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‘Discovering true African story is the most important part of my London to Lagos trip’

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
02 July 2022   |   2:44 am
The entrepreneur and author, who is passionate about taking up challenges, used the adventure to create awareness of polio in Africa and to raise funds to fight against the disease.

Kunle Adeyanju (C) celebrates with supporters after arriving at the Ikeja Rotary club in Lagos on May 29, 2022, after a 41 day trip from London, by motorbike, to raise funds and awareness for the End Polio campaign. (Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)

London-based Nigerian adventure biker, Kunle Adeyanju recently made history after he rode from London to Lagos on a bike.

The entrepreneur and author, who is passionate about taking up challenges, used the adventure to create awareness of polio in Africa and to raise funds to fight against the disease.

In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, Adeyanju, a former employee of Shell Petroleum, British American Tobacco Company and Oando PLc, who now runs his own business, Pelicans DNO, shares his experiences on the 21,000 kilometres trip.

How did you come about the idea of riding from London to Lagos on a bike, what informed that adventure?
I JUST thought of other bigger challenges I could do other than riding a bike from Lagos to Ghana. Why not ride from London to Lagos? It is much tougher and more dangerous, but I wanted to see whether it will break me and that’s how it fell into my bucket list and one of my ‘before I die’ activities. So, once it’s already on the bucket list, the next question is, ‘when I am going to do it?’

Once you have the idea, you have the vision; it’s a bit easier to build a road plan towards achieving your vision. So, basically, that’s how it happened.

Before becoming the now famous London to Lagos biker, take us through your normal life?
Long before now, I used to work for corporations; I started my career after university at British American Tobacco (BAT) and moved to Oando for 18 months and then to Shell Petroleum, where I worked in various capacities for about 15 years. At that point, I decided to leave Shell and work for myself.

On the day you decided to make this journey, what was the feeling like? How did your family members react to it?
It was on April 19, 2022; I remember when I placed an order for the bike with Honda, they said it would take six months to deliver the bike after paying. But a few months later, they call me back to say they could deliver the bike in three months, because somebody who was ahead of me cancelled his order. They enquired if I would accept an early order and I obliged.

So, I had to plan my trip and headed down to the UK and just pick up my bike and start riding down to Lagos. So April 19 just happened; there’s nothing special about the date. That day, I left London at about 6am to start the journey.

What were your first few days on the journey like?
The first few days were tough. I felt Europe was going to be easier and Africa would be challenging, but I realised that every part of the journey had its own challenges. In Europe, I had to cope with sub-zero temperatures, which are terribly freezing and cold. There was a strong crosswind on the Spanish coastline, which could blow you off the bike and I also had to contend with what I call the black ice, which becomes extremely slippery.

But coming into Africa, I had to contend with the heat of the Sahara; the wind and heat of the Sahara. It is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth and it’s unfriendly to life; everything there wants to kill you. I realised the Sahara is unforgiving; you make a mistake and you don’t come home.

In one of your interviews, you said you felt some days were like your last on earth, what really happened?
Yes, I think that experience actually happened on the Sahara. I remember I had two sand storms – one major and a minor. The first one hit me, then the second and third; I thought I wouldn’t be coming back home. The third sand storm lasted an hour and 40 minutes, and you know, the signs. I weight 95 kilos and the wind of the storm was lifting me off the ground, so I had to lie the bike on the ground, tuck my head on the bike to hold it down and with the bike weight at 195 Kilos; it helped to hold us to the ground.

Also, remember that the Sahara, it is 45 – 75 degrees hot sand and I had to lie there; I couldn’t get up because there’s a bigger danger. It was extremely tough, but then, I’ve done everything I could to keep me safe. So, I was just there waiting and wondering if maybe today is the last day. I remember saying to myself that, ‘God, I thank you for everything so far. If I come home today, don’t let me go to hell. Forgive me everything I’ve done wrong, accept me.’

Finally, after one hour 40 minutes, the storm passed and I got up to dust off all the sand I have been covered in.

How did you prepare for the trip, what are those things you had in your possession for food, shelter and security?
I had my credit card, some cash and three phones; I had a satellite phone in case there is no GSM network, I could still communicate with people. I have the Garmin navigational system, so technology-wise, I was okay. I had to put in some insurance packages so when it was a matter of life and death, I could call a helicopter rescue.

It is a bit pricey, but then, when it gets to that thin line between life and death, money becomes irrelevant. On the part of food, I didn’t carry any, because I knew I could always buy things on the road since I had my card and then I had essential cosmetic like my sunscreen.

Did you manage to get some sleep along the line or you rode all day long?
I made a point not to ride at night for security reasons. Also, having taken me a year to plan the ride, I also checked the endurance of the bike in terms of the range of the fuel. The bike is 70 liters and it can go 500 kilometres, then I had a small gallon reserve of five liters that gives me another 125 kilometres. So, once the two tanks are filled up, I have an endurance of 625 kilos.

After deciding this, I plug that on the map to make sure that that 625 kilos from my take off point to where I will stop lands me somewhere I can get services. So, everyday, I knew where I can end the day; where I can get fuel, water, food and a hotel. So, all though the ride, I didn’t get stranded.

Essentially, the trip was successful, because of planning. I saw several times that what saved me through was planning. Even though it didn’t work 100 per cent, it was easier for me to adapt to the plan to suit those emerging challenges.

So what are some of the exciting things you saw during your ride?
There are so many positive high moments on the trip, but the one that blew me out was the discovery of the true African story; experiencing the African people. And for me, that was the most important take and high moment in all this. Before embarking on the ride, I did a lot of planning and research; I wrote down every available information I could get on all the countries, so I can be aware of everything about the countries and their security situations.

I can tell you everything I read about countries in Africa; either red or amber. While Amber means exercise caution, Red means it is dangerous. The only place that was Green in Africa was a part of Morroco. I did 12, 000 kilometres in total. 3100 Kilometer was from London to Al Jazeera, the boundary of Europe where I crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Tangier in Morocco. So, I did about 9000 kilos in Africa and it took me through the cities, towns, villages, hamlets, and the lonely and isolated places. I met African people and I tell you, when I met these people, my interaction with them was totally different from what I read.

African people are nice people; they are friendly, hospitable, accommodating and welcoming. Africa is a land of diversity. I just realised everywhere you come on African soil there is something to learn. So, for me, the high moments, the most important discovery so far of this ride was the discovery of the true African story. I realised all those things they wrote about Africa are false and this discovery is one of the best things that happened to me on that trip.

You are putting your experiences in a book, could you tell us about it?
Yes, when I started riding, everyday before I go to bed, I spend about three four hours filling up my journal; writing about it. I want to tell my story about my experiences and also it was survival strategy, because when riding becomes a routine, if you are not careful, your attention, focus and quality drops and so, to avoid this, I had to find a creative way to change my mindset and make my brain see this as a unique challenge every day, hence I chose to tell my story.

So, I had to look out for interesting adventures along the way to document, hence my brain doesn’t see just the journey. So, it helped me maintain my mental alertness.

So how did you feel when you finally landed in Lagos?
It was exciting, knowing that you set out to do something and you accomplished it. I remember when I set out to do this, I had comments from a lot of people who said, ‘he is going to die trying’, ‘it’s not possible, he will give up.’ Those words didn’t distract me and if you ask, I wasn’t sure I was going to come out alive. So, seeing that everything worked out well, I came out alive, no injury, I felt really good.

How are you dealing with your newfound fame?
Well, I wasn’t out to do this for fame or popularity; I am just living my life. If you look for my historical records, I’ve done Kilimanjaro twice. The first time, I used it to raise funds for HIV/AIDS orphans; I tied it to humanitarian cause. So, it’s what I’ve been doing. So, since the fame came, I am not rejecting it, but as they say, when life gives you a lemon, you make lemonades out of it. So, when the fame comes, I will ride just as hard as I can.

What are some of the lessons you learned in this journey?
Specially to Nigerians, my first lesson coming from all the countries riding, not flying, and meeting people, I tell you, people love Nigeria, because the flag I flee on my bike, the first thing you see is a Nigerian flag, then the End Polio and Rotary. People love Nigeria and want to associate with Nigeria. A policeman would stop me and say they want to take pictures with Nigerian flag.

But the amazing thing is that Nigerians don’t know what we have; we talk negatively about the country. All through this journey, no one spoke negatively about their country, even countries far worse than ours. We should learn to separate the issues from the country; the country is not the problem, but the issues. There is insecurity, corruption, yes we know, but don’t use that to assassinate the country.

The second one is the friendliness of Africans. Africans love people, they are nice people. The third one, which I see, is ECOWAS; this works only on paper. It doesn’t really work as it was designed to work. Coming in from Europe, since London is no longer a part of EU, there is a hard border you go through the UK customs and immigration and then through the French customs and immigration. Once you clear at the French border and enter into the European Union, things are easier; you don’t even see a policeman all through. You just move, because it’s a common border.

ECOWAS is modeled after that, but to come in from one ECOWAS country to another, sometimes, they ask to stamp your passport and because of all these formalities to cross the border, I spent four hours crossing the border. So, imagine if you’re a businessman, and every time your goods and service or even yourself, your movement, you keep wasting four hours to cross a border, that affects your profitability and effectiveness.
So what’s your next challenge?

So, I usually have a life plan and there’s one on my bucket list, which has been there for a long time. I will bike from Lagos to Isreal and to Tibet temple, which is the highest plateau in the world. There is this saying that God lives in Tibet because of the level of purity you see in there. So, I want to experience that. Then, my destination is Mount Everest base camp, and then I will drop my bike and climb Everest. This will take me another two years to plan and execute hopefully.