Playing in the dunes
No luggage today. We went for a ride in the dunes and our heavy beasts could miss all the unnecessary weight. 6 liters of water and some cookies should keep us going this time. We weren’t going to be very far and the tour around the dunes of Erg Chebbi was frequently used by 4×4’s so nothing to worry about. We passed a deserted village and hit the dunes. I was impressed how well the GS did in the higher dunes. Again I felt like I rode a drunken pig but the beast stayed upright and it was so much fun. I got stuck a couple of times and tried to set off uphill, resulting in digging the bike even deeper in the sand. One of the rules of thumb to be added for riding in sand: always start downhill! Once you have some speed you can turn back and go uphill again. Also sand blown against the hill is a lot firmer than sand blown over the hill, as I could experience when my whole front fork was dug in as I went over a hilltop. The bikes got sandblasted and I must admit it had been a long time since my rims looked that shiny and new :-).
We had some tea with a friendly berber who was responsible for a group of construction workers. We were offered a smoke as well but kindly refused because we still had to ride our bikes and wanted to make it back home in one piece. As we left the dunes and rejoined the sandy track around them, a sandstorm came on resulting in almost no visibility in the end. In Rissani we found one single petrol station that still had petrol albeit leaded. Plenty of pumps were offering diesel, but petrol seemed to be scarce these days. This time however we paid correct prices.
As we entered Merzouga via the main road, we met two other British riders on a DRZ and even Mark started to socialize a bit. It was nice to meet some other people, have a chat and exchange some experiences. I managed to find a lamp switch in town to make switching the engine on and off a little easier as now I needed a little screwdriver for that.
In the evening I went down to the lobby of the hotel that got transformed into the local hash bar by a group of crazy Spanish hippies. After a while everyone lay down as stoned as a shrimp and even the hotel manager could barely stand up. As we had a long stretch ahead of us tomorrow, I kept it safe and only had a couple of puffs, which was enough to make me feel a bit relaxed without being totally wrecked like the rest of the gang. It was a bit weird to see even the elderly almost take off while a common beer was simply not available…
Along the Algerian border
The road along the Algerian border, straight through the Sahara. It has something mythical and without really saying it literally, this was the major aim of the trip for both of us. The level of expectations was high and we were advised by some locals not to do this section on our own because our bikes would have been too heavy and the place was too remote. They advised us the parallel, more northern route via Fezzou that was easier but also less scenic. ‘On ne peut faire cette route qu’avec un vehicule de support monsieur je vous assure’. We assumed they just sold us the story because they wanted us to hire a 4×4 support vehicle so we opted for the very southern route anyway. The first stretches were easy gravel piste with the occasional serious pothole every now and then and a bit of rough terrain but nothing too serious. We took these stretches at high speed and enjoyed the magnificent scenery that would keep on coming during the whole track. In the beginning of the track we saw a couple of locals, mainly kids, begging for the usual stuff: ‘donnez-moi un bic m’sieur, donnez-moi un bonbon’. I had already given away all my pens and cookies so this time I had to disappoint them.
We were warned for two dry riverbed crossings with plenty of fesfes. The first one wasn’t too bad. It was still rideable albeit not always standing up the pegs because of the many ruts where you got your front wheel trapped in. Mark struggled a bit with his panniers as every time he laid the bike on its side he had to take them off and reattach them etc… My stock 1150 GSA panniers did pretty well although most of the plastic attachments were broken by now but strapping them to the bike kind of solved the issue without major problems. We both got through the ‘Oued Ziz’ pretty easily and some more impressive scenery was waiting for us. Landscapes were pretty flat and you could look for miles ahead without a living soul around. As we neared the second section we road along the Oued for quite a distance as the track seemed to get wider and wider. In fact it wasn’t much of a track anymore but a flat surface allowing for high speeds. It had some tricky parts in it with bumps and sandy ruts but it was great fun riding under a clear blue sky with nothing much to worry about. We arrived at the village just before the ‘Oued Daoura’ and were chased by some pushy locals trying to sell us a guide to get through the soft stuff. ‘Pas besoin monsieur, on se debrouillera’. This was totally different from the section of fesfes we had before. We managed to do a couple of hundred meters before the engine ran hot or before the rear got dug in. I looked at my GPS and thought it seemed logical to opt for the shortest distance between the riverbanks, much to the unhappiness of Mark who wanted to stick to the line on his device: ‘you really haven’t learned anything now have you…’. Now that was just the kind of remark that pissed me off especially as it came out of the mouth of a fucking sociopath who can’t talk about anything else but his bike and his sister. It seemed we were getting on each others nerves more and more, but I bit my tongue as riding alone here would have been totally irresponsible. After all, I was on the bike for 90% of the time during the day and in the evening he got ot bed at the same time as my kids at home…
I suggested to get out of the fesfes ASAP and ride on the firmer riverbank which Mark finally accepted to do, although it wasn’t according to his GPS track. He got out pretty easily but my rear wheel got dug in just before the top of the slope and no way to ride it out. I almost overheat my engine and as I pushed the start button, there was a mere ‘tick tick’ but no response of the engine. Of all places!!! Why now, why here! I thought it was just a flat battery but marked scared the shit out of me saying I could as well have seized up the engine. No way of pushing the bike to start in this loose stuff and what if the engine really was fucked up? There goes my holiday…At that time another pushy local came offering to pull us out and to guide us which I almost accepted if he weren’t too stubborn in the beginning to lessen the price to a reasonable level and not to profit from our misery. We finally pulled the bike up with our hands. I crossed fingers when hitting the start button and after some unhealthy staggering of the starter motor, I got the engine spinning at last. Impossible to describe the feeling of relief I lived at that moment. ‘The highs and lows of adventure biking…’ We managed to ride the bike out of the Oued with the necessary cooling down breaks and without too many horizontal encounters with the surface.
Speed at last
Frome here on the piste was pretty fast again and not too difficult. I had to be careful again not to bottom out the rear as we rushed through the potholes to compensate a for the struggle we just had in the riverbed. I wanted to continue until Tagounite but Mark suggested stopping at an auberge in Agoult because he couldn’t concentrate any longer. ‘Allright, as you wish…’ Our host was called Lehsen, spoke a couple of words of French, enough to have a nice conversation, and after a bit of negotiation we agreed to sleep in his berber tent outside. He had exactly two ice cold beers which was exactly what we needed and he served us the best meal we had since having left Fes. It’s strange but it seems the poorer the area, the better the meals and the friendlier the people. I had a nice conversation with the guy about cultures and differences and habits and so on, until all of a sudden he started talking about the his business and that wasn’t easy to start an auberge. Seems the last customers this guy had was four months ago!!! I was shocked, we were the first people to stay there in 4 months. Business didn’t seem well for him, so we advised to put a big plate indicating his business a few kilometers ahead in either direction since we almost passed it without noticing, and I promised the guy I would make some publicity on my website. Not because I feel sorry for the guy but because he managed to give us top service with the limited means had.
After having my obligatory spliff in the Sahara and enjoying the magnificent sunset over Agoult, Lehsen went to sleep with his wife and I went to the tent where Mark already slept since a couple of hours.
The second section to Tagounite started with some longer lightly sandy stretches where I got trapped in a rut at speed. The bike started to bounce up and down and from the left to the right like a rodeo bull. Finally I was thrown over the handlebars and landed about 10 meters further in the sand, surrounded by little rocks. I was lucky this time and for sure I was going through that stuff either too fast or just not fast enough.
As we made more speed the risk of dropping the bike got less but the risk of hitting stones underneath the sand got higher. As a result Mark had some serious dents in his front wheel and I had a puncture and a dented front rim that leaked air off my tubeless tyres.
We were stopped by a military post that said the road to Tagounite was closed for tourists and that we had to take the northern route to Zagora. To be honest we didn’t really pay attention to it but kept on heading for Tagounite without major problems.
I carefully made it to Tagounite where I tested the tyre in a petrol station and apparently no air escaped anymore. All fixed?