Snow in the High Atlas Mountains

It’s been an interesting week, we’ve had rain, a sand storm, incredibly strong winds, and now the last two days in the snow!

hard to believe we were in sand dunes two days ago!

Yesterday we’d planned to ride back north via a similar path we came south on, but right at the top of the High Atlas range we passed a town overflowing with taxis and mini vans, which usually means the road is blocked ahead, and this was no exception.

The long way around took us about 100km out of our way, and landed us into a little known town last night, where 2 of the 4 hotels were full, and the other two were hell holes even by our lowly standards.

we’ve been colder before, but not by much!

The worst one was not really a functioning hotel, the ground floor was a long abandoned renovation site, with walls broken and exposed wiring and bits of rubble and wood debris everywhere, the tiny  rooms had really small single beds too short for adults to stretch out in, and there was no water in the bathroom (which incidentally was on the roof).

Of course we wound up in that one – it had somewhere to park the bike! But only after I asked three times if they actually had hot water.  After a day at between 0 and 9 degress you really want a hot shower!  The manager promised me he did, but when we went out for dinner we saw him in the construction site (reception) arguing with another guy over a gas bottle… not a good sign.

it looks a bit like Siberia up here

Later on he softly knocked on the door and then ran away, but I opened faster than he’d hoped and called him back.  He explained that there was a problem, and there was no water.  Shock!!  I suggested that he should compromise on the price as a result and he refunded me 15 dihrams out of the original 60 ($6).

He did bring us extra blankets though as it was bloody cold last night – always entertaining watching Sal try to sleep without actually touching the fetid blankets 🙂

we passed this lake that was almost totally frozen over

Never mind, I went to bed half dressed and rolled out of bed straight back into my riding suit for today’s final 250km in the mountains.

We’re not really prepared for such low temperatures on the bike, and even wearing everything we have, we still suffer on cold days.  We stop now and then to restore feeling in our hands, and are praying continuously for rain to hold off, and the mountains to end.

lucky for us, our detour had just been snow ploughed the afternoon before!

We were lucky today and just beat the stormy weather into a city called Mekes, and are holed up in a lovely little room with a steaming hot shower 🙂  More rain is forecast for tomorrow so we may take a down day before the last day of riding back to Algericas for the ferry to Spain.

Love to all xoxo




Sal gets her own wheels

After our Fury road day, we’d planned to stay a couple of days in Merzouga, but it turns out that unless you want to book in for an “authentic Sahara experience” (ride a camel for ten minutes into a pre-prepared sand camp and let some poor Moroccans do everything for you), there’s not actually that much to do there.

So we packed the bike in the morning planning to go see the largest sand dunes and possibly stop in the next town where there was a date festival going on…. Yeah I know, pretty cool huh! Date Festival! It’s Party time!!

We stopped just short of the dunes and I unloaded all the luggage to enjoy the ride a bit more.

“Do you want to come babe”

“Are you serious?! NO!!”

Riding around in the sand on my own wasn’t much fun, so 10 mins later I came back, we loaded up again and headed off. I was a bit bummed out for Sal not to experience the sea of bigger sand dunes, so I suggested we hire a quad bike so Sal could go too…

Half an hour of negotiation and we settled on hiring one bike and the mandatory guide took me on the back.

en route to the sand dunes from Merzouga

I’m not sure if Sal had more fun than me watching her, but it was really cool. We rode for half an hour into the dunes, stopped for some pics and then headed back just as a nasty sand Storm was brewing.

riding like a pro!

i got to try the quad too, it’s much more relaxing on 4 wheels!!

Southern Morocco, Fury Road.

“so are you guys joining us on the dirt, or taking the highway?”
“We’re joining you on the dirt rd” Sal responded tersely…
“Are you sure Sal?”
“This is your time babe, just take the dirt road…”

It’s not all sunshine and roses but I do consider myself to be the luckiest guy on earth for being with Sally.  We’d been doing 8 to 10hr days on mountain passes, some good going but mostly rocky, bumpy roads.  Heaven for me, but not so much fun on the back.

one of the many oasis we passed yesterday

The morning of this particular day of off-road riding started out at 2000m altitude, 8 degrees and raining. Not horrible stormy rain, but on the back of the last few days it wasn’t really what we wanted.

At breakfast we talked about my planned route through the mountains…

“We’re taking the highway today aren’t we Dean” it wasn’t a question.
“Um… Yeah I guess so.”

After an hour in the rain, the storm broke and we stopped for a cup of tea and to take some layers off.  Two other guys on bikes who were in the same small town stopped too, and we sat and chatted over the worst cup of tea that’s ever been made.

They were headed towards the bit of piste (french for dirt road) that I had pencilled in before the rain started (and before our earlier agreement to take the highway), which just happened to start about 800m from where we were sitting, and end at the town we were headed towards.

It was just a bit too tempting.

Before we headed off Sal put her wet weather gear back on muttering something about the storm on the horizon, while I expressed positive thoughts about our chances of staying dry.

It’s very rare that we set off in some direction that Sal doesn’t want to go in. I’m not usually brave enough, but it wasn’t actually raining – and we’re in Morocco!!

I’m not religious, but on these rare moments I find myself fervently praying for a good outcome.

No rain and a nice track = happy Sally.
Rain and sandy track = Fury Road.

In the end it was somewhere in between, a bit of rain, but mostly beautiful piste that criss crossed a wide dried up river for the afternoon.  There was also a point where we literally rode into a large open cut mine (Erzberg rodeo style!), complete with enormous trucks and yellow bunting, at the same time as it was raining, that bit wasn’t so great, but it wasn’t Fury Road either 😉  We spent that night in a cheap hotel (surprise surprise!) and the 2 Czech guys decided to join us for today’s ride too.

We’re now in the south of Morocco, the desert bit, and desert means sand, and (if you’ve been paying attention you’d know that) sand means Fury Road.


Yesterday it took us about 4 minutes to overtake our new friends and then we spent most of the day waiting for them, especially in anything that had the slightest bit of sand to cross, so we weren’t surprised when they decided that the route we were taking today was too difficult, and after 70km they took the highway north instead.

Sweet Irony.

We spent the rest of today following a 170km gps track that didn’t really have an actual track matching it, more like a hundred different wheel tracks spread across a few hundred metres in the desert, that all went roughly in the same direction.

one section took us through a dried up flood plain between mountain ranges

Sometimes the tracks diverged and then came back together and other times they kept going in different directions, and we had to double back or ride through the dunes to get back to the ones going in our direction.

The track followed a riverbed at first, then it was stony desert, then it wound its way between separate sand dunes, and yes, (you’ve been waiting for it!), eventually the track crossed dunes, and then we were continuously in rolling dunes.

the only signpost we saw all day

Not big bad horrible Dakar style dunes, but still Fury Road worthy.

“Babe I want to walk this bit!” Sal demanded as we were looking at sand dunes as far as we could see into the distance.
“We’ll be here for a week if you want to walk all the sand” I replied and kept the throttle wide open.

Now I started this post by emphasising how lucky I am to have such an amazing adventurous woman in my life, and I’ll go back there now.  We must have ridden almost 150km of sand today, 2up, with luggage.

Most people won’t understand how difficult that is.  But anyway, there aren’t many bikes you’d try it on, and even fewer passengers who would contemplate the idea.

Sand requires speed, a bit like water skiing, too slow and you sink, the faster you go the easier it gets, but if you fall off at high speed it’s going to be ugly.

So we’re going reasonably fast, the motor is wide open to maintain that speed so the rear wheel is continuously sliding, and I’m standing up, trying to get all of my weight as far back as possible to let the front wheel steer instead of ploughing.

This means Sal is leaned back at a horrible angle over the rear bag with my bum pushed into her face so she can’t actually see anything at all.

The other difficult part of sand riding is that you can’t really steer very precisely, you just point the bike in a vague direction, keep it wide open and don’t stop for anything.

This means that we quite often end up going in undesired directions before I can coax it back on track, like into even bigger dunes, into deep ravines, over big rocks or across deep ruts in the sand.  And to top it off we frequently veer off into unexpected directions when the front wheel buries in a deep patch…

Sounds like fun huh! Even more so for Sal as she can’t actually see what’s coming, so she gets totally slammed by every impact.

But even with all this excitement today, there was only just the smallest hint of Fury Road, coming after the twentieth demand for “walking this bit” was ignored, where I had to actually stop because things got a bit too hairy in some deep ruts.

“I’m not doing this bit!!” Sal stormed off across the sand dune, finally in control of her own destiny.

waiting for Sally after she jumped ship in the previous patch of sand

Love that woman.

I made my way to a firmer patch of ground so Sal could get back on, and we roared away again, in the middle of the vast nothingness of the desert, just us three snaking our way towards the next oasis town.

A desert is an amazing but also intimidating place, and more than once I found myself wondering what on earth we were doing there? We have friends, family and a nice home in Australia, we have a garden and nice places to hang out… But here we are surrounded by mountains of sand and rock in northern Africa.


As we covered the last few km into town, tired but now back on the safety of a tar road, a deep feeling of awesomeness crept into my mind, We did it!

I reached back and hugged Sal.

“good work babe, I’m exhausted”

“Me too”

“Great ride huh!” 😉


So much has happened since I was last here, but in a nutshell… Sal returned to Australia to sadly farewell a very special lady, meanwhile I did two weeks (of predominantly donkey time) in Spain, Sal came back, I crashed Betsy in the rain in Lisbon (no injuries), and then we came to Morocco.

Also in there was a day of maintenance on Betsy in Lisbon, where I finally cured a persistent chatter in the clutch and can now proudly say that we have complete Bike Zen.  Can you feel the excitement?  I’m excited.  Really excited.

putting the new (second hand) clutch in Betsy, thanks KTM Lisbon for the workshop space!

Armed with new found Bike Zen we decided to skip the Algarve in Portugal (it was getting too cold to spend time on the beach), and make tracks for Morocco.  After a couple of months kicking around Europe (e.g. hanging out in brightly lit bars frequented mostly by old ladies) this was an exciting prospect.

We took a couple of days to ride to the coast, camped close to the ferry terminal in Tarifa and then found ourselves looking at Africa again with more than a bit of enthusiasm.  Well… I was enthused and Sally was doing her usual routine of appearing not very excited, but deep down, really deep down, where no one could actually see, somewhere below the sub cockle area, Sal was excited too.

looking at Africa again

We bought tickets that landed us around midday and then headed straight to a town called Chefchaouen, famous for it’s blue buildings and centuries old medina (an old walled city, full of people selling junk).

Chefchaoen, blue town full of old men dressed like wizards.

From there we did a short riding day to Fes where we stayed a couple of days in the medina (another old walled city, full of even more people selling even more junk), trying to avoid being overcharged for basically everything.

After Fes my enthusiasm level for Morocco was waning.  Too many rude touts trying to get us into restaurants or convince us to come to some tannery for free, and then asking us for money.  Too much junk for sale at hundreds of stalls all selling the same cheap crap that’s probably made in China anyway, and too much overpriced, bland tasting food.

Then we went to Agoudal in the High Atlas mountains and things started to improve.  We ate lunch in a tiny town on the way up and were impressed with the flavours in the tajine, and more impressed with the price.   This was followed by a night in a Kasbah looking hotel at 2400m altitude, where we further sharpened our Moroccan negotiation skills.

Turns out that everything here, literally everything, is up for negotiation.  Even a cup of coffee.  There is the inflated tourist price on a menu ($3), the haggled tourist price ($1) and then the actual price ($0.50).  Understanding this has been helpful.

typical small town in the High Atlas mountains, they really like brown here.

the minaret (place where old men scream verses from the Koran into megaphones 5x per day)

It was so cold overnight in Agoudal that in the morning the bike was covered in a thin layer of ice.  Fortunately the sunny morning took the chill out of the air and we set off, leaving the sealed roads behind for what would be 3 days of brilliant off road riding in some amazing mountain scenery.

As this is a motorcycle trip, I’m going to indulge in some boring motorcycle related commentary… The 90/10 situation.  90% of the time the SuperEnduro (Betsy) is not the best bike to be riding…  She is not a great touring bike.  She is a terrible city bike.  She isn’t much of a single track bike, although we give it a nudge from time to time.  And with offroad tyres, she isnt much of a road bike either… But for 10% of the time, on mountain or desert tracks, Betsy is totally sublime.  Morocco has overwhelmingly been full of that 10% of the riding roads that are so much fun, so rewarding to ride, that it makes the other 90% of the time not matter at all.  I think you get the idea, I’m having a ball over here :)))

As I’ve written here more times than I recall, the pictures don’t do it justice, but you get the gist…

donkeys bringing wild thyme down from the mountains

the donkeys here are adorable


typical farming plot in the Atlas

So bring it on Morocco! This could be our last big offroad hurrah on Betsy, I’m going to make it one to remember 🙂

Love to all back home xxoo