To Cycle the Great North Road

by Spencer

A day’s ride on the GNR. Hard to describe. Mostly absolutely banal. But sometimes – like when the trucks pass each other and you have take a detour into a ditch, or when you’re riding after dark and you have no idea what crevasse lies ahead in the dark unlit abyss – the ride was absolutely terrifying.

True and hard to comprehend: The Great North Road is the only road servicing the couple million residents of Central and Northern Zambia. This is Zambia’s I95 – most everything else is a dirt track.

edited 1/1/2015

On the Great North Road

by Spencer

A legacy of empire – the Great North Road was built by imperial Britain in a grand attempt to connect Cairo to Cape Town, to bring the three Cs, commerce, Christianity, civilization, to the inner depths of the British Empire. Today the Great North Road isn’t so great – it’s but two lanes, with no shoulder and potholed. But for hundreds of miles around, it is the single best road. Giant trucks, often covered in people, transit goods from Zambia’s heartland to Tanzania. Closer to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, there are commercial farms but mostly the country is nothing but subsistence farming and bush.
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Africa = Wild West??

by Spencer

Africa = Wild West??

Bicycling through Africa, excluding the big cities, I can easily imagine myself in a classic Western film. The land is dusty, sun omnipresent, buildings stout, industry absent, law more a suggestion and at every turn there’s the palpable sense of both opportunity and danger. The highway is littered with the hulking remains of automobiles stripped to the frame. Subsistence farmers with goat powered carts trot along as a 2011 BMW whizzes by. The highway is sparse, uninterrupted but for potholes and the few occasional cows.

Cape Town

by Spencer

Cape Town is dramatic. It’s South Africa’s second most populous city, a sprawling metropolis of more than three million, framed between water and mountains, where an industrialist with a BMW can live next to a witchdoctor in a shack.

We climbed this. It's a beautiful backdrop to the city.
We climbed this. It’s a beautiful backdrop to the city.

It’s at once beautiful and easy going, then at a second it flips to stark, dark and scary. Our hostel was in OBS, Observatory, close to the University of Cape Town. I step out and down the street there is a small crowd. An attempted thief has been thrown to the ground, it’s street justice.

It’s a city of contrasts. Homes, mostly Mediterranean in style, pastel and stout, are fully enclosed, some have barb wire, others electrified fence, every entrance guarded. Yet the city is bright, green with plants and a bright blue sky. Fresh breezes whip up the air and toss the trees’ leaves. Meanwhile, advertisements for the upcoming election are ubiquitous, as are those for a doctor who promises to cure bad luck within seven days.

We just skimmed the city’s vibrant vibe. Unfortunately, I think that’s going to be the par on this journey. Stay for a day and then back to the bicycle.