Expedition: London to Marrakech by bike and kayak
Weather Conditions: Varied from torrential downpours to warm sunny days
Duration: 46 days
High Points: kayaking the straight of Gibraltar, meeting Mohammed my friend and brother
Low Points: crashing in Marrakech at the end, getting hit by a bus in Le Mans, having a support vehicle
Team: Richard Harpham (2462) Rob Bates (245), Dave Gordon (56), Richard Ferguson (320), Stuart (300), Tim Allerdyce (220),
A Million Thanks: Giant, Vango, USE Exposure Lights, Paramo Clothing,
With a few adventures under my belt random people began to suggest different ideas for new adventures. “What about London to somewhere…?” and so London to Marrakech was born. The folly of using google maps to plan the route later became apparent as I neglected the Pyrenees mountain range as a big problem. The plan was simple. Start at Tower Bridge, paddle to Greenwich, cycle to Dover, sea kayak the channel again, accompanied by some friends. Cycle through France, over the shallow end of the Pyrenees, into Spain, down to the Med. Kayak a bit of the Med, cycle down to Gibraltar, kayak the straight of Gibraltar before cycling down to Casablanca to turn left and finish in Marrakech.
What made this one different and challenging was having a support vehicle. It removed some of the freedom I had yearned for and also added in the complication of finding them in busy cities and in desert African mud roads. Hopefully never again. The start was amazing under Tower Bridge with a few good friends, the weather changed and cycling to Dover became a battle with torrential rain, tyres literally floating on the water in the gullies. Kayaking the channel again as a team was still a blast and I knew that was in the bag. Then mostly everyone left and I began to enjoy the freedom of the open road albeit with a support van in tow. I cycled West and down towards Fort Boyard and spend a day paddling around it in rough conditions with Florian, a mate from Paris.
By now I was starting to panic about brutal hills of the Pyrenees and was pleased I had opted for the shallow end. The scenery was stunning and we made a couple of the summits in the dark. I had been joined for this section by Rich Ferguson and Stu who took it in turns to cycle and drive the van. We enjoyed so many happy twists and turns, big climbs and descents. We then skirted along the South Side of the mountain range towards Barcelona. A change of drivers and I was heading along the Mediterranean coast towards Gib. Another slight problem of using Google Maps was my choice of road, unfortunately dubbed the ‘widowmaker’ highway. After plenty of adventures along the way I reached Gibraltar for a couple of days of R and R.
Kayaking the Straight of Gibraltar would see me battle with another busy shipping lane (one of the busiest in the world). I had sought advice and was told the currents were pretty straight forward however on asking a couple more questions I discovered the advisor was a Royal Navy Submariner! Delete! The crossing involved a few meaty tide races and we were joined by some friendly dolphins. It was incredible to see Africa and almost be able to touch it having arrived there under my own steam. Dave Gordon experienced a few operator errors with his kayak and confessed it was a year since he had kayaked. He was stationed in the support boat to avoid further drama after a swim!
We suffered a small altercation arriving into Ceuta via a private marina. After some shouting and apologies we were into Ceuta. The border crossing from the Spanish Enclave added more drama as Dave’s passport had the wrong stamp. He exploded into angry verbal dialogue and was frog marched away. I was left surround by locals inquiring about the price of the two bikes. Eventually Dave reappeared with a Davism type explanation. “Don’t worry the Chief of Police was a cyclist, he gets it and we are good to go”. After the border it was brutal hills that felt almost vertical and then we skirted the coastline around and down to Casablanca. My rusty French was being recalled from dim and murky backwaters of my grey matter. I loved Morocco and its people for their welcoming nature.
A few more mishaps still had to play out including adding to my motorway cycling tally with a wrong turn. The maps were definitely a little bit sketchy. Cycling in rush hour in Casa was also a real heart racing experience. Our plan has been to sea kayak off Casa near the huge Mosque. Huge Atlantic storms and 4 metre waves made that my biggest challenge of the trip, there didn’t seem to be any surfers out that day. After a monstrous effort to get out in our Prijon Sea kayaks with deck bags flying off we then spent two hours listening to the sound of thunder as huge Atlantic breakers pounded the beach. We had scouted an exit route and were pleased to surf in on a smaller channel without any pain or beating. The final cycle into Marrakech involved meeting Mohammed a local teacher who has become like a brother to me after a few more adventures.
After 2362 miles I had reached my destination so went for bike ride to celebrate and ran over a drunk man who stumbled into my path. We headed into the Atlas mountains to explore there after a days rest. The off road riding was beautiful with rocky paths, ravines and incredible views. Despite the terrain we met plenty of Berbers wanting to sell crystals and rocks. We traded a few items including my wellies as more crystals were brought to trade. In his excitement Rob managed to lock the keys to the van inside the boot. The Berbers changed from persuasive sales men to car jackers and eventually we broke into VW’s best security.