During his adventurous bicycle tour of the African continent, materials engineering alumnus Riley Quine has flown over Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in a hot air balloon, hiked an active volcano and seen baboons and elephants up close. But he has also witnessed extreme poverty, was forced to alter plans to avoid violent conflict and frequently found himself dodging rocks hurled at him by threatening locals.
“The mental aspect of traveling through Africa has proved to be much more of a challenge than the physical stress of bicycling,” said Quine, who earned his MATE degree in 2016.
After graduation, as he notes on his website, Quine avoided office jobs. Working seasonal gigs, including a fire crew job with the U.S. Forest Service, allowed him to travel during the off season. After hiking the Continental Divide and the Appalachian trials, he spent five months mapping out an African adventure that would take him through ten countries, starting at the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria, Egypt and ending in Cape Town, South Africa.
“I chose to use the Tour d’Afrique route as my guide for the trip,” he said. “Every year TDA organizes a race along this route. It is well researched and avoids most conflict countries and regions.”
Still, he acknowledged on his blog: “There has been a lot of voiced concerns from friends and family about the safety of this trip.”
That didn’t stop Quine’s quest for a challenge.
“Having grown up in Los Angeles and spent most of my life in California, I was ready for a change,” he said. “I wanted to travel through a place wildly different from what I’m used to in order to challenge my preconceived notions of the world.”
He also wanted to meet people with different beliefs and witness more self-sufficient, traditional ways of living.
“I like the idea of homesteading and would like to attempt being self-sufficient at some point,” he said.
Traveling with his buddy Arthur, Quine took off from Alexandria in early November. In Egypt, they partook in exotic food, snorkeling and ancient landmarks.
“I will always remember the hospitality I encountered in Sudan and Egypt,” he said. “When people invited me to stay with them in their homes and share meals. People often pulled over in their cars and stopped to ask if I was okay and if they could take a photo with me and exchange contact information.”
As he traveled south, however, he found the locals to be less cordial and more threatening.
“I frequently worried for my safety riding through Ethiopia,” he said. “I had a number of close calls when people threw boulders at me and they came crashing down feet away.”
At one point, Quine actually purchased a bamboo stick he could carry on his bike for protection.
He also witnessed extreme poverty, people waiting in long lines to get fuel and limited access to bathrooms and medical supplies.
“Recently, in Uganda, a woman asked me if I would take her baby with me back to America,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it must take for a mother to offer up her child so he might live a more prosperous life. It made me very uncomfortable and sad when I looked into her eyes and saw the sincerity in her request.”
At the same time, he said, poverty has made communities close out of necessity and shared sympathy.
“People look out for each other,” he said. “There have been a number of occasions where people who didn’t have much insisted that I share their meal.”
But not everyone is getting along in Africa. Quine and his friend finished riding through Sudan just before riots occurred. After hearing recent reports of tribal violence in southern Ethiopia, an Ethiopian government official convinced them to fly around the rest of the country. And when they arrived in Kenya, a terrorist attack there killed 21 people, including an American 9/11 survivor.
“The political climate in many of these countries is dynamic and can deteriorate rapidly,” Quine said.
Quine has been traveling with a tracking device that allows anyone to follow his course. As of January 17, he was in southern Kenya.
When his 6-month tour is over, he plans to return to wildland firefighting this summer, and he might consider returning to school for a graduate program in natural science.
“This trip has made me feel very grateful for the wealth of opportunity in the United States,” he said. “I am fortunate to live in a place where jobs are plentiful and food even more so.”
Still he plans to simplify his life, living with less excess.
“I also have thought about how I could make travelers to the United States feel more welcome,” he said. “The kindness and shared humanity I’ve experienced from complete strangers is part of what makes this trip meaningful.”