Dubai resident gears up for record-setting 20,000km cycling trek from Africa to Europe

Sports therapist aims to become the first woman to complete arduous South Africa-to-Norway challenge to help raise awareness on the importance of children's education

Cyclist Paula Ralph is planning on a 20,000 km ride next year. Photo: Paula Ralph
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A Dubai resident intends to become the first woman to cycle a gruelling 20,000km route from South Africa to Norway.

Paula Ralph, 46, from Wales, plans to travel from Cape Town, South Africa, to Nordkapp, Norway, next February.

The sports therapist is hoping the journey, known as Cape to Cape, will raise awareness of her plan to build a foundation to give disadvantaged children access to further education.

She spoke to The National about the challenge ahead of her.

“One day, I decided I wanted to change not only my own life but the lives of others as well,” said Ms Ralph.

“I’ve always wanted to help children and to create opportunities for them, as well as helping them to create opportunities for others.”

Pedal-powered project

Her project is all the more remarkable given that she only began cycling two years ago.

“Every Saturday, I am cycling at least 115km but my coach has assured me that number is only going to keep going up and up,” she said.

“I am on the bike every day, as well, to be honest to train for this.”

While Ms Ralph has her eyes firmly fixed on the route from Cape Town to Nordkapp, that was not her original plan.

“Originally, I was going to be tackling the route from Cape Town to Magadan in Russia,” she said.

“I chose that because if I wanted to help change people’s lives, then I needed to do something big to get attention.”

The path from Cape Town to Magadan is slightly under 22,400km long and is widely regarded as the longest walkable road in the world.

However, the plan changed when Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, meaning she had to come up with a new route.

“I decided I wasn’t going to give up on it and diverted the route to Norway instead,” said Ms Ralph.

She spoke about the challenges she expects to encounter along the way.

“Each country is kind of unique in what challenges it presents,” she said.

“In Africa, for example, we have to take into account about the time of the day and what animals might be running free then.

“We’ll also have to bring along certain foods for parts of the journey where supplies won’t be so easy to gather.”

While she is extremely aware that she is a relative newcomer to cycling, she is under no illusions about the size of the task in front of her.

“I know I am a novice, I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a kid before starting up again,” said Ms Ralph.

“But this is about endurance, it’s not a race. You put the hours and the work in, and that’s what I’m doing.

“My coaching team is fantastic and I will be ready.”

Ms Ralph said she hoped that any publicity or partnerships that came as a result of the trip would help towards building the foundation.

She plans to build the centre in South Africa, despite being Welsh, as that is the country she grew up in.

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Updated: March 18, 2023, 3:00 AM