Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tour D'Afrique- some of my best memories & moments were off the bike

"Africa is raw adventure- , You just have to release your 'safety net', put yourself out there, and you are guaranteed to begin to really experience Africa, to interact with the people. You almost can't go wrong, where ever you go. Just get out there and experience it!"

Perhaps the most important statement I heard while traveling across Africa.......

The above statement was made by Henry Gold, president & director of Tour Dafrique ltd. Henry has extensive,deep connections & experiences in Africa, having started, directed,and operated CANPAR, a Canadian NGO aid organization Africa, some 20 years ago.

The Tour D'Afrique is primarily a cycling trip across Africa. While the cycling has been challenging & great, some of my best moments & memories are of experiences that happened off the bike........

For me, it was when the riding is done for the day, & there is a mountain or hill near the campsite that many of the amazing experiences occurred. It may be a brief exchange between a startled cattle or sheep herder, way up in the hills that does it. It may be the awesome, amazing vistas one is rewarded with for making the ascent. It may be the cool, refreshing breeze at the summit on a very hot day. On the other hand, it could be the kids that ran beside you in the Kilimanjaro Marathon, Kilimanjaro suddenly looming majesticaly way abvove you, as you run past the 9 kilometer mark on Marathon day. The sweet sounds of singing from the churches along the marathon route in Moshi. Looking back down at Moshi and the surounding Tanzanian countryside from the Summit of Kilimanjaro, a few days after the marathon. Crunching through fresh snow in bitterly cold temperatures near the summit. Marvelling at the magnificent glacierfields on the summit crater.

The kids looking up from tending their goats, waving at you. The mothers and young children waving from the doorway of their modest dwelling. Bargaining for bananas at the corner fruit stand,where the locals buy their fruit. Asking some kids, in the middle of no where, which way back to the main road. You can bet they have never seen, nor will likely ever see again, a white guy running by, clad in a white dry fit top and black lycra running shorts!

Then there were the 2 guys we met , way up in the Ethiopian Hills> A fellow cyclist and I were returning to our campsite, following a failed summit bid (it was getting late and we ran out of time). In broken English, they insisted we follow them, and kept mentioning something about some letters on something. We were getting very late for dinner. Although we tried to leave them, they strongly insisted we follow them. Our thoughts turned to the possibility of us becoming a human sacrifice, but curiosity got the better of us and we followed them. Down the mountainside, across dried up corn fields, towards a large concentration of grass huts. Shortly thereafter, they pointed to a large chunk of stone sitting, partially exposed in the bank of a dry riverbed. Sure enough, there were the letters, carved into the stone tablet, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years ago. It was amazing! We took pictures and made a diagram of the symbols carved into the stone block. We were both amazed and dumbfounded by what we had just experienced. We felt a bit like Indiana Jones, except we could not read the hieroglyphic like text..

Another amazing find off the beaten track was the ancient stepped agriculture sites way up in the Ethiopian hills, and a 'lost city' type collection of over 200 grass huts-resembling a 'lost city', at the crest of a very remote and hidden ridge top, way up in the Choke mountains.

Waking across the simmering desert to a tiny "town' in Sudan, to try and buy a warm coke, and look at a heard of Camels ready to go to auction. Making a soccer ball out of old discarded inner tubes and duct tape, and watching the anticipation and delight at the crowd of kids eagerly awaiting the new creation. Visiting an ancient monastery in Ethiopia, where the monks still carry on the traditional ways, some even living in cliff side caves. Seeing the large cooking buildings where big round loaves of rich dark brown bread is made over traditional wood fired ovens, the bread being one of the staples in the monks diet.

Visiting the riverside of the famous Nile river and going in for a refreshing dip.
Walking to the famous Victoria falls, and getting absolutely drenched. At 1.7 kilometers long, a truly amazing sight, and one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.
Walking along a beach on the Red sea, or, on the other side of the continent, along the Atlantic Ocean in South Africa. Walking to the edge of the Blue Nile Gorge, or the Fish river Canyon, and peering down into the depths as the sun sets.

Often adventure and beauty were 'just across the road', as was found in the deserts of Egypt. Beautiful, golden sand and gravel hills, as far as the eye could see, dramatically changing in appearance as the sun set in the distance. To those that made the effort to take a walk away from our daily campsites were richly rewarded. Their African experience was greatly enhanced. All they had to do was step outside the the perceived safety of camp. Unfortunately, the vast majority of TDA tour cyclists rarely ventured out of camp, and missed out on a great many awesome sights and experiences.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

BIKE NOTES- Which kind is best for the TDA?

There is no perfect bike for the Tour D'afrique.

Tour organizers can change the route at will, so what works well one year may not be the hot set up the next. Facts are facts, however, and we encountered many areas where road work was ongoing, often aided by the Chinese. In 2008, over 80% of the riding was on tarmac (paved roads). Some of the tarmac was very rough. Some stretches were littered with huge, bike eating potholes for kilometers at a time. Pavement is pavement however, and you need a bike that cruises comfortably on pavement for days and weeks on end...

Expedition Riders;

Bring a bike you know, and are very comfortable with.

If you bring a mountain bike-
Pick one that is not too heavy

Pick one that has a 'lockout' feature for the front suspension fork, if yours has front shocks.
Bring a selection of good quality tires, from big wide knobby off road tires to a mid range durable on/off road tire to free rolling slicks.

Consider bringing a 'Cyclocross' type bike, which incorporates a wide range of gears on a 'road bike' type frame, but accepts a very wide range of tires for the rough off road sections- this makes for a good all-around bike. You won't have as much 'fun' on the off road sections as the mountain bikers, but you will be far more efficient and miles ahead, with less energy expended, on the pavement- faster, more comfortable,and more efficient.

The above bike is critical if you are a racer.
One racer utilized a very light,fast carbon fiber mountain bike, with front suspension on the 2008 tour.
While he was a gifted rider and very successful in the race (second place overall), his frame did break, necessitating the shipment in of a new frame3/4 off the way through the tour.

The prefer ed bike for overall use is the Specialized brand Cyclocross bike. This is the bike that has won first place in the tour 2 years running. It is a proven design. Light and strong.
Consider this bike first and foremost.

Only bring a mountain bike if you are used to that type of bike and more comfortable on it.
Remember, you will be on your bike for 4 to 7 or 8 hours, daily, depending on how fast you ride, and how many coke stops you take. So you bike must be comfortable, and in excellent working condition.


Cyclocross bikes; one set of strong, wide off road tires
two sets of 700 x 28 tough, puncture resistant tires for all conditions
one set 700 x 23 schwalbe stelvio plus tires for smooth tarmac roads

bring tubes for each size, as well as a well stocked patch kit

The common consensus among 2008 TDA riders is that the Schwalbe brand of tires stood up best, lasted the longest, with the least amount of punctures.

Be very careful riding in and out of campsites/lunch stops There are loads of thorns and other spiky vegetation that easily attaches to the rubber of bike tires & causes flats galore, and frustrated riders.

Consider carrying your bike in/out of camp sites.
CHECK your tires for thorns once you get your bike to the road, BEFORE you start riding.
KEEP your tires inflated to the proper recommended pressures.

KEEP your chain clean and lubed, clean your bike daily and check for wear/tear and loose components.

BRING a camel back, but rear racks and backpacks are unnecessary, add extra weight, and often break or rattle loose.

HAVE a great ride, and enjoy the experience of a lifetime!

For those contenplating riding in future Tour D'Afriques

Cycling across Africa is an amazing, challenging adventure. Your body, mind & spirit will be put to the test in ways you can not imagine. The rewards are many for those who commit. You will be a better person for the experience. You will see many unique, wonderful, amazing things daily that very few people ever see. But, alas, the Tour d'Afrique is not for everybody.

For those signed up or contemplating taking up the challenge;


You approach each day with an open mind, ready for each new experience, be it a good or bad one.

You like adventure for adventures sake, and look forward to each days ride, no matter what the distance, terrain or weather conditions.

You are prepared to set up, pull down, and sleep in your tent on all types of ground, in all types of weather conditions, for 120 days straight.

You don't mind going a week or more without a shower (even then its usually a cold one),
even though you sweat buckets each day. (A water bottle shower and baby wipes do the trick)

You don't get flustered when you are setting up your tent in an Ethiopian cow pasture,and suddenly find yourself surrounded by 60 inquisitive, staring children, each one armed with
armed with a long wooden staff.

You are an experienced to hardcore on or off road cyclist, or a seasoned adventure traveller.

You don't expect the service, amenities, or basics to be anything like they are in the western world. You realize and understand that Africa moves to a different beat.

You are happy to overjoyed when you find a shack that sells warm cokes on a very hot day.

You get along well with people, and don't mind if your tent is right next to the other 60 tents,
just hoping that the person next to you doesn't snore.

You realize how truly lucky you are to be in Africa.

You realize how truly lucky you are to ride in the most amazing/wonderful, challenging bike race/expedition in the world.

Don't expect a cushy, glamorous overland truck ride across the continent.

If you are not prepared to ride each day *(barring illness or injury), don't go.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Cape Town, South Africa

Amid the fanfare of a full brass band and cheering well wishers, the 2008 Tour D'afrique finished in style on Saturday at the trendy waterfront district of Cape Town. Leading the peloton were the top 3 men's race winners, including local businessman, Chris Wille, who cycled his way to Third place, overall.

"It's the worlds longest and toughest bike race. I am honored and grateful to have been able to ride/race the whole way. To take 3rd place, overall, against some very tough competitors was very sweet!" Chris said. "What an experience; over 3 hundred hours of racing, contested over 85 stages, more than 10,400 kilometers, nine countries, crossing the African continent, from top to bottom- simply an amazing, wonderful experience. Truly the opportunity of a lifetime!" He added. " It's the best placing by a Canadian in quite some time."

Neither the cold temperatures or drizzle could keep the huge smiles off the finishers faces.
It was a festive, colorful atmosphere at the waterfront amphitheater. "WE are very proud of all our race participants and expedition riders" said Tour d'afrique owner and founder, Henry Gold. "These guys gave it their all, day after day, under some very trying conditions, starting at the Great Pyramids in Cairo on January 12th."

Post race celebrations to follow, and perhaps a well deserved rest!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


To all friends,family and interested persons;
Contrary to my hopes, computers and internet have been in scarce supply since leaving Windhoek,Namibia.

We are currently 4 riding days away from Capetown.

I have many stories & pictures to share and post.

Between racing and the lack of computers/internet, all further posts will have to wait until cape town.

In brief; I will be in 3rd place overall for the whole race, best ever finish by a canadian in quite some time.

We have (to date) cycled over 10,000kilometers.

Our total elevation gain for the tour (total meters climbed) is over 60,000meters, or 7.5 times up Mt Everest, starting from sea level.!!

We have cycled through 9 countries, and flown over 1 (kenya)

The trip has been awesome. I am truely grateful for the opportunity.

For more info about end of tour ceremonies/celebrations/awards, please refer to the tda website...

Rumour has it many ambassadors from various countries will be in attendance.......

Please be patient, much more to follow in the days ahead.

Thanks for your interest, Chris Wille in South Africa, Near Lamberts Bay

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Saturday, April 26th;

The 3rd in a series of very successful bicycle donations in Africa was held today in Windhoek, Namibia. Billed as "Chris Wille's bike donation", this event featured the donation of 68 bicycles to 3 separate, very deserving recipients, ranging from a refugee camp located in Namibia, which houses thousands of refuges from other countries, to a local tuberculosis aid society, to a youth at risk group. The donations were well received, and very much needed. speeches were made by representatives from the TDA, the recipient organizations, and myself. It is humbling to hear how something as simple as a bicycle can and does change people's lives for the better.
a huge thank you to family and friends who kindly made donations to the tune of $6800.00

The donation ceremony was made possible by the hard work of one Michael Linke, an amazing person who has done wonders for the distribution of bikes, the training of local people in each local area to service and repair the bikes, a outstanding bicycle ambulance building and distribution program and a host of other good things. Michael is the founder of BEN, Namibia.
BEN stands for bicycle empowerment network. Please Google BEN, and BEN, Namibia, for more info on the amazing projects this group has on the go.

Pictures of the donation will be posted as soon as they are available...

As for the Tour....We have just recently arrived in Windhoek, Namibia. This signals the end of the latest section, called the Elephant highway. A few lucky riders saw elephants along this section, but all the racers saw was horses, goats, sheep, cows, and lots and lots of Armoured crickets...I was lucky to ride well and stay relatively healthy (How healthy can one really be riding over 160 kilometers (one hundred miles) at high speed day after day?) , and placed second overall in this section. I also am very fortunate to retain 3rd place overall in the whole race, the best placing by a Canadian in quite some time...

Nights have been cold in the Kalahari, prompting riders to bundle up in the morning, something we have not had to do sine crossing the Sahara in Sudan. Luckily, the temperatures warm up quickly after the sun has been up for a while. This makes for very pleasant cycling temperatures after the initial morning chill. On a recent day when we had to cover 207 kilometres, riders were horrified to find ice on their saddles. Many began to seriously debate the global warming theory at that point...

One section (the diamond coast), about 2,000 kilometers, and less than 2 weeks separate us from our arrival in Cape town, and the end of our remarkable 4 month journey across the African Continent. Its' been great.....More stories and pictures to follow...

Chris Wille in Windhoek, Namibia.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A tale of Armoured crickets,yellow goo, and bike donations

Armoured crickets? What next...? They are all over the A-3 Botswana highway we have been travelling. Big, black, six legs, ugly! Since the city of Maun, Botswana these icky creatures crawl out and converge on the tarmac by the millions. Most riders try and avoid running over them. Some sadistic cyclists, however have made it a sport of running over as many as they can. A sickening crunch sound ensues, and then a splatter of yellow goo all over their tire and front down tube- sick!! It's amazing how many of these creatures there are per kilometer..very creepy! 19 days left on the tour, and we wonder what is next!!

The swirling winds and cool temperatures we have experienced so far across the vast Kalahari have done little to slow the racer peloton down as we travel west towards Namibia. We will arrive in Windhoek, Namibia in 3 days. There, on Saturday, April 26Th, a large bike donation will take place. These bikes are badly needed by african aids healthcare workers, and represent the total number bikes that I have fund raised for. Thank you to all that have donated, and to those that may wish to donate; please contact the TDA office in Toronto via phone or e mail, and mention my name.

Cheers for now, Chris Wille ( stage winner today!) on the 2008 TDA.