On 7th August of last year Craig Pollard (35), Loretta White (31), Gareth Morris (31) and Scott Carroll (35) left London’s Russell Square with two friends to begin an epic adventure. During the past twelve months they have cycled through the whole of Europe to Istanbul, survived the blistering 50°C heat of the Nubian Desert in Sudan, tackled the hundreds of mountains in Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda, pushed their 50 kilogram bicycles through sand and mud roads of western Tanzania and overcome dysentery and other illnesses to achieve their dream.
“This trip has been the toughest thing that either of us has ever done, it has pushed us to our physical and mental limits but it has also been the most incredible adventure. We’ve been very lucky not to have any major incidents along the way, if anything it has gone the other way, everywhere we have gone people have been incredibly friendly and welcomed us into their homes.”
Loretta and Craig, who have been married for nearly four years have cycled with Gareth and Scott for more than 10,000 miles, through 27 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“We are not cyclists back home. We had a few training weekends in the months before but only loaded our bikes for the first time the night before we left, feeling terrified about being able to cycle straight with all of the luggage!”
Today, on 7th August 2012, the team arrived at their final destination of Cape Town after being given special permission by the Cable Car Company and the South Africa National Park to finish their journey on the top of Table Mountain, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Tonight they will attend a reception at the British High Commission, organised by their main sponsor SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies).
But it hasn’t all been glamorous. During the year the team has have camped by the roadside, next to storm drains and rubbish dumps, they have regularly eaten pasta flavoured with a stock cube to provide the calories they’ve needed to keep cycling, and have had to hand wash their clothes every few days. In the Eastern Sahara desert their finger and toenails almost burned off and they have contracted both Amoebic Dysentry and Giardia.
This was not just about the physical and mental challenge, it has been a journey with a purpose. Craig, a fundraiser from Northumberland and Loretta, a Clinical Psychologist from Harlow in Essex set up the UK charity Cycle Africa and the team has been raising money and awareness for their partner organisations: Street Action, Retrak, Railway Children, Action for Children in Conflict and Street Child Africa are working to support more children off the streets of Africa’s cities and into better lives. Through their website www.cycleafrica.org the team has raised more than £30,000 towards their £50,000 target, most of it coming from their family and friends.
“We have been visiting street children projects in the countries along our route. We have seen the tiny feet poking out of the bottom of fertiliser bags on the streets of Addis Ababa and have heard how many children feel safer sleeping in the drains under Africa’s cities and how they are often washed away when it rains. We have spent the day playing with a group of tiny four- and five- year old children and then watched as they skipped off into the dusk to spend yet another night on the dangerous streets of Bujumbura. We have chatted with youngsters while they sniff glue to forget and to keep the cold and hunger at bay. We have met the tough kids of Durban, all of whom have been stabbed at least once. We have watched them surfing in their t-shirts and jeans and emerge shivering from the freezing water to roll in the hot sand without a parent to wrap them in a warm towel.”
“It has been heartbreaking to hear about the terrible things that these children have faced but also inspiring to see how their lives have been transformed by the work of our partner charities.”
After an incredible year, the team are feeling very proud to be British.
“The biggest thing we will take from this trip is the incredible generosity of the people along the way who have let us camp next to their houses, brought us hot tea on cold nights and who have lifted our spirits when we’ve been struggling. We’ve learned that the world is filled with good people and it has been a privilege to experience the kindness of strangers along the way.””We’ve been asked ‘what next?’ a lot. We can comfortably say that there will be very little cycling in the next few months and we are looking forward to seeing family and friends and to having time to reflect on what we have experienced, it’s going to take a while for it all to sink in and to get back to normality after such a magical year.”
More information and content is available at www.cycleafrica.org and from the team’s blogs www.cycleafrica.org/blog . You can read about the team’s time with AfCiC in Thika at www.cycleafrica.org/lights-cameras-action-for-children-in-conflict