Name: Wrong Way Round Sahara
Destination: Sahara desert
Distance: 6,950 kms (4,350 miles)
Vehicle: Yamaha Townmate
Up the creek without a pump
Up the creek without a pump.
In hindsight, following a route that all the locals said was impossible was a bit daft. We have a habit of doing this in the belief that it all adds to the sense of adventure, which to be fair it normally does. Being stuck at 3,000 metres on a trail used mainly by goats wasn’t the adventure we’d envisioned however when we all said “yeah bollocks lets go that way”.
The main cause of this predicament could be traced back to the night before. After an exhausting day crossing the Middle Atlas mountains we found a market town and decided to reward ourselves with some proper food for a change. Amongst the carts laden with tomatoes and watermelons was the local butcher who advertised his stall with a row of freshly severed goat’s heads. The attention with which he’d made sure each goat head was looking in the same direction gave the impression of a man with pride in his work and attention to detail. It was only the massing swarm of flies feeding on eyeballs and windpipes that cost him the Michelin star.
Back on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, we fired up the petrol stoves and set about making goat meatballs. Now, at the mere mention of rooftop terrace you’ve already started thinking we were in some plush hotel with a pool overlooking the mountains. In reality we’d climbed out on to the roof because the “hotel” had no windows and no air conditioning. In other words it was basically a kiln with beds in. We could indeed see the mountains though so it wasn’t all bad.
As the sun disappeared and the first stars began to appear we ate our dinner in torchlight and mused that the only thing missing was a cold beer. A warm one would still have been good. A warm one with a beetle floating on a layer of cheese would still have been preferable to our staple diet of stale water, mint tea, and the occasional bottle that said Fanta on it, but was just as likely to be Toilet Duck.
“Best Good Cooking Oil”
We were just remarking about how we wished watermelon was alcoholic when Kaspars turned up with good news and better news. Firstly he’d managed to fix the large hole in his bike frame courtesy of a bloke with a welder. Unfortunately it was a carbide powered welder so the five minute job took three hours. Oh how we laughed. On the plus side this allowed Kaspars enough time to explore, and like all good Latvians (who are trained from birth) he tracked down the local home brew.
So we now had two innocent looking bottles of “Best Good Cooking Oil” containing the local berber moonshine, reportedly made from figs but judging by the taste, somebody’s flip-flop. It did however become more figgy and less flip floppy the closer we got the bottom of the bottle. By bottle number two it was up there with an XO Cognac.
The next morning was not good. The combination of sleeping in the kiln overnight with a skinful of the local sauce meant we were all stumbling around half dazed and wondering why we had tongues like a baguette. Packing up took ages, packing the bikes took ages, paying the hotel owner took ages, everything took ages. It was because of this that when it came to looking at the map and deciding on whether to go the established (but longer) route, or the impossible (but shorter) route we uttered the fateful words “yeah bollocks lets go that way”.
Impassable wall of rubble
Things were going so well. It did in fact appear that there was a route across the mountains. In the early morning sunlight we wound our way up through the mighty peaks surrounding Mt Toubkal and took in the views whilst congratulating ourselves on finding an epic shortcut. It’s just a shame the shortcut was about 50kms short of being a full cut.
Whether it was the result of an earthquake or whether the locals just decided they had no need to be this high up a mountain we didn’t know. All we knew was that the route ended abruptly in an impassable wall of rubble.
The thought of backtracking was too much to bear so we pondered on a strategy of heading down to the valley floor to follow the river bed. The most direct route was straight off the side of the path down a ridiculously steep slope but with absolutely no way to get back up if it turned out to be the wrong choice. The other option was to backtrack quite a way and drop down in the other side of the valley. We would have all gone with the latter option if Oz hadn’t already lobbed himself off the side of the mountain and was now sliding with both wheels locked up in a haze of dust trying not to become a human landslide.
This created a problem since it was apparent that neither Charlie nor Greg could follow. Charlie’s front brake was held on with gaffer tape and his back brake was somewhere in the Middle Atlas mountains so he simply couldn’t risk it. As for Greg, it wasn’t so much a matter of whether he would die horribly, just how quickly and how horribly. So Kaspars was sent down after Oz and the plan was to “wave at each other from opposite sides of the valley and meet somewhere in the middle“. This was quite possibly the worst idea ever conceived.
We abandoned the plan
After half an hour or so of mopedaneering, Oz & Kaspars reached a small village. People only ever arrived in this village from below so the locals were somewhat taken aback to find two people descending from above…on pink and orange mopeds. They invited us for tea and bread and then took great delight in telling us we were the only motorised vehicles to ever set wheel in their village. This was plainly awesome but also meant no road out. We paid our way, shook hands and set off. After picking our way through the tiny gaps between the houses and trying not to fall in to the open sewers we made our way to the donkey trail that would take us out.
Not only had we made it down the valley but the track was now much wider and smoother and by luck more than judgement we’d timed it just right to see Charlie and Greg on the other side of the valley, albeit high above us. As per the plan we stopped our bikes and commenced the pre-agreed signal (frantic waving). When that didn’t appear to work we upgraded to shouting:
“Oi”, “Down Here!”, “Oi”, “Wankers”, “Oi”, “Are you fucking blind or WHAT!!…OI! OII!!! OIIII!!!!”
We abandoned the plan, got on our bikes and took off to catch them up. We got about one kilometre before Oz’s back tyre ended up with a three inch nail in it. This meant we now had no chance of catching them and worse still was the realisation that Charlie and Greg had both the pumps and the puncture repair kit. None of us had a mobile phone signal.
A tyre stuffed with pants and socks
Kaspars headed back to the village in search of a pump. He quickly realised that miming the action for a hand pump was easily misconstrued. Miming the action for a foot pump didn’t fare much better, with most people assuming he wanted to find a place hosting country dancing. Two hours later he came back empty handed.
Somehow we had to get further down the valley or hope that Charlie and Greg would find us. After three hours we were running out of options. Oz remembered reading about a biker who’d got a puncture in the desert and had stuffed his tyre with a blanket. It was enough to stop him wrecking the tyre and reaching place where he could get a permanent fix. We didn’t have a blanket but we had some clothes.
It was a risky bodge since we had no spare wheels and this didn’t work it was gameover. Pants, socks, t-shirts and a pair of swimming trunks later and we set off at a snail’s pace. All we could do now was hope we found help soon. What we did find was totally unexpected. Propped up against the side of the track was Charlie’s bike, seemingly abandoned. A little girl was sitting on a rock opposite.
We motioned to her “where is the rider?”. She pointed down into the bottom of the valley. After some searching we spotted Greg and a local both attempting to push his bike up the side of the valley. We could only guess that they’d tried to cross to our side of the valley and got into difficulty.
About an hour later, Charlie appeared on Greg’s bike with Greg and the local running along behind. “What happened?”. Charlie’s reply; “well, let’s just say we are the only motorised vehicles ever to cross that valley”. “Funny you should say that” said Kaspars.