The Tempest Two | London to Sahara

The Tempest Two | London to Sahara

How often do we idle out the window and fantasise about the great outdoors, with all its untrodden odysseys? These mini fantasies are a heady source of escapism. They usually comprise of scenes denoting isolation and freedom: the impossibly blue waters of a desert island; vast plains where the four-legged reign, unacquainted with man; snow-capped mountains where all is cold, clear and simple; indigenous peoples with hearts and minds uncluttered by possession.

It often triggers a peculiar gumbo of emotions. Initially there is a shot of bliss – this is our instinctual reaction to such settings and an imagination (especially one caged by mundanity) is liable to clutch at these fancies as if they were real. Beyond this, longing starts to seep in and sodden the mind’s eye with a more sorrowful perspective on these tiny tableaux. Longing makes for a perfect segue into a harsh sense of unfulfillment and hollow rationale:

“I don’t have the time. I must maintain my stable job. I’m too old. I’m too young. I don’t have the ability. I don’t have time to learn how.” These are the faux excuses that reconcile us with the repression of wanderlust.

The Tempest Two are the embodiment of all those romantic notions we allow rationality to quash. Over the past few years, Tom Caulfield and James Whittle have undertaken a series of heroic journeys they had no right to complete. At the end of 2015, they braved sharks and hurricanes to row 3000 miles across the Atlantic unaided. It was their maiden journey and since that first foray into the unknown they have kayaked through the Swedish Archipelago, raced on foot across San Francisco and scaled Mont Blanc. All of these feats have been conquered with zero prior experience in each respective field. Their only tools are self-belief, unfaltering will and an untethered imagination.

It seems that once they burst the flimsy-but-opaque bubble of doubt, these adventures were not only doable but compulsive. That’s always the way isn’t it? Once we expand our comfort zone, fears and hang ups dissipate and our lives enrich.

Now, there are few endeavours more romantic than saddling up on a motorcycle and setting out on a cross-country road trip. There are countless buddy movies and road novels that inspire and are inspired by octane dreams of the dusty trail. It was inevitable, then, that The Tempest Two set their sights and sinew onto the open road and opted to cross continents on their metal steeds.

There is a route much loved by seasoned bikers that takes the rider through Morocco and to the edge of the Sahara desert. The journey is arduous enough from Morocco, but The Tempest Two decided to start their ride from London and set out to complete the round trip in two weeks. Before they pitched the idea to Triumph, their first hurdle was readily apparent – neither of them had ever ridden a motorcycle before.

With nine days to learn, Tom and James swung their legs over their bikes and gingerly tugged at their first couple of revs. They were Bambi-like and the January rain doused their egos in buckets. Images of leather-clad desert pilgrims seemed laughable now, as high-vis jackets clung to them like the arms of an overzealous mother. As the week went on, wheels grew steady and the rain let up. By the eighth day, their learner waistcoats flapped lackadaisical in the wind and it was all they could do to hold them fast. They passed their test a day later and shed their neon cocoons.

Tom and James were ready to hit the road.

Triumph bequeathed them a pair of ungodly machines from their Tiger 800 series – beasts engineered for raw terrain but roar just as fierce on the tarmac – a perfect balance for The Tempest Two’s trek.

Dust rose in London as the riders cut through the smog and made for the Spanish mainland. From Bilbao, their trail meandered up the winding roads of the Cantabria Mountains and perched them atop the roof of Rioja. The Tigers purred as they pulled up, altitude and mountain air dizzying The Tempest Two with adventure. The honeyed hues of a sun-drenched Northern Spain lay out before them and bid them “ride”.

A hairpin decent ensued as they savvied themselves with knowledge a classroom cannot teach. Those unsure, rainy days were far behind them as they rode abreast with nothing but a clear road stretching infinitely ahead.

Motorcycles demand unwavering concentration and a five hour ride cannot be skimmed over with cruise control – psychological or otherwise. As the rigours of the road began to wane morale, they happened upon Logrono – a town famed for tapas-infused pub crawls where each stop offers a single, perfected dish.

It was time to eat well, rest up and wake up hungover.

After a morning saunter through a bodega winnowed their beer-soaked heads, they made a beeline for Zaragoza. The kindly Spanish climate turned and they sped headlong the first peril of the trip. The gale blew mischievous; coaxing Tom and James into leaning hard into its buffeting cushion, only to pull it away without warning and have them veer into the  opposing lane. Ruthless winds and two wheels make for a treacherous ride and however much they tried to counterbalance the gust with their two-week-old nous, they were forced to find another route.

And herein lies the magic of the unforeseen.

Their alternate path yielded ancient derelict towns, bubble gum skyscapes and complete isolation, save for Lady Luck smiling down upon their journey. Surely a highlight of the trip and – like all transcendent happenings – it was all down to circumstance. In this case it was the elements shifting their course.

When they crossed the ocean to reach Morocco, their isolation melted away along with their stifling English reserve. Each character they came across was a boon at worst and saviour at best. They approached the gates of North Africa, swamped by locals clambering for their attention. Tom and James trudged through the chaotic bustle and soon realised how ill-equipped they were to deal with the customs office. Broken Spanish begot narrow-eyed glares and dismissive waves of the hand.

Out of their depth and sinking fast, they reached out to one of the men insisting so hard they simply talk to him. This whimsical guide dragged them through the border – misspelling their names on every form filled out – and paved safe passage for The Tempest Two and their growling motorcycles.

The heat lauds over the sand-strewn parts of the world and beats a constant reminder of the insignificance of man. You’re barely bigger than a grain when all around you is arid and desolate. An unbearable slog on the desert road stripped Tom and James of all fluids and senses (save for the burning of their sun-scorched skin). The endless road was now their enemy and they implored it to let up.

Instead, it led them to an impossibly situated café. The Tempest Two were sapped by the unrelenting heat and shuffled from their saddles to what had to be a mirage. Its proprietor couldn’t have seen more than a handful of customers a day. He peered through the window and came out to greet them in his native tongue. James fumbled around in his pocket and plucked out his bank card – his ticket to nourishment. The man stood still, unwilling to accept or understand this desperate gesture.

Tom stepped forward, shaking off the impending heatstroke in an attempt to articulate some sort of plea. The man cut him off and in a thick accent that indicated these were the only two English words he knew, he said, “cash only.”

But they had neither cash, nor the energy to journey across the desert to retrieve it. The Tempest Two’s situation was critical now and the rising temperature gave fuel to their panic.

The man turned to go back inside. He was throwing up wild cyclical gestures but Tom and James’ heads were sunk too low to discern them. Three more words passed his lips that they recognised – possibly the three most compassionate words in the English language:

“My friends, come.”

The Tempest Two were fed to their hearts’ content and paid nothing for it.

True generosity is not sparing what you can afford but sharing what you can’t. This man in the middle of the desert road exemplified generosity with no common ground besides laughter and the joy of dining. His name was Moha.

The final straight rushed under their wheels and the rolling dunes welcomed them with yellow arms. They had completed their goal – all with nine days practice and the will to succeed.

The oases and vistas had broken free of Tom and James’ imaginations and spread out, gigantic, across their field of view. Naturally, camels brought them to the finish line (in-keeping with this theme of ‘perfection’ their journey had adopted).

When you experience something truly special, nostalgia seems to set in immediately. Tom and James spent the next two days reminiscing on their adventure and fawning over the time that had passed. The third morning came and they saddled up and set a course for London – they would have to hurry if they were to make that two week deadline.

Keep updated with the adventures of Tom and James – The Tempest Two – on


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