Death by a million Spikes

We are now within striking distance of Merzouga and the iconic dunes that have become the target of our adventure. It has been two long days since our last update for differing reasons.  We thinned our kit slightly at Ouarzazate to reduce the weight we were carrying. It lead to some pretty interesting discussions about what was essential and what was not?  Some of the kit that got left included second pair of socks, third inner tube, my book (now read), Pringles Waterproof. A host of other items were the source of back and forwards discussion. Do we really need the main USE lights and also the spare tyre? We conclude we should keep the items that would be show stoppers without them.

So we are back in the little Vango tent typing and we have used almost all the kit in question. Firstly upon leaving Ouarzazate we were really flying and having fun.  Making good time I commented to Pringle it would be good to get some more off road action shots and play. I ride up onto the crest of a small rise and fly back down the other side. Arriving back on the road I see a few thorns embedded in the tyre. I remove the first one and hear a deadly hiss.  As I spin the wheel I am gutted to find it is covered in the little bast**ds .  Both wheels in fact. So therein lies one of the only world records I am able to justifiably claim. Most punctures in 5 secs. 

So we are now faced with a painstaking task of removing all the thorns and spikes. This laborious task takes us about 30-45 minutes per wheel for a first pass.  This is not going to plan thanks to yours truly, Captain Clunk!  We decide the best strategy is to use one of the new inner tubes with the new rear tyre and pick all the thorns from the front tyre.  The picking process takes nearly 2 hours during which time Pringle has replaced and pumped up the fat tyre with the micro pump. No easy task we can assure you.  We replace the front wheel and stop the clock on a 2 hour pitstop in the mid day heat of the Sahara.

If Inuit’s have many words for snow then surely the Berbers and other tribes must also have a host for the desert and the terrain and landscape keeps changing. One fact that remains constant is that it is really dry and arid.  Despite losing the 2 hours we manage to make a respectable 56 miles on the fat bikes.  We are tired and stop at a hotel adjacent the river. It has a great view and we wander back to the bridge to the Café and are served a lovely tomato salad.

The next morning we head back to the Café for Jus de Orange and a coffee and spend another hour on each inner tube trying to find the small holes left by the thorns.  I repair 6 holes on one tube and Pringle marks 7-8 for repair on the other. We simply don’t have enough patches to risk using them all to fix these tubes.  That done and we are on our way.  The roads start with various undulations before becoming much longer straights through the long valleys. It is monotonous compared to the mountains and their communities.  As we reach a higher plain of about 1500m we spot a small café before a long straight road as far as the eye can see. The weather has changed and a small front brings strong winds and even some small twisters.  The café is something of a surprise as it serves an amazing salad, we eat two each including some damn hot pickled chillies.

We manage 96.5 miles with the last 16 miles in complete darkness through the desert. We hadn’t intended to but the last town had no hotels on the far side and we were sticking to our policy of not going back. Cycling through towns and the desert at night can be a little off putting.  It is now pitch black other than a little moonlight and a host of stars for company.  Finding a spot to camp after our thorny experience is tricky but eventually we find a small track to some palms and pitch the tent.

The third day is another 76 miles to Merzouga and the high dunes we are searching for. Although not far we are now in barren desert with nothing to break the monotony and few towns all day. We keep running low on water and or oranges which proves something of a tough mental challenge. We spot a head of camels in the plain and stop for photos. As Pringle walks over a young lad demands money. Although Pringle doesn’t speak French the lad repeats his demands for money “They are his camels”. Pringle is undeterred explaining to the lad “that they are their own camels”.  It is fairly surreal to watch this conversation between two determined people speaking different languages. I can’t help laughing out loud.  We push on and make the last big town, Erfoud, before the dunes. The volume of 4x4’s and also little Renault 4’s in rally colours has increased as does the wind. We stop to heat and rehydrate and find the wind keeps growing. The locals observe it is not a good time to be in the desert. 

An observation on life on adventure is that there are always these little moments to test your mental resolve. By the time we are back on the bikes it is howling and dust and sand are thrown are way. The headwind is exhausting and genuinely if you stop pedalling the bikes immediately grind to halt.  The final 30 miles is a slow torturous pace and we are exhausted.  Night falls again and we are out of water cycling against mother nature and a well deployed wind and dust machine. It is all we can do to keep pedalling and watch the kilometres reduce one at a time.  By the way our backsides are now killing us from pushing hard with such weight so getting comfortable is not an option. We have also run out of water and oranges and are left with dry dusty throats.

We finally see lights in the dusty gloom and know we have arrived. 3 long miles to go.  We are greeted by another moped riding local in traditional head dress, a common occurrence. He turns around the rides alongside enquiring about where we are staying. Never fear he knows just the place. We follow and head offroad down a small track to Le Petit Prince, an Auberge that backs onto the Dunes. (we don’t know this till daylight).