After qualifying to be one of the select few to participate in the Trans Continental Race (TCR), Baroudeur Jamie aka ‘Magic’, had to endure the challenges ahead: Covid effectively cancelling two years of the race; the constant unknown and the need to train – just in case the TCR went ahead. We talk frankly with Jamie to see how it’s going so far. And yes, we find him in the desert:
Jamie, you’ve been keeping busy since October. What did you do and why did you do it?
2021 was a bit chaotic. I had planned to do the Transcontinental Race but that was postponed again due to Covid so I needed a backup plan. No point in letting all those training miles go to waste! So I did the Morocco Bike Adventure, it is a 2100 km race across the country, starting in Tangier on the north coast, then over the Rif mountains out across the desert, and back over the Anti Atlas mountains to the south coast.
Your first day in Morocco involved a recce. What did you discover and how did this impact your plans?
I had been to Morocco previously but never for cycling so I was excited to get out and explore on the bike. Also just getting a sense of the climate in order to decide how much water to carry. The route had over 20,000m of climbing so you obviously want to cut as much weight as possible, but it can be very far between resupply points in rural Morocco so you need to play it safe.
How much planning did you do? How did you get your information?
This race had a fixed route between checkpoints so no route planning was necessary, but I did a lot of planning to identify potential resupply points for food & water. The rural villages in Morocco don’t have Google Streetview or even basic business information so you need to use satellite images to guess whether a cluster of mud huts might have a shop that offers what you need. I also mapped out some hotel options but they are few and far between so I ended up sleeping in my bivvy for all but 2 nights.
Describe what it’s like riding in the desert?
It was incredible. Sunrise and sunsets with camels, smooth quiet roads, sand dunes, just amazing. Every so often you go through lush river valleys with palm trees and monkeys. The heat wasn’t as bad as I thought because the humidity is so low, but it definitely dries out your sinuses. And the people are super friendly. Morrocans use bicycles to get around their villages but never for long distance travel so when they see you out on the open road they would often wave and shout ‘Bon Courage’, and in the villages kids would run alongside you laughing and waving. I had a small cafe lock for food stops and never used it once, it just felt very safe and welcoming everywhere.
Is it similar to anything you’ve done before, or is it completely different?
Because of the foreign environment, language, culture etc. it felt very different from riding in the UK. I love exploring wild new places so it was really nice to get that new experience I was looking for.
Like your recent LEJOG ride, you did some massive KM’s each day. Why is that?
LEJOG and Morocco Bike Adventure were both substitutes for the Transcontinental Race so I wanted to ride them in the same way, just testing my limits I suppose. The bike computer shows some big numbers at the end of each day but you don’t really keep track, it’s far more interesting to watch the environment change as you pass through these foreign lands. That’s really the whole point – you’re not out there to count kilometers, you’re out there for the experiences and memories.
Would you say you’re built for these long rides, or did you have to recondition yourself?
I believe anyone can do it with the right training, bike fit and preparation. I remember first getting into the ultra distance stuff and wondering how it’s possible for people to ride so far, then slowly figuring out how to get more comfortable on the bike and take care of yourself for long rides, and eventually doing distances that I used to think were impossible. Nothing is impossible. Mark Beaumont broke the round-the-world record by riding 29,000 km in 79 days, most of it with a broken arm. That’s the kind of inspiration to help you think big and realise the potential you never knew you had.
You’re not going slow either. What motivates you?
Long rides are more mental than physical – you need to have a rock solid reason for why you’re doing it. Everyone’s reasons will be different, but for me it tends to be about overcoming fear of failure, building confidence in yourself, or adventuring into the unknown. Build your big goal on top of these reasons, then break up the goal into manageable chunks, and that will give you a sense of accomplishment every day that keeps the motivation up.
What are the 3 things that you did well in Morocco and what’s the 1 thing you’d do differently?
I did a lot of training and preparation which paid off and I was happy with my equipment choices but I didn’t have enough backup/redundancy in my navigation system. I had two bike computers, each chargeable from my front hub dyno as well as battery packs. But my main computer and battery packs had issues with charging (possibly due to the heat?) and I was wild camping with no mains power on most nights, so I was stuck using my backup computer with charging only from the hub dyno. This worked for flat riding, but on long climbs my speed was too low to power both my computer and my bike lights so I came pretty close to losing the computer a few times. I also had my phone but the Moroccan SIM card didn’t work very well so it was useless for nav. Maybe next time I will go old school with some paper maps! 😂
What advice would you give to someone wanting to do such a ride?
Think carefully about why you want to do it – this will be the reason to fall back on if things go pear shaped and you want to quit. It will also be the reason that motivates you and gives you energy every day to keep riding and enjoying it. And it will be the reason you have fond memories about it for the rest of your life.
Big question – is the TCR on for this year and are you ready?
Yes! All 14 border crossings are now open with no travel restrictions so it is finally looking possible to hold the race. There is a new route for 2022 which starts in Geraardsbergen and goes through the Alps, this did not feature in the original 2020 route so I’m super excited. I have more confidence in myself now for the really long distance stuff thanks to Morocco but I’m also probably going to dial down the intensity a bit and focus on enjoying each day and savouring the whole experience rather than putting my head down and smashing out max efforts. I’m not getting any younger and this race is something I want to remember fondly so I will be mindful of riding within my limits and just having fun. I think there is also a better chance of finishing that way, rather than pushing 100% and burning out early.
If it falls through again, do you have alternative plans?
No backup for the Transcontinental this year but I do have some big plans for something after… nothing finalised yet but will keep you posted!
Is there anything the club, or people can do to help you?
A lot of my training tends to be long solo rides, it’s just my introverted nature I suppose. For me cycling is almost a kind of meditation and I get my energy from seeking that calm mental space. But that said I do love some fast laps in RePa once in a while, followed by buns and coffee of course! I have been off the bike all winter to focus on ultrarunning but it’s now time to get training for the Transcontinental so I’m looking forward to seeing everyone out at the usual spots.
The Transcontinental Race No.8 kicks off on Sunday 24 July at 22:00hrs CET. You can follow Jamie under Cap No. 133. There are 264 solo and paired riders registered. It’s going to be one to remember.
The TCR is usually an annual, self-supported, ultra-distance race across Europe. It is one of the world’s toughest tests around. The route and distance varies for each edition. Often reaching up to 4,200 km, with the winners generally taking anywhere from 10 days or more to complete.
Mr Magic tells us that he’s excited to know that the likes of Fiona Kolbinger will be participating: a fellow ultra-endurance cyclist and medical doctor. Kolbinger won the TCR in 2019. Her time of 10 days, 2 hours and 48 minutes. The second closest overall was, Ben Davies. He came in more than 10 hours later.
Jamie, your fellow Baroudeurs wish you an incredible, fun and happy journey ahead on your TCR, Jamie. Aller, the Crazy Brave!