Friday, November 9, 2012

Morocco, part 1: Bring a bike

What do you get when you load up 7 full-supsension mountain bikes, 6 Norwegians and 1 American on a plane to Marrakech? A week of biking in the Atlas Mountains, exploration of the souks of Marrakech, good food and good company.

Steep switchbacks down to a Berber village.


I'll start by introducing the cast of characters on trip:



Couple #1: Ingvild and Øyvind 
Couple #2: Synne and Ap

Couple #3: Me and Audun (We do the photogenic couple thing really well)

Watch out, Morocco, Marius is in town - and he loves to bike!
Pierre Alain, the founder of Marrakech Bike Action and our guide

Biking in Morocco
Ingvild shreds

The mountain biking is Morocco absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, there are no guide books, and the last map was made during the 70's. So basically you need a guide. Our choice, based on recommendation on a mountain biking forum, fell on Marrakech Bike Action. Our guide was Pierre-Alain, the founder of the company, a tough Swiss who's look sort of remind me of a pirate, and who has been mountain biking in Morocco for 18 years.

We did 5 days of guided enduro mountain biking. "Enduro" means that we didn't do most of climbing ourselves; we were shuttled up to the tops of passes and would bike down, although there were occasional climbs involved. We biked a lot of challenging trails, however, so I was glad to save my legs and my head to the downhill.

Headed down the hill

What surprised me most about the biking was how varied it was. From smooth singletrack through the forest to rocky switchbacks through a Berber village to tiny, exposed trails across the sides of steep slopes, I was challenged in a variety of ways. The climate in Morocco is dry, especially compared to Norway, and this provides really nice surfaces to bike on, although Pierre-Alain said that is can get too dry and loose when there's no rain at all.

Ap takes in the view
Personally, the hardest trails for me were the really exposed trails. Especially one trail called 'the String' brought me to my knees. It is so narrow there really was only space for one bike at a time, and the valley floor was far, far below.

My personal favorite trail, and I think most of the groups', was 'the Magic Carpet'. This is one of the more famous trails that Pierre-Alain has discovered. The trail is rolling, at times open, a times tight, and the ground is grippy - the sort of trail that allows for going fast!

Synne, Ap, Øyvind, and Audun enjoy the Magic Carpet

The sights you see while biking through Morocco are also quite different from European countries. In the High Atlas Mountains, there are countless tiny Berber villages. I was fascinated to see how differently these people live. It's like turn the clock back a couple hundred years. These people spend most of their lives in and around their villages, and the idea of someone flying all the way to Morocco just to mountain bike around on their mule trails must seem strange.

The Berber village at the top of the Magic Carpet trail - complete with a mosque.

The kids really get a kick out of seeing tourists. In broken French, they asked to try our bikes or for some sweets. They would try to help us fix flat tires, and loved it when we gave away old water or soft drink bottles.

Ingvild and the local kids

Speaking of flats - we had a lot of them. My boyfriend Audun had no fewer than 6 in his 5 days of riding, probably due to his aggressive riding style. By the last day, we had no extra usable tubes, but luckily no one punctured (Insha'Allah!). Riding tubeless is definitely a good idea if you are headed to Morocco.

After giving such a good review of mountain biking in Morocco, I should mentioned the one day that didn't go so well. After a rain storm in the night, several rivers had flooded the roads we need to cross to get to the trails we intended to bike.

Flooded road. The guides try to decide what to do; Marius looks on

So we ended up driving to the hills just outside of Marrakech and climbing up a rocky, godforsaken pass. At the top of the pass, it started pouring rain. There was no proper trail down the pass, and the steep descent was on loose, spiky rocks. The landscape was completely barren, except for thorny bushes which would leave a good 5-6 thorns in you hand if you brushed in to them.
The descent of mountain biking Hell

After descending the pass, we got completely soaked biking around on dirt roads to meet the car with our luggage. I personally remember this particular ride as 'mountain biking Hell', although with so much other good bike, some bad luck was expected.

I'll sum up this post with a quiz:

1) Do you like mountain biking?
2) Do you like having fun?

If the answer to both those questions is yes, go to Morocco. And bring your bike!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

P.S. As you may have noticed, this part 1. Yes, that means I have more to write on Morocco! More to come in the next couple of days.

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