Day 127 – UK to Senegal via Lisbon
A long day, but so exciting to be back on the road, even if I am a little nervous of dogs now. I left home at 5am and caught the train to Paddington. I had one of the best breakfasts at 8am, and then I hopped on to the Tube for 10am to get to Heathrow for 11. Bags checked in and I boarded my flight to Lisbon at 1pm. A three-hour snooze in a sleeping pod in the American Express lounge and I was ready for my final last flight at 9pm to Dakar, Senegal. I had no special send-off this time – I think my family and friends are starting to realise that this is going to be one long slog of a mission. I certainly am, and I love it.
A gorgeous sunset over Portugal as we took off in darkness, just the hum of the plane’s air con as we all settled down for some kip. I slept the entire way. I had three seats to myself, which meant I could curl up, even if my feet were dangling dangerously in the aisle. This was obviously an invite for a cabin trolley to smash into them, so I curled up tighter, seat belt digging into my back, all the blood rushing to my head. Regardless of this, I drifted off to sleep pretty quickly. I didn’t even wake up when the ‘food’ was passed around.
Oh, it feels great to be back into a routine. Tomorrow’s run won’t be easy ‘cos my feet, body and mind have been on other things for a while. Now I am pain-free-ish, it’s time to get those miles ticked off. Senegal, please be kind to me.
I reached my hotel about an hour ago. It’s now 2am, an hour’s drive from the airport where I slept on the journey again, my body and head slumped over my bag with my jumper for a pillow. Today was basically a day of sleep, with a few flights thrown in. Maybe that means I won’t be sleepy tomorrow. Fat chance. I’m so excited to get back to it. Marathon 42 of 196 here I come. Lights off, duvet pulled up to my chin, night…
Day 128 – Dakar, Senegal, Marathon 42
Yay, today was fab! Even though I walked out the door this morning still tired and a little scared of dogs, I was instantly put in my place. A lovely dog came bounding over to me within my first few steps. Thankfully he just wanted to lick me. From that moment on I was fine. I love dogs, so balance was restored.
You may be fed up with me banging on about how great the world is, but it really is. One minute I’m open-mouthed in the dentist’s chair in Bristol, latex fingers in my mouth and the sound of power tools whirling away, and today I ran a marathon with a complete stranger, in a different continent, the sun on my face, and the pain in my tooth gone.
Let me tell you about a man called Serignendaw (possibly spelt entirely wrong).
Five miles in, my legs slowly waking up, my tendons lengthening and my hips realising what’s happening again (runners, you know the feeling), I was joined by this guy who has raced all over Africa. Him and another guy he had just met were out running a 10km slow training day. They were in tracksuits with shoes older than me, but were pacing along. I decided to say hi. We exchanged a short initial conversation in French, and then reverted to English. Standard.
13 miles later he was still running with me. He showed me around a fish market, bought me water, carried my water, and offered his home anytime I revisit his country. This guy, who looked about 35, was, in fact, ex-army, and 55. Retired for two years he now just runs because he loves it.
The power of ‘hi’ is remarkable. As a kid I was super-shy, hardly said ‘hi’ to anyone without hiding behind my mum’s legs. But things change, and I have discovered how great it is to meet new people. I am that weirdo on a train, plane or bus who will say ‘hi’. And I don’t apologise for it. Maybe if you’re someone who doesn’t say ‘hi’, give it a try! You may end up having the best time.
Tomorrow is another day, another adventure. I travel to The Gambia for Marathon 43. Thank you everyone for the support. Some days are harder than others, but today was great! Come join me.
Day 129 – Senegal to The Gambia
A cancelled flight, a dodgy border at midnight and an unexpected nine hours in a taxi. I’m writing this at 1.59am, sat in a taxi, with armed guards surrounding us.
A taxi took me the 50-minute drive to the airport. I rocked up to the Brussels Airline desk to check in. A smiley chap with big bright white teeth said, in the most cheery manner, ‘No flights, cancelled’, and continued to smile at me as if it was a joke. It really did seem like a joke. It wasn’t. In fact, there was no flight to The Gambia until Friday, in four days’ time. This situation was made a little worse because I had no form of communication – no Wi-Fi, my worldwide internet box wasn’t working, my sat phone wasn’t receiving a signal, and both my phones had no service. I resorted to hunting for phone boxes. There were none. The kind and frustratingly smiley Brussels Airline chap could see my concern and offered his tether. High-five to technology.
The plan was this: get back to the hotel and arrange a driver to take me overland to the hotel in The Gambia. Easier said than done. It should be about five hours to the border and a little more to the hotel. After much discussion we secured a price, I scoffed some food down and my driver collected me. I sat up, lay down, curled up and basically found every position possible while he drove me the actual nine hours to the border. The roads were not smooth. Just two hours ago we (he) negotiated several lines of defence with customs, immigration etc. This was all in the dead of night with heavily armed guards, donkeys and very slow and seemingly disinterested staff, battered old trucks and military logos all over the place. I was ushered from one room to another to complete their processes. I was the only person there. A finger print scan and an old leather scruffy-looking ledger were the primary checks. Twenty minutes after the border and we are now here – 2am, and waiting to cross a river. The only problem is, the crossing is closed until 8am. Me and the driver are now attempting to nap in the car. He even bought me water, legend. Deep breath. More tomorrow.
Day 130 – The Gambia, finally!
We slept in the car from 2am to about 5am. Although the ferry started from 8am, hoards of people had turned up early to get their place. Little did I realise but Ramadan was having an effect – families and their belonging were migrating towards their larger family dwellings to begin their religious fasting and ultimately celebration. Locals on all sides of the car surrounded me. It was physically moving as people jostled for position. And we had slept through our first opportunity of a spot on the ferry! We would need to queue again for the next slot, even though we were smack bang in the middle of the ramp. It was effectively like sitting in the middle of a checkout conveyor while people pass their shopping around and over you. Ridiculous, a little scary, but amusing, after a while. Three hours later we negotiated our way to the front spot on the boat.
Health and safety obviously isn’t a thing. Waves splashed over the car, and I mean the entire car, and foot passengers were crammed in like sardines. Hundreds on a boat about the size of four large buses. I couldn’t get out of the car if I had have wanted to.
The other boats which I had been warned not to get on were passenger boats. These were small fishing boats – basically large canoes full of people. My driver told me these boats also take people to Europe. Bonkers. I was scared enough on land, let alone in a wooden equivalent to a bath tub. At least a bath is generally watertight. Anyway, at 1pm, about 20 hours later than planned, I made it to my hotel, Kololi Beach Club. My incredibly patient driver had to do the same return journey to get home, and he still carried my bags to the room with a genuine smile of accomplishment. Too late to run, everything was pushed back a day, so I slept all afternoon ready for a 5am run with Katie, Tina and Martin. I’ll tell you about these three tomorrow!
Day 131 – The Gambia, Marathon 43
After yesterday’s very long day, which actually turned into two days, I woke up pretty tired. Still dark outside, the sound of the ocean was all I could hear – such a great noise. I met with Katie, who then later introduced me to the others.
Before I go any further, let me tell you about Katie, Tina and Martin. Katie had heard about my trip through the High Commission website. Nice to know the publicity is working. And Martin and Tina have been following me via Martin’s sister, who has been a supporting me through social media. You know who you are, Tracy. Meeting them in the flesh was great, not only because I was knackered from the day before and didn’t want to face a run on my own in the dark, but because these folk are kind and endlessly supportive, and they really care about the cause. It was nice to have a passionate conversation about cancer and how more needs to be done! One day I’d love to start a ‘cancer tax’ – £1 from everyone, every month– surely people would queue to pay that if it cured or even helped cure cancer. I would. Would you? Maybe I’ll start a petition. Big things come from crazy ideas. And don’t I know it…
Katie and I ran along the gorgeous beach at sunrise. Gentle waves, local fisherman going out for an early catch, and a few other local joggers who without fail said ‘hello’. Today I said ‘hello’ about a thousand times. I think that is probably not far off – so many friendly people. Katie supported in the car when we re-joined the road. Warm, but not hot, windy, but not blowing a gale, and the road was busy, but not deadly. Perfect. Out and back, and in time for 11am – Katie made me an omelette, baked beans, French stick with Marmite and butter and bacon. For someone who has missed this kind of food, I was in heaven. After a great run, with great people, I was then spoilt with tasty food! Thanks to all those who helped today.
I am now just about ready to collapse on my bed and if I’m lucky, I’ll sleep through my morning alarm. Due to more travel issues, I don’t have a route out of The Gambia as yet. Lots of discussions with broken internet are underway.
Day 132 – The Gambia, trapped by borders
Toothbrushes, a bookshop, a market, and tying my hair back for the first time in 14 years.
Today was an unexpected delight. During the planning stages of the trip we had heard of a potential bus service from The Gambia to my next country, Guinea-Bissau. This, like my financial forecasts, was simply wrong. There is no bus, nor are there workable flights. Having arrived here late due to another border problem from Senegal two days ago, today was all about getting to country number 44. The objective was simple – find a safe, reliable driver to take me from my hotel here in The Gambia, across into Senegal, and then finally into Guinea-Bissau. Oh, that reminds me; I also need to find somewhere to stay. Through much help from a handful of lovely people, we whittled the options down to one. Omar would be my driver and for a hefty fee of £300, drive me door to door. The journey will take about 15 hours and cross two politically difficult borders. The deal was done by 11am! Boom! You may think this extravagant, but all other alternatives would have either ruined the onward planned dates, or simply cost double or even triple. Don’t forget that this trip is costing me, personally, a small (massive) fortune – we are talking hundreds of thousands. So yes, I’m living as cheaply as possible while ensuring the trip stays on track. It’s a fine balance.
With the mission complete, I had a late breakfast, tied my now horribly long hair back for the first time in about 14 years, and headed to the market. Katie was once again fab. I met her husband and kids, and she braved the busy markets to allow me to get some time to speak with the locals. I even found some stick-looking items (see photos) that are exactly that, sticks, but used for brushing teeth. Hmm…
I rounded up the day with packing, washing and snack shopping for the journey ahead. I even had time to pop in and see Katie’s bookshop. This makes Waterstones look like a corner shop. Timbooktoo is a space for gawping at books from all over the world. A 7am start. Wish me luck.
Day 133 – The Gambia via Senegal to Guinea-Bissau overland
Today is entitled ‘Patience’. We stood for 20 minutes waiting for a stamp on the border paperwork. The officer was engrossed in an electronic game of Checkers on his phone. He didn’t even look at us until he had won. (He lost.)
Today felt like I was watching the best 4D film ever made. It had it all. You know when you’re totally gripped by a film – leaning forward, eyes wide open, and your popcorn just sits there, entirely untouched. The only difference being that instead of a comfy recliner seat and air con (with popcorn), I was sat in a bumpy torture chamber with a thousand hair dryers blowing in my face. We had no air con.
About 11 hours in, I woke up from my only snooze (it had lasted for just 25 minutes) – my head had been battering around against the seat belt. The potholes were relentless, and an emergency stop for a slow pig crossing woke me up. I was dripping in sweat, my feet filthy, and my mouth dry.
Today’s 15-hour journey covered just 300km. We started in The Gambia, travelled through Senegal, and finally completed the journey in Guinea-Bissau. We paid off 12 officials at ‘borders’, we broke down, a guy taught me how to sew, and I had another four stamps in my passport despite only travelling through two countries. Oh, and there was a forest fire.
Although all of this sounds terrible, it was utterly fascinating, and one of my favourite days so far. With the comfort of my super-nice driver and his friend, I felt safe, which made the day enjoyable.
The car breaking down wasn’t the best start to a 15-hour day, but Omar hitched a lift to a nearby village, returned with a tow truck, and then five hours later, it was done. It took a little longer because everyone downed tools half way through in order to go for prayer. The second day of Ramadan also added extra tension due to the fact that everyone was so hungry. A local dressmaker showed me his skills after prayer. Today I owe everything to Omar and his translator friend Smiler.
The whole thing was captured in video and audio. Checkout the podcast. Google #RunningTheWorld196 podcast. Full video online.
Day 134 – Guinea Bissau, Marathon 44
Not day 133, but day 134.
559 days to go, and another 152 marathons. I really wasn’t feeling it today. I was exhausted. After a long travel day from The Gambia overland, waking up was tough, let alone actually getting out of bed and sliding the still sweaty damp vest over my head. My vest (kindly made by Do Running) was originally white, but with dirt and sun cream, it’s now a grim yellowy brown. You can’t really see it in the photos but it looks really dirty. Because it is.
Every evening before I go to sleep I check the weather app to see if it’s cold enough to get up late. Basically if it’s warm, around 25°C, it means I need to start around 9am while the sun is low in the sky; if it’s hot, around 35°C, like today, I start a little earlier at about 7am; if it’s crazy hot, over 40°C, like it’s been most of the trip, I get up about 4.30am for a 5am start. This means I finish by lunchtime.
Today was supposed to be about 28°C but got as high as 35°C, so I was sweating from about mile 2. I was confronted by a wave of thousands of marching and celebrating people. I think it was a Christian festival. Before long the atmosphere had lifted my mood. I was swept up in the crowd as people put their arms around me and continued to sing loudly in my face. I was a random white boy, and they welcomed me, just as so many people have so far. The rest of the run was hot and sandy – trucks, taxis and people brushing past me. I ran several 4-mile loops. The last loop was time to chill and to say ‘hi’ to all the people who had cheered me on as I ran past.
There’s little food that I’m willing to try after my rather dodgy fish pizza in the hotel last night. I’m sure there’s plenty out there, but all I want to do is sleep.
For everyone who is interested in a photo book, please say so in the Comments! Just say PHOTO BOOK PLEASE! And I’ll know to put you on the list. The Kickstarter campaign was great, but it didn’t hit the target. A new campaign will be live very soon. This is a large-format, heavy-duty, top-quality photo journal of my 18-month trip.
British Endurance Athlete | Motivational Speaker | Adventurer
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