Boxing Morocco on an Assortment of BMW GS Twins

A horizontally opposed cure for the common bussman's holiday

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Jon Beck

Thursday morning: Welcome to Day Three. The longest of the trip, and with 70 miles of it crossing the Djebel Saghro Mountains via the Tizi-n-Tazazert pass, almost certainly the hardest. Despite out best efforts, the good doctor has been limited to distributing analgesics and snappy banter. One of the Canadians had by now earned frequent-flyer miles going over the bars. Another, my new friend David Booth, was nursing one very sore shoulder-the wages of a high-speed low-side on his assigned F800GS. The Ostra Gray Panzer hadn't let me down yet, and I aim to return the favor. Climbing past the little mining village of Tiouit, riding the Tazazert isn't much harder than pronouncing it, despite the fearsome proliferation of rocks. I hate rocks, but the big GS doesn't much care. Just miss the ones that are too big to hit, stay out of those axle-deep ruts and don't look down. There's room between the big rocks for a BMW Boxer or Land Cruiser full of bombastic French knuckleheads. Not both. Beware the blind corners-you'll live longer that way. Self-defense strategies develop very quickly out here. The first one is relax. Fear chokes rational thought to a trickle, and right now, I need a fire hose.

The GS is too big for impromptu wheelies and too long to turn on a dime or a nickel or any coin in this realm, so plan ahead and prioritize. Bouncing off the mountain beats going over the cliff, which would have been Plan C if that lady selling assorted handcrafted local trinkets in the middle of nowhere had leaned any further into the trail. Dirt-poor is more than a figure of speech out here. Follow the path of least resistance, which means skirting rocks bigger than a microwave oven, hitting toaster-sized chunks head-on and not getting too worked up over the rest. With the ABS and traction control switched off, bludgeon the rest of the pass into submission like some horizontally opposed, refrigerator-sized force of nature, yielding only to a little shade, lunch and something colder to drink than the tepid dregs of this CamelBak. The best thing about this sort of fun is marinating in the hot, sweaty aftermath without a scratch.

There's more dirt on the afternoon menu, and as beguiling as the Draa Valley looks heading out of Nekob, David and I order up pavement for dessert. More specifically, the swervy bit of N9 just beyond Agdz-a dusty little rest stop on the old caravan route between Marrakech and Timbuktu-called Tizi-n-Tinififft Pass. But first, a few miles of straight, black road that could be leading us through flat, green California pastureland if it weren't for the ubiquitous donkey carts rolling along the shoulder. Shoebox-sized, blue police cars can't be bothered with a couple of motorcycles cruising a little too fast. Low, blue-gray clouds turn harsh afternoon sunlight into a soft, even glow, and my biggest challenge is dodging the bugs that just dodged the GS windscreen. Savor the peace-it never lasts.

There are three kinds of drivers in rural Morocco: the quick, the dead and the clinically insane. Peeling off into Tizi-n-Tinififft's first fast right-hander at 130 kph, the poster boy for that last group is filling my mirrors with a Mercedes plumbing van, in clear violation of various physical laws and the posted speed limit. For those who haven't had the pleasure, Tinififft is the sound Mr. Sphincter makes whistling into a 100-kph corner at 125 with Joe the Moroccan plumber right behind you. Thank God and King Mohammed VI for this grippy pavement. Right about the time we've had enough of Joe, he fades into the distance, leaving us to take in the long, Armco-lined arcs and ups-and-downs before the N9 begins its relatively straightforward decent into Ouarzazate.

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