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.

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