Inspiration: Big Trip

The impossible challenge you can try too

5,000 kilometres, 2 weeks, 0 licences

“Ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.”

That’s the mission statement on the website of James Whittle and Tom Caulfield, two motorcycle novices who gave themselves just four weeks to pass their tests from scratch and ride from the UK to the Sahara. The English friends are no strangers to breaking down barriers. Two years ago they left the Canary Islands off Spain in a rowing boat. Just over 50 days, 5,000km and a mid-Atlantic hurricane later, they reached Barbados… and the Tempest Two was born.

“A little bit crazy”

Fired by a new thirst for adventure and a different perspective on life, their next mission impossible began earlier this year and involved a Tiger 800 XRT and XCx and the end goal of riding through Spain to end at a festival in Morocco’s Sahara Desert.

A pair of Triumph Tigers with a map showing the route from the UK to the Sahara

One small hitch, though. Neither had even sat on a motorcycle. And the festival was in four weeks’ time.

Adventures as novices with unreasonably short deadlines is a recurring theme for the pair, whose newest motorcycle mission was “to ride 5,000km in a little over two weeks on a mode of transport completely new to us, in places we have never visited, on fully loaded bikes we had never ridden. First off, we needed to pass our motorbike test in a nine-day window.”

“It might seem a little bit crazy, but the concept worked when we crossed the Atlantic and again when we kayaked through the Swedish archipelago to the summit of Mont Blanc last year,” says James.

“By throwing ourselves at a challenge and backing ourselves, we’ve found we can achieve things many thought impossible.”

“A steep learning curve is a memorable one”

Tom: “We shocked our instructor but he accepted the challenge and we took a direct access course, followed swiftly by the two-module test. The pressure was on, knowing that if we didn’t pass, the trip wouldn’t be possible.

“This kind of pressure makes us perform because things typically find a way of taking as long as you give them, so nine days was our target. The urgency forced the issue and meant we delivered. A steep learning curve is a memorable one.”

James Whittle and Tom Caulfield astride their Triumph Tigers
James and Tom get set for sand

“Triumph likes a challenge”

James: “Triumph likes a challenge and supported us with the loan of a road-focused XRT and the XCx, with its upgraded suspension and chassis for a smoother ride off-road. The Tigers were the perfect ride for us, although they seemed large, heavy and slightly daunting to two complete novices.

We were blown away by the incredible ease of handling and superb responsiveness, even when fully loaded.

After a dawn ferry to Bilbao, the friends landed wide-eyed in the heart of Basque Country in northern Spain, where they would discover if the mission they dreamed of was just a pipedream.

“A shock for two rookies”

Tom: “Bilbao was crazy and full of scooters; a bit of a shock for two rookies. Over lunch we planned the next legs of the trip. See, we hadn’t even had time for that. We then headed for the heart of the Rioja wine-making region, Logroño. The road up and over the Cantabria mountain was stunning.

“This trip was always going to be about the people we met on the road. Owners of tapas bars and vineyards welcomed us, so we learned everything about barrelling and bottling. Then we made our way south, via Soria, to what looked like a scene from Game of Thrones in Nuévalos.

“The road we took, the SO-150, was without doubt one of the best we encountered. We spent two hours winding through stunning scenery, towering canyons and derelict villages. We had our first real introduction to high-wind riding and it knocked our confidence slightly, but it kept us on our toes. It seemed ‘if you don’t need to ride in high winds, then don’t’ was the advice we often got.”

“Paella… with snails!”

James: “We left early and stopped in Valencia for its well-known classic, paella. The dish containing rabbit, chicken and snails didn’t disappoint. We were stuffed and rode towards Alicante and Hondon de las Nieves, just in time to catch an epic sunset on an empty road between vineyards.

“We made time to head for Batería de Castillitos, an old ruined fort on a peninsula between Alicante and Almeria. The roads leading to the fort were breathtaking, with thin winding mountain passes and spectacular views across the bay. If you’re in the area on bikes, don’t miss out. From here we continued south to Almeria, where we caught the early ferry into Melilla in Morocco. Not the traditional route into Africa, but a less westernised and more exciting experience all round.

“Everyone we passed waved and smiled”

Tom: Off the boat and we were hustled by five people at a time, either selling things or trying to fast-track us through the border. It was mayhem. We were the only westerners at the border, with two lovely bikes that were being tugged and jabbed at constantly. Two hours later, we’d got through and were riding the seven hours north to the town of Midelt.

“The roads in Morocco were incredible, either sandy dirt tracks or pristine tarmac. We rode 550km passing nothing but goats and their owners. Everyone we passed waved and smiled throughout.”

We rode 550km passing nothing but goats and their owners.

Into Africa

James “As we headed from Midelt to Erfoud, the temperature rose to above 30 degrees and we discovered that it’s easy to forget about hydration when you are being cooled by the wind. We learned the hard way – severe headaches and concentration lapses forced us to take a 30-minute water break.

“By now we were at one with the bikes, understanding their capabilities and appreciating the nimbleness of something so heavy. U-turns were the theme of the day as we took wrong turn after wrong turn from one dirt track to another. The bikes handled it all with surprising ease.”

Erfoud to the Sahara

Tom “As we neared the desert, the road surfaces changed along with the landscape. Greenery was left behind and we set our sights on the sand dunes in the distance. Within four hours we were at the edge of the Sahara.

“The bikes had brought us more than 4,000km with no sign of a hiccup, and it was time to leave the bikes for the final few kilometres because we only had road tyres, which would have been useless in the dunes.

“From the back of two Tigers to the back of two camels, we had made it to the Sahara after passing our test only two weeks before leaving – a feat we are both hugely proud of.

“After three days in the desert, we loaded up the Tigers and despite our fears the return trip would drag, we continued to enjoy every minute. The mileage actually increased on the way back, but the people we met on our return were equally as genuine, the bikes as reliable as ever and the weather consistently good.”

6 things we learned

  1. People, not miles, matter We thought success would be measured by distance but getting the real rewards came from the people we met, the stunning landscapes and the bikes we rode.
  1. Language is no barrier We ate tapas with winemakers, had coffee with Moroccans and our common language was smiles and laughter. We experienced northern Africa in a unique way, untouched by tourism and western culture, and were showered with kindness and generosity.
  1. Magical moments A lunch stop in a tiny remote Moroccan cafe turned bad when we realised the place didn’t take cards. We had no cash, so began packing our things away only to be stopped by the owner, who insisted on feeding us free of charge. An incredible experience with a stranger we would never have met otherwise.
  1. Tigers take the strain The bikes became second nature on this trip, as comfortable in the cobbled back streets of Seville as they were on the sandy tracks of Merzougha. The bikes were a joy throughout and handled everything we threw at them.
  1. Experience not necessary You don’t have to be an experienced rider to take on a trip like ours. We are two young guys with no experience or credentials and we have just returned from one of the most enjoyable two weeks of our lives.
  1. Don’t be intimidated Many people are held back by the thought of long rides, unknown roads and getting through borders (http://www.panomoto.com/motorbike-paperwork.html) Forget preconceptions – don’t think about what you are capable of because it will make you doubt. Plan your dream ride because it’s only a dream until you make it happen.

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Check out the Tempest Two’s website http://www.thetempesttwo.com