Bartender to pedal across Africa

Michael Coo will bike from Cairo to Cape Town this winter to raise funds for WaterCan.
Michael Coo will bike from Cairo to Cape Town this winter to raise funds for WaterCan.

Grad Club bartender Michael Coo won’t have to brave winter in Kingston this year. Instead, the “forty-something” father of two will spend the next five months riding his bike across Africa to raise money for the charity WaterCan.

Coo, an avid traveler, will participate in the fourth annual Tour D’Afrique, a race and expedition that stretches over 12,000 kilometers of African terrain.

“I have always loved to travel and ... I try to ride my bike year round, so I guess when I first came across the Tour D’Afrique, it seemed natural,” Coo said.

After deciding to embark upon the gruelling 120-day bike tour, Coo said he realized it gave him an opportunity to fundraise for WaterCan, one of the many charities he supports.

“WaterCan’s geographical focus on East Africa and the simplicity of their message—give water, give life—made my decision easy,” Coo said. “Water makes the difference between a community that is thriving and healthy, and one that is struggling and plagued by illness.”

Since its creation in 1987, WaterCan has helped over one million people gain access to clean water, sanitation facilities and hygiene education. During the Tour D’Afrique, Coo said, he will be riding through Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, three of the four countries in which WaterCan currently has projects.

Coo said he is fundraising specifically for the informal settlement of Kibera, located five kilometres southwest of Nairobi, Kenya. Known as the largest slum in East Africa, Kibera is home to approximately one million people, who do not have access to clean water or proper sanitation.

Coo said he has already raised approximately $2,000 for Kibera. He hopes to raise up to $20,000.

Jenn Haines, president of WaterCan@Queen’s, the organization’s on-campus chapter, said she is excited about Coo’s efforts.

“We are so thrilled that Michael has decided to choose WaterCan as his charity for raising funds,” Haines said. “Through his contributions, we have already noticed an increased awareness and appreciation for our cause.”

Along with fundraising for WaterCan, Coo said he is currently preparing for the physical demands of spending the next four months on his bicycle.

“I try to bike at least a couple of hours a day, but the darkness is seriously curtailing that plan,” he said.

The Tour D’Afrique begins on Jan. 14 in Cairo, Egypt, and winds its way through 10 countries, including Sudan, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The tour includes 95 days of cycling, 23 days of rest and two days of travelling before ending in Cape Town, South Africa. Of the tour’s 51 currently registered participants, 15 are Canadian.

Although the tour features some of the most challenging cycling in the world, Coo said he is unfazed by the potential hazards that lie ahead.

“The most challenging thing [about the Tour d’Afrique] is almost over—all the shots I need to have in order to make this trip,” Coo said. “I am not really worried about anything except cars, which is no different than in Kingston.”

Coo said he is making personal sacrifices to participate.

“I will find it very hard not to see my children and my girlfriend for such a long period of time,” he said.

The Tour D’Afrique features four different levels of participants: racers, who plan to race for the entirety of the tour; expedition riders, who cover the daily distance at their own pace; relay teams, who divide the trip between members of a corporate or club team; and sectional riders, who only ride a portion of the trip.

Coo said he is participating as an expedition rider and won’t be competing directly with other cyclists.

“The only real goal is to finish the tour, possibly join the Tour’s EFI—every fucking inch—club, meet many interesting people, learn as much as I can about the countries I ride through and raise as much money for WaterCan as possible,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing Africa for myself and being able to do so from the ground, as the people and the geography slowly change along the way.”

The Grad Club is hosting a fundraiser for Coo on Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m., featuring Slaves of Spanky, the Radical Dudez and a silent auction. Cover will be $5 with proceeds to benefit the Kibera informal settlement in Kenya.

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