The bicycle adventurer, Canadian Dave Conroy gave up his job as a computer consultant and set off on the adventure of his life, cycling to different countries in the world. He has already been to 10 African countries on what he calls a “one of its kind” bicycle.
Dave Conroy’s life story is as incredibly amazing as it is unbelievable. For four years, the 35-year-old Canadian, currently on Uganda tour, has ridden his bicycle around North America and Africa and is still on the move. He quit a well paying computer job, sold off his life possessions and set out on a mission to discover the world- on two wheels. How long it takes him, he has no idea. Whether he will pull it off or not, he is not sure.
A bicycle, his everything
From first impression, Conroy comes off as a perfect time manager. The appointment at Mbuya based Red Chili Hideaway is set for 4pm. A phone call at the guest house’s gate to announce our arrival receives an instant, “I will join you in a second.” Hardly had we identified a seat for the interview, than a well built medium height man dashes out, dressed in a tight fitting red t-shirt and pair of black multi-pocketed cargo pants. Walking towards us, his pair of weighty, mountain-climber like shoes stamps the green compound.
When the photojournalist asks to have photographs taken first and then leave us to proceed with the interview, his face lights up with a contagious smile. He reaches for his bicycle, holding it with enviable warmness and murmurs, “this is my wardrobe, kitchen, girlfriend, office, bedroom, best friend and worst enemy at the same time.”
The sports bicycle, he claims, is the only one of its kind in the world. It was specially assembled for him in Britain six months before he hit the road. He will not reveal how much it cost him, but heaps praise on the machine whose rim bears 13 stickers of flags of the countries he has visited so far.
On average, the bicycle’s weight, with all the six bags he travels with combined, comes to 75 kilogram’s.
“It has some amazing features. I charge my electrical devices like the music system and phone using pedal power. The faster I pedal, the more energy it generates, so I only use petrol and diesel for the cooking stove,” he says, holding its tyres that have most recently ridden all the way from South Africa.
When we finally zero down on a comfy place for the three hour long interview, the sight of a tent draws more questions than sheer admiration.
This is his bedroom, anywhere and anytime wherever darkness dawns on him. The water proof, one meter long structure has a cozy yellow interior and air mattress.
“I need a good night’s rest otherwise I won’t ride the next day so it has got to be that cosy,” he shares, nodding his head. With a fairly good rapport established, we are now set to dig into his life.
Life of a computer nerd
Born in Canada, the last born of three children of two working class parents admits obsession with computers, calling himself, “a computer nerd.” By the age of eight, he would sit behind a computer for an average of 12 hours a day. Not playing games. And neither surfing the internet. In any case, this was in the 1980s when social media platforms like Face book or even its founder, Mark Zuckerberg were not yet born.
Whilst other children played about, little Dave busied himself trying to learn how computers worked. Scratching his head to understand complex computer aspects like programming and networking. “My parents were okay with it because they knew where I was,” he quips. Nature however, was not okay with it. The computer without play lifestyle took a stall on him. “My life went crazy, I was not sociable, and I spent a lot of time on the screen, seeing things and yearning to learn everything about them. I could not sleep, I was not happy with life,” he says.
He started to worry about how to be successful, rich and what he was going to do with his life at 70. For a teenager, life was taking him on a rollercoaster of illusion and out of the world fantasies. Perhaps, he suggests, this had to do with his childhood environment. His sister was on special needs education following a pre-mature birth. Today, she is his role model. “The doctor said she would never sit upright. Today she has two children, a degree and is happily married. She inspires me because she didn’t let someone’s opinion determine her life.”
Describing himself as an introvert, architect of ideas, who loves adventure and doing things outside the conventional, almost structured western way of life, this single man, who shoves off the marriage question, set out to do something different with his life. First, he quit high school. A few weeks to graduation. The reason?
“I wanted to see what would happen. But on a serious note, school was too slow for me. It was not giving me the challenge I wanted in life.” That was only a step into a zillion miles of an anew life that would leave tongues wagging. Next on the agenda was to resign from a well paying computer related job that earned him consultancy stints beyond Canada.
Daring to follow his dreams, he sold off all his possessions. From the mansion to whatever came with it, be it kitchen ware, clothes or furniture. Everything had to go. He only remained with two boxes of books and letters from friends.
“He has gone crazy. May be he wants to kill himself,” he quotes reactions to his eye-brow raising actions from family and friends. “I knew what I was doing. I told them you can express your concern, you are allowed to but just sit back and watch, wait and see and wish me well,” he told them.
It is this that amazon.com, in a review of his self published 240 page book entitled, “Tired of I.T. How I learnt to stop worrying and love the bicycle,” calls Dave’s quest to, “reprogram his mind and find inner peace.”
Conroy saw that inner peace in only one thing- the bicycle. It is at this point that the idea to discover the world and its peoples was born. For six months, he did extensive research on the internet and read self help books. About tourism, bicycles, cookery, accidents and first aid and everything he needed for a ride around the globe. The initial plan was to achieve the dream in nine months which later stretched to a year, two years, three years and now four years. He has since stopped counting.
The start of an incredible adventure
He chose July 2009 as the start of his journey. On the D-day, he didn’t sleep, thanks to intense anxiety. Much as he loved bicycles, he had taken two decades without riding one. He awoke, hurried to a restaurant for breakfast and grabbed his bicycle for a ride from Vancouver to the Gulf Islands in Canada. That was in 10 hours for a distance of 160-180km. His speed has since gone on a down ward spiral to 140km in 2010, 120km in 2011, 100km in 2012 and 80km in 2013.
Deep in the woods’ wilderness, he suffered his first setbacks. First came mosquitoes and other strange insects that stung him, ripping skin and causing unstoppable bleeding. Then surviving death by a whisker when a suspected poacher shot at him twice, mistaking him for an animal. Luckily both bullets missed him.
That however, did not deter his ambition to cross to the United States, where he spent 30 days cycling across different regions of the vast North American nation. Another package of challenges awaited him in the wild with four legged creatures ranging from wild cats to beasts he had never seen attacking him. He pulls out a small knife, pushes its sharp end to his lower lip and says, “this lip is paralyzed for the rest of my life. I got fellow riders in the US and we hang our bikes in trees. Mine fell and hurt me.”
Done with the US, rather than board a plane back to Canada for his best friend’s wedding, Conroy preferred to travel the journey, in its hundreds of kilometers on the bike. After the wedding and winter season, he boarded a plane, en route to South Africa.
Conroy says way before the thought of travelling the world crossed his mind; he had always wanted to visit Uganda. While in Kenya where his father flew to check on him (he last saw his mother 20 months ago), the thought of coming down to the pearl of Africa kept ringing in his mind.
Last week, he rode from Kenya down to Malaba, Busia, Kumi, Soroti, Lira, up to Kampala. He mentions each of the names with distinctive pronunciation of their names, one would imagine he has been a resident.
“My only challenge has been the bad roads all the way from Busia. Other than that, Uganda is such an amazing country,” he says. His eyes glow with passion as he talks of the Ugandan people. While in Northern Uganda, he visited a school and spoke to its pupils who shared horrific memories of the Joseph Kony war. As he retired to sleep in one of the classrooms, a group of over 20 boda boda riders came knocking at his door.
“We have come to say thank you for visiting our area. We wanted to check if you are fine and wish you a good night,” they told him. It was such humbling experiences, which he says has characterized his experience in Africa that keeps him moving even when he is not sure of whether his resources will take him through the journey.