From the July/August 2012 issue of ATV Rider Magazine
For Europeans, Morocco is the closest desert, and a true paradise for ATV rides. We hence left to discover the frontiers of the Sahara, with the yearly organized raid of the French branch of Can-Am.
“Oh! What a blow--- day,” complains Hervé on the first evening while, a lamp in hand, he gives light to his friends, busy changing an Outlander driveshaft. “Luckily, we went straight on, on asphalt, and came there directly. Otherwise, we’d still be riding if we had continued on the track.” Broken fan, overheated engine and hole in the outing of the cardan—his group collected troubles during this first stage. Their guide, navigating “the old way,” with a map and compass, drew a course to get back to the road and reach the inn as early as possible. This escapade of course surprised the organizers following them with Iritrack, and they sent out a car after them. “It’s hasn’t always been easy,” agrees the navigator. “It’s a rough landscape, with all these stones and ravines, we can’t always drive where we’d like to… One time, in a field of rocks, we thought we’d break everything.” However the team doesn’t lose its merry humor. “The ladies went off to bed and us guys ‘gently’ explained one another,” jokes Jean-Marc, a pillar of the team. “We’ve been driving for a long time with a bunch of friends. We already did several raids in Morocco, and when we told them we were going back to jerk in the sand, they all decided to join us again.” Their group is composed of nine people, with seven quads, from the DS 450 to the 800 Outlander X xc and a Commander for assistance. “Oh, and transport for the girls when they’re tired,” says Hervé adding, “Tomorrow, back to adventure!”
More than 200 kilometers await us the next day to reach the dunes of Merzouga. The trip is diversified and will remain so throughout the raid, from the plateaus of Kem Kem to the sands of the Erg Chebbi, while passing by the oasis of the Oued Ziz, the passes of Djebel Tadrart and the flat and salty immensity of the Iriki Lake.
From our departure, we wonder if we will not visit every stone of this desert, but we finally get enraptured by the majesty of the landscape, the flamboyant mountains and paths that seemed to have been drawn for a quad. Despite the rocky ground, the traps and threatening rocks, we keep up a good pace and hence discover the thrill of riding in total freedom, the pleasure of devouring huge areas that seem yours. My Outlander itself gives me the impression of appreciating its way. The big Rotax twin cylinder asks for nothing more than getting fun at the slightest touch. The quad plays on the waves of the trail, following all my moves and pressures on the handlebar, as if the smallest drop of gas burnt transformed itself in endorphins through my veins. Kilometers of whoops follow themselves on this huge supercross circuit, and farther away, the trails come out on a large dried lake whose milky crust disappears in a white cloud. On the opposite shore, the organizers planted a small tent where they prepare lunch and store the fuel supply for our machines. That’s where we join the other groups again and the hundred of quads that take part in this one-week raid. Most are regulars, with well-organized equipment. The contents of the luggage have been chosen with as much care as the choice of outfits, allowing those groups of aficionados to compete and enjoy tasting delicatessens, wines, cheeses and the regional specialties during the evening “aperitif.”
Eagerly awaited by several while feared by others, the loop in the Erg Chebbi is planned to take place on the third day. The most cautious adventurers will spend the day around the pool while with the others, I set off to climb that mountain of sand. The first crossings are sometimes hesitant, but soon, everyone finds a good pace. This massif of dunes is only 22 kilometers long by 5 in width, but we quickly feel like navigators in a sea of sand, troubled by an enormous storm. After having deflated the tires to 200g, we must handle the throttle with gentleness to climb steeper slopes while avoiding digging the sand with too much power. It’s also quite a task to find the perfect moment to reduce the power while reaching the ridge, not avoid stopping before it or jumping over it and risk tumbling down in the descent.
Interrupted by pauses on the ridges and giving hands for those in trouble, the runs and surfs succeed until the end, on the highest dune of the area, and a summit of excitement. At that game, the three girls enrolled are not the clumsiest. “We are slightly wacko, looking for adventure,” admits Julie, a handsome brunette quickly nicknamed “Quadding Barbie.” “When I climbed the first dune, it took my breath away. It’s wonderful to be here with so many intense moments. It’s a land that really allows us to have fun with a quad. Plus, we have an extraordinary team, happy guys, friendly and dependable. They aren’t so paternalistic with me, simply attentive. As for me, I act as their little mom with all my girly stuff, lingettes and eye drops. They like it. But once the helmet and protector are on, we are all pilots and there’s no difference anymore. It’s full gas for everyone!”
Happy 50-year-olds, Michel and Annie share the seat of an 800 Limited and seem just as enthusiastic for their first raid. “We won’t be able to do that when we’re 60. We wanted to head off in something secure, well organized, while being sure of having a place to sleep at night. We wouldn’t have explored the dunes alone by ourselves. Our group was great. Riding together was also very impressive. We didn’t manage to climb the last one. With the fear, I cut the gas too fast. We also had a lot of sensations while doing on the ridges, and we had to learn to throw ourselves on the slope when the quad starts to raise itself. I try to look ahead, not to be surprised,” the passenger adds. “If he tells me it’s going to make it, I trust him. What cooled me down was that guy who fell over on the way down. He remained stuck under his quad. He wasn’t injured in the end, but it scared me quite a bit.” Back to the hotel, an evening shower is welcome for everyone and then long debates about their adventures over a drink, while the night comes and colors the dunes in a magical golden dress.
The next day, a wind of sand greets us from dawn and accompanies us for a long moment during our return to Ouarzazate. Keeping one eye on the GPS screen and another on the trail, we advance in small groups, in a sort of gray fog that whips our faces and encrusts sand in the smallest opening of our clothing. Attention is at its maximum as we find out, at the latest moment, a change in direction of the trail, and the rocks, the ditch, holes and bushes that sprinkle the way back. Arrived at Lake Iriki, the cloud of sand disappears and we discover a huge flat surface barely stained by a few tracks. The opportunity is too grand, and all push down the throttle level. Quads spread apart to ride line abreast. Euphoria invades us as the speedometer digit rise over 110 kph. The majesty of the desert has once again won our hearts until the appearance of stones brings us back to reality and forces us to become reasonable again. ATVR
The Can-Am Adventure Tour is organized by the French company Desertours (France), telephone (33) 05 59 47 47 47, www.desertours.com
. There are also many ATV ride organizers in Morocco, and it’s possible to rent machines and guides in the south of Morocco (Agadir, Erfoud, Ouarzazate, Zagora). See Raid Evasion, www.raidevasionmaroc.com
. The Royal Air Maroc Company offers direct flights to the gates of the desert, in Agadir, Errachidia, Essaouira, Ouarzazate and Zagora www.royalairmaroc.com
“The quad plays on the waves of the trail, following all my moves and pressures on the handlebar, as if the smallest drop of gas burnt transformed itself in endorphins through my veins.”