Morocco Offroad: Simon Lister: Morocco

This ride is one of the most epic things I have done and experienced, at the time I’m holding on and steering the bike down unknown tracks and paths that lead us into the unknown, but we hold on and we go forward, we know its dangerous, but we don’t think of the consequences of coming off and doing injury. 
Words + Video: Simon Lister
Occupation: Creative Director @ Nylon Studios / Photographer 
From: Hamilton, New Zealand
Currently Residing: Sydney
Location: Morocco
Guide: Peter Buitelaar Bikershome Tours Morocco
If you want to ride on rocks, harsh arid land and mountains, then I guess Morocco would be the place to go, and yep, that’s what I found. This is definitely a hard barren place and the country is all built upon rock. I arrived by plane into the town of Ozauzazite at 2:30am and met my guide who was going to take me on my tour. I wanted to travel by myself on this trip, as I wanted the opportunity to stop where ever and whenever I wanted to take photos without holding up a group.

The experience of getting out of Casablanca to Ozauzazite was something out of a circus and arriving in a strange place in the early hours of the morning kept my guard up a little. Traveling for over 22 hours to get to this desert town, I was eager to get my head onto a pillow to get some sleep.

 My guide informed me that a tour group of girls that just arrived had just been hurled out of a car with no safety belts on and were in a very bad way staying at their house waiting for a plane to arrive to take them back to Holland. One of the girls was too beaten up and had to stay in hospital with six broken ribs and a punctured lung. The other two girls at the house had between them a broken foot, broken back and shoulder, along with various cuts and grazers to the face and other parts of the body. Welcome to Morocco!

 It was certainly a wake up call to how dangerous the region was and with my eight-day trip off-road on dirt bikes planned, the news certainly made me rethink my safety. I got to sleep at 3:30am and was awake again at 6am. I had breakfast with the girls and we then carried them on stretchers to the ambulance to take them to the airport to be flown out. I think their travel insurance company was eager to get them home and away from the local medical “state of Morocco”!

 By 10am we were off to start day one. I was riding a Yamaha TTR600 and my guide was riding a KTM 950 Super Enduro. I had the option of getting a KTM 630 but as I was filming on the bike, the Yamaha gave me less vibration for the camera. I was using a GoPro HD camera mounted to my chest. It’s a great camera and is full HD, even though other parts of my male anatomy wanted the KTM (mustang) my safe brain intelligence suggested I should have the Yamaha!

 We were off, riding to the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. We crossed over flat desert type terrain and we rode on rocky roads up through the mountains. Occasionally we would go off the track to head up over hills and also a lot of riding up dried (and wet) riverbeds. I enjoyed getting wet in the streams while riding as this cooled me down a little. The terrain is epic in Morocco, at some stages you feel you are riding in the Grand Canyon, and traveling between 60 and 100 km’s took on a fast adventurist and thrilling ride. The lack of people and cars meant we could open the throttle a little to experience what it’s like to do Dakar style riding!

 We spent a couple of days traveling to the dunes on the edge of the Sahara Desert. To get there we rode for eight hours in 47 degrees C. The amount of water I had would be in the gallons AND I didn’t expel any liquid at all the whole day. The body really needs fluid in these conditions; I had a camel pack on my back and I was drinking hot water from it all day. I would drink litres in one session and still be thirsty. In this dry heat (and the type of clothes I wore while riding) I didn’t sweat much either. I guess when I get back home in two weeks time I’ll be sitting a lot on the toilet!

 We rode over sand dunes in the evening, as it was a bit cooler to ride in this climate. It was a different way of riding in the sand. With deflated tires, we would ride over the dunes at about 40 k’s p/hr to keep the momentum going so we wouldn’t get bogged down. Also a technique you need to have is to slow down at the top of the dunes, as you can’t judge the other side. I found this out fast as I cart wheeled down one slope after I went over it too quickly. Another memorable moment was when I was climbing one dune and realised almost at the top that I was riding over Erg Chebbi, the highest sand dune in Morocco. With a height of 300 meters, I realised that this dune was to epic to go over so I freaked out and rode off to the side. The video footage of this is hilarious as all you can hear is my voice freaking out “whoa whoa whoaaaaa!!!!”

I might have to put it up on YouTube for a laugh.

Lines on the horizon and that’s about it – just flat hot dry land. We would cruise across these parts sitting on 120ks/p/hr. It was awesome riding, occasionally standing up to carry the bike over the odd ditch; if it’s a deep ditch or hole the bike at this speed tends to glide over.

I loved the ride through the mountains as the terrain changed constantly, some harder tracks than others. We would venture up rivers with no tracks and you would see the odd Moroccan Berber riding their horse or donkey somewhere in no-mans land, what were they doing out here? Surely, I thought, if they just moved 20 kilometres that way there is an oasis with palm trees and spring water to wash in.

I guess the view up in the rock house in the side of the mountain with the dirt is better.

 I certainly saw a lot on this trip: the way people live, the way animals were treated and also the harshness of the land and what religion and culture can do to shape a place, it’s certainly different to my home country Australia.

The last day of riding became the biggest day of the week. We weaved our way around mountain after mountain. One track was very rocky and demanding on the body. With a lot of technical riding around a road that was very busted up, we got to a village in the middle of nowhere. Beautifully surrounded by green lush fields, it was picturesque. I was told it has been used for film shoots in the past, and I could see why.

 We headed on the track around the back of the mountain and came across a slip that had taken the road out, a huge boulder had also dropped right in the middle of the once was track, and the edge of the road was a good few hundred meters straight down. We may have got the bikes around it, maybe with ropes, but the support vehicle had no hope of making it through. We had to go back and again over that darn rocky track, oh my arms were feeling it that day.

 So, we headed back the way we came, all two hours of back tracking. At one stage, I lost my guide (he goes on ahead a bit) and it really concerned me as I was catching a flight in the morning at 5:30am (why such crazy hours!). I knew we were nowhere near home and after 30 minutes of riding in whatever direction I looked up at the right time to come across Peter (my guide) resting under an olive tree, phew saved!

 These trees are hundreds of years old and there are thousands of them all perfectly spaced throughout the Atlas Mountains. By evening the sun was fading and rain set in as we rode over the mountains. There came a time where I couldn’t see ahead as the light on the front of the bike only gave me a view of a few feet in front and didn’t even reach the roads surface.

 I couldn’t go on and Peter was too far ahead for me to stick close to see where to go. I had to wait for the support vehicle to catch up and then it could guide me down the mountain with its high beam lights. The vehicle caught up to me and stayed on my back wheel for the next few hours. It was a big day and we finished our trip into Qzauzazite at about 10pm that night. I stopped and had dinner in town, unloaded and washed the dirt off my gear, as I knew it wouldn’t get through airport customs in the state it was in. I collapsed at about 1am. The flight out left at 5:30am so I was up again at 4am, to sort out damp washing and motorcycle gear. Goodbye Morocco.

This ride is one of the most epic things I have ever experienced. At the time, I’m holding on and steering the bike down unknown tracks and paths that led us into the unknown, but we hold on and we go forward. We know it’s dangerous, but we don’t think of the consequences of coming off and doing injury. Each year I go and each year I come back, the experience of traveling over these grandiose landscapes is absolutely fulfilling and satisfying. What a great world we live in.



Music by Scott Langley and Moog Nylon Studios

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