In what is believed to be the first attempt by motorbike, Mark Bristow embarked at dawn on June 1 on a 7,500 km journey that would take him from the east coast of Africa to the west coast, starting in Mombasa, Kenya, and ending in the port city of Matadi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The month-long trip will see the CEO of Randgold Resources (NASDAQ: GOLD) and his six companions travel “through or around the dense equatorial Congolese jungle,” and pass the sources of the Congo and Nile rivers.
“Our Safari this year is definitely not for sissies!” Bristow wrote in a blog post before his departure, adding that according to one of his mates on the trip, the group of riders “will be the first ever to do this route.”
The tour is the fourth trans-Africa motorbike safari Bristow has undertaken for charity, and his fifth overall, and he believes that the terrain will be the toughest yet.
According to the blog writer of the Basement Geographer, “you can easily make a case for the DRC being the most infrastructurally deficient country in the world,” with just 2,794 km of all-weather paved roads for a total area of 2.35 million sq. km. “The vast, vast majority of roads in the Congo are unpaved and unmaintained … most roads are simply dirt tracks rather than actual roads … and are nearly impassable.”
In the last two decades, he says, only a pair of civilians have traversed the DRC by vehicle — a couple from Belgium who “completed the feat in a Toyota Land Cruiser in a rather harrowing 44 days, in which they were constantly breaking down [including multiple days with no progress at all], stuck in potholes and deep ruts, navigating over bridges that were almost non-existent, and pulled over to be extorted for bribes time after time, including brushes with ‘coupeurs de route’ — roving gangs of machete- and gun-wielding road bandits.”
Bristow hopes his safari will raise $3 million for Nos Vies en Partage (Sharing Prosperity), an independent charitable foundation dedicated to fighting poverty in Africa, which Randgold set up in 2014. (His previous safaris raised $2.5 million for the organization, which was distributed to charitable entities in 15 African countries.)
In the DRC, the foundation has already committed its support to projects designed to help abused women and rehabilitate child soldiers as part of the country’s post-conflict reparation program.
Bristow started the tradition of long-distance motorbike trips in 2009 with his two sons, then in their teens. Their journey from Cape Town to Cairo was dubbed “3BoyzonBikes.”
In 2010, Bristow combined his annual review of Randgold’s exploration projects with a fund-raising ride traversing Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, which his team called Nos Vies en Partage.
Then in 2012, Bristow rode from Budapest to Bamako via Morocco, western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal, and on through to Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire.
Two years later he was back at it again, completing a trip around Africa, and riding from Abidjan via Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, the Congo, the DRC, Angola, Namibia and back to Cape Town. That year, Nos Vies en Partage officially became a charitable foundation.
The 2016 ride will cover more than 7,000 km — over double the 3,500 km direct distance — because the riders will have to circumnavigate some of the worst parts of the journey.
Bristow will chronicle the road trip online at www.boyzonbikes.com.