BMW R1200GSA vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Friday, 1 March 2013

Ouarzazate to the middle of nowhere...


Sunday 24/2/13


We are both safe and well. This blog was written days after the event. We are very careful, safety conscious, and we are well equipped in case we have any problems while travelling. We have top quality camping gear, a comprehensive first aid kit, emergency food for at least one day, and two or three litres of water on the bike at all times. We're not ready for anything, but we are ready for most things.

We also have a Spot GPS tracker that keeps track of our progress. You can check it here - 
The best thing is that if we are in real trouble, we can push a button on Spot and it sends a message via satellite to the international emergency response centre telling them our GPS location. They then notify the local authorities that we need help and give them our exact location. The bottom line is, if we're in big trouble, and "push the button", someone will come and get us. (We also carry spare batteries for Spot with us.) Now that's out of the way, on with today's blog.

A thought popped into my head this morning. This trip has been pretty uneventful. Don't get me wrong, it's been fantastic, but I'd like a little more adventure in our adventure touring ride. We've covered some challenging dirt roads but I'm in the mood for some more. I was about to get what I wanted - in spades.

Today's weather was perfect riding weather. A forecast high in the mid twenties and just a wisp of wind. We demolished breakfast and were on the road early.

We left Ouarzazate to follow a planned route to Beni Mallal via Boulmane Dades Gorge. We had a fairly straight run through some desert which was a change to our usual dose of mountain roads. Straight roads are still boring though, it doesn't matter which country you are in.

Yup! That's a desert.

The only vegetation we saw for ages.

Looks like we'll see some more snow today.

Suzanne will think I put this in because it's romantic.
I put it in because it's a good shot of the bike.

These guys will build anywhere.

Turn north.

Places like this are everywhere.

Not long after turning north we climbed a road up a cliff in very short time.

The road to the top.

We decided to stop for lunch at the top and ordered some mint tea and a Berber Omelette. Now we have another recipe to take back home. Very nice.

Suzanne pours the mint tea the correct way.

Berber omelette. Diced onion, capsicum, a few spices, a handful of olives, and some eggs on top. This was delicious.

Fellow Pinguinos had been here before us.

We got back on the road and continued north through some amazing country and a lot of little villages.

The road ran along the edge of the gorge
for quite some way... this.

These photos give no indication whatsoever of just how terrifying these roads were. The really hard part was convincing Suzanne I was fine so she felt OK. Yes, I lied to my wife (Sorry Suzette) and I just wanted to be somewhere else. We were at about 2,000 metres and still climbing when we rode through this...

...and we were still climbing.

There were still little villages dotted along the road, but nothing substantial or big enough for us to find somewhere to stay for the night.

Another courier delivery.

That's real snow.

Mountain goat. Is that a bad sign?
We're still climbing.

It really is a long, long way down.

We stopped at an intersection and were looking at our map. All the villages we rode through are too small to even be on the map, so occasionally it was a bit of hit and miss. We were riding off when a local stopped us and told us the road we were about to follow only goes six kilometres to a village, and a dead end. We took the other road.

Just passed the next village another local told us we wouldn't be able to cross the piste on our moto. It was impassable. Suzanne refused to go back down the road we came up on, and I was all in favour of avoiding it if it was at all possible. The local said we could go the other way. I'm always happy to listen to locals, so we backtracked to the village and looked for the alternative road. We weren't having much luck finding it when yet another local asked where we were going. I told him, he pointed to our map. He pointed us back to our original path. When I asked about getting through the pass he said "No problem." So off we went, back on our original path.

We were now well and truly into the mountains, and still climbing. Every time we crested a mountain, we saw another one, or two, three, or four in front of us. We rode past the gorge and along the highest cliffs I've ever seen. Yes, this time they were even higher than before.

Then the road turned into this.

Not much later the nice dirt road above turned into a pretty difficult dirt track.

We came to a Y junction, and of course chose the wrong way and rode about fifteen kilometres to a village, and a dead end. It's times like this that I'm glad the bike has a thirty two litre fuel tank. Plus we carry a little extra for insurance. We have a range of just under six hundred kilometres. We turned around and rode back to the Y junction and took the other fork. Onwards.

It was getting darker, and the track was getting rougher.

Then we encountered light snow on the track.
Nothing to worry about though.

Yes, that's the track in front of us, the gorge is on the right, the sun is low in the sky, and the moon is up.

The track was challenging to say the least. We were climbing steep, dirt switchbacks. Going east was OK, but heading west the sun was on the horizon and I couldn't see a thing. I had to stop a few times just to check where the track went. I was paddling through the muddy sections, and the bike was all over the place. Times like this direction of travel is less important than forward momentum. The BM clutch was getting a thorough workout and was getting a bit spongy. It was also pretty smelly.

Now it was starting to get very dark. I wasn't too concerned though as we'd had no real problems so far. All of a sudden we were above the real snow line and it was getting a lot darker. There were patches of snow and ice on the track in a lot of places and it was muddy and slippery in between the snow and ice.

Then it was night time.

OK, I got what I wanted, some adventure in my day. By now I'd had more than enough. But we weren't finished yet.

I could tell Suzanne hadn't been enjoying the ride today. When she gets nervous she concentrates on taking photos. Today she flattened the battery in one camera and filled the memory in the other one. That's over 1,000 photos for the day!

Then, for the first time on this trip, I dropped the bike. It was just a slow speed fall over when I lost the front end on a snowy mud patch. Nothing major. Suzanne fell off the side and rolled down the hill a little way. If we hadn't been so worn out, we would have laughed about it. Suzanne helped me pick up the bike and we were on our way again. I'd been watching the trip meter and knew we only had about thirty kilometres to go to a town where we could spend the night. Then I dropped the bike again.

This is the last photo for the day. I deleted one from the camera to take this one, then lost all interest in photography for some reason.

OK, now it's time for a little geography lesson. Mount Kosciuszko, Australia's highest mountain, reaches a height of 2,228 metres. We were up around 3,000 metres plus! (Update: We found out later that we were at around 4,500 metres) This height creates problems breathing and small efforts can wear you out pretty quickly. I was sucking air like a vacuum cleaner.

I picked the bike up and after a small rest we got going again. We didn't get far before we came across a large snow drift across the track. It was about twenty five metres across, so Suzanne dismounted and I rode on...until I hit the mud underneath the snow. The back wheel spun and slipped sideways. I managed to get it pointing in the right direction, but when I tried to move forward the wheel just spun again, and dug a hole. Bogged! We were well and truly stuck in the mud. This was not good. I wanted to take all the bags off the bike and try to get out. Suzanne wanted to camp the night. We compromised. We took all the gear off the bike, and camped for the night.

With the help of our great little head lamp torches (Thanks Mike and Laura. We've used them a lot, but tonight they were worth more than their weight in gold) we set up camp. Then we put on nearly all the clothes we had with us, crawled into our sleeping bags, and tried to sleep. Fat chance. It was freezing, literally. The water in our Camelbak and drink bottle was frozen solid. We did manage to get a few hours sleep though. 

Tomorrow, after some rest, we'll formulate a plan to get out of this mess.

UPDATE: Here's a great video of the road we traveled that I found on YouTube. Hans de Waard shot it on is ride through there. It's definitely worth a look.

For anyone interested our little camping location was: latitude was 31.95191, longitude -5.61584.

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