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Old 05-28-2012, 08:02 AM   #1
FechFech OP
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Raid Passion Desert Maroc 2012



Roadbook Rally in Morocco - 2'500 km in 10 days

I participated in this year's Raid Passion Desert Maroc (RPDM). The start was on April 28 in Agadir, the end on May 7 in Fez. The RPDM is a roadbook rally, but it is not a race. It does not matter how fast you ride, in fact, time isn't even measured. Ranking is based on navigation skills. Each stage has a target distance, which is the distance covered if you make no navigation mistakes. Deviating from the target distance results in penalties. The winner is the one with the fewest penalties at the end of all 10 stages. There are from 2 to 5 checkpoints per stage, to prevent participants from taking shortcuts. This year there were 60 motorcycles, 25 quads and 50 cars.

The RPDM is organized by a French company called "Sudexpe" (www.sudexpe.com). I'm in no way affiliated with this company. The organization is very good, provided you speak French or have someone with you who does. Overnight stays were in hotels, with the exception of two nights where we stayed in Berber tents way out in the desert. For each motorcyclist, the organizers transport a standardized box (80 x 50 x 40 centimers, for tools and spare parts) and a sportsbag (for clothes). There is no need to carry any luggage on the bike at all. You get access to your box and bag every day at the end of the stage. The only things you need to carry on your bike are 3+ liters of water, navigation gear (roadbook reader, tripmaster, GPS), some tools, and emergency gear (signal rockets, compass, mirror).

The total distance covered this year was 2'500 kilometers (1550 miles) in 10 days. About 20% of that were on tarmac, 70% on pistes (dirt roads), and 10% was off-road, like riverbeds, sand dunes, or dry lakes. Riding time per day was between 5 and 8 hours. This is _riding_ time only, indicated as "moving time" on the GPS. The total time to get from start to finish every day was typically between 6 and 10 hours, including breaks. Navigation is by roadbook and GPS. Entries in the roadbook are numbered. You get the GPS coordinates for some of the roadbook entries, in case you get lost. If you know the GPS coordinates for, say, roadbook entry nr. 47, you simply navigate to that place by GPS and then you are in sync with the roadbook again. Bikes need to have an autonomy of 250 km. This means no huge tanks are needed, a 13 liter tank will do. If there is no gas station within 250 km, then the organization will arrange fuel depots for the bikes.

I'll post a brief summary of every stage over the next couple of days, complete with pictures and some videos taken with my helmet camera.

Here is the tracklog of the complete route:




And here are some pictures of sights along the route:



A qued (river) with lots of palm trees north of Agadir



A village in the Anti-Atlas



Painted rocks near Tafraoute



The sand dunes of Erg Chegaga way south in Morocco, near the border to Algeria


My next post will be about bike preparation.

FechFech screwed with this post 06-05-2012 at 12:39 PM Reason: Tweaked title
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Old 05-28-2012, 09:10 AM   #2
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Bike Preparation

For this years ride I wanted a lightweight bike, because some sections are quite tricky: sand dunes, riverbeds with rocks of all sizes, narrow and steep dirt roads with loose rocks and rock steps, and silt for miles. I decided to get a KTM 350 EXC-F, which is both lightweight (125 kg with a full 13 liter tank) and powerful (46 HP). This choice turned out to be perfect for me. The bike was very easy to ride and had no issues at all during the 2'500 km of the trip. I did a similar trip last year on a KTM 690 Enduro. While the 690E had no issues either, it turned out too be too heavy for me, especially with the extra fuel tanks and navigation gear added. The 350 was way easier to ride, I was a lot faster on it and at the same time felt safer and got less tired.

Here are some pictures of my 350 EXC-F while being prepared:









Spare parts ready to go into the rally box


13 liter tank, Michelin Desert tires and Bib-Mousses still need to be fitted



Giovanni the Gerbil checks if everthing has been fitted properly


I made the following modifications to the bike:
- Fitted 13 liter tank
- Added radiator fan
- Added plastic bash plate
- Added aluminum hand guards
- Added protector for clutch slave cylinder
- Added protector for rear brake disk
- Changed gearing to Z14 / Z50
- Added Scott steering damper
- Replaced springs in the fork with softer ones to match my weight
- Replaced spring of rear shock with a softer one
- Added navigation gear (MD roadbook reader, ICO trip master, Garmin GPSmap 60CSx)


And this is the bike ready to go:








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Old 05-29-2012, 01:40 PM   #3
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Moving the bike to Agadir

I live near Zurich / Switzerland, and the start of the Rally-Raid is in Agadir in Morocco. The distance from Zurich to Agadir is about 2500 kilometers, as the crow flies. The bike was moved in three steps.

Step one was the shortest (150 km), I delivered bike, box and bag to Jos in Chris in Basel, with this:



All of this was in my admittedly big and heavy sportsbag:



Jos took over for step two, he delivered three bikes, three boxes, and three bags to Sudexpe in Mazan / France. Mazan is near Avignon, from Basel it is about 600 km one way. This is how the three bikes traveled from Basel to Mazan:



Step three was the longest, from Mazan to Agadir. Sudexpe transported all bikes with trucks and big trailers all the way to Agadir. Their route was from Mazan to Barcelona / Spain, from there with a car ferry to Tangers / Morocco, and from there to Agadir. Fortunately all bikes made it without damage and the convoi wasn't held up at the border to Morocco, so everything arrived in time.
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Old 05-30-2012, 02:18 PM   #4
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Travelling to Agadir

With my bike on the way, I travelled to Agadir one week later. Since there are no direct flights from Zurich to Agadir, I got on the TGV to Paris first (picture taken in Zurich main station):



The train ride to Paris was no doubt the fastest section on wheels of my trip. I could never match the speed of that train on my bike, according to my GPS it made 302 km/h top speed (188 mph). The train arrived at the Gare de Lyon, a train station from the Belle Epoque:





I have never seen so many TGVs in one place as in this train station:



By now you have probably figured out that trains are my other passion next to motorcycles ;-) I took a cab from the train station to Paris Orly airport, and from there a direct flight to Agadir. I took this picture shortly after taking off in Paris. If you look hard enough, you can see the Eiffel tower:



The flight from Paris to Agadir was about 3 hours, in a plane from Royal Air Maroc with a very friendly crew. This is shortly before landing in Agadir:



So I finally arrived in Agadir. There was a total of 2 (two) airplanes at the airport, including the one I arrived with:





The airport of Agadir may be small, but it is big in quality ;-) It proudly displays an ISO 9001 certificate:



After a short cab ride I arrived at the Hotel "Adrar", where the whole group met. The total party was about 220 people, including 60 people from the organization. My bike (# 207) was already there, right next to the entrance of the hotel:





After checking in and making the bike ready for the first stage tomorrow, it was time to have a beer at the bar together. We were 7 riders from Switzerland. From left to right - Stephan, Rainer, Tazio, Christian, Chris and Jos (I was behind the camera):



After a decent meal - Tagine and Couscous, what else - and a couple of beers we went to bed, full of expectations for the start of the rally-raid tomorrow...
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Old 05-30-2012, 02:35 PM   #5
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Old 05-30-2012, 05:59 PM   #6
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Definitely interested in seeing how this unfolds...

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Old 06-01-2012, 03:24 PM   #7
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Stage 1: Agadir to Agadir (April 28, 2012 / 167 km)

Finally the rally-raid starts ! After weeks of planning, preparing the bike, chasing parts and gear, packing and what else I'm anxious to get on the way.

Todays stage is a short loop into the mountains north of Agadir. Here is the track log:



The first few kilometers lead along the coast on a paved road, then we turn east into the mountains on a twisty road:



Conditions are perfect today - sunny, a little breeze and about 18 degrees celsius. No wonder Jos (right), Chris (center) and I are in perfect mood:



At last the real fun begins, we leave pavement and get on a dirt road. The road isn't difficult, but small and windy and thus we can't make more than about 40 kilometers per hour. We stop in the shade of a tree for lunch. Lunch means two energy bars and a few gulps from the camelback:



While we were stopped, the guys on the single side car in the rally-raid catched up with us:



They spent about as much time for fixing their bike than for riding, but they made it to the end of the rally-raid. Unfortunately the same could not be said of this guy:



I've never seen such a quad before. It is basically a KTM 990 Adventure on the chassis of a quad. When it worked he was fast, but eventually he dropped out with electrical problems.

Soon after lunch we arrive at the first checkpoint:



The organization all being French has the distinct advantage that provisions are high on the priority list. The charming ladies at CP1 are busy preparing coffee for weary riders:



I can use a dose of caffeine for sure:



In the meantime Chris tries to figure out what this sign says. Needless to say, we didn't succeed:



Refreshed with coffee, we are on the way soon again and enjoy the sights along the route. This is a view towards Agadir, the river barely visible in the background is the Qued Sousse:



The road is not much of a challenge for my 350, but it requires permanent attention because of the many turns and dropoffs right next to it:



Towards the end of the stage we ride through a beautiful valley with lots of palm trees:



Chris on his KTM 450 EXC and Jos on his Beta 450 RR enjoy the view:



We are almost done for today, the coast and Agadir are already in sight:



When we arrived at the hotel, the route for tomorrows stage was already mapped out:



After checking the bike and cleaning the air filter, I still have time for a short stroll to the beach of Agadir:





To summarize, todays stage was short and not at all difficult to ride, i.e. perfect to warm up for the more challenging stuff ahead. I'm just a little bit tired, nothing that a few beers and a decent meal couldn't fix. Dinner is at the hotel, today it is Couscous and Tagine for a change (yesterday it was Tagine and Couscous).

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, everybody was busy after dinner to communicate todays impressions to kids, wifes, and friends, if - Inschallah - Wifi happens to work:



My next post will be about stage 2 from Agadir to Tafraoute.
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Old 06-02-2012, 09:40 AM   #8
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Stage 2: Agadir to Tafraoute (April 29, 2012 / 336 km)

The rally-raid is getting serious today. About 340 kilometers are ahead of us. First, the tracklog of this stage:




Soon after the start, we get on a very sandy piste going South, parallel to the coast. I need about 15 minutes to warm up to riding in sand (haven't done that since last year at about the same time), but then it is a blast on the lightweight 350. Shortly before Tifnit we hit the first sand dunes of the trip:




And this is the way ahead:




The guys with the side car made it through the sand with a little help from a Landcruiser (this picture is from Michel Gonnet, the "official" photographer of the rally-raid):




The piste leads along the shore for another 60 kilometers, with beautiful sights of the Atlantic Ocean:






Time for a short break to care for biological needs and to enjoy the view:




The cliffs are seriously tall at this point, fortunately the piste is about 10 to 20 meters away from the edge:




The size of the cliff is evident when you look at the guy fishing on the rightmost part of the cliff. He's barely visible, just a black and white dot:




We make a brief stop at checkpoint 1, where the route turns inland:




The first gas stop is in Lahksass. The owner of the gas station probably makes the business of the month:




A cool drink at the restaurant at the gas station is highly welcome, the temperature is now close to 30 degrees celsius:




Our next stop is somewhere in the moonscape east of Lahksass, due to technical problems:




The GPS mount on Jos's bike is broken, nothing that couldn't be fixed with a few zip-ties:




Another couple of dozens kilometers of this are ahead of us, which is great:




Every now an then, we pass by a village:




The closer we get to Tafraoute, the more the piste improves and finally turns into a "gravel autobahn":




A short distance from Tafraoute the landscape is full of large round rocks, which are irresistible for Chris and myself. We both ride trials bikes back home:




Some artist liked the rocks too and painted them:




The last couple of kilometers before Tafraoute lead through a narrow canyon with lots of palm trees:




Arriving in Tafraoute, I learn that the group is divided between two hotels, because none of the hotels is big enough for all of the group. The main part of the group is in Hotel A, I'm in Hotel B. All the gear was delivered to Hotel A, and the (guarded) bike park is at Hotel A, too. From Hotel A to B its about a Mile. Nothing that couldn't be walked, but not with full motorcycle gear and a 20+ kg sportsbag. So I hitch a ride on the back of a pickup truck from Hotel A to B:




Dinner for the whole group is - of course - in Hotel A. I walk back to Hotel A, now in sneakers and without bag, which is fine. The menu is a big surprise, we get Tagine and Couscous ;-) After Dinner I walk back to Hotel B, have one more beer, and sleep like an angel.
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Old 06-03-2012, 01:43 PM   #9
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Stage 3: Tafraoute to Tata (April 30, 2012 / 246 km)

Welcome to stage 3 of the Raid Passion Desert Maroc 2012 ! Today's stage is about 250 km, leading mostly through the Anti-Atlas mountains and touching the outskirts of the desert:




I am up early, because I have to hitch a ride from Hotel B to Hotel A, where my bike and the baggage drop off are. Hotel
B is the "Salama" in the center of Tafraoute:




The local car wash is still closed, as is the local newsstand:






The first couple of kilometers lead up a mountain pass. On top of the pass the thermometer reads 3 degrees celsius:




Between Tizerkine and Zaouia the piste leads through a canyon, high up on a cliff (Photo: Patrick Doby):




Later, coming down the side of a mountain, it is easy to see where the route continues (look for the dust cloud):




Interesting rock formations near Imitek:




At Imitek we turn South toward Akka, where it is time for a break for lunch. We stop at a small reservoir which is used to irrigate the palm groves:






Jos and Chris relax in the shade of some palm trees...




... while I'm giving away toys to the local kids:




After Akka the landscape turns more an more into desert and we make good progress. We arrive in Tata at 4:30, where we stay at the Hotel "Relais des Sables". By now the temperature is 30 degrees celsius. The hedges in front of the rooms are immediately put to use as hallstands to dry the sweaty gear:




After taking care of the bike - nothing to do except cleaning the air filter - I take a stroll through the palm grove right behind the Hotel:






As usual, dinner is at the hotel, and as usual, Tagine and Couscous are served. Today's stage was very dusty, I need an extra portion air filter cleaner (aka as beer) today ;-) I look forward to tomorrows stage, which is the first all-desert stage.
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Old 06-05-2012, 02:19 PM   #10
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Stage 4: Tata to Erg Chegaga (May 1, 2012 / 276 km)

Todays stage leads through remote desert along the border to Algeria and ends at camp right next to Erg Chegaga. An "Erg" is an area completely covered with sand dunes. This is todays tracklog:




After a few kilometers on tarmac we head northeast on a rocky piste until we reach the oasis Ida Ou Lstane:




From there its Southeast until Tissint, where we stop for fuel. There is no gas station in Tissint, but a place that sells gas in plastic bottles. Looking at the plastic bottles, I'm really glad I installed an extra fuel filter before this trip:




Somewhere between Tissint and Lake Iriki we stop for lunch in the shade of the only tree for miles:




The piste is very smooth and we make good progress. Soon we are at Lake Iriki, which is dry most of the time:






Navigation across the dry lake is by GPS only. After the lake the piste gets sandy:




Here is a video from my helmet cam on this piste:




We arrive at the camp around 5pm. The camp is a permanent installation with berber tents, a building with a kitchen, and another one with toilets and showers. Believe it or not, the shower actually worked and the water was even hot ! Quite an accomplishment for a place 60 km away from the next settlement:




Gas for the bikes and quads was trucked to the camp by a Moroccan team. Smoking cigarettes while filling the bikes didn't occur to be a problem to them. Fortunately they ran out of smokes when we were in line:




The tents are arranged around a large courtyard, which doubles as restaurant:




Stefan, Rainer, Christian and Tazio look forward to dinner. Judging from what's on the table, could it be that we get Tagine and Couscous today ? You bet !




The dunes of Erg Chebbi are right behind the camp. Tomorrow's stage will lead us into this:




We enjoy a couple of beers with dinner and then go to sleep in the 1000-star hotel, anxious to ride the dunes tomorrow.

FechFech screwed with this post 06-05-2012 at 02:35 PM Reason: Fixed typo
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Old 06-05-2012, 05:31 PM   #11
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great trip, one of my dreams is to ride Morocco
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Old 06-05-2012, 11:36 PM   #12
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great write up, i was hooked.
brought back many memories of a great country and riding for me.
can not wait for the next instalment.
thanks for all your work in posting
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Old 06-06-2012, 06:41 AM   #13
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Great report
keep it coming
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Old 06-06-2012, 02:17 PM   #14
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Old 06-06-2012, 02:32 PM   #15
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Stage 5 / Erg Chegaga to M'hamid (May 2, 2012 / 121 km)

Today's stage is short, but interesting. The first part is a loop in the dunes of Erg Chegaga, the second part is a short hop of 60 km on a desert piste to M'hamid. M'hamid is as far as you can go on paved roads if you are coming from up North. Here's the tracklog:




We get up early to avoid the heat:




Today's ride is by GPS points only, there is no roadbook. The GPS points coming up are somewhere in this:




Riding in the dunes turned out to be less difficult than I expected. The sand was reasonably self-supporting, with a only a few soft spots every now and then. Riding through the dunes was one of the highlights of this trip for me:




We stopped somewhere in the dunes to take pictures. The key is to stop only where you can get the bike moving again. A good place is the crest of a dune with the bike pointing downwards:






I shot this video on the first part of the dunes. Initially I was, uhhm, somewhat sceptical because I was not sure how firm the sand would be. Luckily it turned out to be quite hard:




Once out of the dunes again, we come across this building literally in the middle of nowhere:




Upon closer inspection it turns out te be a school for the kids of nomadic people. Obviously school is off today:




School or not, the building is highly welcome because it provides the only shade for miles:




After a brief break we get on the piste to M'hamid. The landscape out here is completely barren and looks like the pictures sent back from the Mars rovers:




The landscape becomes friendlier again once we get closer to M'hamid:




The temperature is well over 30 degrees celsius now. When we arrive in M'hamid we stop at the first restaurant to get some cold drinks, which are needed dearly:




In M'hamid we stay at a very nice campground called "Chez Les Pacha", with an even nicer pool:




Dinner is served at the restaurant of the campground. It turns out the restaurant specializes in Tagine and Couscous.
Tomorrow will be another long desert stage. I go to bed early and dream that I am riding on Mars...

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