In endurance cycling there are three main continental crossings, two of which I’ve already completed; Eurasia in 2017 and then Panamerica in 2018. It became a dream for me to be the first person to complete all three, and the Cape to Cape Challenge was born.
Spanning from the North Cape in Norway to Cape Town in South Africa, this 18,000 km journey spans the length of Finland, down through Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. From there, a single day’s transfer to Cairo, Egypt marks the start of the second leg down through Africa, passing through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.
This is my story of the 73 day journey to ride this distance and the many cultural shifts that you experience as you pass through no less than 14 countries. This is my story of the changing landscapes, the kindness of people, the diverse wildlife, and the struggles I faced; food poisoning, violent public protests, language barriers, mechanical issues and dehydration.
Despite all this, I reached Cape Town to complete this epic crossing, beating the previous record by some 30 days. I was joined by ultracyclist and photographer Philipp Hympendahl until Egypt, where a severe case of food poisoning forced him to abandon.
You will find some discrepancies between the daily distances, riding time and average speed between my daily diary entries and the komoot Tours. The diary is based on the actual data from my board computer, which I wasn't able to retrieve unfortunately. Therefore, the komoot tours have been rebuilt, trying to remodel my tours as accurately as possible. However, speeds and riding times are only based on estimations of the komoot algorithm.
Keep an eye out later this summer, when I'll be releasing a documentary film and book about the project.
I’ve explained more about this challenge here:
We are starting the challenge at the North Cape on a spectacular day, without a single person about and the most wonderful blue sky.
A last minute delay meant that I set off at 9.45am, on the route along the Arctic Ocean covering 186 km. A beautiful route, of course accompanied by plenty of hills and headwind!
With an early start before 6am, we turned away from the coastline. You're constantly faced with reindeers crossing the road so we tried for ages to get a good photograph with them!
Into total wilderness, the road snaked through never ending forests, past lakes and alongside rivers with very few other people to be seen.
The Finnish border was reached just before midday, and you could feel how these roads were constructed differently straight away. Rather than meandering roads that go around hills, these roads now went straight over them!
There was some slow going sections in the latter half of the day, rewarded of course by spectacular wilderness scenes. The day ended by finding a river and enjoying a campfire on the shoreline.
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Continuing to ride over endless Finnish hills, the headwind kept blowing in our faces. Surprisingly it was warm, even 't-shirt weather', which helped to make the windy conditions easier, as we shared turns in the wind.
We crossed out of the Arctic Circle in the evening, riding into the only real city in the north of the country, Rovaniemi. Another 290 km completed, battling the wind all the way.
We'd arrived into the city late on the third day, and being really tired allowed ourselves a lie-in to start at 8am today, after waving off Pål, our videographer.
Following the main road until midday, I noticed a shortcut that we could take and had checked on the Finnish maps to see if they were tarmaced. Alas, after only 10 km it became a gravel road.
This inevitably made progress slow a little, although we enjoyed this beautiful lakeside and forest road. This meant that we missed the supermarket being open in the village at 10pm at night, and nothing else was open.
Remarkably, a small hospital was open and the nurse on the night shift there gave us some bread from the dining hall there in a wonderful display of Finnish hospitality.
We didn't go far to find a place to sleep for the night; nextdoor a warehouse veranda was just the spot!
Waking on the veranda, we made an early getaway and rode some 60 km before having any breakfast today. Then in the next town after having something to eat, it started to pour with rain and the headwind was back again.
After pushing on for a few hours in these awful conditions, it was clear that Philipp was struggling and needed to warm up, so we stopped for a while at a petrol station.
We pushed on for the next 60 km to the town of Juuka in the rain, finding a small roof by a little shop to rest under at the end of this tough day.
From here it's only 290 km from Russia, so we hoped for improved weather for the following day to make the ride to Svetogorsk.
A wet and cold early start at 6am, where the tarmac road quickly became a gravel one. Having reached the Finnish Lake District, we rode past lake after lake, spectacular.
Finally after midday the wind direction turned, so for the first time on the challenge we were treated to a tailwind! Making the most of it, we cracked on through the darkness of the night to make the smooth Russian border crossing at 10pm.
After 298 km today over 12 hours today, we were relieved to find a good hotel just over the border in nearby Svetogorsk.
It was well worth the later start at 7.30am today after the late finish yesterday and to make the most of the hotel breakfast!
Frustratingly, the first 40 km seemed to be a series of roadworks and construction, with some gravel segments and rather stop-start.
Our luck changed when we joined the main road though; beautiful tarmac, sunshine and a warming 15 degrees with a tailwind of up to 40 kph pushing us onwards.
Crossing the city of St. Petersburg had been the cause of some worry for me, but I need not have bothered, as we found nothing but good drivers and cycling infrastructure, nothing like the cities I passed through crossing Siberia!
Leaving the city, we popped in to visit Hoffman Group, my tool sponsor's offices. What a reception with some twenty people.
We rode for 60 km more before stopping to search for a hotel, getting pulled into a party while looking for some dinner! After an hour of generous celebration we excused ourselves to get some essential sleep.
Phew, what an awful day on the bike. The combination of lashing rain that lasted all day, a tough headwind and cold teamed together with Russia's busiest road make for no fun at all.
With simply no alternative, we took the main road to Moscow, constantly getting close-passed by both lorries and cars at terrifyingly high speeds. This kind of worry from the danger is mentally hard, as well as the riding itself.
We decided to take an early stop after 200 km, as the chances of getting ill in these conditions are pretty high. 450 km from Moscow, we can't wait for more quiet roads and better weather.
With the exception of the headwind, the awful weather from yesterday's ride was with us again today. Philipp has suffered for the past week and now I too am beginning to feel a bit sick following yesterday's cold conditions.
The morning was spent riding on hard, but we did stop for a while at lunchtime in an attempt to get warm again, as well as take a mental break from the traffic.
Before starting the challenge, many people had asked me if I was worried about the countries that I was passing through, to which I'd told them that the Russian main roads were more concerning. It seemed that for now at least I was going to be right.
We carried on to make some more progress before finding a place to stay for the night, which meant that we had good chances of reaching Moscow city tomorrow on day 10.
More of the same, we left early to make our journey to Moscow in yet more pouring rain. This huge motorway had only 30 cm of hard shoulder to ride on, with lorries going past at high speeds.
It was about midday when the wing mirror of a lorry hit my shoulder. I was very lucky to be totally fine, but mentally it had been really challenging as just a few cm more could have proven very different.
When we got to Moscow, local cyclist Dennis guided us along the best way on these busy roads to Red Square. After a break at the Kremlin for some photographs and visiting a bike mechanic to look at Philipp's mech, we rode out to the suburbs, enjoying a Burger King and a hotel for the night.
On this eleventh day, we left Moscow on the huge ten-lane ring road. Thankfully, the traffic quickly subsided after we headed toward the Black Sea on the highway. As well as that, good tarmac and a wide shoulder on the road, what a treat!
With these good conditions, we pressed on at 35km/h all morning, before changing direction for Volgograd. Here the narrow road, frequented by many lorries, was unwelcome. The inital plan was to follow this for 900 km but after only 20 km we thought better of it and returned to the highway toward the Black Sea, as it was just too dangerous.
The new plan is to follow that road to Rostov, then meet the original road in Chechnya again.
After more lashings of rain, we rode into the night to find a motel at the side of the road to sleep in.
It was an early beginning of sunrise for another leg on the shoulder of a busy high-speed highway. Since both a hilly route and a strong cross wind started, it got a little easier around noon when we started to turn east.
Driving along this street edge means that debris and dirt from the trucks caused chaos on the bikes. Somehow the holes of three pieces of wire in my tires are all sealed with tubeless sealant!
My luck was short-lived when the heavy rain returned in the afternoon. When we drove to Voronezh, where we decided to spend the night, the street became very busy and we didn't want to drive here at night.
This part was very difficult with the conditions and this road, so we look forward to leaving Russia after four more days.
Back on track, we rode to Voronezh to get Philipp's broken phone fixed and did some essential bike maintenance.
As it's a big industrial town, it took a lot of time to cross and get these things sorted. Riding away at 1pm, we were on the motorway again and rode hard to Pawlows during the last light of the day. Even though we felt good today and could have ridden more, as it is too dangerous we stayed the night here.
Only 1,000 km until we leave Russia.
Really keen to crack on and get out of Russia, we got going super early at 4am in a bitter 3 degrees! The weather forecast shows that tomorrow's weather is severe with strong winds from direction of the Black Sea, so making solid progress today is important.
We pushed hard on the shoulder of the road, much smoother now, and trying to stop as little as possible.
We'd already covered 200 km by midday, but then the ideal conditions turned to pouring rain once more. Although it feels much safer here with less traffic, we're still not confident in night riding, so found a place for the night having completed 314 km today.
Another 4am start meant that we could ride hard in the morning before we had to turn direction. Here, the wind blew so hard that we were relieved we'd made good time this morning.
We crossed this bleak and beautiful steppe landscape with a hefty crosswind, making it difficult to stay in control of the bikes at time. Perhaps for a while we could enjoy our ride through Russia as the road traffic had calmed, despite the wild weather.
From steppe to rolling hills, not only the landscape changed today but also the people.
We faced more hard crosswinds in the morning, but cracked on non-stop to reach the city of Stawropol.
It wasn't much after that it got dark, as the main road that we were riding along had no shoulder it was too dangerous. Thankfully we found a restaurant where the owner let us stay the night on the floor, but we didn't get much sleep, no thanks to the loud and noisy guests that even came to wake us to offer us vodka!
After a very interrupted night and barely any sleep on the restaurant floor, we set off very tired today. Thankfully it was already warm at 5 am, easy to feel like we are in a new climate.
We can see the conflict around us in this area all day, from the military presence to the police checkpoints and controls, but we were happy that they had no issue with us at all.
Still feeling sleepy, we both took a quick nap, and Philipp is especially struggling with tiredness today.
We can see the mountains that we are riding toward and in the afternoon the terrain becomes quite hilly indeed; looking forward to some big climbing tomorrow!
Welcome to Georgia!
Crossing the Caucasus, we had some hefty climbing today across the mountains, and I adored every bit of it. Both of us were very keen to get into the mountains, but we had a three hour ride first to get to the border, with a 30 km long queue of lorries being searched. Thankfully it was much simpler for us riders, and we soon got through and met Pasi who was going to be our videographer for the day.
After crossing, the road ramped up straight away, with views ahead of the 5,000 metre high summits. Reaching 2,400 metres at our first pass at midday, we then rode down into a vast valley.
It wasn't all plain sailing; in the evening a steep climb was made worse by the road condition, and it transpired that this road was under construction for some 30 km.
Therefore we reached our end destination village much later than planned, but really enjoyed some Khachapuri at the end of an awesome day.
Ideal conditions, lovely weather and even a tailwind, Georgia has been kind to us today. We rode on a flat road through the wine region of Georgia, flanked by tall mountains as we made great progress.
Crossing into Azerbaijan at midday, the hospitality of this first Islamic country on our ride was clear, as we had to repeatedly politely turn down many invitations to join people for a drink or meal, trying to push on with the progress today.
We ended the day having covered 270km, eating at a small diner and staying the night there thanks to the kind owner.
Once again in Azerbaijan the kindness and hospitality of these people shows clearly. Having stopped at a gas station to eat something after an early start in darkness, the owner produced homemade jam, with bread, eggs, butter and cheese.
After a morning of solid riding, the heat of the midday sun was starting to get to us both. Unfortunately there was a long 50 km stretch of construction work from the 200 km mark, so rather than reaching Bilasuvar at 5 pm, it was night before we got there.
The border crossing into Iran was not the seamless experience we'd hoped for, especially as we'd started early to get there before noon. The border was empty and the guard was asleep!
Finally after being looked after, at a pretty slow pace, we got to Iran. Trying to make up time we could only ride a total of 200 km before it started chucking down with rain and got dark. I hope we can make up for it on the next stage.
About as bad a day as you could wish for on a record-breaking attempt. It started with pouring rain, until we reached the city of Rasht where we needed to withdraw money, get a sim card and find a bike mechanic.
As credit cards don't work here, we tried to change dollars, but as nobody here can speak English it took a long time, and then the same story for the sim.
When we eventually found a bike shop, our mechanic went for his lunch break halfway through doing the job!
Finally back on the road, we only managed to cover 175 km today towards Tehran. The flights have been booked for next Friday from Shiras to Cairo, so we'll need to be quick now over the desert.
After yesterday's ordeal, we set off very early at 4am, surprised to see when the sun rose that we were already in the desert, quite a contrast to yesterday evening's green landscape.
Next up was an 80 km climb on the road up through the valley to the mountain pass. Here we've reached the high elevation plateau that we'll be on for the next stage.
It's beautiful up here, hot and with a strong tailwind - great! Making the most of it, we rode some 320 km and stopped at a restaurant where they let us stay the night in an outbuilding.
It's straight up from the get-go today, climbing for 1,000 meters very steadily but for a long time. When it reached the heat of the day, we stopped for food and the restaurant owner gifted us some watermelon, delicious and very kind.
The climbing is really hard in the heat of the day after midday. Philipp is finding it hard, and I'm hoping he'll recover on the day transfer to Egypt.
From the top, we flew down the other side for nearly 100 km, averaging 50 km/h without barely pedalling! Brilliant.
Reaching Isfahan, the second largest city in Iran at night, we finished the day on 250 km, but it has felt easy. Tomorrow's forecast looks good and it's almost as if we could fly earlier in the week, but now at least we can make the most of two slightly easier days ahead of us.