A short video, and few photos below, including 3 special ones from Ross Nortier who gave me a lift back to the other side of Lesotho…
The rough idea was to find a small country that I knew very little about, and cycle through it. I had done it once before in Rwanda, and had found out that it is the perfect way to have a good laugh with the locals! After considering Swaziland, a friend suggested Lesotho for its mountains and its low profile amongst Westerners. I didn’t even know it existed! I Googled Bicycle Lesotho and came across a US charity organisation that sends bikes to Lesotho. This was it.
A couple of hours after I landed in the capital Maseru, I bought a bike through them and their local friends at Lesotho Sky, which is a mountain bike race ran by a great bunch of guys. They sold me a cheap and reliable mountain bike, and also suggested a route that would take me across the country in 7 days, leaving me 2 days to get a lift back to Maseru and catch my plane home. To their knowledge, it hadn’t been done before, but it wasn’t impossible (although I think they were a little sceptical of me and my lack of organisation!).
Lesotho is almost entirely mountains, with the lowest point of the country being the highest in the world at 1400m, and the highest point at 3482m. The boys suggested that 50km a day would be plenty, considering the terrain, and the fact that I was carrying everything (tent/food etc) with me. The fact that I am no cyclist wouldn’t help either, but I felt in good form. So, after buying the bike and riding less than 40km (and experiencing my first storm within 30min), I got to these guys’ home and celebrated New Years Eve. Although, after a 40h trip to get there from Australia, I didn’t quite make it to midnight!
At 4:30 am I got ready to start the climb: it was hot, steep and the altitude didn’t help. After falling asleep next to my bike on the side of the road after 5 hours riding, I decided to hitch a ride for 15km up the 3rd pass of the day. That evening I thought I’d better hurry if it is going to be this hard, hot and stormy (this day finished with hail). I had done 65km and was a little impressed by the difficulty! The following 2 days were as beautiful as they were tough and long: 3:45am starts to avoid the heat, 9 to 12hours on the bike, and at least 3 mountain passes a day with most climbs at 12 to 18% gradient… needless to say I walked – A LOT, but managed 90 and 100km each day.
The night before the last climb to Sani pass on the South African border, as I was racing away from a storm, I randomly found a lodge in a small village where I met a great group of South Africans and even an Australian, who shouted me a few beers and promised to wait for me at the highest pub in Africa for a few more the following day! That last day was only 50km, with 8 degrees, rainy, 1500m elevation gain, perfectly paved road and a climb to the highest pass in the southern part of the continent: 3240m. Camping at the pub was impossible as the land was flooded. I found a barn where I could sleep, surrounded by 4 snoring Afrikaans who were as pissed as I should have been if I had had the energy to properly celebrate my little adventure!
The mission took only 4.5 days which was almost disappointing… I didn’t want it to end. The crossing was 320km and the total climb was 8486m. As always seems to happen on trips, I met some unreal people along the way! Amongst them, a young South African couple on their way back from Mozambique, who gave me and my bike a ride back across to the country, (Legends!), experiencing along the way plenty of mud, rain, and waterfalls. I was seeing from the back seat what I had just cycled through, and was glad I was not about to start the trip again: it didn’t look that fun!
It all sounds a bit hard and silly, but in fact it was magic: my mind and eyes were busy the whole time looking at this incredible way of life in the high lands, where shepherds appeared from nowhere in the most remote valleys and peaks, often on a horse or donkey’s back with no saddles, where kids helped me push my bike up mountains, where locals gave me plenty of water and smiles, where lodge employees packed food at night for my early starts, where villagers laughed at me when I asked which way to the other side of the country…
It’s a shame that Lesotho is unknown to so many of us, but I guess this was also one of the reasons why it was such an amazing experience!