ATLAS MOUNTAIN RACE – PART 3
by Scott Cornish
by Scott Cornish
Mitch was already up and tucking into omelette by the time I woke, getting ready to roll. We couldn’t agree on when to leave though. Although our arrival was timely for a sleep inside, the closet shops wouldn’t be open and the 3rd was over 50km away. With no food left nothing available at the CP to buy, it was a risk given the terrain could be tough. Fuelled on just omelette, the climb out was thankfully on smooth tarmac, accompanied by sunrise. Arriving at the 2nd village before anything was open, we were indecisive about pushing on. As we lingered a couple of puppies came bounding over, joined by the parents, looking hopeful for scraps, but we had nothing ourselves.
The col wasn’t far off, up a smooth, dirt road, but it was obvious that Mitch needed food and I wasn’t far off. He revelled in the now fast tarmac descent bringing the thought of a good feed ever closer faster. The fork in the road sent us left, into rough singletrack, slowing progress. MItch’s calorie deficit forced a steady approach, picking his lines diligently along the rocky terrain to my faster speed on my larger tyres.
Back on tarmac, we could see the peaks of buildings far in the distance, willing the legs to pedal faster to get there sooner as the road flattened out, but they were in preservation made, no more speed available. Mitch picked out a great place in Tafroute. The omelettes were sublime, with added cheese and tomatoes. They ran a boulangerie next door too from which we bought several pastries, some for now, some for later. I even found fruit across the road. Happy smiles broke through our forlorned, fatigued and grubby faces.
Headwind, heat and full bellies made for some steady pedalling out of town via the main road, yet barely a vehicle on it, passing a couple of GCN guys on gravel bikes riding in the opposite direction, on a bikepack trip themselves by the looks of it. Mitch was back in his groove, but we had both decided on finding a spot for a micro sleep. A clutch of buildings offering shade seemed like a good spot. We made the same wrong assumptions as before, everything looking closed up, soon realising our error as a guy walked out his front door, almost onto us!
Off the main road, we headed back into the hills, rolling tarmac becoming longer climbs, dropping in and out of deep valleys, clearly well away from the main tourist drag, villages dotted around the hillsides. Peaks offered spectacular views across this rural and wild landscape.
A concrete shelter offered a shaded, further micro sleep as the previous one wasn’t so successful, refreshing minds and legs. We were relaxed about keeping the fluids going in, as the next pit stop wasn’t far. We didn’t find it though. Not sure how or why we missed it. We had to keep our wits about us now, being positive for each other with a diminishing water supply, much needed as the track went from steady climbing to steep Italian style concrete access tracks, winding their way up through the local plantations. Legs were grateful for the flatter tracks near the top. Passing Nelson and a photographer in their truck, we both managed to cobble together wry smiles for the camera. Done with our posing, Mitch found the perfect spot with a view, further on for a quick snack. As usual, he had that ‘come on, let’s roll’ look whilst I was finishing faffing.
The concrete tracks got steeper and more windy, slow grinds in our lowest gears, thinking about Markus (Stitz) on his singlespeed – full kudos to him; a spectacular place to be none-the-less. I was pretty sure of a last bivvy out before the finish, but Mitch remained pragmatic about it, rationalised the distance left and comparing it to a weekend of riding back home. The last, significant climb wasn’t letting us go easily, trying to hold a line and traction on its loose, rocky surface.
We timed it well though, with a grand view of sunset near the top. A local popped out of his home offering sanctuary with food and water. We had to politely decline this otherwise welcome outside support. Not sure what time we arrived into Sidi Abdallah, the final significant town before the finish. Fuelling up on probably the best omelettes we’d had, topped with mozzarella, meat and tomato and large pieces of home-made cake for pudding. We doubled up on everything; with 100km to go, nothing more than a Sunday ride with a profile that resembled nothing more than what would, normally, be a straightforward 100km.
The decision to finish that night cut through our fatigue. With full bellies and cake stashed, the end was in sight. In my enthusiasm, I was pushing Mitch hard, too hard. He slipped out on some loose dirt and came down sideways. He wasn’t happy. Reigning it in to his steadier speed, tarmac cut in for the last 30km and having to out sprint a couple of feral dogs who seemed quite hungry gained us a couple of faster km.
20km out road turned to sandy tracks, occasionally forcing a hike a bike and sullen faces. Thankful to be back on tarmac, we were no more than an hour to the finish. So we thought. 10km out and it was more than occasional sandy tracks, hauling the bikes through deep, unrideable sand – so much for rolling into the finish.
Finally, around 1am, the finish and a 2nd place in the pair’s category, merely a couple of hours behind 1st.
Thanks to everyone who was involved in working on this event. Despite the heat, the long days and early hours, all were friendly and helpful (where they could be). It’s certainly an event to put on the to-do list.