Book Review - 'Africa Solo' by Mark Beaumont

I have always been a fan of Mark Beaumont's past documentaries and books; both 'The Man Who Cycled The World' and 'The Man Who Cycled The Americas' were superb in their ability to showcase the beauty and captivating cultures seen on long distance bike rides. 'Africa Solo' is an equally interesting story, but in many ways a very different sequel, and unfortunately I must admit one that in some ways I found slightly depressing...

Mark makes it clear early on in 'Africa Solo' that the attempt at the World Record from Cairo to Cape Town will be all about speed, big miles, and racing the clock. The focus on culture, content creation and story telling will be pushed back to second place.

I found this rearranged focus to slightly mar what I am sure could be a beautiful story of exploration of the African continent. Mark's previous tales of solo unsupported tours of the Americas and the World were a real immersion in the civilisations seen and experienced; I felt Africa Solo was somewhat diluted in this romantic respect; the focus far more on calories than culture, pain than passion, and speed rather than scenery.

Perhaps it is me that has changed… Over the last few years my own bike adventures have become far more about the experience than the competitive edge, and far more about memories than clock watching. Take the #BlackForest400 for example: the ride had no time limit; the challenge came from the distance, and that was enough. The focus let me enjoy the occasional coffee in a French patisserie, a waffle in the Ardennes, or a moment to reflect at a war memorial in Flanders; it also allowed me to stop to document the route along the way.

Perhaps it is me that has changed, but I found the snippets describing beautiful scenery in Tanzania, mountains in Kenya, and safari life in Botswana rather too diluted by the less romantic side of starting each day with "a packet of biscuits and a can of Redbull", or the desire to never wild camp because it would take too much time and energy (wild camping experiences are one of my personal highlights of bicycle touring).

I am not saying this isn't a great read. It is a tale of endurance, of pushing to the limit, and seeing new places. However, the romantic aspect of bicycle adventure, and the mental hardships of riding alone are somewhat lost (Mark frequently has a camera crew or escort with him for sections of the route, which although didn't support him physically are a notable psychological support).

Put simply, this is a book about racing: an account of one of the longest time trials in history. Did it make me want to go and ride a bike through Africa? For the most part no, it did the opposite. Did it leave me wanting to race like this? Not really. The positive, is that it did leave me yearning to go on another bicycle adventure: an exploration of culture and cuisine; to satisfy a curiosity of seeing how far your own two legs can take you.


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