Petra's Atlas Mountains adventure
Riding ahead of the Atlas Mountain Race, Petra talked to us about her Morocco bike packing adventure.
Perspective — Petra’s.
A couple days after Xmas 2019. Our rider, Petra Dolejsova, met up with some friends and set off for a bike packing adventure on the gravel roads of Morocco.
Some months after she returned to Stockholm we caught up with her to hear all about it.
It was November in Stockholm. It’s the time of year when you think “I need to get out of here”.
A few friends I regularly ride with had no plans so we started to throw some ideas around. Why don’t we go to Spain? That’s a bit boring. Why don’t we go to Cuba? That’s a bit far.
Actually, Europe is boring, why don’t we go somewhere else?
10 years ago I was supposed to do a charity drive (by car) from London to Timbuktoo. We called it the Scooby Doo Run — it sort of follows the Paris Dakar rally. Some shit went down in Moritania which meant this was cancelled.
So instead we drove from London to Morocco to see the Atlas mountains.
This was around the time I started biking and always wanted to return to ride these mountains one day.
Our friend Neil had also planned to ride Atlas Mountain race — it was soon agreed. An off-road trip to the Atlas Mountains.
Preparation & bike stuff
How did the planning start?
We failed to balance the sexes, so it was Neil and three of us girls. Natalia, Claire and me,
I was really excited about doing the adventure but I don’t really have a clue how to plan routes in far away places. Neil had a lot of experience with this so it made sense he took this task on.
There was a lot of debate on whether we were going to bivvy or stay in accommodations. A compromise was met where we packed our bivvys, but tried to arrange accommodation for every night There were lots of compromises made.
It’s no secret to those who know you that you care greatly about the state and condition of your bike. How did you prepare your bike for this trip?
Tyres were the trickiest thing. We had pretty extensive conversations about which tyres to take. I ultimately decided to go with WTB Ventures. I stuck with my 700c wheels so the widest tyres I could was 43mm.
I wish I had gone with 650b wheels with bigger tyres. The gravel was very rough quite a lot of the time. Cool that the carbon Hunt wheels I had survived though!
I attempted to clean my bike and fix stuff like brakes and cables, but then I realised I have no clue how to do it. I have no clue how disc brakes work for example. So I decided to take it to a local bike shop — this was one week before we left, so luckily enough time to get it clean and working.
Did you forget anything or bring that anything that you couldn’t live without?
I don’t think I actually forgot anything.
The life saver was my down jacket — it was freezing in the nights and this thing was amazing. And of course chamois cream — an essential for any sort of longer distance cycling.
I flew from Stockholm to London to spend Xmas my friends there. On Xmas day we pretty much partied the whole day and night, played some crazy drinking games. It was after 3am before I went to sleep.
Boxing day, hungover, I dragged myself to the airport for the lunch time flight to Morocco. I met Claire on the flight. Neil was in Morocco already. Natalia joined us from Sweden.
Our bags took ages to arrive. We had a car booked to take us to Marrakesh — it was supposed to be able to take our three bikes — it was hilarious because it took about 30 minutes for the driver to get them (and us) to fit. Finally packed, we drove to the hotel.
We got to the hotel really late. Checked-in and had tagine for dinner. Me and Natalia are vegerarian so most of it we couldn’t eat. No biggie.
We built our bikes, went to bed ready to set off in the morning.
First few days
Day 1 probably had the most climbing. Ascending out of Marrakesh into the Atlas Mountains. On this day we actually passed the highest point of the mountains. It wasn’t busy at all. This was a nice surprise.
We knew we had to get to a place called Teloulet. We altered out route slightly to avoid a brutal gravel descent. This was a good decision. We heard later from people who rode the official Atlas Mountains Race that this was the worst section of the entire route.
Yep. The hardest day was the first day.
This was also when the fun started — that evening a Berber man proposed to Natalia (in fantastic French) and offered her 50 camels. Sadly for him she was not interested.
How was the terrain and landscape compared to your expectations?
The gravel was much more brutal than I was expecting. It was huge rocks! Many places roads just fell away or had huge holes. This made me wish I had smaller wheels and bigger tyres.
Many sections were much smoother. It was really nice to roll on some smooth tarmac now and again.
Overall it was much harder than I expected.
New Years Eve!
We spent NYE in this amazing place called Paradise. We stayed in the bottom of this valley — the descent was amazing, check this video…
We checked into our auberge and went for a little walk to get mint tea — we were all fully addicted to mint tea by this stage — the local head of village kept laughing and smiling at Neil. He then suggested Neil go and buy us all tea — once Neil was away he asked each of if we were his wife. He also asked us to his house but we turned him down for fear Natalia might get more camel offers.
Our new years party we had tagine (as every night) — potatoes and veggies for us.
The owner surprised us by letting us know he had some wine. So we bought that immediately. This was pretty much the only alcohol we had on the whole trip. The rest was Mint Tea.
2020 was when the mechanical issues started.
First it was Claire — something happened which meant she wasn’t able to unclip one of her cleats from her pedal. Instead we had remove it for her! Then some bolt went missing from the cleat so we tried to find a matching bolt somewhere on one of the bikes. Somehow we did fix it in the end.
The next mechanical?
It was pretty much Natalia, Natalia, Natalia.
First we were up the hill and we suddenly saw her walking with the bike. We thought maybe she was just taking a break, but it turned out her cable snapped. We managed to fix it (sort of) so she had some gears. At the end of the day we had a massive gravel descent (6km-ish). We stopped to meet on it a few times, but after a while we lost Natalia and couldn’t see her. Finally she showed up and her rear mech was tangled in her rear wheel. It was getting quite late and we didn’t have any accommodation booked. So we removed the mech and set her bike up single-speed. The bike wouldn’t stay in one gear — it was so frustrating. Claire and I rode ahead to see if the village had an auberge. In our absence Natalia picked up a puncture on her non-working bike, and she had no tubes because I had them in my bag. Luckily they had a patch to repair it.
So, we found the auberge and checked-in. We knew it was over for Natalia and put her on a bus to a town hoping to she could get her bike fixed. This was day 6 already, so almost the end of the trip.
One of the last days was the toughest on us. The gravel was massive with lots of descending.
Neil’s mech broke so he had to set up as single speed by removing the derailleur. It was a lot of climbing and descending which made it pretty much impossible to continue. We bailed and took a bus to a nearby town and the next day cycled to meet Natalia. She was in a berber tent waiting for us. The last 10km to reach her were pretty hilarious. Riding in deep sand. Lots of hike-a-bike slowing us down.
We finally made it to Sidi Rabat (on the coast). By the time we got there Natalia had already made friends with the local surf instructor.
We thought about surfing the next day but the sea was quite angry and we were pretty knackered. So we decided to return to Marrakesh. Another taxi. Another amazing bike packing job.
We spent one day as tourists in Marrakesh. I got obsessed by the idea of eating falafel so I dragged the girls all the way to Souk to find falafel. All we found was millions of tourists and some shit falafel. We Googled it and it turned out falafel doesn’t come from Morocco. Whoops.
We haven’t really talked about the beauty of the place. Go.
I think I need to look at some pictures.
The red sand and exposed mountains were so super high. It’s so different to what I have experienced before as I have ridden mainly in Europe. Also the fact we were riding gravel means we met almost no people — it was pretty much just us and nature.
We took so many photos — here are some of my favourites… It was super beautiful. I cannot wait to go again.
Thanks & notes
A big thanks to Natalia, Claire & Neil for allowing us use their photographs.
Day 1 — Marrakesh to Telouet
Day 2 — Telouet to Skoura
Day 3 — Skoura to Oasis Fint
Day 4 — Oasis Fint to Tamskrut
Day 5 — Tamskrut to Aguinane
Day 6 — Aguinane to Tagmout
Day 7 — Tagmout to Issafn
Day 8 — All the way to Sidi R’bat