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Premium Member
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Here’s some thoughts and photos from this year's Horizons Unlimited Morocco Madness. The 2011 event was going to be the last under the Horizons Unlimited banner, however never say never, and with a move from the Pyrenees to Ifrane in the Middle Atlas, the event was back. Grant and Susan Johnson brought in Patrick Trahan to help set out the checkpoints, and Pete Gray of Wilderness Wheels to provide a support team. Entries were down with only a third of the numbers from the Pyrenees events signing up, but still there were 9 teams taking part.

My long time riding partner from previous HUMMs was off riding across Russia so I signed up as a singleton, and was teamed up with Jesus, a Spaniard riding a BMW G650 XC, and Steve, a Brit ex-pat living in Spain riding a KTM 450EXC. Having the choice of classes, we opted for the Under 645cc even though both my Africa Twin and the G650 are hardly hardcore small capacity dirt bikes.

For me the event started several days previously, taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao via Roscoff. Luckily the crossing was fairly calm, and I arrived in a fog-bound Bilbao early in the morning with a crossing of Spain ahead of me. Once away from the coast and onto the plain I was able to turn off the heated grips, peel off several layers, and unzip every single ventilation zip in my riding gear. I chose the western Autovía Ruta de la Plata via Salamanca and Seville, and 9 hours of motorway cruising later I rocked up at a hotel in Algeciras just as Jesus was unloading his bike from a trailer.

The next morning Jesus and I boarded the ferry to the new port of Tangier Med. Whilst on board we presented our passports and immigration forms to the policeman who had set up a temporary office in the cafeteria. The crossing is just long enough to grab a coffee, then another passport check at the end of the ferry’s loading ramp and off to the customs area. Here we met a pair of Brits also heading to the HUMM, but whom the customs officials appear to have forgotten about. Customs processing here is not orderly, and there is certainly no queue. Just get out your pre-filled-in R16TER form, passport and vehicle documents and shadow anyone in a uniform until they get cheesed off enough to process you through.

I bought some motor insurance at the port, and then the four of us spent the rest of the day riding in incredible heat down past Chefchaouen, Jorf El Melha, Meknes and into the National Park that surrounds Ifrane. We arrived late at the Grand Hotel for the competitors briefing, but Susan took pity on us and delayed the briefing until we were there. The main format of the event was essentially the same; no GPS allowed, checkpoint values set by a combination of distance and difficulty, penalties for late arrival back in the evening. One significant change was that each team had a SPOT satellite tracking unit, with a button we were heavily discouraged from pressing, as it would bring an air-medevac team to our location, closely followed by an extremely large invoice.

There were 60 checkpoints, with a cumulative total value of 11,000 points, and they roughly fell into 3 areas. A handful of easy checks within a few miles of the hotel in Ifrane, then another swathe between Ifrane and Azrou, and then finally the big points were located to the south of Azrou, a fair distance away. Given the 3 of us hadn’t ridden together, and our bikes covered the full spectrum of off-road machinery, we decided to stay local on the first day and take stock of our ability and enthusiasm. Suffice to say that day 1 included a lot of u-turns and doubling back as we got to grips with the 1940s-era topographical mapping we were using, and fell into our respective team roles. At the end of the day we’d racked up just under 2000 points, but had visited almost half the 60 checkpoints. The Berber Beemers, also veterans of Pyrenean HUMMs, were setting the pace with over 3000 points on the first day.

Something that became abundantly clear during the event was that the locals are inquisitive souls. Despite Patrick scouting the checkpoints just prior to the event, an awful lot of the checkpoint markers had been pinched by the time the competitors got there. So most evenings were spent with a camera trying to convince Patrick or Grant that we had actually visited the checkpoint, and had taken a photo similar enough to the checkpoint book to prove it. On day 2 about half the checkpoints we went to had lost their markers, and with Morocco being quite a rocky place it was quite tricky to take a photo of the right pile of rocks missing a marker. Anyway day 2 for us was covering the farthest checkpoints, so we progressed to 7500 points just behind the Berber Beemers on 8500.

Whichever way you slice it, you pretty much have to visit all the checkpoints over the course of the event. So day 3 for most of the leading teams was a mopping up day, trying to get to as many of the unvisited checkpoints as possible. By now we’d also heard the horror stories in the bar on previous evenings about checkpoints that were nigh on impossible to find, usually down to those missing markers. As a team we didn’t have much enthusiasm for spending hours on end scouring a featureless plain for yet another pile of rocks, so we decided against going to a couple of the hardest checkpoints. The day went well for us, until mid afternoon when we came to a checkpoint in a forest that just didn’t want to be found. As we turned around in defeat I got a pinch puncture in my front tube, so we spent an hour in the sun swapping the tube out. This impacted on the plan, and 500 points of checks had to be abandoned. Still, at least we got back to the hotel before any penalties kicked in.

So, in total we got to just under 10,000 points, and managed a 3rd overall placing. We were 464 points behind 2nd place, and 541 behind the victorious Berber Beemers, who managed to heroically get to 58 of the 60 checkpoints. Well deserved winners!

My impression of the event was generally positive. The riding in Morocco is different to the Pyrenees, not better or worse, just different. Ifrane is at 1600m altitude, but the scenery doesn’t have the same majesty as the mountains in Spain. I understand that the access rights in Spain are gradually tightening up, so heading south really does eliminate that as an issue. It was good to be back in Morocco, as it was almost 15 years ago that I made my last trip there, and the paperwork burden is really insignificant (just a vehicle importation form that you can print off before leaving home, and motor insurance that you can buy at the port). The two big problems for Grant and Susan to solve are the accommodation (finding somewhere big enough and tuned into the needs of northern Europeans) and the checkpoints (finding a mechanism by which you can easily tell if you’re in the right place). I know they’re working on both.

I stuck around for a day or so after the event to ride some more trails, then headed back to Europe and the long ride north to Santander and a ferry to Plymouth. I broke the ride across Spain into two short days rather than one long one, but the weather was changing and on day two I was layering back up and making full use of the heated grips. Overall it was a 2500 mile round trip and barring the puncture the bike performed great, although just like the last HUMM in 2011 the rear TKC80 is pretty much squared off. Morocco again in 2016? Absolutely, and maybe even on a CRF1000L...


Premium Member
1,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Some photos

Strapped down on the Portsmouth ferry

Loading up the Portsmouth ferry

9 hours of motorway insects

Jesus and the bikes waiting for the Algeciras ferry

The Algeciras ferry

A policeman process immigration forms on the Algeciras ferry

Bikes aren't strapped down on the Algeciras ferry

Welcome to the Grand Hotel, Ifrane

Planning the day's route

Map holder and lots of bulldog clips

Looking for the first checkpoint on the first day

Look for a tree with a red cross

A pile of rocks checkpoint

Another pile of rocks checkpoint

And another pile of rocks checkpoint

Yet another pile of rocks checkpoint

One pile of rocks that we never found

As it turns out, this wasn't a checkpoint either

For variation, a big rock checkpoint

A hole checkpoint

A sign checkpoint

A cliff checkpoint

Pretty sure it is that way!

It is not all rocks

And it is not all mountains

Fixing a pinch puncture, the result of low tyre pressure

Team Spanglish Riders' bikes


Traditional(?) tourist entertainment

Waiting for the ferry in Santander

Lots of bikers heading back to the UK

6,063 Posts
Re: The B&W gallery

Excellent Iain

You really need to use Mitas E09s

I've run the front as low as 13psi on some big rock gardens at Cowm Quarry enduro and survuved without any punctures
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