Sunday, 17 October 2010

September 15th -Tinerhir and disaster in the Atlas

Roll call at 6am as usual, and the frustrating thing was that we were at the mercy of the two young Berber camel herders who had brought us out into the desert, so with them apparently still tucked up under their blankets, I went off to capture some early morning shots.... yes, more camels, and more sand.

We eventually made it back to our bikes at the hotel/auberge/campsite to find everything as we left it, bar Darren's motocross shirt, that had disappeared off the bike, and was never to be seen again. Breakfast had been laid on for us, but seeing everything laid out in the morning sun, which incidentally was approaching 30 degrees, we decided to stick to a cold coke, bar Darren, who had a glass of juice from a cooler that would later bring our ride to a painful halt.

Having taken the hard road in yesterday, we turned our wheels along the glorious tarmac of the N13 back towards Erfoud to pick up cash and supplies, and pick up the R702 to Tinerhir. We reached Erfoud in no time at all, but by the time we'd killed the engines, Daz was doubled up in pain, with severe stomach cramps that I can only attribute to the juice he'd had a little while ago...
He'd broken rule 15, only drink from sealed containers.

Jason dug out some kaolin and morphine from our collectively overstocked medical kit, and laid hands on the now grimacing Darren.
I knew the poor bugger was in real pain, as he'd had a great disposition until now. For the time being, we'll hole up here for a while, and see how things progress.

After about 40 minutes, we took to the tar again, with Darren's bellyache subsiding.
We made Tinerhir by midday, and started up through the Todra Gorge.
It was beautiful, the weather was with us, the scenery was breathtaking, and as we reached the mouth of the gorge, we rumbled past the hotels and the tour buses parked outside that were disgorging the sightseers, who stared open-mouthed as we thundered past them, in to the river, and out the other side, shaking off water like wet dogs.
We rode for another mile or so, until we found a secluded spot to pull over, and take a lunch break. We ditched our boots, fired up the stoves and had a hearty roadside feast, and vowed to laze at least an hour away, confident that we could make the road up to Agoudal, and back down the Dades Gorge by nightfall....

How wrong were we to be.

I'll start this off by saying that I don't believe you can make a wrong decision, I'm not even sure if you can make a bad decision, well, not intentionally anyway, it's just something you choose at the time, merely a decision, how that choice turns out though, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Our assorted bellies full with compo rations of main course, deserts, and tea, we set off for Tamtattouchte, and Áit Hani, where we could either continue up the Todra, or cut across to Msemrir. We passed Tamtattouchte, and at Áit Hani, we were instantly beset by kids and grown-ups alike, trying to sell us everything, including a box of burned sweetcorn. On a serious note though, we couldn't get a word in edge ways between ourselves, and instead of mulling over the graded track to our left that headed of to Msemrir, we made a snap decision to press on up to Agoudal. (that in itself was not a bad choice, but it would have its consequences.)

The further we pushed towards the top, the colder, and more overcast it was becoming, but progress thus far had been good, and we were in good spirits, we were riding the pegs through washouts, we had hall this glorious scenery to ourselves, we couldn't really have been in better spirits, then we hit Tizi-Tinherhouzine, and the road surface changed.

It was clear that the Moroccans were trying to improve the roads, so they were in the process of turning everything to asphalt. The only problem was that thus far, they had graded the road, laid a base coat of tar, and covered everything in chippings. This was to continue all the way to Agoudal, and on average was 2 inches deep across most of the road, so bad that it felt as if we were riding with flat tires, our three laden bikes slithering all over the road, bringing a definite halt to any hope of a speedy accent.

Nearing Agoudal, we stopped to take some pictures at the apex of the two gorges, and met a pair of Welsh guys who had flown out to Marrakesh, and were on two hire bikes of some small scrambler pedigree, who cocked a serious eyebrow at us prepared to tackle the Dades on our heavy bikes, telling us that they had taken the whole day to traverse the Dades. But then and again, they also said that they'd flown over and hired bikes, rather than ride over, because they didn't see the point of "Hacking" through Spain just to get here. So we took the advice lightly, after all, hadn't we just done the Todra? How hard could going back down the other side be?

With Jason and Daz out front as we rode through Agoudal, I found myself patiently waiting at the roadside, with an old man and two kids for company, while the other two took 10 minutes to figure out they were still headed North to Imilchil. None of us could understand each other, as my French and Arabic was minimal, and their English was non-existent. I rolled the old guy a smoke, and we chatted with smiles and hand gestures until Jason and Darren returned, and we headed off down the Dades to Tilmi.... current time 5pm

Initially the going was excellent, the terrain was rough, and rutted, but fairly easy to ride. Having done a fair bit of off roading in the past, I positioned myself out front, the self proclaimed point-man, if you will, this would in a short while prove to have not been one of my better judgement calls.

I saw some flat ground up ahead, looking at the instruments, I saw we'd covered about 6 miles, and it was now nearly 6pm, I asked Jason and Darren if they wanted to set up camp, or push on further. So far, the going had been ok, they seemed confident, and suggested we push on. In hindsight, I should have made the judgement call to camp, but no, we forged ahead, into what looked like a sky brewing for a storm.

Almost as soon as we set off, the route got a lot tougher, the ruts had become severe, reducing the ride able surface to little more than goat tracks.
Constantly reminding myself to look ahead, and not at the menacing 6 inch deep ruts I was balancing on, I hadn't noticed the gap between us all increasing. This was partly to not having the use of the mirrors, and partly to the concentration needed to get through what was now becoming difficult terrain, loose stone, deep ruts, and mud.

It had started to rain, and along with the rain, came lightning, and a loss of light.

I couldn't tell you when the light went out, I think the thunderclouds helped snuff the dying embers of the day, regardless, I remember flicking the spotlights on, and squinting out into the rain filled gloom, and thinking that this had all gone bad pretty quickly.
We had been on an uphill climb for the last mile, and stopping was not an option, as the track was too narrow, and any traction would be immediately lost, I just felt that if I pushed on for another few meters, I'd find a level place.

It was by now pitch black, up ahead, the road, which had now become a river, levelled out, and I was sure I could see a dry bit just ahead.
Riding a muddy, rutted, submerged road at night, and in the rain, was the most interesting decision I'd made thus far, and and with thoughts of being hit by a lightning bolt in the front of my mind, I gunned the throttle to reach dry land...

The rear wheel overtook the front, bouncing into a submerged rut, and slewing the Grand Wazoo instantly 180 degrees to the right, launching itself and me, who at this point was still on the pegs, into the bank, bringing me down hard on the front screen, cracking two ribs, and spitting me off into the mud.

Dragging myself to my knees, I killed the engine and the lights, and looked around... complete darkness, no headlights anywhere.

I'm not a pessimist, and not easily fazed, but I was cursing my judgement, and knew we were all in serious trouble if we didn't sort things out.
The right side pannier had broken free, and was wedged against the frame, I was soaking wet, and the bike was nose up a bank, great. Nothing for it but to unload the big bird in the mud, get some tools out, and get the damaged pannier off, and the bike upright. I ditched my helmet, in favour of a beanie. I knew it would suffer in the rain, but wanted to minimise heat loss.
I got the Wazoo unloaded, and upright, balanced on the bent pannier, and surveyed the river that was the mountainside around me.
Another few blasts on the horn, and I hear a faint reply, fantastic, some one's alive.
I start up the muddy river, leaving the big bird illuminated with glow sticks, and it's not long before I hear the familiar sound of Darren's GSA. He'd gone down as well, and had to unload/reload the bike to get it upright and moving. However, he was bogged down in the mud, so with the two of us muddied and wet, we managed to push his bike through the mire to get it to mine.

It took a few attempts, but we managed to manhandle both bikes up and onto the bank, out of the muddy road, and get a basha strung up between them for some shelter.
We sit huddled on two panniers underneath the shelter, as a river flows down the mountain, and carves a path right between our bikes. It's 8pm, we're cold and wet, and shin deep in water, great.

30 minutes later and it's all over, the rain has stopped. We emerge from our shelter cold and shivering, and strip to the waist on the cold Atlas mountainside.
Drying our upper bodies, and putting on layers of warm clothes, we gulp down a handful of glucose sweets each, and we go in search of Jason.
A mile and a quarter later, we find his abandoned GS, upright, but sans Jay, and his gear.
We shout, we search, but to no avail. There's little we can do, none of our phones have any signal, we can't see or hear him, we leave a glow stick on his bike, so if he returns, he'll know we're about. We walk back down the track to our own bikes.

By this time, my chest feels like it's been sat on by the big bird herself, and I'm wheezing like a steamship, it's too wet, muddy, and uneven to sit anywhere bar on the panniers, so we get the trusty coleman out, and Darren supplies 4 portions of Chicken casserole, if nothing else, we're going to keep our energy up.
We eat, and drink the by now infamous redbush tea, and I hope that by now, I've dispelled any rumours as to being a "fair weather" brewer only.

Time check: 22:48 bugger... hours till daylight.

We pace back and forth, go off exploring the track, drink more tea, I smoke what feels like my hundredth cigarette.

Time check: 00:21.

Eventually, we were just so desperate to lay down somewhere in this rocky terrain, that after much deliberation, we agreed to get my tent out, as I had the larger 2 man version of Darren's Terra Nova, and it's agreed that we share the tent, just lying on the thermarests.
I say we deliberated, as this was almost surely going to be "tent/thermarest suicide", as the ground was littered with sharp stones, not to mention extremely wet and muddy.

Time check: 03:21

We erect the tent, take off our boots, and crawl inside. I'm finding it difficult to get comfortable, my chest hurts like hell...

Darren falls asleep quickly.

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