Paris-Dakar Bike Race: Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream
By Emily Morse
As many as thirty participants will join Bike-Dreams on this first trip, beginning at the foot of the Eiffel Tower on September 10th, 2006 and ending in Dakar, Senegal on November 18th, 2006. So far cyclists are coming from Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Estonia.
The ages range from the young twenty-five to the active fifty-five. More registrations are being processed included men and women from seven more countries. The sole female participant officially registered for the trip so far will also bike all the way from her home country (Holland) to Paris before joining on the expedition.
Six Countries and an Ocean
The path they will follow was made famous by the notorious Paris-Dakar motor rally, and offers an opportunity to follow paved roads through gorgeous countryside and varying terrain. It passes through six countries, two continents and crosses an ocean via the Straights of Gibraltar.
“The route of this trip is so interesting. Starting in Paris and passing many interesting spots in France, Andorra, and Spain. After Europe you will see how different Africa is. First the rough mountains in northern Morocco. Then crossing the emptiness of the beautiful Sahara. The world will get green and have many villages and people again after driving into Senegal,” says Co-creator van der Geest.
And despite the tremendous distance, Bike-Dreams claims, “What’s done by car, you can better do by bike.” Instead of powering through the country roads, mountainous paths and coastal desert streets with vehicles, cyclists will not damage the terrain they’ll ride on or cause a ruckus along the way.
Finnish participant Mika Holker finds it “fascinating to see how everything (nature, culture, weather, etc.) changes gradually from here to there.” Holker will have the added benefit of seeing how everything will change from Finland to Paris as he plans on biking this first part of the trip before joining up with the Paris-Dakar expedition. This will add at least another thousand miles onto his journey and quite possibly as many as three thousand more miles.
During the journey, cyclists will be followed by a support van complete with a nurse, a cook and a mechanic. Food, water, luggage, camping gear and tired bikers will be stored on board the bus while traveling. Nights are spent in tents at campsites.
Most days average about 120 kilometers (~75 miles) of cycling. Paris-Dakar is broken into 58 cycling stages and twelve rest days. On cycling days participants can race through the day’s path and have their time marked.
Jorgen Nielsen, despite being a member of his local biking club and having had the experience of biking through the Italian Dolomites and the Pyrenees, is participating in "Paris-Dakar by Bike" more for “the pleasure to ride together with nice and friendly people from all over the world, who, like me, want to enjoy the ride, the nature and the people.” And while he knows the expedition is also a race he says, “I don’t mind, although I probably won’t stand a chance. But nevertheless I’m excited like a child before Christmas.”
On rest days cyclists have the opportunity to check out tourist sites. Local food can be consumed, hotels can be booked and shopping can be done. The first stop is Le Puy, France where an ancient cathedral marks the beginning of a path for religious pilgrimages. It has been visited by emperors and kings and is filled with legends about pagan and Christian shrines. The final stop in France is in the fortified city of Carcassonne, whose fortress is a World Heritage Site.
There is one stop in Andorra, providing bikers a rest from the arduous climbs of the Pyrenees Mountains. In Spain, rest days are spent in Cuenca and Granada. Cuenca is famous because its casas colgadas (hanging houses) were also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Morocco has the greatest number of rest days. The first stop is the imperial city Fès, once the oldest city in the world. Here bikers can visit ancient tombs, Roman ruins, mosques, and museums.
There is one rest stop each in Mauritania and Senegal. Nouakchott in Mauritania, is one of the Sahara’s largest cities, with markets, beaches, museums and a large nomadic population. In Senegal, Saint Louis offers a small French colonial city in the midst of Africa.
After this last stop, participants will bike to Dakar, the westernmost city in Africa where they can enjoy some of the most beautiful ocean views from clifftop walks. If they have time to stay a few days before flying back to their home countries, cyclists will be able to check out the IFAN museum of West African culture, the Dakar Grand mosque, or the Senegal Zoo, or take a boat ride to Gorée Island, once a holding place for slaves about to be shipped to America.
Of course, for these intrepid bicyclists, the "Paris-Dakar by Bike" expedition is about more than sightseeing or racing; it encompasses all of this and lifelong passions. For van der Geest, “To be a participant in a trip like this is already a big adventure. To arrange it is even more exciting. The bike is the best way to travel. On a bike you can see, hear, smell, and feel all of the environment. It is freedom, whenever you see something interesting you are always free to stop, sit down, take a picture or just have a look.”
For many, like van der Geest and Bonné, this expedition will be the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. Holker had always wanted to bike from Finland to south Europe and Paris-Dakar “seems to fit the bill.”
And while crossing 7,000 km by bike (approximately the distance of a round-trip trek across the continental United States) might sound like torture to some, for these avid bikers it is truly the opportunity of a lifetime.
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