Is this safe?
Yes. In Africa, as in the United States, the bicyclists’ greatest nemesis is the driver who doesn’t share the road. While biking in Africa will present other challenges – unsafe drinking water and malaria, to name two big ones – a bit of careful preparation will largely mitigate such concerns.
The image of Africa as a dangerous wilderness is simply not true. While there are a few countries that are politically unstable, these areas are easy to avoid.
To most Americans, Africa remains the “Dark Continent.” We travel to Europe, we compare ourselves to China, we see Latin America in our culture daily, but Sub-Saharan Africa is largely ignored. It’s too far away, too poor, of no “strategic interest.” To many, it’s a wild land of conflict, HIV and extreme poverty.
We think there’s a better, more honest and more hopeful story to Sub-Saharan Africa. For the last couple years, many African nations have enjoyed high economic growth. Vibrant democracies sprout across the continent. The decades long conflict in the Congo has subsided. Primary education is now widespread.
There is a glimmer, just glimmer, of an African renaissance and we think that is a story that needs to be told. Africa is fundamental to the human story. It’s our birthplace and home to one billion. And yet, its stories are largely bypassed. We hope to fulfill that ancient rite of the storyteller, to attempt to inform, to tell us who we are and where we’re going.
Yes! In a car, you can lock the doors, roll up the windows and turn on the AC. On a bicycle there are no shortcuts. We will be fully exposed to the land and its people. Day in and day out, exhausted and exhilarated, we will feel the terrain, every hill, every gully, every pothole, every storm that turns the unpaved road to a river. At times it will be rough. Dogs will run after us. So will children. Some of them will call us names and some will even throw rocks. (Aren’t kids the sweetest?) But likewise, there will be no windshield to protect us from a stranger’s kindness. We pedal through Africa to remind ourselves on the fundamentals of being human.
In addition, it’s worth pointing out: Though we live in era of incomprehensible complexity, i.e. Justin Bieber and nuclear meltdowns, a simple steel frame with two wheels, a chain and some ball bearings can take you across continents. Bicycles are wondrous machines.
You’re raising money for charity?
Yea. Throughout our ride, we’ll be creatively raising money for World Bicycle Relief and Doctors Without Borders / MSF.
World Bicycle Relief deploys bicycles to increase communities’ economic, health and educational opportunities. Not only are we big fans, but so is Nicholas Kristof.
Medecins Sans Frontieres has been on the frontlines of medical care for nearly 40 years. They won a Nobel Peace Prize. We admire their intrepid spirit and their mission of alleviating human suffering.
How will you update your web site?
We’ll have a satellite phone that we can tweet with wherever we are. Most the time, however, we’ll be using Africa’s mobile internet. In some countries it will be very robust, in others quite patchy. It will be an interesting experiment. We’ll be sure to share our experiences and upload / download speeds from different nations.
How will you make videos?
With a couple cameras and a laptop loaded with software. We’ll also have a solar charger and digital sound recording equipment.
Producing and editing video off a bicycle will be challenging. But of course, that’s the point – this is as real as it gets. No camera crew, no producer with cash for nice hotels. It’s just us – a couple Cheeseheads on bikes. What we see, what we learn is what you get.