By Simon Capstick-Dale
On 23 May 2016, solo adventurer Gaven Sinclair was greeted by the ancient pyramids in Cairo, having cycled more than 10 038km unsupported from Cape Town. Now he’s at it again, this time on foot through five African countries – and again for a cause we should all get behind.
After relocating from Johannesburg to Cape Town at the age of 30, Gaven – inspired by nature – came to realise that we all have within us an inherent desire to explore. In early 2014 the endurance athlete was frustrated, caught behind red tape while trying to found his sports-kit development NGO.
The kick-start required for his first ‘charity challenge’ came when he watched the documentary, Long Way Down starring Ewan McGregor, who motorcycles south from Scotland, through eighteen countries, to Cape Town.
With the groundwork for his first expedition complete by mid-2015, the then 42-year-old set his August departure date for a 13 000km Cape-to-Cairo unsupported cycle in aid of Missing Children South Africa and the Red Cross Society’s Psychosocial Support Programme. Gaven, 261 days after leaving the Mother City, arrived in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, where he reached the end of his epic journey.
On my ride there was a strong sense of Ubuntu. People of all kinds welcomed me into their homes, offering food and a place – not always a bed – to sleep.
It wasn’t long after completing his ride that plans were underway for a second challenge – an African trail run of about 5 528km over an estimated 210 days. On 1 September 2017 Gaven left St. Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal, headed for Cape Town – and he’s certainly not taking any short cuts. Gaven is running up South Africa’s east coast in a loop, through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, before his final stretch back down the west coast of South Africa, covering an average of 40km each day.
While Gaven’s run is vastly different to his first adventure in terms of speed and distance covered, he will only have with him the essential lightweight gear he can squeeze into a backpack. As he was on his ride between Cape Town and Cairo, Gaven is heavily reliant for the success of his second expedition on the knowledge, guidance and kindness of people en route.
“On my ride there was a strong sense of Ubuntu. People of all kinds welcomed me into their homes, offering food and a place – not always a bed – to sleep. The kindness and support I received was positively overwhelming,” says Gaven.From hotels and villas, to campsites, garages and rural villages, Gaven stayed in them all. Sometimes though, he explains how his only prerogative was to stay out of harm’s way. One night there was no option but to rest (he was too anxious to sleep) on the side of the highway, so he hid himself and his bike from passers-by under a shelter made from banana-tree leaves.
For Gaven, the most rewarding aspects of his 261 days spent in the saddle were the unique energy and cultures he discovered in each of the countries he visited, as well as the special bonds he made with people he met.
You can plan a trip like this all you like, but you still won’t know what to expect half of the time.
The terrain Gaven cycled between Cape Town and Cairo was as beautiful as it was diverse. One stretch he remembers particularly fondly was the Wild Coast, where he cycled on the beach for a week, crossing many river mouths and continually in a race against the tides.
The further north Gaven travelled into Africa, the more difficult, he says, the logistics of the trip became, and the ability to rely on support networks he was accustomed to in countries like South Africa and Mozambique.
“You can plan a trip like this all you like, but you still won’t know what to expect half of the time. There can be extreme weather like torrential rain, frustrating delays at border crossings, long unexpected detours – or you might even get ill and have to rest for a while. Remember, Africa is often very underdeveloped.”
One of the most fundamental challenges Gaven faced on his ride was the anxiety and apprehension associated with bicycle travel, which, he says, is momentous on its own. He recalls nervously arriving at border posts, where volatile political relationships between countries meant he could never be certain of entry – or even of the specific visa requirements for each state.
Gaven was also unfortunate enough to contract Malaria in the Gorongosa district of Mozambique, which put him out of action for two weeks.
“But Africa is also as amusing as it can be frightening: You might arrive at a border, only to find a broken boom and not a soul in sight. Sometimes corrupt officials tried to extort more money than I had on me. You have to deal with so many variables daily and soon learn to expect the unexpected,” he says.
Another unexpected turn of events came at the Kenyan border of Ethiopia where Gaven was denied entry and forced – if not to give up on his expedition entirely – to take a 900km detour to Marsabit. From there, he rode west to Lake Turkana in the Rift Valley of northern Kenya, which is the world's largest permanent desert lake.
“By this time I had run out of both food and water. I pitched my tent with a group of Turkana nomads who live in pockets along the lake. I was very grateful that they taught me how to dig for water. I was in proper survival mode and there was no communication between us aside from basic hand gestures. I nearly lost it completely there.”
Perhaps the most disappointing setback for Gaven was right near the end of his 10 038km journey when a group of men tried to attack him in the Sudanese town of Narus. He reported the incident to the police who, out of concern for his safety and possibly negative publicity, prohibited Gaven from cycling through South Sudan into Cairo the way he had originally planned.
Gaven was escorted in an armed vehicle back to Juba in South Sudan and told that his only option was to fly into Cairo. He was glad for the opportunity to at least ride a short section through the majestic city and humbled to receive the hero’s welcome he so much deserved upon his arrival. The 44-year-old can be sure of yet another warm reception at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront where he expects to complete his 5 528km African trail run in April 2018.
SMS MCSA to 41006 and donate R25 to Missing Children South Africa in support of Gaven’s run.
On social media you can follow Gaven every step of the way:
Between fund-raising expeditions Gaven works as a life coach, assisting mainly executives to achieve holistic wellness through health and wellness practices. His methodologies incorporate diet, nutrition, exercise, psychology and the integration of lifestyle habits with proven success.
What’s in Gaven’s backpack?
With limited means to carry more than the bare essentials in his backpack, Gaven still needs to be prepared for any emergency on his unsupported African trail run.
He is carrying the following:
Source: The Intrepid Explorer