In September 2013, I cycled from London to Cueta on the North Coast of Africa. This ride took 18 days and covered 1400 miles. £5,000 was raised for the Merlin (Now part of Save the Children) health care project in Turkana, Kenya.
Below you will find the maps of the route, a short 3 minute video of the highlights and my daily blog from the trip.
Distance = 19.09 Miles
Up Hill = 341 ft
Downhill = 207 ft
Great send off from the office! Bit of a head wind, so took things nice and gently. Great Party at the house!
Day 2 – 1st September – Thames Ditton to Portsmouth
The UK part of cycle to Africa is now complete – now at Portsmouth waiting for the boat (and my bed!) Today’s stats:
Distance: 65.94 miles
A view from the ferry!
Day 3 – 2nd September – St Malo to St Claire
Distance: 98.69 miles
Uphill: 37 37 ft
Downhill: 3727 ft
A few miles short of our target, but will make it up over the next week 🙂
Team Merlin in good shape if not a bit knackered.
Day 4 – We have arrived in La Roche-Sur-Yon
Today we are a little behind schedule due to some gear cable problems on my bike. Temporary fix has got me moving. Early start in the morning to get back on target and to visit a cycle shop.
Distance: 83 Miles
Cycle packed and ready to go south!
A short ferry ride across the River Loire.
Day 5 – late arrival.
Distance = 105.89
Uphill = 1,237ft
Downhill = 1,457ft
Today it was Tony’s turn to have a few engineering problems – 2 punctures. Despite the time taken up with this we regained control of the schedule and now back on target. Its quite likely to be a slower day tomorrow as we are both supper tired. Sadly late arrival = no food. Local places shut down well early out of season!
Day 6 – Mega Pizza!
Distance = 79.8 miles
Uphill = 528ft
Downhill = 453 ft
Today we have had great weather again, but have now lost the North wind thus fighting a slight head wind.
The days are long on the road, hence very little comment here – will post more with loads of pictures in a few days!
Pizza was great this eve – makes up for last nights lack of food! Pizza and chips with a difference!
A shot of me in Soulac from earlier in the day. My first visit to Soulac was back in 1979 where I stayed with the Gardet’s. Over the years, I have come to Soulac by Plane, Train, Car, Yacht and now bike.
Day 7 – going South
Distance: 101 Miles
Uphill: 1,296 ft
Today we covered a lot of distance to get back on track – also so that Tony could get his train in the morning.
The rains which were forecast for the day did not appear, but the cloud cover and wind behind us was really helpful.
We arrived at “Camping de Lac” shortly before sunset in a place called Ondres – just 5 miles to the North of Bayonne.
See map below for today’s efforts. Just imagine how long this journey would take on the roads of Turkana?
The sand dunes of Archachon are world famous – just wish I had the time to stop and explore. Whilst I have spent a great deal of time in this region before, I had never seen these dunes at first hand!
Day 8 – Crossing the invisible border
Distance: 76 Miles
Uphill: 6,014 ft
Downhill: 4,505 ft
A few people told me that I was being too ambitious about day 8, so I took some advice and set today’s target for Pampolona where I am writing up my daily nonsense over a cool beer -yey!
Last night it was dry, until about 0300 where it proceeded to rain very hard. My tent was swamped. At 0700 one very demotivated cyclist was beginning to have concerns about the day ahead. The prospect of big hill plus rain did not fill me with joy!
After reluctantly emerging from a soggy sleeping bag just before eight, I wandered off to the shower to warm up. Outside temp was 13 degrees, not what I had been used to over the past week.
Tent + Sleeping Bag + Mat: All binned – needed to get shot of some Kgs! From now on its cheap hotels. I have found that the site www.cheapsleeps.com to be a real gem. Pampolona room is all set up for £21. Its more than the £8 per night at the camp sites. I will miss the old tent though. Have not camped in years but the last week has been great and I will want to repeat the French part of the ride sometime soon in the future!
By 0900 I was on the road. Skies very overcast but thankfully no rain. After a 5 mile ride into Bayonne, I stopped for coffee and a couple of Pain Au Chocolat.
The rest of the day remained dry. Weather for tomorrow is looking good.
Here is today’s map. Please do scroll down for some pictures and some more comment on today’s ride!
This is a view to the north from the Pyrenees. Not sure how or when it happened, but one minute I was in France, the next I was in Spain – only to be determined by a change in petrol stations and signs. No border or people in those silly hats checking passports!
The hills were not as steep or arduous as expected. Quite possibly due to higher fitness levels, loss of body weight and loss of tent. Now, why is it that we get engineers to dig tunnels like this at great expense? Your hi-spec Chelsea Tractor is welcome, but cyclist have to detour many miles over steep hills.
This bar is strategically placed close to the top of the peak for the day. I went in to fill up with water. Only one chap in the room who was half-way through his Sunday bottle of Vino. He spoke no English, but as it was not too far from France, we were able to communicate in French. For me, he had good news – I was close to the top and it was just downhill after another 3 km.
And finally just outside of Pampolona,there is yet another bleeding tunnel cyclist are not allowed to use. The detour is short, but the detour route had a sign up road closed! What am I supposed to do? Well I ignored the sign and pedaled along a quiet road to find some fallen boulders. Clearly an issue for the “Petrol heads”, but I managed to get through.
Finally, I managed to shoot some footage of the decent from the top. I will try and set up a Youtube channel to share the video.
Day 8 – A stunning day in spain with a very interesting twist at the end.
My second day in Spain was better than the trip through the hills yesterday, mostly because the weather and visibility was great. It was a shame that the Pyrenees was covered up in cloud as I passed through yesterday.
Today’s miles are high, mainly because I selected a cheap place to sleep in insane place – more on that in a bit.
Gear cable (rear) snapped at mile 64. No big surprise as with all the gear shifting, I am used to this happening on a regular basis. Quick 10 min fix (using spares carried).
First the daily stats followed by some pictures of the scenery encountered en-route.
Distance: 111 Miles
Uphill: 2,890 ft
This area is very green, and clearly NIMBYS do not exist here. I must have passed a few thousand wind generators and at least four large scale solar farms. The next two pictures will give you the flavour.
Nice old church on the hill – close to mile 70. A familiar sight in Spain!
Another very nice view.
Nice cheap hotel found for around £28! However, I did not zoom in too close on the map. The only way to the hotel is the Autovia! Now unlike most Motorways in Spain which are clearly marked no cycles, this one restrictions have been lifted for now. In due course a parallel road will be put in place for local traffic.
Day 10 – Into the hills
Distance: 90 Miles
Uphill: 5,023 ft
Downhill: 2,815 ft
This has been quite a day of contrasts. Things started off well enough with a 2 mile cycle down a bleeding motorway to extract myself from the hotel in the service area. The first half of the day was flat, but then the hills started!
Daily map below, followed by pictures.
Have not spoke too much about the bike – a very important part of this expedition! Here is a view of the flight deck – Welcome to my world folks.
This stunning view shows the shape of things to come – See the hills on the horizon? They get me later on!
This motorway bridge provided some nice shade as I had a quick rest.
This country is full of fine castles. Later on from this place there was a massive castle oin Molina de Aragon. Camera was not at the ready for that one as I was in full navigation mode – looking for hotel!
The hotel was about 6 miles from Molina. Sadly no restaurant in operation. So it was to bed with hand sandwich and beer. This is going to cost me dearly tomorrow!
Day 11 – What goes up must eventually come down!
Distance: 84 Miles
Uphill: 5,427 ft
Downhill: 5,574 ft
As predicted, lack of food last night took its toll on me today! Weather was cool and misty, hills were a feature from the start, but toast and jam really did nothing to get me going. The first 25 miles were hard. I managed to get a massive ham and cheese sandwich in one cafe, then walked the road and topped up on ice cream and chocolate. It was not until around 1400 that I was able to get to anywhere a normal pace!
Pictures and story as always after the daily map.
So the theme of the day seems to be climbing hills – but, what goes up must surely come down at some stage?
So, Here is the hotel. Like all other places I have stayed so far, I have used the internet to find a cheap deal. This is a quite location in a gorge. Dead nice people running it and I would imagine that in season with a full restaurant open, its fantastic. Sadly for me on two wheels, there was no other food options open to me.
Misty start to the day. My jacket was on and off so many times. Going up hill,I was just warm enough to need to take it off. As soon as there was a downhill bit, out came the jack and gloves! Its hard to think that this was just 50 or so miles from the hot plains the day before. I could have taken a similar picture on dartmoor.
This one had me fooled. In my state of lacking energy, Whilst i appreciate a bit of downhill, but the road in the background indicates what may waiting for me. Thankfully it was a different road and after the bend to thee right,there was a long decent. I was presented with further hills later!
Arrived at Ceuca at 1930 – They have a great system of mini-hostels -rooms in standard apartments. Very cheap. The challenge is to track the person with the keys. Luckily for me, I have Jorge, a Spanish friend who works in the office. A quick call on the mobile and Jorge’s translation sorts things out for me. (Beers on me when I get back to the UK Jorge)
Day 12 – Bike has clocked 16,000 – but not on this trip
Distance = 97 Miles.
Uphill = 2953 ft
Downhill = 3530 ft
After running into the energy wall yesterday, I have managed to do a lot better today after some decent grub last night. The going was a bit flatter, but I was able to get up the hills without running out of energy. Has to be said that on this trip, fitness levels have increased to such an extent that I am not running out of puff on the hills, just occasionally energy!
This evening I was winging it a little. As I arrived in Tomellosso, I had not advance booking at all. First hotel spotted was an expensive 3 star job – out of my budget! Luckily I spotted a travel agent who pointed me in the right direction. So I am all set up for the night. Also got tomorrow’s bed sorted as well.
News from the flight deck -At some stage this morning, my bike computer clocked 16,000. That is the running total from new back in May 2010.
Today’s stats plus some pictures
That’s all for today folks!
Day 13: Welcome to Olive Country
Distance: 76 Miles
Uphill: 2,470 ft
Downhill: 1,818 ft
Its now two weeks since I left Merlin Towers. Two days have been taken off and as we enter the weekend, I have a very interesting conundrum. How do I get to Gib? Since leaving the massive Castella de Mancha region, it seems that the only way to get from A to B is dual carriageway. That’s fine, and I am legally allowed down the hard shoulder, but having been politely escorted off by the cops to basically a gravel track, I am less than impressed with the planning people who does not facilitate a way to get around this country by any means other than a bleeding car.
Clearly I have some serious planning to do in order to get to where I need. Gravel does not cut it. I have the wrong sort of bike for that. Watch this space as I will have it all figured in the morning!
Hotel this eve was 26 Euros. Great food. To top it all, there is a bath. Showers are great, but to have a nice soak this eve!
Tomillonsso – Nice town with a cycle shop. Bought a spare inner tube (Tony almost exhausted my supply last week) and some energy gel……just in case of hills!
Day starts out flat and hot….
In one town where I stopped for lunch a load of carcases were nailed to the wall – don’t think that they were real!
Todays windmills are of the new type – not producing much as they were not spinning!
Day 14 – Going “off piste”
Distance: 64 Miles (1160 Miles)
Uphill: 4,537ft (40,814 ft)
Downhill: 4, 367ft (37,071ft)
Today, I fart in the general direction of the road planners who make wonderful fast and smooth roads but leave no way for cyclist to easily get from A to B. Its quite astonishing that in the UK, France and all of Spain before Valdepenas, I can find a road to get to where I need to be. The so called planners in their great haste have converted roads used by all to vast high speed motorways. These are all focused on “Passes” with often no suitable alternative route in the form of country lanes. So, as a result, I am heading south to follow the coast where it will be boring, but at least I know I will be able to route to my destination.
I spent about an hour riding with a local. He was more geared up to the local terrain with a mountain bike. Overall my bike was generally appropriate as 95% of the ride have been on good roads.
The local cyclist did not speak English but we were able to have a good chat in French. My lack of Spanish presents me with a few challenges, but have managed to muddle along. France was like being at home as I had more of a feel for menu’s etc.
A gravel track is not the way I wish to start any day. This sort of terrain needs fact and juicy tires, not the greyhound status road bike. Working up a plan B was a little difficult if impossible using a Garmin or a PC. The thing is that whilst tech is great, when you zoom out to see the big picture, only major roads can be seen – hence today the purchase of a paper map!
Another “Osbourne Bull” this morning with some real ones to give some perspective on size.
What appears to me as flat road is actually slight uphill according to the Wikiloc graph! As I was going up this hill, I managed to hit another energy wall, so was not doing much more than 6MPH at times. A gel pack from the cycle shop yesterday got things going.
This is my rough patch – The place I really would like to be is over the fence!
I remember in the past that all of the Spanish road side was full of bill boards. Quite “in your face” in the same way as the USA. Some time ago, a law was passed to rip down all the hoardings. However due to popular demand, a few black bulls were allowed to remain. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_bull for more)
Day 15 – Into the big city
Distance: 69.5 miles (1230)
Uphill: 3,973 ft (44,787)
Downhill: 3,967ft (41,038)
Have not see a big city in a while – Here in Granada, the food and beer is good. Hotel room comfortable, clean and cheap. Getting here was a challenge – as expected. In Kenya, people face more serious challenges and not by choice. So when I have a rant about roads in this country, the hardships caused by lack of rain in Turkana puts things in perspective. But I am going to rant about the route all the same 🙂
On departure from Mancha Real, its straight into a hill. Plenty of local cyclist out on the Sunday morning ride. This view is looking to the west from above Mancha Real – The city of Jaen can be seen in the distance. Olives trees in the foreground. Olive oil is cheap here, but can not really take the weight of a gallon container with me !
This picture from the same spot but the opposite direction to the view of Jaen.
As soon as I left the hills and reached the same valley as the motorway, a good quality “N” road was following the same valley for quite a few miles. Good progress was made. But eventually the nice road diminished to this!
And then after the rock fall I have to get through this -As you can see, I am not the first. Clearly the road planners need to get something sorted – WTF!!!
So, after squeezing under the fence, its onto the hard shoulder for a short 250 metres and its road again. After about another 5 miles, I find myself following a track into a valley which is impassable so back tracked to the motorway and walked up the drainage section for 1KM (Hard shoulder was out of the question as I would have been against the traffic).
Day 16 – Down to the sea
Distance: 83.4 Miles (1313)
Uphill: 4,163ft (48,950)
Downhill: 6,178ft (47,217)
Today’s destination was Malaga – two ways to get there from Grenada. Plan A – Go south and along the coast or Plan B head for the hills, save 12 miles but face more hard work in climbs! Not wishing to get tangled up with motorway no-go areas, I opted for the easy way – The Hills –
As you will see later on, this was a very wise choice – Some nice scenery even though its was slightly hard work at times.
I am sadly close to the end of this trip. This being the final day in rural Spain, tomorrow the last of the long rides. Wednesday its destination reached when I cross over to Africa.
Last nights hotel room was compact and a little noisy – the lift was going up and down all night, paper thin walls meant that some persons snoring and farting kept me awake. Tonight, more space and a couple of miles from downtown Malaga renowned for night clubs, drunk brits, brawls and vomit filled streets (after midnight). A respectful distance kept!
First picture of the day – looking back over Granada Metropolis..
This is the start of a major decent. Sadly not captured on the movie camera as batter was flat! Since the climb up the Pyrenees over a week ago, I have been over 1,000 m above sea level most of the time. Most of spain is a high country! So down to the see and quickly…. You can see the road down.
Day 17 – Africa in sight
Distance: 89 Miles (1402)
Uphill: 2418 ft (51,368)
Downhill: 2264 ft (49,480)
Today was the final of the long rides. Cycling along this coast is an experience to be missed as its mainly urban or dual carriageway. There are some cycle paths in the built up areas but on the whole its not nice! On hindsight I think a route change from about three or four days back would have made for a more pleasant route, however its now all done 🙂
As you will see from the daily info below, I have completed just over 1400 miles – A handful of miles to be added on Thurs when I reach Africa. This distance is around 100 miles than I first estimated. The plan was to get here for last Saturday, but with the day off in Bayonne plus 100 extra miles, I do not feel so bad about arriving 3 days later than planned 🙂
Here in Algeciras, I have to make a special mention of the hotel. http://www.booking.com/hotel/es/maria-luisa-algeciras.en.html. Its cheap and a great welcome. The owners here are very friendly and as cyclists themselves, I was given a really warm welcome and plenty of beer!!
The ride here was also difficult in account of a very strong headwind.
At mile 32 today, I had my very first flat tyre. The hard shoulder is generally full of all sorts of crap and it was a piece of wire. I have to say that the Scwalbe Durano Plus tyres are great. Just over 1300 miles without a puncture is quite amazing. I think poor Tony had about three at least during the ride through France.
Estepona Marina: This is my second visit. The first time was close to 20 years ago when I collected a boat called the “Deben Glen” to bring back to the UK for a client. Now that was a very interesting boat and I will be happy to tell the story of the “Deben Glen” over a beer!
I nearly bought my ferry ticket online, but decided against it as I did not have the means to print it. On my way into Algeciras, I went into this place and got my ticket for Thurs – about 20 Euros cheaper than the UK ferry agents. So folks do be careful about buying from companies such as ferries.co.uk, whilst they really do offer a useful service covering all ports in the EU, they do tend to jack up the prices!
Day 18 – Lets go to Africa for a quick spin….
Distance: 1,408 Miles
Uphill: 51,400 ft
Downhill: 49,500 ft
This has to be one of the shortest trips to Africa in history. However I think I can be forgiven as I have spent over a month on the continent this year already (DRC and Liberia). A trip to the Central African Republic is planned for November.
According to my GPS, I have covered over 70 miles today. For the purposes of this trip, I am not going to count the ferry or the ride to Gibraltar. So we will call it 5 miles which included a round tour of Ceuta. So final stats for the trip is:
Now, given that I started close to sea level, uphill and downhill should be roughly equal, but the mathematically talented will spot around 2,00o ft difference which puts me up a mountain somewhere – As I write this in Marina Bay, Gibraltar, I can assure you that I am no more than 5ft from getting my feet wet!
The map below shows todays track.
The question has been asked already – what next? Well definitely another long ride soon. Not sure where, but it will be soon. The next one will not be a fundraiser. People get donor fatigue so it will be at least a couple of years before the next major one – assuming that a fifty something year old can keep up the pace 🙂