Grant Clark will be taking on more than just the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. He's currently somewhere between Cairo and Cape Town, on his epic journey #AfrikaLegBurn, for the literacy charity Shine. His mammoth undertaking includes riding unsupported from Cairo to Cape Town, completing the Cape Town Cycle Tour, the ABSA Cape Epic and finally Ironman Port Elizabeth.
We caught up with him somewhere between Cairo and Cape Town to find out a bit more about his crazy plans.
Cairo to Cape Town, Cape Town Cycle Tour, Absa Cape Epic, and Ironman, all in the space of a couple of months. That’s a big undertaking- what made you decide to go for it?
I have had the dream of doing the Cairo to Cape Town trip for almost 15 years now. I looked into it about 10 years ago but if I'm honest I got cold feet and didn't back myself to go for it. I had always wanted to do it solo and unsupported. Last year, I volunteered at the Cape Epic which gave me a guaranteed entry into this year's event. But I realised that I'd be working in London from November through February and knew I would really struggle to train for a Cape Epic through the London winter! Actually, I decided it was impossible. Then it occurred to me that if I was ever going to give Cairo to Cape Town a bash, now was the time. It would also double as my Cape Epic training. I've not always backed myself as much as I should have through my life, so this was my way of going all in. I had a window of opportunity to take some time off, so I committed and started the planning. Looking at dates, I noticed that the Ironman was a week after the Cape Epic. I know a few people have done the Cape Epic/Ironman double in the same year, but as far as I know, no one has attempted to do one just 1 week after the Cape Epic. So that seemed like an interesting challenge in itself. Finally, I wanted to do the Cape Town Cycle Tour because it's the 40th-anniversary tour, and I turned 40 last year and it will also be my 10th tour.
Ultimately, I wanted to take on these challenges because I'm curious as to what my body and mind might be capable of. Here was an opportunity to put all my doubts and anxieties in one bag and just go big and see what happened. On paper, I wouldn't expect to be successful in getting through all the challenges, but I want to see if the reality could be different.
You are riding to raise funds for the literary charity Shine. Please tell us a bit more about what they do, and why you chose to support this cause?
Shine delivers training and programmes to schools, parents/caregivers and local communities that support children to become good readers and writers, whilst also growing their conﬁdence, self-esteem, and their appetite for learning.
These programmes are helping to transform the prospects of some of South Africa’s most vulnerable children, by breaking the destructive cycle of poor literacy, low educational attainment, wasted potential and poverty.
I have always loved books and reading. I am in the process of writing a kids adventure novel. Shine and their work felt like a good fit and I started to volunteer for Shine at Zonnebloem Primary in Cape Town the beginning of last year. It's only 1 hour a week and I really enjoyed the experience of working with the kids. They love the one on one attention and it's fantastic to work with young kids who want to read and discover books and new stories.
How can people get involved and support the initiative?
They can contact Kathryn Torres, who is the chairperson of Shine or go through their website http://www.shineliteracy.org.za
. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch with me and I'll point you in the right direction.
I am also running a Givengain campaign for my four challenges and would love to hit my target before I get back - https://www.givengain.com/ap/afrikalegburn/
What did you do to prepare for the challenge?
Not a lot of riding! Most of it was research, admin, and logistical planning. BH Bikes South Africa were brilliant in backing and supporting me in that respect. I was actually more worried about going into the Cairo to Cape Town journey tired and/or overtrained in a sense for such a long journey. I ate a lot before I left and actively tried to put on some kilograms as I knew I'd probably lose quite a lot of weight riding down Africa. A month before I left, I did the London to Brighton Offroad mountain bike race on my new BH RX Team cross bike to see how it handled and it went beautifully. I also did a couple of longish rides with the Apidura bike packing bags before I left, to try work out the best packing system and experience how the bike handled with the weight.
I’m really worried about the Ironman as I am an average swimmer and a below average runner and neither discipline will get much attention from me by the time I get to the start line! So I can see it all falling apart as I run into the water and realise I don't have the necessary fitness or energy for a 3.8km swim! I'm pretty good at doggy paddling though, I just need to check what the cut off time is...
How many days and kilometres have you already completed on this adventure? What is still to be conquered ahead?
I'm 82 days into the adventure and have covered roughly just over 6500 kilometres and 6 countries. I've just crossed into Zambia and will be making my way down towards Botswana, then finally into Namibia and South Africa. By the end of the trip, I will have covered almost 11 000km. By now I've learnt that I can pretty much cope with any kind of conditions that are thrown at me, but I'm still a bit apprehensive about the heat and dirt roads of Namibia that are still to come. I'm also cycling through a game reserve in Botswana where I suspect my average speed for the day might increase...
How is the trip going so far? Which country have you enjoyed riding through the most?
The trip has been insane, absolutely epic and rewarding on so many levels and I'm still healthy and alive! I'm in a constant state of fatigue now with tired legs and tired mind, but overall I am healthy and the bike is going beautifully so I can't really complain too much. I lost my personal EFI (every f***ing inch) status early on due to the derailleur going into the spokes in Sudan, but I was never too bothered about that as my goal was just to get down Africa in one piece and in some sort of condition to take on the Cape Epic and the Ironman a week later.
My favourite country so far was Egypt. Looking back, I was still feeling fresh and everything about the adventure was still new and exciting, but I loved cycling through the incredible Red Sea desert and then cutting inland to cycle down the Nile. There is so much amazing history and culture and every day was a memorable day in Egypt. I'll also never forget the feeling I had at the end of Day 1. After all the dreaming and all the planning and anxiety and worrying about all the what-if's, I was actually doing it, I was on the road!
What has been the hardest part of your journey thus far?
By far the hardest section and country was Ethiopia. I had loved Egypt and then Sudan and the desert was also amazing (also the most friendly and hospitable people I have ever come across) and then I had the wind taken out my sails in Ethiopia. It was a country I had really been looking forward to it. The attention from the locals is absolutely relentless and wears you down. Especially as a solo cyclist. Not to mention that most of the riding is at 2500m altitude and above. With a couple of days over 3000m altitude. There is lots of friendliness, but also weirdly a lot of aggression towards cyclists. I had done my research but nothing prepared me for the actual first-hand experience. I had rocks thrown at me, was kicked at, spat at and constantly shouted at and I couldn't wait to get out of the country at the end which was sad. Half the country wants you to acknowledge them, the other half wants to kill you. There were a few mornings where I just didn't want to leave whatever hotel I was in, as I knew the minute I cycled out onto the road, the shouting and attention would start, “Hey farangi!! (foreigner) You you you, where you go?!” and wouldn't stop until I had finished 9 or 10 hours later at the end of the day’s ride. I felt completely drained and worn down emotionally and physically by the time I left Ethiopia. Having said that, it is a stunningly beautiful country and the riding and terrain there was some of the best I have ever experienced on a bike!
Will you be doing any specific preparation for Cape Epic on your ride across Africa, or are you trusting the journey will build the fitness required?
I'm trusting that the journey will give me the fitness required. I'm a bit worried that my technical skills will be quite rusty after days and days on long straight roads and mostly sitting in the time trial position, but I'm pretty confident that I'll get back into it quickly. I have to! I'm not racing the Cape Epic, just going for a finish and so won't be taking any unnecessary risks hopefully. Ironically I’m now worried that I might be quite tired for the Cape Epic, I'm getting reports that my partner is looking strong, so it could be a long 8 days for me!
Which of the events on your itinerary are you most nervous for and why?
Cairo to Cape Town is obviously the big one and was always going to be the most unpredictable, I just didn't know how my body would handle the accumulated distances and long days on the bike. So far so good though although I'm starting to feel very fatigued these days. 5 weeks to go! I'm pretty nervous for the Cape Epic, some of those stages and the climbing involved look childish. I think it's 3 consecutive stages of over 2000m ascent?! I have a feeling that by Stage 5, I'll be wishing I was back in Ethiopia.
I'm probably most nervous for the Ironman and I think this is where I've probably over-reached. I have done 1 previous Ironman and I know I just won’t have done the necessary training. It's the one event that I'm not sure I'll finish. I'm taking on a full Ironman with little to no swimming or running training and as my mates will happily testify, I am a below average swimmer and an even worse runner! So I'll be keeping a close eye on the location of the nearest SUP lifeguard when I run into the water.
Is this your first Cape Epic? Are you looking forward to riding with a partner instead of alone, as you will have been for the Cairo-Cape Town leg?
This is my first Cape Epic and also my partner Gareth’s first MTB stage race! He's complaining massively about the training distances he's having to put in regularly at the moment. The Cape Epic has always been the starting point of this whole crazy adventure for me. I've followed the race closely over the years and have wanted to take part in it since it first launched. As much as I'm happy in my own company and absolutely loving my Cairo to Cape Town journey, I'm really looking forward to the Cape Epic and sharing the experience and vibe with a really good mate. Thanks in advance for towing me up the climbs Gee! And also on the flats. Also wait for me at the bottom of the hills as well, OK?
You have received support from BH bikes, please tell us a little bit more about the different bikes you will be riding for each event.
This project and adventure really would not be possible without the support and backing of Ray Wilson and his team at BH Bikes South Africa. Ray backed me without hesitation from day 1 and I am so incredibly grateful and privileged to be representing such a good bunch of people and the BH brand.
For the Cairo to Cape Town leg I am riding the BH RX Team Disc Ultegra Di2 Cyclocross bike (with a modified wheelset). For the Cape Town Cycle Tour I will ride the BH G6 Pro Ultegra Di2 Road bike, and for Ironman I will be on a BH Ultralight Ultegra. The BH Lynx 4.8 29" Carbon full suss trail bike will see me through the Cape Epic.
Have you modified the bike in any way for the Cairo to Cape Town ride?
I only made minor modifications and additions really. The biggest one being that I had some strengthened 36 spoke wheels handmade with Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tyres fitted to handle the variable terrain of the African roads and the extra weight and stress of a loaded bike over such a long journey. I fitted a Cambium C17 Brooks saddle for some extra comfort and durability. I installed Alpkit aluminium flared drop bars for extra stability and to accommodate the Apidura handlebar bag. I also added aluminium TT bars. These have been amazing, and perfect for this kind of touring. I spend the majority of the day in the TT position. I also added 2 extra bottle cages to the forks for additional water capacity. Otherwise the BH RX Team Cross bike is as it came out the box including a full carbon frame, Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic gears, BH stem and seat post and Rotor cranks. So far it's soaked up everything that Africa has thrown at it with no worries.
Do you have any more challenges lined up post-Afrikalegburn?
Not immediately. After the Ironman, I plan on having a nap and resting for a bit. I have always been fascinated by Antarctica, and in particular, the stories of Shackleton and his is epic journey out of Antarctica and back to save his men. I've started to wonder now what it would take to cycle to the South Pole. I've recently been looking into that and it is possible apparently! So now I just need BH to launch a fatbike…
How can people follow your journey?
I am posting updates as regularly as possible on my Instagram account as well as my Afrikalegburn Facebook page or you can find out more about my story and my challenges on my website.