The Easiest Crossing in the World: Bikepacking Morocco (Film)
Ryan Le Garrec’s latest film, “The Easiest Crossing in the World,” shares intensely contrasting vignettes from his trip around Morocco at the start of this year. With no plan or route, his time pedaling through the mountains and deserts took him to places well beyond the usual tourist circuit, revealing a dizzying mix of harsh reality and immense beauty. Find the film, photos, and a reflection from Ryan here…
Words, photos, and film by Ryan Le Garrec
I had a personal trainer and a whole team analyzing my stats and working on a training plan months before this trip, but the truth is I fired them all when they asked about the red liquid in my glass. In all seriousness, the plan was only to meet in Marrakesh, and I had no intention of riding with ultra-cyclist Josh Ibbett. I know him well enough to know he doesn’t particularly like to wait and that he also would say no if I asked him to slow down or come back a few meters for me to get the shot.
We always meet on work assignments, so the idea of meeting on a totally random New Year’s Eve in Morocco was the start of this project. He texted me that Morocco and the Atlas Mountains were out of this world. After racing the Atlas Mountain Race, he wanted to go back and enjoy the scenery a bit more. He had found Morocco very bike-friendly and the people around to be kind, and he felt the need to go back. I was editing his GoPro video from the race a few weeks prior, and the images were so gorgeous that I felt the need to go there too. When the post-Christmas idea came out, Portugal was literally flooded. We had a tough winter with diluvial rains on the coast where I live. The idea of sunny mountains was very appealing at that point.
As we made plans, Josh proposed we would spend NYE in Morocco and then leave early the next day for the mountains together. In the morning, my banging headache had me taking a cab down the route. We only climbed the last bit to Tizzi together, and that was perfect. Josh doesn’t mind climbing slower than his pace, and I could do with a bit of intensity to clear my mind and lungs and get my blood flowing. We spent the night up in a small hotel made of thick concrete walls, concrete ground, no heater, and sort of a toilet shower room with barely any water coming out. It was basic and very cold, but under two massive blankets and wearing my down jacket, it was perfect. I don’t remember the last time I slept so well.
In the morning, we did the descent together, which was perfect cause I don’t mind waiting a bit downhill and was faster than him when descending, I had a Ritchey Road Logic road bike with 25mm tyres, and he had his touring set up, a Mason ISO with 50 mm tyres. Downhill and on flats, we were kind of able to stick together as long as he would take long pulls (well, most of the pulls actually).
Our routes soon separated and we were to meet a few days later for diner in a student town slightly out of the mountains. Josh made my route through the mountains, and I thank him for that, as he did an amazing job. After that stretch, my plan had always been to improvise and get lost on the way home.
Highs and Lows
I find the mountains are always magical. It seems human stupidity has a harder time reaching these heights. Time has passed in a sorta slower way up there, and people live in a simpler way and it feels serene to me most of the time. If I had to define the Atlas Mountains in just a couple of words, they would be serene immensity. All your life stresses and doubts get muted over there. Life becomes simple. Get there, rest, eat, wax your chain, check your tyres, and get back on the route, but don’t forget to look around.
Once you get out of there, recharged or rather immersed in a dream, once you leave the silence and beauty behind and get back to your life elsewhere, once you do all that and come out with a tired body and tired mind, a bit overwhelmed by the beauty but also skinned alive and ready to tackle your emotions, you better hold on, cause it’s gonna be bumpy ride.
Most people go directly to the coast to Agadir or Essaouira. They might bypass the rest and avoid the test that it dishes out for your nerves. I didn’t. I got straight down to the half-built post-industrial cities, broken dreams, and garbage fields. I saw misery and looked at it too deeply, straight in the eyes. I was vulnerable and very exposed, and I took the hit right in my face.
We tend to forget it when we see race coverage, but Morocco is a very poor country. There are loads of migrants from the Sahara trying to pass through. There is intense suffering, and it doesn’t hide, but it’s not on the tourist routes. It’s not on the postcards. You can even spend weeks in Marrakesh and not notice if you don’t take a wrong turn or step into a side street. Maybe it’s just me, maybe everyone noticed, it but I find the only thing we see as adventure cyclists is the smiling faces in great landscapes. I saw this too, but then I saw the man riding a bike with no pedals, the mother with three kids roaming the streets or the houses made of plastic garbage bags and broken foil, the horses eating from bins, the kids with despondent looks and dust on their face. It was a wake-up call, except the alarm was a jackhammer, and I had barely slept in that sweet dream before opening my eyes.
On Filming, Editing, and Learning
I have been filming myself for quite a while now. It started with COVID, and then it became an integral part of my work. But, in truth, I’m not super comfortable with it. I would love to be. Every time I edit, I just cut myself out so much that all I’m left with is this flow of silent meditative shots. All the bits where I talk to the camera and explain what’s going on end up annoying me deeply. I should focus on telling the story that way, the vlog way, cause I know people find it nice, and it’s sort of comfortable as an audience to know what is going on and guess where you are heading. But it’s just not my thing at the moment.
I like the idea that silence says a lot, too. I like the idea that poetry doesn’t care about what is really going on in the story. People asked me to put maps in the film or a voice-over or just to make it clearer and I said, “Sorry, one last time, but I really need to do it this way.” It’s about getting lost, so maps don’t really make sense. The best advice I got as feedback was from Angus Morton who said, “Focus on the non-cycling shots, cause they’re the best ones!” I loved that.
For this time, I really took my time to film things off the bike, and I had different cameras for different roles. The black and white shots are from my Sony, my main camera for work. They were not supposed to be all black and white, but my camera fell in Marrakesh and stayed blocked on a custom profile set up for B&W, and that’s sort of the way it had to be. The Sony was my pen on this trip, it was the camera I would use to write the inner feelings on my ride. The action camera on the bike would be about the route and the progress.
Every film is a failure in so many ways, and every film is a learning curve made of crashes and punches and massive mistakes. What I’m after in filmmaking is not something we see every day on YouTube because many people do it better than I could and because we see it all the time, so why make more of it? In films, like in riding, I love the idea of exploring and maybe getting lost. There might be ugly roads on the way, singletrack where everyone gets confused or lost, but then maybe I can find the right balance after that 10,000th hour. I’m still a student of the craft and am stuck in the experimental phase where you try to find your style. Good filmmakers have found their style, people like Ertzui, Gus, and Ben Page. They found their style big time. Me, I think I am still looking for it.
I know I said I don’t like to film myself, and yet the shot at the end of the film shows me in a very intimate way. It might seem like a contradiction, but I had to make that shot. It was the whole story, in a way. I mean, no, the whole story was in the previous or following shot of a breakfast and coffee on the ferry, they were the sparks of what happened to me, but to film myself then was necessary, and it felt so honest that I was completely okay with it. I’m not faking anything there or trying to make myself look better, either. It’s a hard shot for me to make normally, but I watched it again and again while editing the film and never felt so at ease with a selfie.
The story got to me, not my little bike tour story, but Oumar’s story. It got under my skin, and it’s okay to show it even if it makes me slightly uncomfortable, usually, to overshare. I think that’s an okay shot. I met Oumar in the very last stretch of the trip, near the end of the film. I was trying to bypass the last leg, as I was having a hard time being confronted by all the poverty. I jumped on that bus in Casablanca hoping to escape, and that is exactly when it caught me. A few stops down the way, a group of migrants came on the bus, Oumar sat next to me, and we started talking, and then I got really punched in the face by the reality of his struggle.
To close on a lighter note: I rode some gravel on this trip, and the bike I ride very capable of handling hard-packed or smooth gravel as long as I don’t try to shred too much. I have been in forests on this bike and even singletrack and sandy trails in Spain. It was, after all, made by the man famous for inventing the mountain bike and known for the quote, “I thought every bike was a gravel bike!” With the right tyres and tyre pressure you can go a bit adventuring off the beaten track. I didn’t do it intentionally, but it did happen a fair bit!
That being said I took the Ritchey Logic because my Swiss Cross was out of commission. I had issues with the derailleur and the tyres and no time to get it sorted prior. I would never go back to Morocco with a pure road bike, as there are way too many amazing tracks in the mountains. And I would definitely chose to camp up there too. Josh had an amazing time waking up over 2,000 meters high in his tent or just getting to watch the sunset from above.
I would certainly get some good winter gear, because the nights are cold up there. For the rest, I think December-January is a great season to go. We’d be often taking layers off throughout the day, and it was just perfect. It also was absolutely dry all the time, no intense rain like they had during the race.
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