My husband and I met in 2008 at a bush bar in West Africa. Justin and I chatted over Jack and Cokes (since the beer list consisted of Heineken and something called Bear Beer), and the rest is history. If you are wondering, I did try Bear Beer several times and each time resulted in a crazy story and a stomach ache. We returned to Africa (this time, Tanzania) for our honeymoon in 2011 and as soon as I stepped off the plane it felt like coming home.
The author is looking forward to the varied terrain she will ride in Africa. Photo courtesy of Tour d’Afrique.
I’ve always thought about ways to combine my tourism degree, event planning experience, years in the bicycle industry, and to put them to use in Africa. Tour d’Afrique was the answer. Tour d’Afrique is a bicycle expedition company based in Toronto with tours in over 60 countries on six continents. I discovered them a couple years ago during a random Google search and then met one of the TDA crew at an event this past May. We got to talking and he encouraged me to apply for a staff position. Lo and behold, my husband supported my crazy idea and wanted to join me.
On January 10 we will pedal out of Khartoum, Sudan, toward our final destination of Cape Town, South Africa. The entire trip will be four months and total 12,500km. I’m still working on my conversion skills, but I think it is pretty far. My homework for the next month is figuring out how this metric thing works otherwise I won’t know how far I’m going or how I should dress.
Transafrican riders make camp in Sudan. Photo courtesy of Tour d’Afrique.
My position with the 2014 Tour d’Afrique will be Assistant Tour Director and Communications Officer. So I will be the one with the tablet, smart phone, digital camera, and GoPro keeping everyone connected with the cool things we are experiencing! I’m still deciding what type of bag to bring to house my portable Best Buy. I was also thinking, as an added bonus, I could run spa services out of my tent on rest days. Mango and papaya facial anyone?
One of the staff duties includes riding sweep, which should be ideal for my snail pace. Here’s to hoping the slowest rider won’t be faster than me! I was focused on completing 100 miles per week in the late summer and fall but since the weather plummeted, so did my training. I have been taking bootcamp fitness classes and psyching myself up to get on the trainer to prepare. Aside from showing up for a four month bike tour with my winter physique I will also be plucked from the Pennsylvania winter to the Sudanese desert which can be well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Talk about some adjustments! I guess I will have to ride myself into shape and pack a lot of sunscreen!
I have been getting a few gravel grind rides in so as to break in my new bike, which was built by my dad, Stephen Bilenky (of course!) She is most definitely Artistry in Steel and was outfitted in part by our generous friends at White Industries and DT Swiss. The bike is a little touring, a little cyclocross, a little mountain, and all parts awesome! I can’t wait to ride it in Africa! Too bad this amazing bike doesn’t have the power to make me more coordinated. I need to be super focused, as I’ve been known to swerve at the sight of cute animals.
Bina and her father Stephen Bilenky pose with the bike he built for her African adventure.
Speaking of animals, the wildlife is what I am most excited about. Our safari in Tanzania was amazing and I can’t imagine how much more so it will be from the Brooks coconut shell I call my saddle. People have asked me if I’m nervous about encountering a lion on the tour but I have full confidence that any animal in the feline family would sense the unmistakable cat-lady-ness I exude and wouldn’t lay a paw on me. Although I would love to touch a lion paw. And I won’t get started on smelling cat bellies. If you never have, you should.
Riding a bicycle allows you to experience the world at a reduced speed. More sights, sounds and (sometimes unfortunately) smells are captured from the seat of your bicycle and I’m so excited to experience Africa in this way. I cannot wait for all the new foods, although I’m sure my stomach is dreading it. I’ve thought about ways to combat that maybe diapers or just a strategically placed flap in my cycling shorts? On the topic of cycling clothing, JL Velo has designed a fantastic kit for me. It’s not the official Tour d’Afrique jersey but I wanted to be able to rep the tour before I receive my TDA jersey at the finish in Cape Town. I have also stopped shaving my legs so as to get used to myself with a less aerodynamic appearance. On the days when water is scarce for bathing I know I will opt to wash my face rather than rid my legs of hair. Who am I kidding anyway shaving will not make me any faster.
Although there is still a lot of research to do before I leave I made sure to ask the most important question. What will the tea situation be? Luckily they boil water every morning for tea (and coffee) so looks like I will survive after all. The next thing to consider is whether I should stock up on tea before I fly or wing it. Yes, tea deserves its own paragraph. I could go on much longer about my thoughts on tea but that’s a story for another day. I am pretty impressed that I was able to write just over 1000 words and include my love of cats and tea snobbery. Success!
In all seriousness, I am ever so grateful for the opportunity to experience nine African countries from the seat of my bicycle with my husband and 50 other adventurous souls. Traveling inspires me, and I look forward to sharing my stories with the Philadelphia cycling community.
Bina grinds the gravel in preparation for the her trip.