lunes, 20 de febrero de 2012

From Cairo to Cape Town - A Home To Head For by Eric Olverson

A Home To Head For is something of a marathon, not for the reader, but for the author, Eric Olverson. To be accurate, Eric’s tale is significantly more than a literal marathon, about twelve thousand kilometres more, in fact, because Eric’s tale describes how he cycled the length of Africa.

Tour d’Afrique (TDA for short) is an outfit that assists those wanting to cycle a long way – a very long way. Starting in Cairo, Egypt, their route heads south via Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia before reaching its destination of Cape Town in South Africa. Eric Olverson’s handlebar-mounted computer recorded a distance of 12,009 kilometres – including a detour or lost route or two along the way – which, in any language or circumstance, is a long way. It’s even further when much of it is across desert, or on dirt roads strewn with stones and pocked with potholes. In Eric’s case, the achievement goes way beyond even this.

Eric embarked upon the four month endeavour at the age of 59, having recently been seriously ill with bacterial meningitis and having lost bladder function as a result, causing him to require the use of catheters. If such facts are offered as detail, one must conclude that Eric must have been intensely motivated even to consider the challenge of cycling the length of Africa. And the fact that the motivation was to assist something outside of an unrelated to himself adds sincere respect to the awe felt at his achievement.

The motivation came from a desire to raise funds for a children’s home called Thamsanqa in Motherwell in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Eric visited in 2008, was impressed with what he saw and resolved to assist. Already a keen cyclist, a devotee of the mountain roads near his home in Spain, Eric latched onto the idea of a sponsored bike ride. And it’s not many of those that cover 12,000 kilometres! So, along with numerous other enthusiasts, and under the assisting wing of TDA, a company specialising in such cycling “holidays”, Eric set off from Cairo in a generally southerly direction.

The trip was organised so that the riders covered up to 200 kilometres a day, were generally fed from a support vehicle that preceded them and camped in recognised camp sites, sometimes associated with small hotels. Eric Olverson’s book, A Home To Head For, and his blog, ericonhisbike, are accounts of his trip. Indeed, anyone buying the book also donates to the Thamsanqa orphanage.

A Home To Head For is not a travel book. Nor is it a description of Africa as experienced as it was cycled. Neither, really, is it aimed at the cycling enthusiast keen to learn the detail of the challenge. In some ways it is more than any if these. The book is a tale of determination, Eric´s insistence on completing the task to the best of his ability. That he rarely allows doubt or low moments into the text is merely a reflection of how focused he remained on his challenge.

There was elation at the end, but relief too. Eventually, Eric was not one of the racers, but neither was he one of the tourists. By Cape Town, the reader has appreciated how much how much he wanted to do this trip and the determination he felt to see it through to completion. Don’t expect philosophising or much reflection, since in the four months there seemed to be little time for either. But do expect to feel the effort, even from your armchair, because Eric’s writing does communicate the experience. It was some achievement, and for a good cause.

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