The Tempest Two's latest excursion took them from the city lights of London to the golden sands of The Sahara. Not ones to do anything the easy (or familiar) way, they decided to make their way there on motorbikes. The fact that they had no experience on or license to drive one less than two weeks before departing was just a detail.
The open road ahead. The wind whistling through your hair. The roar of a motorbike as you ride into the sunset.
It's an idyllic scene, but a far-fetched fantasy, surely?
Earlier this year, we decided to try and turn a childhood dream into a reality. With zero motorbiking experience, we'd look to mount two of the most rugged and impressive motorbikes on the market and ride them from London to the Sahara Desert in under two weeks.
Our journey began in the glamorous setting of a Welwyn Garden City motorcycle centre. The idyllic dream was immediately crushed as we took part in our first lesson in the freezing cold January rain. The ripped denim jeans of our imaginations were in fact a pair of waterproof trousers. The fitted leather jackets of motorcycle legend turned out to be the more practical and less becoming high-vis waistcoat. We put our egos to one side and dedicated ourselves to the cause and hit the open roads.
To make things more interesting and increase the pressure, we'd given ourselves just nine days from our first lesson to pass both parts of the test. After that we'd be leaving for The Sahara. The look on our instructors face when we disclosed this information, summed up perfectly how most people viewed this endeavour: arrogant, stupid and highly unlikely.
But by the end of day nine, we'd passed and were now fully-fledged hog-riders. Our bikes were delivered to London while we finalised a rough-route through Spain and on to Morocco at the same time we packed our panniers with essentials that included a few clothes, our cameras, bike customs documents, an AeroPress, our Porlex Hand Grinder and two bags of of Nyarusiza.
We gingerly pulled away from our starting point in West London and began the ride to Portsmouth where we'd board a ferry to Bilbao and begin our route south.
Northern Spain was the ultimate gateway to our journey. After a two hour ride from Bilbao, we climbed the Cantabria mountain range and found ourselves on the roof of Rioja drinking in the stunning panoramic view of what felt like the entire region. Vineyards and bodegas spanned beyond the horizon, and we were treated to a 20-minute hairpin descent down into the valley.
We spent that evening in Logrono, the main city of Rioja, where we spent the night wandering the cobbled backstreets of the city. The culinary culture here was not about sit-down meals, but meandering your way through the hundreds of tapas bars that lined the streets, spending 10 minutes in one, five in another, until you are suitably full. Our host’s family owned the oldest tapas bar in Logrono, which served nothing but garlic mushrooms and prawns on bread. This was a prevalent theme, with establishments choosing to do one thing incredibly well and the results were testament to this way of thinking.
Our next destination was the small town of Neuvalos in the Zaragoza region, and what we expected to be a simple three-hour stint.
We were wrong.
This was the first time in our one day riding career that we'd experienced strong winds. As we passed into the flat plains of central Spain, the winds grew in strength and ferocity. What started as a series of mildly uncomfortable gusts soon evolved into full blown crosswinds that forced us from one side of the road to the other. We had absolutely no control over our position on the road. The best we could do to keep ourselves upright was reduce our speed and lean at an angle in a bid to counteract the force.
The conditions forced us to leave the more direct major roads and take a quieter, more meandering route that would also see us coming up against fewer cars. This quickly became one of the best decisions we made on the entire trip as we spent the next 2 hours weaving and winding through some of the most stunning scenery we've had the pleasure of finding ourselves amongst. Ancient looking towns, derelict and weather worn. The sun setting around us, brushing the landscape with a pink and orange filter. Not one other person in sight. It was moments like this we'd hoped for when planning the trip, and we'd stumbled upon it entirely by chance.
It wasn't long until we realised that we'd wildly underestimated the distances we'd set out for ourselves on a daily basis. We found ourselves needing to stop far more regularly than planned to take a breather from the road. When riding a motorbike (and especially when only in your second week of doing so), you're concentrating every second of every minute, constantly engaged and alert. There's no zoning out and going into autopilot. It's mentally and physically tiring and so we found ourselves pulling in at the side of the road every two to three hours to stop, take stock and relax. Brewing up a couple of cups of coffee as we did so was the perfect respite and an ideal antidote.
Our border crossing into Morocco was nothing short of chaos. Our broken Spanish wasn't cutting it with the officials and so, after 20 minutes trying to muddle our way through the process alone, enlisted the help of one of the many locals offering their services. We were guided through customs with ease as he filled out our forms and we paid him his dues before continuing onwards.
It took us a total of three hours to gain entry into Morocco, but we had ground to cover and so set off through Nador and into the countryside. From the pristine Spanish coastal cities of a few hours ago, we now found ourselves weaving between the oppressive and frenetic Moroccan traffic. Horns, shouts, dust and goats filled every street and it felt incredible to be a part of.
We had some long hours on the bike ahead, but the intensity and sheer beauty of Morocco was engrossing. Growing in confidence on the bikes, we were starting to push them harder and further, with the long, empty roads through the barren desert offering the perfect runways to open up the throttle and have some fun.
We were struck by the beauty of abandoned towns, expansive canyons and lush-green oasis’, but more than anything else we were struck by the reception we received from the local people. Everyone, whether a child, elderly person or policeman, would smile and wave at us. Their outlook was infectiously positive and positively infectious.
One such person was a gentleman called Sayed. We met Sayed in the small town of Midelt. Struggling to string a conversation together, we bastardised Arabic, French and English in equal measure as we attempted to form a sentence or two. But the presentation of a bag of coffee beans and a gesture between ourselves and Sayed said everything it needed to. The three of us sat back together and watched the road and its distinct lack of traffic. It gave us a real appreciation for the simplicity and speed of life there, and the enjoyment taken from the simple things.
Seven days and over 2,000 miles from a cold, damp London, we found ourselves in the Moroccan town of Merzougha facing out onto its towering orange dunes and standing under its bright and intense sun. Our two Triumph’s had taken us unfalteringly across continents and helped to take us from complete novices to confident riders with a library of memories.
The goal of this trip was not just to reach a destination, but to show people that you don’t have to be an experienced rider to take on this sort of adventure. Many people are intimidated by the unknown, whether that's roads, routes, countries or people. What each of our experiences continues to teach us is that the best way to overcome that trepidation or uneasiness is to get out there and get to turn the unfamiliar into the familiar.