Derek Cullen’s Incredible Journey Across Africa
May 8, 2018
Derrick Cullen is a remarkable individual in the sport of cycling. He chose to test the limits of human endurance by riding his bicycle across 11 African countries in 2013 and 2014. Cullen made this journey to find solitude and inner peace in his life.
In a July 2014 interview with Daily Mail journalist Chris Leadbeater, Cullen shared his reasons for riding a bicycle across Africa. He said, “It got to the point in my life where I was fed up with living a life crippled by fear and anxieties. The idea of traveling from one end of Africa to another by bicycle was an intriguing one to conquer fear.”
Cullen decided to raise funds for Aoibheann’s Pink Tie, a children’s cancer charity in Ireland. His inspiration for his decision was losing both of his parents to cancer.
Cullen, who had never once in his life owned a bicycle, bought a 13-year-old Trek mountain bicycle with 23 gears. After that, he started on his journey in Cape Town, South Africa in November 2013. He then rode across Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan. He ended his journey in Cairo, Egypt on October 2014, a total of 13,500 kilometers.
For his trip across Africa, Cullen traveled as light as possible. He took basic camping supplies, a pocketknife and a camera. In his pack he also carried a map, spare spokes, tires, a compass and bicycle tubes. His Kindle served as a virtual library.
He had to adapt to a diet of bananas, biscuits, chocolate and “lots and lots of water.” When possible, he dined on the local cuisine offered in roadside stalls in whatever country he happened to be visiting.
Each day, Cullen said he averaged between 60 and 100 kilometers on his bicycle. He took his time so he could take in the beauty and scenery of Africa. Cullen made it a rule not to ride at night.
He said the most challenging reality of riding across Africa was the hot climate. The countries in southern Africa such as Namibia and Botswana consist of desert-like conditions. The desert is not exactly conducive to cycling. Cullen suffered from heat exhaustion while bicycling through the Namibia desert. To prevent a repeat, Cullen said he wore a wide-brimmed hat and lots of suntan lotion. Incessant desert heat and the occasional thunderstorms would not deter him from his mission.
Another unexpected part of Cullen’s journey was riding through sparsely populated land. Cullen admitted that his lowest point was “The desperate feeling of isolation” especially in southern Namibia.
Despite the reputation that Africa has as place of poverty and danger from civil wars, Cullen said he never faced any danger on his journey. He found the African people to be the most kind and compassionate in the world. Unfortunately, the language barrier often made verbal communication with the native people impossible.
Cullen said, when he traveled through Africa, he witnessed people using mobile phones for communication in some of the countries he visited.
Cullen had originally planned to fly to Canada on his way back home to Ireland. The massive popular response by the public who followed his entire journey on the social network made Cullen decide to ride across France before catching a ferry to England. Cullen then rode across England and Wales before catching a ferry to Ireland. He then rode back to his home in Dublin.
When he first started on his journey in November 2013, Derek Cullen was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. By the time he finished his ride in October 2014, Cullen was a changed man. All of the anxiety was gone to be replaced with confidence and serenity. Cullen’s life had new meaning and it took a seemly impossible bicycle trip to make it happen.