Eleven countries, 12,000 kms, one lion and a relieved mum

When Tomás Mac an tSaoir came through the arrival gates of Dublin airport yesterday, his only visible signs of injury were some small plasters on his feet.

Eleven countries, 12,000 kms, one lion and a relieved mum

When Tomás Mac an tSaoir came through the arrival gates of Dublin airport yesterday, his only visible signs of injury were some small plasters on his feet.

They were only treating a few blisters caused by new flip-flops.

Otherwise the extraordinary 24-year-old Kerry adventurer hadn't one single ailment, despite spending the last seven months on his epic 'Africa by Bike' trek, a solo-cycle that he pedalled all the way from Cairo to Cape Town.

“There were days where you had some saddle sores from the heat because you just can't stop sweating, but physically I'm fine and fit as a fiddle,” he said after an emotional reunion with his parents, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry publicans Lulu and Dermot Sears.

His mind-boggling 12,000km journey, which started on November 2 last year, has already raised almost €15,000 for the Donal Walsh LiveLife Foundation.

It took him across the Sahara desert and over peaks of 13,000 feet in East Africa's famous Great Rift Valley – three times higher than Carrauntoohil - and he traversed 11 countries in all.

“Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and then, at last South Africa, which I was delighted to see,” he admitted.

Mac an tSaoir almost quit five months in - but not because of the physical effort.

Zambia was my low moment, I just went through a really, really tough time mentally and emotionally. For some reason from Southern Tanzania, Malawai and into East Zambia I just got into a rut and couldn't get out of it.

"I was still pedalling away and still enjoying it but, in my own head, I wasn't in a good place.

“I had this big blowout in Zambia, where it took me about an hour and a half to cycle 10km uphill.

“I just couldn't stop crying and when I got to the top I decided I was done with it all. I sat down and sent a message to our family group chat that I was going to go to Lusaka to fly home but, thankfully, it was early enough Irish time and no one saw it before I deleted it.

“Something just clicked inside me. I thought 'if I quit now and go home, what if I get to my next life challenge and I've already quit the biggest one I've faced already?'”

So he persisted, and camping at a local primary school that night, harnessing the energy of happy children eager to quiz the visiting 'mzungu' (white man), helped restore his equilibrium.

After over 200 days away he returns to West Kerry, and the Green Road Cycle Tours he runs with his uncle, much wiser. Not just about his own resilience, but about the complexity of a vast continent he had never previously visited.

“Africa is the complete opposite to what we're always told. One of the first images we see as kids is the Trocaire box but it's an incredible continent with the best people I have ever met.

“Every country has its own beauty and culture but that was one of the challenges as well. You'd just get used to one after a few weeks and then, boom, you were straight into another one.

“Each has a unique culture and landscape and all these borders were only born after the Europeans, who colonised them, left. So there's no reason or thinking behind a lot of them. You've so many tribes of what are the same people just finding themselves on the opposite sides of a border.

“Sudan was my favourite country, especially the people. The hardship they've gone through yet they're still holding it all together and still have hope that things will get better.”

From the kindness of strangers to police escorts and scrapes with local militia, he has a wondrous tale to tell. It includes one long night in Botswana with a lion prowling around his tent and another terrifyingly close shave, this time with a Kenyan bus driver.

Yet there's one more leg to go on his trusty Vitus cyclo-cross bike.

Mac an tSaoir's amazing adventure will wind up with last cycle today, from CBS, The Green in Tralee back home to Ballyferriter via Dingle only this time accompanied by a peleton of friends and supporters.

His mum Lulu was delighted and relieved to see him safely home.

“I just hope he's not planning another trip soon, you never know with Tomás!” she grinned.

“His brother Gearóid has a ticket for Liverpool in Madrid (for the Champions League final) next weekend when we're going to be very busy with Comartas Peile na Gaeltacht, so he'll definitely be needed behind the bar for that one!”

*Donations to Tomás' cycle for the LiveLife Foundation can still be made to: www.idonate.ie/cyclingafrica

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