Heather and her reliable Meindl walking shoes (Lites) left the office behind and embarked on a cycling expedition through Africa, travelling from Zambia’s magnificent Victoria Falls to Cape Town’s rugged coastline; the Cape of Good Hope. Here, she tells us a bit more about pedalling over 1,000 miles across the home of the big 5…

“After seeing an organised cycling trip across Africa advertised years ago, I finally booked – age 50. It turned out to be the most magical experience and although I can see the attraction of an African bus safari, being on two wheels really does place you in the heart of the landscape, right amongst the wildlife.

My bike legs have taken me from Land’s End to John O’Groats and along the Danube. But this was an expert organised trip (I booked through KE Adventure Travel in Keswick), so the itinerary and pace were set and a super support team kept us fed and watered every 30km. They also helped us with repairs which were so needed, trust me!

We biked between 100-120km a day and that worked out around a day and a half in Zambia, 7 days in Botswana, 8 in Namibia and 5 in South Africa. We hopped on and off a few coaches and also spent a little time in the Game Reserve in Moremi where we said hi to a few of the big 5.”

Meindl walking shoes - an African adventure
Namibia sand dunes. Wide open spaces with a backdrop of mountains.

“We had breakfast at 5.30am as it was the coolest part of the day, then it was time to ride. Nights were spent wild camping and it really was a privilege to sleep outside in such wonderful wide open places.

The big, wide open spaces are my abiding memory of the trip. I had no expectations for Namibia or what it would be like to be in a desert. The 200km of dunes by the coast, characterised by the warm tones of the sand and the pale yellow grass were otherworldly and stunning.”

Meindl walking shoes
Heather cycling across the sand dunes of Namibia. Credit: Marion Jones

“It was unfamiliar territory but there were still familiar comforts. Whilst our South African hosts weren’t so keen on the misty floor of the National Park, I was more than used to that particular weather phenomenon. Home is the Lake District.”

Animals I said hello to

“Lions, elephants, zebras, warthogs, giraffes, ostriches, eagles, other birdlife, impala, kudu, springbok, buffalo and hippos. We just missed theleopards and rhinos.”

Source Fuse hydration - African gear test
Elephant family in Botswana. Credit: Heather Palmer

Top tips

“Just go! Don’t take your own bike, rent one. But take your seat, pedals and handlebar grips – essentially, the bits you touch. The desert conditions for 8 of the days made me particularly thankful that I’d hired a bike and not taken my own, as sand really isn’t kind to bike mechanisms.”

What kit did I take?

“A friend recommended a lifeventure travel clothesline which proved the best tip ever. My Meindl lite trail shoes kept me pedalling and Source Gobi Sandals were great when off the bike. I carried a Source Hydration Fuse 8L backpack which sat nicely for cycling. There was enough room to carry essential bits of kit and the water supply was constant and sufficient for such a lengthy challenge.”

Memorable moments

“Okay, so I wasn’t always that stable on my bike… Gravel, sand and the curves in the roads led to 3 falls, much to the amusement of the rest of the group who did manage to stay in the saddle.

The funniest moment was actually stopping at the Tropic of Capricorn sign and a member of the tour attempting to balance on top…of course when we later exchanged photos and stitched together the whole event, there was only one of him actually upright!

One thing I don’t miss about the trip – the Namibian roads. They broke our bikes, our bus and our trailer!”

But vast landscapes, sleeping under the stars and pedalling past huge, wild animals that I’d never seen before certainly made a trip I won’t forget and that I’d recommend to others.