Out of Asni and into the mountains we go, pushing up through the High Atlas like two mountain goats. This is a well-traveled road, busy with ‘grand taxis’ darting from Marrakech to Coast and back. For this reason the road is dangerous and wits must be razor sharp to avoid an accident since the drivers are somewhat reckless and vehicles overloaded.
Our early start meant that we made reasonable progress and so paid a brief visit to Tin Mal, a mosque with no minaret, which was closed. On leaving the ancient mosque site – a minor climb – Adrian’s rear mech found its way into his back wheel bending the mech further still and truly buckling the wheel. This is not a great situation. We’re just two days in on the bikes and have a mountain to climb (literally), a desert to cross and a coast to reach. After an extended period of staring at the bike and tutting we decide that nothing can be done save to bend the mech a bit hoping it doesn’t break.
It’s now late in the day and we should seek a camp for the night. Fortunately we happen upon a small river and find a campfire long since abandoned that serves us perfectly. We wash, eat and relax, thinking on the test that lies ahead. The big moon peeps an edge over the mountain top beaming light into our tiny camp, the sight of the moon is totally mesmeric and surreal that it’s all we can do to stare. A memorable end to an ominous day.
Today is the biggy – the climb – Tizi n Test day. Off we go, steadily climbing, gradually covering the k’s, slowly raising our heart rates and height above sea level. It’s a very gentle climb indeed and for that we are grateful – Ade has a limited gear selection to say the least – but what a climb. Tizi n Test may not be the steepest mountain, but it is certainly the most stunning and dramatic to cycle up by a long mile. Each mountain in the range criss-crossing the next, across a huge valley of gigantic elephant’s feet, a great herd crashing over from the Sahara.
We reached the summit of 2100m just in time for lunch and were lucky enough to break bread with a trio of Italian cyclists heading the way we’d come. Feasting on what was to be the most over-priced yet most-needed meal of the trip we shared stories of the road ahead, learning of the lie of the land and the possible water stops and next meal both.
A fond farewell, exchange of telephone numbers (Mazza is a vinyl buff and intends to visit London the following week) and with a quick photograph, we are back on the bikes, flying along the most treacherous and beautiful side of a mountain you could hope to see.