Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Africa Expedition 2011

On the 4th December 2010 during a freezing cold weekend in the snow-covered peak district 26 young people assembled for a selection weekend. 9 months later, with the team reduced down to 12, we met in Fareham in late July to finish the final preparations before the beginning of our expedition on August 1st

The group at our campsite in Fareham

We arrived in Gosport on the last day of July after our first cycle ride of the expedition from Fareham. We met the 4 skippers who had volunteered to assist us on the crossing as they expertly guided our two hired yachts into harbour. Our yacht’s names Adelaide star and Canberra star were not to our liking so we promptly renamed them Bob and Geoff respectively. Bob was a 10 man yacht that would be home to Dave, Katie, Tom, Dan, Ali, Sam and Troy along with Nick who was sadly only joining us for the sailing as well as their two skippers Nick and Jim. Geoff would house James, Ben, Adam, Will, me and one of James’s friends Tom who would also only be joining us for the sailing. Our two skippers were Clare and James.

The group all aboard Bob (the inferior of the two vessels)

To everyone who told us it was not possible to fit 12 bicycles and 18 people across two boats: yes, you can. After loading the boats on the Sunday evening we had a BBQ on land before sleeping on the boats for our early start on Monday morning.

The wind was better than expected on the Monday morning so we decided to make the most of it and leave early before it died down. Most of us were sailing for the first time but under expert instruction from those who had more experience we quickly made our way out of sight of the English coast. The last we would see of it for 6 weeks! Unfortunately the wind had died down by early afternoon and so we had to start using the engine to assist our speed. Aboard Geoff Adam and James soon found other ways to entertain themselves. By improvising an overboard toilet they were able to avoid the use of the very smelly on board toilet. A series of clips and ties under tension allowed them to lean off the back of Geoff (1 at a time) and do their business.

A little too pleased with his ingenious invention
James - the only sufferer of sea sickness

As we continued heading towards France it started getting colder as night came. We got our sleeping bags up on deck to keep nice and warm as we guided Geoff in to St Vaas at 3am. To wake us up the tune of Songs of Praise resonated through Geoff’s bowels courtesy of Adam’s phone alarm (I knew whose tent I wouldn’t be pitching next to over the coming weeks!). St Vaas was a picturesque fishing village that we had a wander round in the morning before setting off round the French coast to Cherbourg. Strong winds meant we were able to get a bit of competition going between the boats which was good fun. Unfortunately (due to being a smaller boat and not inferior crew) Bob just about beat us in our mini race. As the wind died down we were able to have a quick dip in the sea – it was very cold though!

We spent the night in Cherbourg before setting off in the morning to cycle 130km south in beautiful sunshine to a small town called Jullouville. We soon found our first of many campsites situated in some woods just off the main road. Shortly after finding this campsite Troy had the realisation that he had packed his tent minus tent poles making it about as useful as a condom machine in the Vatican. Many nights shared in James’s tent would have to follow. The next day we woke up to pouring rain which was definitely not what we were expecting! To make matters worse we had an incident in the early afternoon. A mix up between Ben and James left Adam with no room to pass their mini collision resulting in Adam and James kissing the tarmac and a broken front wheel and fork on Adam’s bike. After trying to bodge together a roadside repair it became clear we needed a bike shop so Adam pushed a couple of kilometres up the road to the next town. Here we were able to get a quick fix but would need a more substantial bike shop to get a new wheel from. That evening we decided to camp in some woods again after totalling just 80km for the day. It was the sensible decision though as it set us up nicely to get repairs done in the morning.

Adam not too impressed with his bent wheel

We awoke to rain for the second day running but on a positive note were able to get Adam’s bike fixed by late morning. As we continued south the weather picked up and we were greeted by some much welcomed sun to dry us out! Learning our lessons from the previous night we decided to camp under a bridge to prevent the misery of packing away wet tents and gear into dry pannier bags from what was becoming inevitable rain every night. The bridge we chose crossed over La Loire which was a surprisingly warm river! Most of us had a nice swim and took the chance to wash ourselves and our clothes in the river water. Troy made the error of sleeping outside next to a water source and consequently awoke the next day with his bum covered in mosquito bites. Why he fell asleep with nothing but his bum exposed remains a mystery to me although my only guess would be that he was hoping Alistair may be the last to bed that night*.
*Alistair received lots of ‘gay banter’ throughout the trip and will continue to do so on this blog. She has only herself to blame though for turning up with pink nail varnish on his toes, a purple ear ring, an electric pink sleeping bag liner and his boyfriend to see him off (OK I made the last one up).

Camping under a bridge by La Loire
Packing everything and the kitchen sink was always going to put a strain on Troy’s bike and unfortunately he ended up breaking some spokes due to the amount of weight concentrated on his rear wheel. After dumping unneeded items such as hair conditioner and his poleless tent his bike was able to limp on minus two spokes for a couple of days until we could find a suitable wheel as a replacement. The rain seemed to be fairly constant throughout the first week of France and we had a very testing evening on the first Saturday as we had torrential rain whilst we cooked and ate dinner. Still, our spirits were not dampened and it seemed we had been through the worst of the weather when we had our first rest day exactly a week after setting sail. 

Cycling in the wet

Katie’s sister and her partner joined us for a day of cycling on the Sunday and it was certainly helpful to have them pushing our wind for a bit! As it was Ben’s birthday we decided it would be totally inappropriate if we did not have some celebratory beers at our campsite for the evening. As we had a rest day to follow we were staying in a proper campsite and it was soon clear to see that our social norms had shifted after living a rough lifestyle for just a week! Plied with cider, beer and wine, Troy managed to find himself the target of bullying from a group of young French children (with our help). The photograph below is just one from a series of shots after Troy had his clothes stolen whilst he showered. 

...It was a very cold night

 The following evening we had our first restaurant dinner which included Dan entertaining the local diners with a guitar and singing before we camped by the walls of a fort. We had the novelty of waking up to a sunrise without rain and the view from the fort was incredible. We cycled further south to Royan where we could catch the ferry meaning we could cycle through national parks instead of through Bordeaux. On the way to Royan we saw a photo opportunity too good to miss. There was a giant child on the middle of a roundabout just begging to be photographed with us running from it. The locals approved of our sense of humour as we had lots of approving car horns aimed at us.

Camping by a fort

Interesting round about

The roads through the national parks were totally flat with very few corners. You could see for miles ahead and the now hot weather created many mirages in the tarmac ahead of us. We managed to get Troy a new wheel and really started covering a lot of distance as the flat roads allowed us to keep a high average speed. The day before we planned on climbing the Pyrenees we camped amongst some trees at the side of a large river. The road went across the river over a bridge giving us the opportunity to jump in and cool off!

Jumping off a bridge

The morning of our Pyrenees ascent was mercifully mild as the cloud cover shielded us from the sun. After climbing through the foothills we made it to the Pyrenees climb proper which was marked by the border of France and Spain. Stopping to celebrate we were even able to have some juicy plums from a plum tree on the border! At the start of the day we were pretty much at sea level and for the next 18km we would climb over 1km vertically and up into the clouds. We set off upwards in three separate pods where we would RV at the summit. The effort of cycling a bicycle weighing ~50kg when carrying weight is tough going and the climbing felt relentless. The sounds of panting filled the long silences as conversation became difficult. Sweat was literally dripping onto the handlebars as we had to climb out the saddle to power up steeper sections. It’s funny how the less severe gradients of the climb became rest periods where you could try to recuperate energy despite the fact that if you were to cease pedalling you would very quickly end up in reverse! After a good 2 to 3 hours our efforts felt vindicated as we reached the clouds and the 1,057m summit marker. Once we stopped cycling our sweat soon cooled us when combined with the altitude so we donned our jackets and headed down the other side into Spain. 

Plum picking (it was safe honest)
In the clouds

 The descent from the other side was short lived but we still remained close to 1,000m in altitude which we knew we had to lose somehow before our crossing to Morocco! That evening we camped in a beautiful field in the north of Spain. The daisies, grass, sloping hills and scenery meant all that was missing was donning nun outfits and we would be ready to remake the sound of music.

Resting in the meadow

It soon became clear in Spain that the weather was very different to what we had experienced so far on expedition. It seemed the Pyrenees almost acted as a barrier to the colder front in France and to maintain the Spanish heat. Our first day cycling we decided we needed to siesta at midday and this would become a theme for the rest of our Spanish cycling! The intensity of the heat during midday in Spain was too much for us to cycle in and we were forced to find shade to rest in during the afternoon. We would then cycle on in the evening when it was cooler before finding a suitable spot to camp in. This routine would serve us well and protect us from heat exhaustion.

Cycling in northern Spain

Our first rest day in Spain was due to be had in a small town called Caparroso. We found a lovely camping spot that was by a bridge adorned in climbing holds. This was very welcome to the many climbers in the group who had started displaying withdrawal symptoms. After some drinks at the local Irish bar we went to bed and woke up the next morning planning on cycling some 20km to a campsite where we could pitch our tents and rest for the remainder of the day. On arrival at our ‘campsite’ it soon became apparent the town it should have been in was in decline and the locals told us the campsite had closed down years ago. We made the decision to continue cycling until we could find a suitable location for our rest day. 100km’s later we arrived in a town called Agreda. Our rest day had turned into a full day of cycling and so we agreed we would take our rest day on the following day. It soon became apparent that we had arrived in Agreda on the perfect day! It was the last day of their fiesta and the locals were in high spirits. We were shown somewhere to camp for free which even had showering and toilet facilities! Next we joined the party that was going on in the park where we were given food as well as access to the free bar. It was just what we needed after a not so restful ‘rest day’. As nightfall came the party moved in to the town square where there was live music and an outdoor dance floor. After seeing many drinks away the tune to the full monty was played and it soon became apparent this was not going to end well at a Catholic dominated festival. It didn’t take much encouragement before Adam was up on stage with just one sock preserving his modesty. It took even less encouragement before said sock had been launched into the crowd! The biggest regret is probably that we don’t have photographic evidence but I can assure you it happened. The locals had thought of everything and just as we started getting hungry in the early hours a man came round giving out panini’s to everyone on the dance floor – England can learn a lot from Spanish fiestas!


The next morning we were all grateful of not having to cycle as some of us didn’t get to bed before the sunrise! A chilled day was spent in Agreda and Ali took the opportunity to have his hair cut by Ben. It would probably have looked better if he had just put a bowl on his head and cut around but luckily James was there to sort Ali’s barnet and in all fairness it didn’t look too bad considering. 

Poor Ali

We continued to cycle south through Spain with beautiful sunny weather each day. The roads were hillier than France but it made the scenery slightly more interesting. On one particularly long hill James and I were cycling at the back after stopping for a quick wee. We could see the hill was a good few kilometres long and the others were all ahead of us. A low rumbling noise could be heard from behind us which was slowly getting louder. We both looked back to see a large green combine harvester travelling up the hill and each of us glanced at the other with the same thought crossing our minds. A short burst of energy was all that was required to sprint up to speed and grab hold of the rear end and have ourselves dragged up the hill at a steady 23km/h (I checked my speedo). Troy and Ben were the first we went past and I’m not convinced Ben saw the funny side as he and Troy were waiting halfway up the hill for us and we sped past with a cheeky grin and a wave.

James holding on and me just before I grabbed hold

Our route through Spain took us alongside the course of a large river providing us with some spectacular scenery. The curling road hugged the mountains rising to the side of the river and we came to a large bridge by a beach that we decided to use as a camp spot for the night. The bridge must have been a good 13metres high but this did not deter some of the group from jumping into the water below. Well done to Sam for being the first and also to Ali for managing to climb out the water and all the way back up to the top of the bridge!

Ali nearly at the top of the climb with Sam on his way up

As we continued our journey south we met some very friendly people who really helped us along the way. A group of Catholics in Tarrancon were cycling to see the pope who was visiting Madrid and they offered to let us share a sports hall with them to sleep in which provided us with much needed washing facilities as well as a nice place to sleep for the night. When we cooked our dinners that evening they even supplemented it with the nicer food that they were cooking! We were then offered some of their homemade Italian wine which tasted amazing. This is some compliment for someone who isn’t usually a fan of red wine.

The following evening we had our next rest day in Alcazar de San Juan where a very kind park groundsman fought our cause and managed to convince the police to allow us to camp in the locked park overnight. In return Adam helped him by giving his bike a quick service and he was happy to let us stay for two nights. Upon leaving Alcazar we soon decided as a group that we were making good progress through Spain and that there was a possibility of visiting one of Dan’s friends in Malaga and having a night out there before continuing down the coast towards Morocco. Naturally, our misinformed decision was to detour to Malaga. We decided to push through the 250km distance over two days and so the first day we went for 130km. Unfortunately, shortly after siesta we had our first of what would be many casualties. Will started feeling ill and halfway down a descent mentioned to me he was going to be sick. Before he could stop he was sick to his side covering his rear panniers and handlebars in that days lunch. On catching the other members of our pod up we decided he needed rest and so the two groups camped apart that night as the others were 10km ahead of us by the time we got in contact.

One of our Spanish campspots

The next day was not much better as by the time we caught the others up Dan had been violently sick in the morning. We cycled as a group of 12 to the next town where we decided it was best to cut our losses, stay there, and finish the ride to Malaga over 3 days. Through a stroke of good fortune and the kindness of some of the locals it turned out an English couple were driving to Malaga the next day and they offered to take Dan. Taking Dan’s bike to pieces we split the weight and prepared for the next day.

Dan's bike split across Adam, myself, Tom and James

Unfortunately it soon became apparent that whatever had caused Dan and Will to be sick was the same thing and it was going to affect more than just the two of them. At mid-morning Troy was the next to succumb to the illness as he chucked his guts up over a fence before it was decided that he and James should get public transport to meet us in Malaga. The 9 of us that were left then carried on up a long steep climb before it became apparent that Katie and I were also feeling under the weather. By siesta time it was pretty clear we were both going to be the next casualties so it was decided Dave would take us on the bus to Malaga. Just as we were walking down the road I realised I was going to be sick. What followed was quite a surreal moment as I vomited everything I had inside me it cued Katie who was a few metres away to do exactly the same. The situation was fairly comedic and we both saw the funny side and also felt a lot better for being sick! The last 6 decided that they too should get the next bus after us as there was a real danger of one of them getting ill. It was a good decision as Tom started feeling ill and had to sleep as soon as we were in Malaga and Sam ended up being sick the next day.

Towards Malaga

We stayed with Dan’s friend Diego who was very kind and relaxed about us turning his house into a makeshift hospital for two days. Dan made a beautiful paella on the second evening and we had the chance to stock up on spare bike parts from Decathlon as we knew there would not be many bike shops in Morocco! The following morning we cycled away from Malaga towards Algeciras along the coast. We stopped in Marbella so as to split the journey in two. Spending the afternoon on the beach was relaxing and some locals had set up a slackline between two palm trees that we were able to have a go on. That evening we decided that it would be nice to spend our last night camped by the beach so we chose a luscious green spot just off the promenade. Everyone slept in sleeping bags outside as it was still warm at night and there was no danger of mosquitoes. At about 1am we all awoke to pretty much the same thought process: ‘WHAT IDIOT THINKS IT’S FUNNY TO WAKE ME UP BY POURING WATER ON MY HEAD??’ shortly followed by ‘It was clear skies when we slept how is it suddenly absolutely chucking it down?’. What had actually happened is that we had made the mistake of camping on artificially green grass in Southern Spain and the nightly sprinklers had turned on. Chaos ensued as we all grabbed our kit and got off the ledge onto the promenade as fast as possible. Ben, for some reason I still cannot work out today, got up leaving his kit and jumped straight off onto the path as fast as he could but gashing his foot open in the process! (For which he later earned himself the mallet). After lots of cursing and feeling sorry for ourselves we then slept on the beach for the remainder of the night.

Ben slacklining

Very wet and less than impressed post sprinklers

 The next day we got our wet selves up and cycled the rest of the distance to Algeciras. Here we boarded a ferry across to Tangier med. Unfortunately we had been unsuccessful with getting a permit to kayak across the strait so we had to settle for the ferry. Like the transition from France to Spain, it seemed that in just a short distance it had got noticeably hotter! We cycled to the nearest town from the ferry port where we went about finding somewhere to stay for the night. The whole culture of Morocco is very different to what we were used to but we soon found our feet and realised the best way of getting good accommodation was through renting houses and playing the locals off each other to get the cheapest price. It was probably a bit unsafe to be camping each night in Morocco and there was no need for us to do so as costs were so much lower. The first night we did not do so well as we ended up with a small apartment that had bed bugs but we learnt our lesson and from then on we were more successful.

James on the ferry
Dan after being eaten by bedbugs

In the morning we cycled on to the city of Tangier. The roads to it were hilly but made for some spectacular views across the sea and hills as the sun rose. By the time we had travelled the 40km to Tangier it became apparent that it was too hot for the whole group to continue cycling so we decided to take a siesta and make a plan of action. We then planned to write the day off, find somewhere to sleep and get into a new routine of waking up to leave for 1am so as to avoid cycling in the heat of the day. We found somewhere to sleep that night for free as a local man let us sleep in a spare area of a large building he owned. It seemed like it used to be used as a staff canteen or some sort which was great as we had toilets, sinks as well as tables and chairs all for free. I think he was very happy to be helping people who were English as he kept talking about his ties to London!

The first day cycling at night was probably the hardest as our bodies were yet to adjust to being awake at night. By sunrise we all felt like we were fighting off sleep but it had allowed us to cover 70km before the sun had even risen. It does get quite scary on the downhill sections at night as 40km/h feels a lot faster when you can’t see more than a few metres in front of you! After daylight we took a turning onto a slightly smaller road which proved to have copious amounts of potholes. The going was a lot slower as we had to pick our way through the broken road. We definitely wouldn’t have been able to cycle on this sort of road at night! That night we stayed in a small coastal town in a very nice house that we rented for the equivalent of about £45.00.

Poor road surface

Leaving in the early hours once again we soon discovered that the road we needed to follow was similar in surface to the road we had been on at the end of the previous day. We then made the group decision to carry our bikes up onto the motorway and cycle along the hard shoulder until we could get to a more suitable road. Within minutes of setting off a van pulled us over and told us we weren’t allowed on the motorway. Fortunately for us he volunteered to escort us some 20km down the motorway to the next exit which was exactly where we wanted to be! We then had a very safe ride as the van protected those cycling at the back. Ben got a couple of punctures whilst on the hard shoulder and had to accept a lift with his bike in the van along with Dan who also got a puncture just before the motorway exit. We gave both of them lots of stick for missing out on a few kilometres of cycling!

Ben and Dan with their 'support vehicle'

 Whilst cycling at night we split into 2 pods of 6 to keep our visibility high. I have the following story on good authority as I was not in Ali’s pod that night. After a few hours of cycling in the early hours Ali’s pod decided to stop for the toilet so he could go behind an ‘abandoned’ building to take a poo. Unfortunately for Ali the building was not deserted and a man came outside to see what was going on. So startled by the appearance of this stranger Ali quickly pulled his shorts up to get back to his bike and away from this stranger. In his rush though he soon realised he had managed to poo on his hand and subsequently smear it over his handlebars. I’m sure we would have photographic evidence if it occurred in the day but you can count yourselves lucky you won’t get to see it!

 We spent our first Moroccan rest day in a small coastal town just West of Kenitra. It was nice to be able to afford a hotel and to eat out more often. Staying right on the seafront was also very nice as we could easily get in to cool off. There were even some decent waves which we were body surfing. This inspired Tom & Sam to hire a surfboard for a couple of days and really relax before the final stint to Marrakech.

You may be shocked that Ali is not in this photo

We carried on cycling and covered a good distance to take us to Mohammadia by Casablanca. This was the last coastal town before our route took us inland directly to Marrakech. The day was getting late and for once we were struggling to find somewhere suitable to sleep. As half the group had gone off to look for a hostel a waiter from a nearby café took pity on us and brought us out a plate of food along with coke and a baguette. It was just the act of kindness we needed to boost our spirits and I think what really shows his generosity was the fact we were in a developing country where he was probably scraping a living himself. We did then find a hostel and after a brief 5 hour sleep we left in the early hours towards Marrakech.

Will in the desert

It took us two days to reach Marrakech from Casablanca. As we approached in the morning we could see the expansive city with the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains behind it. It was a truly beautiful view as we descended into the city and we could really feel the top of Toubkal getting closer to us. Unfortunately due to trouble with customs we had to send James, Katie and Tom back to Casablanca to collect our walking boots and bike bags. Over the next two days the rest of the group settled in Marrakech and prepared for the next stage of our expedition. We were staying in the Medina in Marrakech. This is the area enclosed by the ancient city walls right at the heart of Marrakech. It had a very hustle and bustle feel about it with people going about their business down the tiny alleyways and sidestreets. The market in the middle sold all sorts and there were fresh orange juice vendors where you could get a freshly squeezed juice for the equivalent of about 35p.  

Medina square at night

 Unfortunately Ben was ill on the morning we were due to leave for the mountains. Assuming it was going to be a brief illness we left him at the hotel with money so he could catch us in a taxi the next day. The 11 of us then departed deciding we would make it to a small town called Asni for our first night before continuing to the end of the road at Imlil the following day. The road to Asni was a gradual uphill and as we hadn’t left Marrakech until 8am it soon started getting very very hot. Fortunately we were experienced enough by now to take lots of fluids and lots of rest and so we were able to make it to Asni without totally dehydrating ourselves. In Asni we stayed in a local hostel but ate with a local family in the evening. It was really nice to experience a mealtime as a local Moroccan would and the tagine we ate tasted much better than what we had had in restaurants previously. 


The next day we made it to Imlil early in the morning as planned. We found the hotel that we had reserved a room at and went about resting before our climb ahead of us. We decided to take the next day off as well to give Ben a chance to re-join us. It had turned out that he actually had Gastric Enteritis which was a lot worse than we had expected. After convincing him to join us so as to boost his morale he finally agreed and turned up looking worse for wear. Fortunately he was over the worst of his illness and within hours of joining us he transformed from being extremely weak to nearly back to normal.

The road from Asni to Imlil

The next morning we set off on our trek towards the refuge on Toubkal. We all knew in the backs of our minds that our health really was balancing on a knife edge. Dan had been ill the previous night and was weak so had his kit split amongst the group along with Ben’s. Fortunately we were all able to press on and we made our way up into the sky being careful not to gain altitude too quickly. The route to the refuge hugged the side of the mountains that make up the High Atlas range and we got some beautiful views as we followed the valley upwards. We made it to the refuge by early afternoon and thankfully temperature was no longer an issue at this altitude. After a comedic rap battle between Ali and myself we all got to bed to rest ourselves before our early summit attempt the next day.

On our way to the refuge

This time it was Adam’s turn to be ill during the night and we had to make a decision on whether or not to summit. We eventually decided to attempt the summit without resting as we could always make another attempt the following day. Adam and Dan dug in and did exceptionally well to carry on despite illness and we climbed as a group up the steep side of Toubkal towards our ultimate goal. Scrambling up the South Col was great fun and all 12 of us successfully summited at approximately 9:30am. True to his word, Ben walked the last 100metres naked as a forfeit for failing to get all our bicycles sponsored. We were glad the other people at the summit found it as funny as we did! After spending some time taking in the panoramic views from the top of Toubkal we then headed back down all the way to Imlil. On the descent Adam succumbed to exhaustion about an hour from the hotel and ended up fulfilling his dream of becoming a muleteer. For a bit of money we were able to get him safely down the rest of the way and into bed!

Ben making his way up the last 100 metres naked

Adam on his mule

The day after, we rested in Imlil before we would cycle the final descent back into Marrakech. Unfortunately for me I slipped coming out the shower and cracked my head open on the raised marble step. Sadly I didn’t have my bike helmet on and was forced to take a taxi down with Dave to Marrakech where I could get my head stitched up. The rest of the group joined us the following day in Marrakech where we would spend two more days before the end of the expedition. 

Cycled 3000km but injured in the shower.

We had a final meal out courtesy of AME Adventure who really were fantastically helpful to us with all sorts of problems the whole time we were in Morocco. We also had a visit to the SOS Children’s orphanage that we raised money for. Once again a massive thank you to everyone who donated as we raised over £3250! I would also like to thank everyone who has followed this blog and taken the time to read it – it has made doing it worthwhile! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Look out for the video of the expedition which will be completed soon!

Monday, 19 September 2011

A quick note

Although a little late this is a quick post to confirm James, Tom, Troy, Ben, Will, Adam and myself flew back to England late Thursday night. The other five will be returning very shortly as our goals have been realised and Africa Expediion 2011 draws to a close. On behalf of the whole group, a massive thank you to everyone who donated to SOS Children and helped us to raise over £3000.00 for an orphanage not far from Marrakesh. Over the next couple of weeks more photos will be uploaded to the facebook page (keep an eye out) and I will be working on an overall expedition write up. We also have a video to look forward to that Sam will be making shortly.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Monday 12th September 18:30

We made it! All 12 of the team summitted Jbel Toubkal on Sunday morning. After a 6 hour trek on Saturday morning we made it to the French Alpine Club refuge where we would rest at 3000 metres before making our summit bid early on Sunday morning. We ascended via the South Col enjoying the scrambling as the sun rose over the High Atlas mountains. On the approach to the summit Ben kept to his word and walked the last 100m naked much to the amusement of the rest of the group (problems uploading photos so documentation of this will have to wait).
The panoramic views from the top were well worth cycling 3000km and climbing 4000m for. The team are now resting in Imlil as we completed the descent all the way from the top of Toubkal to Imlil in one day. Tomorrow should see the team descend the mountain roads back into Marrakesh leaving us with time to visit the SOS orphanage on Wednesday.
The only photo I was able to upload - Some of the team looking out across the High Atlas

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Thursday 8th September 14:00

After 2 days of climbing on the bikes we have arrived at Imlil - the last village on the route to Toubkal. Yesterday was a very strenuous day as we climbed up to Asni in the heat of the day. The 40 degree heat really saps you when going uphill as there is little wind to cool you down. We spent last night in a hostel in Asni and ate at a local villagers' house for a very reasonable price. We were pretty much all in agreement that the Tagine we were served was the best Moroccan food we had eaten so far! The climb to Imlil this morning was much easier as we left at the crack of dawn and arrived before 9. The Atlas mountains that surround us in a valley make for some spectacular scenery. We will spend 2 days here before walking to the refuge on Saturday morning.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Tuesday 6th September 14:00

Nearly there! Arrived in Marrakesh on Sunday afternoon after cycling from Mohammadia by Casablanca over two days. Currently James, Katie and Tom are in Casablanca trying to collect our bike bags and walking boots that we sent over whilst the rest of us are making final preparations before our climb of Toubkal. We are shedding as much weight as possible from the bikes as we have a 45km long climb up to Asni gaining 650 metres before a very steep 15km climb from Asni to Imlil where we gain a further 600 metres of altitude. We will then say goodbye to our bikes for a few days as we trek to the refuge before our summit attempt. Including rest days if all goes to plan we should reach the top of Morocco on Sunday morning. A final and very fast descent by bicycle back in to Marrakesh on Monday will complete our 3000km distance.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Saturday 3rd September

We are currently about half way between Casablanca and Marrakech, having stayed in Casablanca last night.  Tonight we'll be camping out near a lake.  We're cycling to Marrakech over two days to ensure we get plenty of rest before our ascent of Jebel Toubkal!  We'll hopefully make Marrakech tomorrow (Sunday 4th).

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Wednesday 31st August 19:45

We have been in Morocco since Sunday and have already made it to a seaside town by Kinetra. Our routine in Morocco is very different to that of France and Spain. We start cycling at 1:30am each morning as this seems to be the only way to cover meaningful distance without risk of heat exhaustion. Every afternoon we split up to find the best place to sleep. We often end up triggering a price war between locals offering us their houses! Wherever we go here we attract attention but it has all been positive so far - lovely to have groups of children clapping and cheering as we cycle past! We seem to be eating out every other night here as well. Lots of interesting food and for not much money! Tomorrow is a rest day which we will probably spend relaxing on the beach. Hoping to make Casablanca on Saturday then Marrakech Monday. Bring on the Atlas Mountains!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Unfortunately we were denied permission to cross to Africa by kayak and so we are just buying our ferry tickets to Tangiers. A last quick note: never trust green grass in Spain. We were unceremoniously woken by sprinklers at 1am as we slept outside in Marbella.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Some photo´s for you non facebookers

 troy celebrates the 1000km mark
 the team cycling though france
 our camp site (7 with benifits)
 bens hidden talents

Friday 26th August 14:30

We smashed the 2000km marker a couple of days ago and are currently resting in Malaga. Fortunately for us Dan has a very kind friend who has put us up for two nights so a massive thank you for Diego for that! It´s great to have use of simple things like washing machines for the first time in weeks! The hospitality people have shown us on this trip really is amazing. On Wednesday evening we met a lady called Dawn in Encinas Reales who gave us all tea and use of her internet to source maps for the route to Malaga. Just to clarify from the facebook page and to prevent any unneccessary worrying back home, some of the group were ill but everyone who was is pretty much fully recovered now - it appears a bug spread through the group which was made worse by cycling in ~40°C of Spanish heat. Luckily the recovery time has been less than 24 hours so we will be well on our way towards Algeciras tomorrow. 
Hopefully we have learnt our lesson and we will now be more careful with hygiene and are debating whether to start cycling at 3am - decision on this to come later this evening! 
Those of you who haven´t already, if you ´like´our facebook page Here you can check out some pictures we have uploaded! 
Also, a quick thank you to everyone who has donated to SOS Children. We are currently on £2,257 which is 75% of the way to our target of raising a pound per kilometre cycled - £3,000! http://www.justgiving.com/Africa-Expedition-20110

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Monday evening we probally became the first expedition to have an hour long discussion as to whether to modify the route to include a night out in Malaga. To cover the extra distance we went for 150km yesterday. However, we have suffered for it today. we have decided to cover the next 150km in two days. Hit 74km/h yesterday morning! We still have a few hundred metres of descent to try and beat that. Bring on a night out in malaga tomorow and morocco on the 28th!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

We managed a nice and flat 100 km to find ourselves in a secluded picnic spot just outside Aldea del Rey. Troy managed to get us some fresh watermelons for lunch courtesy of a kind farmer who was towing a trailer full past our lunch stop. Tomorrow should be a bit hillier as we get close to Spain's southern coast.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

20th August 13:00

It´s our third rest day and we have been lucky enough to get showers for the second night running as we are staying in a beautiful park in the heart of Alcazar. We are all currently relaxing out of the mid-day sun to prepare ourselves for more cycling in the morning. We have managed to get ourselves into a good routine in Spain which involves us getting on the roads for 07:00 and getting the majority of our daily distance out the way before we look for a spot to siesta in at around about 13:00. I am sure that come Morocco a 7am start will seem like a lie in as the sun starts to get stronger!
As promised here is a shout out to All saints School from weymouth; thanks for a great exped to poland!

Friday, 19 August 2011

We are now in Alcazar as we steadily make our way through Spain. Total trip distance is 1697km and we are consistently covering 100k+ a day. Got lucky in Tarancon last night where Dan managed to clinch us free showers, outdoor swimming and a sports hall to sleep in! Rest day tomorrow so hopefully we can find a campsite.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Monday 15th August 19:00

We planned to have a rest day yesterday at a campsite we believed to be 20km away. After cycling in the morning it soon became apparent we had found ourselves a ghost town which possibly had a campsite many years ago. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we cycled on to Agreda. When we arrived the final day of their fiesta was in full swing. The locals were so generous and we were fed and watered within minutes of arriving. Apparently it was ´the day of the chicken´ so we were given a bowl of chicken for our table. It wasn´t too long before we drunk the free bar dry and followed the celebrations into the centre of town long into the early hours. Tomorrow we will continue cycling South towards Madrid, assuming we are able to leave this fantastic town!
Still no luck with the SIM cards but hopefully we will be more successful tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Saturday 13th August

A hugely successful day yesterday saw us cross over the border into Spain whilst climbing an 18km ascent peaking at over 1000m. We then enjoyed a quick descent out of the clouds and found a picturesque (think sound of music) field to camp in. Unfortunately the French SIM cards do not work in Spain so it may be a day or two before we can update the blog reliably again. We are now in Caparroso as our total distance has hit over 1100km!

Will Adam and Tom´s alternative Blog (for those down with the kids):
Hear me Now blud. After a Bangin´ day thrashing over the Pyrenees we boshed up to 1000m and rapidly boshed back down again. Hitting 60 odd kph. BOOM!! We then scored a sick campsite where not even the Nazis could find us (think sound of music). bad tings with the sim cards. we are now chilling after a day spent in da sweaty heat of Spain. EASY NOW. xx

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Another scorching hot day meant we were very thankful when we got to our riverside campsite at Lahontan. We even managed to cause a small traffic jam on the bridge as the locals stopped to watch us jump off into the river. Big day tomorrow as we climb the Pyrenees into Spain.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Wednesday 10th August

Currently in Ychioux and looking for somewhere to camp for the night. Had success in finding Troy a new wheel so hopefully it will not break again. Not a cloud in the sky now and hopefully it remains that way for the Pyrenees.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Camped by a lake at Lacanau. Perfectly flat roads saw us quickly towards Spain and we hope to see the Pyrenees tomorrow.

Monday, 8 August 2011

It was Ben's birthday yesterday and we were lucky it coincided with our first rest day, allowing us to relax last night with well-deserved beers. We are now camped outside a French fort near La Rochelle. Its walls are proving a great playground to the climbers in the group!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Camped by St Pierre. Rained all day, Troy broke 3 spokes but we still reached 100 km. We are well on our way south to the Pyrenees.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Camped under bridge by the river Louvre outside St Germain. The river provided a welcome wash!

Thursday, 4 August 2011


Unfortunately, shortly after last night's message it started raining and did not stop until this afternoon. More bad news was that we had a minor crash resulting in Adam needing a new wheel. Despite all this we managed 80km and are now camped not far from Vitre. Our total distance is above target so things are looking good.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Our first day of cycling went well as we covered 130km of France's west coast. We have found a forest outside Joulouville which is where we are camping tonight. Hopefully the sun keeps shining tomorrow and we have another successful day.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

In France

We have safely arrived in Cherbourg after two days of fantastic sailing and are all about to sleep before our first day of cycling. We have managed to get French SIM cards now so updates should follow regularly as of tomorrow! The photo below is of one of the two yachts we used for crossing the channel. Surprisingly we had no problems fitting ourselves plus the bikes in the yachts. Unfortunately the wind was not strong enough for us to reach St Malo so we hope to catch up on time and make it there for tomorrow.

Saturday, 30 July 2011


After 9 months of planning we have reached the day where everything comes together. Throughout the day the group will arrive at a campsite just outside of Southampton in preparation for our departure on Monday morning.
Unfortunately I must pass on some bad news which is that Alex came off his bicycle last week, breaking 2 ribs and tearing ligaments in his knee. As such he will be unable to travel the full distance but hopefully he recovers enough to join us in Morocco.
Updates on the blog will continue after our sailing as soon as we get our hands on some French SIM cards.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Ame D'aventure

After much deliberation, we have decided to utilise the local resources and use kit bags and mules for the ascent up to base camp on Jebel Toubkal. The remaining trek to the summit will require us to carry our own kit.

The team would like to say a huge thankyou to AME D'AVENTURE, who are providing us with kitbags for free. In addition, they have arranged a farewell dinner for the team before we fly home from Marrakesh, in celebration of our achievement! Many thanks for your kind generosity!

For more information on AME D'AVENTURE, take a look a the following link: www.ameaventure.ma

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Final Training Episode

The final training ride started at Gloucester Train Station at midday on Wednesday the 6th July. Both Troy and I were a little delayed by our own inability to read simple train timetables and by the time we both arrived in Gloucester Katie and Dave were waiting for us with Ali, Dan and Tom having gone to shop for food. Upon their return we made up sandwiches and distributed food before heading west towards Symonds Yat – our planned campsite for the night. Our first planned RV point was at a pub featuring a giant dinosaur in the garden. This was the description given to Tom, Troy and myself by Katie with her local knowledge. True to her word a giant Diplodocus (I hope I got this right) came into view as we crested a small hill. Disappointingly the pub was not open so we pressed onwards.

 The sky had been looking threatening since leaving Gloucester and we started experiencing intermittent showers as we headed through the Forest of Dean. The group I was in caught Dave, Katie, Dan and Ali shortly before Symonds Yat as they were stopped by the roadside. On closer inspection it soon became apparent Dan’s pannier rack had come loose and literally slipped off the back of his bike depositing half his gear in the middle of the road. After some tightened bolts and a red faced Dan, we continued as a group to find a suitable location to set up camp.

For once we actually found somewhere to camp at a reasonable time and before the sun had set which was nice as we didn’t need to rush around with setting up camp and preparing dinner. Our spot was at the edge of the Forest of Dean in a pretty little glade. The rain kindly eased off for us as we cooked our dinner of pasta, tomato and bacon. On previous weekends we had been cooking with slow burning meth spirits but for this training weekend we had the use of jet boilers. These small little cookers really pack a punch as we soon found out. Tom narrowly avoided setting the campsite on fire as he struggled to turn off the gas when he realised he had the valve open far too wide. We had originally planned on eating pasta for two nights but after this night we were easily persuaded to change our minds. In fact, a little word of warning to people reading: do not buy Asda value pasta unless you feel like changing the water halfway through to get rid of the starch. By the time our pasta was cooked it could be passed off as a cheese pasta bake as the starch stuck in and around the pasta. Unfortunately in a taste test it definitely would not pass as a pasta bake. 

The morning of Thursday was dry and we awoke in good spirits thanks mainly to a good night’s sleep. We left camp heading for Ewyas Harold via St Weonards and within the minutes the skies opened to batter us with torrential rain for the morning. Continuing in the same groups as the previous day Tom, Troy and I arrived at St Weonards in good time. Not realising that this was simply a checkpoint we began the ‘wait’ for the other group. By the time we had received a brief history lesson from some of the local villagers along with donations of food from the village shop we realised that actually the other group was ahead of us and we quickly pressed on half an hour in deficit.

Arriving in Ewyas Harold we met the other group who had been waiting patiently at the chip shop and joined them for some more food. The target for the day was Pen y Fan and we still had a long way to go so we pressed on Westwards along unclassified roads towards Velindre. My group had not gotten far before Troy’s rear tyre appeared to explode not far in front of me. I wasn’t emphasising this as Tom came round the corner shortly after us thinking he had just heard a gunshot. A quick check of Troy’s tyres revealed the recommended maximum pressure as 80psi. Considerable lower than the 120psi Troy claimed he had them pumped up to. After changing the inner tube we were back on our way through the ups and downs of the Welsh valleys. 

Some of the ascents that lay between us and Velindre were particularly gruelling and we stopped for a brief rest on a picnic table up on one of the hills we had come over. After a lot of effort we finally made it to Velindre which turned out to be signposted Felindre. Which of these it actually is I am unsure of as on all the maps (including Google) it is marked as Velindre. Anyway, we were soon berated by the other team for “Stopping for history lessons and picnics” and the group decided we would use the A roads to follow the contours of the valley and bring us quickly into Brecon.

The A roads made a real difference and we soon found ourselves in Brecon with enough time for a pub stop before we headed to a field at the base of Pen y Fan to camp in. The long grass in the field made for a lovely mattress beneath our backs as we slept through heavy rain into the morning.

The night before Troy kindly volunteered to stay in bed (so generous) to watch the bikes as he had tragically forgotten his walking boots. After a little trouble route finding the rest of us finally found ourselves on a track for the summit of Pen y Fan. A couple of false summits, a little over an hour of climbing and constant rain and wind finally led us to the 886m peak. The wind was so strong the SAS Chaplain we enlisted to take our photograph couldn’t even hold the camera still and ended up cutting Ali’s head off* – see below. I said this before (but I’ll say it again to enhance all our egos) – the only other people on top of Pen y Fan that morning were the SAS completing their selection process.

Despite it continuing to rain, the weather felt far more peaceful back at our camp and again we were all smiles as we left to head back to Brecon for more food supplies. For the last two days we changed the group compositions around so this time it was Dave, Katie, Troy and I in one group with Ali, Dan and Tom completing the other group. After a brief stop at Morrisons we followed the A road down to Abergavenny notching up 20 miles in just over an hour. The next checkpoint was Monmouth which we made in good time again allowing us to reward ourselves with a pub stop. By now the day had turned from rainy to sunny and we could enjoy a pint or two outside, warming ourselves in the sun.

That night we camped not far from Monmouth next to a bridleway which would leave us with a nice manageable distance to Lydney the next day. Tom, Ali and Troy had trains to catch from Gloucester whilst Dan and I had to head the other way back to our homes on the other side of the Severn Bridge. This meant we were all grateful for an early finish in Lydney that allowed us all to get home in good time. I can’t comment on the groups ride back to Gloucester as I was not a part of it but I will say Dan and I enjoyed very nice weather as we crossed back over to England and along some pretty (and thankfully flat) B roads. 

I should add that Dan was awarded the mallet for unceremoniously dumping his rear pannier and consequently half his luggage in the middle of a Welsh village. We can now all look forward to meeting up with the rest of the group as we continue to train and prepare for what is promising to be an exciting summer. Finally, thank you to everyone who has so far donated to SOS Children. Having your support is great and I'm sure the Moroccan children will be just as appreciative!

*Ali’s head was not literally cut off and he will still be on the expedition