The 36 hour ferry crossing was the usual amalgam of suffocating cabins and soul-crushingly tragic on-board entertainment. When we disgorged at Bilbao we were indeed, ready for action. However, not before further delays whilst the Americans took us on a tour of Bilbao banks trying to find one that would change their dollars into euros. After two hours and seven branches of fruitless visits we abandoned this quest. It was certainly beyond all our comprehension that such a simple task, in a modern european city, could prove so weirdly impossible to achieve. At least it bode well for the future, or maybe not.

The Wizard of EX

Our navigator in chief was Exeter IT wizard, Paul Castle. Even a cursory watching of ‘The A Team’ tells a ten year-old that every group needs a techy guy and lordy, Paul was ours. He had jeopardised his marriage with two months of late night internet research. Seriously, it’s not how it sounds! He’d been studying Spainsh trail-riding websites like a forensic scientist, painfully extracting a network of trails that would take us coast to coast, destination Almeria and a ferry to Morocco. Thus it came to pass, whilst our fellow motorcycle ferry passengers were cruising down a spanish motorway, within 8 miles of the port we were turning off-tarmac, splashing through Basque puddles and ascending the foot hills of the Gorbeia Mountains. It was a crisp November morning, we were encased in our Weise quilted nylon suits, the sun was unimpaired by cloud and yes, this was sheer paradise. Bitchin’.

Up Hill and Down Dale

The limestone cliffs and electric green mountain pastures made it hard to believe we weren’t in the Yorkshire Dales. The American riders were particularly disorientated having expected arid plains cloaked in olive groves! Nevermind, the stunning beauty was all the more exquisite, enjoyed as it was, weaving through the forest trails and splashing thru mud pits with our Honda trail bikes effortlessly soaking up the challenges of the terrain. This bit is important, I’ve crossed Spain countless times on tarmac but this version, with a very real sense of goat-track wilderness, was way and above the most exciting transit of my life. Hurrah for Paul Castle and his bleeping GPS!

We set aside four days for crossing Spain via its seemingly endless network of farm tracks, forest trails and olive grove service roads. But a cloud hung over the team. Not a metaphorical one, a real one, sombre menacing black cumulonimbus. Spain was locked into its worst weather in decades. Rain-soaked, we arrived in Almeria to find it’s streets flooded and its inclined avenidas gushing with six inch deep rivers. It was truly bizarre but egged us on southward to hotter climes.

Entering Morocco was a breeze - a Chergui

The moment we disembarked in Melilla we saw the first sun since the instant we’d landed at Bilbao. There was a pattern here! Entering Morocco was a breeze and at last, we were in North Africa. It was a particular treat for the yanks, none of whom had been there before. They reminded us all how hopelessly exotic Morocco actually is. Donkeys, jilhabas, hubbly bubblies and towering minarets. A rich tapestry of flying carpet imagery straight from the Arabian Knights catalogue of Berber décor. Suddenly we lost the sun and were grateful for our Weise quilted suits. As we ascended the Rif mountains it was properly cold but we were snugly warm.

Our first trails wound through the hills and then the GPS took us along the bed of an abandoned railway. This was a real treat for the train-spotters and civil engineers on the party and caused much discussion as to what on earth this desert route was doing here. It didn’t seem to connect anywhere to anywhere. Our occasional liason sections of tarmac were always hosted by the effortlessly charming Moroccan Police. Seriously, these were some of the politest people we had ever met and the Americans in particular were hugely aware of how the kerbside manner of their own highway patrolmen could be enhanced by an exchange with their Arab colleagues. Northern Morocco was a delight, perfect infrastructure if you wanted it, bounteous gasoline available, gorgeous roadside food and a colossal wilderness in which to rough camp at the end of the day – pure motorcycle heaven. Sizzlin’

2000 dirt miles

The schedule was tight, we had set out to get the 2000 dirt miles to the Mauritanian frontier in about two weeks. It meant long days riding sun-up to sunset and making camp in the dark. The constant demands of the filming slowed things down but the team remained chipper, patient, focused and smiling. Our admin in the field was a baffling hybrid of slick expertise and smuggled-whisky-drenched mayhem. As we ploughed across the southern deserts of Morocco, drifting past Tinerhir, Erfoud and Merzouga, I was aware that if we had to go home there and then, it would still have been a terrific trip. To think that we had barely been gone a week and that the white knuckle excitement of the Sahara proper was still ahead of us was an ever-present source of low voltage adventure betinglement.

Get into the groove

And of course, just when you get it into the groove, just when it looks like you’ve pulled it off, a bafflingly unfair curve ball knocks you sideways. During a lovely long desert piste heading for Merzouga (courtesy of Chris Scott’s Morocco Overland bible) it was clear something was going very wrong very quickly inside my engine. We limped, actually, only I limped, everyone else was cookin’…I limped into Zagora and we booked into a hotel to try to get to the bottom of this smoky plume of misfortune. Our collective brainstorming was almost overwhelming in its thoroughness! Between us we thought of almost every possible causation; from worn exhaust valve guides to sheer bad mojo traced back to the Kardashians!

We tore into the engine and only needed two motion Pro ‘Trail Tools’ to do get the head and Cylider off! These pocket size Our Man Flint style multi-tools were staggeringly good, actually fitting beautifully into the cramped nooks of the cylinder head where previously only miniature Japanese hands were supposed to twiddle and probe. Our tear down revealed precisely, nothing…we weren’t sure if this was a good or a bad thing but everything ‘seemed’ fine. We slept on it and made use of the hotelier’s liberal interpretation of Islamic licensing laws and got smashed on the house red.

... And now that your hooked on this tale of derring do ... we're gonna pause it here until next time...
Dvds of Austin's Adventures available from   Wemoto

Posted by Austin Vince
for Wemoto News on 05 December 2013 in General News

Edited By: Lucy England



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