Behind-the-Scenes: How Did We End Up Finding That Bike in the Middle of the Desert?

off road miles.jpeg

A followup on From California to Cape Town… - from a different perspective.

— Written by Drew Harding


A late-night text startled me, sending my phone buzzing across my night stand.  I read the message from Charlie’s wife, Astacianna, in North Carolina. It said, “Are you currently in South Africa?”   

I responded, “Yes, I am. I am based in Stellenbosch, just outside of Cape Town.” Then I got this message - “Ok. Specialized has a team in South Africa that has the same bike that Charlie lost that they would let him use. I know this is a BIG long shot, but they asked if anyone on Charlie’s team might be able to fly with the bike to Addis. They’ve had bad luck shipping within Africa.”

Charlie had packed and checked his Specialized bike and when he arrived in Djibouti, the airline had no record of the bike ever being checked in!  This was one of the most critical components of his “human-powered” trek across Africa. Quickly, Charlie, Astacianna, and his team went into overdrive to figure out a solution for the lost bike. 

I turned to my wife, and sheepishly asked, “Do you mind if I fly back up to Ethiopia tomorrow?”  I had just returned from Ethiopia 10 days prior! She supportingly said, “You need to do what you are good at. Ethiopia is in your blood, and you should help.”  So, I told Charlie’s team, “Let’s do it!”

Specialized HQ for Africa is in Stellenbosch. Their stellar team packed up the bike, and I was able to pick it up and head to the airport.  In less than 24 hours from the original text, I was wheels down in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! Travel is so surreal these days. The bike arrived, and the next morning we drove 11 hours into the Afar desert to meet Charlie on the beginning of his epic 5.8 Global Adventure Series.

Back in 2008, the nonprofit I lead, Senai Global, was hosting the premier of Charlie’s documentary, Running The Sahara, in Charlotte, NC.  Senai is a charity that works in Ethiopia providing clean water. It was this work that helped us get connected to Charlie and Running the Sahara.  I met Charlie that night at the premiere and followed his story through the years.  

Fast forward to six months ago - I got a call from Charlie out the blue.  He told me about the 5.8 Global Adventure Series and how he was going to be traveling from Djibouti to Kilimanjaro and passing through Ethiopia for 10 days of running and cycling.  He proposed highlighting Senai’s projects in return for us helping him navigate his time traversing Ethiopia. We began planning, and Solomon, our logistics expert, agreed to accompany Charlie and his team through Ethiopia. 

Now I was able to close the loop, finally meeting up with Charlie after 11 years, multiple phone calls, emails, and WhatsApp messages. I just never expected it would be in the Afar desert of Ethiopia!  The jet black sky had already enveloped the desert landscape as I waited with the newly-assembled Specialized bike under a dim light bulb on the side of the road. Finally, I saw a head lamp bobbing up and down as a weary Charlie emerged out of the darkness, after more than 10 hours crossing the desert from the border of Djibouti to Mile, Ethiopia.  A long embrace ensued, capturing all the emotion of what just happened. Charlie was so pumped to see his new wheels! That evening was spent around a solar lamp recounting how bizarre this whole story was, and pinching ourselves that we had actually pulled off this epic delivery. 

So many amazing people were behind this feat, and all of us are part of Charlie’s story.  We are excited that he will be able to taste coffee from Senai’s coffee project, see the benefits of providing clean water to communities in rural Ethiopia, and experience the ever-changing landscape of Ethiopia. It is a tough and challenging country, but through those challenges there is a hope for the future and a beautifully rich culture to be absorbed. 

Senai has again accomplished its mission of “connecting people to purpose,” this time in a very unusual way. Charlie’s purpose is a journey that far exceeds what most humans could accomplish.  We are honored to play this small part in his challenging feat and are excited about the visibility he can give to Senai along the way.

We hope many of you will engage in what Senai is doing to transform communities across Ethiopia.  Let us know if we can serve you or host you on a trip to Ethiopia. It would be our honor.  

Honored to be part of the adventure,