Sam's account of his journey
Well we just arrived back from an incredibly eventful month of travelling through France, Spain and Morocco.
It’s hard to sum up the trip as so many things took place in such short space of time but what matters is that we achieved the goal that we set out to achieve and we did it in a better time than we had hoped for.
We cycled exactly 2121km in 21 days, averaging just over 100km per day, through storms, blistering heat, desert, and mountains. We carried all our own gear (around 20kg each) and relied on no support vehicles, medics, or technical assistance throughout the trip. We camped for the most part (which wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped thanks to Spain’s lack of campsites!) and stayed in a few hostels when there was no other option.
The ride really tested us both physically and mentally as nothing can prepare you for being on the bike for at least 6 hours a day every day for 3 weeks running apart from the ride itself, so in many ways the first stage of the ride was in itself part of the training.
I think we both struggled quite a bit that first week (especially due to the appalling weather), as it takes a good few days for your body to adjust to the new stresses and strains that you are putting it through. Finally I think that there comes a time where it realises that the pain will only go away when the whole ride is over with, so it just finds a way of adapting to the situation!
Cycling for a long duration every day is very tiring, but having to carry a lot of gear with you, finding time to cook and eat, and sleeping rough really takes it out of you. But nothing could ever replace the things that we saw, the people that we met along the way, and the scenery that we shared throughout the journey. Cycling is by far the best method of travelling I have ever used, and you really get a sense of how large this world is when you attempt to cycle through only a very small proportion of it.
It ultimately cost us very little to survive for 3 weeks, it did no harm to the environment, and we felt better for it at the end; both in feeling physically and mentally stronger, and in knowing what we have achieved on our bikes, and in Malawi.
I had my share of bike related problems, mainly tyre related. And my body took a beating too, particularly in the bum region. I developed bad saddle sores halfway through France which wasn’t nice, we were told that it would likely heal itself if I rested for a few days but time was against us and wasn’t really an option, so I had to cycle the following 1500km wearing 2 pairs of padded cycling shorts and a heap of antiseptic and anti-haemorrhoid cream every day which just about did the trick, albeit an uncomfortable ride for the most part!
Accommodation was another problem that we encountered in Spain, and something that we hadn’t planned for. There were times when we cycled for around 400km without seeing a campsite so the only option was to guerrilla camp somewhere out of site of the road, not only could this not guarantee that it wasn’t used or private land but we had to carry far more weight with us as there were no shops around for food or water. The animals who shared the surroundings of our tent increased in size from each guerrilla camping session; from dogs, to goats, to stags. All fun but often unnerving experiences that led to sleepless nights and dreams of legitimate camping grounds. However the money saved on these free nights justified huge banquets of food and drink whenever the chance arose!
The Pyrenees section was surprisingly easy as we only crossed a small section of it, but we soon paid the price as we found ourselves crossing far bigger mountains pretty much every day throughout the whole of Spain. None-the-less we made it to Algeciras for our crossing to Morocco, despite me having no back brake for the last 2 days of the ride - which turned out to be possibly the most mountainous.
Somehow we managed to get to Morocco with 10 days to spare which was awesome as at best we thought we would have half that. We arrived in Tangier thankful not to cycle again for some time, only to realise we’d been dropped off at the wrong station. So back on our bikes and we navigated our way through the chaotic streets to find the overnight train to Marrakech. That was our home for the most part of the trip, but we made time to spend a few days in Essaouira on the coast, and spent a few days trekking in the High Atlas Mountains.
We spent my birthday climbing the highest peak in Northern Africa (‘Jbel Toubkal’ 4,167 m). It was a great experience, and nice to do something challenging again after a few days of being ‘tourists’. It took 2 days, the first we spent at around 3000m in a refuge, and then the 2nd day we summited and made our way to the bottom again. Luckily the weather cleared the day we arrived at the summit as it was apparently snowing up there the day before! It didn’t bode well for us as we were completely unprepared with only a couple of fleeces, so the sun was a welcome sight that day!
Unfortunately I spent the final night of our trip in Police stations as my wallet, cash, phone, cards, and passport had all been stolen at 7pm and our return flight was 9.30am the next morning. It wasn’t great timing, but to cut a long story short we sorted out a temporary passport in time to grab the following flight back later that night. Maybe I am jinxed?
The trip was incredible, and for reasons both good and painful neither of us will ever forget it. To those of you who have supported us along the way and who have donated to the bicycle ambulance cause, we cannot thank you enough. And to those of you who wish still to contribute to the project, I prompt you to do so as it is never too late and we need all the help we can get!
It was a trip of a life time and we are eternally grateful for the opportunity to do it, but emphasis should be placed on the work that is carried out by the charity as opposed to the effort we put in over the last few weeks. We have attempted to do our bit, so please please please support the charity’s incredible work in Malawi by donating what you can, and by passing on the message to your friends and family.