Mediterranean Cycopaths


28th June 2007

With time on our side we headed to Marrakech for a few rest days before beginning the 2000km final charge from Tangier to Tunis. Marrakech represented everything we knew of North African cities – vendors, beggars, hagglers, dealers, charmers and scammers all plying their trade in a vibrant tangle of sights, sounds, smells and tastes – the latter sense receiving perhaps an oversupply of stimulation. Thankfully excursions into the clamour could be interspersed with relaxation in various refuges – our breezy hotel terrace, the fountain-filled courtyard of a medieval Islamic building or simply watching very well dressed prostitutes working the crowds in Marrakech’s swankier bars.

Alas, there were only so many Aussie girls we could rescue from the advances of local men, and before long we had to pack our bags and face our destiny – the biggest cycling challenge of the journey so far – Morocco´s Rif Mountains. Like any epic struggle – the challenges of Hercules, the Mon-Fri working week – this encounter would be hard fought over numerous stages. We liked to think of it as a boxing clash between 2 Heavyweight Contenders…

Round 1 – Headwinds from Hell

Tangier to Tetouan: 58km

After cycling into prevailing headwinds for most of Western Europe we were looking forward to having the wind (the type not self-generated) behind us. But the Rif came out swinging hard. With very strong head and crosswinds forecast I knew that we would have to rely on some pretty desperate measures: I opted for dance music.

Limping across the line into Tetouan 60km later, having sustained a tyre blowout, being sandblasted for over 3 hours and physically blown off the road a handful of times each, we were happy just to have survived the first round.

Round Result: The RIF – Opening Blast

Round 2 – Shocking Surfaces

Tetouan to El Jebha: 138km

We decide to take the coastal (scenic) route. And so began the following sequence: a steep, long climb from a standing start; a mist obscured view of mountains plunging into the sea; a manic descent dodging all types of surface irregularities; a grind to a standstill as the lowest part of the road has inevitably been washed away; repeat; repeat; repeat, ad nauseum … and so it continued, TC and the Rif trading punches all day.

Now we hadn´t come into this bout blind – we knew the Rif were no lightweight opposition. But in a crime against cartography our Michelin map noted 5 chevrons (indicating steep climbs) for this leg. We, however, were unable to distinguish these 5 from a group of at least twice that number. It made me think of our hard days in Turkey’s Taurus Mountains. Except significantly longer, and with worse surfaces.

Round Result: The Rif – Repetitive Assaults

Round 3 – Altitude Sickness

El Jebha to Targuist: 115km

At El Jebha we learn that Plan A, to continue our coastal route, is not feasible due to further deterioration in the road surface (is this even possible, we ponder). Likewise for Plan B, our escape route to the main highway. Having well and truly backed into the corner we now face Plan C (which, knowing us even vaguely, you will immediately realise there was never a Plan C). 

And so begins the slowest 46km ever recorded by man on bicycle. Over the next 3.5 hours we ascend from sea level to 1600m without even the mercy of the previous days cloud cover. Despite stripping to the bare minimum of apparel (no, not quite like Valencia) and drinking our own body weight in fluid, our thirst is insatiable. The sweat which is pouring off us threatens to reopen riverbeds that dried up long ago and still the locals are puzzled at our declinations of their multiple offers to smoke some ‘kif’ (this region is one of the biggest hashish producing areas in the world). Shattered men, the round again goes to the Rif but, with Team Cycopath valiantly holding on, all hope is not lost.

NB – After this round, in (seperate) bathroom inspections, it becomes apparent that the Rif has inflicted some surface wounds with both boys sporting saddle-shaped crescent welts. Due attention is prioritised in preventing these opening and ending the fight prematurely.

Round Result: The Rif – Opening Rifts

Round 4 – Road(work) Rage

Targuist to Driouch: 157km

We begin strongly with morning sunshine, tunes pumping and the exaltation of 50km of predominantly sweeping downhill cornering. What a comeback! But the Rif is a long way from being down and out. First, 10km of continous roadworks and a flat tyre sap our momentum as we hit sea level again. Then a massive haymaker – another 1000m climb. But it doesn’t quite have the sting of yesterday’s battery. We float over the summit and launch into a full throttle descent – the land speed record very lucky to still stand. Carrying this momentum we extend our days target by 40km to combat tomorrow’s predicted headwinds.

Round Result: Team Cycopath – Comeback Flurries

Round 5 – Running away with it

Driouch to Melilla: 80km

Yesterdays work has broken the back of the Rif. We start early, go hard and despite some rearguard action (more appalling surfaces, light headwind) the round is over before it began. The Rif has been defeated and we hit the Melilla ferry a day ahead of schedule.

Result: Team Cycopath – Knockout Blow



June 30, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. That brought tears to my eyes, boys. Just need some ‘eye of the tiger’ in the background and the scene would be complete.

    (Although a bit of a juxtaposition with the dance music, Sean, I must admit.)

    Comment by Ben | July 6, 2007 | Reply

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