: SAG trucks and staff including medics, mechanics, drivers and general folks helping to conduct a staged race, to check to make sure nobody got lost, etc. I was certainly appreciative of having a wheel rebuild when my rim cracked. There is a mentality of trying to test yourself and ride whatever you can, but this is also Africa and an adventure - so that fallback is nice. With that support comes the ability to travel at the pace we do, with a large group. Also for me comes an ability to see Africa in a way that would be difficult otherwise.
I am an experienced touring cyclist and my previous long tours (see http://www.fietstocht.com) have including my own self-supported ride across Russia, a ride around perimeter of Australia, two trips across the USA and one across Canada - among other places. For most of those trips, I personally wouldn't do TDA because I have confidence and experience to sort them out on my own and value a bit of the deeper "immersion" that traveling alone provides.
However, I took a previous ride with TDA through China (http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/mevchina2007) for many of the same reasons as I am on the Africa ride now: while I could probably sort most of this out, I appreciate the extra structure and support of a supported ride to go through some areas where logistics become extra challenging. The important thing to recognize is this is just different than a self-supported ride. In that way, I'm ambidextrous in liking this also as a variety and different way to ride/travel. (It is still a little ways down the road, but most likely on completion of the TDA trip, I will likely "unwind" with my own solo tour on the Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH) before going back to work...).
In summary, happy customer who would recommend TDA ride across Africa to others (so far), but also recognize that there is a "fit" issue and such trip might not match some preferences and styles. That is ok. I'll keep my blog up to date and perhaps report back here if things change and/or later in the trip.