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Riding the road less travelled

Quin man Declan McEvoy on the freedom, fears and challenges of his 5,000 mile motorcycle trip around Africa

AN ADVENTURE addict from Quin is back on his motorbike with the easing of travel restrictions and making his way up the continent of Africa, a journey of around 5,000 miles.
Declan McEvoy set a new Guinness World Record, just before the pandemic, when he rode across a frozen Lake Baikal.
He now describes himself as being on Stage 5 of a ‘Round the World by Motorbike’ adventure.
After arriving in Johannesberg in South Africa on October 7, with his beloved bike, Declan began the process of getting to the most southerly point of the African continent.
At Cape Agulhas on October 18, he pointed his bike north and has been carefully plotting his course back home ever since.
This journey, like many other of Declan’s has been fraught with challenges and hitches – both mechanical and bureaucratic.
He admits some of his own close friends warned him of the various hazards from “gun wielding warlords to hungry hyenas”.
A seasoned biker at this stage, Declan drew on his experience travelling in Iran, Mexico and Nicaragua. It’s safe to say he’s not a man to be easily put off, even by the explosion of red tape during Covid, and the difficulty of securing visas.
At the very start of his African odyssey, he found himself stranded in Johannesburg for five days after a mechanical hitch.
“I sometimes wish I used a more modern machine,” he said, “but it’s too late now, I’m already emotionally involved and she and I are in this together for better or worse.”
Declan’s thirst for adventure started early when a love of geography became something of an escape.
“In school I overheard myself being described as a “very average” kid,” he says. “The only subject I liked was Geography and I often “studied” the atlas for which I normally got a good hard clip around the ear from the headmaster.
“As a 13 year-old kid I found the atlas to be the only escape from the new reality I found myself in whilst stuck in a dreary mid 1970s boarding school. Nowadays, geographical extremes intrigue me.”
Declan is also fascinated with the concept of fear and the process of overcoming it. As if travelling alone for thousands of miles through multiple politically unstable countries wasn’t enough, Declan also persuaded himself to jump off the highest bungee jump bridge in the world. One night, while plotting his route, he noticed it on the map.
“On one occasion I did jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane, [but] bungee jumping was something I would never consider,” he admits.
“But I did think it’d be interesting to ride up there and take a look with it in mind that if all conditions were perfect then there’d be about a 1% chance that I might give it a go.
“Thankfully, just about everything was off-putting including the wind and rain and so after looking at a few die hard jumpers plummet towards the bottom of the canyon I duly departed west towards Cape Town.”
That was far from the end of that particular story, however. Declan’s inner adventurer couldn’t turn down the challenge.
“A huge mental battle started raging in my head,” he says.
“You see, over the years of travelling I could rightfully be accused of pontificating about facing your fears then doing it anyway and I’d often be heard saying fear is temporary but regret is forever…
“Two years ago, for example, I was “on tour” in India motivating local would-be adventurists to do just this, to think the unthinkable and to face their fears head on and to get out there and explore the world.
“Yet, here I am pathetically riding away from my own fear. It tortured me for the next 40km yet looking at my right hand it wasn’t backing off on the throttle.
“So I worked on convincing myself that I’m a biker, not a bungee jumper. But that just wasn’t cutting it. So what then was the next challenge that I’d baulk at?
“In those 40km I rapidly lost all confidence in myself and in my ability to cope with what currently lies ahead of me.
“Next I seen very heavy rain approaching so now to make matters worse not only was I going to be miserable, but miserable and wet as well. It seemed like turning back was becoming the easier option.
“I slowed down to about 20km per hour on the hard shoulder in a moment of 50/50 thinking and then with a quick glance in the mirror I banged a U-turn and rode the 40km back. I was now 100% committed.”
At 216 metres, the famous Bloukrans Bridge is the highest natural, commercial bungee facility in the world. Declan had to drawn on all of the inspiration of his previous travels to take it on.
“I recalled in my mind cutting a hole in the mid-winter ice of Lake Baikal in Siberia with a chainsaw,” he says.
“Outside temperatures were minus 30C. ‘Why?’, you might ask. Well, to jump in to the freezing waters of the worlds deepest lake. Every fibre of my being was screaming not to do this, yet I can choose otherwise…
“If you analyse it you’ll come up with a hundred reasons not to do it. I really think this applies to many things we do or more likely that we don’t do in our lives. Feel the fear, then do it anyway. Fear is temporary, regret is forever.”
To-date, Declan’s adventures in Africa have taken him through South Africa and through Namibia.
After a couple of unpredicted sojourns in Johannesburg and Springbok, Declan saw off a barrage of bureaucracy, paper work and PCR testing to get into one of the most sparsely populated of the African nations and was “unceremoniously spat out into Namibia”.
“Next to Mongolia, Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country in the world,” he explains.
“It’s 1.2 times bigger than Texas, yet only 2.5 million live here, mostly concentrated in the capital, Windhoek.”
A typical day in Namibia involved hundreds of kilometres of riding on dirt roads and off them.
“I’m not the best off-road rider by a country mile but I can manage on all terrain types except deep sand – I just hate it,” he says.
“Riding off road is 100% about reading the texture of the terrain and your eyes are always focused way ahead in order to ‘pick your line’.
“A heavy camber or strong side winds can wreak havoc with that planned line.
“Riding at night means you can’t see the texture, this is where trouble can start and I try to get in by darkness. I usually ride at about 80% of my capability, if you fall and break a leg you’ll be waiting a hell of a long time for help.”
Now plotting a course through West Africa, Declan is aware that it certainly won’t be an easy road.
“Why is it in life, when there’s an easy say and a hard way that I always choose the hard way?” Declan wonders.
Five more visas will be needed, meaning several trips to embassies en route. And, as he gets set to leave Namibia, Declan is once again ready for road.
“There’s something very poignant about hitting the start button on the motorbike after a few days of being stopped and firing up the engine to move on.”
He is also acutely aware that every fresh start means bidding a fond farewell to those he has met along is travels.
“Tomorrow is forward,” he says, “leaving all those treasured encounters in my wake.”

by Fiona McGarry

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