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Cyclist’s journey to Morocco from the UK by train and FERRY to participate in an 800-mile bike race

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I recently arrived in Morocco for a motorbike race. I could have flown, but where’s the fun in that? As an alternative, I travelled overland by train and in addition took two ferries.

How easy is it to get to Africa without flying? Pretty easy, I discovered. Naturally, the trip took longer – I used to be on the ferry from the UK to Spain for 2 nights – but, in accordance with a carbon footprint calculator, I saved a whopping 352kg of CO2, emitting 93 per cent fewer emissions in comparison with flying.

Why didn’t I take the (cheaper) three-and-a-half-hour flight? Partly to cut back my carbon footprint, partly for the joys of the Brittany Ferries mini-cruise after which the overland crossing of Spain, but in addition to guard my bike. Airline baggage handlers aren’t all the time kind to bicycles – even those snugly packed in toughened boxes.

Train travel is straightforward with a folding bike, but not really easy with a full-sized one like mine – a Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 mountain bike. I sat with it, squashed, at galley ends and was due to this fact never greater than just a few inches away from my pride and joy at most times and will mollycoddle it to Morocco. No one’s luggage got smothered in gunk: I cleaned the bike with Weldtite cleansing wipes before each train stage.

A motorbike was handy for getting between stations and for digging me out of trouble after we berthed in Africa’s biggest port. I stuffed up, you see. As an alternative of listening to the destination, I went for the most cost effective sub-two-hour crossing from the Spanish port of Algeciras, using an organization called Trasmediterranea, and ended up in Tanger Med. That is 30 miles from the downtown Tangier train station I needed to hit. So I cycled there, which was enjoyable since the asphalt was smooth, the traffic was light, and I had strong African sun on my skin!

Josh took a Trasmediterranea ferry from the Spanish port of Algeciras to Africa’s biggest port – Tanger Med (above)

Marrakesh - the eye-catching starting point for the Atlas Mountain Race

Marrakesh – the eye-catching start line for the Atlas Mountain Race

The Atlas Mountain Race is unsupported, so riders have to buy food, maintain their bike, and sort accommodation - usually just a sleeping bag beside the trail. Above is Josh's Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29

The Atlas Mountain Race is unsupported, so riders need to buy food, maintain their bike, and type accommodation – normally only a sleeping bag beside the trail. Above is Josh’s Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29

It was good to be back cycling again and good preparation for the race I’d entered – the Atlas Mountain Race. An 830-mile crossing of the Atlas Mountains towards the Sahara desert after which doubling back over the Anti-Atlas mountains, ending within the old fishing port of Essaouira. The race began on February 3, with the last riders ending on February 11.

I managed to complete on February 10. 

Everybody rides the identical route, totally on gravel trails. At times, the distances between resupply points are vast. 

Riders are unsupported, in order that they need to buy food, maintain their bike, and type accommodation (normally only a sleeping bag beside the trail). But I’m used to taking care of myself on long rides. It’s my second overseas ultra-long-distance bike race – I sped across Europe last yr on the similarly self-supported Transcontinental Race – and in 2019, I cycled back to the UK from China.

Starting in Marrakesh, we climbed to the very best point of the race at 2,540m (8,333ft) throughout the first 100km (62 miles). I didn’t have the perfect preparation within the lead-up to the event having had Covid at Christmas and a chest infection within the weeks prior. 

Josh (above) reveals that he's been suffering from a chest infection prior to the race and was coughing up blood on the way round

Josh (above) reveals that he’s been affected by a chest infection prior to the race and was coughing up blood on the best way round 

'The thing that kept me going [during the Atlas Mountain Race] was the single track and the scenery,' writes Josh

‘The thing that kept me going [during the Atlas Mountain Race] was the only track and the scenery,’ writes Josh

'There was something jaw-dropping around every corner,' reveals Josh

‘There was something jaw-dropping around every corner,’ reveals Josh

We reached the summit within the early hours of the morning. The cold, dry air affected many riders, including myself. I coughed up blood and struggled to breathe even on the simplest of gradients in the following days. 

The thing that kept me going was the only track and the scenery – around every corner there was something jaw-dropping. 

I gained quite a bit from the race, meeting some incredible people and riding my bike through some pretty spectacular scenery. 

This image shows some of the Atlas Mountain Race spectators

This image shows among the Atlas Mountain Race spectators  

The race finished in the ancient fishing port of Essaouira (above)

The race finished in the traditional fishing port of Essaouira (above)

Though the race didn’t really go the best way I’d have hoped, it was a terrific method to plunge into off-road ultra-racing and I used to be very joyful to make it round. 

There was more hike-a-bike than I used to be banking on with a protracted hike downhill excessive of the primary pass in fairly deep snow within the early hours of the morning after which the slow stomp through the desert felt prefer it took several hours.

My accommodation? A fifty-fifty split between hotels and the roadside.

THE JOURNEY TO AFRICA 

I began this no-flight journey by riding from home within the Jesmond area of Newcastle to Newcastle Central station to get an LNER train to London. I used to be travelling with an Interrail pass, and even the UK stretch was covered with this discount pass.

I cycled to Waterloo to get the train to Southampton to remain overnight with a friend before cycling the 20 miles or so to Portsmouth to catch the Brittany Ferries two-nighter to Spain. The ship, the Galicia, left at 9pm on the dot.

I could have taken the train to Paris after which on to Spain but after I was booking the journey, it was unattainable to get full-sized bikes on the Eurostar service. This rule — introduced in the course of the pandemic — has now been removed, but I believe I made the appropriate decision: it was a soothing method to get from the UK to Northern Spain. I had a tasty vegetarian paella on the ferry, and my four-berth cabin had a warm shower and a TV pre-loaded with movies. (I watched the 2022 Elvis biopic.)

Josh sailed on Brittany Ferries' ship Galicia from Portsmouth (above) to Santander

Josh sailed on Brittany Ferries’ ship Galicia from Portsmouth (above) to Santander

This image shows one of the lounge areas aboard Galicia

This image shows one among the lounge areas aboard Galicia

Josh's four-berth cabin on Galicia

Josh’s four-berth cabin on Galicia

Two nights later, we arrived within the Spanish port of Santander. To drizzle. Not that it mattered – I used to be straight on to a train, although not a high-speed one. Bikes aren’t allowed. But bags are, so I took the wheels off and wrapped the frame in bin bags offered by a station cleaner. Would the disguise work? The ticket office was game, however the guard on the primary high-speed service to Madrid was having none of it. Kindly, the ticket office issued a refund for the unused reservation, and I got on a much slower regional train as an alternative. What would have been a two-and-a-half-hour journey to the centre of Spain as an alternative required an overnight stay in a hostel in Valladolid.

I reached snowy Madrid the next day and decided to upgrade my disguise. I purchased a flimsy bag in a motorbike shop that covered a lot of the bike, with the wheels wrapped within the donated bin bags.

This time it worked, and a form conductor allowed me on to the fast train to the port city of Algeciras. That evening I camped by the beach within the nearby Estrecho National Park and took the primary ferry from Algeciras to Africa the next day. The crossing was quick, only one and a half hours, but my miscalculation (done to get monetary savings) meant we didn’t berth where I assumed we’d.

Above is Santander. From there Josh travelled by train to the southern coast of Spain

Above is Santander. From there Josh travelled by train to the southern coast of Spain 

Josh camped by the beach in the Estrecho National Park and took the first ferry to Africa from the nearby port of Algeciras the following day

Josh camped by the beach within the Estrecho National Park and took the primary ferry to Africa from the nearby port of Algeciras the next day

I had two backpacks, which wasn’t ideal for a 30-mile bike ride, but it surely was a scenic pedal on a winding coastal road past beautiful beaches.

I wasn’t planning to spend time in Tangiers (I would linger on the best way back) so I jumped on the primary train to Casablanca. In theory, bikes aren’t allowed on Moroccan trains. In keeping with my research before the trip, they weren’t even allowed in Moroccan train stations!

Again, bags are allowed, so I took the wheels off and wrapped the bike within the bag I’d bought in Spain. I smuggled the cycle-shaped contraband past the outside station guards and politely persuaded the ticket staff to sell me a ticket. To date, so good. The subsequent step was to get past the ticket inspectors blocking the method to the platforms. Confused, they radioed for instructions, but I used to be eventually ushered through. Just the train guard to sweet-talk now. That worked, so I used to be on!

Josh 'disguised' his bike in a bag for trains where bicycles were banned

Josh ‘disguised’ his bike in a bag for trains where bicycles were banned

Josh sitting with his bike and bags on the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh

Josh sitting along with his bike and bags on the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh

Casablanca railway station Marrakesh station

Casablanca railway station is pictured on the left, Marrakesh station on the appropriate

Josh's bike is pictured here outside Marrakesh railway station

Josh’s bike is pictured here outside Marrakesh railway station

The high-speed train was plush and modern. I carried the bike — sorry, bag — to the upper deck’s suitcase rack. The ‘bag’ protruded into the aisle, but I made it to Casablanca. I stayed the night in an Ibis hotel in town centre, getting up early the subsequent morning for the express to Marrakesh.

There was little room for the ‘bag’ so I stayed with it on the galley end of the train, sitting on my rucksack in front of a fragrant toilet. I practiced my French with my fellow passengers, who were friendly – they plied me with snacks.

Arriving in Marrakesh two and a half hours later, I calculated that the complete journey from the UK had taken the perfect a part of six days. Sure, it could have been easier, cheaper, and quicker to have flown, but taking two ferries and a bunch of trains meant I’d already had an adventure.

  • To observe Josh’s YouTube video of the journey to Africa click here. And to look at his amazing video of the ‘last push’ within the Atlas Mountain Race click here. His videos documenting the initial and intermediate stages will be found here and here. There’s more from Josh on Instagram – www.instagram.com/joshreids.

TRAVEL FACTS 

The Atlas Mountain Race was first staged in 2020 and is organised by the gloriously named Nelson Trees, an ultra-distance British rider who now lives in Kyrgyzstan, where he also organises the Silk Road Mountain Race, one other self-supported gravel-based cycling event.

Josh rode a Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 shod with Hutchinson Skeleton tyres arrange tubeless for ‘greater rolling speed’.

He used Restrap bags on his handlebars, top tube, and hanging from the saddle. For extra water capability — the race skirts the Sahara, remember! — he wore a Camelbak.

For night riding, his way was lit by British-made long-burn ultra-bright lights from Exposure. It was chilly at night, so his lightweight camping kit included a Robens Tents Mountain Bivvy and an Icefall Pro 300 sleeping bag.

Josh’s two-day ferry from Portsmouth to Santander in Spain cost £564 return with Brittany Ferries

He benefitted from reduced-cost train travel with an Interrail pass – 518 euros for a 15-day first-class pass. 

The enduring pass celebrated its Fiftieth-anniversary last yr. Launched in March 1972, the Interrail pass was originally for young travellers only, enabling those as much as 21 years of age to explore 21 countries by train with only one rail pass. Since 1998 the Interrail pass has been available for travellers of all ages. Greater than 10million travellers have enjoyed ‘interrailing’ across Europe. Josh was capable of meander on his return from Morocco reasonably than taking direct trains.

The ferry from Spain to Morocco with Trasmediterranea cost 56 euros return. The train journeys in Morocco cost just 30 euros. 

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