20 Jul Couple cycling from London to Africa for Mercy Ships return from epic fundraiser
Intrepid Matt, 31, and Coco Morley, 32, swapped their flat in Tooting, southwest London, for 12 months in a tent as they undertook a year-long global challenge cycling to Toyko to raise funds for Mercy Ships.
Frustratingly COVID-19 thwarted their efforts to get to Japan, meaning they had to take a massive detour to Tanzania instead. But the determined duo persevered through a multitude of obstacles to finish their challenge – raising nearly £6,000 as they did.
We caught up with them as they settled back to life in London.
Do you feel the experience has changed you as people?
We definitely feel challenged to live a simpler, slower, more thankful life, which we’ve been inspired to do by people we’ve met, and we feel we’ve been able to do at least to some extent while we’ve been on the road. It is certainly a challenge to maintain that while back in London but we certainly hope to!
Which piece of kit was most useful on your trip?
All of the kit that helped to make us self-sufficient was the most useful stuff. It was so freeing and exciting to know that we could stop anywhere for the night and make a meal and a shelter and then ride on the next day. We absolutely loved our stove. We both love to cook at home, so it was great to have a chance to replicate this on the trip (although with a much more limited and basic setup and ingredients!)
Have you changed physically? Lost weight, gained muscle?
Matt has lost a fair amount of weight (owing largely to how ill he was with a parasite in Central Asia!) We both felt very physically fit at the end of the trip, and probably the strongest on the bikes we have ever been!
Where do you think you get your drive from to do something so ambitious?
It often feels like we’re not that determined! But what determination we do have we think comes partly from a sense of wonder about the world and a desire to explore it, and partly from our appreciation for just how privileged we are to be in a position to do a trip like this and wanting to make the most of it.
Explain your best two moments?
When you’re cycle-touring you can feel quite vulnerable, and we’ve had to let go of the need to be in control of how our days look. We often didn’t know where we were going to sleep at night, or where we’d next find something to eat, so that made it all the more special when strangers were kind to us. We were blown away by the generosity we received: we were given food, offered lifts, taken into people’s homes, showered and given a bed for the night. That’s been the number one highlight. We’ve also loved the places we’ve been. We’ve been so fortunate to see so much beauty; waking up to hundreds of hot air balloons flying above our tent in the Cappadocia valleys of Turkey. Experiencing the stark yet stunning wilderness of the Pamir mountains in Tajikistan. Taking a day off the bike to explore the exquisite ancient buildings of Samarkand in Uzbekistan. Cooling off after a long day on the bike in the crystal-clear seas of the Adriatic. Brushing shoulders with Buddhist monks in the beautiful mountains of Northern Thailand… there are so many!
Explain your worst two moments?
When we crashed on the freshly laid tar on the road in Tajikistan it was a definite low point as we weren’t sure we’d be able to get the tar off our bikes and kit enough to be able to carry on the trip. All the illness we’ve experienced hasn’t been fun, particularly getting sick whilst camping. We also felt a little low at points when COVID travel restrictions have made things difficult for us, such as when we got stuck in Bishkek, when we’ve had COVID related visa issues and then when Matt was struck down with the virus just days before we were meant to fly to Sri Lanka. Physically the trip has been hard as well, with some of the longest, most remote days with very little oxygen in the Pamirs, and some of the steepest gradients we’ve cycled in the North of Thailand.
Which people en route had the greatest impact on you?
The people we met on the trip who had the greatest impact on us were those who offered kindness and generosity without us asking, and often at the exact point we really needed it. Just after the tar incident, unable to cycle, we were trying to hitch-hike to the nearest city. Both covered in tar, we didn’t hold out much hope for anyone wanting to pick us and our mucky bikes and belongings up, but within just minutes, a chap with a double-articulated lorry full of onions stopped and invited us on board. The driver couldn’t speak a word of English but took us all the way to the outskirts of the city, where it turned out he’d arranged for his friend to take us and our bikes to a hotel, as the lorry wasn’t allowed to go any further. He then refused to accept even a small tip for his services. It was times like these, when strangers met our needs and some, which will stay with us forever.
Would you do anything like this again?
Definitely! We are really keen to experience normal, non-pandemic London and married life, but we have also been inspired by some families who do long-distance cycling trips with their kids. Never say never…
What thing can you now not wait to see the back of (for a while)?
Coco is certainly very excited for some time off the bikes! We both also developed a distinct dislike for the lightweight camping towels we had with us…They don’t so much dry you but just seem to move the water around.
What were you most looking forward to when you finished?
We absolutely couldn’t wait to be with family and friends again. A year is a long time to be away from the people you love. Other than that, we were really excited for some good cheese. It’s just so hard to find outside of Europe!
What is next for you both?
We are both due to go back to working for the Department for Education shortly. Matt has started to look into some extreme bike races. Evidently, his thirst for adventure hasn’t quite been quenched by our trip. Coco is content to cheer from the sidelines for this one!
How do you feel about heading back to work?
We’re excited to get a sense of routine back, but it will certainly be a shock to the system after so long living a life on the road.
What would you say to someone considering something similar – any advice?
Normal life will always be waiting at home for you. Go for it and enjoy every moment.
How have your family and friends supported you through this time?
Our family and friends have been so supportive during this trip, with encouraging messages, loving phone calls and logistical support from afar. Matt’s mum has kept us covered in prayer throughout, and even roped in her Home Group to pray for us too!
Anything you saw during your time in Africa (or anywhere) that brought it home to you how important what Mercy Ships does?
We’ve cycled through countries where getting ill is a very scary prospect; good quality healthcare is not easy to come by, and if you can find it you’ll need a fair bit of money to access it. The two years of the pandemic has shone a light on how fortunate we are in the UK to benefit from our wonderful, free National Health Service, and we want to fight to ensure that everyone has this fundamental human right available to them.
We were fortunate to not require medical assistance throughout our trip but cycling through some of the most remote and poverty-stricken villages in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central Asia, really did make us think about the lack of high-quality medical provision available to residents here, and what impact that has.
They had a total of 14 flat tyres (including two in the final 25km cycle in London!)
Highest climb passed: 4,655m ASL
Highest temperature experienced: 34oC in Turkey
Lowest temperature experienced: -10oC… camping along the Pamir highway.