Kasbahs and Camels – bikepacking through Morocco
Gravel Union On
18 February 2019
Claire and her intrepid bikepacking friends Neil, Natalia and Petra decided that spending a traditional Christmas at home wasn’t for them and they fancied a bit of adventure instead. They headed out to Morocco and used the upcoming Atlas Mountains Race as their route inspiration with Komoot providing the navigation wizardry. Claire sent in this beautiful collection of images from her trip.
The lazy winter sun had only just peeped over the horizon as we rolled out of our auberge at 8.30am. Expecting chaotic traffic and a stressful first few kilometres, we were happy to find wide straight roads and cycle lanes. We had chosen to stay in the south west corner of Marrakech, outside of the famous Medina area, knowing that we wanted to get out into the mountains as quickly as possible.
The plan for this trip was to roughly follow the route of the AMR, but with a few route deviations and alternative options factored in to allow for the fact the four of us were here for a holiday, not a brutal 1200km test of endurance. Riding for 9 days, our plan was to head east from Marrakech, zig-zagging south through the Atlas Mountains before ending at the coast just south of Agadir.
The first day took in two of the highest peaks of the route, climbing up to the first summit we found snow by the roadside, a reminder that we didn’t want to find ourselves caught at altitude during the night, especially as I was the only one carrying a sleeping bag.
We finally reached the summit of Col du Tichka just as the sun started to set, the temperature drop was almost as dramatic as the views. Mile upon mile of freshly laid tarmac lead us swiftly down to Telouet and our accommodation for the night.
Singletrack paths on a raised bank weaved between houses as we left the roads behind
Hike-a-bike, love it or hate it, sometimes you’ve got to do some pushing to get where you need to.
Wide open plateaus like this gave us a sense of the vast emptiness of this area, we would see barely any traces of civilisation for hours, just the occasional lone goatherd and rough dirt tracks we were following.
Rocky paths snaking along the hillside lead us through a dusty valley, the heat of the midday sun was building as we ran low on water. In the distance we spotted a small collection of buildings where we hoped to find water and some shade in which to fix a leaking tubeless tyre.
Locals gathered outside the house and watched us with interest as we put a tube into the offending tyre. Moments later the head of the family invited us into the shade of his home for a glass of Berber whiskey (mint tea). Sat on rugs and cushions we were presented with a huge tray of nuts, bread, olive oil and goats cheese, all from this small area of land where his family live. The hospitality of the Berber people is wonderful, throughout the journey they would beckon us to join them for tea or food, one man let us sleep in his family home after we couldn’t find accommodation in his village.
This gravel highway seemed to go on forever, perfectly straight, the end disappeared into the horizon. Bathed in an orange evening light we cast long shadows as we powered along, pushing heavy gears in an effort to float over its washboard surface
The ancient town of Ouarzazate, mint tea and orange juice on a roof terrace reminded us that sometimes it’s good to leave the bikes for an hour and take some time to relax in the sun.
Lush greenery and the sound of flowing water and birdsong greeted us at Oasis Fint. Dates, pomegranate, grapes and olives were all growing in the terraced water irrigation systems fed from the river. A stark contrast to the dry and lifeless plains we had been riding through up until now.
Back to the red dust.
One of the joys of riding this route as a tour instead of the race meant that we had time to stop and take in the views. This landscape was stunning, part volcanic and part other-worldly, it was totally different to what we had seen so far. Shiny rocks glistened in the sand, each rider kicking up a glittery cloud of dust behind them as we descended.
Climbing high on the side of a valley on an ancient rock track.
Sometimes a road is so stunning there are no words to describe it. This was one of those. Dusty corners were edged by sheer drops down to the valley below, I was torn between the exhilaration of speed and not wanting it to end.
Riding out through the canyon as the sun rose on New Year’s Day
Views down to the boulder strewn riverbed that took the first derailleur victim of the trip. Natalia rode single speed to the next town before organising a taxi and bus to meet us at the beach.
The French colonial road has long fallen into disrepair, landslides meant piles of rocks littered what was left of the road, in other places we had to carry our bikes through deep gullies and across dry riverbeds.
The second single speed conversion of the trip, another derailleur fell victim to the tough terrain. This meant skipping the following day of mountainous off-road riding, opting for a bus to Taroudant before a flat 100km ride to the beach
The finish, Sidi Rabat, a tiny beach town down the coast from Agadir. Rides that end at the sea have a special place in my heart, there’s a sense of finality, you’ve gone as far as you can go. I sat on the clifftop as the sun went down, watching as the rolling waves of the Atlantic ended their journey here too.
Claire and her friends used Komoot to plan their route through the wilds of Morocco. If you’d like to read Claire’s blog about her trip, please click here
If you fancy venturing to Morocco yourself, you can find Claire’s route on Komoot and the full route of the AMR is here
Author: Claire Frecknall
Images by: Claire Frecknall and Neil Davey