Cape Town Rest days, a few notes/tips reflecting on the trip

After TDA spent four days in Cape Town as a tourist.  Photos and descriptions of some of the local sights are included below.  Also decided to include a few “lessons learned” or notes I have that might be useful to future riders about TDA in general. I also cleaned up some minor things on the web site (e.g. the maps page) and added an “Epilogue” page for travels in the USA that immediately followed TDA.

A few lessons Learned

  • My Equipment List page has been annotated with reflections of what equipment worked for me, what was broken and what I might bring differently if doing the trip again.
  • Africa has lots of thorns.  While my Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires had only two flats on entire trip.  This was lower than average.  Bring good tires, particularly for off-road with good thorn protection (e.g. some riders had more than 10 flats on the first off-road day).  What I did find was that my thermarest developed a leak after camping on thorns on day #30.  People who brought a small foldable cot seemed to avoid this.
  • Africa has sand.  I went through three basic point-n-shoot cameras that each got jammed due to sand.  Next time, My tent zippers also failed through the trip.  Next time I would bring a more dust-proof camera and be a little more careful taking photos of sand storms.
  • Africa doesn’t have much in way of “real” bicycle shops prior to Namibia or at least we didn’t find them.  Sectional riders joining later were helpful to bring extra parts (e.g. for me a spare rim to Nairobi).  Riders that sent parts via DHL or other courier services sometimes encountered very high fees for parts.
  • Electronics.  I and other riders had our share of electronic toys including laptop, kindle, cell phone and GPS odometers.
    • Solar chargers such as Goal Zero worked pretty well at keeping small pieces charged.  With so many phones and other toys – outlets were frequently at a premium when we did encounter them.
    • Wifi was sporadic and 60 riders can quickly clog up simple systems we encountered (particularly if some riders skype or video skype).  SIM cards and cell phones worked at least as well in some situations.  See also web updating below.
  • Weather.  Africa surprised me that most days were is reasonable temperate ranges.  It got particularly hot (>40C) in the desert of Sudan and next time more re-hydration salts are in order.  It also got to ~3-4C once in Ethiopia and at end of the trip in Namibia/South Africa.  I ended up buying more warm weather gear in Windhoek, which was very helpful at end of the trip.  Rains we had were mostly all warm rains in areas such as Tanzania.  Otherwise surprising amount of time with daytime highs between 25C-35C and overnight lows ~10C-~25C and generally reasonable for cycling.
  • Budget; one of the TDA mailings suggests approximately $100 per week as spending money with  perhaps some more if you plan extra accommodations or excursions.  What I found was:
    • Most on-the-road days are inexpensive.  Coke stops are a dollar here or there and there just isn’t much place to spend money during most riding days.  Instead it is more rest days and cities.
    • Visa fees in the first countries (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi,…) come in cash and can be $50-$100 here and there, an expense I hadn’t factored into the equation.
    • Kenya onwards seem to have ATMs in border towns or soon thereafter.  Some folks had issues with their home banks freezing accounts or more difficulty with Mastercard linked accounts, but with some patience this works.  There also are much more limited places north of the equator to use credit cards such as visa cards (even in hotels).  This got easier as we went further south.
  • Web page updating.  I received feedback that my web site was among those most kept up to date.  I did that with combination approach including (a) bought a local SIM card in each country.  Used a cell phone and WordPress for Android to provide a short two or three sentence update most cycling days (b) brought a laptop to edit photos and including more complete text when I could, e.g. at rest days (c) organized the site in advance with photos/categories/links so structure/navigation was all set up.
  • Favorites. A common but strange question since part of what makes a trip like this interesting is the variety in cycling from one place to the next. However, if I were to list countries in order of my most to least favorites, it would be as follows:
    1. Namibia – beautiful off-road cycling through the desert
    2. Tanzania – off-road cycling through smaller villages on clay/mud/sand/gravel road, challenging but beautiful. Taking a safari was a nice change of pace.
    3. Ethiopia – intense and challenging in its own way. Different than countries either before or after.
    4. Sudan – friendly people, hard to get to. Initial route bypassed most towns on excellent roads and later route went through countryside but on awful off-road. Too bad there wasn’t a mix between the two
    5. Botswana – longest riding, flat stretches of road, but chances to see elephants and good weather
    6. Zambia – Victoria falls, good roads and slightly rolling hills
    7. South Africa – excitement of finishing the trip and some off-road cycling. However, highway riding was longer stretches without many places to stop.
    8. Kenya – wish we’d been able to ride more, good riding but elections this year meant we couldn’t do as much
    9. Malawi – Infected/swollen leg, caused me to miss some riding
    10. Egypt – Nice desert riding and excitement of starting the trip, but enjoyed other areas more. Assertive people selling things.

Now a few photos from trips looking around Cape Town.

Large waterfront statue


Eat or we’ll both starve

Took a trip to Robben Island. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on this island for 18 of his 27 years. Overall an informative half day trip and well worth the visit.

Hike up Table Mountain gave nice views of Cape Town and the coast

Visiting the district 6 museum. Described an interesting and recent history. District 6 was name of a neighborhood in central Cape Town. In 1966 under apartheid laws, the government made it a white-only neighborhood and after that point 60,000 people were forcibly resettled in other areas and building also torn down. This continued until early 1980s when laws were reversed.

Day 94, 90km to Cape Town

We have arrived in Cape Town!

Four months, sandstorm in Sudan, riots in Zambia, two broken rims, two flat tires, one infected leg, one broken hub, two non-working tent zippers, heat exhaustion in Sudan, many stones in Ethiopia, elections in Kenya, mud in Tanzania, hustlers in Egypt, a naked mile in Namibia, an old ferry across Lake Nassar, three broken cameras…and it now comes to completion.

It was a fun ride today. First 61 km of highway to a beach where we assembled, had lunch and took photos. Next almost 30km of convoy that became progressively more interesting as we used dedicated bus lanes and police were stopping traffic as we went through heart of the city. Finally into waterfront district, on a path and under a finish banner. We celebrated and gave well deserved awards for race winners and efi. Tonight a dinner and then will be complete.

Below some photos of the participants.

Those who cycled EFI

Winners of the women’s race

Winners of the men’s race


Our ceremony in at the waterfront in Cape Town

Day 93, 140km to Yzerfontein

We’re in end game mode now. Tonight is last night camping and plans are being made for our arrival into Cape Town tomorrow.

However, before arrival we still had a 140km stage ride today. We started from Elands Bay and went out to the peninsula on dirt for 7.5km. After this a mixture of small roads including another 10km along a gravel toll road along the railway. This time did see a long train with engines both at front and two places in middle of the train.

Velddrif was nice town at 60km and stopped here at the bakery. After this we turned right onto R27 road and saw our Cape Town 140km sign. Apparently, we hadn’t originally gotten a permit for the R27 which would have meant a lot tougher riding on gravel. This was a bit strange since the R27 had widest shoulders of any road we had in South Africa. Those shoulders were occasionally used for cars to get out of way for passing traffic – but sight lines were good and was otherwise good smooth cycling.

We stopped for lunch at 75km and after this the winds also picked up more. Crosswinds sometimes became headwinds. Not enought to seriously slow things, but enough to keep being a reminder that riding wasn’t yet done. This made the afternoon a bit more of a slog, particularly over a long slow hill and then down the other side.

In the distance we could start to see a mesa that was table mountain and backdrop to Cape Town. Yeah! Our last kilometers we turned the corner and went to our last beach town. Here we had extended riding meeting including riders being given informal “awards”. I was given one for always asking if folks were having fun and otherwise being cheerful. It got cold in the evening so into the tent.

I’m excited that we have just another 94km to go and will reach our goal for past four months.

Day 92, 73km to Elands Bay

A shorter ride but mostly off road today. This brought us to another sleepy resort town of Elands Bay in early afternoon.

We started with fog on the road and it wasn’t until 9:30am two hours into the ride that first could see a shadow. I climbed back up from Strandfontein and went slow on the road since my glasses would fog up and I could see less. At 10km we switched onto a toll road next to the railway. This road was private and was gravel. This took us through back areas and into next beach town of Lamberts Bay. The road once we past the toll gates was somewhat smoother cycling. A few trucks passed but didn’t see any trains this morning.

Lamberts Bay at 45km was back to pavement and had a nice coffee shop. At 48km back onto gravel and stop for lunch. The gravel after lunch started rougher again but once past toll gates at better as well. The fog did reappear for a while until almost Elands Bay.

At Elands Bay I clocked in for last official race timing. I’ve been near bottom of race standings and some of those formerly timing there also stopped being part of the race. However, figured I’d started this timing so might as well finish into Cape Town. It does add some interesting dynamics both with the fastest riders pushing to race – but also with others keep riding without stopping. I mostly didn’t worry about that nor my race times but instead used it more like a time card to punch in and out and somebody could see, “yes he is still riding”.

Elands Bay was nice small beach town. It definitely feels like the trip is winding down as folks are thinking ahead to Cape Town and beyond. Still two days of cycling though in South Africa.

At Elands Bay, JJ and Catalin dug a huge hole in the sand. Apparently to be used as a sauna.

We had a great sunset.

Day 91, 162km to Strandfontein

We have reached the South Atlantic and are camped at the beach! Today was a longer and “mando” day and I was happy to finish it. Last night our camp had many goathead thorns. I carefully walked the bike to the pavement and then took a few thorns out before cycling.

Our first 79km continued on the N7 and were straightforward riding. We had 1400m of climb and 1600m of descent and a reasonable portion was rolling hills in this part. There was town of Bitterfontein that was largest town to cross and after this we had a construction zone. Was slightly easier to ride here since traffic was slowed and in one portion we could cycle on the parts of the road not yet open.

At 79km we turned right and onto a gravel road. Often when starting new gravel have to figure out what road is like and how best to find smooth parts without too much loose sand or hard rocks. We also climbed two small hills on way to lunch at 85km. After lunch our gravel continued for another 21km. A number of cars zoomed past kicking up dust and causing me to veer to less favorable parts of the road. Hence it was also nice to get back onto pavement.

The rest of afternoon was getting long with cross winds that sometimes were slight headwinds. At Koekenaap at 126km was good chance for coke stop and then a second coke stop at 134km in Lutzville. After this headed more into the wind and towards the beach. Slightly less wind but onshore fog got heavier by 145km. I switched to higher visibility jacket and then last kilometer had good descent down to the beach.

It is great to be camped right next to the beach and hear the roar of the ocean.

Day 90, 117km to Garies

Good roads and more downhill than uphill made for quicker cycling today. It is dry here though I can almost imagine the bushes being slightly taller than before. Our ride board indicated 1000m of climb and 1600m of descent so hilly but at least the right direction.

I was on the road early and fortunately it was warmer than the day before. We started right away with a climb and then several descents on the N7 highway. My brakes continued making some noise and that increased through the day. Trucks came past and with just a few exceptions gave us reasonable room. There was a bright yellow truck that honked and passed awfully close and remember as being rather rude.

There were few towns along the road and these were well separated from the N7 through highway. So one needed to make a concious choice of whether to go into town or not. The largest was at 69km but I’d just had lunch at 64km before that. Had some good descents near 30km and a good climb near 50km.

After lunch some more rolling hills. You could often see several bumps ahead. Coming into Garies we had a good 6km descent and my brakes definitely made noise then. Fortunately after the ride, JJ replaced my brake pads (third set, good thing I brought these along) and much better after that.

Garies is a small town with a few shops on the main street. I could however find a SIM card and get the phone updated to make some web updates. While doing that noticed that we had crossed the 30th parallel of latitude today and hence are now further from equator than both Cairo and Austin.

Day 89, 133km to Springbok

Goodbye Namibia, hello South Africa! This morning we had our last border crossing. They get easier and less expensive as you go along. Otherwise it was a day on well paved highways with some climbing and more tailwinds than headwinds.

Our first 10km were along the Orange River. Workers were out walking on the road on way to jobs in the vineyards. At 12km we went through the Namibia exit station. We cycled across the bridge and then came to South Africa for entry. Yeah!

South Africa started similar to Namibia with a well-paved highway going through the desert. Trucks and cars drive reasonably fast but all still pretty easy. From 15km to 50km we had a long gradual ascent. It started going through canyon areas but then opened up to tilted open country. Time to put things in lower gear and slowly ride up the hill.

After 50km the terrain was more rolling hills. We briefly turned west shortly before lunch and were treated to both tailwinds and downhill into our lunch stop. After lunch, it kept with rolling terrain and I was a bit slower riding this stretch. My brakes started making interesting noises. First when I applied the rear brake and then even when I didn’t. Last bit into Springbok was down a hill and into a caravan park. Happy to get into camp.

Felix Unite rest day

Felix Unite camp is on the Orange river at border of Namibia and South Africa. There is kayaking. Otherwise this is common stopover point for “overlanders” who take truck tours. I’ve had a quiet rest day here including getting chores done e.g. laundry, updating internet and bike maintenance. Otherwise a quiet day.

We also now have the remaining ride schedule from here to Cape Town. Still a few tougher days in the mix with 3-4 days off road and a few longer days. It will also depend on the wind and the road surfaces.

Day 88, 170km to Felix Unite

Long ride today that ended at the Orange River. The Orange River forms border between Namibia and South Africa. We still have a rest day in Namibia but on the 6th will cross over to South Africa.

Yesterday the headwinds brought a cold front and this morning was chilly in the tent. I could wear all my recent purchases from Windhoek: thermal top, wool hat, full finger gloves and fleece. Along with long cycling tights and other layers I was comfortable. The posted distance of 172km along with yesterday headwinds had some folks apprehensive. I’m told ~20 people rode either of the trucks. Some starting at lunch and others all the distance. I decided I’d ride to lunch at 90km mark and then see after that. I’m glad I did since today was a stunning day as far as scenery was concerned.

It was hard to tell which direction the wind came from, but believe it was mostly NNE during the day so we had more tailwinds than headwinds today. Hooray! We started mostly cycling to the west. The road had occasional soft bits, but was otherwise reasonable road condition. We cycled around a huge rock outcropping to start. Nice views as we came along the rock, though it did seem like we climbed the same short hill a few times. I started with many layers on but decided each 10km mark I’d take something off (though not quite to the naked mile point). So at 10km I could remove the extra long tights, at 20km removed wool hat, at 30km removed outer jacket, at 50km swapped long gloves for short gloves, etc. It took us until 20km to come around the large rock outcropping.

After 20km mark we had a longer straight and then a good descent for multiple kilometres towards the Fish River Canyon. That unfortunately came to an end closer to 30km and then it was a good climb. However, this was excellent scenery as we went along the larger hills. At the 45km mark the sweep came up to me. While I’m normally slower than average this was first time the sweep caught up to me. Where are all the other folks that normally are behind me? I’m told pretty much rest of them were on the truck.

We had right turn at 56km and for next 12km there wasn’t much pedalling as the wind along with slight downhill just pushed us along. Had to still watch occasionally to stay off the worst soft sand and worst corrugations. At 68km going downhill there was a right turn here. Unfortunately, another rider ahead of me missed turn here, so eventually I wasn’t last before sweep but she had an extra long ride. After the 68km mark it was a slow climb up and over a hill and then another long sweeping descent. That last few kilometres before lunch were an uphill.

Ate my lunch quickly and assessed the situation. It was just past noon and I had 82km to go. Unless road was awful, should make it just before dark. I was told there would even be pavement the last 40km. The next 20km from lunch were stunning scenery as we followed a drainage and to our right was a large set of rock outcroppings. The combination of wind and descent even meant there wasn’t much pedalling involved – but instead having to watch carefully the track on the road. After this was still some occasionally pedalling but until 124km was a spectacular ride.

At 124km I found the road was still gravel. What was worse is we turned now into the wind and this part of the route had soft sandy bits. It was tough riding here. There was a “refresh” stop I noticed just in time at right side of the road. The TDA staff member had gone off hiking and I was along (except for the rider behind me who had ridden the extra credit distance). After the refresh we could see a large vineyard area – as well as one of the largest shanty towns I had seen. The simple workers huts were a bit shocking to see.

It took to 130km before reached pavement. Yea! The next 40km were mostly cross wind though also some headwinds in here. I was getting tired as was riding over the last of the hills. As I rounded the last bend, I could see settlement on the South African side as well as where Felix Unite Camp should be. Was even pleasantly surprised to find it appear two kilometres earlier than expected. I was in at 4:30pm, a long but beautiful ride. Had enough time to get me tent set up and not long after 5pm sunset.

We’re now camped at Felix Unite camp for a rest day tomorrow. Not quite sure what to find here, though will be time to get laundry and other chores done. Otherwise also a chance to relax and get ready for the six day riding section that will bring us to Cape Town.

Day 87, 93km to Canon Roadhouse

Smooth gravel roads, reasonable temperatures, shorter distance and not much climbing. Should be an easy day?
Unfortunately, we had a cold front coming and bringing strong headwind that made for tougher riding.

I left Seeheim roadhouse out the back road. It immediately climbed and I walked part of the first hill. After this
we turned right and into the wind. At first, I could ride ~15km/hour but as it got later the wind strengthened and
it was closer to 10km/hour.

We followed a set of railroad tracks. Otherwise it was flat open terrain without much vegetation to block the wind.
At 40km we crossed over those tracks and looked like there had been recent rollover car accident. Believe all was ok

It was nice to see lunch at 67km. After this we at least had some changing scenery with a shorter climb and then
brief turn away from the wind. The last 10km were again with strong crosswind until reached Canon roadhouse.

The roadhouse has a big interior area with old cars, signs, license plates and other memorabilia. Also serves a good
cheesecake. Our evening was cold and looks like our south wind might have brought colder temperatures.