Monday, 27 January 2014

Rolling around like a Hard-Boiled Egg

At Marrakech Airport with everything packed, including the bike

I'm finshed!  Back in the Lake District since Sunday night.  Very tired in body and mind, I had underestimated how energy-sapping it is to be operating in another language.  For the last 3 weeks I've been putting in a massive effort to use French, so now my understanding has improved but I'm still not too great at speaking.

Anyway, I don't need to now!  Arriving in Ambleside was a surreal experience.  I felt I was looking out from someone else's eyes and I couldn't speak properly.  The pizza I got for tea was the most tasty meal I've ever had!  All I could do was mumble and get crumbs stuck in my beard.

Since then I've just been sleeping and eating.  The hunger is unstoppable, even when my stomach says enough I still crave something to munch.  I don't know how I'd have coped if Ellie hadn't let me loose on her food cupboard!  However the richest meal in existence last night nearly stumped me... We had Carbonara, Guinness and chocolate pudding.  Big belly time!  Kirsty and Ian must be thanked also for the stew on Tuesday night and taking charge of the pasta.

As far as the experience of the trip goes, I haven't started to process it all yet.  I unpacked and re-built the bike today and had a flash of comprehension, but I don't think it will fully kick in until the tiredness goes.  I'm simply glad to be back.

I wrote the above in my first week back in the UK.  I've been home a month now and I finally have enough energy to write about the last few weeks of the trip.


Mum, Dad and I traveled on the same ferry but unfortunately had to separate when disembarking.  I got searched with the vehicles (Where are your guns?) while they met their tour guide.  Off I pedaled to find a room and some food.   I was successful but also got slightly ripped off, as I was expecting.

Tomorrow dawned, John the Cyclist set off... and then got lost.  Tanger was very confusing but I managed to mangle some French and with the help of a Chemist found my way.  The Atlantic coast of Morocco was special; miles of beaches beside the road and overlooking endless sea.  I stopped for the night in Larache, watching the fishing vessels sallying forth upon the waves and the young people getting run over.  An interesting town but not one I wanted to stay in very long.


Walking the streets looking for some dinner, smoke from charcoal barbeques filling the air and stinging my eyes.  I'm an obvious newcomer, drawing looks from locals.  What will I eat?  How will I ask?  There are no menus!  Fires on one side, butchers on the other.  Order from the butcher, give it to the fire-man to cook?  I do it, order a coke.  Meatballs and bread!  I go to bed replete.  How exotic.

The longest ride of the trip occurs - 85 miles to Sidi Kacem.  It's flat, agricultural.  Just like home but sunnier.  The humdrum of everyday life occurs around me, folk riding donkeys while I'm overtaken by Range Rovers and Fendts cultivate the fields.

I aim for Fes the following morning, get hit by rain and The Wind.  I approach a pass and am cycling at 45 degrees.  My lunch is eaten by the wind behind my back, raging lorries throw fear over me, I grind up up up.  The fields are brown.  So is everything else.  Wet wet wet, cold.  Fes is a big city, how do I find a bed?  Make an effort in French and I succeed.  Comfortable at last, but why am I doing this to myself?

I'm nowhere near the desert yet!

Good news!  I met Anna in Granada and it just happens that she's coming to Fes.  We meet and I'm introduced to Francis, a Canadian also cycling solo in Morocco.  We all explore the Medina and I am ecstatic to have company.  Francis and I gradually decide to team up and go to the mountains while Anna heads for the coast and Casablanca.

I takes time to get used to cycling with someone else again, but it happens and is good.  From a height of 1700m we see snow by the road and spend the night in a camping bungalow with a permanently open window.  There's frost in the morning.  The Arid Plateau appears before us, and so does The Wind.  In our faces, we can only churn through at less than 10mph.  I fix a puncture and struggle to catch up with Francis.  The Plateau is an endless succession of almost imperceptible rises, just enough to provide a horizon to aim for and to conceal the maddening vastness still to cover.

Beginning of the Plateau.  It just gets worse round the corner.

We arrive in Zeida, find a room and are escorted to the Hammam.  Heaven!  The communal bath-house of the town is heated by a wood fire and is so welcome after the struggle earlier.  Bucket after bucket of hot water is poured over me and I am clean again.

The Wind wins, and we get a bus over the mountains ahead.  While looking for accommodation Francis hears of a natural hot spring, so we visit.  Unbelievably hot water!  We all sit around the steaming pool in the middle of the room.  Occasionally someone hops in and comes straight back out.  I use buckets to acclimatise myself but still can barely stand to be completely submerged.  It feels like the skin has been flayed from my shins!

Gorge du Ziz
Scooting down the Gorge du Ziz is a pleasure, providing shelter from the wind, easy downhill cycling and things to look at.  Towards the Sahara we go, passing Date palms and rows of tanks, waiting for a desert war.  How close are we to Algeria?  Close, but far enough (we hope).

The numbers of 4x4s increase.  We see more sand.  The sky gets more blue.  We're in the desert!  Sand dunes appear above the haze.  We stay in the Auberge la Source on the edge of the Dunes.  The sand is orange, there are camels everywhere and the stars are brighter than I remember seeing anywhere else.  We hopped on a few camels and moved out into the Dunes for a night in a Berber tent.

Sunrise over Algeria

Berber tent

A sunset and a sunrise later we came back to civilisation and planned our route to Marrakech.  All it took was a few more days of monotonous wind-in-the-face cycling, a madly long bus journey and we had arrived.

My cycle had finished.

I met Riley at the airport and we did a 3-day tour of the museums and other tourist attractions.  The Majorelle Gardens were my highlight, you should see it! Such a calm place and one of the best museums of the city.

So we got on the plane to Gatwick and the greenness of England left me slackjawed.  I had found a cheap ticket for the train to the Lakes that happened to allow me into First Class, a lucky boon as the train was completely bunged with people!

Haircut and shave!

Thanks for reading all these essays, for all the wee messages along the way and for donating so much via JustGiving.

I've finally got nothing else to say!


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Facing the Start of the End

It´s been two weeks since my last post.  I´ve been busy but at the same time it has been a holiday, compared with the two weeks before.

I left Granada and bimbled up to the Sierra Nevada mountains for a few days.  In that time I put in a 10-hour day climbing Mulhacen, the highest mountain in continental Spain at 3482m.  This turned out to be more of a struggle than I expected!  I camped at a town called Guejar Sierra, which isn´t the usual starting point for Mulhacen, but it is much closer to Granada.  As a result I had 2400m of ascent over the course of 15km, and that was only to get there!  The initial 10km were quite easily angled, but once above 2000m the ground steepened and became much rougher.

Happy at the summit, with the North Face behind me.

I arrived at the summit cold and tired but with fantastic views inland.  Unfortunately there was a layer of cloud obscuring the views towards Africa, but even so the panorama was spectacular.  I happened to meet two Spanish walkers on the way up, who had started at the ski centre on the other side of the mountain.  There the road runs up to 2400m, so they had only 1000m to climb!  However they had no map so didn´t quite know if they were on the correct mountain...

Searching beyond the clouds for a glimpse of Africa
I had left the campsite at 0830 and it was now 1530, so I had to get a wriggle on to get home before dark.  I jogged down from the summit to about 2000m and then tiredness hit.  It was a slow walk back to the roadhead.  Once on the road I had 7km to the campsite, but thankfully I was offered a lift my some nice Granadians.  The only downside that my embarrassing lack of Spanish was exposed as they had no English!  They dropped me off at 1930 and I quickly cooked up a storm on my stove and fell into bed.

My next stop turned out to be Marbella!  I hadn´t planned on staying here but the foibles of the Spanish road system meant the only way forward was the motorway, which I didn´t fancy on the bike.  I ended up in Marbella for 5 days, as I was feeling particularly drained.  I think the 455-mile week to Granada and day on Mulhacen had pretty much emptied the tanks.

I left on the bus for a 20-mile jaunt to the end of the motorway and headed for Gibraltar.  I´ve always wanted to go because of the place it holds in history.  One of the Pillars of Hercules, the last bastion of Europe before Africa and the vital role it played in World War II combine in an aura of non-reality in my mind.

First sight of Gibraltar!
However, it is real and very noisy.  There is so little land that everything is packed tightly in, with history seemingly blowing with the wind.  I found a hostel and sat in the main square, taking it all in.  The draw of height saw me making my sweaty way up the Rock itself, passing all sorts of military constructions, from the Moors to WW2.  Eventually I was on the edge, looking over the town and towards Africa on one side and gazing over the cliffs and Spain on the other.

As I moved along the ridgeline I passed the Apes and Africa began to glow in the setting sun.  It is so close!  I could see buildings and lights, with the Rif mountains rising from the shore with endless ranges behind them.  At once I felt excitement and anticipation for the next step of the journey, while also feeling a tinge of sadness at the trip coming to an end.  A strange feeling compared to how I was in Barcelona a month ago!

From the Rock, over the Straits to Morocco and the Rif Mountains.

The next day I met Mum and Dad in Algeciras.  They have come out for a week in the sun, and I´m staying with them until Friday.  How strange it was to see them here!  I have spent less than 3 weeks in their company since Christmas so being able to relax and chat with nowhere in particular to go is bliss.

Helpfully checking my mane for bugs.  I´m just a dirty tourist...

We are all going to Morocco tomorrow (Friday 15th), Mum and Dad for the day and me until I come home.  I still don´t have a route in mind, or much knowledge about food and accommodation there so I have lots to do before I go!  My flight home is on the 8th December, and I am meeting Riley in Marrakech on the 5th, so I have 3 weeks to explore the country.  Any suggestions welcome!

P.S. I almost got on the radio to talk about the trip in Marbella, and it reminded me about the JustGiving page.  You have raised almost 1000 pounds, so if anyone hasn´t donated yet please be the one to push it over the edge!

Thanks for reading, hope to see you all in a month.


Monday, 28 October 2013

To the West

The Albufera, a big lagoon just outside Valencia.  They grow rice beside it!

A week on a bike gives you a sore bum. Funny how it´s taken me until now to realise this. I´ve had a few little revelations this week; examples include flies being able to fly at (or above) 10mph, hills are tough and Naturist campsites aren´t worth the cost and giggles.

The Naturist beach.  Thankfully no wobbly Germans in sight.

On Tuesday I passed the 1000 mile mark. It has taken me 89 hrs and 46 mins to reach this milestone so it´s no wonder my behind is filing hourly complaints. Thankfully the complaints department seems to be broken as I appear to forget them all the moment I get off the bike in the evening. My legs have begun to complain quite loudly in the evenings as I squat to cook my tea so I am now taking a few days leisure in Granada.

In 7 days I have covered 455 miles, set a new record daily mileage (75), and a new record top speed (50mph). I have entered Andalucia, my last province of Spain before Morocco. The stereotypical young persons bucket list is one item shorter as I´ve now stayed in a Nudist/naturist campsite. I met 6 other touring cyclists, saw Flamingos in the wild and cycled through Europe´s only desert.

(Left) Frank the colour coded French Canadian cyclist.
(Right) Tabernas desert, only one in Europe.  Where Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and 500 other films were filmed.

A tough week, all said. Four days were spent on the coast but I soon tired of living amongst the holiday comfort campervans, full campsites of deep brown Brits, Dutch and Germans escaping the reality of Northern Europe´s winters. Tired of the uncomprehending looks when I explain what I´m doing, and of the even more confused mutterings when I refuse a beer. Not because I´m teetotal, but because after a 70-mile day in 30 degree heat I would probably collapse with one sip. These prisoners of the sun are fantastically welcoming and caring, but being so close to home-style familiarity was beginning to mock my current way of life. It´s already a bit of struggle to get going in the mornings, never mind having a full suburban bungalow on wheels next door! So, with some trepidation, I turned right and inland.

Uncertainty about accommodation, food and the terrain faded with every mile uphill. Physically tougher than the Pyrenees due to the heat, not knowing when or if the hills would end was mentally exhausting at times also. In the end it was fine, finding hostels in tiny towns perched on the sides of mountains and water in natural springs in village squares. La Alpujarra is a beautiful area evoking comparisons to the Sperrins but hotter, scrubbier and much, much bigger!

Minging with sweat, snot, flies and pastry on another endless hill

Today I have been a fully fledged tourist, wandering around the castle with my backpack after queueing for ages for a ticket. Feeling like I was stuck in the mud and not making any progress wasn´t fun last week, so finally being one city closer is a relief. Last night I went out for tea and had 3 courses for a tenner, returning to the hostel only to cook a second dinner and go to bed. Eight slices of toast and a cup of sugary tea for breakfast this morning was matched by €20 being spent on a double lunch. I´m currently munching a pack of biscuits and looking forward to another 3 courses later. Perhaps confirmation of energy spent?

From the Alahambra gardens over the city of Granada

This week´s themes have been a mixture of James Vincent McMorrow and John Butler Trio.

Some more relaxing to be done then next stop Gibraltar.  Google says it´s 4 days away!

View from the Alahambra towards the Sierra Nevada mountains
Bye from Fatty!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Name of the Game

Life is good again!  I`ve done about 280 miles over the last 5 days and now I am relaxing in 30 degree heat in Valencia.  Getting on the bike and actually going somewhere has improved my mood massivly.  So much so that I wonder if I was slightly whiney in the last post...

I am here by choice and in the knowledge that it was never going to be easy.  I don`t apologise for the emotion of the last post but I am feeling slightly embarrassed!  Nevertheless it somehow engendered a rather large reaction from all sorts of people  and I am very thankful for all your kind words and support.

This week`s cycling has been mainly coast-hugging.  I used the sea as a navigation aid and kept close to it, finding some deserted roads as a result.

Lunch in Sitges, feeling very sophisticated as the Film Festival was in town

The same roads are pretty bouncy though, and after 1.5 rough days, things started to break.  On Wednesday afternoon my saddle fell apart, a pannier clip popped and I got a puncture.  In the space of 30mins.  In 30 degree heat with no shade.  A moment to savour!  I managed to fix it all with my bag of bits.  No jokes about being too fat for my saddle please!

I continued to cycle and eventually came to a place called Peniscola.  Here I was told of a road that ran through the Nature Reserve for 17km, was really beautiful and just for bikes.  Wonderful news!  I would find camping at the end of the road too, just in time for tea.  So off I pedalled and eventually found myself on an unsurfaced, rock-and-dust track.  Not the sort of place for a heavily laden touring bike!  By this point I had come down some pretty steep hills so resolved to push the bike to the end.  Bad Decision.  I was pushing till 8pm that evening, soaked in sweat and covered in dust.

Stunning scenery on the Death Road

I learned from this episode; never listen to a woman who looks like the school dinnerlady you didn´t like when she talks about the `brilliant road` ahead.  She hasn`t been there, can`t ride a bike and has no idea how heavy my bike is!

Other than that, it`s been quiet.  Very blooming quiet.  In fact, so quiet I got scared!  All along the coast are out-of-season (or out of money) holiday resorts.  Miles of bungalows, apartments and roads to nowhere, all deserted and running with weeds.  No road signs, no shops, no life.  I think I`m going to head inland for the next while!
Another quiet town.  At least it was open!

And now I am in Valencia.  Pleasant city, biggest Oceanarium in Europe apparently.  Biggest entry fee too, 27 Euro!  Not too sure how I`ll spend my time now.  I feel like going to the Oceanarium but the price and ethics of the thing put me off.  I´m not too bothered by old buildings either.  Maybe an open bus tour? Might be a plan!

As far as continuing the cycle goes, Google is directing me inland and saying 8 days to Gibraltar.  This is a lot faster than I had planned, and I don´t have much idea what to see along the way.  Should I spend another day here?  Push on tomorrow and stay in Sierra Nevada mountains for a while?  I don´t really know what I want from the trip now.  I think it has become a mental and physical challenge to find the correct route and see how far I can get in a day, instead of a method of taking in the culture of the area.  There are only so many old buildings I can look at, and only so much time I can spend in a museum!  I will reacha  decision soon.  It is a nice choice to have!

Cheerybye for now.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Moving On

Since the last update quite a bit has happened.  Ross having to return home due to injury is the most important bit of news.  This was a large knock for us both, and I am extremely sad that his trip ended in that way.  However I am sure he is even more gutted.  On the other hand he gets to sleep in clean, nice-smelling beds and will never have to look at a salami baguette again!

Refuelling mid-Pyrenees

I have decided to continue cycling towards Morocco on my own.  I´ve got quite mixed feelings about this; excitement at having an amazing opportunity, sadness to have lost half of the team, and fear of loneliness on the road ahead.  Uncertainty is playing a large part at the minute in that I don´t know how long I can cope in my own company.  This will be the limiting factor in how close I get to Morocco.

I am certain I will experience extremes of emotion along the way.  In a strange way the deepest lows make me feel just as alive as the highest joys, and this feeling of Life is extremely appealing.  It just seems slightly (very?) masochistic sometimes.  Maybe my theme tune should be John Mellencamp...

In other news, after Ross left on Tuesday I made my way to Montserrat.  This is a big strange-looking mountain an hour from Barcelona.  It´s made up of hundreds of strange conglomerate towers, all rounded and worn into strange shapes.  Of course there is loads of climbing to be done, but also a lot of praying.

Monastery in the mountain
The campsite on the mountain is very small, perched above the airy abyss and just across from the monastery.  All day and much of the night can be spent listening to the bells and choir singing.  Very soothing until you get woken at 0245 by some form of religious noise pollution!

I spent 3 days on the mountain, exploring on foot and considering the future of UK2Africa.  I did some great running, up to over 1200m and underneath some massive Big Walls.

At the top of the hill, roasting!

Friday came along and I moved back to Barcelona.  I had a visit from Ellie, who arrived Friday evening and left lunchtime today (Sunday).  Although it was a short visit I was so happy to have her around.  We ate, went to the beach and had a wander around the city.  It was a rather large wrench when she left me alone at the airport!  This afternoon was spent in the lowest mood I have been in so far this trip and I seriously considered booking a flight home.

Things fairly picked up once I ate dinner though!  I still miss home but I am once again excited to continue pedalling.  The little things make me happy, like not being able to read the menu, guessing and ending up with roast chicken, gravy and spuds!

Hopefully things will continue to improve apace once I leave the city.  There´s nothing like being surrounded by people to make you feel lonely.

Once again, thankyou to everyone who has been in contact.  I´m thriving on your support.  If anyone wants to join in the cycle or visit please do!

Hairy OUT

Monday, 7 October 2013


Day 18 - 22: Barcelona

We decided to head straight to Barcelona from Solsona. Day 18 dawned cool, overcast and slightly damp which was perfect for us. We had 30miles to go, which is the longest since France. The distance was covered in quick time thanks to the more UK-like weather. 

We hopped in a train from Manresa to Barcelona in the afternoon as it would be pretty dodgy cycling into the big city. Upon arrival we journeyed to the beach (no map) and felt the sea for the first time since Calais. After that trouble was had finding our campsite!

Lazy days on the beach. Have we earned it?

The next few days were comprised of;
1. Getting bitten silly by a mosquito in our tent (I counted at least 93 on me)
2. Wandering around Barcelona centre trying to become sophisticated
3. Eating pizza
4. Going to the beach
5. Going to Decathlon
6. Visiting the zoo
7. Accidentally wandering into dodgy backstreet bookshops/getting invited to illegal cafes
8. Watching huge big storms

At the zoo. Sure why not hire a buggy to save our tired legs?

Ross managed a 1 metre skid in the buggy (downhill though). Are you proud Callum? We saw loads of funny animals and even a dolphin show! They jumped over a rope and did backflips and stuff and the man got thrown up in the air by them and then we went home and got 2 ice creams and chocolate bars each!

Not long after the record-breaking skid

Overall Barcelona is a great place to visit but we'll both be glad to move on.

Thanks everyone for the comments on here and on Facebook. It keeps our spirits up knowing it's cold and wet at home! Thanks too from Alzheimer Scotland as you have raised almost £900 so far.

Another update will appear soon.

John and Ross

Day 17: Oliana-Solsona (50 Km)

Day 17: Oliana-Solsona (50Km)

Boyo it was a hot day today. The morning sun was impressive as it played on the cliffs around the campsite, but became oppressive soon after.

We were planning to get to Solsona today, which is described as a 'monumental town' on our map. Everything was going smoothly until about 1 o'clock when we stopped for lunch.

A recurring problem since Foix has been bread quality. A touring cyclist likes a baguette that's tough enough to survive being strapped to a bike, but soft enough to be a pleasant eat.

Today our lunch was the hardest and driest of all the dry lunches! Combined with the heat this created bad juju and as soon as we set our parched legs in motion again we were confronted by THE HILL. 

This was bigger, longer, steeper, hotter, harder, drier and generally more bother than the Pyrenees all put together.

Us halfway up 'slightly annoying hill' (understatement of the trip...) and we're halfway keeled over.

Eventually we got to the top of some obscure pass at 880m. Not a very nice surprise that climb. The descent was by no means worth the pain but welcome nonetheless. 

It brought us straight into Solsona where we had a lovely chat to the woman in the Tourist Information. A day was almost booked paragliding but the weather didn't look good :(

Our camp was first class tonight with lots of stars for entertainment. I think I'm getting closer to an older way of life - we've nothing to do apart from tell stories and look at the sky in the evenings! Any suggestions welcome!

John and Ross