Well, I thought I was a pretty active and adventurous person, scaling ice walls and climbing mountains and even managing the staircase after a busy day in the hospital.
Then I heard about Rob. This guy swam across the straits of Gibraltar (more people have climbed Everest than completed this successfully), cycled across Africa and then ran a “double marathon” all to raise money for a fantastic charity, Re-Cycle (and to watch England play in the World Cup. But let’s face it, there are easier ways of doing that.)
“Re~Cycle’s mission is to collect secondhand bicycles and ship them to Africa. Their partners distribute bikes and teach riders the skills to repair and maintain them. Their bikes also help healthcare workers reach remote villages and even provide an ambulance service in remote Namibia.”
So, for the second in this series of interviews on unusual journeys, let’s hear from the man himself, Rob Forbes.
How would you describe yourself and what you’ve done?
I’m an easy going sporty character who makes the most of life and enjoys a good adventure. Up until cycling 20,000km through mountains, deserts and tropical rainforests down West Africa and braving ships and sharks in swimming 25km from Spain to Morocco, all of my greatest achievements had taken place at the dinner table including 77 chicken wings at hooters and 3rd place in a national pie eating contest.
- Have you ever done a great long adventure like this before?
Within 2 weeks of departing home I had cycled further than I have done in my entire life and in training I didn’t even manage to swim half the distance required to cross the Strait. As for the run I’ve never gone beyond marathon distance so I have no idea how my body will respond at trying to complete over double the distance on hilly terrain. Therefore I guess you could say this is a once in a lifetime adventure (but I do thrive off shorter sporting challenges and plan to take on an ironman next year.) I also plan to go into intensive training and better my 2008 third place finish in this year’s national mince pie eating contest.
“Until cycling 20,000km through mountains, deserts and tropical rainforests down West Africa and braving ships and sharks in swimming 25km from Spain to Morocco, my greatest achievement was reaching 3rd place in a national pie eating contest.”
-Which countries have you travelled through?
England, France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, DRC, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa (Lesotho for 2km on the Mweni Mountain marathon as part of my comrades training!)
-Which place surprised you the most?
Nigeria. Before setting off I consulted with various overlanders who all advised me that Nigeria and South Africa would be the most dangerous countries I’d pass through. This attitude was reinforced by other travellers I met along the way, who suggested I’d be lucky to make it out with my bike and should either fly or make sure a cycled incredibly fast.
As it transpired I had a great experience by avoiding the dodgy cities and delta regions in the south and travelling through central areas well off the beaten tourist trail. Being able to speak English was a great release and as a result I was able to have much more banter along the way, get directions (although that wasn’t always beneficial) and find out exactly what type or bit of animal was on my dinner plate!
-Where did you get the idea for this from?
I was always planning to follow England this World Cup because we have family in South Africa – and having got into cycling and triathlons it seemed like the obvious thing to do.
-Would you recommend doing it to your best friend? Your worst enemy?!
For sure, I’d definitely recommend my best friend to cycle through Africa but over a much longer period of time so they don’t have to go through the same bum trauma and fatigue as me. As for my worst enemy, he’d be more than welcome to borrow my wet suit and attempt to swim the Strait of Gibraltar.
-Did you ever consider giving up?
No chance. Watching England win the world cup and knowing that so many friends and family had backed me with donations to the charity was more than enough motivation to keep the pedals spinning.
-How did you keep yourself motivated?
The sweet taste of Soreen malt loaf provided me with just the energy I needed to get me through some of the darker moments.
-What’s the most dangerous place you’ve ever visited?
I was in the away end at a Swindon match once. I guess the DRC is considered pretty dangerous and I did have to pick up my pace at one stage to get through a road block manned by teenagers with machetes.
As for my worst enemy, he’d be more than welcome to borrow my wet suit and attempt to swim the Strait of Gibraltar.
-Your favourite? (Ah, you knew that one was coming)
Gabon was stunning, stacks of rainforest and lots of wildlife. What more do you need? I also loved the Congo just for the street ladies’ homemade peanut butter.
-Do you think this trip has changed you?
I’m certainly a lot hairy and skinnier and its made me really appreciate all the things we take for granted in life – running water, electricity, tarred roads etc. and even food and water!
- How did you hear about Re-cycle? What made you choose them?
I was searching around for a charity that would tie in nicely with the sustainable ethos of the trip and someone mentioned re-cycle. So, I went and met with them, helped with the loading of bicycles, and was really impressed with how the charity operated. It is just such a great idea to recycle unwanted bikes and give them to people who really need them, that I was instantly sold. I’ve since been able to see first hand how the increased mobility provided by bicycles can really make a difference to people’s lives in Africa. I’ve seen people transporting all manner of goods by bicycle from live goats and chickens to 8 foot long rolls of hut thatching!
I’ve since been able to see first hand how the increased mobility provided by bicycles can really make a difference to people’s lives in Africa.
-How did you plan for this trip? Was it enough?
Having day dreamed about doing such a trip for much of last year it wasn’t until early August, after reading the Lonely Planet Africa guide book, carrying out some internet research and contacting other adventurers, that I realised I really needed to get the pedals spinning if I was going to make it to the World Cup. From there on in it was a mad panic balancing work, swim training and planning the trip. A week before departing, I still didn’t have a bike or any kit but one way or another I was ready for lift off on the 1st October and therefore able to make it to southern Spain just in time to attempt the swim before autumn conditions set in.
I also plan to go into intensive training and better my 2008 third place finish in this year’s national mince pie eating contest.
-Would you do it all again?
Probably not. This was a once in a lifetime adventure and I don’t think it would do my career or relationship any good to disappear off on a bicycle for another 8 months, let alone my ability to have kids in the future!
-What do you do when you’re not performing heroic missions?
Watch sport, eat, read about sport, eat, play sport, eat, work with wildlife to earn some money to enter sporting events, buy food and eat.
-What do you wish I’d asked you?
Is £10,000 a big enough donation to the charity for this superb interview?
Is £10,000 a big enough donation to the charity for this superb interview?
So there you have it. If you’d like to help support the charity Re-Cycle, you can find all the juicy details on Rob’s own site, Tri4Africa. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook. He aims to raise £1 per mile (that’s £19 000 altogether) and every contribution goes straight to charity. He’s not there yet and time is running out…