THE AGADIR ENDURO

Blending Swiss organisation and Moroccan terrain, the Agadir Enduro isn’t your typical timecard enduro. And with the help of Wilderness Wheels, Rust's Alex Waters discovers why…

I awake in a tent with five complete strangers and an assortment of bike gear. As I attempt to gather my thoughts the first beats of an old ‘90s dance track penetrate my sleep-addled brain. I open my eyes and take a look at my watch which is covered in a fine layer of sand, it reads 07:30… Hang on, EVERYTHING is covered in sand! I sit up and take a look out of the door of the tent. Hmmm, I appear to be in a desert. That’ll account for the sand, then. Not too long ago I was sitting in front of my computer in West London - how on Earth has this happened? Slowly reality takes a grip and the events of the last 14 hours start drifting back into my head…

Sand Flies

One Wednesday afternoon in early March I find myself with a rucksack full of riding gear and the trusty RUST camera bag being dropped-off at the tube on my way to Heathrow. ‘Have fun mate, and remember you’re representing the mag - just try and not fall off too many times!’  Confidence inspiring stuff… I’m heading off to follow the final two days of the Agadir Enduro, a Moroccan/Swiss collaboration I had virtually no prior knowledge of other than a couple of You Tube clips and a fairly sparse website that didn’t translate particularly well into English.

And so my journey begins with a flight to Casablanca, followed by a short transfer to Agadir and a three-hour taxi drive into the desert to meet up with the riders (who were two days into the race)  in the middle of nowhere.

After an uneventful flight to Casa, I have two hours to kill in the airport whilst waiting for my transfer. Two fairly moody looking airport security guys have a good rummage about in my camera bag and then we are herded into a small area for people catching transfers, separate from the main airport. Luckily there’s a small kiosk serving cold Flags - the most popular Moroccan beer - which mercifully accepts sterling as we’re not allowed out into the main area to use the cashpoints or bureau de changes. Handy…

Being a smoker and having successfully acquired a cold beer, my thoughts immediately turn to trying to combine my two favourite vices. I’m in luck, or at least so I think. There is a smoking area, but only the most committed puffers need apply. It’s a three-metre square plastic shed with a more-or-less continuous flow of people desperate to get their mid-transfer nicotine hit.

Even as a 20-a-day man, I‘m desperately trying to stop my eyes streaming as I peer out the Perspex walls through the haze of smoke to make sure no-one is helping themselves to my riding gear or the RUST camera kit, quietly cursing myself for not following through with my new years resolution of giving up the fags.

A short hop later and I’m in Agadir, desperately hoping someone’s going to be there at midnight to take me on to my final destination. Pete had assured me it was all in-hand and true to his word there was my name scrawled on a crumpled piece of A4 in the hand of a friendly-looking taxi driver.

I text Pete to let him know I’ve arrived and collapse into the back of the standard Moroccan taxi - an old Mercedes saloon with the kind of mileage to rival NASA space shuttles. ‘Welcome to Morocco, try and get some kip mate’,  comes Pete’s reply. How long is the journey I ask the driver, ‘About three hours, maybe four… depending.’  he answers. Depending on what? But by now it’s 1am and I’m keen to grab some shuteye. Unfortunately after the first five minutes I realise there’s not much chance of any meaningful sleep as every time the old Merc hits 65kph one of the rear wheel bearings starts screeching like a cat being put through a saw mill. I wrap a spare hoodie around my head to try and drown out the noise and eventually drift off when… Screeeech! Bang! The noise is followed by all of the assorted junk on the parcel shelf flying into the back of my head, bringing me wide-awake in an instant.

We’ve hit a stray dog in a small village in the arse end of nowhere. The driver is far more concerned with his smashed headlight and grill than the remains of the mongrel lying very dead ten metres behind us. After a small argument with two mysterious characters who appeared out of nowhere we are en route once again but I’ve given up any hope of sleeping so spend the last hour of the drive watching civilisation peter-out completely and turn into desert.

At 3am we finally arrive at our destination - a small encampment with about ten traditional Moroccan tents pitched in a row. Peter appears out of the darkness, introduces himself and I gratefully crawl into one of the tents to join five snoring enduro riders. ‘Breakfast at 07:30 mate, try get some sleep’ says softly-spoken Geordie, Pete, and 12 hours after leaving the office I pass out almost immediately.

Beats International

As the sun starts to climb into a cloudless sky I wander off to try and find some breakfast. I am surrounded by stunning scenery but the whole experience gets even more bizarre as a hurried breakfast is accompanied by a couple of Moroccan DJs pumping out the aforementioned 90s house tunes from the side of a van.

A couple of strong coffees later, I meet the event organiser Joël Udry to show him my driving licence and insurance, and Peter takes me off to find my trusty steed for the next two days. A well-prepped KTM 400EXC, complete with press badges and some fresh knobblies, awaits.

‘What do you want to do first today?’  asks my host, ‘Follow the riders or head straight to the special stage and get some pictures?’  My befuddled brain tries to process the tasks and I mutter something about taking it easy for the first couple of hours, so off we head to the first special stage of the day. The large camera bag on my back combined with a lack of sleep doesn’t inspire confidence, and neither does the fact that I’ve completely forgotten to bring any kneeguards...

We arrive at the special where Peter quietly informs me that my current pace would put me bang into his ‘probably be better off bimbling along some gentle green lanes’  category. I assure him I’ll pick up the pace once I’ve acclimatised to being in a desert on an unfamiliar bike with only three hours kip under my belt.

We watch the first ten or so competitors fly around the sandy special and I snap some photos amidst the dust and general mayhem. The test is all tight turns and very technical, and the earlier riders have a distinct advantage as the sandy corners soon get chewed up. Pete tells me how multi-time German Enduro champion Dirk Thelen completed a similar special in 2011 in a very respectable time aboard a GS1200 on semi-road tyres! Watching guys struggle around on bikes less than half the size of the big Beemer, the concept of chucking such a monster machine around that type of terrain is quite amazing. It’s no surprise then that Dirk posts the fastest time on his G450X…

Hard Rock

We then head off along the course and after a spot of fast roadwork through some absolutely breathtaking scenery we come to an enormous dried-out riverbed running through a canyon where any semblance of road comes to an abrupt halt and the piste begins. Peter hops off his bike and chats to a couple of the guys who he’s loaned bikes to for the race. By now the temperature has climbed to almost 30-degrees and as the first of the racers blat off into the unknown I take a moment to down some water and prepare myself for the next part of the ride. And WHAT a ride it turns out to be..!

The course is marked-out by small blobs of paint amongst the seemingly endless sea of rocks of varying size and sharpness. Peter lets me ride ahead for a bit but I’m concentrating so hard on my riding I quickly miss a marker and veer off course.

We stop and he explains to me that the best way to tackle this terrain is to ride 20kmh faster and effectively float over the rocks rather than through them! My lack of kneeguards is really playing on my mind and I can envisage my kneecap exploding like a ripe watermelon if I hit the deck… I immediately have an enormous amount of respect for the guys competing and how they cross this terrain at speed without crashing or losing their way… or both!

We soldier on but Peter sees I am tiring quickly and we stop again to have a much-needed drink as a camel wanders past with its herder staring at these two strange men on orange machines in full race kit in the middle of nowhere. A racer comes up behind us and I take some comfort in the fact that he too is making fairly heavy work of the unforgiving terrain and doesn’t appear to be going that much quicker than us.

‘I didn’t realise quite how tough this section would be’,  comments Peter, ‘to be honest I wouldn’t bring people through this on one of my tours, maybe a crossing of a couple-of-hundred metres but not 30 clicks of it!’  I struggle on for another 20km-or-so until we mercifully reach a checkpoint.

My arms are aching and my sleep-deprived mind is exhausted by the continual concentration. It feels like late afternoon but I check my watch and it’s only 2pm! Peter asks an official how much more of this terrain there is to go and also where the next fuel stop is. There is a track leading out of the canyon but the fuel is in the other direction…another 10k or so up the riverbed! We rehydrate and continue on for a few clicks but the rocks are getting bigger and after a while I’m struggling again. I call time-out. Peter tells me to go and sit under a tree and take some ‘desert time’  while he goes to find the fuel. As he disappears off in a cloud of dust I realise for the first time how quiet it is out here, without the sound of the exhaust snarling in my right ear the silence is almost deafening. The terrain is rugged but has its own particular beauty and I relish the chance to take it in.

Peter returns after 20 minutes, saying that it only gets tougher up ahead so we turn back to find the track and head to Tafraout, which is to be our home for the night, via some even more mind-blowing landscapes.

We arrive in town accompanied by Kes, one of the guys on Peter’s bikes, who is riding one-handed after a stone flicked up and caught him square on the wrist! (We later discover he’s broken his scaphoid.)  After finding the hotel we park-up and get through a few well-deserved beers. The general consensus at the bar seems to be that the long checks give the event more of a rally flavour than an enduro feel, even if the refuelling points are about 70km apart. The briefing for the final day follows dinner and I hit the sack early, determined to make a better fist of it tomorrow.

Happy as a Sandboy

A proper night’s sleep, combined with Pete’s kind offer to take the bulky camera bag for the day, immediately lifts my spirits. I leave early with some borrowed knee protectors (cheers Kes)  to get to the special before the first riders and I feel like a new man - blatting along twisting roads following the coloured dots meticulously marked on walls and trees along the way. (The route-marking is a credit to the event organisers and I can only imagine how long it took to do them all!)

I arrive at the test before anyone else, find a couple of good spots for some pictures and sit back with a ciggie to soak up the surroundings, before the noise of approaching two-strokes brings me back to reality and I ready myself for the first riders.

The first rider away creates an instant dust storm which increases in intensity as more-and-more bikes set off round the course, and I have to clean the camera lens after each bike passes. Not only does this special run across harder terrain than the previous day’s test but it’s longer too. Miles of coloured tape marked out a sinuous loop across the open plain, with decreasing-radius corners and little gullies to catch the riders out.

Peter arrives and after having a crack at the special test himself we head off along 50km of mountain passes and tracks. It’s nowhere near as technical as the previous day’s riding and I start to enjoy myself more and more. The bike feels like an old friend rather than the enemy I was fighting every inch of the way along yesterday’s riverbed. Peter is riding behind me and when we take a break he suggests I actually rein it in a bit as my back wheel is skating across the loose gravel surface at every turn. We eat up the off-road section and I want it to carry on all day but we finally get back on the grey stuff for the run back into Agadir.

Exit Sandman

The final special section of the enduro takes place on a specially closed beach. After negotiating the city with only a couple of slight ‘moments’  along the way we arrive at the seafront and lo-and-behold the DJs are back, drowning-out the lapping Atlantic waves with pretty much the same tunes that accompanied breakfast the day before. Fortunately they in turn are fighting against the beats of a band of traditional Moroccan drummers... It all adds to the atmosphere and the sight of 50 guys floundering around in the deep sand draws a good crowd and is a fitting end to this extraordinary four days of sweat and tears!

Sand Bank

Mindblowing terrain and excellent organisation makes the Agadir Enduro a fantastic event - and the European link makes it relatively easy to enter too. Everyone I met - both racers and organisers -were extremely friendly and there was a real sense of camaraderie in the evenings (along with the inevitable exchange of jibes, tales of near misses and good solid banter!).

Being four days long and achievable on a well-prepped enduro bike means the costs are nowhere near those associated with a desert rally, indeed Kes, a builder from North London; Mike, an equine vet from Newmarket; and Duncan, an office fitter from Leeds were more than happy to slap down a couple of grand (including bikes and accommodation)  to go out into the desert and push themselves and their bikes to the limit purely for the love of it. There were no big prizes or glamour, just some cracking riding. And although some sections were very demanding, next year there’s likely to be some alternative routes for those who want something less technical. Alternatively, you can do as I did and join the non-competitive ‘raid’  element instead. You’ll love it. Just don’t forget your kneeguards…

Many thanks to: Peter and the Wilderness Wheels crew for a genuinely eye-opening experience! And also to Wally at Ekselsior www.mainlyshields.net for providing the excellent Super-Flex Konstant body armour for the trip.

Wilderness Wheels

WW is run by Peter Gray, originally from Gateshead who has lived in Ouarzazate, Morocco, since 1999. Known as the ‘door of the desert’,  situated midway between the High Atlas peaks and the beginning of the Sahara desert proper, this region provides excellent trail riding and stunning scenery. He can cater for people of all abilities.

All bikes are KTM’s prepared to an excellent standard by Peter and his team. He does get booked up early in the season, so if you are considering a tour with WW, get in touch sooner rather than later.

Contact: Ouarzazate Office: 00 212 524 88 81 28

Peter's Mobile: 00 212 668 73 00 08

For more details of the Agadir Enduro contact Peter at Wilderness Wheels. www.wildernesswheels.com

Copyright © 2017 Rust Sports Ltd. All rights reserved.

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