Friday, 29 October 2010

September 18th - The long haul up North

Yesterday we had been on the road for 7 hours, and had made about 50 miles, not good.
As I sat in the dark, waiting for the 6am redbush to boil, I knew we had some ground to make up.

Our ferry from Ceuta had been pre-booked for the 20th, back to Algeciras, and likewise, our ride back aboard Brittanys' finest, was set to sail on the 24th, from St Malo.
The skies looked dark over Marrakech, and only marginally lighter towards Tinerhir.
My original route was to have taken me from the Cascades d'Ouzoud, up the N8 to Kasba Tadla, a loop round from El-Ksiba on the R317, to El-Kebab, then through to Mrirt, and across to Meknés, via the R712.
Anyway, as I sat drinking tea, and boiling my breakfast-in-a-bag, I knew this was now out of the question due to weather and time constraints. I also knew that we needed a break, we'd been riding non-stop, since we left home, with breaks only to camp. With several thousand miles yet to ride, and in a fairly short timeframe, I decided that we should push on, to try and reach Chefchaouen by nightfall.

It's a hefty 585 miles away, and will take a good haul to get there, so we break camp early, and are on the road to Errachidia by 7am.

My boots and gear are still soaking from yesterdays floods, by 11am we make Goulmina, and stop for a leg stretch. We're back in warmer climes, and the wet boots, having dried, are now becoming damp with sweat.

We've made good time, and while the river crossings are still present, the flow of water is nowhere near as turbulent as it was yesterday. All in all, we've amassed a staggering 16 crossings, all without incident.

Coming out of the mountain pass at Zebzat, the wind nearly blows me over the edge as I stop to take a picture, Jason and Darren have gone ahead to Midelt, as I got tied up taking pictures of a family on donkeys back in Nzala, and wanted some solo time.
But now, a couple of clicks short of Midelt again, and the wind was howling across the open plains, but at least the sun was out...
It was hot, and lunch was just around the corner.

I found Jason and Darren at a roadside cafe as I entered the town, so there we stopped for the hour, incidentaly, the only long break we'd have that day.
We were so hungry, that we had double portions of chicken brochettes, with peppered onions and tomatoes, and a barrel of cokes.
Fed, and with water and fuel replenished, we hit the road for Chefchaouen.

It pained me to ride this hard, as there was so much I had wanted to see, but riding styles, and weather conditions had played a large part in eating into trip time, and if I was to spend a day relaxing, and drying out in Chefchaouen, it was going to have to be full steam ahead, as there were several hundred miles miles to go.

I had planned to head up the N13, this would take us through Azrou, Meknes, Sidi-Kacem, Ouazzane, and over the Rif, hopefully without incident, and allowing us to make good headway.

As it happened, we made excellent progress, with all three of us knuckling down, and getting on with the ride. We hit Meknes in good time, and Jason who was riding point, pulled over to get a melon for this evenings desert.

We'd not long passed through Sidi-Kacem and my eye caught the RID, it showed 1 bar... Bugger, we were still a way off Ouazzane, and there didn't seem to be much in between, and instead of doing the logical thing, and heading back for fuel, I pushed on, the Garmin not being too specific about the location of any nearby garage.
20 miles later, and with the warning light showing amber, I find a fuel stop, only to find that they're out of unleaded, so onwards we go.

After our run of recent bad luck, fortune smiled on us, as I found a welcome Afriqué station around Áin-Defali. This place was right in the middle of nowhere, yet the forecourt had several large coaches parked on it, disgorging western looking tourists, who once again stared agog as the three of us caked in mud rumbled in, hastily fuelled, and rumbled out again..
All the time feeling secretly pleased that we were doing the trip the rough way.

We finally made Ouazzane by nightfall, and with a little over 60 miles through the Rif mountain passes in the dark, it was going to be a while still, before we made Chefchaouen.
The road surface was no more rougher than it had been on the Ketama side, however, it was frequently broken by roadworks that directed us off onto the gravel detours.
I rode point, Darren behind me, with his HID lamps blinding oncoming traffic, causing them to turn their brights on me, and Jason bringing up the rear.

We'd broken rule 24, which was "don't ride at night."
The oncoming traffic drove as erratically at night, as it did in daylight, and despite the pitch dark, many of them drove with no headlights. How we made it to Chefchaouen without incident, I'll never know.

We made the campsite at Chefchaouen at 9:30pm, We booked in, and started to unload the gear. We'd made it, and could have the whole day here tomorrow to relax, and explore the town, something we didn't do the first time we arrived. Hopefully Shad would meet us here before we leave on Monday for Ceuta.

Darren looks decidedly dejected, and pitches his tent away from myself and Jason. I suspect he's reached the end of his rope for the day, and needs some space, so we leave him be.
My feet are soaked, and after a 14 hour ride look like prunes, furthermore, I can't walk properly, they hurt like hell from being cooped up in the Vectors all day.

Looking back on it now, it was a very "Nick Sanders esqe" day, a long slog by anyones standards, and not the best way to travel, but the upside was that we had won back 2 nights, and a whole day of rest, thankfully a gamble that had paid off.

Jason and Myself fired the Coleman up, and cooked Chicken curry and sponge pudding for desert. I grabbed a hot shower, and just sat under the hot water, completely worn out.
Across the way, there was a group of six English bikers, all on lightly packed KTM's and a couple of Tenerés, they were loud and brash, and I took an instant disliking to them, loud, cliquey, "know-it-all" types, and one braying turnip who obviously loved the sound of his own voice...

I was not to be proven wrong.

As I finished my redbush, and rolled another smoke, I heard the braying turnip ask this of his vegetable friends..

"I know it can be dodgy to drink the water in this country, but is it safe for me to brush my teeth with?"

Shad, Alan, and the very expensive Riad Alma

Once more, leaving Myself, Darren, and Jason, in the abandoned building alongside the N10, we'll take a look at how our two soft travelling companions fared on the road to Marrakech.

Shad and Alan had made tracks for Marrakech, where Alan was to hole up with his girl Jill, who had flown out to see him, and Shad would go on to Casablanca, and spend some time heading up the coast, and us, well, you know where we are.

Alan, gives this account of their ride.

"After meeting up with the Nomad wanabees at bikers home, and giving them all the sympathy I could muster up from my little finger, especially after having to suffer the indignity of a double bed and hot food myself.
Shads and myself started to make plans for our second break away, this time to Marrakech, where I had made plans to meet my Girlfriend, Jill.
After some advice from Peter we decided to turn right off the N9, heading towards Áit Benhaddou, and take the piste to Telouét.

Whilst at Bikershome, we met Steve and Ewen. They had been in touch with Si via the UKGSER website before the trip, so this was a good time for all to catch up and swap stories over our first beers in Morocco. 3 beers later, light headed and agreeing on leaving times, plus adding Steve and Ewen into the next day’s journey, I headed off to bed with it raining (9.30).

Up early the next morning (6am) bikes packed, chain lubed, fuel and oil checked, which was now becoming quite a ritual with the problems I was having, the four of us set off. Going out of Ouarzazate joining the N9, and passing the film studios which were very much closed at this time of the day. We found the right hand fork and stopped to make a decision, was it worth risking a piste after all the rain over the last few days and the stories of the night before. Or take the more sedate paved road. Decision made we stood up on the pegs and road onto the dirt.

For the most part the road was graded and made for a good ride through typical Moroccan villages with their mud huts and satellite dishes. All along the piste you could see signs of progress with piles of gravel, ready to turn yet another piste into a road which will no doubt benefit the locals but takes some of the fun out of travelling through these places. Traversing the side of a bloody big hill with sharp turns and big drops, once down the other side we found the rain damage that so many people talk about which Shads and me had yet to see, with washed out roads or layers of thick sloppy red mud. Progress slowed but not drastically, there where a couple of slippery moments but we all held our own and stayed on 2 wheels.

As we closed in on the N9 we could see the dark clouds of yet more rain, now it was hard to tell if these dark clouds where heading towards us or we where riding into them either way, getting wet was our only option.
While we were all getting wet riding some great valleys through the Atlas mountains, we reached the summit and thought it best to stop for some liquid heat and wait for the worst of the weather to pass us. Whilst waiting for our mint teas the 2 Welsh lads on 250’s turned up, yet more stories swapped and the Welsh duo filled us in on the events of the unlucky 3 left at bikers home repairing bikes and energy levels. With clear skies in the direction we were headed we braved the last of the rain and made our way down the other side, and towards the sun.

We stayed together as a group until I needed fuel on the outskirts of Marrakech where Steve and Ewen made there own way into the city and found a hotel. Shads had booked his hotel the day before in a road side café, which was in the middle of nowhere but had a 50” plasma tv, satellite, phone and Internet plus the standard mint tea. I had already booked Jill into Riad Alma and she was there waiting for me to arrive.
I had the address written down and that it was somewhere near the airport. Shads hotel was also on the south side of the city so I decided to follow him to his hotel then make my own way to meet Jill."

So, with Alan tucked up in his £600 hotel, Shad cracking Budweiser's, getting massaged, and watching DVDs in the Ibis at £60 a night, and Myself, Darren, and Jason in our tents on the front porch of a half-built house on the way to Skoura which we'd traded for a pouch of Drum tobacco, that's very much how the 17th of September ended.

Tomorrow would see a mammoth push from us three "Nomad Wannabees", as we head back up North, trying to dodge the bad weather that was coming in from the West.

Monday, 25 October 2010

September 17th - The road to Demnate, and disaster again.

Well rested, we woke to a scrumptious breakfast laid on by Zineb. Shad and Alan were packed and ready to head for Marrakech with Steve and Ewen, I knew where I was going after I'd fettled with the Grand Wazoo, Jason and Darren joined us for some map reading, and decided to come with me to the Cascades, then on to Meknes, via Kasba Tadla and Khénifra.

After the shambolic ride through Féz, I had no wish to see Marrakech, I would come back via 4 wheels and do some sightseeing there. Jason and Darren were in agreement, there were far more "un-touristy places yet to see.

We spent the next few hours tinkering in the workshop, and drying our wet gear in the morning sun. Bikes eventually repacked, and panniers as good as new, we bade Peter and Zineb goodbye, and headed out of Ouarzazate back up the N10, to find the R307 which headed over the Atlas and out to Demnate.

Time check 12:00pm I reckoned that we'd easily make the Cascades by early evening, and pitch camp somewhere around there.

For the second time on the trip, I couldn't have been further from the truth.

The R307 lies just outside Ouarzazate, (about 19km), right at the end of the long bridge into town, we turned off, and headed towards Assermo.

30 minutes later, and the sky over the Atlas was looking decidedly ominous, I could see heavy rain in the distance, the only clear sky, well, clearish, was behind us.
We pulled over to pop our liners in the gear, and for Jason to pop his waterproofs on, and we headed right into the storm. (Warning No.1 ignored).

Just short of Assermo, Jason, who was riding point pulled up in the middle of the road, I was a fair distance behind, and Darren, behind me. As I approached, the road surface had changed, gravel? I braked, but no response, the Grand Wazoo held her line, then started snaking towards the stationary Jason.

Ice, everywhere, the road was covered in olive sized hailstones, how on earth we all managed to stay upright, I wont ever know, I went off-road, sailing past Jay on the loose shoulder, letting the Big Bird stop under her own steam, closely followed by Darren, also trying desperately to dodge the road hogging Jason.
We stopped and had a smoke, and contemplated our next move.
A local on a scooter came up to us, and with our mishmash of Anglo-Moroccan, we understood that he was trying to tell us that it was too dangerous to ride up into the mountain.
So, we took pictures of the hailstones, and turned the bikes around and headed back to the safety of Bikershome...

No, we didn't.... In fact, we did the complete opposite.

The river running alongside the road we were on was raging, and starting to flood over the road, so we did the sensible thing, and rode through the washout, and up into the Atlas. (Jason under protest I must add)

(Warning No.2 ignored).

We covered about 15 miles through the steep passes, the road surface was deteriorating, and wet, but looked clear. Near the top, there were several sharp S-bends, Jason had had enough, and pulled off to the side. Admittedly, it was raining, not very heavily, but we were cold and wet again. I knew that there were no villages or exits from here until Demnate, and looking at the thunderous sky overhead, I decided to leave Jason here, and recce the next mile, to get an idea of the road, and conditions. I set of, with Darren behind me.

We'd just made the half mile mark, and the heavens truly opened, visibility was bad, and the driving rain was desperately trying to batter its way through the goretex.
I pulled over to have a chat with Darren, and suggested we get back to Jason, and hole up for a while.
No sooner had I said that, than out of the corner of my eye, I saw mud and debris starting to slide down the side of the mountain, coming right for us.

What amazed me afterwards, was the fact that in the space of thirty seconds, a landscape can so completely change.
I gunned the Wazoo into life, and turned her around, pointing her back up the road towards higher ground. I was riding the pegs, so had no clue as to how Darren was faring, I was single minded... I needed to get the hell out of there fast.

The landslides hit all at once, twenty foot wide sections sliding down onto me as I rode through them. The cylinders disappeared under mud, rocks and water, but blind panic I think, kept the throttle open, and the clutch slipped enough not to drown the big bird.
With each successive hit, I was being washed closer to the edge. Three huge slides hammered us, but like a bucking bronco, the Grand Wazoo got us both through to the high ground.

High ground.
That was no more than a 15 foot by 4 foot strip on the outside edge of the road, with a sheer drop to the right.
Jason had managed to get there before the landslides hit, and was now panicked, certain we needed to call for rescue.
After the Atlas incident two days ago, I was the opposite, having just evaded being washed over the edge of the Atlas, I felt great, albeit cold and wet, and had a trusty fold-out spade with me, (latrine duties) which I felt may now come in handy.

I didn't need to look behind me for Darren, I knew he would have gone down, as he would have caught the worst of it, how badly though, we were about to find out.
Looking across the mountainside, I saw him hollering, about a quarter mile back from where we were. We took the spade, and went to get him.
The rain had stopped, and the full scale of the carnage was evident. We were not getting off the mountain in a hurry, and yes, we were in serious trouble. Ahead of us, the road was completely blocked by three major landslides, something to deal with later.
However, the worse was behind us, on the way back to Darren. Another three slides blocking the road, the smaller ones being 30 foot wide, 3 foot deep at the mountainside, and 1 foot deep on the drop-off side, but the final one being at least 60 foot wide, having wiped out the whole bend in the road, and being 4 foot deep mud at the shallow end.
That monster still had a fast flowing river of debris flowing through it, and shooting off into the abyss below.
We circumnavigated it, by climbing up the mountain, and over it much higher up. How in hell we were going to get Darren’s bike over it escaped me for the time being.

We found Darren about 100 foot from the huge slide, he had no clue what was waiting for him up ahead, but for the time being, that would have to wait, the sight of his bike off the road, and front end hanging over the cliff worried me.
Thankfully he was alright, and unfazed by the whole thing, and as we would later find, the big GSA hadn't sustained any damage.

Darren’s bike had been completely submerged under mud and water, and looked a sorry state, the fast flowing waters had carved ruts out underneath it, and it was in a very precarious position, and to recover it, we would have to go further forward before we could go up onto the road again.
Out came the spade, and we filled in the ruts, and cleared a fresh path back up onto the tar. With all three of us pushing and pulling, me on the throttle and rear grab rail, Jason on the clutch and pannier frame, and Darren heaving on the rear, it took all our strength to get the bike up onto the road, but we did it, and then showed Darren what lay ahead.

He was a champ, undaunted by the prospect, we parked his bike in front of the monster slide, and walked out a route. By now, the water had subsided, and all that was left, was rock, mud, and loose shale. 8 foot deep, sloping to 4 foot, and 60 foot wide. It couldn't be ridden, one wrong move, and someone would be over the side, the bike was just too heavy, even with Jason astride, and Darren and Myself heaving, it was just burying itself, and burning the clutch.

Same procedure again then, this time Darren and Jason sharing clutch and throttle duties, and me heaving at the back. Filthy work, I was spattered head to toe by the end of it, and felt sure I'd punctured a lung, but we got the bike through, and through the next two as well, eventually getting all three bikes together.

By this time, there were a few more people about, several local vehicles were up there, facing the same problem as us. I found them different to any other Moroccans we'd met on the trip, they looked different, spoke no French, and were not friendly. They didn't offer to help us, so we returned the favour. Every man for himself.

We still had three further landslides to contend with, so with all of us mucking in, we made it out of the Atlas, and back down to Assermo, where we stopped for a break.

We stopped an approaching 4x4 with a German couple, Max and Petra, warning them of the impassable state of the road. They too were on the way to the Cascades, having been flooded out at Aít Benhaddou, and Telouét earlier that day, and that route impassable, they were now trying from here.

They offered to make us a coffee, and shared dates with us, it was a welcome break, and we enjoyed each others company for 30 minutes or so, before heading off back to the N10 again.

At the junction of the R307, and the N10, we decided to double back on our tracks, and head for Errachidia again. the skies over Ouarzazate looked menacing, at least heading back East, offered the promise of warmer weather.
We set off, but soon ground to a halt again. Traffic was backed up everywhere, the N10 was washed out, fast flowing rivers surged across the roads, and police were on hand, directing bigger vehicles through the wash. We went to inspect, walking to the front of the queue.
Tree branches and debris were being washed across the road. Darren waded out, and reported a depth of 2 foot, the policeman turned to me and said "Moto, put put put, ok" Off I went to get the Grand Wazoo, and rode to the front of the waiting traffic, and with second gear selected, braved the river.
The current was strong, and the comforting rumble of the remus soon turned to a burble as it disappeared under water, but we emerged safely out the other side.

Jason and Darren followed suit, and we set off again, making several more similar crossings, before darkness hit us once more, and after 2 more crossings by headlight, we decided to call time.
We were just short of Skoura, and I spotted a half built house at the side of the road, we pulled over, and parked under the convenient veranda, and set about erecting a windbreak, and pitching tents.

We'd just settled down, with stoves on the go, when the owner pulled up in a small car. Having no idea what to expect, we just greeted him, smiled lamely, and got out of his way, as he attempted to access the building via the front door that Darren had tied his guy rope to.
He undid the guy rope, retrieved a rucksack, and tied the rope to the door again, he smiled, but didn't say anything, and went back to the car.
I dug a pouch of tobacco from my gear, and went over to the car and offered it to him, and he gladly accepted it, a fair trade, his dry porch, for a pouch of tobacco.

Darren and myself shared a brew of redbush before calling time, it had been another adventurous day, we were now warmer, and with our bellies filled with compo rations of chicken curry, and mixed fruit for desert we retired for the night, hopefully tomorrow will bring warmer temperatures.