Iceland To Africa By Bicycle 2004

Newsletter 7

Written 27th October 2004

  • Location: CASABLANCA!!
  • Total miles: 2,594 (4,175 km)
  • Amount raised: £6,200
  • Mood: Euphoria!!!!
Newsletter:

We did it! The bike and I arrived in Casablanca at sunset on Saturday 23rd October 2004 after an 85 mile ride from Kenitra via Rabat, thus breaking the daily distance record by 1 mile and pushing the average per day up to 54.

It was an amazing moment as I cycled up to Hotel Bellerive in the Ain Diab area south of Casablanca, past the Hassan II Mosque (which I had used as a beacon to guide me in ... an awesome building, being the second largest mosque and third largest religious monument in the world!). The faces of the staff were an absolute picture as I stood there unable to speak - "vous etes tres fatigez?" they asked. "No, just a little emotional ....." I said as my French completely escaped me! Once I'd regained my composure I explained to them that I'd actually cycled from the Arctic Circle, some 4,000+ kilometres and it was here, at their hotel, that I'd reached my destination and would now, finally stop. "Soixante-neuf jours par velo" I said. "Aujourd hui, ici, a l'Hotel Bellerive, j'ai finit!" I said. I was ushered inside and the bike set aside. A room was prepared and a tray appeared (even though it is Ramadan) containing two bottles of water, two beers, a coke and some nibbles! I sank into a chair outside and watched the sun set over the Atlantic.

I had left Kenitra a day late, having grappled for 5 hours with limited technology to get the last newsletter away. My intention had been to split the ride to Casablanca into two days and I set off on Saturday morning not expecting to do much more than the short ride to Rabat. As it turned out the roads after Kenitra were so much better, the weather was good and I also found a new friend. Ahmed is a self proclaimed Moroccan Rastafarian with hair to match and a grin that could compete with or even replace any lighthouse in the world. He cycled up to me just outside Kenitra and asked if he could join me to Rabat. We cycled side by side which was a cause of great annoyance to the drivers for 25 miles. Since our communication was limited to the little French that each of us knew, we inevitably ended up talking the only English he knew - song lyrics. And so it was that we arrived in Rabat, racing each other through the traffic (overtaking the scooters which was obviously a hobby of Ahmed's and caused him endless amusement), to our very own, rather raucous and tuneless refrain of Bob Marley's greatest hits!

When I had finally waved goodbye to Ahmed, having exchanged numbers and paused for a photo-shoot by the medina walls, I was surprised that it was still so early in the day and at that moment I knew I was going to press on to Casablanca. With such a goal in sight, time slows down. No matter how fast you cycle the miles tick by slower and slower and, without my friendly juke box, the remaining 60 miles to Casablanca were awfully long. I watched the sea, the road and the horizon, I became fascinated by the sweat on my arms, grinned inanely at everyone I saw, counted potholes and beetles ... anything to try and stop myself from looking at the mileometer! Gradually we were speeding up and, as we finally entered Casablanca at around 5pm, I had given myself quite a lecture on how slowly and casually the rest of the journey had been tackled. By this point we were doing a consistent 20 to 25 mph and had been for the previous 20 miles. It was a disappointment to not see a single sign that said "Casablanca ... you did it ... welcome ..." but instead the buildings gradually got bigger and more frequent until eventually there was a sign that said simply "Centre Ville" and any photo opportunity had been lost. However, the sight of a manic westerner with far too much kit, sweating, grinning and speeding through the streets as though he's reaching the finish line of the Tour De France was enough to encourage several groups of people to break into spontaneous applause ... and I knew that we'd arrived!

Since then I have been enjoying the sights and sounds of Casablanca, eating and drinking far too much, and awaiting the outcome of my negotiations for repatriation. The bike is safely tucked away in the basement of Hotel Toubkal (where we are now) and, although I can hear its faint voice calling me in the middle of the night, I have resisted the temptation to remount and keep heading south. Arctic to Antarctic on a bike!! It has a lovely ring to it ... maybe next time ....

I had held off writing this final newsletter announcing the completion of the challenge until there was a return date to report. However, at this moment in time, the negotiations are still ongoing. I remain optimistic but as yet there is no new sponsor and I feel, given the very limited availability of flights this week, that it is likely to be next Tuesday. In the meantime, there's plenty to see and do here - and it would be a missed opportunity to not spend a little time visiting Marrakesh.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the official sponsors of the expedition:

The Living Room - For fattening me up before I left
Smyril Line - For a highly unorthadox gym experience
Northlink Ferries Staff - I hope you enjoyed the Puffin Poo!
GNER - For the free Times newspaper - an article in which has inspired the next challenge!
Carradice - Great panniers, buy some!!!
Directorbank Executive Search Plc - For tremendous personal support and providing the motivation for both expeditions this year
Longbottoms Cast Iron Rainwater - For the key to the door when I was 21

Of course I also want to thank all of you who sponsored and supported me, with donations, accomodation, food and encouragement. Please take a moment to look at http://www.justgiving.com/icelandtoafrica where most supporters are listed. I must also specifically thank Andrew, Liz and my mum for looking after my house, dealing with the leak(!) and making it again a place worth coming home to!

And now for the final appeal: The challenge is done. The sun is setting on some wonderful memories and Camp One in Iceland (that cold, wet, lonely night) seems to me to be a lifetime ago! For all of those who said they would sponsor me if I did it, I can only say:

"I DID IT!".

Donations can be made at http://www.justgiving.com/icelandtoafrica and the official website (http://www.icelandtoafrica.net) will be fully updated on my return.

I am looking forward to seeing you all again very soon.

With best wishes from Casablanca.

Ma'ssalama

Tom

Tom Bottomley
Mobile:  +44 (0)7740 592834
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http://www.icelandtoafrica.net