Moroccan Road Adventure Day 1
I’d wanted to do a cycling holiday abroad for a while, and what better way to do it than on a fully guided and supported trip? There are a few companies out there that organise these kinds of holiday, but I liked the variety and the look of the trips offered by Saddle Skedaddle. I could have opted for a European location for the first adventure, they all looked equally stunning and challenging, but I was drawn to Morocco because it would also be a different cultural experience. I hoped I’d assessed my cycling ability correctly and not bitten off more than I could chew, but I was confident my recently completed cycling challenges would stand me in good stead for the trip; I’d certainly put the mileage in already!
The first day of my first ever cycling holiday began as all days on the bike should, with a hearty breakfast. This might have been slightly more lavish than it was meant to be owing to the fact a few of us had inadvertently slipped ourselves in with an American tour group staying in the same hotel, helping ourselves to eggs, fruit, yoghurt and Moroccan pancakes all washed down with plenty of coffee. Once we’d finished that little lot off all attention was turned to the reassembling of bikes for those who had brought theirs with them before gathering in the hotel foyer to meet the crew that would be supporting us for the duration of the trip. We offloaded any luggage we wouldn’t be needing access to on the trip and watched tentatively as our bikes were gently packed in to the support vehicles before bundling in ourselves. The centre of Marrakech is a bustling place where the traffic drives bumper to bumper, leaving deployment of the brakes until the very last moment possible; not an environment conducive to safe cycling in a group. We were driven to a place called the plateau (it’s where everybody goes), which as the name suggests was flat, flat, flat and a perfect way to break us in to the cycling day and to appreciate the Atlas Mountain range in the distance.
The bikes were given one last check over whilst the hired bikes were set up and we made sure our water bottles were filled before setting off on what was a relatively short ride of 23 miles up in to the Atlas Mountains. Our cycling guide Saaid had given us a briefing about what to expect from today’s ride which would feature over 3000ft of climbing. I had glanced over the ride profile before we set off and it certainly did head steadily up. I only hoped there was nothing as beastly as I’d encountered in the Peaks tucked in there, because I really did not want to get off my bike at any point on this trip!
Pausing at one of the first villages we passed through to regroup and were quickly joined by around half a dozen children all eager to see the strange people on bikes.
“Bonjour!” they greeted us, whilst gesturing that they hoped we had something we could let them have, and touching various parts of the bikes with curiosity. “Madame, avez vous un stylo sil vous plait?”
Pulling my GCSE French from somewhere in the depths of my memory, I replied “Mais non Mademoiselle, Je suis désole, Je nais pas de stylo”. Leaving the children disappointed we rode on and so the climb began and we all began to get in to our stride. About an hour in to the ride it was time to stop for lunch. The support crew had driven on ahead and were waiting for us to reach them with what can only be described as a small banquet laid out by a gently flowing river, all the more impressive because it had been prepared by the roadside! If this was a sign of things to come then I liked it, a lot! We refuelled ourselves on freshly prepared chicken tagine, rice, tomato salad, cheese, fruit and yoghurt and then basked in the sunshine listening to the burble of the water over the rocks until it was time to be on the move again.
Saaid had indicated he’d like us to keep together as much as possible, and had joked about us respecting him on the hills by not overtaking him and making him look bad. However, as everyone has their own climbing style, it soon became apparent that I could not comply with this tongue in cheek request! “Sorry Saaid! I really do need to go a little faster than this, but I won’t be far ahead!” And with that I surged forwards. Please don’t think my progress was by any means speedy; I had simply increased my speed from 5mph to around 6-7mph and felt much better for it. I wasn’t really sure what gradient I was tackling at this point as my Garmin display hadn’t been set up to show me, but there were a few cheeky moments that had me up and out of the saddle. When watching the pros race, I’d often wondered what goes through their minds when enduring a long climb, particularly when all the crowds bunch in around them narrowing their way forwards. I got a glimpse of my own reaction to this type of scenario when I growled like a demon possessed at a child who seemed to think standing my path and refusing to move (despite me asking nicely first) was a fun thing to do to a cyclist putting a hard effort in at low speed whilst clipped in!
Whether he understood my words or not, he certainly understood the tone and swiftly removed himself! By this point there were only a few miles left so I ploughed on and waited for the others to join me at the top. Saaid had told us that the bikes would have to be carried up to the accommodation, but I was not expecting what now lay before us; a craggy, rocky, twisty pathway picked out of the mountainside, and boy was I glad Lola was light! Shouldering Lola like a cx pro, I began the ascent. It was worth every footstep as I was greeted by a multi-level habitation nestled in to the mountain and an incredible view over the valley we’d just cycled through as the sun began to set. Oh, and the ice cold beer at the end was very welcome too!