Record ride: From the north of Europe to the south of Africa in 72 days

by Matt de Neef


On September 8, 2019, ultra-endurance riders Jonas Deichmann and Philipp Hympendahl set off from the North Cape of Norway — Europe’s northermost point — and started riding south. Their goal: to reach Cape Town in South Africa in under 75 days and break the previous world record (102 days) for the fastest unsupported continental crossing by bicycle.

On November 19, Deichmann arrived in Cape Town on his own having covered 18,000 kilometres in 72 days, seven hours and 27 minutes — an average of roughly 250 km (155 miles) per day and a new world record by almost a month. Hympendahl had made it roughly a month through the trip before abandoning due to food poisoning.

In the spirit of ultra-endurance racing, Deichmann carried everything he needed with him: a tent, clothes and food, plus any spares he’d need. He faced many challenges along the way, including the frigid cold of the Arctic Circle, the blistering heat of the Sahara Desert, endless motorways in Russia, unsafe drinking water in Africa, and much more.

“The adventure was mentally and physically the hardest thing I have ever done, with so many highs and lows,” Deichmann said upon reaching the finish. “Now I’m in Cape Town after 72 days on the bike, I need some time to process the impressions.”

Deichmann is no stranger to ultra-endurance cycling challenges. In 2017 he crossed Eurasia by bike, from Cabo da Roca in Portugal to Vladivostok in eastern Siberia — 14,331 km in 64 days, also unsupported. In 2017 he rode the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego — 23,000 km and 196,000 altitude meters in 97 days, also without support.

Throughout his most recent adventure — dubbed Cape to Cape — Deichmann wrote a diary entry every day. You can read lightly edited excerpts from that diary below, accompanied by photos from Pal Laukli. You can read the full diary and see more photos at Deichmann’s website.


Day 1

A incredible start at North Cape. A perfect sky and not a single person as we had checked the arrival times of the tourist buses before. A bit of delay due to last minute issues so we set off at 9.45 am. The route goes spectacularly along the Arctic Ocean with lots of hills and headwind. Only 186 km but a wonderful day on the bike.

Jonas (left) and Philipp (right) at the start in Norway.

Day 2

We set off before 6 am and turn away from the coast. Reindeers constantly cross the road and we try for a long time to get a nice picture with them.

The road now leads through complete wilderness. Endless forests, lakes and rivers and very few people. Before lunch we reach the border with Finland and immediately feel that the Finnish build roads a bit differently. They don’t build curves but instead go straight across the hills.

Slow progress but beautiful wilderness. At night we find a river and make a campfire on the beach.

Day 6

We start at 6am into a cold and rainy morning. Quickly the road turns into gravel and makes progress slower. We have now reached the Finnish lake district and there is one big lake after another.

In the afternoon the wind finally turns and we have the first tailwind since North Cape. We continue pushing into the dark to get into Russia and reach the border at 10 pm. Luckily the border crossing is fast and directly behind we find a decent hotel in the industrial town of Svetogorsk. 298 km in over 12 hours on the bike.

Day 8

Terrible day on the bike. Constant heavy rain, headwind and cold along Russia’s busiest highway. We followed the road to Moscow as there simply is no alternative. Trucks and cars pass us constantly at close distance and high speed. The noise and constant tension due to the danger are mentally tough.

After 200 km we take an early stop in a hotel as the risk of getting sick is simply very high. Now we are 450 km from Moscow, looking forward to quieter and warmer times.

Day 10

We start into Moscow in heavy rain. The six-lane highway has only 30 cm of shoulder and the trucks pass at full speed. At noon the side mirror of a truck hits my shoulder. I am unharmed but it’s hard to focus when you escaped by just a few centimetres.

A local cyclist meets us and guides us along the best lanes on the 10-lane speedways towards Red Square. We stop at the Kremlin for a few pictures and at a bike shop for maintenance as Philipp’s deraileur had some issues and then ride out of the city at night. In the outskirts we stop at Burger King and find a hotel.

Day 16

A big change today as the landscape transforms into rolling hills and the people too become different. The wind is again a punishing crosswind but we ride nonstop until we reach the bigger city of Stawropol after 160 km.

Soon after we turn back onto a highway with no shoulder and it gets dark. Luckily we find a restaurant where the owner lets us sleep on the floor. Sleep is bad though as some drunk guests scream all night and even wake us up to invite us for some vodka.

Day 21

We start early and get to the border before noon. Unfortunately the border is completely empty on the Azerbaijan side and the guard is sleeping. When finally someone takes care of us they are in no hurry at all.

On the Iranian side it’s completely different. Two big lines as men and women are separated and we have no idea where all these people came from. Everything is checked and we finally get through. We push hard but only make 200 km when it gets dark and heavy rain starts. Hope to make up tomorrow.

Day 27

Transfer to Cairo. We sleep until 8am and than stay an hour at breakfast. We pack our bikes and our Iranian friend Hossein brings us to the airport. After a stopover in Sharjah we land at midnight in Cairo and directly cycle out of the city to avoid traffic. Africa, finally.

Day 28

An Egyptian friend Helmy joins us for the first kilometre until we reach the Nile Route. Road conditions are terrible and traffic too. The road first follows the Nile. It climbs out of the valley and into the desert.

We get stopped at a police checkpoint and have to wait for an hour. They want to force us onto trucks which we can’t, of course. I call Helmy and he negotiates that we can ride, but with an escort. 50 km later we are stopped again. This time they want to bring us to a hotel off our route. Again Helmy helps out and negotiates a prison cell for us. Free to leave at 4:20 am.

Day 29

We slept terribly as the police were talking loud on the radio transmitter all night. At least we can leave at 4:30 am after water and chips which they brought us for breakfast.

We have escorts all day and they change at each checkpoint. Luckily our Egyptian friend Helmy had a few words with them and they are super friendly and organised. The police car and crew are always ready when we arrive and leave immediately.

Day 31

Philipp wakes up with food poisoning. We ride out of the village and immediately into the Sahara. He feels weak but we continue riding as we want to get to Aswan before noon. After two hours we stop at the hut of a local tribesman. He gives us water and Philipp rests in the shade. He feels too weak to continue riding and goes by taxi to a hospital in Aswan. I ride to Aswan in the heat at noon and struggle heavily. I drink 4 litres in 60 km and go to the hospital to catch Philipp.

Unfortunately, the police have come to the hospital and are too worried about tourists. No one has taken care of Philipp and the only thing the police wants is for me to sign a paper stating that they have behaved ok. I bring Philipp to a hotel where we get some rest.

We marked the position where he took the car on GPS so he can take a taxi back and continue riding from there. Food poisoning takes 2-3 days to recover and we are going to a remote part of the Sahara. Rest days are not possible as body and mind will shut down. Tough days ahead.

Day 32

One of the worst days ever on my bike. Philipp decided to scratch in the morning. He is physically feeling better but can’t face the prospect of crossing the Sahara after suffering since day 2.

I head out into the Sahara alone. After running low on water and suffering from dehydration, I accept Nile water from a tribesman. I quickly get stomach problems and suffer heavily all afternoon in the merciless desert.

After 230 km I get stopped by police at a checkpoint. I want to continue riding to Argen at the Sudanese border but they make me stay and pitch my tent at the checkpoint. There is no food and I haven’t eaten all day and it’s loud as they are shouting and have their radio transmitter on. Sleeping is impossible.

While I can go to toilet etc. there is always someone following me. When I walk 2 meters in a different direction immediately someone shouts “stop”. I feel like a prisoner. 100 km to Sudan and I am so looking forward to crossing that border.

Day 35

I set off before sunrise and feel miserable again. I haven’t eaten properly for three days and am still relying too much on Nile water. I find a little shop that sells cookies for breakfast but at least I can stock up on bottled water. I push against the wind but feel the lack of energy and make little progress.

Day 40

I set off at sunrise. The road becomes even worse and I ride at only 18 kph. I reach the border at noon and have a long bureaucratic process ahead off me. After almost three hours I am across and immediately in a different world.

Everyone is friendly but after 20 km a group of children throw their flip-flops at me and are definitely hostile. I have been warned that every cyclist I know hated Ethiopia due to rock-throwing children and youngsters who try to pull you off the bike.

Day 41

I wake up with food poisoning, feeling miserable. When I get on the bike I notice that my crank is loosening. One of the bearings got destroyed and I need to change the bottom bracket. Luckily, I carry a spare and find a car mechanic to help. The kids there don’t really know how to do it but they have basic tools and I instruct them. Got a bit worried when they hammer on it but it works.

Day 44

I am finally over the food poisoning and feel strong again. After 20 flat kilometers the road descends for 22 km into the Blue Nile gorge. At the bottom there are monkeys playing around and a spectacular view into the canyon. Of course the road equally climbs up on the other side into one of Africa’s toughest climbs.

The pavement is horrible and the ascent steep but the views of the canyon are spectacular. After 2 hours I reach the top at 2,700 meters and stop for spaghetti.

Day 46

I set off at sunrise and reach after one hour Ziway (Ethiopia). There are demonstrations everywhere and no one can explain why. I make my way through but in the outskirts of the city the road is blocked by car tyres and stones.

There is smoke and a big mob of a few hundred people comes running towards me. I turn around and retreat to the next hotel. The whole day I can’t leave the hotel. Everything in the city has shut down.

Day 53

I set off at sunrise on the big eight-lane highway. After 15 km cars are barely moving and I zig-zag through the traffic jam. At least Nairobi (Kenya) isn’t a dangerous city to cross since cars are moving at walking speed.

On the other side of town I reach a bike shop for a complete checkup. It is the only decent bikeshop between Cairo and Cape Town and I had planned the visit with the owner David for a few weeks. It takes two hours but the time is well invested.

When I continue two local cyclists join me and its interesting to see that there is a small but growing cycling community in Nairobi. They ride for 60 km with me and then I continue alone through beautiful hills until I reach the border town Namanga at sunset. Kenya has been awesome and super fast after my prior African challenges.

Day 64

An epic day on the bike. I set off in the dark to make a push to the (Zambia/Botswana) border. I make good progress in the morning but at noon a big thunderstorm hits me and forces me to take a quick break in an otherwise nonstop ride all day.

In the evening I follow the mighty Zambezi River with giraffes, zebra and more next to the road. Managed 335 km but arrived at the border when it was already closed. Staying in Zambia and will cross into Botswana at 6 am tomorrow.

I will be riding right through lion country all day … luckily I am very skinny after food poisoning so hopefully the cats won’t be interested.

Day 70

Super tough day with 328 km against the wind. Incredibly tired now after 17,000 km on the bike but I can almost smell the ocean now …

Day 73

North Cape to Cape Town record complete! At 6.53pm local time, November 19, I finally arrived at the waterfront here in Cape Town, South Africa. In 72 days, 7 hours and 27 minutes I have travelled 18,000 kilometers on my bike, all the way from North Cape, Norway to here. I completed the journey 30 days faster than the world record.

I am tired, sore and very very happy. I want to thank everyone who has supported me on this adventure. Now I am going to have a little party here in Cape Town to celebrate …

Bike and equipment

Bike:

– Curve Cycling Belgie Spirit Titanium frame with carbon fork
– Shimano Ultegra 2×11 road groupset
– Brooks Cambrium Saddle
– Tune Kong / KingKong hubs with Stans Grail rim
– Schwalbe Pro One 30mm tubeless tyres
– Pro Vibe / Koryak Handlebars, aerobar and seatpost

Equipment:

– Ortlieb bikepacking bags (seat, frame and handlebar)
– 2 jerseys and 2 bibs (Primal Europe Ltd)
– Windvest
– Rainjacket
– Armwarmers
– Undershirt
– 2 pairs of socks
– Chiba Gloves BioxCell Gloves
– Bliz Fusion glasses and helmet
– Tarptent Protrail tent
– Sea to Summit Outdoor Gear Spark 2 sleeping bag
– Sea to summit mattress
– Foldable Bowl and spoon
– Mini towel
– 2 x GoPro Hero 7
– Selfie stick
– Samsung Galaxy phone
– Sigma Sport Rox 12.0 Computer
– Supernova Airstream light
– 2 x Sigma Nuggets backlight
– Zendure Powerbank and charger
– Toiletries
– Spare tyre and tubes
– Spares (bottom bracket, spokes etc.) and tools to change them

Photo gallery

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