Into Africa

Happy new year. Welcome to the teens.

If – back in the late Twentieth Century – I’d told you that one day a Mayor of London would…

  • 1. travel to work on a pedal bike.
  • 2. leave 10,000 push-rods standing around the City and West End for any chump to use, pretty much, for free.

…the chances are you’d've asked if I’d been working too hard, suggest I take a glass of camomile tea and sit in the shade for a few minutes. The challenge is to try and imagine scenaria strange enough for the coming years.

This brings up the question of a follow-up to the Dunwich Dynamo. The legendary frolic, which once seemed very strange, now has a raft of tribute events including, since December 2012, a first in the Southern Hemisphere. The Newcastle Overnight just misses out on alliteration but in other respects follows the tested formula of a summer night-time spin from the city to the beach under a full moon.

The NO – or for francophone readers the NoN – contains an extra layer of perversity as everyone knows Sydney is blessed with many idyllic swimming strands and all towns in Australia – except Canberra, Alice Springs and various open-cast mines and sheep-stations – are on the coast. So not only do you leave a city hooching with saltwater swimming opportunities, the itinerary is never far from the Tasman Sea.

Into Africa - Tetouan: first mention of Fes on the road from London
Tetouan: first mention of Fes on the road from London

Not so much a ride to the beach as a ride along the beach but what the heck it looks like fun and if the current vogue for backward social-policy continues, and I get transported to the antipodes, in chains, for stealing a loaf of bread, it’ll definitely go on my to-do list.

Daughter of DD needs to be arrestingly unlikely, needs to start in London. It needs to terminate somewhere mysterious and interesting enough to avoid anti-climax. Welcome to London-Fes.

Fes is an ancient capital of Morocco.

Fes contains the largest area of motor-free urban space in the World.

Fes is in Africa.

Fes is definitely different to London

Into Africa - cricket on the beach anyone?
cricket on the beach anyone?

While the DD can – often is – undertaken on a whim, an extended international jaunt whilst, neither necessarily, serious or arduous, is best undertaken with a little more forethought. Time to rake up funds to enjoy the trip and plan time away from work and family responsibilities. For this reason the first formal edition of London-Fes will take place in October 2014. It will continue on a four year cycle, 2018, 2022 and so on, conveniently L-F takes place in the Autumn preceding a Paris Brest Paris summer.

October is preferred, first because after the equinox – on September 21st – riding South means the days get longer also because tourist facilities tend to be quiet but not shut and afternoons in Andalusia and Morocco are not too hot. These are formal dates but there’s no reason why the ride can’t be undertaken at anytime. You could leave tomorrow.

The most direct route from London to Fes includes around 2500 kilometres of cycling. London to Portsmouth for a night boat to Ouistreham in Normandy. South across the Loire to Royan where a short ferry over the Gironde puts you on the flat, coast road to the Basque country. Up into Navarre, across a corner of Aragon onto the high plains of Castille. Madrid is an option if you have time then across the Sierra into the corrugations of Andalusia from Algeciras to Morocco then a last 300 kms up to the old Berber city of Fes.

This is a classic route but there are other possibilities, a boat from Portsmouth to Bilbao to miss out a week crossing France. You could cross France diagonally and take a boat from Marseille to Melilla.

When the DD was launched there was no internet for everyday people, ideas were spread with flyers, alliances cemented with coupons and cheques. Nowadays things are much easier, more fluid. London-Fes is an idea. The plan is to build a resource a place for people to share ideas.

The only actual event currently planned for the first edition is a party in Fes in the last week of October 2014. The advantage of keeping trimmings to a minimum is not putting people off with too much targeted marketing. The trip can be undertaken by thrifty people hauling tents and kitchens and by others whose idea of survival is “if you can’t find a five-star hotel check into a four star.” Average 70 miles a day and you can do the riding in three weeks. Go faster and you can leave later or spend time exploring places that take your fancy, Pamplona, Madrid, Cadiz? A few days to hang out in the hallucination that is Fes and a train journey – two and half days – back to London add up to a month. When I rode London-Fes in 2010 I broke my bike in a gloomy garage and posted it home in a box which made the train journey simple and glamorous. The Moroccan Postal service is professional and used to shipping bulky items – mostly souvenir carpets – to the North.

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4 comments

  1. Duncan Palmer
    Posted 10 Jan 2013 at 11:02:16 am | Permalink

    This is so exciting. I can’t wait! I recall you mentioned Indurain’s hotel to me when we met at Bikefix, Patrick.

  2. Duncan Palmer
    Posted 10 Jan 2013 at 11:28:20 am | Permalink

    So if you did the ferry straight to Bilbao, it would be 2 weeks to complete?

  3. Duncan Palmer
    Posted 10 Jan 2013 at 11:43:36 am | Permalink

    just read your account of your 2010, which clears the indurain thing up. cheers

  4. patrick field
    Posted 10 Jan 2013 at 10:43:24 pm | Permalink

    Around two weeks plus a couple of days on the mini-cruise across the Bay of Biscay from Portsmouth. It’s a shame to miss out on the ride down through France which is a great warm-up.
    The best thing about the trip is the way that change happens so slowly you hardly notice, except for the economic cliff when you leave the EU. You end up somewhere profoundly different but also feel the connection to where you began.

    if that makes sense?

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