Hugh Francis Anderson joins IGO Adventures to undertake a once-in-a-lifetime endurance test under the midday sun…
It’s 40°C, the endless African sun beats down on my head, and the rocky surrounding wilderness has no end in sight. I’m in the Agafay Desert, Morocco, endlessly pounding at the pedals of my mountain bike on the first of four stages of the inaugural IGO Adventures NW05˚ Moroccan Challenge. I glance at my teammate; a wide smile is firmly etched on his face. The heat may be unbearable, our legs may be cramping and our finish line may be nowhere in sight, but we’re beyond happy; we’re in the wild.
Founded in 2015, IGO Adventures facilitates life-affirming journeys to some of the most spectacular corners of the globe. The first IGO Adventures event I participated in took place in Norway through the winter months. It was there that I met my now-teammate for the first time, competing against one another. During those long cold hours, a friendship blossomed, and our mutual desire for physical and mental punishment brought us together to participate in another IGO Adventures event, this time as a team. And so, we packed our bags, boarded a flight to Marrakech and mentally prepared for what was to follow; a four-day quadrathlon through the Moroccan wilderness, from the depths of the desert to the heights of the Atlas Mountains, by bicycle, kayak and on foot.
‘At IGO, we aim to find stunning, remote locations around the world which we believe should be experienced,’ says founder Bobby Melville. ‘We are trying to create a series of annual global expedition challenges that cover every different type of terrain and environment on earth.’
Beginning from Terre des Etoiles, a luxurious desert oasis camp, the first stage brought us 50km through the scorching desert heat, where we cursed every climb and relished every decent. In 40°C heat, almost everything is a struggle. As we crossed the finish line on the first day, at the picturesque spot of Lake Lalla Takerkoust, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, we settled into our traditional Berber camp under stars and firelight. In such moments, you come to appreciate the wild; you come to appreciate life. Before long every participant is laughing and smiling, as if our first day has brought us all closer together.
Early the following morning, I wake to see the sun rise on a distant mountain peak; I know that today will see us kayak and orienteer high into the mountains. As the horn blows for the second stage to begin, we career down to the lake and board our craft. Little over an hour later, and we’re back on dry land. We change into our running gear, pick up a map and a compass, and head off in the direction of the faraway mountains. Before long the path becomes unclear, and we find ourselves with fellow participants. The sense of camaraderie outweighs any competitive edge, and we spend the next nine hours together running along dried riverbeds, hurtling through thorn fields and climbing the ever-steepening foothills. When we do finally reach our second camp, it is with joyous relief. We made it, and we did it as a group, as friends and as teammates. After trekking through the foothills for almost 50km, we all head to bed in utter exhaustion, slowly falling asleep to the sound of a distant Arabic lute.
The End is Near…
We awake early on the penultimate day. From our elevation, the rising sun casts the basin around us in an awe-inspiring golden light. I may be tired, but I’m more eager to go than ever before. And so we clamber onto our mountain bikes once more, this time to cycle high into the Atlas Mountains. There will be no respite, only endless inclines. I notice how drastically the scenery has changed, just two days ago we were in the middle of the desert, with nothing but sand and rock, and now we’re cycling through the mountains, surrounded by vegetative plateaus and jagged peaks. I’m blown away. And so too is my body. Before the day is done I fall captive to heat exhaustion, and had it not been for my teammate and the other participants, I surely would never have made it. Once again, I’m astounded by the level of camaraderie shown by all.
The sound of the wind wakes me on our final day, and I emerge from my tent to the bitter chill of the mountain breeze. Today sees the long scramble to Oukaïmeden, Africa’s highest ski resort, some 2,600m above sea-level. Are we really in Morocco? It may only be 15km in distance, but it’s going to hurt. So we set off at a light run, hoping to knock off some time on the plateau before the climbing begins. But alas, before long, the near-vertical mass of mountain erupts unceremoniously before us and we begin the scramble. After three hours, my legs burn, the lactic acid bites at my muscles, but I can see the finish line up ahead, and with a renewed energy my teammate and I sprint across the finish line. The sense of achievement is almost unfathomable. Those already through embrace us, and we all staunchly man the finish line to cheer on our fellow comrades.
Partners for Life…
As we settle down around a warming fire in our final camp, high up in the Atlas Mountains, I look at the glowing faces around. Four days ago, these people were strangers, but now there’s a familiarity in their eyes that will never wane. This is what IGO Adventures is really about. It’s about getting out into the wilderness, pushing yourself to the edge and making lifelong friends. As I board the plane back to London, my teammate glances quizzically at me, ‘You know there’s an IGO event in Montana next September?’ I roll my eyes, ‘OK, I’m in.’
Founding Faces : Bobby Melville & George Bullard
When Bobby Melville spent three months rowing across the Atlantic Ocean in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in 2013, he knew that he wanted to offer the same sense of adventure to those who didn’t have a long period of time in which to do it, and so IGO Adventures was born. It was only natural then that adventurer and explorer George Bullard joined the team shortly after. Having covered 2,000 miles on foot in polar regions, kayaked from Iceland to Scotland, and guided over 350 people on expeditions around the globe, George is a perfect fit for the company.
What is the ethos of IGO Adventures?
Bobby: To create life-changing moments within a short period of time. No one knows each other at the beginning, but they all leave as lifelong friends. It’s about wilderness, challenge and camaraderie.
George: We live what we preach, therefore we try to take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints behind. It is only when you truly expose yourself and open up to nature that you will be able to understand that what we are doing is so special.
How did the Moroccan IGO Adventure come to be?
George: Having driven a 4×4 around the entirety of northwest Africa in 2012, I knew that this part of the world was a great place for an unforgettable adventure. The people are incredibly kind and the natural beauty and diversity lends itself perfectly to this.
What inspires the journeys you create?
Bobby: A mixture of things. In terms of geography, the ancient tales and stories from a location play a big part. For example, travelling through the Atlas Mountains, where Berbers fought off the Roman hoards. George and I have distilled our experiences of adventure, along with many others, to create all the elements of an IGO. We create a platform to allow ordinary people to go through a journey of personal achievement and discovery in the most magical way possible, while trying to bring the entire group together for the feelings of team work and camaraderie.
Who is your typical IGOer?
Bobby: Our demographic is quite mixed. Probably 30–50 years old. The typical participants would be a couple of friends, or a husband and wife who want to have a different type of shared experience and who want the mixture of travel and culture, with something physically demanding. We have had a father and son (49 years old and 15 years old), team and single entries. Adventure is for everyone.
The next IGO Adventure NW05˚ Moroccan Challenge will take place from 30 September to 7 October 2018. Prices start at £3,495. igoadventures.com