I write the final trip update a few days after our return in the early hours of December 23rd.
Christmas and family reunions have since intervened and I can only apologise for not sending this out sooner.
The last full update was sent from Essaouira in Morocco. The coast road to Safi and then onto El Jadida and Rabat made a welcome contrast to the route we had taken on the outward journey via Marrakech. It has to be one of the worlds hidden great rides, with fantastic mountain and sea views as the landscape gets slowly greener, easing the eyes after weeks of sand. Parts of this route resemble the west coast of Ireland, with others reminding me of the Cornish coast. Agriculture changes from hill farming to arable vegetable produce as the soil grows more lush. The only downside is the occasional industrial reminder that the coastline and beaches dont seem to be particularly valued in North and West Africa. Both at Safi and El-Jadida large smoke-belching chemical factories disgorged millions of gallons of chemical effluent straight into the sea from huge outflow pipes.
Arriving in Rabat, minor disaster struck. No sooner than we had found somewhere to stay for the night than Daves front tyre went flat. But of all the places to get a puncture, this had to be about the best. An hour in the hotels heated garage and a new tube sat inside Daves now paper thin front tyre. The puncture was caused by a tiny staple, but this had ripped a fair size hole in the inner tube. The Ultraseal in the tube had stopped the tyre from going immediately flat which, given that we had battled heavy traffic to get into Rabat, was a good thing.
The following day we pressed onwards, taking a scenic route northwards, instead of the direct route to Tangier and Ceuta. This involved a two hour ride on Moroccos excellent motorways (look out for hand held speed cameras courtesy of the Gendarmerie Royale, people walking across the motorway and cattle on the hard shoulder) to Meknes, followed by a very scenic ride directly northwards, taking in coffee at Moulay Idriss (one of the great Muslim holy cities). We briefly reprised our 2000 visit to the impressive Roman town of Volubilis before heading to Chefchaouen for the night, high in the mighty Rif Mountains. This route took in part of our original journey to Morocco in 2000 and allowed a contrast between what we saw then and to appreciate how much the country has changed for the better in five years. Cleaner, more friendly, better facilities, fantastic roads, fewer hustlers.
In 2000 we had merely stopped for lunch in Chefchaouen and didnt realise then what a gem this wonderful mountain city is. A fiercely independent minded Berber town, the imposing walls hide a historic medina, kasbah and mosque, along with perfect views over the mountains from rooftop restaurants which serve the very best that Moroccan cuisine has to offer.
While in Gambia, I had wondered if I was slightly mad to bring along my heated jacket, but at last on our northward journey, the climate took a turn for the worse, with the climb into the Rif Mountains bringing plunging temperatures as well as breathtaking views.
And so finally, our last day in Africa arrived. Two riding hours the following morning took out through the Rif, past Tetouan and along the new dual carriageway to the Moroccan/Spanish border at Ceuta. Following a group of Spanish riders on BMWs we raided the busy border crossing, not stopping for anyone and quickly found ourselves spat out into the little Spanish enclave and back in EU territory. It was only later that we remembered that we should have obtained an exit stamp at the border. Ah well, Im happy to argue the toss on my next visit. Yes, I think well both be back.
We lunched in Ceuta. A strange experience and very Spanish. Families on a Sunday outing with little or no knowledge of the wonders that lie further south. Overweight people abounded, a sight that wed not seen for many weeks even among the richer communities of Africa. This sparked an inconclusive debate about European dietary habits.
Anticipation marked the ferry journey from Algeciras to Ceuta weeks before, sadness and reflection the return trip. So many things experienced, seen and felt. Much to think about as well.
But we still had Europe to cross and spending the night in that British curiosity which is Gibraltar, marvelling at the oddities of Sterling in cashpoint machines and lager louts in bars, we set our minds to the relentless miles which awaited us on Spanish winter motorways.
Day one of the Spanish section saw us press on with a grim determination to get as far as we could in one hit. Reduced daylight hours and growing cold didnt stop us from putting hours at a time in on the saddle, trying to maintain a steady 110 kph, while Jack Frost tried to find a way into our riding gear. But by 5pm wed had enough and checked into a very nice roadhouse just south of Madrid for some welcome hot food, wine and shut-eye.
Frost blanketed everything as we departed the following morning. Madrid was frantic with traffic and like a plonker, I took a wrong turn, dumping us both in the city centre. Half an hour later we were free, but behind on time as we headed up the motorway to Burgos, climbing ever higher through the frost, clouds and into the Sierra De Guadarrama.
The 3,000 ft high pass at Puerto De Somosierra was bitterly cold, but it also marked a weather front and we broke through to brilliant sunshine the other side. The weather stayed bright until beyond Burgos, we once again found ourselves in freezing fog. By this time we were traversing the Pyrenees and soon started the long descent to Bilbao.
Our final night in mainland Europe saw us safely ensconced in a nice little hotel about 15km from the ferry port. This was an evening of celebration and reflection as we drank rather too much local wine and beer and devoured local dishes of pig trotters (an odd dish) and ox tails.
After one major delay to the trip, the final indignity was a ferry with a broken engine, running six hours late. The crossing was uneventful, if a little choppy in the Bay of Biscay. Both of us were very tired and not looking forward to journeys end. After all we had seen and done, it seemed more than a little odd to have to readjust to Christmas in northern Europe. Hordes of drunken, booze-cruising Brits didnt do much for our general mood either.
In a similar way that he had seen us off, Steve Manning was waiting behind the lens of his video camera on the ferry ramp, making us feel welcome and marking the official end of the journey. A hours trip in the dark to Beckenham and others were there to greet us help us unload the bikes and break open a bottle of champagne for a 2am toast to our achievement.
So we did it. All the planning worked, the support from our sponsors, in particular BMW and Metal Mule, had made it happen.
There are so many thoughts and impressions which arise from the journey. I will share these with you all when I sort them out in my mind. But we are both pleased that we had achieved the aims of the trip and extremely grateful to everyone who had helped to make it happen.
We have learned much from our time with Riders for Health which strengthens our links with them and I hope has helped to highlight their work. It also makes us realise the importance of the work that Simon Milward started on Indonesia work which follows in the footsteps of Riders for Health successful and effective healthcare logistics programme.
Dave and I cant avoid the imagery that arises from what some have already read as the completion of Simons Millennium ride. This is not a comfortable association for me as some may view this as impudence and I am sure that Simon would have had many more adventures and made much more impact on the people that he met. But we did learn that he had been due to visit Riders for Health in the Gambia, so it seems highly likely that we took pretty much the African route north that he would have taken.
Our trip was inspired by Milwards Millennium Ride and a personal commitment to continue his work through Motorcycle Outreach from both Dave and myself. Our Bikes carried the Millennium Ride logo in addition to Motorcycle Outreach and Riders for Health. I hope that our own achievement, as small as it is, helps to keep the spirit of Simons ride alive and in the process highlights the extremely important work of Riders for Health in Africa and the equally important and similar work that is being done in Indonesia by Motorcycle Outreach.
Dave had to leave early on the 23rd for his flight back to Poland and later that morning I found a note that hed written wishing us all a merry Christmas, adding we finished the Millennium ride. I hope that Simon is pleased.
There will be further updates with specific facts and figures about the trip, further details of support from sponsors, equipment reports and a more detailed account of our time with Riders for Health.