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The man who cycled across Africa (continued)…
Do you provide bicycles for clients, or do they have to bring their own? Also, how does one pick the perfect bike for one of your trips? I suppose durability must be the number one criteria…?
Everyone must bring his or her own bike. It is a long trip from top to bottom of Africa and you need to be comfortable with your bike. The perfect bike is the one you choose. We recommend a light steel bike that can take wider tires, preferably a hard tail mountain bike, but a cyclocross bike or a touring bike will do as well. It depends on your style and desire for comfort. After all you will spend a lot of time on your bike.
For reference read ‘Choosing a Bike for Long Distance Touring’.
If you had to summarise your Tour d’Afrique in numbers, what would they be? Total number of participants for instance, number of flat tyres, couples that met on the trip (and who are still happily married today), amount of dust “ingested” (or inhaled), potholes, “zebra crossings”, etc. 🙂
121 days, 12,076 km, 363 meals, and 70,000 meters climbing
Longest stage 207 km
Longest riding week – 8 days straight without a rest
Biggest single climb is the Blue Nile Gorge = 20 km gaining 1360 m
Cycling is a great way to connect with nature and local culture. Are there any unusual wildlife encounters you might want to share? Or any other funny anecdotes worth mentioning…
Africa is a great place to witness wild animals and there is no greater joy if you are an animal lover than to see wild animals run in front or beside you while you are on a bike. On our trips to Africa that happens often. We also have unexpected events such as coming across a snake while camping. These are great experiences and are usually harmless.
But I think what you want to hear is about my run in with a wild elephant while I was on a bike. That did not happen in Africa but rather in India. You can read about it both in a blog I wrote few days after the accident and an article I published in the Globe and Mail.
I am truly very fortunate to simply be alive. But a day after I left hospital still patched up and looking a mess I was on Indian television defending the elephant as the problem was not him but rather humanity encroaching on his/her territory, and I happened to be there when he or she were spooked by a passing car who honked at him/her.
Besides being a successful businessman and avid adventurer, you also produce documentary films and are actively involved in various charitable endeavors. What can you tell us about “Burden on the Land” for instance, or the “Plant a Tree in Africa” concept?
Burden on The Land documentary resulted from my frustrations to explain to people I knew and others who were interested why and how famine happened, and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to development projects in Africa. We put a lot of time into this project and filmed in eight African countries. It was also a great learning experience for me. I watched the film again recently after 25 years and I think it explains the challenges of Africa and other places very well.
The Plant a Tree in Africa was a fundraiser to plant trees in Africa. It worked very well and the NGO I was running used that for many years after I was gone. The NGO used the money and money from other sources to plant over 60 million trees mainly in Ethiopia but in other countries as well. Planting trees of course is the best way to sink carbon dioxide and neutralize climate warming.
Today, what once seemed a mere dream has now come to reality. Your company is growing by leaps and bounds, and your transcontinental cycling expeditions not only operate in Africa, but also – and this is a world first – on 5 other continents (and in over 60 countries in total). What other tours do you run, and what do you believe is key to your success?
We now run tours on every continent, some like the South American Epic and the Silk Route are even longer and perhaps even tougher than the Tour d’Afrique, some are shorter and easier, such as the North American Epic, the Trans Europa, Trans Oceania and the Bamboo Route.
We also offer shorter trips from 5 weeks to 9 weeks such as La Ruta Maya, The 8th Continent (Madagascar) and the Orient Express. Our newest tour is The Last Degree, an 18 days cycle on the Antarctic continent.
I think the key to our success has been simply in providing a way to allow average individuals to have life changing adventures. I believe all we do is enable individual cyclists do something that they simply would never undertake by themselves. We provide the structure for them to cycle and enjoy the world, interact with locals in an unscripted way and explore.
Ultimately, what’s the next step for TDA Global Cycling in the near future?
We keep adding wonderful new tours. For example in 2017 we are adding a new tour in Europe, which will start in Athens and end in Amsterdam. We call it the Olympic Route because we will be cycling across many cities that have hosted summer and winter Olympics.
We are also planning another trip in Africa in 2018 that will start in Dakar and end in Cape Town. And there are many other ideas in the air. I think there are many opportunities for cycling as a sport and adventure.
Any final thoughts for readers who might be inspired to start their own venture?
I am a firm believer that if you have an idea and the desire then just go for it. Do not be afraid. On a recent South American Tour one of the participants – a very successful individual – while we were having a drink in a bar said to me: “Henry, I figured out what is the secret of your success.” I was eager to hear it as I told him that I had no idea. He said simply “you are not afraid to fail”. I laughed but later on I thought about it and I think he just may be right, though I would not have put it that way.
I think everything you do in life has a value and I think we all learn more from things that do not work out than from things that work out. I just do not think one should look at anything as a failure but rather as: OK, so this did not work so what I will do next that will work the way I would like it to work. So bottom line, just go for it and if you did not get the result you wanted move on. It is called living. (My actual motto before Nike started using it was Just Do It.)
Fabulous, there’s actually another motto along the same lines that I particularly like, and it’s “impossible is nothing” (from Adidas). Because in “impossible” there’s “I’m possible”! 😉
Thank you so much for your time, it was a real pleasure to learn from your rich life experience! and keep up the fabulous work! 🙂
For more info on Henry Gold or to join one of his epic tours, visit the TDA Global Cycling website.