“I am always doing things I can’t do; that’s how I get to do them.” ~ Pablo Picasso, Painter
Since I was a young kid I always loved getting out in nature and having mini-adventures. Building forts, having bonfires and exploring with friends from the countryside of rural Canada was always something that I will look fondly back upon. Growing up in the country allowed me to get hurt and learn from my mistakes. When I finally started my cycling adventure around the world my days spent camping were a constant throwback to a nostalgia that was waiting to be awoken again. Throughout the journey, I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from those moments of hardship. They have continued to make me stronger and shape the way I see the world from the more comfortable side of the seat.
You never know where you will end up. I would have never thought years ago that I would have actually gone after my dreams and succeeded. That single decision has irreparable changed my life for the better. It has opened my mind to new horizons and given me a deeper perspective on what truly matters in life. There are certain things I no longer take for granted after seeing the hardships of our world firsthand. I see things more clearly than ever before.
In a world that has been so giving I feel that I am obliged to give back in some form, whether it be through charitable work, speaking engagements or maintaining this website. Recently, I spoke at the yearly ‘Just Us Youth Day’ with all Grade 10’s from the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario as the keynote speaker. It was an event I was honoured to be part of. We all have the power to make a change in our lives, community and country. It was inspiring to see the engaging attitude from the youth of tomorrow.
This post of ‘Top 10 FAQ’ was inspired by that talk and the collection of questions I typically get on my ride. If you have any others please feel free to drop me a line at any point.
“The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” ~ Nancy Wynne Newhall, Writer
1-How many countries did you visit?
I visited 40 countries on my round the world cycling tour. I have travelled to over 60 countries total in my life. Other notable adventures include a motorbike adventure through the wild steppe of Mongolia and the rolling beauty of Laos. I also have fond memories from my backpacking trips in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
2-How old are you?
I am 28 years old. I began the trip around the world when I just turned 26. I am happy that I started the trip when I did. However, it is never too old to begin an adventure such as this. I met people doing similar things who were more than twice my age. I believe that a journey such as this ages you internally, rather externally.
3-What is your favourite country? Least favourite country?
This is one of the toughest questions of all. I really do not have a favourite country from the journey. I like different countries for different reasons. For example, I like Mexico, Greece and India because of the food. I liked Peru and Lesotho because of the diverse stunning views. I like Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Turkey, South Africa, Paraguay, Colombia and Mexico because of the people. I liked Bolivia and India for the mental as well as physical challenge. China because it will always hold a special place in my heart. I like Canada because it feels like home. I do not have a least favourite country, however, I did have a very difficult time in Ethiopia. But, that is a story for another day.
4-Did you ever feel lonely?
The honest answer, rarely. I think if I did this trip even ten years ago I would have felt a lot more of that lonesome feeling. However, with the recent development and improvement of new communication technology I was typically able to stay fairly connected to my wife as well as people back home when I wanted to. In most of the world, phone plans are quite cheap. I would simply get a SIM card and top it up with some 3G data. There are simpler ways to do this, but I became an expert in figuring out the easiest way to communicate back home. When I knew there might be long periods where I would be out of touch, I would try to let certain people know in advance, so they didn’t worry. They still worried though.
5-Did you ever have any problems along the way?
This is the most popular question of all. It is the most popular question because when people ask they are not asking about problems with my bike. They are asking if I was ever basically robbed, frightened or threatened along the way. The truthful honest answer is always a resounding no. In Peru I had a very tiny problem where someone stole my bicycle tools out of my bag at a busy port in Iquitos. Other than that, absolutely not. There were the daily challenges of finding food, places to sleep and the elements of course. I was hit by an ice cream truck in Greece, which was an accident I am lucky to have walked away from. If anything people were too kind in most of the places I visited. People are just nice, that is a fact.
6-Did you ever get lost? How did you know the way?
I was never really lost on my journey. Everything was always new, so I was in a way lost most of the time. I had a good navigation system using HERE Maps and consulted paper maps whenever possible. I had an external power source which allowed me to charge my electronics for up to four days. Between that time, I could take a break somewhere to get things booted up. If I had to do it again I would get a dynamo hub that charges your gadgets while you ride.
I really did not know the way, but would plan key points I would like to reach as a guiding direction. The plan changed almost daily as I lay awake in my tent planning routes at night. Some countries I missed entirely as routes, weather and feeling guided me towards another. As I got close I would research Visa expectations and what would be feasible. You are never really lost if you are not sure exactly where it is you were supposed to be in the first place.
7-Are you married?
Yes. I am newly married to my wonderfully supportive wife Eliza. You can actually check out our wedding story from China with explanations, videos and pictures by CLICKING HERE.
8-Did you have any sponsors and how did you pay for the journey?
I get this one a lot more often from adults. Many believe it must take a massive sum of money to take off on a trip for two years. Most of these people are used to the week away holidays and do not understand the actual cost on the ground as the locals live. I will say that I had a good job and I made saving money for the adventure a top priority. Some people save for a new fancy car, I saved to have an adventure of a lifetime with memories to last the same.
On a daily basis I tried to live very cheaply and camp for free whenever possible. I took breaks to get caught up on my life in cheap hostels and guesthouses. In many places I could find a place to sleep for 10$. It was not luxurious, but it was a place to sleep and that is all I needed. On days where I ‘free camped’ I could usually live off around 5-10$ a day. If I had enough food on me, sometimes I would spend nothing in a day. Of course unexpected costs arose, airplane tickets between continents were a hassle and paying for a fair amount of travel visas got slightly expensive. But other than these types of things my day-to-day was fairly cheap. I have no exact number and frankly, I don’t want to know how much I spent. There are no regrets in that respect. Money is made to be spent. I would rather spend mine on memories.
I did have a massive support base of people from all over who helped me raise enough money to build schools throughout the world. You can read a recent post on an update from all five of the countries we were able to build schools in with WE Charity by CLICKING HERE.
9-Would you ever do it again?
This is a tough question. Would I do the exact same trip over again? The simple answer is no. Well not right away. I would return to almost every country I have visited, but knowing everything I know about how difficult some of the places along the way were, I would be hard pressed to get out there and do it all over again.
That being said, after getting back into a comfortable sort of life, I do yearn a bit for that thrill of adventure. That big question mark of the day. The wonder and awe for the world. The beautiful camp spots and the friendly locals that go with exotic lands. I am always looking to new places and there are quite a number of locations along the way I had to make hard choices about. Places like Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Namibia, Chile and more of the Balkans.
I would have liked to go everywhere of course. All of these places were serious considerations and hard bypasses. Some places I chose over others and some it simply wasn’t in the cards. Time of year, visa restrictions, conflict, logistics and the mood of the day changed my course quite regularly.
It is my hope that I can go back some day and fill in some of these gaps. I desperately would like to see Iran, Pakistan, more of the Middle East and Western Africa. I was not going to rush it then and I am not going to rush it now. It is a long life.
10-What made you want to cycle the world?
A huge combination of things led to me wanting to cycle the world. However, actually getting started is another thing entirely. It is one thing to dream, but another to go live it. The dream was born back in university after reading an excellent book on the topic and deciding that was something I would also like to do. After first it was a hopefully little idea, then it became something I had to do. It was during a time that my love for international travel was growing. I devoured travel books by the dozens and poured over the globe with dreams of wild far off lands from the literature I was reading.
In 2010 I moved to South Korea for a year to teach English. I had a phenomenal time getting to know a culture I knew almost nothing about before going. It was here that I really started to travel on my own to new exotic lands. I returned to Canada to get my Bachelor of Education and then got an incredible offer at a Canadian International School in Sanya, China. It was here that I knew I would begin my cycling trip around the world after my two-year contract was complete. I would have time to save some money and mentally prepare for such a journey.
During my time in China I further entrenched my love for travel and explored a variety of very interesting countries in Asia like Mongolia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Philippines to name a few. I always travelled light and cheaply. This was preparing me for the challenges that were to come.
Before I left, I knew that I also wanted to do something more than just ride circles around the world. I wanted to give back. Education was something I was very passionate about. After careful research and a few phone calls, I found that Free the Children a Canadian based International charity was a perfect match for me. In the beginning, I was not sure how the charity would be received. I had goals of raising enough money to build five schools, in five different countries that I would go through. The locations on the map I believed would keep me motivated and moving towards a larger goal that would continue to give back long after my ride was done. I started with one school and worked my way up from there.
When I finally set out, it was this dream of a putting forth a challenge bigger than myself. As the final days of preparation loomed, I felt a sense of extreme fear and excitement all at the same time. The dream was finally coming true after six long years of quietly daydreaming. I wanted to read, write, meet people, take photographs, experience hardship, failure, get to know myself and most of all, feel alive. For all of those reasons, I set off into the wild unknown. It was just something I had to do.
*Thank you to all the people who continue to follow and read my website. It is because of you that I continue to write and share my story. I am also working away at my book when time affords. Be patient, these things take time.
**News on a big change for the new year to come soon!
***In my presentations, I do not show the whole clip of my cycling trip around the world, but just the first few minutes. I am working towards a more concise and revised version. In the meantime, enjoy!
A Twenty-Two Minute Read
What constitutes as someone else’s regular? After spending two years rolling through the regular lives of forty different countries, my prior perceptions have been changed forever. I can tell you that the people I met along the way are just that, people. They are not all that different from you and I. We really all just want the same few things in life. We want a few people to hold close to us, a roof over our heads, food on the table and our health.
However, what is so interesting about these regular needs and wants are the cultures which make all regions of the world unique unto themselves. This is why we travel. Because, it is new and different. Along the way I experienced many societies in the way local people do. I got to see the daily grind, struggles and fascinations on the ground level. Stepping back from the things we consider normal, you would be surprised how easy it is to forget what makes our own home amazing. Quite often I would tell someone that a certain area is beautiful and they would stop, look, think and finally agree. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we need those gentle reminders.
I was so long in someone else’s regular, that I was very excited to return to my regular. With Canada around the corner, I was beyond excited to experience old things in new ways. What is interesting about your regular?
“Canada will be a strong country when Canadians of all provinces feel at home in all parts of the country, and when they feel that all Canada belongs to them.” ~ Pierre Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister
With a friendly welcome from Canada’s border officials, and a picture down by the water in Windsor, Ontario, I was off riding. After nearly two years of cycling I was finally back in familiar territory. I took in a bit of the scenery and I honestly have to say it really felt like being home. Though Canada can be compared to the Northern United States, in many ways, it really is a different place. I felt a huge burst of energy and made my way towards London.
One thing I did miss immediately from the United States were the wide shoulders that are perfect for biking. People in Canada were respectful, but in a blowing side wind, I felt a little cramped on the side of the road. I pushed on, rolling down country roads alongside Hwy 401 through places like Lakeshore and Chatham. On my first night back in Canada I made camp near a little town outside the home of a farmhouse thanks to an old couple, Ed and Donna. They were happy to let me camp for the night. The sun was nearly set and I got to work cooking my pasta with garlic, onions and a can of beans I picked up earlier.
I set up my tent for the night and put everything in place. For nearly two years my things have all had a spot. The same tent with four bags and a bearded man. The routine of the nightly cook and preparation for bed was almost finished. While my pasta cooled, I wrote in my journal as I always did. Then I watched the sun set from my tent while slurping up some bean filled penne. I knew this would be one of the last times I could experience this type of moment. The peace and quiet of my tent after a long day of riding. The ache of my muscles and the final zip of the tent as I closed myself off from the world for a few hours. I lay back and let out a big breath, as usual. The strain of the road wafting into the corners of my tent.
The following morning, I was up early and headed for London. A 140km kind of day was ahead of me. The weather didn’t look that promising, so I started moving quickly after a few bites of peanut butter and bread. I was to stay with a cousin, Mary-Anne, and her family. I was excited to see a familiar face and have a warm bed to sleep in that night. Dark clouds were brewing behind me. For most of the day, I kept a strong pace while the clouds spit rain at my tail. However, this was not to last forever. The rain came in freezing cold buckets. The only thing keeping me warm was the movement of a bike. I was about forty kilometres from my destination. I decided to press onwards in the rain and worry about my soaked shoes and clothes later. Every time a car passed a freezing cold burst of wind would blow up my soaked rain jacket.
After about an hour of riding in the rain it cleared with the sun warming my body once again. Stopping to shake a bit of water off, I squished around in my old shoes bought way back in Peru. The heels were broken and had seen nearly six months of road. They owed me nothing. I jumped back on the bike and made it to my destination in the early afternoon. It was so wonderful to see someone I knew once again and get caught up. We all talked that evening over a beautiful steak dinner with Mary-Anne’s family and a close family friend named Christine. It was great to have people to share my evening with.
In the morning, we had a delicious brunch and I was full of energy for a much easier day of riding to Stratford. We took a few photos together and I thanked them for their hospitality. Being part of a large extended Italian family has many wonderful benefits. Along the way Christine took photos as I rode up along the undulating hills north of London. I waved as she snapped some shots and thanked her for all the support she gave during my journey. With the wind at my back once again, I zig-zagged down country roads towards Stratford.
I was staying at the house of a long-time friend who I had not seen in quite some time, Spencer. He was out of town when I arrived, so I stayed with his parents, John and Kim. They were beyond hospitable and very enthusiastic about my trip. When I arrived a family friend and cycling enthusiast named Brent was there to meet me. We talked about routes, our cycling trips and looked at some maps for my trip home. Recently, I heard that Brent had a stroke, and is currently on the road to recovery. Please keep this friendly man in your thoughts.
During my time in Stratford, I ate like a king and relaxed before making the push to Toronto. Kim, who is a professional massage therapist, helped me get out the months and years of strain in my muscles. I felt like I was a new man afterwards. I also visited ‘Ross’ Bike Shop’ to replace my tires that were balder than anything. This would explain my recent heroic spill in downtown Detroit a few days earlier. When I arrived he had already heard of my story through a friend, Scott, who I did an interview with a day earlier in the Stratford Herald. (READ THE ARTICLE HERE) He told me not only did he have new tires for me, but he was going to do a whole overhaul on my bicycle for free, along with brand new water bottles. I think he felt a connection to my story, the work I was achieving through Free the Children and my hopes for the future. I was blown away by his kindness and chatted with the guys around the bike shop. In no time at all my bicycle had a new heart put back into it. It was one of the most generous acts of kindness on my whole journey. I cycled back to Spencer’s place, feeling humbled once again by the beauty of humanity.
“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” ~ Dr. Seuss, Writer
That night I got caught up with my old friend and made plans for seeing each other at the finish line of my journey back in Rideau Ferry. I shot off towards Toronto on a 160km day with rolling hills. There was traffic up to my teeth as I approached Toronto. Riding through Brampton was very busy as I cut along near the airport and headed for my cousin Marina’s house in Etobicoke. Marina was one of my biggest promoters and supporters of the journey. This was also a very special day, as the love of my life, Eliza, was flying in that night from China. I could not wait. It was going to be a very special day of familiar faces. Once I saw her come though those gates, my heart felt whole again.
Picking Eliza up at the airport with Marina late at night was an emotional time. Seeing my fiancée after eight months of separation was one of those moment you never forget. United Airlines annoyingly lost her bag though. We were too happy to be bothered much by it. The following day Marina had arranged a potluck dinner and an opportunity to talk about my ride. It was the first group of people I was able to share my ride with in a long while. The food was fantastic and I was even able to meet Alexas from Free the Children, who helped me coordinate the construction of all five of the schoolhouses. From Etobicoke, I made my way on a short ride downtown Toronto after saying goodbye to Marina. Eliza and I got settled downtown and prepared to meet up with Global News and visit the offices of Free the Children. This was also something I had looked forward to a long time.
The following day, I spoke at Free the Children and got to meet some of the amazing people behind the scenes. They even had a cycling cake prepared for me after the presentation. However, the table broke as we were about to eat the cake. It was not meant to be. Global News wrapped up their story and I was able to rest up in Toronto for the next few days before saying goodbye once again to Eliza. She went to be with my parents, and I rode onto Lindsay on route homeward. This would be the final leg of the journey home.
“The fact that over 50 per cent of the residents of Toronto are not from Canada, that is always a good thing, creatively, and for food especially. That is easily a city’s biggest strength, and it is Toronto’s unique strength.” ~ Anthony Bourdain, TV Host/Chef
I made it to Lindsay after breaking through the traffic of Toronto. I stopped on the way to chat with an old friend from South Korea and swung by another friend’s house on Lake Scugog, Dale and Nikki. With so many people to greet me along the way home, my face hurt from permanently smiling. A great problem to have as I rolled into Lindsay to stay with Aunt Bev. I arrived at a familiar house, where I made many fond memories as a child. We drove over to her son Dave’s and we had a delicious dinner with their family. The following morning Aunt Bev and I had a bit of brunch at a diner (awesome) before I cycled off to Peterborough to stay at her other son John’s place in Peterborough.
Now I was really back in familiar territory. For five years I lived and even worked in Peterborough while I went to school at Trent University. I went by Trent and a few of the old places I lived just for the sake of nostalgia. After an interview with the local paper, I continued on cycling to a few old haunts with a big smile on my face. Not far to go now, I thought to myself as I rolled over to John’s place to stay with his family. All these extended relatives opening their homes to me and sharing their lives was so amazing. We dined on some delicious kabobs and I jumped into the hot tub with the kids before it was time for bed. I was gaining weight for the first time in weeks after being so well-fed everywhere I went.
In the morning, I met my Aunt Joanne, Uncle Scott and their daughter Christina for a diner style breakfast. How could I complain. A great way to meet close family and get my day underway. After a proper breakfast I was off riding. The weather started to turn while I rode on route to Sharbot Lake. During the day I got soaked three times along busy old Highway 7. Trucks splashed piles of water onto me and the sun would appear to tease me. The humidity would rise high, while the storm turned around and hit with another cold shot of rain. Even during all of the horrible rain there was a brief pause where I came over a hill and watched a beautiful rainbow form. Eventually, I made it to Sharbot Lake after 170 kilometres of hard riding damp and ready for sleep. During the day I had stopped for a quick poutine, just because I could. To see a recipe for a Canadian classic CLICK HERE.
The following day, I met up with Eliza and saw my mother for the first time since South Africa. It was a nice reunion before heading off to Granite Ridge and St. James Major Schools to share my story. I had whipped up a quick PowerPoint to share with the kids and answered a ton of questions. I thanked them for all they had done to help me achieve my goals with building schools in different parts of the world.
Sharbot Lake holds a great deal of memories from my childhood. I always remember visiting my Grandmother there and going to play at the beach. I rode by her house and thought about the old days. Grandma was a pretty big traveler herself and I often thought of her on my journey. From time to time, I wondered what she would think of the whole thing. We all had lunch with an old friend named Marg and my great Aunt Edith before I rode off to spend the night at my friend Josh’s about 30km on backroads away. More friends and friendly faces were to come.
It wasn’t far from Josh’s place to Perth. I made quick work of it and rolled into town ready for a talk at St. John Elementary on my ride. They were wonderful supporters throughout my journey, so it was so nice to share my story there. I had an interview with the local radio, Lake 88 and a final presentation at Queen Elizabeth School nearby. A few days early my best friend Dave & Tara McGlade had their first baby. That night I spent the evening with family having dinner then returned to Dave & Tara’s place to meet cute new baby Charles, before drifting off to sleep. It was a wonderful time to be back home.
From the other side of Perth, I made my way to Smiths Falls for three presentations on my ride to some of the supporting schools there. The speaking tour continued. Visiting St. Francis School where I went to as a young boy, was a very surreal experience. Returning to speak about my ride and encouraging young kids to follow their dreams seemed like it hit home for many of the listeners. As I wrapped up my day, I felt a huge sense of pride for all I had accomplished with my ride. Riding over to my uncle Joe’s I got caught up on a laundry list of e-mails and joined my family for dinner nearby at Aunt Fran’s with two friends from Trent. After a bit of celebrating it was time for bed. Tomorrow was a big day. My final day on the bicycle
After a good breakfast, I loaded up the bicycle one last time. I wheeled out into the driveway and thanked my everyone for their support. Global News was there to cover the last stretch of my ride. I pulled out on the road and began to ride as I always did. It was a cool and misty morning. The only difference between this and a regular day were the people cheering and signs posted welcoming me home. As I got closer to Rideau Ferry, I started breaking up on the bike. I had no idea it would be that hard. I saw a few more friends before I made my way towards the bridge to greet the group that would join me on bicycles to my home. Pushing over the bridge I saw the large crowd of people waiting with their bikes and signs. I was blown away. Tearing up as I roared down to the smiling faces I was overwhelmed and met with an endless supply of hugs. You can watch the whole story by Global News HERE.
“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” ~ Drake, Songwriter
After a quick bite to eat at Jimmy’s Snack Shack and a final interview, the group of riders kicked off to cycle the final seven kilometres to my family home from Rideau Ferry. From then on it was only smiles and laughs all the way home. All ages of people with a variety of bikes joined in riding together. Near the finish line a friend had set up a lemonade stand for everyone. A welcome break for those on route. In the final moments of my ride I took the lead at the front of the line. I was riding down the same old road I had cycled a thousand times. It was all too familiar. I rounded the corner to a group of family and friends. I picked up some speed on the bumpy dirt road and broke through the red tape at the finish line.
I was finally home.
Be careful following your dreams. One day they just might come true. 🙂
*I would like to thank everyone that has made this entire journey a huge success. From all of the people along the way that helped me get a place to sleep, some food to eat and spent some time to chat. To all of the sponsors who have helped us raise over $47,500 to construct five schools in struggling countries around the world. With the help of many schools in Eastern Ontario and over 275 individual sponsors, we have helped give young children hope for a better future. To Free the Children for all of their encouragement and the opportunity to make a different. To all of my friends who rooted me on during the course of the trip and joined me for the final leg home. Thank you to everyone who went out of their way to make my final days on the bike a warm and welcoming memory that will last forever. To my parents, Vince & Dorothy, as well as my brother Luke for always being there. And of course, my rock, Eliza for being my support throughout the entire journey. I couldn’t have done it without all of you working together. Thank you all for making it the ride of a life-time.
**We are now so close to the final goal of $50,000 for the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua. With less than $2,500 I know that we will soon achieve our goal there. You can read about the community of El Trapiche by clicking the link HERE and scrolling to the bottom for an overview of the work being done there. It is truly unbelievable how generous people have been and how near we are to the final goal. It is a wonderful feeling, with too many people to thank. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***Now that I have finished my ride I am continuing to speak around Eastern Ontario. On July 11th at 6:30 pm at St. James School (5 Catherine St.) in Smiths Falls, Ontario, I will be giving a general talk to the community about my journey. I call my presentation, ‘Finding Your Bicycle Ride’. It is designed to encourage young people and adults alike to follow their dreams through the use of my bicycle ride as a jumping off point. I share the hardships of people around the world, beautiful pictures and stories from my trip. There will be a period afterwards for refreshments and socializing. For more info on booking a speaking engagement CLICK HERE.
****Though my journey is over, I will continue to maintain this website. I have a great deal still left to share and travel articles to write. Look for updates and changes to the site in the following months, as I start my transition to a new format. I am also in the beginning stages of writing a book on my experiences over the last two years. Stay tuned for updates on this and other events. Thank you for following along!
*****Watch the interview with CTV Morning Live HERE.
******Happy Canada Day! 🙂
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter/Politician
There comes a time when we must make decisions in our lives. Crossroads present themselves in a sea of uncertainty. Sometimes decisions are quick and without thought. Others linger for weeks and plague mental patterns day and night. If we value change or growth, these moments come with some frequency. These decisions mould us, shape our present reality and the roads which bring us to the next junction. We are never the same person twice. The goals which we once had years, months and even weeks back, may seem like frivolous bothers in the present. They look like minor deviations from the whirlwind of our daily lives. However, everything culminates during daily micro-decisions to bring us to new avenues of opportunity.
Letting worry take over and cloud your modern reality is a needless distraction to the bigger picture. I’m sure we would find it hard to look back and remember with fondness on our most recent worries. It is much easier and positive to look back on moments of nostalgia, even if they weren’t that great at the time. On a bicycle journey, there is a surplus of time to think. I’ve put in a great deal of time contemplating and arrived at a few conclusions. They are apparent in my present state. If you want something bad enough, you’ll chase after it, I know I have. The end is not reached with the rabbit, but only leads to another series of holes. Enjoy the hunt.
“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.” ~ Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country
It was an early morning entrance to Botswana. Another country with new sets of rules and geography. For the first time in months it was flat. I entered from the Plum Tree border station and rode on fumes to Francistown. Relaxing in the shade I made a forward plan towards South Africa. With the wide shoulder and a relatively uninteresting section of road ahead, I decided to make my break. Putting in my longest day in Africa of 176 kilometres from Francistown to Palapye I arrived after dark. Setting up my tent on some crusty ground, I cooked some tasteless pasta and it was lights out. The next day, it was up early again as I skidded off towards the South African border. There was no service stations until I reached the border over a hundred kilometres away. Drinking orange Fanta out of coolers from the side of the road, I spent my last bit of money on a fly covered bun with warm cream inside.
If you are wondering, why all the hurry? It was because I was running behind schedule for an important meeting on the horizon. My girlfriend and family were coming to visit. They were due to arrive in Johannesburg in just a matter of days. Every moment counted to get me there on time. I returned the bottle of Fanta and slugged my way to the border. Crossing into South Africa felt like I was returning to civilization. There were functioning stores in each town with a wide selection foods and affordable delights. South Africa is the most developed country, given most respects, in Africa. I quickly felt at home and the welcoming nature of the people. I saw the first McDonalds since Egypt and to say I didn’t order up the ubiquitous ‘Big Mac’ meal would be a lie. Sometimes on trips like this, that little bit of familiarity can go a long way to make you feel at ease. When everything is always new and unknown, those little pieces of the known go a long way.
Rolling into Lephalale, I was searching for a local campsite when a man almost backed his truck into me. After he saw me and we chatted a moment, he asked where I was headed. I explained my plan of action and he invited me to stay in one of his guesthouses for free. It ended up being my own apartment with hot water, kitchen and laundry. Cycling dreams are made of this magic. My new friend, Victor, introduced me to the welcoming nature of South African people. After I was rested up he invited me for a breakfast before I was off riding again. We had an instant connection and some inspiring chats. The local newspaper showed up and an impromptu interview took place. They sent me sailing with a happy first impression and a bag full of food. That night I slept on the soft green grass of the local golf course amid warthogs and skittish little monkeys.
“Travel is more than a seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard, Author
On route to Johannesburg a friend I had met in South Korea named Dene, had arranged for family members of her husbands to host me. They picked me up and took me off to their farm. Jaco and Jessie gave me the first taste of true South African ‘Braai’. You can read more on the process and style HERE. It is basically barbecue, but treated with a sport like seriousness. They even have a ‘Braai Day’, which I will get into on a following post. In any case, my first experience was a beautiful appreciation for food, as I slowly began to put on weight. One of the most amazing things they did for me while I stayed with them was returning my shoes, that were nearly headed for the garbage bin, looking brand new. At this point I only had one day to make it to the airport in time to meet my girlfriend. Jessie offered to take me most of the way into Johannesburg. I left feeling like I was part of the family and a warm energy bubbled inside. I made it to the airport with 20 minutes to spare. Cutting it close to say the least. I rubbed my burley face wishing I had time to shave.
Seeing a familiar person on a trip such as this can do more than you know. I didn’t need to introduce myself or be that guy on the bike. I was simply able to be me. With my family and girlfriend, Eliza, it was just like old times, only we were in South Africa. After a day of rest we went out on safari. Something I had only done by the seat of my bike all through Africa. Now I was the person that rolled past people in the big vehicle as hundreds of white kneed tourists had done to me throughout Africa. Only this safari was more than about just seeing herds of zebras and spotting lions. All down Africa I had thought about it carefully. On the top of a mountain just after sunrise I asked the love of my life to marry me. Slipping the ring onto her smooth trembling finger I felt all the world coming together. Looking up to see the tears in her eyes what I saw was my soulmate. The woman I would spend the rest of my days with. I am not sure what I said as the morning sun swallowed us up on that rocky outcrop. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Without the careful planning and help of my parents I couldn’t have pulled off the proposal. I am so glad we were able to share in it together.
“You must regard this deviation from plan as part of the adventure that you sought when you decided to embark on it in the first place…Absence of certainty is its essence. People…who choose to shun the mundane must not only expect, but also enjoy and profit from surprises.” ~ Adam Yamey, Aliwal
After a few days of wonderful wildlife, relaxation and full stomachs, a tearful goodbye was on the horizon as I prepared to get back on the bike. I knew saying goodbye to my parents would be tough, but seeing my new fiancée off was going to be even more difficult. I wanted to quit. I said that I had come far enough. That the end of Africa was achievement enough. I had accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I should pack it all in and call it a day, when I reached the southern edge of Africa in Cape Town. Eliza said that there was no way I was quitting. As hard as that may have been for her to say, it wasn’t what I wanted hear, but what I needed. She could have been selfish and let me take the easy way out. I could have quit right there at the airport and boarded a plane anywhere else. But I returned to my bike knowing I wouldn’t see her until I reached the finish line back in Canada, thousands of kilometres away.
Knowing everything I already do about life on the road, it would have been the easy way out. Returning to a life of comfort with vegetables in the crisper and 600 TV channels, would be ideal for a time. But, that route would have haunted me in years to come. Like a puzzle missing the final piece, I would only see that hole. The rest of the picture would be forgotten. Eliza could see this. As much as she may have wanted me to quit, she supported my dream without a doubt. This is what every man wants. To feel the support and understanding of his mindless plight. To be there for him when the future he presents is a bit hazy. She looked into my eyes and beyond the shadowy thunder that is my mind, she saw something more. On first day I ever met Eliza, I told her that I would ride a bicycle (which I didn’t even own at the time) around the world. She never thought I was joking and she stuck by me through all of those distant nights. If I were to quit now, it would be breaking the very first promise ever I made to her. Now, that is something I could never live with.
*The rest of the South Africa story will continue in the next post along with adventures through ruggedly beautiful Lesotho and eventually to the stunning coast of the Garden Route towards the end of Africa in Cape Town.
**Please continue to help support funding for the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. We are less than $1,600 away from reaching our goal. Which is so amazing! Thank you for the surprise early donations from some of our supporting schools back in Eastern Ontario. You guys rock! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***To follow along with daily photo updates from my phone through the South American section of the journey link to my Instagram by CLICKING HERE.