Morocco or Bust #2

In case you missed the previous post on this…
The objective is to do a winter trip with Alexander (Jan/Feb 2020) to Spain/Portugal/Morocco in a Renault 4.

This is all about the fun/adventure/journey and a big part of that is doing it in a vehicle that is not really suited to the task..

Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive

Robert M Pirsig – Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

I have now purchased the project car which is a Renault 4 F4 – the small van variant with an 845cc engine. I cycled the 60Km to Castalsarrasin to pick the car up, stuck the bike in the back and drove it home. It is the second worst car I have ever driven and made me question the whole idea of trying to go any distance in it never mind the 5,000+Km to Morocco and back. I have driven quite a lot of cars including some dodgy Russian prototypes, but I had never driven a Renault 4, not even this one before – the clutch cable had snapped just before I went to view it so couldn’t do a test drive. (The worst car was a Hindustan Ambassador, but that’s another story).

Driving impressions…

  • Clutch slipping
  • No brakes
  • No handbrake
  • Vague steering – no self centering
  • No power – second gear for hills
  • Different roll stiffness/damping front to rear resulting in corkscrewing if changing line during a corner
  • Charging light flickering on
  • Oil light coming on round right hand bends
  • Noisy
  • Crashy suspension at the rear

On the positive side it did get me home, the seats are comfortable and the bizarre trombone gearchange actually works very well.

Despite all the above the car is growing on me – it has loads of character and is very very simple.

Changed the oil and filter having checked the manual to find it holds 2.5 litres (not much by modern standards – the Land Rover holds 6 litres). I was a bit surprised at the small amount that drained out so I measured the quantity and was alarmed to discover the engine only had 0.5 litres of oil in it ! Apparently the French don’t consider oil and filter changes to be a maintenance item – doesn’t bode well for the rest of the car, but does explain why the oil light was coming on – at least that works !

Fixed the slipping clutch – owner had fitted new cable but hadn’t adjusted the free play – doh!

I’ve now realised that the brakes and handbrake do work but with drums all round and no assistance they require a mighty shove, which the driver of a modern car doesn’t readily adapt to.

Interior stripped for cleaning/painting

Steering rack gaiters need replacing – completely shredded. I would have thought this was a Controle Technique (MOT) failure but it had just passed with no advisory on this – maybe the MOT man was the owner’s best mate?

Lots of minor servicing work and detail mods done while gradually building a list of things that need to be sorted before contemplating any long journeys. Compression test on the engine not too bad (7-8 bar) and it has done 188,000Km. Need to get a handle on the oil consumption as this will be a good indicator of ring/valve guide condition (apart from leaks and there are plenty of those).
Did a run to the bins and back using the useful space in the back and it wouldn’t restart – bonnet up and spotted the carb was flooding (have already replaced the fuel filter) – cranking on full throttle managed to clear it, but not a good omen.

Seems reasonably solid

As I drive the car more (and add to the list of things to do) I’m getting more used to its character and it doesn’t seem as bad as when I first drove it so maybe we will be able to make it…

Sara and Lauren’s Holiday

My sister Sara and her daughter Lauren came over for a week and were joined by Georgina for a few days and then Alexander and Laurena called in for the weekend. Fortunately the sun shone as getting a good tan seemed to be a key objective – a symptom of living in the North of England. Even the pool was put to good use so it was a rather fortunate I had cleaned it for the occasion.

On the first morning we cycled to Cahors for breakfast (50 Km round trip).

Breakfast in Cahors

We took the most direct route in via Trespoux, but came back via Pradines, Douelle and Luzech which is longer but much more scenic alongside the river.

Douelle Lock

Plenty of time spent in and around the pool working on the much-needed tan.

The first evening we went out to the Saint Laurent Lolmie fete where the Stanley Sisters were providing the entertainment. Actually Sara provided most of the entertainment, and that was before she invited me to dance. “Dad dancing” I believe it’s called – not a pretty sight. As usual no serious food was served until 9.30pm, which was a giant Paella and very good too.

We soon settled into a holiday routine of not going to bed too late or having too much to drink, but getting up far too early for the obligatory early morning run/walk. Then off to the cafe for breakfast, followed by the daily shopping – my fault as I can’t plan meals more than one day at a time.

Mie de Pain Breakfast

When my brother Tim visited recently he spent ages trying to get some decent pictures of butterflies – which are everywhere in the garden but refuse to sit still. At the cafe a swallow tail took a liking to my belt buckle..

Swallow Tail
Shopping Trolley

Back home in time for lunch on the terrace in the shade of the recently constructed pergola, a top quality construction engineered by my brother Chris. He was over in June for his first holiday in 10 years but managed to find the time to do that, repair the ill-fitting house doors and patch up the terrace railings – he doesn’t do relaxing.

Lunch is served.

On our way back from walking to lunch in Castelfranc (Restaurant du Pont) – best meal Sara had ever eaten – we called in at the beach in Albas and Sara even went skinny-dipping!

Who needs a bikini?

Sara is even more keen on exercise than I am and we are both quite competitive, but I just about managed to stay ahead despite the rigorous schedule of walking, running, cycling and rowing. However, she did beat me in one area hands down…

Raspberry Tart – leave some for me!

In the picture above you can also see Hebes on bat patrol – waiting patiently for the bats to emerge from behind the shutters and then trying to catch them. She sometimes succeeds.

Other evening entertainment involved watching Gij and Lauren making s’mores and nearly setting themselves alight in the process.

For those of you (like me) that have no idea what a s’more is….
It involves melting a marshmallow (white ones are best apparently), sandwiching it between two chocolate digestive biscuits and then scoffing it down before it melts everywhere.

S’more scoffing – yummee (apparently)

The early morning run/walk routine was not interrupted by the weather and we did get soaked on one occasion, but still enjoyed the view…

Albas View Point

We did a trip into Cahors (for breakfast of course) on market day. The primary goal was to visit a particular coffee shop that does large and spectacular (not at all calorific) cookies with lumps of chocolate on top. Unfortunately they had changed the recipe and were now baking the nice bits into the cookie – same ingredients, but not the same wow factor. Sara also had a chance to look for some gift ideas for her hoped-for grand children (hurry up Zoe).

How cute is that?

Sara was also keen to have-a-go on a motorbike, having never ridden one before so we got the Montesa out for her to try around the garden. This was with some trepidation as my brother Chris who is a very experienced motorcyclist had managed to loop it during his visit!

Biker Babe

I’m no good at teaching as I’m a beginner myself, but Sara did really well for a first attempt. Having motored up from the bottom of the garden she attempted a tight turn on a slope (not easy) and very nearly dropped the bike but managed to haul it upright – a lesser man would have dropped it.

Lasting memories ?
Apertifs on the terrace with a bottle of white wine (Sauvignon – the Chardonnay was horrible) and making savoury sandwiches from ripe St Agur or Brie between two spicy doritos!

Beer O’clock.

Then it was time to go home, from 35 degrees and sunshine to 15 degrees and rain. Don’t you just love living in the South of France – like being on holiday all the time.
And Sara was very pleased with her tan – “date ready” as she so aptly put it…

The Vince

Pyrenees Navigation Event

In September Doug, Mark and myself “The Old School” have signed up to do a motorbike navigation event in the Pyrenees called The Vince. It is run by a rather eccentric guy called Austin VINCE who has done lots of round the world tours and now regularly runs adventure holidays. In fact Doug and Mark are staying on for another week after the event to take part in the “Mini Mondo” – one week on a bike in the wilds of the Pyrenees.

The 2019 event is restricted to the use of maps and compasses only – no GPS allowed. Austin and his team have placed a series of small metal tags on objects scattered around the Pyrenees – typically on trees/posts/electric pylons. He has then supplied a very small scale map and guide book to tell you exactly where each tag is located. The event is held over two days and you are allowed exactly 12 hours each day to navigate your way around the objects collecting the information on the tags. Different tags score different amounts of points. The winner is the team with the most points at the end of day 2.

The first challenge is to make sense of the tiny map, come up with some suitable routes, plot it all out on a slightly bigger map and find some way of carrying said map on a motorbike. We also need to plan fuel stops and probably start some serious training if we are going to have any hope of trail riding for that length of time.

This video will give you more idea but is a taster for the 2020 event when it seems they will have a class for GPS users.

Vince Navigation Taster 2020

Morocco or Bust?

Winter adventure in a Quatrelle?

I find the January-February season in this part of the world to be less enjoyable that the rest of the year – it’s cold, dark and everyone seems to be hibernating. We are often blessed with great Autumn weather that sometimes seems to keep going almost until the festive season.

But once Christmas has been and gone it is back to cold reality and awaiting the first signs of Spring. For the last couple of years I have taken to being away as much as possible over this period and plans are afoot for 2020.

My old mate Dougie from the UK and myself are planning some sort of motorbike trip South in early January, with the current favourite being to fly to Morocco and do a motorbike tour on rented bikes. That still leaves several weeks unaccounted for.. For the last two years I have been away for a week with Alexander and Georgina (Pod and Gij) to Morocco (Agadir and Marrakesh). When we were there last year we got caught up in the final stage of the Renault 4L Trophy. This is a humanitarian rally/raid open to students which involves taking a prepared Renault 4 down through France and Spain and across the Moroccan desert to deliver educational supplies to schools. They usually have over a thousand entrants.

This sowed the seed of an idea – why not buy a Renault 4 and do a trip to Morocco?
How hard can it be?
Unfortunately the actual Trophy event is only open to students up to 28 years of age so I’m excluded. But we could still follow some of the route…

Went to look at a Renault 4 today (see pic above), which is a possibility but it has no CT and would require a lot of work. Need to look at some more to get a better feel for the cars…

Rando Courbiac

Very early start – left house at 7am – half hour ride 25Km to get there.

John and Dave arrived as well – from the Lot of Bikes crew – John seems to be the focal point as everyone meets at his place and he has a motocross track in the garden – he organised the Treasure Hunt. Used to race speedway in the UK. Both MUCH faster and hugely more experienced than me. However, John’s knee was swollen so he was happy to stick to the “easy” route.

Loads of people there – at a guess about 200 and loads with Quads, some of the buggy/pottering type but quite a lot of racy looking machines. John had been before and suggested an early start to avoid traffic and getting caught up with quads which are fast on some bits but slow and hard to overtake on others.

The easy route was the default and marked in Blue, with some detours for bikes only (too narrow for quads). Then there were some red routes which were billed as OK for a rider with plenty of experience. Then there were the black routes declared to be challenging even for the experienced. And there was one extreme black route for the very brave which they said had spotters placed along the track to help catch you when it went wrong.

The starting procedure was to form a queue, then the front 8 or so were coralled – a mix of every type and released, then the same again at 5 min intervals or so. We were the second group away.

All OK until I took a wrong turn into a red route by mistake. Steep hill climb, got nervous so sat down (now my approach – get up the hill anyway regardless of style) but that immediately lightens the front, then hit a rock and lifted the front wheel heading off the track into a tree. Just missed it and stopped and managed to get going again with people queing behind. Doh!

Paid more attention after that. John and Dave were running ahead – as usual I found that to keep in touch with them I was going faster than my limit and making mistakes, so I just went at my pace (which seems pretty bloody quick to me) and caught them up every now and again. Then they disappeared….

I was following the blue arrows but didn’t catch up with them.

Went past a refreshment stop which may have been half way, but they weren’t there so carried on. I was now one of the front runners (but didn’t realise). Came up behind a quad who had stopped and the trail was clearly marked but someone had put a wire across. Another bike turned up with some pliers and cut through the wire and we carried on.

Went wrong a couple of times but soon realised and retraced my route to pick up the arrows. Then at one point the arrows stopped and no clear way to turn so I stopped for a break. Then John turned up and explained they had got lost, which is why I never saw them. Dave had lost it going through some ruts and fallen heavily and brused his ribs so had retired early.

Other people arrived at the same spot with no arrow and set off down each of the options to try to pick up the trail which they did and we carried on.

About 65Km in total nearly all off road and about 3 hours. Had quite a few near misses but didn’t actually fall off.

As usual when reflecting on these rides I’m just so impressed with the bike – such a capable machine and perfect for the job.

Hybrid/Trials rear not perfect on any loose stuff but worked pretty well. An enduro knobby would probably have been better but I didn’t think there would be so much loose/soil type going.

Quite a few woods sections with non stop tight S bends, weaving in and out of trees. Not something I’m familair with and hard to go at any speed. Was overtaken by one fast guy and he just flowed through them.

Had started to develop blisters again after my ride last week with Adam so was using the “palm savers” that I bought. They worked as the blisters are OK but they add bulk so I have to hold on tighter and the sensitivity to the controls is not as good. They cover the palm as well which I don’t need – just the bottoms of the fingers. Going to try taping my hands next time to see if that works.

Impressed with my fitness level – was able to do the whole thing, mostly standing up and was OK. Running/cycling good for the legs. My grip endurance is also better – been doing some exercises for that and the rowing machine should help.

Goggles steaming up – in slow stuff with high exertion – the slalom in the woods- the goggles mist up. Need to look at the options to fix that.