Paris To Dakar by Bike by Rob van der Geest

“The Sahara on a bicycle, is that possible?” A group of 25 enthusiastic cyclists accepted this challenge and left from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, on 10 September 2006 to hit the road to Dakar. They completed this incredible new venture of crossing the Sahara by bike, passing sand dunes and surprised camels.

We leave Paris on a sunny Sunday morning along the banks of the Seine in search of adventure for the next ten weeks. The condition of the cyclists increases rapidly during the stages which pass through historical French cities and green valleys. We are in shape just in time to climb the high mountains of the Pyrenees. Here we reach the highest point of our trip at the 2,407 meter high Port d’Envilaria in the Princedom of Andorra. Englishman Andy manages to avoid this point. He turns his bike into a dark tunnel but is kicked out by the police immediately, fortunately for him, at the other side of the mountain. A memorable day follows. Never ending rains combined with low temperatures and thick fog push all leisure riders into a small bar to attempt to get the body temperatures back to acceptable values. Most of the espresso ends up on the floor as result of the heavy shivering. Finally everybody continues the journey through sunny and, above all, fascinating Spain with its rough rocks, magnificent views and an abundance of culture in Moorish cities.
A fast ferry drops us at the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar on the African continent. Within 50 minutes we are in a new world with a different culture and among other cultures, a world where we have to share the road with goats, sheep, donkeys and monkeys. During the stages through the rough Atlas mountains in Morocco we already notice that we are getting closer to the Sahara. Slowly the vegetation disappears in favor of sand and rocks. Cows are replaced by camels.
Two colossal sculptures of camels greet us near Tan Tan form the symbolic entrance gate to the Sahara. From that moment the distances, temperatures and our water consumption increase day by day. Despite the emptiness of the world and the endless straight roads, the days pass by quickly. The Sahara fascinates us with its yellow sand dunes, crossing camels, friendly Bedouins, and the sparkling starry sky. The strong wind is alternately our best friend or worst enemy. Stages of 160 kilometers (96 miles) are sometimes covered within 4 hours by the fast guys in the front. Other days it is a struggle to keep the speedometer above 20 kilometers (12 miles) per hour. The more relaxed leisure riders use every scarce opportunity to get a cup of tea or cold Coke and arrive in camp sometimes just before sunset. Since we ride close along the Atlantic Ocean a breeze from the ocean drops the temperature by a few degrees. However, regularly we are surprised by a scorching wind directly from the Sahara, like a hot hair drier straight in the face.
Our camps are always situated at unique locations. One night we sleep at the base of a huge sand dune as tall as a flat building. The next day we stay on the edge of a gigantic rocky plate, which descends to the Atlantic Ocean. Incidentally, our camp is visited by an old Mauritanian Mercedes passing by to get a bottle of water. Most of it is used for consumption; however sometimes the valuable liquid of life is used for washing hands and feet as preparation for a prayer in the direction of Mekka.
The contrast is big as we enter from the emptiness of the desert into the noisy and crowded streets of Nouakchott, the biggest city in the Sahara. Farther on, after we leave the capital of Mauritania, we see the vegetation, people, and animals return along the road slowly, and so our delight. Amazingly, we have crossed The Sahara!
A day through a fresh green swamp full of meter-long lizards, brightly-colored birds, and sprinting wild boars along the river Senegal brings us into the country with the same name. Several days we traverse the sloping savannah. We are encouraged loudly by enthusiastic waving kids and women in colorful dresses standing in front of little huts or under centuries-old baobab trees. The last stage brings us in the chaotic centre of the metropolis of Dakar, the final destination of our trip.
In Dakar, Priit Salumäe from Estonia is celebrated as the strong winner of the first ever “Paris Dakar by Bike.” Margus Püvi from Estonia and the Dutch climber Rob van den Heuvel are completing the stage. But in fact everybody feels like the winner after fulfilling 7,200 fascinating kilometers ( 4,500 miles ) on a bike crossing enormous mountains and the endless Sahara.