Scott Stevens

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2008, 12:00am

'I always told everyone what time they had to be up in the morning the night before. If it was going to be a long, hard slog up a mountain or through the desert, we'd try to get out of bed at 5.30am and have breakfast an hour later. Breakfast wasn't too complicated - bacon, toast, stuff the cooks could take care of. Because the areas we were in were so remote we hired a whole bunch of staff - more than 20 people - to cook, set up the washrooms and build and take down our camp each day. A big supply truck would always meet us [20 cyclists] where we camped and there were six four-wheel-drive Jeeps following us constantly, so if anyone got injured or simply didn't want to cycle any more, they could always get in one.

We also had to make sure there was one vehicle that could drive away in an emergency. Once we actually ran out of water and had to send a Jeep on a nine-hour return trip through complete desert, in the middle of the night, to get some. It was a real travelling circus and logistically one of the most difficult trips we've ever done. Thankfully I work for a logistics company, RPX, which was quite happy for me to try to deliver services in a place in Africa where no one's able to deliver anything.

This was our second time in Africa; last year we were in the kingdom of Lesotho, the least populated part of Africa. If you imagine the Grand Canyon of Africa, that's what it is - dry, barren desert, with no trees and no life. This time I wanted something different, so we chose the north part of Kilimanjaro, along the Tanzania-Kenya border. It's home to a lot of Masai tribes and you're guaranteed to see giraffes, zebras, ostriches - all sorts of animals - up close.

One night we camped in a rift valley where we were warned elephants could come out of nowhere and walk all over us. We had to hire some Masai tribesmen to encircle our camp and set fires around it to keep the elephants away. On this trip I really wanted a local support group, so all of our help was Masai. It was a great experience for all of us. We felt they learned how to run a good trip themselves; they saw the experience as a training course.

Because people cycle at different speeds, every morning we'd have one of the Jeeps go ahead to set up a lunch stop. Some people would reach it an hour before others. On our first day we did 78km and it was definitely hard, especially for those of us who weren't used to the weather. On past trips we've had broken arms and broken shoulders but I think everyone took the fact we were in a very remote place on board and was seriously cautious. We were lucky because every morning it rained, which made the desert sand fairly solid. The weather was on our side.

After lunch everyone would set off at their own pace but we always tried to end the day between 3pm and 4pm. If it's too late then it becomes too much of a chore; if the end is in sight people are driven to finish. In the evening we'd have a meal - sometimes we'd buy a sheep off some of the local guys and have lamb - tell a few jokes, play some dice games and drink wine. With the pressure, the exertion and getting up so early, most people were asleep by 9pm every night. You were a hard man if you were up any later than that.

Normally we'd camp at a school, which wasn't necessarily in a village. Often the children walk many, many kilometres to school and they don't go home; it's like a boarding school where their parents have to come to visit them. The schools were oases in the middle of the desert. They had bathrooms and everything - they were actually great places to camp out. That was where the idea came for us to give something back to them.

When I came on my first [reconnaissance trip] I looked inside many schools that had nothing: no books, no pens, no pencils. I asked the headmasters of these schools what they needed and they didn't really know. They said, 'Anything.' So when I went to [Tanzania's largest city] Dar es Salaam, I spoke to the education authority and they wrote down everything a school might need, basically the entire curriculum in Swahili. We didn't want to buy individual things for children. Some of these schools have about 700 kids going there at different times and if I bought them a few books each the money would run out pretty quickly. So we picked up things that could be used by lots of different people on an ongoing basis - teaching materials, world maps in Swahili, paintbrushes, footballs and so on.

We've been to Bhutan twice, Malaysia once, Sri Lanka twice, northern Vietnam and Laos. At the end of each trip everyone votes on where we're going to go the next year. The past two years have been in Africa and that's a long haul, so this year we're looking at going to Taiwan. Most of the money we raise comes from personal donations and a lot of guys get money from their companies as well, even though they don't ask for it. We don't go into a country with a specific cause in mind. We'll basically talk with people, try to ask them how we can help or what they need.'