Swiss rolls into Cape Town after a year on a bike

17 May 2019 - 08:00 By Sumin Woo and Stender Von Oehsen
Lukas Steiner celebrates after his 326-day ride from Zurich to Cape Town ended on Friday May 10.
Lukas Steiner celebrates after his 326-day ride from Zurich to Cape Town ended on Friday May 10.
Image: Instagram/lusteiner

A direct flight from Lukas Steiner's home town of Zurich to Cape Town takes a little over 11 hours. But Steiner’s trip took 326 days, with 1,141 hours of that time spent on a bicycle.

The 25-year-old Swiss's goal was not to get to Cape Town, but to see and experience everything along the way. That involved cycling 18,580km before he arrived in the Mother City on May 10.

"There are so many myths with this continent ... 'Africa's dangerous, there's no water or food, you're going to get kidnapped, robbed, killed'.

"That was the goal of my journey, to just show people back home that it is not as they think it is. I wanted to bring Africa closer to the people," he told TimesLIVE.

Steiner's solo journey - exhaustively documented on his Instagram account - took him through 20 countries at a rate of nearly 100km a day.

"The route developed on my trip," he said. "The more I got into it, the more fascinated I got with this continent. I got addicted to seeing as much as possible."

Steiner's preparation for the trip was not extensive. He said he did not train beforehand, fighting through pain and soreness he felt during the first few days. He worked to save money to cover costs, which approached $9,000 (about R126,000).

Steiner carried plenty of gear on his nearly year-long journey, saying he wanted to live reasonably comfortably on his adventure.
Steiner carried plenty of gear on his nearly year-long journey, saying he wanted to live reasonably comfortably on his adventure.
Image: Instagram/lusteiner

He carefully packed 35kg of gear, including spare bicycle parts, camera equipment, clothing and camping supplies.

"The most unnecessary thing I had to take was my laptop, because I had to apply for my master's [degree] during this trip," said Steiner. "It’s probably the most travelled laptop."

Steiner still did his best to disconnect from technology, shutting off his phone for weeks at a time. He said he appreciated the solitude because it allowed him to do whatever he wanted.

But digital isolation meant he had to be his own motivator in gruelling conditions.  

"For four days in Namibia I had not seen a single soul," Steiner said, adding that he faced his most strenuous cycling there. "There were rhino tracks, there were elephant tracks … I could only do 30-35km a day."

"Of course, during that time I was suffering, and was like, 'What the hell did I get myself into?' And in the morning you get up again, it's a new day and you can just push."

Steiner carried a tripod so he could photograph himself in the most scenic places on his trip, including Sossusvlei, Namibia.
Steiner carried a tripod so he could photograph himself in the most scenic places on his trip, including Sossusvlei, Namibia.
Image: Instagram/lusteiner

Though he was travelling alone, Steiner met lots of people while pitching his tent outside mosques, churches and schools.

"Malawi had a lot of rain … so I was seeking shelter, asking families, 'can I wait here, underneath the roof?'" said Steiner, who often received food from strangers without even asking for it.

"People were always helping. You cannot do such a trip alone, you rely on other people."

He didn't only receive help but gave it too. His trip raised money for Green Ethiopia, an organisation that collaborates with farmers to plant trees and collect water to improve the country's nutrition and living situations. The fundraising page is still active.

On Friday, Steiner is taking a direct flight home to Zurich, where he plans to "get a haircut and a shave" next week. But the thrill of successfully completing the trip will remain on his mind for a while.

"The journey was the goal, not Cape Town," said Steiner, who hiked up Table Mountain and Lion’s Head this week instead of taking a breather after finishing his trip.

"Getting here to the Waterfront, taking a picture with the yellow frame … I still can’t believe it, I'm here. I made it."

After cycling from Zurich to Cape Town, Lukas Steiner says he hopes to do more long rides someday.
After cycling from Zurich to Cape Town, Lukas Steiner says he hopes to do more long rides someday.
Image: Instagram/lusteiner

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