Interview with Cycle Africa’s Loretta White

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Loretta White along with three others completed an unsupported journey by bike from London, England to Cape Town, South Africa in 2012 to raise awareness of the reality of  children who are surviving on the streets of Africa.

1.Did your sponsors provide all the kit?

We were lucky enough to be provided with some of our kit free of charge from our sponsors.  Vaude were particularly generous and donated us panniers and tents.  The rest of our kit we were able to gain corporate sponsorship to pay for, though we had to haggle hard to get good discounts and keep the cost as cheap as possible.

2.What proved to be the best piece of gear you brought?

My favourite piece of equipment was our tent, Vaude ferret 3, as no matter where we were we could zip ourselves into it at night and have our own little home!

3.How did you decide on your chosen route?

Our route through Africa was decided through a mixture of countries we wanted to visit, spending time near the coast, and where our charity partners had projects we could visit.  We decided to take the long way through Europe as an extended training ride leading up to the Middle East and Africa where we could test our equipment and get used to the road without being too far from home.

4.What training did you do beforehand?

All of us were pretty fit already but I wasn’t a cyclist.  Before the trip as a group we managed four weekend training rides though these all took us longer than we imagined and inevitably involved a big pub lunch which wasn’t great for an afternoon of riding!

5.How much money did you raise in the end?

In total the whole expedition raised £50,000 which all went to street child charities.  These were Street Action, Retrak, Street Child Africa, Railway Children, and Action for Children in Conflict.

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6.How long did the expedition take to plan?

Craig had the idea to cycle from London to Cape Town around 7 years before we started the trip though thought this was just a pipe dream.  We properly started planning for the trip about two years before we started though most of this planning was getting sponsorship and setting up the charity Cycle Africa.

7.How was it returning to work after taking a year out of it to do this?

For me this has been the hardest thing of the whole expedition as you realise that there is an incredible world out there and that you can do incredible things with your life so that when you come home it is hard to fit back into the 9-5 box.  I’m still working on this but don’t think I’ll ever be totally happy just having a normal life again and I’m sure there will be another adventure on the cards!

10.What made you commit to a journey of that scale – 10,000miles?

To be honest I didn’t really think of the miles I just thought of what an amazing achievement it would be to cycle to South Africa and of all those incredible countries we could visit on the way.  I also thought about how the bicycle is such a classless way of travelling letting you get closer to local people without looking like a ‘rich tourist’ and travel through villages that you wouldn’t originally have visited.

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11.Any plans for future expeditions?

No definite plans yet but watch this space…

12. What were you using to navigate your route, document the journey and upload content online?

We went old school and just used paper maps to plan the route and the advice of local people.  We carried an iPad between us which we used to manage our website, upload photos and write blogs etc.  Everything could be done off line and then uploaded when we got wifi access in the bigger cities.

13. What was the daily routine on the road?

We would wake up early with the sun around 6-7am.  Get ready, pack up, have breakfast and be on the road by 8am.  Cycle around 30kms and then stop for a snack, then another 30kms and stop for lunch, then another 20-30kms and find somewhere to pitch our tent, have dinner and chill out.

14.Any stand out moments that made all the pain worthwhile?

Lots but the most stand out moments for me weren’t the huge sights like seeing the pyramids it was the intimate local experiences like camping in the garden of the village chief or sleeping under the stars in the desert in Sudan.  Reaching Cape Town was also an incredible high!

15.Did you ever feel like throwing in the towel and going home?

Absolutely!!!  I felt like this properly about three times in total.  Once at the beginning when I lay in my tent shattered from the cycling thinking I can’t even get through France let alone to Africa.  Once when I had just said goodbye to my parents in Kenya and I had dysentery so was feeling pretty miserable.  And the final one surprisingly in South Africa as we had made the final country though still had a long way to cycle and I was just feeling really tired.

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16.How has life changed since? Has your perspective on how you see the world altered?

Due to lots of family stuff life has had its ups and downs since coming home though it has taught me to make the most of every single minute and to keep an open mind as people and places might just surprise you.

17. How long did it take you to recover after?

Physically it probably took a few months though mentally I still am recovering in that I am still longing the outdoors an the open road.

18.You were the only girl amongst four boys – did you ever feel like you were slowing them down or were you just as strong as them on and off the bike? (I ask this because it’s what I’m afraid of as a female wanting to do these things.)

At the beginning I gained fitness really quickly so didn’t feel like I was slowling people down, though from about Kenya I had a few  episodes of  illness and after that I felt that I’d reached the peak of my cycling fitness while the guys were still gaining strength.  At this point the pressure of pushing myself constantly and feeling slow just wasn’t very enjoyable and so we split up into two groups.  I stayed with Craig and we were able to relax again and take it at our pace.

19. What did you look for when choosing spots to wild camp?

At the beginning we looked for idyllic spots next to the Danube river where we could have a fire and wash though in Africa we just looked for places the were pretty close to the road but that we couldn’t be seen easily and could be well hidden.  We often asked if we could camp in the compounds of local people’s houses and were only turned down once.

20. Do you know how much the trip ended up costing?

We paid for all our own spending money during the trip and costs on the trip so all in all it probably cost about £7,000 for the year away.  I am sure you could do this cheaper but we had a few nice treats along the way and a holiday with my parents in Kenya.

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21.Did you book all visas before you left?

We only had two visas before we left – Egypt and Jordan.  The rest we got pretty easily either at the border or in the capital city of the country before.  Sudan is supposed to be a tricky one to get but we had a letter from a university sponsor endorsing what we we doing and this seemed to work.

22.Is the stereotypical Africa we see in the media true?

It depends on what your stereotype is I suppose!  The Africa we experienced though was one of incredible beauty and kindness.

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