Months have passed already since I made it to the finish in Sidi Rabat after cycling 1145 kilometres (711 miles) through the enchanted desert landscape of Morocco, part of the inaugural Atlas Mountain Race. There, I did it; my first ultra race with endless curves through the remarkable dusty terrain of the Moroccan mountains.
In preparation for the Atlas Mountain Race I was pretty sure that I had no idea what I’d be throwing myself into. I often found myself dreaming through all possible scenarios; preparing for the worst and thinking the days would be so long, yet in reality learnt the contrary, days felt short, the nights long and overall it was over in a fart! While thinking back to the memories I feel like I never find enough words to describe the experiences.
As the days to the start of the race came more close I found myself becoming hesitant. Did I come prepared enough, had I spent enough hours on the bike and would my skills get me through the rough terrain? Meeting other racers got me all wobbly thinking everyone seemed so cool, well prepared, yet so kind and apparently with similar concerns, how odd! It was easy to make new friends and felt quickly at home in this new community of strangers, that all have one thing in common; riding bikes.
To use Carrie’s phrase from ‘Sex and the City’; “I couldn’t help but wonder… could I have done better?” What if I didn’t have my period? What if I allowed myself to rest longer? What would the race look like if... But then again, isn’t that silly?
In all honesty I prefer to look back and feel nothing but grateful. It’s important to be content with any achievement, to be proud of this accomplishment and finishing within the time. Riding among so many strong other riders, encountering beautiful souls and being surrounded by such magnificent scenery is a treat in itself. Having the chance to do this in the first place is something to feel grateful about.
Now, if this Collection gets you so stoked to ride this route, but perhaps at a different pace and enjoy the riding to the fullest, then I do have some additional suggestions to get you the right set-up. For example as we discussed among us riders, would you take a mountain bike next time? Although I might have been stubborn to answer that with a no, because I am so in love with my bike and don’t want to regret that choice, if someone asked me again I’d say, you will be much more comfortable and enjoying the descents even better with a mountain bike! The timing was great as the winter had just passed, sleeping under the stars was great, and had my best night’s rest in the middle of nowhere on the soft sandy ground surrounded by thousands of stars. I’m also really glad I took my down pants. That way when I got so tired and very cold on long descents I could just ride in my sleep system.
It wasn't my first time Morocco, nor my first time in the vibrant Marrakech. I had a long list of things to check out, hidden gems of galleries, small collabs and non-profit organisations that all make this world a better place.Though this time, I was hiding from the noisy, polluted streets and preferred the food from the hotel restaurant, avoiding a stomach ache before the race start. Yet one final errand to run, I had to commute to the Decathlon to replace my pump. Somehow I had managed to permanently damage it the day before take-off. I guess better now than later...So there I was, ever amazed by the traffic and skills of the local citizens to use up every inch of tarmac with stalls, mopeds, taxis, buses and pedestrians. This city just never gets boring.
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I couldn't catch much sleep overnight so I decided to start the second day early and ride into the darkness. The road was bumpy and sandy, and I was clinging to my handlebars more than I should, yet the bike was now my best friend and all the comfort I had.The second day was not my strongest as I got my period, which explained my sore body and stomach cramps. It was only day two and the rhythm and landscape seemed already so familiar. I was relieved to find tarmac just before Ghassate, at the same time the sky started to lighten up and I was riding towards Toundoute for breakfast. The scenery today was wonderful, gravel roads and singletracks up and down dry riverbeds. These river beds were home to local people living in the caves, quite remarkable to stumble upon such a sight.
After Tazenakht the next stop is Cafe Ateman. I felt uncomfortable at the hotel, slept maybe for just an hour and took off again, with a little fear for dogs, but with enough energy riding the tarmac in the dark until dehydration symptoms presented themselves, forcing me to take another rest next to the road.At sunrise I scraped myself - including a swollen face -together after eating a delicious orange. I thought 'today I will take it a little easy and pace myself allowing to rest and make sure I drink enough'.After Cafe Ateman I went off-road through a beautiful soft hilly landscape. Local towns with farms continue on until you hit an oasis with lush green trees and kids waving at you full with excitement. I got to Ait Marouf and find a local small shop as there were not many resupply points after this shop.
The memories of days 3, 4 and 5 are a blur, I’m not sure when or what happened exactly. The sun rose, set, days passed by, filled with dust, rocks …
On this section, I'd climbed out of the oasis riding beautiful trails and to get on a long tarmac stretch. This section is definitely challenging as there are no resupply points until Tagmout and it can get very hot and a bit boring too.Bring company, good music, enough to drink and make a stop in the rare case that you find some shade! The hills after the small village are a welcome change of scenery.