The Moroccan 8 | An off-roaders Guide to the Apocalypse

The Moroccan 8 | An off-roaders Guide to the Apocalypse

Website:

Let me start with a little disclaimer: the title of this story is inaccurate and deceiving. This is not a guide and it was not written about the apocalypse. It is however, a story of 8 women on an off-road adventure through Morocco while the world falls apart around them. Enjoy!

Photos by Jenny Linquist, Caylee Hankins and My IPhone. 

I was feeling a bit restless. I was coming off a major injury that had me off my bike for a year and feeling like half the rider I once was. I needed something…. An adventure, a challenge, an experience. I wanted to prove to myself that I could get back to where I once was. Some friends of mine, and girls I admire very much had booked a trip with Moto Aventures & Sideburn Magazine to Morocco for a 5 day off-road tour. F*** Yesssss! Just the kind of trip I was looking for. Little did I know, it would end up being the greatest adventure of my life.

March 11th 2020

It was exactly 18 hours from the time my flight out of the country was scheduled to depart when the White House hosted a press conference announcing that "due to the rapid spread of Covid-19 aka Coronavirus travel restriction from EU countries to USA would be in place effective within 48 hours". Up until this point the Coronavirus had been steadily in the news but felt mostly contained with only a few cases outside of the epicenter. It was hard to navigate the media surrounding the whole thing. So, this news was a bit of a shock to me personally.

As with most things coming from the White House the details surrounding the travel restrictions were not clear but panic set in. My phone started buzzing with messages from our Whatsapp group chat between all the riders heading to Morocco. I headed straight to the Department of Homeland Security website. After some research, we found that these restrictions did not affect U.S. Citizens and did not affect the U.K. Good news!

We shot an email to the tour company to get some clarity on how all of this would affect the tour. Was it cancelled? We had one of the girls, Leyla, already in Morocco enjoying Marrakech and another, Malary halfway there spending some time in London with friends. My stomach started to turn at the thought of not being able to go. Meanwhile I am getting texts from my family and friends and my great uncles neighbors sister-in-law asking about the trip status and sharing their opinion on what I should do based on this news.  

It didn’t take long for Moto Aventures to get back to us and let us know that the trip was ON, the Virus had not been detected in Morocco and no travel restrictions were in place there. The internal battle began. I had to make the decision of whether or not it was safe and sane to still go given the uncertainty surrounding how things might escalate with the Virus. I had info, opinions and advice coming at me from all angles. 2 gals decided to avoid the risk and drop out from the trip. The others were still planning on going. AND, with the 2 cancelations we had one gal decide that day to sign up for the trip. Bold move Diana, bold move! I spoke to the most important people in my life, the ones who I could not bear to cause stress or worry. They were supportive no matter what.  The only way to make a decision was for me to tune out the noise, walk my dog and make the call. I was still in!  Was it stupid, irresponsible, sketchy, brave? Maybe read the rest of the story before you decide.

 1.5 hour drive, 2 flights, 1 taxi and I had arrived at the Airbnb in Marrakech. The airplanes and airports were pretty empty and a lot of people were wearing masks but the general vibe was pretty chill, positive and friendly. I had thoroughly convinced myself that I had made the right decision. I was so excited to get to Marrakech. I met up with the rest of the girls from the tour as we shared travel stories and started getting each other pumped for what we were all about to do. There ended up being 8 of us. 4 Americans and 4 Brits. The Moroccan 8.

 

We got picked up from the Airbnb and loaded a bus packed all the way full with our gear bags. It was a bumpy ride through the mountains mixed with paved and unpaved roads. The views were gorgeous. I was already falling in love with this country. A quick stop for some tagine [A tagine is a cone-shaped cooking vessel traditionally used in Morocco; it is made of either ceramic or unglazed clay. ... Most tagine recipes (which are referred to as tagines) layer aromatics, meat, and vegetables, along with spices, oil, and water.] and on we went to Ouarzazate which was our jumping off point for the trip.

 

We were greeted with the line-up of KTM EXC 450's and the excitement spilled right over the top as we all dumped our bags and hopped on the bikes. I definitely made the right decision in coming! We got to meet Johnny Moroc' who would be riding with us as our guide. Johnny is a true legend and, little did we know, he would truly show us what he is made of on this trip. The 8 riders plus Johnny would be followed by a chase truck carrying Su (who runs Moto Aventures),  Hussein (our trusted mechanic) and pretty much every tool or gadget we may need as well as our bags for when we reached the destinations each night. The tour started the next day so pretty much none of us got a good nights sleep that night.

 

Day #1

We started the day with a tutorial from Johnny on the Garmin GPS systems we would be running on our bikes. The entire trip was programmed in already including: gas stops, lunch and final destination for each day. This allowed us to ride at our own pace. I was a little nervous about this only because I had not used one before and of course, my mind went wild on the “what if’s” what if I crash and break it and am lost in the Sahara Desert forever? I can’t help myself. Johnny went over every aspect of how it worked so I felt pretty good about it as we set off.

The moment we took off and I felt the wind hit me, I felt a rush of serotonin. All the stress and worry of getting there and the “should I go or not go? Pandemic? Travel Ban?” etc. -  all of that washed away as we left the pavement and set out into the desert.

We had been advised to ride at no more than 80% of your personal skill set on this trip. This was not a race, it was not about speed, it was about enjoying the scenery and riding the beautiful terrain. I was still getting used to the bike and the GPS so I’d say I was running closer to 70%. I was so impressed with the Garmin GPS, it was like a video game. The arrow was you and the purple line was the route. All you had to do was keep them lined up. Even if you veered off the trail a few feet, the arrow would show you off the route. I was like “Ok I got this”.

The scenery was desolate in the most beautiful kind of way. We would pass over wide flat plateaus, through rocky canyons and winding riverbeds. Blasting through the desert like that has you basically standing up the entire time on the bike. Even on the areas that seem flat you never know when there may be a terrain change that can knock you about so you have to be ready. Johnny had filled us with plenty of stories of people getting hurt on his tours in the past so we were on high alert.

We stopped for lunch on the banks of a dry riverbed after we passed a little town. All the kids in the town were smiling and waiving as we passed through. It was so cool. Not every day do they see a group of women ripping through their town on KTM’s. Actually, not true. Johnny and Su have been running off-road tours through Morocco for over 25 years. So a lot of the towns were very familiar with the tour.

On our ride so far there would be long stretches of winding dirt road and then all of the sudden you would come across one house with a little family and some goats. I’m talking way way out in the middle of nowhere. It was amazing to me to see how they lived in this beautiful place so far from the world I know. I am sure it is not an easy way of life but I found it fascinating and beautifully simple.

We powered on after lunch stopping here and there to assemble the group again and veer off the route for little excursions with Johnny up a hill on some single track trails. My body was feeling sore and my hands were cramping up after about 120 miles riding at 80% but it felt good!

We pulled off the trail as Johnny announced that this was a split in the route and we could either go the easy route or the Intermediate route. The intermediate route being more interesting and scenic and the easy route being a super chill dirt road. Myself, Caylee, Malary, Jenny and Leyla chose to go the Intermediate route and Ame, Tasha and Diana chose to go the other route. So, we said our goodbyes and we would meet back up with them for dinner. The chase truck went on the easy route so Johnny advised us not to crash, get hurt or get a flat tire on the intermediate route. Hahah, got it!

We hadn’t even been on the intermediate route more than 5 minutes when it started hailing. Yes, HAILING! Tiny balls of frozen rain pelted us and didn’t stop for like 15 minutes on and off. I couldn’t help but laugh but also was like “ok what did I sign up for on this route”. The hail changed to rain and the trail became slick and muddy as we wound up through a canyon climbing in elevation. Little puddles of hail gathered on the side of the trail that looked like snow. I was soaked to the bone and my hands were freezing but I was in complete awe of what I was seeing.

The route took us through the Jbel Saghro Mountains. It looked to me like a combination of Monument Valley in Utah and the Grand Canyon. There were these beautifully shaped monument mountains shooting up everywhere and the route took you up and around each one of them then down into the valley and up and around the next one. The views were so incredible. Even though it was pouring rain I had to stop for a moment to take it all in. By far one of the most beautiful views I had ever laid eyes on. This was one of many unforgettable moments where I could not believe where I was, what I was doing and what my eyes were seeing. It was overwhelmingly beautiful and magical in so many ways.

After stopping to have my vision quest moment, I fell back from the pack a bit which was fine because I was still on the GPS track and was just enjoying myself. We rode down out of the mountains a bit and I got to a river crossing. With all the rain that had been coming down over the past few hours the river was a bit raging. The GPS track took me across it so off I went. Luckily no problems there. I chatted with Johnny a bit later at dinner about the river crossing and he laughed and said “yeah probably 15 more minutes and that river would not have been crossable” hahah funny/not funny.

Day 1 was a 150 mile day total. Soaked to the bone, we pulled up to our accommodations for the night. It was a 200+ year old Kasbah. We were greeted with a warm fire, mint tea and a delicious Tagine dinner. There was also Wifi there which turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The high from our ride began to wear off as news penetrated the fortress of positivity and sense of adventure we had built around the Moroccan 8, infecting us. We started to get word of flights out of Morocco being cancelled and rumors of potentially some tourists bringing the Virus to Morocco. The anxiety set in as we all discussed what the responsible thing to do is. We started making some phone calls to the U.S. Consulate and our airlines to no avail. All lines were busy. At this point none of our flights out of the country had been canceled and we felt like we were the safest place we could possibly be way out in the middle of nowhere on apocalypse machines.  After a sleepless night, we pressed on.

Day #2:

Was another 150 + mile day. My back was sore and my hands and wrists were sore but I was so excited to get back on the bike. The scenery that day was truly incredible. We passed through areas that looked like a desert oasis with palm trees surrounded by big hanging cliffs. By that point we had fallen in to riding packs based on the speed we were comfortable with riding. We pretty much stuck together but leaving some distance so as not to eat too much of each others dust. Johnny would shoot around between the pack sometimes riding in the front and sometimes riding in the back and sometimes leading us off track on rad little trail excursions. Eventually we dropped into a super sandy riverbed that we would be riding in for several miles. I am pretty comfortable in the sand since I live in Southern California. I am most comfortable riding really fast through the sand and putting my weight toward the back. Its just easier for me to keep speed.

 It was in this section that I ended up blasting out in front of everyone. It was easiest to just keep going as stopping in the sand is an unnecessary hassle. I finally followed the GPS track over a little dam and out of the riverbed eventually on to the flat open desert. I turned around and no one was behind me. I sat for a few minutes and waited but nothing. I put my kickstand down and got off my bike and waited for like 10 minutes but nothing. I double checked and I was still on the GPS track so that was good. I was exposed in the direct sun in the middle of the desert so I decided to press on slowly to see if they would catch up. Figured they may have stopped and regrouped behind me and would be along in no time.

I kept going but still saw no one behind me. I started to get a little bit concerned so I pulled over and pulled my phone out to see if I had service. Nope. I saw a little town up ahead and thought maybe Johnny had taken them on a short cut and were going to head to town to get gas. The last gas stop we had stopped at was out of gas so there was a little sense of urgency for the bikes with the smaller tanks. I pressed on through the town still following the GPS. Johnny had told us to try and not stop in the towns because you get swarmed by the little kids and they can get aggressive about wanting to sit on your bike and stuff. So, I passed through the town and kept going.

 I was riding really slow and was pretty concerned at this point that they still had not caught up and that there was no sign of them in town. Panic started to set in. Here I was, alone in the Sahara Desert with no way of contacting my group. I was for sure still on the GPS track so I technically could have just kept going to the lunch destination, but I did not like being alone. Not my style. I blasted out of that little town and found a shady tree in a riverbed to pull under. I pulled out my phone again and I could not believe it, but I had service. 3 full bars! In the middle of nowhere! Johnny had said that Morocco has really good cell phone service but I was shocked. Like I was in the middle of the desert with nothing around.

I called Su in the chase truck and gave her the “kilometer to destination” reading on my GPS. She said that they were just under 20K behind me and had a minor accident that required some mechanical work and then they stopped in town to put gas in the bikes with the small tanks. They were on their way and would be caught up to me in no time. “Just stay under the tree and wait” she said. I was SO relieved. I sat down in the shade and had a snack and before I knew it, I could hear the sound of bikes and the gang was back together. Sounds like the crash happened right as I blasted ahead so there was quite a delay with that as I kept riding. Needless to say, I hung mid-pack from there on out.

Lunch was at this amazing place that could only be found with GPS coordinates. As we pulled up to it a herd of camels passed by which was such a cool sight. We were all pretty tired and relieved to take a break. The first leg of that day was a long one so it was nice to have a moment to relax. As we sat down to lunch Johnny started telling us the last leg of the ride that day would have us arriving to our accommodations at the base of some dunes and staying in a bivouac. But before we got there we would be riding through 20K’s of fresh-fresh. Johnny announced this with a smirk on his face so we knew that meant some kind of nastiness was ahead.

What is fesh-fesh you ask? Picture a 1 or 2 foot deep layer of baby powder on top of deeply rutted and hard packed desert floor. You basically could not see the terrain changes that were hidden below the powder so you needed to be ready to get bucked at any moment. Sound fun? It was, in a type 2 kind of way. The fesh-fesh started almost immediately after we left our little lunch oasis. Picture riding with zero rhythm, almost no traction, and hidden ruts that buck you left and right as you dip in and out of them with no warning. The arm pump was real as you hung on for dear life. You wanted to keep your speed up so as not to sink in the fesh-fesh but you didn’t want to go too fast for fear of falling into hidden ruts. It was punishing but you felt amazing once you got through it.

After the fesh-fesh section it was only a short rip to the Bivouac at a place called Ouzina Rimal which is where we would be staying that night. It was like a dream. There were sleeping pads if you wanted to sleep outside under the stars by the fire or an option to sleep in the little bivouac tents. Such a beautiful place to spend the night!

 We all sat down for a mint tea and shared war stories from the day. The Wifi began to infect the group again but we all kind of decided to resign ourselves to the fact that we were on an adventure and our fate was in the hands of the Sahara at that point. Plus, we were all too excited about climbing the dunes at sunset to care about anything else.

After a little rest and some hydration we were heading out to “Johnnys Bar” for sunset. Johnnys Bar is a bag full of beers  at the top of a massive dune with unimaginable sunset views. The bivouac sits just at the base of the dunes so we could see the ocean of sand from where we were sitting. We were so excited.

I had never really ridden in a sea of sand dunes like that. Johnny gave us a briefing before we headed out, so we had an idea of the best technique. It felt amazing to hit the dunes. It was like surfing, but better. You would dip into a bowl and ride around the perimeter then pop over the top and ride along the ridge. It was one of the most incredible riding experiences I have ever had. We took a pause before we all blasted up the big dune. Johnny told us to stay on the throttle but to let off just as you get to the top so that your front end pops over the summit but you don’t send it off the top. “That’s how you break a collar bone” Johnny said. ( Always so comforting hahah )

I blasted up the face of it and as my front end popped over the top my stomach sank from the sheer height of it. We each popped over the top of the summit one at a time. You don’t realize how high up you are when you are climbing the face but it hits you all at once when you reach the top. It was glorious, breathtaking, thrilling, truly epic. We were all pretty much freaking out with excitement. Johnny took us in small groups to venture out and ride through the dunes. This was such a blast and a great opportunity to practice before we hit the bigger dunes the next day.  After our joy rides through the dunes we sat down, had a beer and watched the sunset from the top of the world.  

Day #3

After a night of sleeping under the stars we awoke to breakfast and coffee. Today was going to be a shorter day of riding. 55 miles off road to Merzouga where we would be at a nice hotel with a pool. There would be some chill time to relax by the pool before we hit the big dunes at Erg Chebbi. By day 3 the soreness had started to subside as my body felt like it hardened and got used to spending hours on the bike. I was feeling invincible today. We all were. We rode like f**king goddesses that day.

There was something in the air, I don’t know what. We were all on the same page and that page was full throttle blasting through the desert. The 80% rule was out the window, we were running 100%-110% that day. We all took turns setting the pace and it was up to the pack to keep it. It got to the point where when we finally did pull off for a quick break we were all hooting and hollering from the thrill. It felt amazing.

The hotel in Merzouga did not disappoint. It was such a welcome time to get out of our gear and into a bikini for a minute. As you can imagine, the wifi , once again, began to infect. We started getting word that our flights were being canceled. We spent some time on the phone with the Consulate registering all of our names and passport numbers. They didn’t have much to report other than they were working on getting some flights arranged for later that week. They advised us that it was best  to stay out of the big cities and be remote for now and they would contact us with any instruction. Doesn’t get much more remote than where we were at so……

After lunch and a few hours of chill, Johnny had us suit up to hit the dunes. Our destination was a 410 foot tall dune that we could see from our hotel rooms. He was going to take us in 2 groups but a few gals planned on sitting it out so 2 groups became 1.

We set sail into the ocean of dunes. The wind was blowing and the sand was floating above the dunes making it almost dizzying trying to orient yourself as you blasted up and then down and then around and around.

As we dipped out on top of a ridge we turned and faced the big dog dune. I shifted up into 4th as I ripped full speed at the monster. Once I started to climb I slammed down into third and powered right up. As I hit the top and popped over the summit I about lost my stomach completely. Nothing can prepare you for a sight like that. We thought the dune the previous day was crazy but this one was massive. The photos just dont do it justice. Sitting on top of that dune was yet another vision quest moment where we all could not believe where we were. A moment, a place and a view you will never ever forget.

As we turned and looked back we saw Tasha had taken a run at the beast and couldn’t quite make it up. Johnny turned his bike around to go back and help her out. We could see them from the top as tiny little specs in the sand. They were set up to take another run at it when they disappeared from view for a bit due to the curve in the dune from where we were.

 After a while we didn’t hear them coming up so Jenny walked down the dune a bit to see what she could see. “Tasha is on the ground“  Jenny said.  All of our heads jerked back when we heard that. Moments later Johnny came ripping up the dune with no helmet on. The look on his face made us all turn white. “Tasha has a very serious cut and I need to go back and get the jeep to get her out of here. Malary, I need you to go head down now and keep her feet elevated. The rest of you make your way down to her as soon as possible”

We all threw our helmets back on and sprung into action. Malary took off immediately as the rest of us jumped on our bikes. I went to press the start button on my bike and nothing… Absolutely no power. F**K. I yelled out “My bike wont start, f**k”.  Leyla and Caylee ran over and we sent Jenny down the dune to support Malary. Leyla checked out my bike and noticed there was no power and it must be the battery. She asked if anyone had any tools.

Here we were on the top of a 410 foot tall sand dune with our friend at the bottom seriously injured and some kind of mechanical issue. Luckily, Leyla knew what she was doing and I carry tools in my backpack. Leyla popped the seat off with my tool set and saw that the cable running to my negative battery terminal was broken. She cut back the wire casing with my Leatherman, re-attached it to the battery, tightened the seat back on to the bike and I was on my way again. I don’t even want to think about the scenario if Leyla didn’t know what she was doing or if I didn’t have tools on me. No one  needs additional  unnecessary chaos in a crisis situation. We made our way down to join the rest of the girls by Tash’s side.

Tash is a complete and total warrior. She was so clear headed in this situation. There she was, in the middle of an ocean of dunes with a massive gash in her abdomen and she was making jokes to make us all feel more comfortable. A bravery I cannot imagine. We aren’t totally sure how the accident happened but on her way up the dune her front end dug in which brought her to an abrupt halt and twisted her bars digging the hand guard right into her abdomen and slicing a gash so deep her insides were showing. Barf. All we could do was keep her comforted and hydrated until Johnny got back with the jeep.

It seemed like an eternity but, in reality, It was only a matter of minutes before he returned with Hussein and the jeep. Johnny ran out of the jeep and began checking on Tash then proceeding to direct us all in assisting to get Tash on the stretcher and strapped in the bed of the jeep.

Yes, she was going to be hauled through a sea of sand dunes on the back of a jeep. What could go wrong? Johnnys sense of urgency was palpable but he remained cool calm and collected. His energy was comforting and alarming all at the same time. Not only did he need to haul Tash out of there to safety he had to lead us riders back out of the dunes as well. It is so easy to get lost and disoriented when the horizon is endless like that.

Once we got Tash securely loaded we all hopped on our bikes and proceeded to follow the jeep out of there, leaving her bike at the base of the dune. We were making slow progress weaving back and forth looking for the path of least resistance through the dunes when the jeep got stuck. The back tire buried itself in the sand with Tash on a stretcher in the bed of the jeep. At that point I really could not believe what I was witnessing. Johnny popped out of the jeep and began digging. The girls took turns digging while Johnny let some air out of the tires and we were finally able to get a traction board under the tire and get out of there. We all jumped back on our bikes and followed the jeep through the dunes and back to the hotel.

We brought Tash inside and Johnny got her wound cleaned out and butterfly stitches down. Did I mention that Johnny is also a trained paramedic? She needed to go to the hospital, though. After Johnny got her cleaned up, he and Caylee went back out to the dunes to get Tashs bike. The plan from there was for Johnny to drive her 3 hours to meet an ambulance that would take her the rest of the 3 hours to the nearest hospital in Ouarzazate ( our jumping off point ) Jenny and the girls scrambled to pack her some snacks and organize all of her things as we said goodbye to our friend. We were hoping that it would be a minor visit to get it properly cleaned out and real stitches in place but we did not know if there was any internal damage. We were all scared for her but Tash was fiercely brave. Going to a hospital in a foreign country is scary to begin with. But going when there is a spreading virus starting to surround you is terrifying. Tash would be met at the hospital by another member of the Moto Aventures team so we were grateful to hear that.

As we sent Tash the Warrior on her journey to the hospital we all took a moment for a group hug. An injury on this trip was something we all feared. We were all a bit shaken from the experience and vowed to take it down to 60% for the rest of the trip.  

Day #4

We woke up in the morning to word that Tash was doing ok and being well taken care of. The weather that day was apocalyptic with high winds and low visibility. The whole day felt a bit off since the accident and the eerie weather did not help. Regardless, we all suited up and set out on what was supposed to be our longest day of riding yet. 210 miles were planned that would take us through a mountain range.

We hit the road and after a shaky/ icky feeling to start, we found our rhythm. After an hour or so Johnny took us off the GPS route and through some really fun single track that had us all stoked and in good spirits. It started to feel good to be back on the bike and winding through the terrain changes and beautiful little towns. We pulled off and sat under a tree to wait for the chase jeep and have some lunch before we headed into the mountains.

As Su pulled up she delivered some news. The virus had spread to Morocco and they were closing the borders tomorrow at midnight. The UK were preparing rescue flights out. We all instantly became sick to our stomachs. We had so many questions but no answers. The Americans had received no info from the Consulate. There we were on the side of the trail far far from anything with word that we may get stuck in the country. The decision had to be made to end the tour and head back as fast as we can to Ouarzazate to catch a bus back to Marrakech and try and get on a flight before they shut down the airspace and close the borders.  

We turned back on to the pavement and road as fast as we could 240 miles through gusting winds nearly blowing us off of our bikes and sand storms that were nearly blinding. I felt nothing but sorrow as we pulled up to the Hotel we had set out from 4 days ago.

Luckily Tash had already made it back from the hospital and was resting there so that was great news.  However, the vibe was utterly chaotic as no one really knew what to do. The reports of the state of things at Marrakech airport were grim. Pandemonium with thousands of stranded tourists trying to get out. The Wifi infection overtook us as we browsed twitter and news sources seeing thread after thread of travelers booking a flight out only to have it canceled hours later or right before they were set to take off. Rescue flights to the UK were only letting UK citizens on the plane which was no help to us Americans. Johnny was kind enough to offer to let us stay with him at his place in Essaouira if anyone got stuck which was comforting but also no one wanted to get stuck. The idea of being away from my loved ones made my heart start to ache a bit.

As we sat down to dinner, Johnny announced that RyanAir had scheduled 3 flights out of Marrakech for the next day and that 2 of them were already full but there were still seats on the last flight out. Caylee quickly pulled out her phone and booked all 8 of us on the flight. The frantic energy as everyone passed her phone around and typed in their names was overwhelming. We all cheered when the booking went through finally.

We were booked for 12:30pm the next day for a flight from Marrakech to Stansted Airport in London. Would they cancel the flight last minute? Would they not allow U.S. citizens on the plane or into the U.K.? Would the airport be dangerous and chaotic? Was it smart to go straight into the airport with a massive gathering of potentially virus infected people with no real certainty that we would get out in time?  The “what ifs” were flying around everywhere. But, we felt we had to try.

With horrendous reports and photos of the chaos at Marrakech airport I wanted to be prepared for anything. We saw travelers posting that they were stuck in the airport for days with not enough food and water as flight after flight got canceled. I didn’t know what we were in for and I wasn’t sure how quickly the situation would turn potentially dangerous. So, I packed my bags accordingly. If I needed to ditch my gear bag for any reason, I was prepared to do that. On my body, in my backpack and fanny pack, I had food and water that could last me for a few days or maybe 1 or 2 if rationed between all of us. I had some light toiletries and a change of clothes, just in case. It was my survival kit. If I needed to be agile and resourceful, I had everything with me I might need. I laugh about it now but in that moment I was in apocalypse warrior mode and I wasn’t about to let this shit take me and my crew down.

I grappled with whether or not to alert my family to the situation. My anxiety was at the maximum, but what was the point in worrying them as well? I decided to go with a light description of the situation- “we got early flights out because they are starting to limit travel in Morocco due to virus. Do not worry. I’ll keep you updated. Heading to Marrakech in a couple hours. Flying to London then will get a flight home from there. I’m with the whole group. We are safe and sticking together.” Not alarming, not a lie, but informative.

Day #5

Not the day we thought we were going to have on day 5. We were supposed to be ripping like desert goddesses through the Sahara with the wind in our hair. Instead we woke up at 3am to hop on a sketchy bus to Marrakech airport. Arriving at the airport was not as chaotic as we thought it would be. There was nervous energy for sure, but it had not escalated to pandemonium.

We were early, but checked and sure enough there had been some Ryan Air flights that were successfully loading and departing, and our flight was listed on the board. Things were looking promising. As we started to queue up for our flight the chaotic energy started to creep in.

The Moroccan 8 stuck together, taking turns watching each others bags and scouting out to get food and snacks for each other or to get info from the flight desk. The other travelers around us were definitely stressed but nothing hostile yet. The Airport staff seemed terrified and overwhelmed. They kept rearranging the lines and changed the check in desk area causing chaos for everyone. I felt for them for sure but all we wanted was to be seated on that plane. We had Tash in a wheelchair so we were able to get our boarding passes a bit earlier. The relief of holding that boarding pass in my hand and watching my gear bag pass down the conveyor belt was something I will never forget. Even though the boarding pass was basically a hand-written piece of paper. We left the airport lobby, passed through security and made our way to our gate.

It already felt triumphant but the “what if’s” were ever-present. The chaos loading on to the plane was something I had never experienced before. In a situation like that, humans lose all ability to form a proper line. Mob mentality sets in and everyone is on edge. Rumors were spreading at the gate that some people had not been assigned seats and still may not get on the plane. Not us, not the Moroccan 8!

 It is hard to describe the feeling of finally sitting in that seat on the plane. The word “relief” does not cut it. We had made it out. The Moroccan 8 had made it. Everyone cheered as the plane took off.

We landed in Stansted and with no trouble at all, no extra screening or check points or anything, made it out of the airport. This is where the Moroccan 8 parted ways. We squeezed each other tight and pinky promised that there would be another adventure with all of us (sans pandemic). We had all bonded so much from our days on the bikes and navigating the chaos together. Everyone kept their cool and contributed something special to the group. We had been on a truly unforgettable adventure together complete with fleeing a country with a virus on our tails and borders closing around us. The Moroccan 8 would ride again.

 

The Brits came home to a place very different from what they had left a week ago. The city was hours away from going into lockdown and the girls had friends who were potentially sick with the virus. Tash was greeted by her sister and sister-in-law and transported home to heal up. Caylee, Diana and Ame all decided to all hunker down at Diana’s and stock up on food and supplies to wait it out together. Their journey was not over even though they were home.

The Americans- Malary, Leyla, Jenny and I were transported to London Heathrow Airport thanks to Tash’s sister and sister-in-law who were true angels. We all had flights out the next day, so we stayed at the airport hotel. We didn’t want to risk going into the city. I am happy to report that all of us made it home the following day! We are forever grateful to the United Kingdom for letting us pass through their country on our journey home.

As I landed in LAX I felt a very unexpected feeling. I was obviously relieved to be home but also gutted to not be in Morocco still blasting through the desert with the girls. The adventure was over.

The passengers on my flight were greeted with the CDC right off the plane. After a short interview and no other checks, we were sent on our way and told to self-quarantine for 2 weeks at home. Which is where I sit today. At home, in the mountains of Southern California with my man, my dog and my cats. Full to the brim with memories from the greatest adventure of my life…so far.

Be the first to comment

All comments are moderated before being published