(I am taking a break from hospital-related matters to catch up on personal activities during the Christmas-New Year break. I hope you enjoy the next several posts.)
Focus Humanitarian Assistance is an international relief agency affiliated with the Aga Khan Development Network that provides aid during natural disasters. Recent examples included the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan. Focus is unusual in its approach in that it also provides development support to communities to build infrastructure to help avoid the need for such aid.
I have just returned from a fund-raising event for this agency, a group mountain bike ride through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Styled Bike4Life, the ride took about 60 of us nearly 250 kilometers up and down rocky roads and gravel paths. Participants came from Europe, Canada, and the US. This was my third such event with Focus, the previous ones being a bike ride down the Konkan Coast of India and a hike through a national park in Madagascar. Participants pay for their own travel expenses and then donate their own funds and/or solicit pledges from others to raise money for this charity.
The terrain in the area of Ourzazate, southwest of Marrakech, consists of steep climbs and undulating hills in a desert climate. To get there, you first travel across the scenic Tishka pass. Temperatures at this time of year are a comfortable 60 degrees Farenheit during the day -- ideal biking weather -- and then quite chilly in the evening. Daily biking distances might reach about 40 kilometers, not much if you are on a road bike on asphalt, but pretty challenging along these rocky surfaces. We went through or near Berber villages with names like Ghessat, Troundout, Ait Youb, and Boutghrar.
Although I do a lot of biking, this was my first experience on a mountain bike. While not requiring as much cardio-vascular effort as some long-distance road treks, it takes much more concentration because of the constantly changing road surface, the need to anticipate the terrain and road conditions and switch gears more frequently. There are times you just have to have faith that the forward momentum of your bike is the best way to get through rough patches. So, instead of slowing down, acceleration is often the way to succeed!
Nonetheless, the sharp rocks took their toll. Our crew was kept busy repairing flat tires. Here are some of the cast-offs. There were also some dramatic tumbles among this group of neophyte riders, and plenty of bumps, bruises, and scrapes even among the more experienced riders. But, even bandaged up, all of the riders persisted through to the end, feeling an obligation to the cause and to the sponsors who had donated money in support of their ride.
Refreshments along the way were a biker's dream -- salted peanuts, dates, figs, and our favorite local crop, clementines. Wonderful meals were prepared by our tour company, Maroc Nature, mainly a steady diet of local vegetables. There is something wholesome about simply prepared food eaten outdoors after engaging in this kind of exercise. Overnight accommodations were tents and sleeping bags. After a welcome night sleeping, even those with creaky bones were rewarded by spectacular sunrises.
(The travelogue continues below, with three more posts.)