The Slow Way Down - Gérald Coniel - ebook

Gerald Coniel shares his epic 12 000 KM long adventure across the African continent. His daily struggle to ride every last inch of the Tour d'Afrique is truly captivating. "Slow Way Down" gives a fun and fresh look at Africa while exposing the challenges of racing a bicycle on some of the most daunting roads on the planet. An entertaining and exciting story so inspiring that it might even get you jumping on the saddle yourself...

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Slow Way


by Gerald Coniel


The Slow Way Down

© All rights strictly reserved

First edition 2012

Cover design by JDE Creative Communication and Jakesdesigns

Proofreading by Libby Paterson

Text by Gerald Coniel and Libby Paterson

Epub-e-book ISBN: 978-3-86346-131-7

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying and recording, or by any other information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.


I feel privileged to have been to asked to write the introduction for this book on behalf of Gerald. I know Gerald very well, he has been a massive positive influence in my life, an effect it has to be said he has on most people he meets. When I first met him he had just launched Junk Mail, a hugely successful classified advertising business in South Africa, that was 20 years ago.

Coming to South Africa from Europe with his wife and two children, he came to start a new business in a country who’s future at that time was still uncertain. Junk Mail continues to grow today, and is now a leading media company in South Africa.

Gerald’s sheer enthusiasm, tenacity, and complete embrace of life was a spirit that totally infected me. At first we were business adversaries, now we are partners and life long friends.

We’ve been through a lot together, personally and in business, mostly with memorable outcomes. Beyond working together, we’ve travelled Sub Sahara on motorbikes, icy North Eastern Europe on skidoos, and everywhere else in between. His appetite for adventure and taking on new challenges then sparked a completely new phase in his life (and mine): mastering the world of cycling.

As with all, he took on the challenge of cycling with everything he had. He got totally engrossed and before long was competing in highly challenging cycle races, progressing to take on full-blown stage races culminating in one of the toughest races in the world, the Cape Epic. It was a life changer and set him up perfectly for the Tour D’Afrique. Not many people know that the feat of all these physical achievements is made more astounding given that as a boy Gerald was almost a cripple, with severe hip problems that had him bed ridden for over a year.

So Gerald finally faced his ultimate demon in 2010, one that would not lay to rest until he took it on. A race lasting 4 months through some of the most beautiful yet most inhospitable, most gruelling and yet most fascinating environments in the world. From the top to the bottom of the world’s 2nd most populous continent. He, as usual, prepared himself with everything he had, only this time the challenge was more personal. He would be doing this on his own, not with me as his team mate, a personal journey. Physical and mental ability tested to the grandest scale, pushing his boundaries the furthest ever.

You’ll understand the qualities and character of this man, and of the fascinating experience he encountered through the highly entertaining account of his epic adventure within this book. Most of all, you’ll come to understand the remarkable energy and persona of this man as he is tested to the limit.

I feel very lucky and happy to say that I know Gerald, that his spirit for life, his example as a family man, and the seeming ease in which he takes things on have rubbed off on me too. Choose your friends wisely they say, with Gerald Coniel I think I made one of the wisest choices possible.

Felix Erken


Where are you go?

“You! You! You! Where are you go?” – I had heard that strangely formulated question a million times already. How could I possibly respond when I hardly knew the answer myself? Ethiopian children had never heard of Cape Town anyway!

For now it felt as if I was going nowhere, stuck in a slow motion world. Head down, all I could focus on was the sluggish rotation of my knees, and the tiny feet that bounced off the tarmac along my front wheel. I had never been so sick while cycling before and despite the 3000m altitude, it felt like I was hitting the lowest point in my life! Headache, fever, stomach cramps and fatigue were turning the climb into a survival exercise. Just as I thought that things could not get any worse a stone hit me, bringing my focus back to the real world for a few seconds. I was in fact somewhere in the Ethiopian highlands, trying to finish stage 36 of the longest bicycle race in the world. By now our starting line in Cairo was a mere souvenir.

“You! You! You! Where are you go?” More children were now joining the questioning parade, rushing towards me to ask for money. “You! Give me Bihr! You! You! You!” My desperate attempt to drop the crowd of young beggars, by launching a surprise acceleration, turned out to be pointless as more fresh legs kept on emerging around my bike. It was hard to believe that these frail looking children dressed in dirty rags could run up the steep Ethiopian hills, bare foot, faster than me riding a carbon frame mountain bike! Even if I was struggling, the ease at which these kids could keep up with my pace was mind blowing. More than anything, it was obvious that Ethiopians would still rule the world of marathon for years to come...

Some of the boys were now getting impatient with me, raising their voices, obviously upset by the lack of attention I was giving them. It was time to lose my impetuous supporters. I launched a second attempt at a sudden sprint. It worked! The young crowd was now dropping behind giving me a bit of space to breathe. Unfortunately, my unexpected move hadn’t done much for my popularity levels and stones started flying at me again. Infuriated by such idiotic behaviour, I slammed on my brakes turning around to chase the little pests! My surprised ‘fan club’ immediately ran away in every possible direction. This was the fastest and most organised dispersion I had ever witnessed - it was obviously not their first time. I knew that the sudden calm resulting from my mock charge was going to be short lived, and getting back into the climb I was already preparing myself to brave the next wave of harassing children.

Why were Ethiopian kids throwing stones at us? Was it our bright Lycra outfits? Could it be that they hated foreigners or were they simply so bored that they had nothing better to do? Racing across Africa on a bicycle was proving to be a far more complex challenge than anyone had anticipated. Tour d’Afrique was no ordinary cycling contest and every number attached to it seemed to be disproportionate. 12 000 km, 96 stages, crossing 10 countries... When reaching Cape Town, we would have covered the equivalent of 4 Tour de France in a row. But instead of luxury hotels and massages, here participants pitched their tents themselves each night and dug a hole in the ground for their toilet. It was the 8th edition of the Cairo to Cape Town bicycle adventure, an event where 60 cyclists crossed some of the most remote and difficult terrain on the planet while racing each other. Partly an adventure, partly a race, the journey was so epic that at times, time itself didn’t seem to matter anymore!

A month ago, we had gathered in front of the Giza pyramids and lined up for a photo shoot before the few family members present waved us good bye. The metallic sound from 60 pairs of cycling shoe cleats nervously locking into the pedals had officially marked the start of an adventure where physical and mental borders would be thoroughly tested. I wasn’t doing this because I had lost a bet or had any particular appetite for pain. I was simply doing this because I was curious. Despite spending 10 years of my life in South Africa, I felt that I hardly knew the continent. More depicted for war, corruption and general bad news than for cycling, Africa was not the most obvious choice for racing 12,000 km on a bicycle. On the other hand, no other place offered such a diversity of cultures, landscapes and climates which made this expedition unique and guaranteed its participants to live the adventure of a lifetime!

Having a few stones thrown at my bike wouldn’t deter me from reaching my goal. All I could think about as I was struggling my way up the Ethiopian hills were three letters stuck in my mind: “E. F. I.”. It meant “Every Fu*king Inch” and was the official title given to the cyclists who managed to ride every Inch between Cairo and Cape Town solely on their bicycles. 12,000 km was exactly 47.2 million inches and to join the EFI club, made up of the select few who had managed this feat before me, I had to ride every single one of them. EFI wasn’t about being the fastest; it was about never giving up! Illness, injuries and other misfortunes along the African roads had already taken a heavy toll on our peloton, and a month into this off limits journey only a small bunch of us remained E.F.I. With no intention of being the next one to drop out, here in Ethiopia, I just kept going.

The children were back all around my bicycle and this time instead of throwing stones they were offering to push me up the steep hill. Because of the chaos that could follow I declined the offer, but the gesture felt good and immediately boosted my morale. Crossing Africa on a bicycle was a permanent roller coaster of emotions and experiences. This was the toughest and most intense challenge I had ever taken on. With 9,000 km to go, I knew that many surprises and difficulties still lied ahead, but it was already clear that this adventure would give me a completely new perspective on the continent.



New Year to Cairo


One... two... three.... four...., it is a Spanish tradition to eat 12 raisins just before the switch over to the New Year. The final countdown for 2010 had started, and since it was supposed to bring me luck, I made sure to down the raisins as fast as I could, not missing any while people around me were counting. They were big white raisins and the task proved to be harder than I thought. As I began to wonder how many Spanish people ended up in hospital on New Year’s Eve due to choking, I just managed to push the last one down my throat before a huge “2010” appeared on the TV screen. With juice still dripping from my face, I kissed Jaana, we hugged each other, both thinking the same - hopefully I would be safe and make it to Cape Town! Our children had also joined us to celebrate New Year in Andorra before I would be heading off. I was booked on a flight to Cairo for January 11th; now the big countdown of my own had officially started. Training was over and I had decided to enjoy the last moments with my family, eating as if the end of the world had been confirmed for the next week! The 120 days ahead were going to be really hard, so this was my last chance to relax and store energy.

For Christmas, my mother-in-law had given me a bracelet with a magnet that was supposed to boost my energy levels. She also said it would protect me. Normally, I would not take this kind of thing too seriously, but in this case I was ready to accept any extra help. Jaana had also given me a small soft toy lion which I had attached to my camelback; it would travel with me all the way to Cape Town and hopefully bring me luck. There definitely was something mystical about crossing Africa, so anything that gave me extra protection was maybe a good idea after all. Later in Cairo, I actually discovered that quite a lot of participants also had a “good luck token” hanging somewhere.

On January 11th, at 9am, Jaana drove me to Andorra’s main bus station. I was getting a coach to Barcelona airport. I would meet her again in 3 months at Victoria Falls in Zambia, two thirds of our way down, where we would enjoy a 2 day break. We hugged each other for a long while, silently. The bus driver looked at me impatiently - it was time to go. As I boarded I felt bad, this would be the longest time we had ever spent apart from each other, and the real price to pay for such a long adventure.

It had all started the previous summer after completing a month long bicycle trip with Jaana. Our cycling holiday through the Spanish countryside had reminded me how much I was missing being back on the saddle. Tour d’Afrique had been on my mind ever since its first edition in 2003, but why swap a safe and comfortable life for 120 days of sweat, not to mention the potential danger of the African roads? Somehow, that all changed one late afternoon in September...

To celebrate the end of our Spanish cycling adventure we had booked ourselves into a luxury hotel in downtown Santiago de Compostelle. Jaana had gone to take a shower and as she did so, I signed up online for the Tour d’Afrique! Not that I feared her disapproval, but I knew that if I was ever going to take part it was now or never! It was one of those moments in life when decision making was driven by excitement rather than logic. I knew it was mad, but why be normal anyway? Before I had the time to have second thoughts, I was in! Funnily enough, it was not my wife but my parents who ended up questioning my impulsive behaviour the most. As one of my fellow cyclists put it later, one of the toughest things about the tour was signing up.

As a child, I used to be so inspired by the Tour de France after watching it on TV, that I would get on my bike to sprint across the hills behind our house in the French countryside. Cycling in the 70’s was a very different sport and it was not until the eighties, when mountain biking had taken off, that I had really become addicted. A wife and 2 beautiful children later life had led us to South Africa, an amazing country just coming out of the apartheid era. The incredible stimulation from the hope, the excitement and the newly found freedom that accompanied Nelson Mandela’s release had inspired us to make it our home. There was no better place than the rainbow nation to practise cycling! Stunning landscapes, permanent sunshine and an expansive off road terrain made it a mountain biking heaven. As an entrepreneur in the publishing industry, I spent the next 10 years travelling the country like most South Africans have never done and I would not miss an occasion to take my bicycle with me. Soon I was taking part in every race I could enter and discovered racing was another passion of mine. Despite being a very average cyclist, my appetite for competing kept on growing leading me to participate in some of the toughest and most respected mountain bike races in the world, like the Cape Epic.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!