Five Questions For Paul McManus
The Tour d’Afrique Company have added a number of tours to their roster for this year, in exotic destinations like Namibia, India and Turkey. But they have also added a tour in an unexpected location: North America. The North American Epic takes riders from San Francisco, California to St. John’s, Newfoundland and riders can also choose from one of 5 sections of the route. Paul McManus is tour director for the 2011 North American Epic.
BICIKLO: We know Tour d’Afrique’s reputation for offering epic journeys on two wheels. Why is this North American tour EPIC?
PAUL: The full tour is 3 months long and covers almost 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles). Traveling from the shores of the Pacific to the shores of the Atlantic ocean, it’s the longest organized tour of North America available, and the only one that journeys through both the US and Canada.
The tour visits some of North America’s most iconic cities and parks, starting at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. We visit Joshua Tree National Park, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, cross the Great Divide, and follow Route 66 from St. Louis to Chicago. In Canada we visit Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City and the tour finishes by riding along the coast of Nova Scotia and a ferry crossing into Newfoundland. I think epic is a pretty fitting description.
We decided to keep the route on paved roads and kept the average distance per day to around 105 kilometers (65 miles) so it won’t be as difficult as the Tour d’Afrique, for example. But there are still plenty of physical challenges.
BICIKLO: Tell us about the Trips for Kids aspect of the tour.
PAUL: The Tour d’Afrique Foundation has been giving back to the communities we travel through in Africa for 8 years. Now that we have tours on 5 continents, we thought it was time to expand the foundation’s efforts to include all of our tours. Trips for Kids was founded by Marilyn Price in 1984. The first chapter was in San Francisco and now has more than 60 chapters across the US. TFK’s mission is to provide kids who do not have access to bikes the opportunity to experience the sport of mountain biking. It’s kind of like an outward bound program for cycling.
Our support for TFK is twofold. First, we will donate one bicycle to Trips For Kids for every full tour rider on the North American Epic. Secondly, we will try to increase peoples’ awareness about TFK and the great work that they are doing.
We’ve helped TFK chapters run fundraisers using the documentary film about our 2008 Tour d’Afrique, “Where Are You Go”, and we’ve helped them develop their own media lists and distribute local press releases in their communities. As the tour travels to each of the cites on our route where there are TFK Chapters, we’ll host a donation ceremony and event as well.
BICIKLO: Are riders expected to fundraise for Trips for Kids?
PAUL: Rider fundraising is a key component of the Foundation efforts but we don’t require or pressure riders to fundraise. We do believe that adding an element of giving back deepens the tour experience and if a rider does decide to raise money for the Tour d’Afrique Foundation or other cause we help and support them as much as possible. Typically 15 to 25 per cent of riders will choose to ride for a cause.
BICIKLO: What are the historical and cultural aspects of the tour riders can expect to experience?
PAUL: It’s hard to summarize all the cultural and historical aspects of the tour but some highlights would be the Asian influence in San Francisco, the Native American cultures of the Southwest US, and The ‘Pioneer’ history of CO, KS and MO. Route 66, which we will follow from St. Louis to Chicago, is well-known for its kitschy Americana.
The Native American culture in the Southwest US is of great interest. We’ll cycle right past old cliff dwellings, and spend a rest day in Monument Valley, which is well known for preserving its Native American roots. Detroit, the Motor City, is currently undergoing a kind of urban renewal after years of being economically depressed. The Maritime cultures of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are also quite unique. Really, every section of the tour has something to offer.
BICIKLO: What are the sections that riders can expect to be: 1) pretty tough 2) fairly easy 3) beautifully scenic?
PAUL: Every section will have its tough days and beautiful scenery. One fairly easy section would be from Wichita, Kansas to Chicago. It is also our shortest section at 12 days. Called The Land of Oz, much of it travels along historic Route 66. Highlights are the History of Culture of the Great Plains (the pioneer culture) and the cities of Wichita, St. Louis and Chicago. We’ll be in Wichita to celebrate the 4th of July.
Another section I’d consider fairly easy is Urban Pleasure from Chicago to Quebec City. The route travels between the Great Lakes and visits the Canadian cities of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City.
The first section, The Wild West from San Francisco to Flagstaff, will be challenging and very scenic. The riding along the California coast is difficult but the views of the Pacific are incredible. That section also includes Joshua Tree National Park, which will most certainly be a highlight of the tour.
The Great Divide from Flagstaff, Arizona to Wichita, Kansas will be difficult because we have to cross over the Rocky Mountains. We also visit the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley on that section, so there are definitely opportunities for some epic views. Between Durango and Silverton, Colorado are two mountain passes and about 6,000 feet of climbing between the two towns. We’ll reach a maximum altitude of 10,900 feet before the final descent, and I think I counted 22 switchback turns on the descent into Silverton.
The last section of the tour, Maritime Charm, from Quebec to St. John’s fits in between ‘fairly easy’ and ‘pretty tough’. We will have some tough riding along the coast of Nova Scotia but also some great views of the Atlantic.