Cycling Morocco: Camels, Col’s & Climbing Tichka…

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This last two weeks I joined up with Adventurer Richard Matheson Harphram to explore Morocco by bike, taking in as much of the country as we could in our two-week stay.

For myself I wanted a few thing out of the trip: a good motivator to get fit for the kayak season, a fresh way to see a new country, to experience something that would be a challenge & push me hard.

Our final route was from Marrakech over Col du Tichka to Ouarzazate, then onto Merzouga. We hopped on a bus to skip the long boring Desert road taking us back to Ouarzazate. Then back on bikes over Col du Tichka again, across and up the Ourika Valley and finally back to Marrakech. See our loop here: Our Route

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Day 1: Setting off from Alba Kech house in Marrakech

Personal Highlights

  • Climbing up the 2260m Col du Tichka pass, (60 miles of very steep climbing): It was so hard work on our 40kg+ laden bikes, but at the same time the way you seemed to get higher & higher without really noticing and the feeling of satisfaction once at the top made the previous 60 miles of slogging worthwhile.

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  • Cycling 96.5miles on day 5 and realising my legs could keep going on and on, I felt super human that day.

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  • The first “hardest” day, going towards the turnaround point of Merzouga (where the Sand Dunes are), darkness falling, no town in sight, and a ferocious head wind for the last 30 mile. Realising you just need to grit your teeth together and keep pedalling.

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  • Cycling back over Col du Tichka, we were cheered on by thousands of French students taking part in a Renault 4 rally as we climbed to the din of honking of horns, shouts of ‘bon courage’ and ‘respect’ then after we celebrated again at the summit we found this camp spot almost at the summit. I walked up to the ridge to see what was on the other side and the view just dropped away a sheer 1000ft or more to the empty valley below. I felt so alive & in touch with the world peering out into the wind.

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  • The second “hardest” day, after camping at the paradise camp spot mentioned above. During the night we got nailed by heavy wind all night then in the morning we awoke to find snow, sleet and hail. Nothing we could do other than cycle lower down until it warmed up, we had all the clothes we had with us on, but our hands in little cycle mitts and my knees in skimpy cycle shorts were in bits as the hail & snow slashed them on the way down. When we found the cafe and warmed up a bit it was one of the fondest moments of the trip as Rich sobbed about his Chilblains and I huddled with my knees tucked up under my coat drinking mint tea.

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  • Seeing a country by bike I really appreciated the distances between the landmarks, noticed all the details, how friendly the locals were & the way personalities changed region by region and also the sheer variety of different landscapes here was unreal. Spectacular was a word I said far too much on this trip:-)

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  • Hospitality: One of the best bits was our second to last day. We were cycling along and loads of amazing metal sculptures caught my attention. The artist Abdullah (sorry if I spelt your name wrong) invited us to stay at his. So we cycled on, uphill another 15 miles then freewheeled all the way back to his gallery where he shoved us and our bikes into his van and took us to his home. We spent the night getting recounted many stories from his fascinating life. From trekking through the jungle to get into Burkina Faso to evade the border check to his 7 month project of revamping a old VW surf bus shell to a pristine model and many hilarious Arab jokes. In the morning he took us to the local market and bought us breakfast before sending us on our way back to Marrakech!

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  • Off-Road trails: We actually did have a great time riding down some of the trails just off the road. The bikes came into their own off the road, even if they were an absolute bitch slogging along on the tarmac 😉

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  • Camels: They are such a good creatures, watching them eat with their funky gurns and expressions is like watching a great comedy, i loved socialising with them.

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  • Desert: I’ve never seen such beautiful sunrises or such a surreal landscape. (Or more frustrating cycling).

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  • People we met: So many intriguing people we met along the way.

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  • Wild Camping: We stayed in some magnificent spots! Sleeping out under the stars, in often remote spots, lying next to the ground often felt me better than when we were in Hotels, (apart from the lack of shower). You sleep so good outside.

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  • Overall the trip pushed me harder than I expected, threw up experiences I never anticipated, showed me a new culture and a amazing country and I got to really push myself. Together with Rich I feel like we saw & did an incredible amount in only 13 days.

Realisations/ Lessons Learnt

  • After slogging hard for a few hours when you stop & eat just a simple Orange, Mango or an Avocado, it tastes sensational. All your senses are enhanced when your working hard. 

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  • Simple things like sitting down for a few moments or sleeping in a real bed for a night sometimes feel exquisite. 

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  • When you think you can go no more, just stay in the moment, you can always do one more push as it turns out. Everything passes.

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  • When everything goes tits up, laugh about it. Everything fixes itself sooner or later.

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  • I really felt sometimes like my body was singing, you can push so much harder than you thought you could when your really in tune.

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  • Intuition: Always listen what your heart tells you, it is never wrong. Particularly when I didn’t follow rich on the trail that led to him getting 15 punctures in one go 😉
  • All hard exercise is a purifier, you feel so good, clean & happy when your work hard with your body. I will keep this up for sure. Life is dull & blunt when you don’t physically push yourself.

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Finish! Going Home!

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Joke of the trip

From Abdullah the Scupltor/ Artist, translated from Arabic:

An old man is writing to his son in prison, “Son you know how I love growing tomatoes, but now i’m getting old I’m not sure I can dig the field well enough this year to plant any, I wish you weren’t in prison, I hope you get out soon so that we can have our beautiful fresh tomatoes every year…”

The son writes back “Dad, shhh, don’t dig the field up that’s where I buried all the bodies…”

The next day the field is thoroughly dug up and ploughed by a group of Police searching for bodies after a tip-off from the Prison Guards…;-)

Full Report

For a full report check out Rich’s posts on: Cycle Sahara FB page

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Our Route

We had originally aimed to cover 1000miles, however we’d taken ‘Fat Bikes” with massive tires in the hope we’d be able to ride on the Sand and hadn’t taken into account the weight or resistance of these bikes. So our 1000miles soon got turned into a shorter loop on 525miles giving us time to see more and spend more time off-road.

Our final route was from Marrakech over Col du Tichka to Ouarzazate, then onto Merzouga. We hopped on a bus to skip the long boring Desert road taking us back to Ouarzazate. Then back on bikes over Col du Tichka again, across and up the Ourika Valley and finally back to Marrakech. Our Route

Thanks to my personal sponsors:

Palm Equipment, Teva Shoes, Dagger Kayaks & AT paddles along with Salsa for the loan bike for the trip.

and finally a big thanks to team-mate Rich!

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About James Bebbington

2011 ICF World Freestyle Kayak Champion & 2011 ICF World Cup Freestyle Kayak Champion Passionate about Kayaking, Travel, Nature, Dreams, Raw Food & the Beauty of Life. Don't give up on your dreams, listen to your heart!
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