BMW R1200GSA vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Stranded in the snow in the middle of nowhere.

That was a bloody long, cold night.

Monday 25/2/13

It was a very long cold night camped in the snow.

We hardly slept all night, it was bloody cold. We'd snuggle up one way, swap sides, roll over, snuggle up the other way, swap sides again, but it didn't matter what we did, we were still freezing cold. At least we were out of the wind tucked away inside our little tent, and we stayed there till about eight in the morning.

8 am. It looks quite pretty when you're not stuck there.

It doesn't look like it would be hard to get out does it?
We couldn't do it.

Yesterday was probably the most difficult riding experience I've ever had in all my many years of riding. Lugging a huge bike with the wrong tyres, overloaded with gear, and with two people on board, through mud and snow, along the edge of huge drop offs was both mentally and physically exhausting. I was wrecked. Totally. (Of course, being the unbelievably fantastic husband that I am I didn't tell Suzanne any of this.) On top of already being exhausted, being cold all night, and not sleeping, I felt like I couldn't get enough air into my lungs. I don't know how athletes compete at high altitudes. So when I got up in the morning I was ready to tackle the world. Not!

But we had to do something, so we discussed our options...

  • We could dig the bike out and continue along the road. - We weren't capable of doing that in these conditions.
  • We could wait for some one to come along and help get us out. - That could be in five minutes, or five days...
  • We could walk and get help. - How far away would help be? I estimated that the next village was about twenty kilometres away. - Possibly an option if I went alone.
  • Use Spot.

There was a sign lying on the ground where we had stopped...

Working on the hope that there was indeed a camp ground three kilometres away, and there would be someone there, we decided that I would walk to the camp ground and try and get help. If not, I would return, and we would "push the button" on our Spot tracker.

I went through the Spot operation with Suzanne and told her where the spare batteries were. We worked out signals with our whistles so we could communicate, and, at about nine am I put on all my riding gear, loaded up with some water and lollies, gave Suzanne my last two instructions, "If I'm not back by one pm, push the button" and "Don't eat the yellow snow", and headed off on my little hike.

Here are Suzanne's instructions to herself:

  • Do a Lisbeth Salander (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
  • Smoke three cigarettes in a row.
  • Think about the situation.
  • Thaw out Camelbak in the sun.
  • Eat snow and a small part of one tin of food.
  • Take photos for evidence. (Simon had downloaded the full memory card to the computer last night.)
  • S.O.S. bike horn and whistle every few minutes.
  • Gather whatever weapons available.
  • Ration food and water.
  • Put sunscreen on.
  • Find somewhere to go to the loo.
Not far down the track I came across two sections that I knew I couldn't get he bike through, even if we did get it out of the mud. The first section was about one hundred metres of ice that was four or five inches thick. I tried breaking the edge of it with my boot to make a path through. I didn't even crack it. I struggled to walk across it. Talk about slick. The second section was greasy mud for about fifty metres. I walked it OK, but on the bike? I don't know.

Along the tack was the odd earth hut. I blew my signal whistle with Morse code S.O.S. thinking that if there was anyone there, even if they didn't know Morse they'd come out to see who was making the noise. I mean, it's not as if they get hundreds of tourists along this road. No response.

When I finally got to about three kilometres, there was nothing there except a small clay hut and a similar sign to the one at our camp saying "Camping - sixteen kilometres." I can't tell you what I said.

I looked at the hut, blew the S.O.S. on my whistle a few times and saw nothing. Then I heard some goats and thought "If there are goats penned up there, someone must be around." I decided to go up to see if there was anyone there and have a look inside to see if there was anything that we might need if we were stuck for a bit longer, or even if we could spend a night in the hut if need be. At the very least I could get some warm milk.You can't believe how relived I was when I saw a young guy come out of the hut. His name was Hussain.

Hussain was a shepherd, and only spoke French, but with some sign language he understood that I was on a big moto and stuck three kilometres away. Then he said words that were music to my ears: village, telephone, tractor. He could obviously see I was shagged, so he made me a cup of Moroccan tea, said "touristic, stay", left me in his tiny hut, and walked off.

Ten minutes later he returned with a younger, smaller, mate, Ahmed, and they were carrying picks and shovels. They were going to dig me out. My Tuareg guardian angels.

We set off on the "short cut" walk back to Suzanne. These two walked up and down the bloody mountain slopes at a brisk pace, carrying tools, and chatting away, while I struggled to even walk. My guess is we saved about five hundred metres with the crow flies line, but the track would have been heaps easier on my poor, old body. I was stopping frequently to try and catch my breath. Hussain suggested that I lie down and have a sleep. I wanted too so badly, but no. If I was ever going to have a heart attack  today was the day.

We finally came within sight of our overnight camp, and I could see a white van, and the bike was out of the mud. Relief. 

When we reached the camp Suzanne explained that the van rolled up not long after I had left and two Sand People (We call the guys wearing Djeballas Sand People because they look like the characters out of Star wars. No disrespect intended), a cow in the back, and their mate. They climbed out to see if they could help. Well, all except for the cow.

Cow in the back? Of course.

It took the three guys, and Suzanne, to get the bike out. One guy drove the van with a rope tied to the bike pulling it. The other two pushed, lifted, and shoved, and grunted while Suzanne steered. Suzanne told me that the bike hit one of the Sand people fair in the chest when it fell over on one attempt at extracting it. She thought it had killed him. Three men, a van, and a super woman! No wonder I couldn't get it out by myself last night.

The "boys" who rescued the BM.
They are all very young aren't they?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The leader of the rescue team showed Suzanne how to set a fire using these bushes that are everywhere. One spark and they are off.
They burn for a while as well.

Look closely and you'll see Hussain, Ahmed, and I on our way back. We're in the dead centre of this photo.

When I finally managed to drag my sorry back side up the hill to where everyone was, the sand people were laughing at me struggling to walk, and breathe. Thanks for the sympathy guys. Then they signed why didn't I use the track they were on. I signed back that it was dark, and I didn't see it. They laughed at me again.

My Tuareg rescuers, Hussain and Ahmed.
Luckily they weren't required in the end, but I still really appreciated the effort these two young guys put in for us.

The sand people left, and then Hussain and Ahmed set off on their walk back home. I would have felt a lot better if the Sand People had hung around to make sure we made it to the next village safely, but, oh well.

Suzanne and I took about an hour and a half to pack up camp, something that normally takes about twenty minutes. We had to keep stopping for breathing breaks. Eventually at about twelve thirty we were back on track. Sorry 'bout the bad pun.

We were heading down the "other" track that I couldn't see in the dark last night and a minute later we were slithering down a muddy slope. One of the panniers hit a big rock, kicked the bike sideways, and destroyed the last bit of confidence Suzanne had. She wanted to walk to the village. She ended up walking down the slope while I skidded the bike down. I wish I could have walked as well.

Check out that front tyre. What traction?
Suzanne is on the slope in the background.

A few minutes later we saw a four wheel drive driving in the opposite direction along the other track. I thought "They will be able to get through no problems." Very soon after they had turned around and then pulled up next to us as Suzanne was remounting after another mud section. They decided they couldn't get through where we got stuck and were going back where they came from.

Suzanne asked where they were going. When they answered Agoudal Suzanne leapt at he opportunity to ask if they would take her with them in the car. After Agoudal it is all paved roads again. We were both pretty happy when they said yes. Suzanne could rest, and I could manage the bike a lot better.

Jean Oui and Marilyn were a lovely French couple. Jean Oui had worked in Casablanca and had recently retired, so they were exploring Morocco before heading home to France.

We had a convoy.

The bike was so much easier to ride and I started to enjoy the dry parts of the track and have a bit of fun. A few minutes later we came across Hussain and Ahmed. When Ahmed saw a vacant seat on the back of the bike, he asked for a lift to Agoudal. How could I possibly say no? So off we went.

My new pillion.

It was still harsh terrain.

Our convoy rolled into Agoudal to be greeted by the local kids, who saw us as a source of entertainment. Ahmed was king of the kids arriving on the back of a huge motorcycle.

I think they thought I was a bit odd when I got off the bike and kissed the sealed road.

We said our goodbyes and thank yous to Jean Oui and Marilyn. They were continuing south, while we were going to make our way north.

Jean Oui, Marilyn, and Suzanne.
A huge than you guys.

We rode off feeling a lot more comfortable being back on a sealed road. Without any switchbacks we descended down the mountains on nice, gently sloping, downhill roads. We rode downhill for about three hours through more incredible scenery, but our priority was a hot shower and a soft, warm bed, so we probably didn't enjoy it as much as we could have.

The road out of Agoudal. It was all downhill from here,
but in a very good way.

The road was a bit of fun.

We thought about stopping at the local laundromat,
but decided against it.

There was just mountain after mountain.

How do you transport goats in Morocco?

Put them on a roof rack of course.

After a few more hours of riding we found ourselves in Rich. I should say we lost ourselves in Rich.

We stopped for a quick fuel and drink break
just outside Rich.

Rich was odd. It looked like a village, but it was large, had all the shops and teemed with people like a city. It was very crowded, and not particularly welcoming. We decided to push on to Midelt. This had to be our overnight stop because it was getting dark and I had no headlight as I'd broken a headlight bulb last night.

Almost as a reward for last night's troubles we were given a superb down hill, sweeping bends, twenty five minute ride into Midelt. It was just right.

We must have been a sight walking into the Hotel Kasbah Asmaa reception. Dirty, smelly, tired, and still covered in mud from the ride the day before. They welcomed us with open arms, insisted we park the bike inside the grounds on the marble floor, and showed us to our room.

What luxury. Hot water, and a bed with a soft mattress. We were happy. We'd booked for two nights and planned to stay in bed for most of tomorrow.

Later that night we went downstairs for dinner and met Olivier and Thierry, a couple of French guys touring around Morocco on BMW R800GS bikes. Olivier lives in Morocco and Thierry came down for the holiday. It was great to sit and swap stories with these guys over dinner and a few bottles of wine. Unfortunately we had to make it an early night as it had been a long day. 

Having gone through our experience I realise the outcome could have been much different. As I pondered this, a tour bus full of people came in the door and were shepherded to their tables for a feed. I looked at them and none of them looked happy. I thought to myself "I never want to do that." 

We have just spent the last two weeks in incredible places, most of which we'd never heard of before. We've met some remarkable and extraordinary people, and seen landscapes that you don’t even see on postcards. Morocco is breathtaking. Just when you think you've seen it all, it slaps you in the face with another spectacular vista. We've taken a thousand photos in one day and still haven’t captured everything we’d like too. Morocco is truly a stunning experience.

This appeared on Facebook a few days later:

We are staring in our own movie, and it's a blockbuster.


  1. what a beautiful and exciting adventure that you guys lived! A big hug and continuation of good trip! Hugo Brites

  2. Thanks Hugo. We'll be back up your way soon and will catch up for a beer.