Woman Aborts Solo African Cycling Trip After Two Days

Tegan Phillips, the first solo female cyclist to attempt the Cairo to Cape Town route across Africa, has abandoned her effort after suffering heat stroke, memory loss, loss of speech, unresponsiveness, and stroke. She was two days into the attempt.

Phillips made the announcement on social media on Nov. 16 with a brief statement: “This was *not* the plan.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tegan Phillips (@teganphillipscomics)

 

On the morning of the second day of the attempt (Wednesday, Nov. 9), Phillips was 155km from her starting place in Cairo and in high spirits. By around 2 pm, “something felt off.” By 5 pm, she pulled over on the side of the road feeling unwell.

Her team physician diagnosed heat stroke and attempted to lower Phillips’ core body temperature with ice packs and a cold shower at a nearby police station. According to Phillips, crouching in the police station shower is the last thing she remembers before waking up two days later.

In the intervening hours, Phillips suffered a stroke and spent several days in an intensive care unit unresponsive or confused. (Her Instagram post does not specify where or what hospital she was in but is geotagged “Hurghada, Egypt.”) The eventual diagnosis was critical low levels of salt.

Phillips is no stranger to adventure cycling and, according to her team, consumed what should have been enough salt for the conditions under which she was riding.

“Since waking up on Friday morning, we have been consulting as many medical experts as possible to try and figure out how my sodium levels dropped to 113 mEq/L,” she wrote on Instagram. The Mayo Clinic specifies that a normal blood sodium level is between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per litre or mEq/L, and that sodium deficiency starts below 135.

“My salt intake over the two days of riding compared with my blood sodium level on admission seems to point to an underlying condition that affects my body’s ability to retain salt,” she concluded.

An ambitious attempt

Phillips’ ride was an attempt to set a record that doesn’t yet exist — that of the first woman to cycle the length of Africa from Cairo to Cape Town in an unbroken line, alone.

After reading about Marc Beaumont’s 2015 record-breaking ride along the same route, Phillips reached out to Guinness World Records to see what the solo women’s record was.

When she found out there wasn’t one, she set out to change that. Two years of planning and fundraising followed.

 

“While my plan was initially to continue riding after a few days of rest [in the hospital], the advice from the medical community has been to first perform a full battery of tests in some labs in [South Africa] to investigate possible underlying conditions such as adrenal insufficiency,” the cyclist concluded on her social media post on Nov. 16.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).