Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Days 9 and 10 - Into the Mountains

Pirate packing up the bike in Midelt
This was the day (Saturday 25th July) that I was most exited about, the day we finally leave the tarmac and go high into the mountains, We were far south in Morcocco and about to attack the trail known as MH2 in Morocco Overland (by Chris Scott) this goes from Midelt through the Cirque du Jaffar up to Imichill and then south to Bolamane Dades, we were hoping to be in Dades the following evening.

The first thing I had to do was change my tyres, I had been running on road tyres up until this point but I needed to put some tyres with an aggresive tread pattern the rocky terrain that I thought was awaiting me in the mountains. I had brought with me the Mitas 644 extreme army tyre which I have used in England  and have found to be a good intermediate road/ off road tyre but suffers in slippy conditions as it tends to slide sideways. It was hot so i dedided to pay a local to change my tyres whilst we were having a breakfast of Bread Cheese and Mint tea.
Tyres being changed

Looking Back towards midelt from the Cirque Du Jaffar
After breakfast we went to visit the home of the young lad who had acted as our guide while we were in Midelt, we repayed the families hospitality by purchasing some gifts for those back home and then set off towards the big green wall of mountains that we could see from Midelt.

Riding south out of midlet we quickly lost the tarmac and hit the gravel road that marked the start of the Circque du Jaffar. This started out as a nice gravel road but as we climbed higher into the mountains it started to get very taxing. The rivers that run down the mountin had washed out parts of the track making these crossings quite taxing espeacially for Geoff on His R1200GS, we had estimated the weight of his machine with all his luggage etc to be in excess of 350kgs. We were about 20km from Midelt when the Track got so bad that Geoff decided to turn back.
Chatting with local lads in the Cicque Du Jaffar

Geoff Decided to turn back after we spoke to some local teenagers from Midelt who were hiking in the mountains and were in need of some water. We gave them some water in exchange for a little advice, They told us the the track only got worse as we climbed higher. with this knowledge Geoff rode back to Midelt with Pirate whilst Paul and I continued into the Mountain.

The Boy's were right only about 5km later the track was completely washed away and by now it was getting close to 5pm, and we were still 140km from Imichill on a tough dirt track. Paul and I had to ride down the mountain along the river bed and then a steep climb to rejoin the track. we were shown the way by a young Berber farmer.

Paul and the young Berber Lad after helping lift my bike off my leg
We last section before we rejoined the track was a short steep climb which needed full throttle to get to the top. I went first and the front wheel left the ground at the top and couldn't land it. The bike went over and my leg was underneath the bike. I was just passed the crest of this climb so couldn't be seen from the bottom of the track. I heard Paul reving to come up the hill hopin he would come up the right hand side of the hill as if he came on the left he would hit me and my bike. Luckly he did. Paul and the young lad helped lift my bike off me and we were ready to be on our way after we gave the Lad a few Dirhams for his help.

Rear Brake repair in the mountains
We contiuned on the track and narrowly missed getting caught in a thunder storm as it passed us by the tack became soaked and I came of a further 2 times on the slippy wet mud, It was here I had realised that I new that I had definitley brought to much stuff: I had doubled up on tools and brought to many clothes and the bike was handling like a pig on this wet mud.

Then Later upt the track I totally lost the rear break. I stopped to take a look at the break caliper to discover that the rear break was missing a bolt, probably lost during the tyre change in Midelt earlier, Luckly I had a spare, I put the spare bolt on the bike and we continued on to the end of the track.

Camping at Building Site in the Mountains
We rejoined the tarmac and still had 100km of mountain road to cover before Imichill and it was close to 7pm in the evening. We set out trying to make Imichill but the roads were in a bad way where glacier melt had washed away the tarmac and brough boulders on the to road. The mountain villages were great with all the local children wanting to give us high fives as we road through. In the end however we ran out of light and we started looking for an auberge or a place to camp.

We found some builders building a house in the mountains who let us stay with them, but not only did they let us stay but they also fed us and gave us tea, It was fantastic hospitaility from people who had very little to share but they shared it with us.

The Top of the Pass looking down on Dades Gorge
The next day we were treated to breakfast by the builders and we then gave them a few dirhams and got on our way. Stopping firstly at the Lac du Tislet Just out side Imichill and then setting out for Boumalne Dades, the route we were taking took us over a stunning mountain pass and then through a gorge formed by a river. This was one of the most beautiful days riding I have ever done. we didn't pass another human being for hours.

Outside the Kasbah in Boumalne Dades
In terms of incidents it was a fairly smooth day, the track was much drier as a result was easier to navigate, altough there was one point where we had to follow the river bed as the path had been totally washed away again. We arrived in Boumalne Dade at about 6pm and met Geoff and Pirate at a Service station (They had gone around on the road).

We spent the night in a Kasbah which was totally empty as the there were very few tourists in southern Morocco at this time of year because it was so hot. Dinner was a lovely chicken tagine with lemons and saffron, and the Kasbah overlooked the Town of Boulmane Dades as we watched the sun go down.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Days 6, 7 and 8 - Northern Morocco

Left to right: Glen, Geoff, Matt
We packed up quickly and were ready to leave about half 9 on Wednesday 22nd June 2011. However before left we met a really interesting guy called Glen Burmeister, who was  under taking a challenge that was making us look like a bunch of soft shandy drinkers. Glen was riding from Tarifa in the very south of spain up to the tip of norway and trying to set a record time whilst doing it and raise money for Mind the mental health charity.

We got on the road and the good thing about the Etap hotel was that it was very easy to get on the Autovia (spanish motorway) and on the road to Algericas where we wanted to get the ferry to Tangier Med Port. After a few miles on the road I noticed my bike was really down on power and my top end was really sluggish. I knew what was wrong, when repairing my bike I had put the timing belt on one tooth out. so I stopped in at a services and set about and adjustment. I noticed that my attempt to fix the leak into cam belt chamber hadn't worked, bu the leak was only small so I decided to keep going and just monitor oil levels. It took some time as the engine was very hot.
Fixing my bike at roadside in the hot sun

I pulled away from the garage and 500 metres down the road the cambelt shredded a few teeth and I had no drive this was another half hour delay as I changed the cambelt by the side of the road. The belt had worn really quickly (less than 2000 miles) this was due to the oil leak from the bottom end softening the belt.

On board the boat
As we got on the road I noticed that my top end was slow again, in the rush by the side of the road I'd missed a tooth again. so when we arrived in Malaga to try and obtain the com unit for pirates helmet I set to work adjusting the belt for the 3rd time today.  Unfortunately it was 2pm when we arrived  and seista had jus begun. so pirate couldn't buy the bit he needed. We decided to go without the part and arrived in Algericas at 5pm.

We bought our tickets which were much more than we exepcted (£110 approx each for an open return) and just got on the last ferry of the day. We stayed at a campsite in the coastal town of Martil.

The Campsite in the morning
We woke up by 8 and were on the at about half 9 after we began our love affair with Moroccan mint tea at breakfast time. We got as much water as we could carry filled up with petrol and set off.

I was a refreshing change to be on twisty back roads rather than mile after mile of Motorway/ Autoroute/ Auotvia, although id did take some time to get used to the Moroccan way of cutting every corner so you had ride like everyone was going to kill you out there.

On the road south
It was hot and only getting hotter as we contiuned further south and buy lunch time it had reached 42 degrees. Our lunch stop was great int he middle of know where we had the biggest plate of salad bread, egg and cheese I have ever seen and it cost us next to nothing. The others got tuna with their food but I don't eat fish so I was happy with the salad.

By the time we finished lunch it was gone 3pm and it was clear we weren't going to make it to Midelt but we were only 100km from Meknes so agreed to finish the day there, It had been the hottest day so far and we were all tired in the heat. We got to Meknes at about 5pm and headed to a campsite that was marked on the GPS map I had downloaded before departure unfortunately we found it had been closed since 2009, at this point we were so hot and irratable that we decided to saty in the Local Ibis hotel. This was a slice of luxury that we felt we deserved after the ups and downs of the last week.

Geoff on the BMWR1200GS in Meknes
The first thing I did after unpacking the bike was head for the luxury that the Ibis hotle provided in the way of a swimming pool and a cold beer, it was much needed. That evening we headed into the town centre and the team dynamic was running great we all appeared to be getting on so much better (4 is a much better number to travel with than 3 was my conclusion). Paul had got an old phone to lend Pirate (Pirates phone had died in the rain storms in france) but it needed unlocking so on our way to find food we stopped at a few phone shops and arranged for this to happen in the morning.

For dinner Me and Geoff had our first Tagines in Morocco, a nice meal of Lamb veg and fruits Paul and Pirate weren't quite ready for native cusine and had Pizza.

Waiting outside the Ibis Meknes for Paul to return with an unlocked  phone for Pirate
The following morning we made the most of having breakfast provided and got ready to go for 10am. While Paul got a phone unlocked for Priate. It took until 1pm for Paul to return having been taken all around town  by various local phone unlocking people. This gave pirate the means to make much needed communication with the better half back home.

All the bikes in the Low Atlas
We left Meknes after paul returned and continued south to Midelt, the road went up into the mountains, Morocco is a ver strang country the senery and landscape change very quickly almost as if there is a line in the ground that marks where there is forest, plains and a landscape that looks like it should be on Mars. Being in the mountains it was much much cooler and we even had a little rain which cooled us all down.

Spirits high at the Campsite in Midelt
At times we were at 2200 above sea level however by the end of the day we dropped to around 1000 metres above sea level and the town of Midelt. the campsite in the town was empty and it made us realise how few travellers were heading to southern morocco at this time of year in this heat. We got our tents up and walked into town where we were shown to a local resutrant. We had a massive dinner and it cost us a total of around £15 for four of us. After dinner we returned to the campsite had a few drinks and and we had proper chat and a really good evening, after 2 days of brilliant roads and fantastic scenery Morale was high again.

The young lad who had shown us the restuarnt agreed to come and meet us in the morning to take use to get our tyre changed. Although it isn't in the spirit of independant motorbike travel didn't fancy changing my own tyres in this heat. I needed to change my tyres to Knobblie trail type tyres as tomorrow we were heading to the Mountain paths and the Cirque de Jaffar.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Days 3,4 and 5

Much of the remainder of the ride through france was relatively uneventful until we were passing Birraitz only 25km from the spanish border. Once again Geoff and Pirate had fallen behind so I found a safe space and pulled in. Immediately as I pulled in Pirate and Geoff came round the last corner so I pull out in to the space infront of them, thinking that Pirate had seen me pull out and would have given me space (I wasn't exactly descreet with a bright orange mo-hawk on my helmet). I pulled out but I hadnt changed down to first so pulled away sluggishly. Pirate hadn't seen me and we had a near miss, in honesty I shouldn't have assumed that pirate had seen me.

A few miles down the road, near St. Jean de Luz, the top pulley on the cam drive had worked loose and I lost all drive from the engine. The engine was really hot to work on and the temperature was warm  so it took a while to cool. The repair frustrated me as I kept making silly mistakes and it took a much longer time to repair than it should have.

Not long after this we crossed the spanish border and went through a toll, I followed the protocol we had used the whole way through france by pulling into the service/ rest area immediately afterwards. Pirate hadn't seen me and rode past with Geoff . Luckly I had seen them and pulled out of the service and caught up with them. Geoff pulled in and we all followed. At this point Geoff came and spoke to me about riding ahead and my general speed. With 3 long days of road riding behind us and an afternoon of incidents this was my last straw I needed to blow off and have some time on my own steam so rode off intending to wait at the next toll.

About 5km down the road I lost battery in my GPS and the Motorway split outside san sebastian, and I went followed the direction to Bilbao thinkint that was the direction we were heading. When I got to the toll I put some fresh batteries in my GPS to find I should have gone towards Madrid and Burgos rather than Bilbao. I was still steaming from the fall out we had had later but knew we had to join back together.

Day Three Map
We agreed to meet at Miranda de Ebro but had no accomodation arranged, It was almost 11pm when I arrived at a Truck stop out side the town which appeared to have a small hotel but the reception appeared closed. I pitched up on a piece of deralict ground and waited for Geoff and Pirate to arrive. I was still really upset with them and I definately was starting to feel like the awkward 3rd wheel in the trip I had spent most of the last year arranging route planning and saving for.

Geoff and Paul arrived at midnight and were about to pitch up next on the deralict ground when a security guard told us we had to move. He allowed us to lay our camp beds in a car park and we got some much needed rest.

We awoke at about 6am on Monday the 20th June after an awkwards nights sleep in a carpark. It was already starting to get hot so I decided to switch into the Motorcross Suit I had bought for the hot weather. The atmosphere between the group was not great and every one was not really talking and it wasn't until we got to Madrid at lunch time we really spoke to each other.

Day Four Map

The afternoon ride from Madrid to Granada was the most boring and straight road that I have ever ridden along until we reached mountains where it started to get twisty.

Motorway Srvices about 160km from Granada
We aimed for granada that evening and arrived at 7pm and it was half nine by the time we got into a hotel. We agreed to aim for the centre which was a lovely medevil city centre and I was really glad to be there, However pirate wanted to stay at out of town hotel and wasn't happy about the decison to saty in the centre.

That evening Geoff and I went out for a bite to eat we had gazapacho soup followed buy cous cous with chicken. I was pleased to eat some fresh food after 4 days of fast food and stuff off the shelves of motorway service station.

As Day 5 came around I was keen to stay in the same hostel in the Centre of Granada another night but the others wanted to pack up so when Paul arrived (around lunch time) we should head to the port.

The hot weather and thin oil had made my oil leak look much worse than it had at any other point on the trip. I thought the oil was leaking though the cam drive into the belt chamber so looked to replace the O ring in there. I found a garage that was recomended to me by a local motorcycle hire place. However it turned out to be a Tyre shop. However they gave me space to work and supplied me with and oring that fitted.

Whilst this was happening pirate when with an Ex pat we met at the tyre shop to replace his cardo coms unit that had broken down in the rain. With no luck he was given the address of a place in Malaga and we planned to visit there following day.

After fixing my bike we went to carrefour to meet Paul as this was our agreed meeting point. Paul didn't arrive until 5pm and he arrived at a different Carrefour the other side of town. Whilst we were wait ing for him I fixed the Ridgid industrys spotlights, it was just a case of installing a new switch as the old one had died in the rain.

We spent the night at an Etap hotel on the edge of town that was just as soul less as the last one, I would have prefered to go back to the hostel in town and enjoyed the medevial centre of Granada.

Pauls arrival very quickly changed the group dynamic and we seemed to be all getting on better, there didn't seem to be the arguing over whose sat nav to follow and and what speed we were running at.