Cycling an average of 90km a day, often in extreme conditions, being thrown into jail in Equatorial Guinea by aggressive and drunken border police, and facing possible death when taken hostage by drugged Liberian teenage rebels may not be a conventional idea of truly 'living', but, in September 2003, Riaan Manser rode out of Cape Town, determined to become the first person to circumnavigate Africa by bicycle. He thought it would take him a year it took him over two.
At the end of 2005, he cycled back into Cape Town, 14kg lighter, having covered 36,500 km through 34 countries. Intending to use his journey to generate local and international awareness of the often appalling standard of living in Africa, Riaan was also propelled by a strong desire for African adventure, a desire that was inevitably fulfilled.
In Around Africa on my Bicycle, Riaan allows the reader to relive the toil, excitement and occasional terror of his journey - negotiating the Sahara and Libyan deserts, learning French, Portuguese and Arabic, eating monkey, rat and bat, standing in front of the pyramids, being awarded the freedom of the Red Sea in Egypt, feeding hyenas mouth to mouth, and standing on the highest, as well as at the lowest, points in Africa.
'I was living, exactly that, living.'
Riaan travelled around Madagascar during a period of the country's most significant political turmoil, which gave him unrivalled insight into the exotic island's psyche and even earned him two nights in prison on suspicion of carrying out mercenary activities.
Riaan rose to prominence when he became the first person to cycle around the entire perimeter of Africa. For over two years, he pedaled a mammoth 37,000kms through 34 countries; some of which rank as the most dangerous places on Earth. It was a feat that earned him the title Adventurer of the Year 2006 and made his resulting book, Around Africa on my Bicycle, a bestseller.
In July 2009 Riaan again set another world first when he became the first person to circumnavigate the world's fourth largest island of Madagascar by kayak; another expedition achieved alone and unaided.
This incredible journey, 5000 kms in eleven months, was considerably more demanding, both physically and mentally. Daily, Riaan had to conquer extreme loneliness whilst ploughing through treacherous conditions such as cyclones, pounding surf and an unrelenting sun that, combined with up to ten hours in salt water, was literally pickling his body. The perseverance, of course, brought memorable close encounters with Madagascar's marine life – humpback whales breaching meters away from his kayak, giant leatherback turtles gliding alongside him and even having his boat rammed by sharks.
In March 2011 Riaan took on his next challenge - mystical Iceland and her arctic waters - with partner, Dan Skinstad, who has mild cerebral palsy. "Around Iceland on Inspiration" saw the two paddle 2300km to circumnavigate Iceland in a double sea-kayak over a five month period.
Only once they'd begun their circumnavigation did they realise just how challenging the weather would be. They knew that the inclement winter weather would cause delays but they could never have predicted how often and how long these delays would be.
Landings were another of the pair's biggest challenges. Approaching rocky shores that are being pounded by wind and surf is a hazardous business. Between timings and luck, you're a second away from disaster at any moment. Their landings were made even more difficult because of their "sea-legs" which they'd develop after a long day's paddle of 8 - 10 hours. Often, even the softest landings would result in Riaan and Dan spluttering and crawling for a few moments on the black sand on all fours after tumbling out of the boat during the landing.
As the long days of summer arrived, the pair began paddling through the night. This proved to be a successful strategy, although it messed up their sleep patterns.
On 5 September 2011, after 147 paddling days, blistered and aching, they arrived back at their starting point, their circumnavigation complete.
It all started with a seemingly innocent request for a holiday to New York, but never in her wildest dreams did Vasti Geldenhuys think it would take 10,765 kilometres of ocean rowing to get her there.
Vasti, a lawyer by trade, has always been the support structure of South Africa’s pioneering explorer, Riaan Manser who rose to prominence by completing three unparalleled world firsts; cycling the entire perimeter of the African continent, circumnavigation of Madagascar by single kayak and Iceland with partner Dan Skinstad by double kayak.
Riaan always vowed that he would never expose Vasti to the dangers of his world, but on 30 December 2013 they bravely took on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean with no support boat in sight. Alone and unaided, they endured a 172 day expedition from Agadir, Morocco and arrived in New York City, USA on 20 June 2014.
Along the way they stopped over at Canaries Islands, landed in Bahamas 1 km away from where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 and visited Miami before taking on the treacherous row up the East coast of North America. This was an incredible world-first row from the African Continent to North America .This row also marked Vasti as the first woman from the African Continent to row across any ocean.
The couple, who met in Cape Town in 1999, put their fourteen year relationship on the line. Enduring giant 25 foot waves in wild storms to being entirely capsized in the middle of the Atlantic. On one of these days Manser was dramatically separated from the boat & almost lost at sea. The physical hardships had their bodies, hands, arms, bums & legs in permanent agony. No support boat, no ablution facilities, no luxury. Just Riaan, Vasti, their combined determination and a seven meter ocean rowing boat with their supplies.
The boat was equipped with two plotters, that indicated the boat’s position on a nautical chart, a weather station and a VHF Radio. A solar power regulator supplied power to the technology on board and a salt water converter supplied drinking water. This same watermaker stopped working several times throughout the journey and finally gave in on the last stretch up the East Coast of North America where they had to ask the Krasnadar Oil Tanker to supply them with water for the remainder of their journey.
While burning huge amounts of calories every day, Riaan & Vasti had to replenish their energy with high calorie freeze dried food. When they had a break they also ensured they had a fresh catch of the day which included Dorado’s, Yellow Fin Tuna and the odd 300 kg shark taking the lures behind the boat.
The two most vital pieces of equipment, was the personal locator beacons (PLB) and emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) which they were fortunate enough to pack away unused after their journey.
If you happen to see Riaan & Vasti at a speaking event, ask them about all the buckets on the boat and what they were for.
Look at the finished journey’s route map on Yellowbrick.