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Old 10-13-2008, 06:41 AM   #1
DominicDomingo OP
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Mo-rockin the Atlas and the Sahara, totally updated part 1+2

Part 1 of as many as it takes me.

This September my two friends and I decided to turn things up a notch, to "Take it to the next level" as Jesse likes to say. We are all Vancouver boys, but for the last 4 years I've been living in Barcelona, Spain and taking as much advantage as I can of the beauty of the surrounding area and all its roads.
Last year when they came to see me in Barcelona, Jesse was on the tail end of a rock climbing trip in the Italian Dolomites so wasn't very far, Matt took some time off and flew in. I rented an F800ST for Jesse, Matt hopped on the back of my Africa Twin, and off we went off exploring the Pyrenees, clearing 15 mountain passes in 3 days and following a good deal of the Tour de France's course through these mountains. It was beautiful and exhilarating, so many twisties and sweepers packed into such a short time, added to the natural beauty of the area and its quaint towns, but that's another Ride Report. We decided that something similar must be done again.

I had ridden to Morocco once in 2006, starting in Barcelona on my Africa Twin (a few pics from that trip might get thrown in the mix) but as I was alone and woefully unprepared I mainly stuck to the paved roads and very easy pistes, which in retrospect was a sound decision. I enjoyed this first trip for what it was, a long ride, mainly alone, (I was with friends until Marrakech) eating lots of kilometres every day, sampling a new culture, getting to know my new bike and reinforcing my belief that the road will take care of me. I made a point of marking down my favourite sights and accumulating information, because I was sure I'd return to this enchanting place someday.

And so it went that this year everything fell into place for us to be able to head south; Jesse again was climbing in Northern Italy in early fall and Matt could take time off work in Vancouver. We decided on the second half of September, I organised the rental of 3 bikes in Marrakech and starting planning our route based on what I knew and was able to find out posting in Trip Planning /EMEA.

I made several versions of a Google map of the route as we went accumulating information; this is a link to the final version which shows our actual circuit.

The green sections are off road pistes, the black are tarmac. I will try as much as possible to indicate which section of road the pics correspond to, and to make the whole presentation as chronological as I can.

The adventure begins; heading up the north flank of the Atlas Mountains southbound towards the Tischka Pass.

Jesse gettin into it on our first taste of African dirt.

Checking out the view on the Telouet piste. Thanks Tim Cullis. You access this just after rolling through the highest point of the Tizi n Tischka Pass southbound. It was a brilliant, fast rolling piste and a fantastic preview of things to come. I was told by a Frenchman we met on the way that it will soon be paved. It is sad to lose a piste but there are lots of communities on the way which seem like they could benefit from improved access. The area is also rich in historic Kasbahs.

A great place to get accustomed to our bikes. Still Telouet Piste, as are the rest until otherwise indicated.

The Black spec right in the middle is me coming down towards a switchback.

Do these saddle bags make my ass look big?

Matt takes a picture of me and laughs as I try to pass a Datsun pickup with about 12 passengers in the back.

Lots of French and Spanish 4x4 expeditions in the area.

Jesse loved it from the get-go, I think we all knew early on that this wouldn't be the last offroad trip we would take.

What a difference a creek makes. If you are from a temperate climate as we are, some time in Morocco will change the way you think of water. The Telouet piste is on the south flank of the mighty Atlas, so it does not want for water.

A river runs through it.

Houses made of sand.

One of few towns on this piste

The ever-present curious, excited boys. 47% of the Moroccan population is under 15 years old.

Hallelujah my brothers. This is still day one. Did I mention thanks to Tim Cullis for pointing this one out? We might otherwise have just blown by the turnoff....

The Italian GS boys; nice guys, we crossed paths again. Nice bikes too - just not for offroad

Day one wrapped up with a night in Ouarzazate, which I find to be a lovely, friendly, small city. At our hotel there was a group of Italians on GS1200 adventures. They were nice guys and we shoot the breeze a bit, though they had a bit of a “Long Way Round” thing going, complete with matching bikes, decals, shirts and a support vehicle. They were sponsored by some Italian motorcycling TV program and doing a tour of Tuscany and Morocco. They look at our light trail bikes with a touch of envy and we feel chuffed, I am glad that I spent the time necessary to find these bikes, Moroccan sand is no place for big overlanders.

The next day begins with 100+kms of pavement before turning off to The Valley of the Roses piste. It is quite beautiful, but unfortunately most of it has been paved.

We stop for a tajine lunch on the main freeway, the first of many.

We never did figure out what the hell those signs meant.

Don't be afraid the Moroccan road transport system. Be very afraid.

Off the main road and into the Valley of Roses.

Matt was sure glad he remembered his goggles. I forgot mine.

The piste at the end of the Valley of Roses towards Ait Yaoul. Actually it wasn't it was wrong turn but we kinda liked it so we checked it out some.

It was a cool track but going the wrong direction so we turned around.

On the right track now we find some fun stretches where we can open the throttles and feel the glory.

Matt breaks the ice and takes a headfirst plunge into the packed sand. If you look well you can see the impact marks from his head, shoulders, feet and bike on the bottom right, thank God it wasn’t rock. The sub frame broke off but it obviously wasn’t the first time, and it broke right at the welds. He only got his licence about half a year ago and the bulk of his riding experience is on a 72 Norton Commando, but he rode aggressively and was having a lot of fun. Jesse reckons it’s because he is such a good snowboarder, I have to agree, the experience translates. This is on the 12 km piste which connects the Valley of Roses with the Dades Gorges.

In the curves.

The most photographed curves in all of Morocco.

Too bad it was raining.

Rain be damned I was loving life

The first time I was here in 06 the water was so high that the road was only about 2m or 6ft wide. The water was moving swiftly and road was covered in fine, wet sand. I puckered while I rode it.

Shelter from the storm

The mighty Yamaha XTR 660 never missed a beat or let me down, and was heaps of fun off-road. I love my Africa Twin but this outperforms it in the sand and dirt. I found the thump of the big single to be absolutely charming, like a Briggs& Straton lawnmower or a go-cart engine. On some of the road sections I did have to gear down to make headway into a strong headwind though.

From here we carried on up through the Dades Gorges to the head of the piste to Agoudal, in Msemrir. The weather was crappy when we got there but we decided to forge ahead anyways. We drastically misunderestimated the length and difficulty of this piste, and wound up going up to 2900 m (some 10,000ft) under dark and rain on a mud track. Night fell quickly and we were making slow progress in the wet clay, when we finally reached the summit of the pass the temperature was near freezing with a howling wind and I was wearing wet cotton shorts. We were many hours into what we had thought would be a quick leg of our trip, and all of us were getting a bit nervous. The only option was to keep moving down towards lower altitudes and higher temperatures. Agoudal was still a ways away and Matt was far into his reserve tank when I took a wrong turn into a small creek and snapped half my clutch lever off, thankfully it was the outer half and I could keep riding. It was still cold, we were tired and worn out and started considering wrapping up in our tarp to wait for daylight. This is what mountain climbers call the “homo huddle” and I wasn’t looking forward to it one bit in my wet stinky gear with my wet stinky friends. We decided to keep losing altitude and look for a flat place to camp when we encountered a young man standing by the roadside with a flashlight waving us towards his hut. It was the best thing that could have happened to us after four hours in the cold rain and dark. It turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip; we even had a small emergency reserve of whiskey.

When in Rome.

The tea was so tasty and my mouth just happened to be so dry right then and the steam was like...whoa man.

Never slept better

Massou's hostel, the place to be in the High Atlas.

Mornin’ sunshine

Jesse has a keen eye for pictures. Morocco is a photographer’s dream, a land rich tones and endless textures.

Massou ran behind the hut and came back with some dry shrubs to dry our wet clothes. Moroccans are hardy people, it is surprisingly cold and fuel for fires is scarce, the cold is simply endured.

We really enjoyed Massou’s quiet company and gracious hospitality.

On the hill across from the hut there was a nomad camp with a few hundred sheep. There are desert and mountain nomads in Morocco, and I have found them all to be friendly, hospitable people. If you are lost or stranded they will give you a place to stay with no questions asked.

It’s a 30 km round trip to town but that doesn’t faze Massou.

Little Moroccan dudes will just run for ages with no worries.

Matt’s bike was completely out of gas and wouldn’t start in the morning, which made our encounter with Massou the night before even more serendipitous and timely than we knew at the moment. Jesse and I blasted into town to fill up our tanks and a jerry can.

The track into town was a blast.

The Agoudal welcoming committee. Usually the kids were more smiley than these.

Couscous in Agoudal.

Agoudal is where the piste veers south towards the Todra Gorges. We met other off roaders and three hot Belgian girls on mountain bikes, who unfortunately were heading in the opposite direction.

A curious girl.

Even the little girls are tough in Morocco, this one just stood and smiled for about half and hour and didn't put her pack down, which was a big can of water.

They're just not shy about their curiosity in Morocco.

Three Belgian lovelies on a mountain bike tour, unfortunately in the other direction from us.

Heading out of Agoudal and into a thunderstorm

Agoudal piste

Matt after wipeout number two, his finger was okay, one handguard was not.

Cheer up big guy.

Back on the pavement.

Nearing Todra Gorge

Entering Todra, an incredibly beautiful area. The roads had been washed out by heavy rainfalls in sections and there was a fairly deep and swift river to ford.

A quick stop at the mechanic to pick up a new clutch cable.

A touristy area in the narrowest part of the canyon.

Day two wrapped up at a cheap hotel which we dubbed the poopy palace because our room smelled like poo…

…it might have had something to do with the plumbing. The smell was potent enough to wake me up numerous times.

The views in the morning almost made up for it.

It was so hot here, dry heat.

Day three was mainly on highway enroute to Merzouga next to the Erg Chebbi dune sea.

We got a bit of a scare when Matt’s bike dumped all its oil on the road, which then got flung all over Jesse who was riding behind him. It turned out to be nothing more than the bolt on the drive sprocket being loose and letting oil past the seal.

The aptly named big dune.

We treated ourselves to plush hotel with a pool, had a swim and headed out to play in the dunes.

I promptly got stuck in the soft sand. These little dudes gave me a hand pulling it back to the firmer stuff.

I wasn’t the only one.

The right tool for the job.

A bit of a sandstorm kicked up.


It didn't take us long to figure out that if you have to stop do so at the top of a dune in the wind packed sand and not at the bottom in the soft sluff.

I meant to do that, really.

After about ten minutes we all had the hang of it and were ripping around like champs.

They let us put the bikes in the camel parking area next to the hotel, we did some work on them and gave all our gear a once over to prepare for the 200 km piste we were starting the next day.

And back into the pool for a cool-down.

DominicDomingo screwed with this post 03-28-2009 at 05:59 AM
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Old 10-13-2008, 07:25 AM   #2
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thx for the report

'cause that's the only way i'll ever see it! bruce
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Old 10-13-2008, 08:08 AM   #3
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Great report. I visited Egypt this year (sadly not on moto) and hope to visit Morocco via moto some day.
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Old 10-13-2008, 09:05 AM   #4
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Well, it was well worth the wait till you figured out how to post the pics!! What a spectacular ride, report and awesome pics

Thanks for sharing your fantastic adventure with us!
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Old 10-14-2008, 07:31 AM   #5
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Merveilleu, . Alors, on peut voir la deuxième partie?

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Old 10-14-2008, 08:26 AM   #6
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aw shucks, merci. Deuxième partie quand ma copine me laisse utiliser l'ordinateur encors, entre la moto et ADV elle est devenue un peu jalouse...

Originally Posted by Jim Rowley
Merveilleu, . Alors, on peut voir la deuxième partie?

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Old 10-14-2008, 09:31 AM   #7
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Very cool report. Love Morocco RR's.

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Old 10-14-2008, 12:35 PM   #8
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Part Two, out of the Atlas and into the Sahara

Picking up supplies in Merzouga, lots of fuel in plastic oil jugs, which actually works quite well.

Note to self: next time use Voilé straps

Only the finest for the Yamahammer.

The pavement in this part of the Moroccan South ends in a town called Taouz, where our piste begins. There we met this guy who kindly informed us that it was muddy due to recent rains and that we absolutely needed his services as a guide to navigate this first difficult section, without it, on those bikes-impossible! It wasn’t the first or the last time someone tried to pull that one on us, though he actually had a point, there was thick sloppy mud under a thin dry crust on top, and we had a rough time for the first few kilometers. There are wide creek beds in this part of the desert, sometimes kilometers wide, they are actually more like drainage areas than creeks; there is no visible flow of water, just a big bog of mud when it rains.

What mud, where?

Smoke break after we get out of the slop.

Back on the dry.

Not camels, dromedaries.

The boys practice their thousand yard stare.

Jesse's leaning on his backpack, not clutching me as it may seem.

Matt's tire has a slow leak, so when we stop in tiny village for fuel some kids pump it up for us.

Somewhere around here I was riding a couple hundred meters ahead of the other two, the sand was soft and wanted to swallow me so I stopped on top of a rocky knoll to wait for them. Quite a ways back I could Jesse standing next to his bike. I’ve known him for a long time, and even over the distance and through the haze of the heat I could read something seriously awry in his body language. He obviously wasn’t injured and the bike was standing up, but he was just staring at it utterly dejected. I turned out that he had had a minor fall and broken his clutch handle. We were about 40 km into the track with a muddy, clutch-intensive bog between us and civilization, and no spare clutch handle. We feared that we might lose as much as a day of our already tight schedule getting out, finding a compatible handle and getting back to where we were. We spent a moment discussing our options and decided that I would head back to the last little stand of huts some kilometers back, where I’d seen people talking on mobile phones, because we weren’t getting any coverage where we were. Once there I began talking to the locals boys and within moments had one of them on the pillion seat and set out going hut to hut with a rag tag crew of boys in tow to see if anyone had a scooter handle we could salvage and modify to our purposes. Moroccans don’t throw much away and scooters are fairly common out there in the desert so I was hopeful. By the fourth hut a boy ran over waving a bent blue motorcycle handlebar complete with clutch and brake handles. I thought it was too good to be true and was sure there was no way it would fit.

But it did and with a minimum of fuss too. The Dakar rally came through here in 2005 or 2006 and I suppose any material the race teams discarded was kept.

Three desert essentials: water, fuel, shade.

Jesse can't believe that his clutch is really working and has to see it to believe it.

Back in action.

Desert scooter

Some smooth sections where we can roll fast.


The gas dudes gave us great directions to circumnavigate a small floodplain, we had to leave the track entirely and just navigate by intuition.

He's not malnourished he's just a chubby little dude.

No country for big overlanders. Once again we have to deviate from the main track to circumnavigate a boggy area, this time under fading light and the sand was really deep and light, but by now we’re far more adept at handling our bikes and actually enjoy it. It was a bit like skiing powder.

Nightfall finds us still out in the desert and Matt’s tire has been losing air, so we made camp under a tree. A few hours later a big thunderstorm brews up, and after spending a while sulking off in the distance and casting us nasty glances, it heads right for us. I have a fear of lightning which borders on phobia and was very freaked out to be in a wide open space under one of very few trees in the area. We left the bikes and went to crouch low to the ground away from the tree until the storm was well clear of us. Matt and Jesse were fairly calm, eating canned tuna with pita bread while discussing the beauty of storms they’d seen in the past. I didn’t know whether to vomit from fear or curl up in a fetal ball and whimper. I was able to control myself and finally the storm was clear of us. Jesse, a meteorologist by trade, gave us the all clear to get up and head back under the tree. When we turned our flashlights on we saw that a tiny yellow scorpion about 5cm long had been hanging around right by our hands. This seemed to bother Jesse and Matt almost as much as the lightning scared me, which makes me feel a little better.

Cuddly desert fauna. A long debate started about the danger of scorpions. I say not too dangerous for adults, Jesse says small equals dangerous.We'd love to hear from anyone who knows.

Jesse sat down and declared his surroundings a scorpion free area. After he was done with the task at hand he did a perimeter check and found another scorpion cozying up to his right butt-cheek.

Don't ask me what the hell these things are but they're fast, ugly, climb on motorcycles and don't back down from a fight.

He probably dreamed about scorpions all night.

When I saw this thing approaching in the distance I really expected Scooby Doo and the gang to be in there.

"I'd rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city in the world" - Steve Mcqueen

When we broke camp I realized I had a flat front tire on my bike. Instead of hanging around we caught a ride with these guys to their off roader's hostel about 10 km down the road, where we enjoyed breakfast and a coffee while they changed the tube.

One for my grandkids.

I finally get around to tightening the pre-load on the rear spring, which I'd been meaning to do for some time

We had our breakfast and even considered changing Matt's tube, but it had been holding steady for a while so we headed out.

Murphy anyone? Some 15 km later, with a sandstorm brewing off in the distance, Matt’s tire starts losing air again. We pump it up with our crappy, disintegrating little hand pump and soon are back under way with only meters of visibility in the blowing sands. Our snowboarding experience comes into play once again and we’re able to keep moving at reduced speed by focusing on what little bit of the track we can see. We’ve all been in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and bad visibility doesn’t faze us.

Storm coming in, nobody wanted to take their camera out in this.

Eventually we cleared the storm and were rewarded for our efforts with thrilling moments such as riding 3 abreast across a dry lakebed with huge plumes of dust behind us, really fast rolling packed track stretches where we could almost imagine being Dakar racer. We had always gelled as a riding group but here I began to be able to sense what the others were doing without having to think about them, it seemed like we were all on the same page and had very little need to stop and discuss things; we just forged on confidently and had a great time. All the while the militarized no man’s land of the Moroccan- Algerian border was just a wrong left turn away, adding an extra dimension of excitement to our little adventure.

Some of the little settlements we crossed had people but this one was like a ghost town.

We had a smoke break and calculated that at our current speed we would make our destination, the town of Zagora - where we wanted to sleep and had to rejoin the pavement - at or around nightfall, riding into the setting sun the whole way.

We were just back up to speed when Matt’s tire blew out, no slow leak this time, a dead fookin flat tire.

It was already sunset “Golden Hour” and a howling, dusty windy was blowing. It was a starkly beautiful landscape to contemplate but not much fun to change a tire in at all, and not an auspicious place to spend the night. To add to our woes our crappy little pump’s flexible rubber hose had been failing for some time, and every time we’d stopped to pump Matt’s leaky tire up we had to cut some more of it off and tape it up again. This time when we pulled it out we found the brass nipple which connects the pump body and hose to be missing entirely. We put in our last can of Fix-a-Flat, which just leaked right back out near the valve as if mocking us. Scrambling against daylight, Jesse and I changed the tube while Matt got in touch with his inner Macgyver and fixed the pump using nothing more than his trusty Leatherman, a Bic pen (the little blue plug on the non-writing end) and some medical tape. We got the wheel back on and it took all six of our hands and a well coordinated effort to pump the tire back up, but it worked!

The ride into Zagora went about as smoothly as off-roading in the dark can, and we were ecstatic to arrive in Zagora, check into a cheap hotel, down a dinner and a few beers and pass right out.

The next day we had Matt’s subframe welded back on and upgraded the crappy inner tube we had installed on the piste to a Michelin Offroad.

Part three to come soon!

DominicDomingo screwed with this post 10-20-2008 at 02:56 PM
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Old 10-14-2008, 12:45 PM   #9
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I am Charlie.
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Old 10-14-2008, 02:30 PM   #10
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If you're interested in doing this too...

The bikes are available from in Marrakech, a great little company with fantastic service run by a young French couple.
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Old 10-14-2008, 03:29 PM   #11
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This is awesome!
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Old 10-15-2008, 11:18 AM   #12
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GREAT REPORT!!! Supurb photos also

Thanks for taking us along.

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Old 10-15-2008, 11:53 AM   #13
DominicDomingo OP
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Thanks for all the positive feedback! I'm just now getting access to Matt's pics (he's the tall thin one with the yellow bandana) So I might just start inserting his stuff in with the rest, in chronological order.

I had more trouble learning to post pics on the web than I did riding a bike around Morocco, so it's nice that there are people enjoying...
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Old 10-15-2008, 03:50 PM   #14
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Outstanding!! Those pesky flat tires can be quite the nuisance! Thanks for the detailed report and awesome pics
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Old 10-16-2008, 03:36 AM   #15
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Cool pictures and RR certainly whets the appetite
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