Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Today it was time to get serious and put on some knobblies! Locky had seen a tyre changing place in Midelt on the way through so we rode back into Midelt. I was insistent that the tyre place we use should have a machine rather than a bloke with some tyre levers as my rims recently cost me £150 to have shot blasted, powder coated black and then gloss powder coated. We found the place Locky had seen and he also had a tyre changing machine. I made enquiries and it turned out, with us taking off the wheels and putting them back on ourselves, that it would cost 20DH per wheel. That's less than £4 to get two tyres changed! Obviously we didn't even argue with the price, we put some vinyl gloves on that I brought along and set about taking our wheels off so they could get changed.
Locky was the first to have a wheel off:
I'd packed a 12mm 1/2 inch drive Allen socket, but the biggest ratchet we had was a 1/4 inch one with some adapters to 3/4 and 1/2 inch. Getting the front axle to shift with this was difficult so we resorted to using the tyre changer's air impact gun. We figured that if we had to change a front on the road we'd have to improvise by using a 12mm spanner on the 12mm hex socket or something to that effect. It was a slight oversight on the tool packing side, but we knew we could figure something out if we needed to and we were trying to pack light as far as tools go too.
It's hot work changing tyres in bike gear, luckily it was still early morning and the shade of the buildings was in our favour. My rear axle had corroded in place and was a bit of a bitch to get out. I'm sure I'd put some grease on it before I stuck it in... For the rear wheel we had a big spanner that Locky brought along specifically for the job so there was no trouble getting the rear axle nut off. When Locky's front tyre was getting changed I'd noticed that the tyre changer was only using the machine to break the bead on the tyres and then levers to get the tyre off and on. This wasn't what I was hoping for, my lovely powder coated rims would get damaged the way he was doing it. Luckily I had packed 2 sets of plastic rim protectors that I normally use when I change tyres on my dirt bike. I showed the tyre changer how to use these and made sure he understood that the powder coating on the rims is worth more than 1000DH each and to be careful. I helped him changed the tyres to make sure he doesn't put a lever wrong, that he always levers on the rim protector. It was crazy to watch him change a Strom front and rear with 2 tyre levers, almost like it was merely a bicycle tyre, he really knew what he was doing. He eventually called a younger bloke to do my rear wheel as it seemed he was getting a bit tired. Whether he was tired because of the work or tired because I was so insistent that he be careful all the time I'm not sure. Again I had to make the younger bloke understand to be careful and he understood easily, I helped change the tyre on the rear too so he uses the rim protectors properly. In the end everything did go smoothly with the changing and my rims didn't get any damage. I was very glad that I remembered the rim protectors and resolved to always pack at least one set when I go travelling, two sets if it was possible.
Putting the tyres back on the bikes I'd gotten my base layer top and myself covered in dirt and some chain oil (Locky's Scottoiler is like a garden lawn sprayer...), it took a good 10 minutes of repeatedly applying soap, scrubbing and washing it off with water before I felt clean enough. With the tyres now on the bikes they really looked the part.
Locky's Mitas E10 tyres:
My Continental TKC-80 tyres:
We'd previously decided that we're leaving our road tyres wherever we got our knobblies put on. We didn't want the extra weight of carrying road tyres around and we knew we'd be able to get back to home on the knobblies without trouble. We explained to the tyre changer that he could have our old road tyres to sell them on as 2nd hand tyres, he gratefully took the old tyres off us. My tyres probably had about quarter of life left in them, Locky's was about half worn. We found that people in Morocco didn't mind getting their picture taken and that, when they noticed we had cameras on our helmets, they would make an extra effort to get noticed.
This was our tyre changer posing for a picture, he chased a few people out of the way so he could get a good picture. The room behind him is his whole tyre shop:
I have to add that I have no idea what we'd have to do to get the tyres changed if we didn't have centre stands. It would've been a whole lot more difficult without them and would've taken much longer too. Stroms aren't little dirt bikes that one person can easily hold up on a side stand while the other changes a tyre, they are heavy beasts, particularly so with engine bars, bash plates, carrying tools, full fuel tanks and all the luggage for a trip like this.
Now we were really ready to get off road onto a piste. We'd sat on a ferry for more than a day, slogged it through Spain, "raced" down through Morocco to get south and we were very eager to ride the roads we really came here for. Our first pick is what we called ME3 (Morocco Eastern route 3), taken from the Morocco Overland book. This piste runs from Gourrama to Ben Tajite and is "only" ~74 km (46 miles) in length. Looking at the route on a map it looks short and you can't tell how tough or easy it will be from a map either. The Morocco Overland book has a description that says short 4x4s and lightly loaded dirt bikes will find it easy, but we missed that bit when we looked at the route in the book...
Getting to the start of a the route would still take a while, we set off from the tyre changer's shop in Midelt to Gourrama on a nice tarred road and and decided to take it easy as we just put on new tyres. The TKC80 tyres are very good on road and it only took me a few minutes and a couple of long sweeping bends at speed to feel completely comfortable on them. In the dry on a warm tarred road there isn't much between them and Anakee 2 tyres. The Anakees do feel much more stable at speed and cornering, but we didn't go that fast in Morocco that the superiority of the Anakee would easily show. Warm roads do help a lot, I'm sure the TKC80s wouldn't perform as good as the Anakee on a cold road in the UK or a cold wet one for that matter. I've heard before how hairy TKC80s can be in the wet, but have yet to experience it, on 2nd thought, I'm not sure I want to experience that.
Locky later told me he had a moment on is Mitas E10 tyres, the rear kicked out a bit on a bend. We talked about it later on in the trip and he hasn't had another incident so we put it down as something on the road surface causing the slip, perhaps a diesel/oil patch. Otherwise the E10s performed similar to the TKC80 in every regard, they are a very similar tyre and we agreed that either tyre is suitable for this kind of riding. We will probably talk about these tyres again once we've had some time to ride in the cold and wet in the UK. Wet and cold weather performance as well as tyre life should also be considered to make a proper comparison.
We finally arrived at the piste, it was just a dirt road turning off the main tarmac, no sign post at all, you'd never know that it goes to Ben Tajite if you just rode past it. We'd decided that we'll stop for a coffee and a bite to eat when we got onto the piste so we rode a short while to get away from the main road and curious eyes and stopped.
Locky setting up the stove for a brew:
With nothing on these open plains to break the wind, the stove needed some sheltering. Here I'm trying to position my bulky boots to shelter the stove's flame a bit:
You can see the road in both the pictures above, really just a pair of tracks running through the middle of nowhere with no fences or any real road markings to tell you which way the road goes or which way you should go. In these pictures we were only a few kilometres, less than 5, away from a tarred road and there was nothing around to tell you that there was any kind of civilisation here other than a lone mobile phone/radio mast. That's worth mentioning, no matter where in Morocco you are, you usually have a mobile signal. Many times we were in the middle of nowhere, with no one around, no villages for miles and we still had good mobile signal, it's a bit crazy, but when you think that mobile phones are their primary phone network because landline infrastructure is sparse then it makes sense.
We had our coffee, some biltong and buttermilk rusks and then turned on the video cameras and set off. I have hours of video every day of us riding around, but I haven't gotten around to editing any of it. Unfortunately I also didn't pay enough attention to my camera mount and the camera is pointed down too much for most of the trip, except the last day or so. On top of that there was a problem where the camera was dropping frames and causing a jerky skip effect every few seconds. I think it was having trouble writing to the SD card when recording at 720p @ 60fps even though the card was a Class 10 Samsung one, decent quality I'd assume. The camera I was using was borrowed from Gassoon (another biking friend of ours), an older Drift HD, Locky's was a new Drift HD Ghost S. Locky's video came out much better and his mount angle was good so there might be some video posted later. Sometimes, when I was standing, the angle on my video was good enough so perhaps I can salvage some of it, but I don't have much hope. In any case, what I'm saying is that there probably won't be as much video in this report as I wanted to put in. It's all my own fault for not going out riding with the camera mounted to check the angle and to ensure the video is good at the settings I was using. Another problem with the video is that I can't watch it back for more than a few minutes myself, I get severe motion sickness so editing takes much longer than expected. It takes me several days of on/off watching editing for something that will take someone that doesn't get motion sickness a few hours.
These two pictures show our first stop for a breather, we were hot and sweaty already. The first shows the road ahead and the 2nd shows the way we came. The thing to notice here is that there is nothing much to see or look at. It really does give the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere with no one else around. Of course this isn't true in Morocco, no matter where you are, if you just sit around for a while there's always someone walking by (often in the distance), seemingly in the middle of nowhere themselves and going nowhere in particular that you can tell/see yourself.
Just behind me you can see a river cutting, most of them are dry and some of them are very difficult to cross with us dropping bikes in them a fair few times. There are many of these everywhere on the piste we rode. They present a nice challenge to get through as each one is different from others and getting through each gives a little feeling of accomplishment that adds up to a good day in the end.
We soon realised we're making slow progress and that'd we've misjudged just how much time we'd have and how long it would take us to ride this piste. Locky started the falling off and we realised just how heavy a fully loaded Strom, with a near full tank of fuel, really was to pick up. In one river cutting he was crossing he stopped, put a foot out and realised there was nothing there to put his foot on. He went over, the bike on it's left side, with the wheels higher than the tank. That was a real struggle to lift upright with just two people again and we had to do it quickly as well. His right mirror hit the side of the ditch and snapped the mirror mount off the clamp that holds the master cylinder in place. Luckily the master cylinder was still held in place by what was left of the clamp so he'd still have use of his front brake without trouble. As we had the cameras rolling, was running late and we needed to pay attention to where we were riding we didn't take any other pictures of the piste for the rest of the day. For the most part the piste was a relatively easy and very enjoyable ride. The huge amount of river cutting crossings kept us entertained and having to cut across open areas to get back on track also kept things interesting. It's quite weird how you can just pick a direction and ride in it, no fences or anything other than natural obstacles to stop you. In the UK there'd always be a fence or a hedge or some road or something to stop your progress and "put you back in civilisation".
The sun was setting and we were running later than we would want to. We picked up pace as we got used to riding this type of road, but we were still going slower than we thought. We finally got to Ben Tajite and as we entered the town we stopped to have a look at the satnav and maps to find a place to sleep. I had run out of water, even after getting a top up from Locky and he was also running low too. I later found out my Camelbak was slowly leaking water from the pipe connection and repaired the leak. While we were stopped a military officer who could speak a tiny amount of English stopped at us in his car. He enquired where we came from and where we were going. We told him we just came from Gourrama along the piste and he looked a bit impressed. We asked if he knew about a hotel that we could stay at in Ben Tajite and was told that there aren't any hotels here. He told us to go to Bouanane as there would be a hotel. We got the feeling that he just wanted us to get out of "his" town. It was now getting dark, we had to find a place to sleep pronto so we decided to head for Bouanane. As we rode through Ben Tajite we realised this is a bit of a backwater town with nothing much in it, perhaps the military base was the only reason the town existed? Bouanane was another 65km away, an hour's ride, we rode as quickly as we could to get there, all on tarred road.
Driving at night in Morocco is arguably more dangerous than driving in the day, even though there is less traffic. This is because the road marking and signs are inadequate and they don't always have safety barriers and such everywhere we would have. It's much more difficult to judge how sharp a turn is in the dark when there is no barrier (or hedge) following the side of the road that you can make a judgement from. We got to the T-junction near Bounanae where we'd need to turn left, the town was about 4km away. At the junction there were two policeman at a checkpoint. They were friendly and we explained we are looking for a hotel in Bouanane. They then told us there isn't a hotel in Bouanane, but that Boudnib is a bigger town and there would be a few. By now it was pitch dark and we didn't want to go to Bouanane only to find that there really are no hotels. We decided we'd head for Boudnib, it was in the direction we planned to go tomorrow anyway, another 56km away, it would take us another 45 minutes.
This time we were on the N10, a national highway for Morocco, but a good single carriage A road by UK standards. These N roads are normally as straight as they can build them, a real point A to point B road and terribly boring to be on. Tonight however we were grateful for this as it meant it's less dangerous for us and we could push the speed a bit to get there quickly. I set the satnav for Boudnib and we set off again, we got there at about 21:30. I rode through town, but we didn't see any hotels... Almost out of town we rode past a sign for "Rekkam" with a picture of a bed on it. We turned around and children next to the road were pointing us in the direction of Rekkam. We took the dirt road leading in the direction of the sign, it's very disconcerting riding on a dirt road at night with only the bike's headlights lighting your way, we went slowly. We were barely a 100 metres before a bloke on a bicycle came riding up to us from behind. He said to follow him to Rekkam, slightly sceptical we decided to follow, but we needn't have worried, he took us straight to the front gate of Rekkam.
Here a friendly French bloke who spoke a little English popped out and greeted us. We enquired to the price of a room with dinner and breakfast for us and was amazed at how low it was, about half we've paid anywhere else. We didn't really need any further convincing, we'd found a decent place that seemed safe enough who would still serve us dinner at 22:00 at night, breakfast in the morning, at a good price and they had beer! We really wanted beer after the very long and demanding day we had. The Frenchman jumped in his 4x4 and disappeared while we offloaded the bikes and got changed out of our dusty riding clothes. He came back shortly after, he'd collected two local women who works for him to come in and make us dinner. There was no real menu, we just got the "standard" choices of salads and tagines, we picked what sounded nice and sat around outside in the great evening temperatures with a beer. There were no city noises like we're used to, no light pollution to speak of, the air was clean and nature felt closer somehow. It was a good atmosphere to rest in after a long day and we sat around chatting to each other and to our French host and spent some time deciding where we're going to ride next.
Turns out they've only had the hotel open for 10 months, he's come over from France to get it going. They were still building, the next thing to be done was a restaurant, but for now people sat outside at a table to eat, like we did. The rooms were basic, just a mud and straw building with a few mattresses with sheets and blankets over and a pillow each, clean and neat though. Showers and toilets were communally shared, but we were the only ones staying, they were very clean and neat too and had hot water.
Soon dinner arrived and Locky ordered a bottle of wine to go with it:
The food was great, the best we'd had so far (and some of the best we had on the whole trip) and there was too much of it, as was usually the case in Morocco. The wine was a mistake though, at least for me, after a long day of sweating bucket loads and lots of physical exertion, it hit me fairly hard, I'm a cheap date. We slept really well, the mattresses were nice and firm and other than a prayer call early morning there were no other disturbances. Rekkam comes highly recommended and was the favourite place to stay the entire trip for both of us.