I know there were many anecdotes, stories, and images that I wanted to include in this blog post, but unfortunately the only record I have of them are hurriedly scribbled notes on loose-leaf sheets of paper attached to a clipboard over the last 10 days or so. Things like “… stuffed in the back of a Lada and thrown off a bridge”, or “… jackals, dogs, and military drums”, or “four boisterous dudes in a Lada”. I’ll try to remember what I was thinking at these points in time. I swear there were coherent thoughts behind each of these short notes, but for the life of me I don’t really remember them fully. Here we go…
I’m very out of touring shape. The muscles I use to stabilize my loaded bike are underdeveloped right now, so I’ve spent my first few days on the road wobbling around and just trying to get my balance again. I huff and puff a lot, not yet trusting myself to really get up out of my saddle and get after each hill. It will come, sure. But for these first few days, I have been exhausted. Riding a 70+ lb bike for 6-7 hours a day is something that I don’t really do unless I have to. Surprise, surprise, a few laps of Hains point on a road bike after sitting at a desk all day doesn’t really train you for riding this bike.
It’s been almost three years since my last bike trip of longer than two weeks, and I’m itching to go out again. Good thing I’ve spent the last few months planning a trip! Early-to-mid next year, I’ll be riding along the Silk Road across Asia. For accuracy’s sake, I should point out that this route is not quite the Silk Road, it’s at best Silk Road Adjacent. The Silk Road, if Marco Polo and others decided to explicitly chart a route deliberately skirting most of the major cities and populated areas of Central Asia. I have carved out six months between when I leave my job and the start of graduate school, to undertake this trip.
This post, combining this project with my other failed experiment, is 8+ years in the making. In March, I posted progress I had made on building a carbon fiber bike frame that I was building from scratch using epoxy resin and raw carbon fiber fabric. This is the short and sweet conclusion to that post. The bike is finished, and it works. It is a step for me to say that outright, because I feel in some way that it still might tempt fate to do so. I’m not superstitious, but I am a little -stitious.
I’ve put 100 miles on the frame, mostly on DC’s potholed, nightmare of city streets and bike paths, and I think I’m ready to declare this project a success. I’ve climbed and put stress on the frame, and I’ve taken it up to 20+ mph for long stretches. No play or flexing in the frame geometry, no vibrations, and it’s just… silent. My real road bike is louder, creaks more, and is more fickle than this is. (Its components are 10+ years and thousands of miles old, but still.)
There are a ton of old Mercedes still out on Morocco’s roads. They must each have around a million miles, and they are beautiful. Not particularly beautifully taken care of by classic car standards, but you can tell that they have each been loved well by their owners over time. European tourists ride around in massive Jeeps with snorkels, or those monstrous world tour adventure RVs with massive wheels and a motorbike attached to the back. But well-to-do locals often drive these ancient Mercedes, or even older Renaults. There are also a vast array of different motorbikes, of all different shapes and sizes. From tiny Motobecanes, to touring motorcyclists riding massive BMWs. Also the occasional mule or horse.
At a party one night last fall after I returned from Iceland, Collin Harkrader and I had a wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if conversation about another international bike trip. When he called my bluff on the plans a few days later, we considered the idea again in the light of day, and pushed forward with more serious planning. We initially tossed around the idea of a ride along one of Spain’s famous long-distance walking paths, but over the next few weeks our plans drifted south towards Morocco. Even better, a direct flight from from Washington DC to Casablanca would facilitate the logistics. So we decided to forego all of the comforts and easy riding of southern Spain for an ambitious, 5-600 mile trek through the Mid- and High- Atlas Mountains.
Time for another adventure! This May, I will be adding a fifth continent and ninth country to my sidebar, as my bike and I will be off to Morocco for some on-season (for once) riding through the Atlas mountains and along the edge of the Sahara. Collin Harkrader, a colleague of mine from the Illuminati Center for Monetary Policy will be joining me on this excursion. The trip will give us both a much needed two-week break from the endless 16-hour days we spend slaving over the money printing presses.
We’ll be starting in Fes or Meknes on May 5, depending on where we feel like getting off the train, and heading southwest through cedar forests and over the High Atlas. After topping out at around 9,000 feet, we’ll coast down the back of the Atlas to Ourzazate through tiny Berber villages and towering gorges. After that, it’s a race against time and the odometer, until we reach our goal of Agadir on the coast of the Atlantic. My personal goal is 1000km over two weeks, just shy of 600 miles. As always, this depends on our daily progress, conditions, and wind direction. The first week will be tough, the second less so.
As always, I leave these posts for other people planning to follow similar routes, and this will be no different. Road conditions, bike durability requirements, water and food availability. Morocco is quickly upgrading its infrastructure, but we should be able to find at least some lonely mountain roads.