As it happens so very often among overlanders, I first spotted Winding Wheels, a Dutch couple aboard two Yamaha Tenere 700’s, on social media. We’ve exchanged messages about traveling Morocco and motorcycle shipping options to Africa and, as is usually the case, became sort of Insta-buddies; having never met in real life, we do plan to grab a cold one once we do actually meet somewhere on the road – but in the meantime, I was intrigued by their routes, their excellent photography, and their bubbly energy spilling out of every YouTube video.
Maarten and Jessica met at work and connected over their shared love for travel. Soon, motorcycles entered the picture, too: while Maarten has been riding bikes for over fifteen years, Jessica has always been a backpacker and hitchhiker. “I’ve tried riding before on my brother’s bike, but it wasn’t anything serious before I met Maarten. At first, I rode with him as a pillion passenger, then got my own bike in the fall of 2019”.
The more Maarten and Jessica talked about traveling, the more they felt compelled to just go for it. In November 2019, they decided to quit their jobs and ride their bikes from the Netherlands to Cape Town raising money for Campvuur, a Kenya – based foundation that supports underprivileged children. “This was simply to try and give back – here in the Western world, we’re so spoiled with privilege and freedom to do and go wherever we like. We figured we could do some good while traveling and give back, so we decided to raise some money for Campvuur”, Maarten explains.
To share their stories with friends and other riders along the way, Maarten and Jessica also created a joint YouTube and Instagram page under the Winding Wheels name. “Winding Wheels is just a name we came up with, and there’s a song by Ryan Adams called My Winding Wheel – basically, it’s about how if somebody is your winding wheel, that person is your soulmate – so there’s that. And we like the meaning of “winding” – meandering, curving, rather than a straight line, because our journey isn’t a straight line, either”, the couple shares.
When Plans Go Awry
Maarten and Jessica had planned and prepped for an entire year, with the departure date set for spring of 2020. “We’ve planned some events to raise the funds for Campvuur, mapped out the route, packed the bikes… and then, of course, COVID-19 hit”, Jessica tells me.
At first, the couple hoped to just wait out the storm at home, temporarily going back to work. In September 2020, however, they realized waiting wouldn’t solve things. “We decided to just go South and see what happens. We aimed for Morocco; at the time, the borders with Mauritania were still closed, but we hoped that by the time we get there, the situation would change”, Maarten shares.
Having ridden across Europe, the couple wanted to take it easy and explore Morocco over the course of a few months. “We figured we had time, and besides, Morocco is a stunning country; we decided we’d take a few months just exploring Morocco – we don’t have a time schedule, so it didn’t matter that much. After about a month in Morocco, however, the country closed all borders, and we found ourselves trapped – there was no way out of the country, and we were stuck. At first, as we had free movement within Morocco, it was fun, but then we realized the situation wasn’t going to get better any time soon. It wasn’t just COVID-19, it was also the political tension between Spain and Morocco regarding the Western Sahara situation”, Jessica explains.
Regardless, the couple says Morocco was amazing. “You’ve got everything there: beautiful roads in the Atlas Mountains, the ocean, the desert, it’s so diverse and you can really explore the country for months. And it’s so accessible from Europe – just jump on the ferry and roll out in Tangiers, and it’s a completely different world with donkey carts and camels”.
Morocco has also taught Maarten and Jessica about the local hospitality and going with your gut instinct.
“Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Morocco, we were standing on the side of a road taking a little break, and two bikes stopped. The riders said, hey, we know you – turns out, they’ve seen us on some Tenere 700 Facebook group and recognized us. They invited us to their house, and that was a really cool experience – we didn’t even question it and went with it. A lot of people would hesitate to just join strangers and sleep in their house, but for us it just felt natural. The reality is, most people in the world have really good intentions and so far, our trip is proving that. Don’t be afraid, go with your gut, and you can’t go wrong”, Jessica says.
Challenges Along the Way
After six months in Morocco, Maarten and Jessica could finally leave. “We decided to give up and head back to Europe – there just wasn’t any other option”, Maarten explains. However, Morocco has been an experience that strengthened their bond as riders and as a couple. “Morocco is a fantastic playground to learn different skills. You’ve got everything there – from tarmac roads to gravel roads to technical sandy tracks and rocky trails, so it was a huge learning curve for me.
I never felt that it was crazy for me to take off on a long journey with so little experience – we just wanted to go and see what happens, and I’m quite up for a challenge and ready to learn along the way. With the off-road parts, we just took it easy, I’m building my skills slowly, and I think Morocco has already taught me a lot”, Jessica says.
“Jessica is really determined, and she’s not easily scared off, so we work really well together. She is getting experience by doing, and so far, it’s working out great! Both bikes are handling really well, and we’re ready for the next leg of the journey”, Maarten adds.
After leaving Morocco, the couple had to make a tough decision: while they wanted to overland the whole way, it simply seemed impossible.
“The decision to ship the bikes to Cape Town was tough as we prefer overlanding, but with the COVID situation, it’s just really hard to navigate all the border closures. We know people in South Africa and we heard most borders in Southern Africa are open, so we are hoping we can travel there freely and finally, we will ride back North via the East Coast”, Maarten shares.
As we spoke, their bikes were being loaded onto a container in Rotterdam bound for Cape Town. What’s next? Winding Wheels are prepared to improvise all the way.
“We don’t have a strict plan – it all started with the idea of riding to Cape Town, now we’re a year later somewhere else, so honestly, we are completely open to improvising and changing the route as we go along. We just want to ride and explore and in the end, it doesn’t really matter where we’ll end up.
We don’t have a return date – we’ll just go and when we feel like it, we may turn back. Or we may not.
So far, nothing went according to plan, but we both like throwing ourselves into the deep end, and there is always a way, there is always a solution. If you can’t go left, usually, you can go right or find a sideways path”.