The Guinness goes to Ralph!
TDA Founder, Henry Gold with Masai friend in Tanzania. 2003
I'd like to congratulate Ralph Tuijn for breaking the Guinness World Record for the fastest human powered crossing of Africa – a record we established in 2003.
This occasion brings back a lot of memories.
When Michael de Jong and I first thought of doing a bicycle crossing of Africa from Cairo to Cape Town, we were mostly discouraged by friends and acquaintances from doing this. It seemed 'crazy', 'not doable' – both for the challenges real and imagined, as well as for the geopolitics involved.
There were sections in certain countries that governments simply did not allow individual vehicles, let alone cyclists, to travel through. In Southern Egypt and Northern Kenya, vehicles were only allowed to travel in convoys once or twice a day. I can still see the shocked faces of those 40 busloads of tourists on a 250km section from Aswan to Abu Simble (yes, that was part of the tour Ralph did not cycle) gawking at us on the road as they passed each and every one of us, merrily cycling on an eerily silent ride through the Sahara – silent, except for the rumble of the convoy.
Back then, other areas such as Northern Sudan were mostly sandy roads, if you could call them that. Doing 60 km on those roads was like doing 200-300km on a paved road. One could only describe the road from Gedaref in Sudan to Addis Ababa as anguish. Today of course, these sections have beautiful new pavement.
More important was the psychological barrier. When we first announced the tour in The Globe and Mail we received a spate of outraged emails accusing us of being charlatans (who just wanted to grab peoples' money and run) and irresponsible adventurists who, bordering on suicidal, would at best need rescuing
So it's a great pleasure now to see that we were neither mad nor irresponsible and to watch others, desiring to stretch themselves, have an adventure and break their own limits, follow in our tracks. Because to me that is what crossing continents is all about. It's not about records. It's about testing yourself, getting out of your comfort zone, experiencing the unknown challenges, stopping and chatting
with the locals when you take a wrong turn. It is about tasting new foods, meeting new people, discovering new cultures and yes, pushing yourself when you think you can't anymore.
We went for the original Guinness Record because we had set ourselves a goal to cover Africa in 120 days and thought it would be fun. And while we accomplished that, we accomplished much, much more.
Ralph did the same. He gave himself a goal and he accomplished it.
I invite everyone to get on a bike, cross a continent, cross a country, cross a state or province or simply crisscross your own city. You and the rest of the world will be better for it.
Congratulations to Ralph, but congratulations to everyone who takes the time to see the world from a seat of a bike.
Cheers and thanks too Ralph, for reminding those of us who have done the Tour d'Afrique, what wonderful adventures we've all had crossing Africa.