6,000 km across Africa

Erik Horsthemke takes on his latest challenge.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 09.12.2023 Photography by
Sebastian Samek, Felix M P, and Erik Horsthemke
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Erik Horsthemke is a German ultra and adventure athlete. Last year, you may remember, he started the TripleAltTour project, in which he aimed to ride all three Grand Tours, including transfer routes, in the fastest possible time.

But adventures don’t always have to break records. Erik’s current project is about a charitable cause while he rides 6,000 km from Cape Town in South Africa to Kampala in Uganda. This one is more about people, culture, and the landscape. Last year, Erik collected money with the organization VivaConAgua, which will be used to build a well in Uganda.

In total, Erik planned to head north across seven African countries: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda. When we spoke, Erik had already covered over 2,500 km and was currently in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. He also sent us photos of his journey.

Erik looks at his phone stopped by the side of the road.

Bikepacking is a constant up and down. Especially here, things often work a little differently than in other parts of the world.

My setup consists of a gravel bike with 45 mm wide tires, a tail bag from Tailfin, a frame bag, a hydration pack, a front bag and two side bags on the left and right. That’s a lot of luggage. The bike weighs almost 25 kg.

Erik's bike.
Erik out of the saddle.

This time I decided to carry a lot more luggage. If the bike is defective, it may well be that the nearest bike repair shop is more than 500 km away. That’s why I have a lot of spare material with me. Camera equipment and batteries also make up a large part of the weight.

This time it wasn’t about completing the route in the fastest possible time. It’s more about taking your time. If I meet new people, if they invite me to dinner or offer me a place to sleep for the night, then I prefer to stay.

Erik meets a group of children.
A child pulling a funny face.
A child smiling at the camera.

Africa exceeds my expectations. For hundreds of kilometres there is simply nothing. No towns, no villages, no people. Just a road that leads through nothing. It is very difficult to get something to eat. There are often only 1-2 options per day. The weather is cold and wet. You don’t drive up a pass and then down again, like in the Alps, you drive up and stay up. For several hundreds of kilometres. The weather is naturally colder in these areas. On the bike I’m extremely slow. Often only around 20 km/h. Faster than that is simply not possible on these roads and with the luggage. On the other hand, South Africa is super already. I saw more animals in two days than I would in Germany in a year. People come up to you and want to talk. Everyone is willing to help.

Africa is a huge continent and it is worth differentiating and taking a separate look at each individual country. What we see on television, what we are told, often does not correspond to reality. The only way to see and know what it’s really like is to go there and see the situation for yourself. I would like to share this image as much as possible.

The different countries could not be more varied in terms of landscape and society. It goes through deserts and national parks with elephants, lions, giraffes, leopards, and many other animals.

That makes the journey extremely exciting. When fifty elephants suddenly run across the street and you’re sitting on your bike, it can be really terrifying.

A hippo in the mud.
A pair of lions at night.
A giraffe standing in the middle of the road.

On the other hand, there are parts of the route where you can’t see anything for hundreds of kilometres; no houses, no people, no animals. You can see for miles in every direction. I did not expect that.

Erik on the road.

No matter where, the people I have met so far have had one thing in common: their hospitality. Everywhere I go I am greeted warmly, they ask questions and are always happy to help. Once my bike was so broken that a family from South Africa drove me almost 50 km to the nearest bike shop. Just so I could continue my journey afterwards.

Erik having dinner at someone's house.

A few weeks ago in Botswana, I lost my bike bags and half of my equipment. I removed the panniers from the bike and then went to a guesthouse. Once inside, I realised after about ten minutes that I had forgotten the bags.

Then they were gone. Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and a large part of my spare material are now gone. Since then I’ve been riding with a backpack, which takes a toll on my back in the long run. I’ve therefore decided to have some new things sent from Germany. Unfortunately you cannot buy these in Zambia. The bags should arrive on Monday, then we can continue.

Erik riding at night.
Close up of Erik riding at night.
Erik yawning after a day on the bike.
Erik off the bike at night.
Erik chatting to two people sitting down.

Over the last few days there has been very little. Somehow, little of everything. People, cities, no change in the landscape. Only desert. Every day I have to make sure I have enough food and drink with me so that I don’t run out in between two cities. The distances between these places are usually 100-200 km. I am happy every day when I arrive and find a good place to sleep, a shower, and something to eat.

Erik sitting up on the bike.
Erik with his jersey pulled up.
Erik at a shop buying supplies.

“A little update,” Erik writes a while later on Instagram after we have spoken. “Maybe some of you have already wondered why there is so little cycling content [posted by me online recently]. Unfortunately my knee is not really getting better and I can only walk a few kilometres every day. In order to still manage the route and gather as many impressions as possible, I decided to continue by hitchhiking or by bus. This is sometimes almost more exhausting than cycling! Yesterday I drove 26 hours straight by bus to get to the next city. I am currently in northern Tanzania in the town of Mwanza on Lake Victoria. From here I will now continue to Kampala where I will meet VivaConAgua.”

Erik preparing his bike.

And then, another post a month later: “Almost two whole months in Africa,” he writes. “I’m exhausted and happy to have arrived back in cold Germany. I needed some time to unwind from the stress and excitement of the last two months.

“I have been to seven different African countries and experienced more than I could have imagined. Bikepacking is always a challenge. Whether long, short, fast or slow, bikepacking remains a challenge.

“It’s very hard for me to put into words what I have experienced during this time. I really seen a lot that can’t get out of my head weeks later. About the whole project and the journey, Sebastian Samek and I filmed a documentary that will be released next year and that can certainly show what I experienced there better than what would be possible on social media.”

You can find Erik’s donation page here.

Sebastian Samek and felix.m.p photographed Erik on his journey.

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