A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Philosophised centuries Before Christ, the Chinese were not to know that by 2016, the ‘step’ referred to in their ancient proverb would rarely be physical, and more often than not involve Google Maps.


Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a bit of planning, and turned my attention to navigation. Considering that I’ve spent the past year leading ‘The Navigation Programme’ at the world’s leading luxury department store, I should find this a fairly easy part of planning for the trip. Yet whilst I can elaborate in more detail than you could ever imagine on how to best assist customers on their quest for the Luxury Washrooms, Champagne Bar or Prada, my approach to navigating from London to Morocco has been far less strategic.

In short – I plotted ‘Portsmouth to La Línea de la Concepción’ on Google Maps. It’s first suggestion was to try and persuade me to fly, but once I’d selected the ‘cycle’ option twice, it conceded defeat and showed me some options . I roughly divided the journey into 100km segments.  I have allowed small detours from this line for particularly promising-sounding place names (Camembert! Bordeaux! Cognac!). I will then supplement the route with stops at some other places that I’ve heard of, like Le Mans (cars!), Tours (I did my A-Level French  project on the Loire Valley!), Biarritz (beach!), Madrid (Galácticos!). Fairly straightforward, really. Thankfully plotting a route in this way has already proved fruitful – the lure of a long weekend in Biarritz immediately provoked my friend Harriet to book a flight to meet up with me en route.

John & Hobo

Spreadsheet complete, I then began to wonder how to translate this Excel into a practical reality. A couple of people have mentioned Garmins or other pieces of GPS tech, but these seem pretty expensive. I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to ask a seasoned pro for advice on this dilemma; I spent a lovely weekend down on the South Coast with some friends

On the South Coast with Morgan and Helen


One of those friends is the inspirational ‘bearded bundle of energy’ John Stanford, who last year cycled from London to his native Cape Town!

John & Helen
John & Helen

John introduced me to Hobo (his bike), and answered my questions on the best mobile apps to use, how to keep devices charged, tyres (apparently it’s best if they’re ‘bulletproof’), bicycle pumps and much more.


Every few minutes, John inserted a statement into conversation that was slightly-louder-than-general-indoor-noise-level: ‘…you’re asking me questions, I’m not just talking about the trip.’ This was presumably for the benefit of his girlfriend Helen, who was in the next room – John loves to talk about his trip, but Helen has heard it all several times before. It seems as though some kind of rule has been established, whereby John is not allowed to speak on this subject unless spoken to. But his advice was very useful indeed, and as well as knowledge, John bestowed a gift – The Bike Touring Survival Guide, which has become this week’s commuting entertainment.


The book includes a wealth of helpful tips, and has also raised many questions I had not considered to date, on things like ‘Will dogs chase me?’ (potentially), ‘Will I get murdered?’ (apparently this isn’t a common occurrence) and ‘I’m home now – will I ever get a job again?’ (Fingers crossed).

As is to be expected, I’ve also been training a bit. I’ve talked quite a lot about the ‘Pedal’ – but cycling in the wild, wet, windy British winter isn’t pleasant so I’d rather not relive it. But now let me mention the ‘Paddle’. My aim is to cross the Strait of Gibraltar on a stand-up paddleboard. Because I’ve not yet set foot on one of these, as soon as the weather gets a bit warmer and evenings lighter, I need to learn how to do this rather quickly. A little research has shown that you can learn on the Grand Union Canal at the Paddington Basin.

I used to work here, and have some concerns about how sanitary a body of water it is, based upon two observations:

  1. The frequent need for dredging of aquatic weed by a machine labelled ‘Aquatractor’
  2. The fact that I once saw a decaying pigeon carcass in the canal

Despite these concerns, it does fit quite nicely into the working week, so paddling off into the Paddington sunset I must go.


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