It All Began in Egypt: Cycling a Continent

Written By: The Planet D

As we speak, we are in Egypt speaking at a travel conference. Nearly 4 years ago to the day, we are back in the country that changed our lives. It was in 2008 that our entire adventure began and ThePlanetD was born when we flew into Egypt for the start of the Tour d’Afrique.

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. All we knew was that we had made a New Years Resolution to change our lives and cycling down the continent of Africa seemed like a good start.

The Tour d’Afrique is a 12,000 km cycling race from Cairo to Cape Town. One year after making our New Years resolution toast, we found ourselves in Africa to follow through on that epic promise to ourselves.

Little did we know that we’d still be on the road 4 years later fulfilling our dream of becoming full time adventurers?

It Wasn’t Easy

cycling-egypt
Cycling in Egypt

The TDA was one of the most difficult experiences of our lives. We went into this race with high expectations; to win, and to achieve EFI (cycling Every Fabulous Inch) In the end, we ended up accomplishing both. Deb was women’s champion and Dave ended up in the EFI Club.

Simplicity

To this Day, Dave still says that cycling Africa was the best experience of his life. Sure it was difficult, but he loved the simplicity of waking up day in day out for 4 months knowing that the only thing on his agenda was to make it to camp waiting somewhere between 120km to 200km later before the sun went down.  We thrived on riding his bike and entering a state of complete meditation while riding through the ever-changing African landscape.

Contrast

navigating roads in ethiopa
navigating the non-existent roads in Ethiopia

To this day, Deb still says that it was the most difficult and miserable experience of her life. Each day was a struggle as she pushed her body beyond its limits for a solid 4 months. Alienated from the other female riders who didn’t understand her need for achieving success and drive to ride as hard and as fast as she could, she felt emotional and frustrated from beginning to end.

Together as a Couple

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Cycling Together in Harmony by Namibia

Luckily we had each other to rely on and Dave sacrificed much of his total overall race time to help Deb make it to the finish line each day. You see the top 4 spots were clearly locked up. With a category 1 racer, a Canadian Iron Man, Switzerland’s Mountain Bike Champion and The former coach of the Finland National Cycling Team taking part in this year’s race, there was little chance barring an absolute catastrophe that Dave could overtake these career cyclists. Instead he decided to focus on the EFI club. By slowing down his pace a bit to stay with Deb, we could ensure staying healthy and strong giving him better odds of cycling every inch of the continent. He never had a sick day, a bike malfunction, a need to step on the truck or hitch a ride, and he always made it in before sun down.

Many people didn’t and each time we took a ride on the support truck if we were racers, we received a 12-hour penalty added to our total overall times.

The Race Explained

Ethiopian-racing-team
The Ethiopian Racing Team Joins Us for a Leg

The Tour d’Afrique was a stage race. Each morning we all left camp at our leisure. The stronger racers slept in and left later while the other riders left at daybreak to be sure to make it in before sunset. The time it took you to get from one camp to the next was recorded and accumulated each day. The person with the shortest time at the end of Africa won.

The beginning was tough.

We had trained hard for a year, riding up to 400 km per week, taking spinning classes and hot yoga, enrolling in a bicycle mechanics course and working out with weights but nothing could prepare us for the absolute torture of sitting in the saddle for 8 hours a day.

It took 1 month before I could finally get on my bike without having the pain take my breath away.

Day 1

sphinx-egypt
The Start of the Race at the Sphinx in Egypt

The fist day of the Tour d’Afrique began at the Pyramids of Giza and we were feeling confident. We had trained hard and we felt prepared for this moment. Our group of 60 people had the pyramids to ourselves and men were just arriving with their camels and horses to take people on tour. We took our starting photo at the base of the pyramids and then stopped at the Sphinx to admire its splendor. One last glance and we were heading down the continent for the next 120 days.

The day was brisk and we started off slow with a police escort stopping cars and helping to navigate through the dense traffic. We weaved through the city until we finally reached the highway and everyone started to break away.

The pace of the leading cyclists was furious.

tour d'afrique 2008
Representing Canada in the Tour d’Afrique

Thinking we were prepared, we held on to the lead group for as long as we could. My lungs heaved and my legs burned and I wondered how I could possibly keep this up.

I couldn’t

It didn’t take long before I hit the wall and soon I had fallen far back from the pack. I had about 100 km to go by the time I reached lunch and it was there that I reconnected with Dave and a few other cyclists. It seemed that today was taking its toll on everyone.

Traditionally the first day out of Cairo on the Tour d’Afrique has always had a strong tailwind but during our tour, we had killer head winds. Some people joined forces to form a peloton, but Dave and I were so exhausted from trying to keep up with the racers at the beginning of the day, we couldn’t even try to stay with the middle pack.

So we pushed on alone

cycling africa
Alone as Usual While Cycling through Africa

We talked each other through and pushed on throughout the next few agonizing hours. We were in dire straights. If we didn’t make it to camp before sunrise we would lose our chances for EFI on the first day! Our hopes would be dashed before they even had the chance to begin.

The sun started to set and we weren’t exactly sure how far we were from our campsite. During this tour we were given a hand drawn map to follow with estimated mileage. We couldn’t be sure of exact calculations. Camp could always fluctuate up to 20 km from where they said it would be. It all depended on how the driver felt and where the support trucks could find a safe and secure place to park.

Finish Line in Sight

finish line tour d'afrique
The finish line that we saw at the end of each day

Imagine our elation when we saw the finish line flag just minutes before the sun went down.

We had finished our first day. We were exhausted, scared and overwhelmed with the task at hand, but we had made it through the first day and like so many other situations in Africa and beyond, we could only do it because we had each other. We didn’t have any time to celebrate though, we had to set up camp.

tent and bikes for camping and cycling through Africa
Our camp looked like this each night

It turned out that 1/3 of the riders lost their EFI that day. Many people had to be picked up throughout the day by our support vehicles and many others decided not to push on after lunch.

We were happy we did, but for the next 5 days leading up to our rest day in Luxor, we suffered greatly.

Our butts never stopped hurting, our legs never stopped burning, we felt the fatigue and aches and pains that come along with sleeping in a cold desert with nothing to keep you safe from the wind but the thin nylon tent and a small sleeping bag and because we had spent 2 weeks seeing the sights in Cairo before hand, we were both suffering from an infectious cough brought on by the pollution of the city.

  • Are we glad we did it?
  • You betchya!
  • Did it get easier.
  • Yes. By the time we reached Zambia, we were cycling strong and could even stick with the peloton. Dave was keeping up to the top riders with ease and I was getting into camp only a half hour or so after the top finishing guys.

We started to look like athletes and ride like professionals. We no longer cringed at steep hills or desert sands and a 200 km day wasn’t terrifying.

cycling-peloton-namibia
Cycling in the Peloton by the time we got to the end

We grew mentally and physically and while it was tough, we never would be where we are today if we didn’t take that chance and make that toast on New Years eve just a few years ago.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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13 thoughts on “It All Began in Egypt: Cycling a Continent”

  1. Whoa – you guys are hardcore. I love cycling, but only recreationally. I don’t understand the need to press my self as you did. I respect it, but two hours on a bike is enough for me. I’d never keep up with you. More power to you!

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  2. Wow guys, that is an absolutely incredible story! Thanks for sharing it – I’m new to ThePlantD and had no idea how it had all come about. I guess by the end you felt you could achieve anything!
    I’m not a cyclist myself, and neither is my wife, but last year we completed the Bibbulman Track in Western Australia. It’s a 1,000km hiking trail following old aboriginal migration routes, from Perth on the west coast all the way down to Albany on the south. It took us two months, and we had a similar experience in terms of how tough it was at the start – we hadn’t trained for it, sort of showed up to our free planning meeting and said ‘Yeah, we’re going tomorrow…”
    Finishing it was so.. exhilarating, we both had that feeling of invulnerability. There’s nothing quite like it, which is why we’re doing the same walk again in a couple of months, having come back to Western Australia to live.
    I’m looking forward to it and dreading it in equal measure!
    Hope you have a great time in Egypt. Maybe do the journey by felucca this time… :0)
    Best wishes,
    Tony

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  3. Excellent to hear that. I love inspiring people to go somewhere new. That’s how we find our next destination, from other travels.
    debndave

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  4. This is so beautiful and inspiring. What an adventure! I really want to do something like this soon. Congrats to both of you for following your dreams and making an amazing life for yourselves. I always love reading your stories. xxx

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  5. You guys are very inspiring! I definitely have that listed in my bucket list, would love to experience cycling a continent with people like you. I couldn’t imagine cycling through the busy traffic of Egypt, I bet that was a challenge! Would you do it again though?

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    • Thanks Rania, You are right, the traffic was overwhelming. We were run off the road a couple of times by speeding buses, but we got used to it:) And it was the best way to see Egypt, we met so many amazing people. The Egyptians are some of the most welcoming people we have met.

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  6. Amazing, but it just shows me how different people are. In my case, nothing could justify subjecting myself to such pain and discomfort, unless I absolutely had to, for one reason or another, and then I’d just bite the bullet and find the strength to do it.

    Still, lovely post and loved reading it.

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    • You are right Denise. People are definitely different. It was a tough and epic trip to say the least, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I may not do it again, but I am so happy that we experienced something that pushed us to the limits and showed us what we were made of. We really learned a lot about ourselves and it really is what started our travels and made us into what we are today. I don’t blame you though for not wanting to do something like this, I think you have to be a little bit crazy to decide to cycle a continent. :-)Thanks for stopping by.

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    • Haha, that is definitely something that we should post. Dave lost over 40 pounds during that ride. He was way too skinny by the end.

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  7. Dave/Deb, a few weeks ago I came back from 6 weeks in Africa overlanding from Cape Town to Nairobi and fell in love with the continent. I could NEVER imagine doing something like you did but after reading this post and knowing how much love I have for Africa, I think I might cautiously add this to my bucket list!

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    • Hi Toni, I’m so glad that you love Africa too. It is amazing being back in Egypt right now revisiting the place that started our full time travel career. We’re looking forward to coming back to the continent a couple more times this year too.

      Reply