Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 03:10:31 PDT
From: Claude Marthaler

Subject: "The Foot of Africa"

Dear Redfishes!
Cape Town, South Africa, km 89000

The bicycle tribe has its legends and visions. Today's generation of "global cyclists" are equipped by sophisticated machines often nicknamed "spaceships" by the locals. Supported by sponsors or a handful of friends, connected to an extensive growing tarmac and communications network, their journeys last longer in time, get recorded, printed, photographed, filmed - and still self-produced and sold.

While almost all of them have an e-mail, some have a web-site and publish articles, others, few so far, even use an iridium phone and get helped by agents. The multiplication of bike travelers gave birth to an inflation of challenges, where suddenly the bicycle which uses to be a simple mean of transportation, became not only an engine for discovery or a way of communication, but also a handicap designated to reinforce the challenge of a journey and its commercial value.

Think only about the repeated ascent of the Aconcagua summit (695Om) in South America with a bike on the shoulder. Every year records of continental crossings are broken to figure in the Guiness Book of Records. The on-going idealistic "peaceride" ( opened a door to a collective movement of global cyclists, followed closely by the "Odyssey 2OOO" ( project, the first ever one year fully organised and paying worldtour by bike. (36000 $ p.p.)

The acceleration of this tendencies is fast, as if the human would like to escape from the law of gravitation on his bike. Confused, I decided to get some wisdom by an old man (after all, in Africa old people are libraries) and covered my very first thousand kilometers on the African continent especially to meet a lively legend of the worldbiker's tribe, a bike "guru", a real pioneer: Eric Attwell, 85 years old, had crossed Africa in 1936, at age 2O, with his 1O year older brother Jack on three gears "Royal Endfield" bicycles worth 3 Sterling 7O cents each. Most probably the first ever " trans-Africa" realized on two-wheels. As I showed him shortly my web-site, he said simply: "wonderful!", but he pressed on me to go together to enjoy the sunny day.

In the thirties, the stretch from Port Elisabeth to Cairo had only 4OO km. of tarmac road and the Assouan dam was not built yet; the British empire was still intact and World War Two in preparation. In his book "THE ROAD TO LONDON", Eric almost describes "another planet, a more or less unspoiled continent which alas will never be the same again."

On their epic journey, they carried minimal equipment and even less cash. It ended some 22 months - 16 days and some 13OOO kms later in the BBC studios, in a brief, but enjoyable moment of glory. When I asked him if, being able to be young again, he would like to repeat his journey on a 24 gears MTB, his answer has been an absolute "no!"

He added with energy: "In the Africa of 1936 we never even imagined being robbed, people, especially ordinary people were extremely hospitable." His book finish with these lines: "To any of those hundreds who helped us on our way who may still be alive and read these words, I offer a belated salute. Without their kindness, given so spontaneously and so unstintingly, our venture would have been quite impossible." His honest account has that aspect of authenticity lost somewhere in our modern world.

His humble and courteous figure gives the bike traveler's history a fascinating chapter, showing that the biggest border to cross is not geographical nor material, but spiritual.

The YAK_

P.S.: "THE ROAD TO LONDON" has been published in South Africa only (Ed. Palladium Press, P.O. Box 662, Port Elisabeth. ISBN 62O-21982-3). Yet Eric Attwell is very interested in finding an international publisher. If you want to buy his book or publish it, please contact him directly at:

Eric Attwell
36, Landdowne Place, 6OO1
Port Elisabeth, Republic of South Africa,
Phone : O4.15.85.8O.23.


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