Remote wild campsite cycle touring in Africa

Feel the fear and do it any way

By Saoirse Pottie

Sonder Rider Saoirse Pottie on how last minute plan changes saw her bikepacking solo across Africa.

Sonder Rider Saoirse Pottie on how last minute plan changes saw her bikepacking solo across Africa.

I stood beside the sign marking the equator, looked around and had a moment of reflection. I was in Kenya; the equator sign that stood in front of me marked the achievement of cycling halfway up the African continent. 

My journey had begun 3.5 months previously in Cape Town, and I had just over one month left on the road. 

It was a journey that I started alongside my pal Abby, but 6 weeks into our trip Abby had been held up whilst waiting for a package to arrive. Our plan was to split but meet again in Malawi where we would spend Christmas together with another friend. But Christmas came and went. By the time the package finally arrived, there were 4 weeks difference in our timescales and we were faced with one of the most intimidating decisions of the trip - should we try to meet again but skip large sections of our desired routes, or continue solo?

Crossing the equator cycling in Africa

The prospect of continuing solo for the next three months felt far more intimidating than completing a small section alone, where I knew there were friends waiting on the road ahead. 

I had many fears. Would I get lonely? Would I be safe? 

So far, on our journey through South Africa, and Namibia we had been treated with so much kindness. Those experiences filled me with a lot of confidence. 99% of me believed that we would be safe travelling solo but the other 1% was filled with doubt. Doubt that had been fuelled by a running commentary of people who had warned us that Africa was too dangerous for us to cycle. 

Cycle across Africa

We were lucky, we were not the first women to cycle through these countries and when considering the decision to go solo, I lent into the positive first hand experiences they had encountered. On the premise of this knowledge, we decided to go solo. In the words of Abby, “feel the fear and do it anyway.” 

I thought about the 6 weeks that had passed since. The first few days had felt overwhelming. Going solo, you are responsible for all the decisions, there is no one else to confirm your gut feeling. Is this a safe place to camp? Should I or should I not trust this person? Does that food look a bit off?!

And there were still times when I saw something beautiful where I instinctually wanted to turn to Abby , but felt that sinking feeling when I remembered she wasn’t there. 

Wild Zebra seen while cycling across Africa

But all of a sudden all those decisions and interactions that had once felt overwhelming became a natural rhythm of life cycling through Africa. I learnt my own tactics to bargain a good price for food, spent my lunch breaks laughing with locals and learning the rules of the board games. In the evenings, I camped on the shores of lake Malawi surrounded by fireflies or occasionally in the local villages where I’d normally be offered food or invited into people's homes. The shift from fear to competence felt incredibly empowering. 

Along the road, I’d met other cyclists and we joined forces when our routes overlapped. Two days previously, I had met three local Kenyan cyclists, who invited me and the three Spanish cyclists I had been travelling with, back to their home. We ate food with their extended family. The next day as my Spanish friends cycled off towards Uganda, I stayed and went hiking with my new extended family. 

Saoirse Pottie making friends on her ride across Africa

This morning, they decided to join me as I cycled towards the equator. We had started as six cyclists but as we cycled through the city of Nakuru, more and more cyclists kept joining until I was surrounded by 30 smiling faces on bikes engulfed by music and laughter. There were tall people on very small bikes, small people on very big bikes, a three year old girl on a pull along bike with her dad, people on road bikes, mountain bikes, single speed bikes, we had everything!

And now, as I stood at the equator line, I looked around and realised this is what it was all about. Not who can cycle the furthest or fastest, but moments of connection where your differences melt away and you're joined by a love of being outdoors, being on two-wheels, being active and having a hella great time. 

Group of elephants encountered cycling through Africa

As my new-found friends turned to cycle the 50km home and I continued onwards, I felt a pang. I was on my own again. But it turns out, you're never truly alone. My experience of cycling through Africa showed me that around most corners, there's a big smile and a helping hand waiting for you. 

Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

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