There are adventures and there are adventures. Going to the supermarket can be an adventure, but for Roger Pitt from the Kent TRF Group his idea of adventure was getting out there amongst it, off-road riding in the desert lands of North Africa.

As a relatively new member of the TRF circa 2014 but a lifelong motorcyclist, I wanted to share an awesome trip I have recently experienced.

I think it is fair to say most of us are looking for the next big thing, and of course that is very personal.

We will all have had different opportunities and stored great memories along the way and for all of us, our own experiences are not only special to ourselves but can also spark aspirations in others.

Well, this opportunity for me started back in 2019. What possibly could go wrong? The 2020 trip, alias BR20 (Blackthorn Rally), was all meticulously planned: tickets were purchased almost before confirmation of the dates such was the excitement; T-shirts, cap branding and everything else were prepared from generous sponsors, and then bang – lockdown! What next? Nobody really knew.

Our planned trip to Morocco, five days of off-road riding organised by the legendary Motoaventures, was off, probably the closest most motorcycle enthusiasts will ever get to riding the sort of terrain a Dakar rider of the 1980s and ‘90s would experience.

Dark and uncertain days lay ahead … blue lights flashing … neighbours clapping … news dominating … mask covering … identity crisis looming … family warming … furlough supporting … long walks daunt- ing … cycles sold out … everyone zoomed out … just want to get out … whatever next?

Inspirational event founder Ben Farrell then announces, 16 months thereafter, that the trip is back on for September 2021. In disbelief, those who are able to do so quickly re-book their holiday allocation with family and work. It’s now getting a bit boring as this is about the third time around. Trusted BA at the last minute had to cancel flights to Morocco, but was fortunately and swiftly replaced by Royal Air Maroc, which welcomed flights to its distant lands, and the rest is history!

It was on, or was it? I so wanted to go on this trip. Everything was in place: double vaccinated, PCR test in and out covered, all sorts of insurance cover booked and possibly double-booked. But a week beforehand I decided I shouldn’t go. Morocco was awaiting a possible Red warning from the UK, France already had it listed as Red, COVID-19 cases were reportedly rising. I rang Ben and explained my predicament. He was calm but somewhat surprised.

I had managed to convince myself of every single reason I shouldn’t go – risk aversity increases with age I have discovered – but then… Long story short, with the leadership of Ben and Lincoln and the confused support of my family I was on the flight. I have no regrets. It was absolutely brilliant. Motoaventures organised a great trip through Morocco, challenging but achievable given a degree of motorcycle experience. Ben and his team are probably the best in the world to be with on such an adventure. For the story of the BR trips, of which this one celebrated the 5th Anniversary, with an inspirational twist, read on.

 

Ben Farrell started the Blackthorn Rally in 2015.

It came about as a result of a group of ex-military personnel looking for an adventure. After 23 years as a colonel in the Irish Guards, Ben left the army. “I had grown up with motorbikes – my first bike was a Fantic 125, many years ago. And I always had an interest in rallies, particularly the Dakar.”

The plot was hatched in the comfortable surroundings of the Cavalry and Guards Club in London. The next step was to make contact with someone who knew about organising motorcycle events in North Africa. Enter Su Downham of Motoaventures who did exactly that and Ben arranged to go on a trip to Morocco with eight other ex-military enthusiasts in 2015.

“This year there were 24 of us on the first week and the same number on the second week of the Blackthorn. So it’s grown every year since it started. Also this year, the second week was dedicated to helping injured, wounded and sick ex-servicemen and I’m also Chairman of the Invictus Games Foundation Programmes Board.”

The Board helps to devise adventures and challenges for the wounded ex-servicemen, which they are encouraged to complete and which, in turn, gives them a sense of achievement and purpose in what they do.

“We took the Blackthorn Rally as an idea and working with another charity, Future Terrain, which rehabilitates ex-servicemen through motorsports, we had 18 participants. Most were wheelchair users, with disabilities ranging from one chap with no legs and one arm to another with MS. Polaris sponsored us, providing some 2021 Razor two-seater vehicles.”

 
Off-road riding

The route is 1500km covered over five days and it’s a seven-day trip from flying in to flying out. For Dakar fans, part of the route followed a section used in one of the legendary events. The first week is for solo motorcycles; then the whole lap is repeated during the second week for the more disabled participants. For 2021 the September daytime temperatures were in the high 20 degrees C and there was a 3% chance of rain, so it was a good time to have planned the rally.

Taking care of the nuts and bolts of the operation was adventure tour specialist Motoaventures. The company was started in 1996 and is still owned and operated by John Griffiths and Su Downham. It is headquartered in Andorra from where the original guided tours of the Pyrenees and Portugal operated.

As far as the Blackthorn Rally goes, Su takes up the tale. “All the participants get themselves to Marrakech and we sort everything from there: the transfers, the luggage, the supply of bags, bikes, fuel, 4×4 back up vehicles, water, food and even alcohol if requested.”

In Morocco Motoaventures is based at Ouarzazate and this is the start and finishing point for the Blackthorn’s 1500km loop. The hardware currently comprises 12 KTM 450s, 5 Yamaha 450 Quads and 5 Polaris Razors. Navigation and comms equipment isn’t a luxury in a desert landscape, it’s essential – one sand dune looks pretty much like another.

Su says that personal safety has always been paramount at Motoaventures and it was the first adventure tour company to fit GPS to its bikes as standard. The routes are preloaded, so all riders have to do is keep the arrow on the runway and they’ll get to the lunch/rest stop. Additionally, should you inadvertently head-but a rock the Garmin tracking unit will allow you to be located, usually by a back-up vehicle not that far behind.

This event offers the perfect opportunity, as Roger pointed out, to either tick something off the bucket list or see what all the fuss surrounding desert riding is about. Whichever, you’ll not find a simpler or safer way to find out. This page from the Blackthorn Rally handbook perfectly illustrates the pace and attention to detail you could expect as a participant.

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