Eight countries, 32 days and 3 588km. That’s the journey Cape Town businessman Daniel Meyer travelled to put a smile on children’s faces.
Daniel (39) recently completed a cycling trip across Europe to raise funds for Operation Smile, a non-profit organisation that helps fund surgeries for children born with a cleft lip and palate.
“We've raised R140 000 so far. This pays for 24 children to get the surgery they need to live an ordinary and happy life,” Daniel tells YOU shortly after his return to South Africa.
While the country was reeling from the devastating effects of Covid-19, Daniel was compelled to do something for the greater good.
Although his own stretch-tent rental company had taken a knock from the regulations imposed during lockdown, it didn’t stop him from spreading a little cheer.
“I just wanted to do something that could help people. I wanted to spread a little joy in the world and make people feel a little happy,” he says.
The idea to cycle for charity came to him at 2am one morning while he was having a glass of wine and a hot bubble bath. He'd been struggling to sleep and decided to take a bath to remedy his insomnia.
“I started thinking of what I could do. I knew it had to be big, I knew it had to be exciting and for the good," he recalls.
“I had a bicycle in my garage and I just thought, 'Maybe I should go cycling.' Europe is a good place because it’s a lot safer than South Africa and quite a lot of it is flat, I thought.
"So I decided to do a big endurance thing. Using Operation Smile as my beneficiary just seemed like it made the most sense – they do incredible work and I'm really happy to be part of the charity.”
And so began six months of intensive training.
Daniel joined a group in Sea Point called Embark and trained in cycling, swimming, and running six days a week.
His solo voyage began on 8 July.
“It was just me, my bicycle and my tent,” he says.
He started in Copenhagen, Denmark, and ended in Rome, Italy, after cycling through Germany, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
His intention was to cross as many major countries as he could. This entailed travelling in a “S" shape on one trip to pass through all the cities he’d always wanted to visit.
“I was wild camping. I’d camp at different places for about three nights, like by a river or a mountain,” he tells us.
“And then on the fourth night I’d stay at an Airbnb so I could have a nice bed, do my laundry and take it easy for a bit.”
For the first few weeks he cycled eight to 12 solid hours a day, but he switched it up later when he realised he was running out of time.
“In the beginning I was taking one day off per week but by the end I wasn’t taking any. I’d take breaks during the day. I’d cycle about four hours and take a break for about an hour-and-a-half.”
It was a gruelling journey. Daniel describes it as doing the 109km Cape Town Cycle Tour six days a week for six weeks.
At one point it was so tough he wanted to call it quits. While cycling through Switzerland, he encountered long and steep hills, which he battled to climb in the sweltering heat. The region was experiencing record high temperatures, which soared to 42°C almost every day.
"So you're doing these long cycles at these really steep hills, there's sweat dripping in your eyes, and your water bottle is hot.”
Daniel was also racing against time. Because he only had a six-week visa, he needed to stick to his deadline. With the pressure mounting, he called to his mom, Morag Mcallister (66), to help get him back on track.
“I was sitting and staring at the road because I couldn’t bring myself to get back on the bike, I was so tired. You can't prepare for how tired you get from doing that kind of exercise consistently day in and day out without any rest in between,” he says.
“She told me that everything I’ve started, I’ve finished, and this wasn't going to be any different. So if I need to stay another four hours just looking at the hill to get the strength, I must stay as long as I want, but we both know by the end of the day I’d reach my destination. And I just thought she’s right, there’s no way I'm giving up."
His mom and her wife, Chrissi Smith (60), were his biggest supporters throughout the trip.
He also credits his friend Ashley Verhulp for helping him with the business admin side of things.
“He set up the GivenGain website and the bank accounts. He took care of all of the back-of-house stuff so I could focus on cycling.”
Completing his fundraising drive is a proud moment for Daniel, who's happy to witness how his efforts are helping to change people’s lives.
Although he had mixed emotions about finishing his epic trip, there’s one thing he felt unapologetically excited about. “Getting off the bike, because my bum was so sore by that point," he laughs.
Despite all the challenges, Daniel is keen to do a bigger charity event in the future. For now, he’s training for the Ironman Triathlon, which takes place in November.