Can bicycles save the world?
This was the question on Henry Gold’s mind as he set out on his inaugural bike ride from Cairo to Cape Town in 2002.
Perhaps more importantly, Gold wanted to know if he could make an honest living operating transcontinental bicycle tours.
If he could cross a continent on a bicycle in 100 days, the Toronto-based engineer-turned activist-turned-documentary-film maker thought he could show people that they can bike to work for a half hour every day and make the world a better place.
“I was variously accused of being a charlatan, an insane adventurer who was risking peoples’ lives, and a naïve simpleton that obviously ‘had not spent a day in Africa,'” Gold said in EZinearticles.com.
But people wanted to go along for the ride, were willing to pay for it, and a business was born.
The resulting company, Tour d’Afrique, is a bike race and expedition company that crosses Africa from Cairo to Cape Town each year. It takes four months to complete the 7,500 miles. The idea was so viable, Gold has since started expeditions in six continents and 60 countries including Asia and South America. Gold now spends most of his days travelling the world on his bicycle.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Gold grew up in Communist Czechoslovakia.
In 1977 he earned an electrical engineering degree from McGill University in Montreal, and began his career as an “anti-pollution” engineer for Union Carbide, according to EZinearticles.com.
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In 1984, he co-founded a relief organization, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, which operated in Sudan, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda, Mozambique, Angola, Kenya and the Philippines. He built it into an organization with a $6-million-per-year budget that planted 50 million trees in Africa.
Gold went on to co-produce three award-winning documentaries on Africa: “Burden On The Land,” “AIDS in Africa” and “Meeting The Challenge.”
He co-founded a non-governmental organization focused on transportation, the environment and public health before starting Tour d’Afrique.
It’s cheap, non-polluting and silent, Gold said on EZinearticles.com. Bicycles have been called the most efficient machines ever built by humans because a person on a bicycle uses less energy than any other creature or machine covering the same distance, he said.
“Of course it can,” Gold said. “Imagine every city with boulevards filled with bicycles, pedestrians, streetcars and parks where children could be children again. Is that so hard to imagine? After all, in Copenhagen, 36 percent of all trips are by bikes (only 27 percent by car). By 2015…they aim to be at 50 percent.”
It’s in urban centers where the transformation must occur, Gold said. “Half of the world’s population now lives in cities. That’s more than three-billion-plus…souls.
Gold offered up this challenge: “What if we persuaded Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or George Soros to put up $10 million for the best new human-powered vehicle? Think of the human health benefits, the reduction of demand for our fast-depleting fossil fuels. Just as the X Prize created space tourism, so this prize would engender all sorts of new human-powered inventions.”
By bringing cycling tourists to Africa, Gold said he wanted to change the perception of continent in the developed world and improve its economic potential.
Canadian Patricia “Trish” Gaudet, a retired school secretary, and her husband Wayne, of Okotoks, Alberta (near Calgary) are among the lucky ones.
They did the Tour d’Afrique this year, completing it on May 11 with a group of 60 other cyclists in what Trish described as “a pretty big rolling circus.”
Trish spoke to AFKInsider about how the experience changed the way she thinks about bicycles as a mode of transportation.
She’s had a fascination with Africa since childhood, she said, “particularly East Africa and its wildlife, the migrations, the big five, so riding through those countries on a bike was irresistible.”
Her Tour d’Afrique started in January. She logged 89 cycling days, 28 days of rest (“we needed every one of them,” she wrote on her blog); 77 nights of camping and 43 non-camping nights “in accommodations ranging from icky hotel rooms to a luxury safari tent.”
Seeing Africa by bike allowed Trish to connect with people she saw along the way in a more direct way than other modes of transport. “When you’re on a bike, you’re approachable, not threatening, and it gives anyone there the means to open up a conversation, both as a visitor and an African,” she said.
A longtime bike rider, Trish’s longest bike trip prior to Tour d’Afrique was a 23-day ride from Alberta to Colorado. Tour d’Afrique was six times longer.
Here are some excerpts and tour highlights from Trish’s blog:
– Riding through a sandstorm near Khartoum, Sudan.
– Crossing the border into Ethiopia. “Getting the passport stamp…took ages. The power was out, so instead of the fingerprinting and retina scanning…we sat that there sweating while two young ladies looked up names in a ledger that looked like it had been around since Biblical times. Things got worse when the young ladies’ shift was over and they were relieved by three young men who evidently misunderstood the ladies’ explicit instructions as to which end of the pile to take the next passport from.”
– The first beer since Egypt (“No alcohol in Sudan, not a drop.”)
– Kids throwing stones in Ethiopia. “Yes, Ethiopia is a trying, beautiful, vast and perplexing place to be. It is the country we spend the longest amount of time in and everyone is feeling quite tested by the experience. One of the riders told us that in the 1500s, the Portuguese were greeted by stone-throwing Ethiopians when they traveled into this country. Mind you, they may have been trying to invade or something, and we are not, but nevertheless, who are we to argue with centuries of Ethiopian tradition? Wayne and I have been lucky so far with stone throwers but I have lost it a couple of times, getting off my bike and screeching at the little darlings. They just laugh and run away.”
– Tanzania. “Tanzania is lovely, very much like the southern part of Kenya. It looks like you could plant anything here and it would grow and flourish. We are deep in the heart of Masai country. It is pretty cool to be cycling along and see them in their traditional dress along the side of the road then realizing some are talking on their cell phones! Our guide/driver told us there are about 25,000 Masai, and each man can own about 200 cattle so there are fat cattle everywhere.”
– Zambia. “The Army was out in full force, standing at intervals along the roadside, looking intimidating with full uniforms and nasty-looking guns complete with bayonets. We passed the burning tires, source of all the black smoke, and beside them on the edge of the road were four or five guys who must have been suspects. I didn’t see, but some of them tried to escape as our convoy passed, perhaps thinking the police would not dare fire at them if they were among all us ‘mzungu’ (Bantu term for people of European descent, or Swahili for someone who wanders without purpose, or someone constantly on the move.) Eventually, we rode out of what was perceived to be the trouble area, the truck pulled over and we all pedaled past.”
– South Africa. “We were overwhelmed with how picture-perfect Cape Town bay, the waterfront and harbor were,” Trish told AFKInsider.
Tour d’Afrique changed Trish in ways she has yet to articulate, she said. “I’m more patient. Small things don’t get to me the same way. I’m even more laid back than before.”
While her bike ride across Africa didn’t necessarily fire her up to advocate for better cycling infrastructure back home in Canada, since returning home to Okotoks, she said she’s more motivated to use her bicycle for transportation. “My goal when I got back home was to ride around town with it. I’ve made an effort to do more of that.”
Maybe her trip will inspire others to use bicycles more, or to think big, she said. “If people look at me and think, ‘Well she’s an ordinary person and she did that,’ maybe I can inspire them to make their dreams come true.”