In August 1991, Dan and I set off from Andover in Hampshire for our adventure. Before we pushed off from our parents' house, we had been packing our stuff up onto our bikes in the garden.
My girlfriend (now wife) had designed t-shirts for us to wear emblazoned with the title 'The Hawkins Tour' across the top and a map of Africa below with our route dotted along the continent.
At one point, the local reporter and her photographer came along to interview us and take some pictures. It was a quite a frantic morning before we finally set off.
But, we did not see the outcome of the interview with the press until we returned a year later. Although our intentions to travel beyond Africa when we reached Cape Town never happened, it was still a good thing to have asked the press along.
We did not invite them along for the sake of publicity for a cause. After all, Dan and I were not raising money for a charity. We were cycling down Africa for the hell of it. We were not selling a book or a TV program (who would have been interested anyway?).
Having the article was a good memento of the start of an amazing year in the saddle with my brother.
I'm realising now, twenty years later, that I have gaps in my memory of cycling through Africa. That's not surprising. It was so vivid at the time and it remained so for a long while. Yet, life gets in the way when you are earning a crust, bringing up a family and trying to get some time to do what you love.
That's why keeping a diary is so important when you travel. What you experience seems to be so memorable at the time that you question how you could ever forget it. But, I have forgotten the details of certain parts of the journey. Luckily, I wrote many letters back to Penny who, fortunately kept them. They are helping to piece together the gaps.
And yet, there are often gaps for good reason in my diary. In the first six months of the journey we were regularly ill and the last thing I wanted to do was to write up my diary. I am writing up my diary from when we entered Ghana in early 1991 when I was ill and I neglected it for a few weeks which I regret. I can remember parts very clearly but not names or people.
I wish we had had the luxury of the internet at the time. We could have written our blogs up regularly and kept all that was going on then alive so much more easily. I'm reading Peter Gostelow's blog as he cycles through Africa now. He writes so vividly and his photographs are excellent too. It's a delight to read his experiences and it shows that things have not changed that much since Dan and I went through similar regions.
The lesson is to always write your diaries no matter how good or bad you feel. You will be glad that you did.
The Hoggar (aka Ahaggar) Mountains are in the centre of the Algerian Sahara and are accessible from Tamanrasset by 4x4 along very rocky roads. Dan and I decided to visit them along with some other British travellers. We could have cycled there but it would have been murderously hard work and we would not have been able to carry enough water.
Nevertheless, it's a great experience when you arrive at the collection of flat-roofed houses which make up the 'visitor centre'. We dropped our kit in our room and went to climb up the hill behind the houses to sit on the crest to watch the sunset, which was spectacular.
But, it wasn't a patch on the sunrise the next morning. We got up very early in the cold morning and climbed up again to watch the sun come up. It was a moving experience.
It's unfortunate that many people won't get to see the Hoggar Mountains because of the political problems in the country. It is one of most vivid memories of our journey.
Cycling out of the Sahara and into the Sahel was, as you might expect, a gradual transformation. You move out of the sand, rocky terrain and into the grassy, scrubby terrain.
The people you see change gradually too. You see people with a North African heritage in the Sahara which moves slowly to a West African heritage as you cycle southwards. Their clothes change as do their characteristics.
Looking back on that period cycling through the Sahel with Dan one photograph summed it up well for me. The photo to the left is of Dan when we were standing on the roof of a cafe in a Nigerien town (I will have to ask Dan to remind me which one it was) looking into the town square below. In the square were some Swiss bikers we had met who were, as normal, tending to their motorbikes while being watched by a crowd of local children.
In the background of the photo is the local mosque with its minaret made out of mud and logs. Dan is looking thin and drawn. We had been in the desert for a few weeks and were suffering from a lack of decent food and water. We were healthy enough but we were expending a great deal of energy and not replacing it as quickly as we used it.
All long distant cyclists I know become obsessive about food, water and when they will next be able to stoke up their energy levels. When we arrived in Niamey, after setting up our tent, the first thing we did was find a bakery where we bought a couple of baguettes each, and some peanut butter from a local roadside trader. Back at our tent, we devoured the baguettes and peanut butter in front of our astonished, car bound fellow travellers. I don't think they really appreciated just how hungry we were and why we gorged ourselves whenever possible.
Cycling in the Sahel was a good experience and a delight as long as the wind was with you and there was plenty of feed about.
After a few months of cycling in the sunshine, the novelty of being in it wears off. When you stop, you seek shade. You want to keep it off your skin if you can help it. It's not that you don't appreciate the good weather. It's just that the sunshine is so strong in the desert that you have to get into the shade to stop yourself feeling as though you are being slow-cooked.
While cycling through northern Algeria in a particularly flat and stony part of the desert, Dan and I needed to stop to eat lunch. We were hungry but there was simply no shade in which to stop, eat and rest up before the afternoon ride. For miles around, there was just the rocky plain and the road.
That is, until we came across the little building in the picture to the left. It was about four feet square inside with a flat roof and one open side. It was big enough for the two of us to sit inside with our knees up and in the shade. To keep the sun off the open side and us, we hung up a thin towel. It was cool inside and a relief to be out of the sun. I have no idea what that little hut was for. It might have been a small bus shelter but there were no houses for miles.
Nevertheless, it was a blessed relief.
Cheer up, Will. It could be worse!
I forget just how tough some parts of our journey were ss we cycled through Africa. It was not until I dug this photo out and scanned it to upload to Flickr that I remembered why I was looking so terrible.
Dan and I had been cycling along some incredibly dusty and corrugated roads from the border with Cameroon to the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui. The corrugations were impossible to avoid and jarred us for each of the eight hours we cycled every day.
To make matters worse, the logging lorries that came along the roads, and which caused the corrugations, threw up great clouds of orange dust. The dust covered us head to foot and tyre to saddle. It was hot, humid and not much fun.
But, then, suddenly, as we neared Bangui, we came onto a stretch of tarmac road. The sensation was was weird. Moments before, we had been fighting along every inch of the road. But, now, we felt as though we were gliding along effortlessly.
It was a moment to record. We got our cameras out and shot a photo of each other. The looks on our faces say it all. Our clothes were filthy. Our faces were caked with dirt. Our bikes and kit had turned colour from black to orange.
A little further on, the tarmac stopped and it went back to dirt until we get to Bangui.
But, it was a great experience and it was all part of adventure travelling.
I came across this video via 'Get Lost Magazine' showing Papua New Guinea. It is stunning. I want to go!
I saw this manifesto on the 'Travelling Two' blog and thought I would share it!
We've just got back from two weeks in Sweden. What a place. People are friendly and helpful. The nature reserve we spent time in (Rogen) is not wilderness, but it feels like it. You hardly see another soul and when we were wild camping we would often wake to hear reindeer quietly walking through our camp.
Not to put too fine a point on it, five days of wild camping was enough. We spent a couple of days in Ramundsberget in a spa hotel chilling out and then our final weekend in Stockholm.
If you would like to see some photos, you can see them here.
The four of us are off for two weeks in Sweden. We are flying to Stockholm and then driving eight hours into the centre of the country to the Rogen Nature Reserve where we are canoeing around the lakes there for five days. It's going to be a mini-adventure of wild camping, paddling and some walking in the wilderness.
So, I will be quiet for a couple of weeks on the blog but I will be writing it up and catching up on my cycling diaries.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family and is now a magazine editor and occasional adventure cyclist.
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