The Other Shore

The Other Shore

Four hours ago, we breathed a sigh of relief. There are only 50 kilometers left. Sitter. We can get there before dark—or not. Now we are sitting in the only bar in town, tired, frozen, feeling like beaten dogs and trying to figure out what to do in a situation from the “hopeless” category—one we got ourselves into.

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But if you think about it, it´s not that bad. It could be worse. We could just not be here—like a year ago or two years ago. We´ve been planning this trip for the last three years. The plan was super simple. After all, we live just on the other side of the water and only need to hop on the ferry and hello, we are in Morocco. But for a long time, we could not get our shit together to do it. The ferry departs from our neighboring city almost every day, but something was always wrong. For three years we´ve been waiting for something: bike bags, bikes, kits.  There was always something to wait for. Finally we got fed up of waiting, packed the most necessary things into simple dry bags, strapped them onto our bikes and took off. Let it happen.

Over the next three days, we'd make a big loop in front of the Rif Mountains on a sloppily made route with as little planning as possible. We don´t have proper bags, we don’t even have the tents or a camping stove. Let's call this adventure “semibikepacking”. Our group only packed a second set of clothes and the bare necessities and set off.

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Sleeping arrangements were not something we really took into consideration. We thought we´d spend one day riding by the sea, looking at the other shore, watching the reflected version of our home view. Another day would be spent in the mountains and during the final day, we´d ride back. It seemed simple and easy, and well, it definitely did not turn out that way.

Actually the place was like a mirror image of the same mountain which we ride every day in Andalusia. It was like a journey to the same place but in the past. The further from civilization, the deeper inland we went, the farther we travelled into the past. Eventually, the asphalt disappeared from the road and cars were replaced by donkeys and goats. You could only see an occasional old Mercedes here and there—an amazing place only slightly contaminated by humans. A beautiful thing.

On one hand, our side is easier: there is a bar in every village, you almost never come to a place with no network on your cellphone, the asphalt is much better and there are more roads in general, the ordered taxi will always arrive. This side, on the other hand, is slightly more interesting. At first sight, it´s a bike trip like any other. You just ride your bike for days on end. But in the background, there is all this uncertainty and risk—a very exciting kind of risk. It´s something you can truly call an adventure in the full meaning of the word. The kind of adventure where you throw yourself at the mercy of fate, let things happen by themselves and just accept them and somehow manage. This was the essence of our trip.

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It is easy to admire the Alps, sigh at the top of Stelvio or Galibier. But this...this is something else.

When we arrived to Ajdir, the intended endpoint for our second day, the most difficult of the whole trip, we were beaten up. We didn´t do any previous research, we did not know that the whole day would be uphill, steep and hard. We did not know that the Rif Mountains are not easy.

But that was nothing. The funniest thing is that there are two villages called Ajdir in this area. After helplessly trying to find the street where our hotel was supposed to be for an hour, we talked to some people and realised that we were not in the Ajdir we needed. Realizing that the whole day we had been climbing steep and merciless gravel  inland towards the wrong place, taking us further and further away from our planned destination, did not make us excited. We were angry, tired and hungry. But there are always people who are excited to help. Through word of mouth spread from one local to another, an old Mercedes appeared from the darkness of the night. And maybe it was some ancient magic, but somehow it managed to fit four people and three bikes and took us through the mountain passes and enormous potholes towards the true Ajdir that we needed to a very questionable hotel with no hot water but with a roof over our heads and a warm dinner—a happy place.

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I don't know if we were woken up by the morning light or the terrible cold. It doesn´t really matter. That whole day of dying on uphill roads, temporary homelessness and everything that it underlines, none of it matters. The worst hotel in the world. It's all nothing. These few days in Morocco dealing with adventures is nothing compared with a few years of waiting for those adventures to happen. This is where the ultimate difficulty lies—to finally get your stuff together, make a leap and step into the unknown. Because when you are there, things will just work out...most of the time.

Everything that seems so hopeless only turns into a good story to tell. The only question is whether or not you will grab your gear and go.

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Words and photos by Szymon Kotowski.

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