Side-tracking off the Jeep road meant getting to play on natural formations like these rolling ridges of mud, which were baked hard by the bright North African sun.
Some of the most entertaining moments on trips like this are rolling through the villages we encounter en route. Here, the trails wind and weave between mud and stone houses, delivering their own set of navigational and technical challenges. As we work through the man-made warrens, dozens of pairs of eyes peer from the doorways, watching our every move.
We hit Morocco in November, at a time when the sun is less fierce but the onset of early winter storms can destroy trails and swell rivers. This day's progress was reduced to an arduous crawl, as our trail was largely washed away the week prior and punctuated by several river crossings.
Kids in Morocco are fit, not fat. Economics often dictate that they walk miles each day to attend school or collect firewood. Pass through a village and you'll likely be accompanied by hoards of youngsters, who run alongside you for a mile or more. Trying to continue pedaling while they curiously grabbed handlebars, or pulled on brake levers presented its own unique challenge.
Halfway through the week, a three-hour climb over our highest pass delivered us to a well-earned descent and one of the most amazing views we came across during the trip. And, thankfully, to a heart-poundingly steep singletrack trail that cut straight down the other side, rather than meandering along the Jeep road's switchbacks. You just had to take care to peel your eyes from the horizon every so often to avoid riding through thick, scratching clumps of thorny undergrowth.
Even the Jeep tracks like this rocky, suspension-punishing descent cut into a hillside high above the valley floor can make for good mountain biking, thanks to a lack of maintenance.
Not all singletrack is created equal, and many trails we found in Morocco proved punishing for any who drifted off-course. An afternoon of riding laps in this playground resulted in several punctures, but no visits to the local casualty department.
Where there's a will, there's a way, and in Morocco there's always a will. For a few dollars, a guy with a large homemade barrow pulled our bike bags from the taxi rank to a downtown Marrakech hotel.
When we stopped to check our map one day, this kid offered us a swap—the donkey for one of our bikes. We were tempted to do it but resisted the urge, knowing that if the kid arrived home without his family's valued beast of burden, his dad would not be too happy.
On the third day, we rolled into a remote village past tumbledown, unappealing gite accommodations. This stage of any bike trip is always the hardest, when your body feels broken and isn't yet used to the pace. When we realized there were no other options than the gite, we succumbed. Once inside, we had the friendliest, most enjoyable night of the whole week, thanks to (literally) a whole family of hosts, including five children, age 3 to 9. We slept on thick beds of carpets, and ate well. The next morning, we prepped our bikes in front of the whole family before rolling through the village accompanied by the oldest son (en route to school) on his own bike, all grinning proudly.