Feel The Burn: Biking Morocco's High Atlas

by Harriet Constable

It started with a dull, burning sensation in the depths of my thighs. We were a couple of miles away from the small shop in Imlil where we had just hired our mountain bikes for our day’s adventuring in the Altas Mountains, and my legs were already seizing up from the steep ascent. Frustrated, I hopped off and pushed for a while, confused by the suspension which was making me sit back so far it was like riding a recumbent model. 

To my horror, after a little phase of pushing, I realized I was struggling to achieve even this: the altitude teamed with the heat and my apparent complete loss of all muscle strength was leaving me totally breathless, wheezing like I was 80 years old and had smoked cigars my entire life.

Above us, only steep hairpin bends were in view, spreading out into what seemed awfully like forever. Staring up, I realized I had carelessly left my joie de vivre somewhere about 2 miles down the road along with my lungs. Enter heroic Scottish boyfriend, who chivalrously pushed both bikes up the mountain while I crawled slowly behind him, resembling some kind of creature which never fully evolved… Yep, that's love alright.

Finally, amazingly, we reached the top of the mountain many sweaty minutes later. Wiping the droplets from our brows, we climbed back on the bikes to begin the ride. Happily, from this point on, the journey was absolutely incredible!

We started with a very bumpy hairpin decent to the river over large rocks and gravel. It left me exhilarated but a little nervous - the bike kept skidding out from under me as I hit the brakes too hard but I learned to master the weird suspension, my hands gripping the bars so tightly my knuckles were white. As we reached the bottom of the road I could see the shaded river bubbling through the valley and we parked up for a delicious picnic lunch made earlier by our guesthouse whilst we soaked our toes in the cool water.

Before long we were off again and after a pang of intense midday heat and uphill struggle on the rocky road the other side of the valley we were back swooshing down the mountain roads with the wind rushing through our hair. The dusty trail provided spectacular views of the Altas Mountains and the thrill of having only a sheer drop to your side. 

Every so often we'd whizz through a little hamlet where a few kids waved us by as we swerved to avoid a crossing chicken, or we’d pass a lonely villager carrying goods on his mule, smiling and nodding to us like all the while probably thinking “crazy people” as we scrambled past in the heat of the day, grins spreading wide across our faces.

As we pulled into our finish point around 4pm that evening we were exhilarated but exhausted: we’d been going since 9 in the morning. Our final descent was down a beautifully smooth and winding tarmac road with the mountain views sprawling out in the distance. I kept a close tail behind and watched my boyfriend fly down the mountain with his t-shirt billowing in the wind, chuffed with what we had achieved and relishing another adventure with him. An incredible end to an incredible day.

Harri is a travel blogger, writer and photographer. By the age of 23 she had stepped foot on every continent and continues to travel the world by her mantra: live life, make a difference. You can read about her adventures on her blog Harri Travels. She can also be found on Twitter @HConstable, Facebook, and Instagram.