Mediterranean Cycopaths

Team CYCOPATH vs The RIF

28th June 2007

With time on our side we headed to Marrakech for a few rest days before beginning the 2000km final charge from Tangier to Tunis. Marrakech represented everything we knew of North African cities – vendors, beggars, hagglers, dealers, charmers and scammers all plying their trade in a vibrant tangle of sights, sounds, smells and tastes – the latter sense receiving perhaps an oversupply of stimulation. Thankfully excursions into the clamour could be interspersed with relaxation in various refuges – our breezy hotel terrace, the fountain-filled courtyard of a medieval Islamic building or simply watching very well dressed prostitutes working the crowds in Marrakech’s swankier bars.

Alas, there were only so many Aussie girls we could rescue from the advances of local men, and before long we had to pack our bags and face our destiny – the biggest cycling challenge of the journey so far – Morocco´s Rif Mountains. Like any epic struggle – the challenges of Hercules, the Mon-Fri working week – this encounter would be hard fought over numerous stages. We liked to think of it as a boxing clash between 2 Heavyweight Contenders…

Round 1 – Headwinds from Hell

Tangier to Tetouan: 58km

After cycling into prevailing headwinds for most of Western Europe we were looking forward to having the wind (the type not self-generated) behind us. But the Rif came out swinging hard. With very strong head and crosswinds forecast I knew that we would have to rely on some pretty desperate measures: I opted for dance music.

Limping across the line into Tetouan 60km later, having sustained a tyre blowout, being sandblasted for over 3 hours and physically blown off the road a handful of times each, we were happy just to have survived the first round.

Round Result: The RIF – Opening Blast

Round 2 – Shocking Surfaces

Tetouan to El Jebha: 138km

We decide to take the coastal (scenic) route. And so began the following sequence: a steep, long climb from a standing start; a mist obscured view of mountains plunging into the sea; a manic descent dodging all types of surface irregularities; a grind to a standstill as the lowest part of the road has inevitably been washed away; repeat; repeat; repeat, ad nauseum … and so it continued, TC and the Rif trading punches all day.

Now we hadn´t come into this bout blind – we knew the Rif were no lightweight opposition. But in a crime against cartography our Michelin map noted 5 chevrons (indicating steep climbs) for this leg. We, however, were unable to distinguish these 5 from a group of at least twice that number. It made me think of our hard days in Turkey’s Taurus Mountains. Except significantly longer, and with worse surfaces.

Round Result: The Rif – Repetitive Assaults

Round 3 – Altitude Sickness

El Jebha to Targuist: 115km

At El Jebha we learn that Plan A, to continue our coastal route, is not feasible due to further deterioration in the road surface (is this even possible, we ponder). Likewise for Plan B, our escape route to the main highway. Having well and truly backed into the corner we now face Plan C (which, knowing us even vaguely, you will immediately realise there was never a Plan C). 

And so begins the slowest 46km ever recorded by man on bicycle. Over the next 3.5 hours we ascend from sea level to 1600m without even the mercy of the previous days cloud cover. Despite stripping to the bare minimum of apparel (no, not quite like Valencia) and drinking our own body weight in fluid, our thirst is insatiable. The sweat which is pouring off us threatens to reopen riverbeds that dried up long ago and still the locals are puzzled at our declinations of their multiple offers to smoke some ‘kif’ (this region is one of the biggest hashish producing areas in the world). Shattered men, the round again goes to the Rif but, with Team Cycopath valiantly holding on, all hope is not lost.

NB – After this round, in (seperate) bathroom inspections, it becomes apparent that the Rif has inflicted some surface wounds with both boys sporting saddle-shaped crescent welts. Due attention is prioritised in preventing these opening and ending the fight prematurely.

Round Result: The Rif – Opening Rifts

Round 4 – Road(work) Rage

Targuist to Driouch: 157km

We begin strongly with morning sunshine, tunes pumping and the exaltation of 50km of predominantly sweeping downhill cornering. What a comeback! But the Rif is a long way from being down and out. First, 10km of continous roadworks and a flat tyre sap our momentum as we hit sea level again. Then a massive haymaker – another 1000m climb. But it doesn’t quite have the sting of yesterday’s battery. We float over the summit and launch into a full throttle descent – the land speed record very lucky to still stand. Carrying this momentum we extend our days target by 40km to combat tomorrow’s predicted headwinds.

Round Result: Team Cycopath – Comeback Flurries

Round 5 – Running away with it

Driouch to Melilla: 80km

Yesterdays work has broken the back of the Rif. We start early, go hard and despite some rearguard action (more appalling surfaces, light headwind) the round is over before it began. The Rif has been defeated and we hit the Melilla ferry a day ahead of schedule.

Result: Team Cycopath – Knockout Blow

Sean

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June 30, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dashboard – Week 23

  • Days Cycled – 4
  • Distance Covered – 468km
  • Cumulative Distance – 11671km
  • Cycopaths website hits – 15,000
  • Number of Nude photo views – 1,586 (and counting)
  • June 28, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    Spoke n’ Word

    • Thank-you Doctor

    Team Cycopath re-mount their bicycles after an hours break in Tarragona (south of Barcelona) and Jon notices that his legs are feeling a bit leaden –

    Jon ”I don’t know what the problem is – I feel really lethargic and my legs are quite sore”

    Sean ”Ahh, let me see – we’ve come off four massive nights out in Barcelona, you were still drinking until midnight last night and now we have just cycled 100 kilometres into a headwind…?”

    • Geography Guru

    We are explaining our trip to a fellow Australian in Marrakech, who is working as an air hostess in the region and has been away from home for 15 months (Hi Jade!)

    Sean ”We started in Tunis”

    Jade ”Oh, do people in Australia know about Tunisia?”

    • Off the Beaten Track 

    Fellow Hobartian and sailing enthusiast, Daniel ’Woodya’ Woods is telling us about his tour of discovery around the city of Valencia earlier that day …

    Woodya ”I found this awesome market today in a big, old warehouse and it had everything – fruit, vegies – in the middle of nowhere!”

    Sean / Jon ”Sounds like you were in the Central Market(named for it’s location in the centre of the city)

    • Suspicious Behaviour

    We (Sean and Jon) are walking home (by ourselves) from one of Marrakech’s swankier nightclubs where we have just been blatantly propositioned by 3 or 4 well dressed and, relatively, good looking women. The discussion is based around the strong possibility that they were prostitutes …

    Jon ”It was a very kind offer, from all of them, but it’s not like we can ask straight out – are you a prostitute?”

    Sean ”Yeah, and it’s quite hard to tell when they’re not jumping out of bushes”

    June 28, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    Dashboard – Week 22

  • Days Cycled – 4
  • Distance Covered – 553km
  • Cumulative Distance – 11203km
  • Cycopaths guilty of dodgy late night dance moves – 3
  • Females attracted by dodgy late night dance moves – 1
  • June 25, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

    French Connections & Spanish Amigos

    With many friends keen to meet up with us in Western Europe, we had been forced to put a concrete schedule together as early as Syria so that they could book flights for a couple of months down the track.  And so it was that Team Cycopath adopted an (almost) traditional working week for the France / Spain leg – whereby we would put in the hard yards on the bike from Monday to Thursday, enabling weekends of debauchery in some of Med Europes hottest locations.

    Needless to say, we often struggled to get going on the Monday mornings as we manfully battled, usually in adverse weather conditions, to get to the next rendezvous point to do another number on ourselves.

    It wasnt all late nights and lazy days – in addition to the changing faces visiting on weekends, each region provided a number of unique experiences and the scenery from the bikes was as varied as ever …

    Cote de Azur / Provence

    Pedalling Panorama: Brilliant blue seas and affluent towns viewed from the heights of the Corniches near Nice to the winding roads and rolling hills further East. Weather was extremely hot at times reaching at least 37°C on some cycling days

    Culture and Highlights: Cannes Film Festival, multicultural Marseille (plenty of North African food along with the obligatory Bouillabaisse) and picturesque Aix-en-Provence.

    Languedoc Rousillon

    Pedalling Panorama: More rolling hills and more trouble striking a balance between smaller roads and actually making headway at the same time. The best cycling was along the paths next to the Canal du Midi.

    Culture and Highlights: The beautiful town of Arles on the Rhone river and Rob Gourlay joining the team for a week to inject a bit of his own unique culture. The whole experience wouldnt have been complete without (and certainly wasnt tarnished by) a bit of stereotypical French arrogance which was duly provided by two separate Gallic goons.

    Catalunya

    Pedalling Panorama: Awesome scenery of the Costa Brava (Rugged Coast). Steep ascents and descents, sweeping coastal vistas, sublime surfaces, cyclists of all ages for Sean to race, quaint coves and pretty villages for lunch and swimming stops.

    Culture and Highlights: Everything about Barcelona (Gaudi, Ramblas, Nou Camp, Pickpocketing Hookers etc.), the mountain-bound Montserrat monastery and Roman ruins of Tarragona

    Valenciana

    Pedalling Panorama: Forced to ride on major roads the whole way down from Barcelona. Crap scenery, woeful constuction projects on beaches that deserved no better, stinking hot weather and headwinds the whole way. Maybe we have had it too good for too long.

    Culture and Highlights: Valencia itself more than made up for the journey there. We had the insightful experience of going to a Bullfight (which involved the apparently rare event of one particularly aggressive bull winning his freedom), nude cycle protest through the city, tour of the Team New Zealand Americas Cup base courtesy of Stewie Grey, Paella, Tapas, Sangria and great nights out with many friends in the area.

    Andalucia

    Pedalling Panorama: After the previous coastal debacle, we decided to head inland to Granada and were richly rewarded with country side different from any we have come across so far – winding dried up river beds, deep canyons and olive plantations everywhere. We also benefitted from the high(er) altitude which, combined with some earlier starts, made for cooler days. The snow capped Sierra Nevada was a brilliant backdrop as we stayed in Granada for the weekend before descending to Malaga and more lamentable coastal cycling to the ferry port of Algeciras.

    Culture and Highlights: Everything about Granada. High tempo / good value Flamenco, stunning views of and from The Alhambra (Islamic fort and palace which is the cities centrepiece) and more shameless indulgence in some of the best food and drink of the trip

    All up, including Turkey and Croatia, we committed ourselves to 9 rendezvous points, all of which we were able to meet – thanks to those who came to visit: Harry, Samia, Audrey, Snoozer, Ness, Badger, Dom, Tina, Gillick, Gilmour, Jarrod and Dibsy. Lets hope this Swiss precision continues and we are at Tunis airport on the 18th of July.

    Jon

    June 21, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

    Dashboard – Week 21

  • Days Cycled – 4
  • Distance Covered – 525km
  • Cumulative Distance – 10650km
  • Members of Cycopath posse targeted by Cougar – 6
  • Hairy Naked ‘Roller Dudes’ followed – 1
  • Protests participated in – 1
  • Protests understood – 0
  • Olive trees viewed – 3, 693, 256
  • June 19, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    FAQs – Updated

    We are now 5 months into the trip and plenty of questions have been coming through regarding a number of  issues – some of which have more relevant / amusing answers than others and have been answered below:

    1a) Are you going to North Africa?

    Yes, Sean and I (Jon) are going to cycle through Morocco and Algeria to, hopefully, finish where we started in Tunis, while Tombsy is hitting the beaches of Portugal for a well deserved break.  Algerian visas – after no small amount of grovelling – were surprisingly efficiently obtained in Marseille.

    1b) Are you crazy??  Don´t you realise how hot (not to mention dangerous!) it will be?

    At the time of writing, no team members had been certified mentally ill and we appreciate that it isn´t the ideal time (temperature wise) to be travelling through that area.  We will cycle early and late in the day to avoid the midday sun and also take standard protection measures (we´re gonna cover ourselves in baby oil).

    Regarding saftey concerns we will, as always, be guided by various sources of infomation as well as our wits and common sense.  Thank-you to several friends of Algerian descent who have given us advice so far, as you can see we are still planning to go, so we haven´t listened to any of you, but comments have been taken on board.

    Where are you?  Update the pics / blog more regularly!!

    We are currently spending a delightful weekend in Granada (Andalucia, Spain) and are two days cycling away from Algeciras (near Gibraltar) where we will catch a ferry to Morocco.  Apologies for being a bit slack on the blog / pics front – since being in more mainstream Europe, it is a bit more difficult to get excited about sending updates.  That and the fact that you pay up to €10 per hour for internet access.  Stay tuned for updates.

    How do you know which way to go?

    A simple question with no simple answer.  Maps are obviously the answer in the overall scheme of things, but if we got them to a day to day practical level of detail, we would be riding off them every 3 or 4 days.  In and out of cities is usually the place where difficulties can arise, particularly in Western Europe where all helpful roadsigns channel you towards the freeways which we aren´t allowed on.  Reasoned guesswork and common sense usually wins the day.

    We have learnt to try to avoid asking people – they generally have no idea – but when this is unavoidable we try to keep it to short term milestones (i.e. which way is the airport).  It is quite amusing when you ask some dopeys the direction to a place a short distance (<30kms) out of their city and they react with shock – “No, It´s too far!!”

    Would you have gone to Lebanon in the current circumstances?

    Probably not.  As Sean´s extremely insightful Lebanon blog informed readers, the place was on a precipice when we were there, but things have escalated considerably since then.  Lebanon is tiny – we cycled the width of the county in about 4 hours and then to the Northern border with Syria from Beirut in another 4.5 hours.  Including a side trip to the south, we pretty much passed through all of the places that you are reading in the news at the moment.  So, we probably would have stayed in Syria and gone straight to Turkey from there, but other options could have included cycling north through the Bekaa Valley and staying clear of the coast, but that´s not the safest place in the world either.  It is all quite sad.

    How much money have you raised?

    Not enough! A couple of thousand dollars is the best estimate. The feedback from Fred Hollows Foundation is a bit sketchy due to the circuitous donation route and the inability of o/s donors to input our Community Fundraiser number. But don´t let that stop you – there has been some extremely generous donations (see a list of donors here) for which we and FHF are very grateful. Drop us a line when you have donated so we can add you to the list.

    Where do you stay?

    Depends on where we are or how we are feeling – usually inexpensive hotels, but otherwise camping or hostels.  We don´t usually book ahead unless it is a busy place e.g. Barcelona.

    What do you eat?

    Pretty much anything we can lay our hands on.  On the bikes it is usually fruit, nuts, chocolate or anything else that can be eaten with one hand while travelling 30kph.  Drinking usually comprises water, sports drinks, chocolate milk and far, far too much Coke than can be healthy, but it hits the spot and is so widely available.

    Chocolate, as mentioned, gets a good seeing to and it is frustrating when you leave a country and have to acclimatise to not having your new favourite chocolate bar available – I highly recommend Libya´s Volcano Bar and Syria´s Double Chocco Wheel.

    Evening meals usually comprise pasta or rice where we can get them, but otherwise just local dishes.

    Does Sean have any nicknames?

    Funny you should ask!  After having to make do with crap nicknames his whole life, he has recently acquired two crackers and we are still trying to decide which is best.

    The first, Tancat, stems from the fact that Sean sees himself as a bit of a ´cool cat´ and has had far too much sun lately.  Tancat is also the Catalan word for ´Closed´, another appropriate aspect as Sean, committed to his girlfriend Harry, is also closed for business.

    After such a ripper nickname had just been assigned (thanks mainly to Badger), you can imagine how confused we were when another one presented itself just days later.  Checking into a caravan park in beautiful Torrenosta, the receptionist took Sean´s details from his British working visa rather than the front page of the passport.  It just so happended that this visa was a Multiple entry type issued in the Canadian city of Ottawa, trivial details that occupied prime space on the stamp.  So Sean gets his invoice back to find he has been checked in under then name Mult Ottawa

    Stay tuned for one more month of cycling where we are hoping to overcome the sauna like conditions of Northern Africa and finish our Mediterranean loop,

    Cheers

    Jon

    June 17, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

    Dashboard – Week 20

    • Days Cycled – 4
    • Distance Covered – 408km
    • Cumulative Distance – 10125km
    • Embarassing ‘Pet Names’ revealed – 1

    June 13, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    Codger Dodgers

    Since hitting the romantic European nations of Italy, France and Spain we are frequently crossing paths with our cycling brethren. During the 10-5 shift that Team Cycopath (TC) normally operates, these can broadly be broken down into 2 categories:

    1. The (Short Break) Cycle Tourist

    Gently rolling from vineyard to villa with all sorts of (dubiously) essential paraphenalia projecting out from under the firm grasp of occy straps. The cycle tourist is often observed to be wearing an outfit that one wouldn´t necessarily recognise as purpose built ‘cycling apparel’ – hats, trousers, heavy-duty hiking boots, etc.

    2. The Diehard Veteran

    A cyclist of ‘significant experience,’ the veteran is usually decked out with all the latest cutting-edge kit and is still looking in pretty good shape. These individuals are usually having some difficulty coming to terms with the effects of ageing on their competitive edge and take immense pleasure in hurtling past a member of Category #1 in a multi-coloured blaze of lycra-clad glory.

    Unfortunately for these heroes of yesteryear, TC unwittingly present something of a ‘Wolf in Sheep’s clothing.’ Yes, you may well point out that any quick inspection of such fine athletic specimens would immediately eliminate them from Category #1 to even the untrained eye. Alas we are rarely afforded even a cursory glance as one glimpse of the panniers (sidebags) triggers a response not unlike that of a red rag to a bull. The diehard veteran will invariably lower his head, flick up a gear or two and raise his pedalling cadence to a furious tempo. Eking out every efficiency he will then tuck into our slipstream for a moment of energy conservation before screaming past at a pace that is sustainable for at least 2 nanoseconds.

    However TC are not without a competitive streak themselves – especially when the gauntlet is thrown down in such a public display. Furthermore, a good old (and ultimately, meaningless) road battle certainly helps the km’s tick by. Unfortunately our timing is (suspiciously some might say) usually off – too often, just when the Cycopath Express Train launches its response assault and blows back past, subsequent headchecks reveal the diehard to have just remembered his ‘planned’ detour at the last intersection, or the need for a quick spot audit of his puncture repair kit…

    More Mutton to the Slaughter

    However it would be remiss of me to insinuate we have it all our own way when picking on the old codgers. What Father Time may have taken from them physically, he has replaced with a good deal of cunning. They have their ‘ways and means’ and on our recent travels through Spain we have experienced at least 2 forms of stinging retaliation. The first – a raucous Oompa Band campervan party in our campsite on the Costa Dorada as the 3 weary Cycopaths tossed restlessly on 10mm mattresses. The second, the knockout blow – joining TC on a nude cycle through Valencia´s city streets (photos to follow). Still suffering nightmares from those haunting images, Team Cycopath will now be officially giving all old codgers a very wide berth!

    Sean

    June 13, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

    Dashboard – Week 19

  • Days Cycled – 5
  • Distance Covered – 440km
  • Cumulative Distance – 9717km
  • Algerian Visas Obtained – 2
  • Celebrity Sightings – 1 (Sharon Stone lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Team Cycopath)
  • June 8, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments