Vitality Diamond status couple cycled across Europe and Africa


Colleen and Peter McNulty have been Discovery Vitality members since 1 March 2003. The Vitality Diamond status couple recently returned from a cycle tour through Europe and Africa.

Four years ago, when Peter McNulty (then 56) told his 60-year-old wife Colleen that he wanted to explore Europe and Africa by bicycle, she said: “Send me a postcard.”

“It took Peter two years to gently persuade me to join him,” Colleen says. “Whenever he drove past foreign touring cyclists he invited them to stay with us and listening to their stories finally convinced me.”

On 15 May 2017, the Knysna couple started the first leg of their cycle tour in the Netherlands in Amsterdam. Eighteen months, 20 countries, and 20 783 km later – the McNultys are itching to get back on the road. When asked what it’s like to be home, Peter says: “Horrible.”

“I’m adapting easier than Peter,” Colleen explains. “I love being home with my cats – Sophie (14) and Coco (10), a stray we adopted.”

They explored eight European countries: The Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Greece and Turkey. For Colleen, the highlight of the trip was riding through old train tunnels in Italy that had been converted into cycle paths with automated fairy lights guiding the way. She also found the ancient cathedrals in Europe “awe-inspiring”.

They returned on 1 September 2017, to find their home unscathed by the Knysna fires of 2017. They couldn’t believe it, considering that two guest houses were destroyed one block away.

Two months later, they departed for Egypt. From Cairo they rode to Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Lesotho – ending on 9 December 2018 at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

They spent their 20th wedding anniversary (14 March 2017) in Zanzibar. Colleen explains how they met many years ago: “Peter needed someone to second him in the Two Oceans Marathon and for the first two years that was the only time we saw each other. Initially there was no attraction, but that all changed when Peter needed a place to stay and I was looking for a lodger.”

What was the most rewarding part of the trip? “The people,” Peter says without hesitation. Locals often offered them lodgings or discounted rates. In Sudan, they pitched their tent on the sand next to roadside cafeterias. The Sudanese took them grocery shopping but refused to take their money.

Kindness followed them everywhere. In Malawi, the South African High Commissioner invited them for tea. Malawians make excellent gin, Colleen explains, and soon they were “slugging gin and tonics and eating chakalaka and snacks”.

In Zambia, Peter contracted malaria and they ended up staying for 11 days in a basic community-based lodge (enough time to put his feet up and watch the Soccer World Cup, he adds). The local chief popped in often to ask: “Peter, are you okay, are you getting any better?” “Yes, I’m getting better,” Peter would say, to which the chief would reply, “Oh excellent, excellent.”

The adventure is far from over. Early this year, Peter will ride the Cross Cape from Plettenberg Bay to Stellenbosch and in April, Colleen will join him for a three-month cycle in Europe, mainly in France. They are also already planning to ride in Vietnam and Cambodia in April 2020 before meeting up with family for a McNulty reunion in Vietnam. They hope to ride in America later that same year.

Colleen wants people to know: “There is life after retirement. Do something that keeps you young.” They work hard to maintain their Diamond Vitality status. “We try to ride every third day to maintain our fitness,” she says. “Other than staying cycle fit for our next cycle tour in April, Peter runs and we do parkruns, we go kayaking and body boarding in Plettenberg Bay, and we eat balanced meals.”

“The benefits that Vitality offers are amazing and being retired, we have the time to explore South Africa and we get to see other parts of the world by means of cheaper flights and accommodation,” she says.

With so many stories to share, and more adventures around the corner, Peter and Colleen McNulty are role models for young and old on living life to the fullest.

Are you a running or cycling enthusiast, or keen to become one?

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