A Cycling Expedition Across South Africa
Q & A with Rick Lankford
ExperiencePlus! Tour Leader Rick Lankford recently scouted our 2017 Expedition route in South Africa. After his return home, we asked Rick to report back on his journey and share some highlights.
Your work as a guide and expedition tour manager has taken you across much of Europe, and most recently, to South Africa scouting for our March 2017 Expedition. Are there any days of the tour in particular that you find your thoughts returning to – be it for the scenery, activities, road conditions, tour “bloopers”?
South Africa was unlike any place that I have ever been to in or around Europe. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the people and the landscapes were all new, fresh and different. Having been my first time in South Africa I have many images and feelings that are etched into my mind’s eye. There was one particular day riding along the coast into Gordon’s Bay that I will never forget. My average moving speed was below 7 km per hour. Bike 400 meters, stop and take a picture. Bike 600 meters, stop and take a picture. Bike 300 meters, stop and take a picture. It was one of the most beautiful coastal rides that I have ever experienced.
How would you describe the perfect rider for the South Africa Expedition?
Animal lovers and riders who want a non-European cycling experience.
This expedition is for someone who is looking for a unique adventure but who also wants to enjoy the creature comforts of great food and wine, wonderful and charming accommodations, and very friendly and accommodating locals.
Can you talk about the local guides?
We have some excellent local guides in South Africa. They are all cyclists, and all have a love for tracking big game and regaling stories of exotic animal sightings. It really is great to work with other guides who are passionate about their own homeland and helping others to experience it down to it’s core.
The Expedition spends the night in a host of interesting accommodations, can you talk about some of your favorite lodgings during the tour.
We stay in some truly spectacular B&B’s on this expedition. The comfort level is a few steps up compared to Europe. There seems to be a surprise awaiting every afternoon as we get to enjoy another charming B&B host, excellent breakfasts, individually decorated rooms, wonderful gardens, and exceptional views! There is also a night that we sleep in (luxury) tents in the bush. That is a really special night!!
People often associate Africa with safari animals – lions, cheetahs, rhinos, elephants and giraffes. What was the safari experience like on the tour?
The safari experience was definitely one of the the highlights of the trip. Being charged by a group of adolescent rhinos battling for mating rights was a moment in Africa that I will never forget. We also encountered elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, lions and a wide range of big animals that I didn’t even know existed. The safari experiences were great but Africa is full of large animals, everywhere! You ride past different types of monkeys daily on the bicycle. It seems surreal at times when you all the sudden find yourself sharing the road with a troop of baboons staring at you.
The Expedition passes through a vast range of landscapes from rugged coastlines, to the dry interior, to verdant vineyards, where there any locations you found to be particularly striking or unique – unlike any place you’ve visited before?
Riding in the interior I felt like I was riding through the American West. We rode through these huge semi-dessert landscapes with big blue skies that seem to go on forever. It was the typical image with the mountains in the background and a long, straight road starting in the foreground and then fading into the distance. The landscape seemed oddly familiar.
How was the food – anything we have to try should we find ourselves in the region?
Meat, meat, meat and more meat!! The meat in South Africa is amazing, tender, tasty, inexpensive and highlighted everywhere. I had mouth-watering steaks that cost less than a loaded hot dog from a N.Y.C. street vendor. Delicious!!!! The wine was quite surprising as well, you can find excellent wines at excellent prices.
What did you notice about the bike culture in South Africa?
I had the opportunity to take part in a L’Eroica vintage bike ride after I was finished scouting for the tour. L’Eroica was a weekend event based in Montagu, which is a cute little town tucked into the wine growing region where our Expedition passes through. There were over 150 riders who had come with pre-1987 steel framed road bikes to ride one of three gravel courses. There was a 50km, 90km and 140km option. I can attest that 90km on a 1980’s steel frame road bike is a rough ride. It was a wonderful experience full of vintage bikes, new friends, beautiful landscapes and camaraderie. It was great to see so many people come out with classic bikes and dressed in vintage clothing to join in an old school bike ride.
What do you wish that you had packed for South Africa that you didn’t have with you?
A good camera with a zoom lens. I have become a skilled camera phone photographer but found it was almost impossible to get a good picture of game in the bush without a proper camera and lens. Binoculars are also great for spotting wildlife. A stylish sun hat would have been a nice addition to my kit as well.
Find out more about the ExpeditionPlus! cycling journey across South Africa.