Marrakech: deep and fresh and even - Have this woman washed and brought to my tent - CycleBlaze

Marrakech: deep and fresh and even

The snow looks pretty from down here: in reality it stretched deep and fresh for 20km of our route this morning.
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TWO FRENCHMEN in their 40s sat immaculately dressed at the breakfast table, this morning, delicate in their manners, birdlike in their gestures. They talked in polite whispers and held each other's eye. I'd nodded to them last night and gained a smile and a hint of interest. The lettering on my club jersey betrayed where I called home.

This morning they became inquisitive. And it's just as well. The plan had been to ride on into the mountains and cross at Tiz'n Test, a col of around 2 000m. The weather was no better than the hill-riders had suffered yesterday, although at this altitude there'd been no snow. What there was was a harsh wind and a thermometer not so much above zero.

Nobody knew what had happened up on the hill. Our hotel was at the summit but we couldn't contact it until 10. To get to the summit entailed several kilometres of poorly surfaced road, shown as "difficult to pass" on the map, as well as a long climb. We were in a fix. What should we do? Leave it too late before leaving and there was a risk of not getting in before dusk if, as was predicted, we might have to walk the last two hours. Leaving early would mean setting off into the unknown.

In the end the Frenchmen came to our rescue. I wished them bonjour and they, the ice broken, asked what we had done and what we were doing. I explained. They both looked alarmed.

"We came that way by car yesterday," the softer-spoken man said, a scarf round his neck, his accent entrenched in the Alsace. "You won't get through. The snowploughs had been through but they've left snow 10cm thick. For 20km. You can drive through but you'd never do it by bike."

Easypeasy when there's no snow...
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There are many times when those who don't ride a bike say a climb can't be done or a distance can never be ridden. Usually they are wrong. Sometimes, though, they know what they're talking about. If the snow was that deep and that extensive yesterday, and if there had been further snow overnight, it would indeed be unridable. Tracks in the snow would be compressed and icy thanks to passing cars and trucks; fresh snow would be clogging and exhausting; half-melted snow in wheel tracks would be slippery and dangerous. But above all, who actually fancied going over the mountain in weather like that?

Decision made: we would ride back to Marrakech, reluctantly but inevitably. There was no alternative.

"I think it's the only decision," the man from Alsace agreed, looking suitably apologetic, as though it had been he who'd caused the snow.

We thanked him and turned our bikes in the opposite direction.

It wasn't a happy ride back to Marrakech. Not because we were returning the way we'd come - a road looks different ridden the other way and the Ibrahim gorges looked far more striking today than before - but because it was cold, it rained incessantly and the clouds scraped our bonnets. The only good news was that the wind which had made life so wearying one way was now behind us in the other.

Later in the day we managed to get through to the mountain hotel. The snow was lying deep and crisp and even. We'd made the right decision. Or rather the friends from Alsace had. Merci, les amis!

And so we are here, back at the very hotel from which we left. It has a flat roof, a hose and a tap. The roof is now covered in a slime of red, the sticky, ochre earth which washed off the hillsides, across the roads and on to our bikes. The dirt was easily solved. But what do we do now?

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