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Africa Solo — Cairo to Cape Town in 41 days

Mark Beaumont

Africa Solo — Cairo to Cape Town in 41 days

Road Cycling Collection by Mark Beaumont



503:42 h

6,767 mi

195,725 ft

In the spring of 2015, I set out from the bustling heart of Cairo in Egypt with a Guiness World Record in sight: down the length of Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. The record at the time stood at 59 days, 8 hours and 30 minutes, set just a month before my planned start.

At 6,750 miles (10,863 km), Cairo to Cape Town is three times the distance of the Tour de France, twice the distance of The Race Across America and with exactly ten ‘Everests’ of climbing. I wanted to do it solo and unsupported, in less than 50 days, aiming to ride on average 150 miles (241 km) each day.

Riding the length of Africa would be so much more than just a physical challenge. Cultural and language barriers, illness, dehydration, terrible road conditions, extreme weather, the lack of replacement bike parts, civil unrest, corruption, even stone-throwing and attempted robbery: this would be a challenge on many fronts.

Africa Solo was my return to the bicycle. After a six-year journey building towards the fastest human-powered circumnavigation, and the Atlantic accident that ended that dream, it was an uncertain and scary time to come out of retirement as an athlete, to try and go faster than ever before.

I am sure you have guessed that Africa Solo was never the final plan, never a stand-alone adventure, but in fact a building block for a new grand plan which was hatching: Around the World in 80 Days.

In this Collection, you'll find my story from Africa Solo: riding for 41 days, 10 hours and 22 minutes, covering 6,762 miles (10,882 km), spending 439 hours in the saddle - sometimes up to 16 hours a day - and climbing 190,355 feet (58,020 metres) through eight countries: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.

On The Map



  1. Day 1: Cairo to the Red Sea — Africa Solo

    127 mi
    14.4 mph
    3,000 ft
    3,000 ft

    I didn't even have a street map for the route out of Cairo, but an expert group of locals had been assembled to show me the way and protect me from traffic as I left the city on day one.


    The plan was 150 miles or so for the next 45 days, and the clock was already ticking.


    I was setting off just over a


  2. 09:57
    165 mi
    16.6 mph
    2,400 ft
    2,350 ft

    I was up and on the road long before breakfast, to make the most of the daylight hours. I'd slept well and felt great, plus first light is always the most magical time to ride.


    The winds changed direction at about 9am to give me some extra speed, as I hugged the coastline along the Red Sea. I was leaving


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  4. 12:42
    174 mi
    13.7 mph
    3,650 ft
    3,450 ft

    For the first 40km I continued to hug the coast to Safaga, where I turned inland, and left the flatlands. I was ecstatic to be alone on the open road after eight months’ training and planning. But this didn’t last long: the police were waiting for me at the first checkpoint after 6km.


    Apart from that


  5. 10:02
    133 mi
    13.2 mph
    1,075 ft
    850 ft

    Thankfully, Luxor to Aswan was relatively civilised in terms of ambition – only 213km. I couldn’t go any further even if I wanted to. I was now in the heart of Upper Egypt – in my mind a confusing name as upper suggests northern, whereas it actually refers to the Upper Nile. In Egypt everything refers


  6. 10:47
    175 mi
    16.2 mph
    2,700 ft
    2,275 ft

    The early-morning light gave me a picture-postcard scene across the Nile to an island where the famous British general Lord Kitchener wintered and where there is now a botanical garden. How that view was going to change!


    The morning seemed to feature endless hold ups from the police escort, but after


  7. 13:45
    166 mi
    12.0 mph
    3,000 ft
    2,975 ft

    There were multiple ferry times for the crossing of Lake Nasser to start the day, and two providers, one military and the other civilian. Mohammed had arranged for the military one, as it docked on the east bank on to a tar road; the other would have left me with a section of dirt road to negotiate


  8. 12:06
    200 mi
    16.5 mph
    2,225 ft
    2,050 ft

    At first light forty minutes later I wheeled out of the guest- house. On my right down a small bank, to my utter astonishment, was the Nile. Just fifteen metres away, completely silent and vast, it flowed serenely. Having arrived at night I’d had no idea it was right there, although that did explain


  9. 12:36
    216 mi
    17.2 mph
    2,650 ft
    1,975 ft

    As I set off in the morning, the main road was gradually turning eastwards, and the wind was from the north-east. Overnight this had built to the point that Midhat was warning of a haboob, a sandstorm, by late morning. For the first 50km I was thankfully guarded from the worst of this as my route turned


  10. 11:18
    172 mi
    15.2 mph
    1,475 ft
    1,275 ft

    I reached Omdurman, a huge city I had never heard of, in great time. It occupies the west bank of the Nile, while Khartoum is on the east. This is where the Blue and White Niles meet, better described as the brown and muddy Nile and the slightly clearer and less silty Nile. The Blue comes in from the


  11. 10:16
    144 mi
    14.1 mph
    1,875 ft
    1,150 ft

    The road to Gedaref ran almost due east, which meant I would be battling a headwind all day. The first 45 miles gave me some time to warm up tired legs as the road went south-east before facing the easterly tack. I was also climbing all day – nothing steep, but diverging from my friend the Nile, whom


  12. 11:07
    127 mi
    11.4 mph
    2,750 ft
    2,100 ft

    Gedaref is surrounded by hills on three sides and still has a daily market, famous for its sesame seeds auction. It is now also a university city but best known as a trading post, the last stop-off or first port of call in Ethiopia.


    There were 6 kilometres to backtrack to the road heading south and before


  13. 12:14
    144 mi
    11.7 mph
    12,125 ft
    8,525 ft

    That first full day in Ethiopia was the toughest yet, by a long way. The Gonder rise, a quaint name for the biggest climb on my route, started the moment I left Maganan and climbed over the next 150km to an altitude of over 2,000 metres at Azezo by the turn-off to the city of Gonder itself. The scenery


  14. 12:20
    164 mi
    13.3 mph
    6,825 ft
    7,000 ft

    At 6.26, as I started the Garmin and freewheeled out of Addis Zemen, I couldn’t think about the next twelve hours in the saddle, but I could focus on finding breakfast – that was far enough.


    It was further than I’d hoped, but thankfully a rolling and fast 30km to a very similar set-up to the day before


  15. 11:51
    120 mi
    10.1 mph
    11,125 ft
    9,075 ft

    I woke with the glands in my throat very swollen and a cracking headache – a bit of dehydration judging from my pee. I was drink- ing as much fizz as water, which was disgusting but often the only liquid available. Four eggs later and I was on the road at 6.30 a.m.


    The Blue Nile Gorge was now looming


  16. 12:11
    151 mi
    12.4 mph
    8,075 ft
    9,825 ft

    After being ill in the night, the riding was grim, mainly because I felt so weak, but also because of the continuing discomfort in my stomach and the need to keep stopping. Mentally it was the lowest I had been, even though I knew this was just the hangover from a massive day and being ill. I really


  17. 12:14
    156 mi
    12.8 mph
    4,075 ft
    4,150 ft

    Inevitably I felt pretty rough and sleep-deprived in the morning. My backside and hands were painful, and my guts were really struggling. I had diarrhoea and I felt exhausted. But there was much to look forward to. I was now south of the Highlands, past Addis, and with a big three days planned to get


  18. 11:50
    89.6 mi
    7.6 mph
    7,625 ft
    6,450 ft

    142 kilometres in 12 hours and 2,229 metres of climbing. Nightmare day, back up at 2,550 metres! Tons of climbing, which I hadn’t expected. They are digging up the entire road to the border. I'd made 70 kilometres by lunch – crawling along and worried about bike and tyres. I also had two pinch punctures


  19. 11:30
    122 mi
    10.6 mph
    5,875 ft
    8,200 ft

    At just gone 6am, at first light, I set off, determined to make better miles. The rain had stopped in the night and standing water had partially drained away, leaving the mud denser, but it was a long way from drying up.


    It proved to be an amazing day of contrasts, starting in thick jungle, descending


  20. 12:36
    140 mi
    11.1 mph
    3,750 ft
    6,100 ft

    At six I was about to wheel out when I spotted the front tyre was soft. It wasn’t flat, so I pumped it up and hoped for the best. It was cold in my wet kit and I just wanted to start. I was on the road by 6.40am.


    It was about 100 miles to the border and I could not wait to get out of Ethiopia. Bike, body


  21. 12:37
    136 mi
    10.8 mph
    4,125 ft
    4,675 ft

    I slept better but was still plagued by diarrhoea in the morning, as well as a cold. Initially I thought it was just a stuffy head from the stifling room, but all in all it had been a week of feeling weak, and I was craving some smooth tar and a settled stomach.


    My wish was partially granted to start


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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    6,767 mi
  • Duration
    503:42 h
  • Elevation
    195,725 ft

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