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Rapport frå Atlas Mountain Race


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Marrakech

I don't sleep super well at the hotel. The mattress is very firm, and there's only a thin sheet and blanket to pull over yourself. More importantly, I am probably a little nervous, although I don't really feel very nervous. I tend to not sleep very well ahead of big events like this.

After breakfast, I assemble my bike and go for a ride. The first few kilometres follow the start of the race course.

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Traffic is very light, and the roads are nice, with wide shoulders for bikes, mopeds, and donkeys.

The bike feels soo good. The chain is new and freshly waxed after the best preparation I have ever given a chain. And it's my first proper ride on this bike without studded winter tires. My home built wheels with Vittoria Mezcal tires are nice. The oval 30T chainwheel is nice. The brand new disc rotors and pads are nice. The Salsa Bend handlebar and Ergon grips are nice. The mechanical Deore XT derailleur is nice. The RockShox SID Select suspension fork is nice. The way the Tailfin is robustly hanging on is nice. The only part that is underwhelming is the eeSilk+ suspension seat post.

After a while I decide to try a little off road riding.

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But this place is full of garbage and broken glass. I don't want to damage my tires before the race has even started, so I turn back on the road and continue into Marrakech.

I'm entering the city:

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Traffic is denser here, but still kind of chill. Not much honking. Easy enough to handle by bike.

I'm getting hungry, and when I see an AMR rig outside a cafe, I stop there too. Turns out the bike belongs to Štěpán Stránský, who I sort of already know, because I am on an AMR WhatsApp group of his. He's an experienced bikepacking racer, and his ambitions are no less than going for the victory. He's already been in Morocco for a few weeks, riding down from Spain, and he's done a recon ride to CP1 and back. He's been training on sleep deprivation, and he's got a very holistic/spiritual approach to racing. Ultra endurance is as much about the mental game as the physical game, so this makes perfect sense to me.

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Afterwards I go looking for an ATM. I don't know exactly how much cash I am going to need, but I'd like twice as much as the 2000 I withdrew yesterday. I can always exchange back to euros whatever I have left when I leave the country.

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I get the cash sorted out, then I want to visit the chaos of the medina.

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This is more challenging, for sure. Mopeds come flying in both directions, squeezing through the hordes of pedestrians. I do the same. It works just fine. Nobody gets upset or angry, this is how it's done here.

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Eventually I've seen enough, and head back to the hotel.

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You can see the Atlas mountains looming in the distance.

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Back at the hotel, I find many more participants have arrived, including Justinas Leveika. I greet him in Norwegian, and he seems pleased to find out who this Norwegian dude is.

I discover that there's a shopping mall close to the hotel. It's got a few restaurants and fast food places, even KFC and Burger King. I won't be seeing much of that after leaving Marrakech.

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I go to an Italian restaurant there and have some nice ravioli and a beer (non-alcoholic, because that's what they have).

There's also a big, western style grocery store with everything you might need to stock up on before the race. And there's a full row just with canned tuna, if that's your thing.

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I buy a few packs of Haribos. I later wish I had bought many more.

In the evening I sit and chat with some of the other people, actually with the same Peter Gold from yesterday as well as a Dutch guy. The big topic is the massive rain forecast for tomorrow. Peter and the Dutch guy are seriously considering postponing their start by 12 hours, thus avoiding the rain. It is an interesting strategy. You could leave all rain gear at the hotel. More importantly, you might be able to roll through CP1 relatively fresh while dozens of competitors are scratching due to being wet to the bone and freezing cold.

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The race day that should have been

We woke up to a cloudy day, as expected. Soon the rain would start. This was also the day of registration, bike check, race meeting, and of course, the start of the race itself. With cap number 11, I was scheduled for registration right after breakfast. We filled out a form, got our GPS tracker, our cap, and a t-shirt. The bike check consisted of demonstrating the lights and the brakes.

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Before I travelled to Morocco, I had used the Silca tire pressure calculator to determine that I should be running 13 psi front and 13.5 rear. The Silca calculator is usually spot on, but this sounded very low. Even with about 20 psi, I found the tire to deform a lot when rolling over the doorstep into my hotel room. I added a little more. And after the bike check, long after I had packed away my tire pressure gauge, I borrowed a track pump to put even more air in. I don't know how much I had now, but it was far more than 13 psi.

The rain had started by now. Everybody had their bikes parked outside, and they all inevitably got wet.

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Later I went to the mall and visited the Burger King. I knew this would be my last chance for fast food in a while. I also wanted to apply a trick I learned on a 1000 km ride last summer. I had been riding with Asle "the Drain" Trotland, and as we passed through Namsos to head into a long night with no resupply, we stopped at Burger King. It occurred to us that it would be a good idea to buy some additional cheese burgers. I decided that one for the road, one for supper, and one for breakfast would be good, so I bought 3. Asle went for 8!

I actually didn't have much free space in my bags, so this time I only bought one additional cheese burger. Just as I got back to the hotel, the Australians told me that the race had been postponed up to 24 hours. The authorities had had a meeting and decided it wasn't safe. Unfortunately they had done this without consulting Nelson, and without knowing that he had already given us two alternative sections on the way to CP1. We would not climb over the 2500 meter high Telouet pass, but would instead be following the main road to Telouet. This would still take us up to 2200 meters, but it would all be on a high quality road, not subject to flooding.

This was probably good news for the hotel, as everybody scrambled in front of the reception to book rooms for another night.

Our bike boxes and luggage had already been collected for transfer to Essaouira, and we were told this would proceed as planned, despite the delayed start.

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In the afternoon we gathered for the race meeting, which is supposed to happen right before we jump on our bikes. The delay and the alternative route were naturally main topics of discussion.

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At the end of the meeting, we all got our brevet cards, ready to be stamped at each of the checkpoints.

I went to the hotel restaurant this night. I found a free spot at a table. Turns out the others were all Belgians, except one. And all very nice. Two of them (Kasper & Bart) would be riding as a pair, and I would be seeing a lot more of them during the ride. One (Matijs) was signed up for the Length of Sweden this summer, like me. Another one (Maarten) had been at Paris-Brest-Paris last summer, like me. What I didn't know at the time was that he had also achieved an 11th place at the Tour Divide, ahead of the likes of Lael Wilcox! The fifth one was also a strong rider, and apparently the one who had convinced most of the others to sign up for AMR.

I was hungry, and ordered a Caesar salad and Pasta Bolognese, thinking the salad would be a starter. What I got was two full plates of food. 

Italian Matteo Pietripaoli also joined us, and we had a fun chat about pastas that don't exist in Italy. Turns out Pasta Bolognese and any other pasta containing the name of an Italian city generally doesn't exist. Pasta with minced meat is called Ragù.

I should have known better than to order salad in Morocco, but I gathered this up-scale hotel to be a safe haven. I would regret my choice tomorrow, but that is a subject for the next post.

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The real race day

I still haven't slept really well since before I left home. This night is particularly bad. I need to go to the toilet and discover I have a loose stomach. Great!

When it is time to get out of bed, I don't feel well. I wonder if I have to throw up. I don't have to wonder for long. Eventually I go to the bathroom and let it loose. As is often the case with these things, I feel much better after. As I leave my room, so does Matteo from the room next door. He had the same pasta as me last night. I ask how he feels. He says he feels fine. OK, so it was the salad, then. I didn't see anybody else eating that.

Breakfast is fine. The hotel has two people cooking some square pancakes as well as omelettes, and these are very popular. There is also a guy dressed up in a traditional costume, serving mint tea. This tea, which you will find anywhere in Morocco, is really tasty. No wonder, when you look at the size of those sugar cubes they put in it!

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After breakfast it is time to check out of the room. As I queue up I start to feel nauseous again. When somebody is about to show me the luggage room for my suitcase, I have to excuse myself and rush to the bathroom. Luckily the stalls are free.  

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I feel a little at a loss. What should I do now? I need this to pass as quickly as possible, and I need to know how I can at least get some fuel in before the start of the race. Well, Justinas is a medical professional. I send him a message. And Justinas being Justinas, of course he takes my request for help seriously and sends me some tips. Try to get white rice, drink Coca-Cola, and take in electrolytes.

I remember that the Italian restaurant at the mall had risotto. I decide to go there. Outside I meet Maarten, who is bedding in his new brake pads. He coasts along with me, chatting. That's very nice.

As we pass a restaurant, I see the Australians there, and decide to join them. I ask for a plate of just plain white rice, and I get it. Perfect!

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I sit for a while and chat with Damian van Loon. He's also in a bad spot, as he's caught a cold or a flu. He tells about doing the Tour Divide in a similar condition. Is there anybody at all around here that don't have a super impressive ride history?

I also have to ask Damian about his jacket. It looks suspiciously like the classic TVK club wear from my home town Trondheim. Damian says he bought it second-hand somewhere in Australia at least 20 years ago!

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I also get some of those yoghurt drinks that most shops seem to have. They are really good, and hopefully they will help my upset stomach.

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The rest of the day is about relaxing at the hotel, waiting for some news about when we will be allowed to start. Apparently, the authorities need an OK from each of the districts we are passing through, even the ones that weren't affected by the rain. And today is Saturday, which is like a western Sunday. It doesn't sound very promising. We later learn that Nelson had called those districts themselves, and they had never been contacted by the authorities in the first place.

We are told to be ready to start the race at a short notice.

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Finally, there is a message to meet in front of the hotel. Everybody finds their bike and scrambles outside. We are all eager to go!

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Nelson informs us that the race is officially cancelled, as there is no authorisation and no police escort. But there is nothing stopping us from all going on a nice bikepacking adventure in Morocco. Everything will proceed as planned from the organiser's point of view, including trackers, checkpoints, and the media/rescue vehicles. In the end, none of this is affecting the event in any way, except that we now have 24 hours less to get to the finisher's party and the bus back to Marrakech.

My primary goal was to finish the race within the 8 days and 6 hours time limit, with the stretch goal of finishing in less than 7 days. Now my stretch goal had become my primary goal. 

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Day 0 - The road race to CP1

Finally, we are on our way. Without the expected police escort, but it's no problem. Except I now have zero chance of rolling up to the front of the field to capture the potential race winners on video. In fact, everybody around me is rolling along slightly faster than me. This is as expected, though. I am well aware of the feeling you typically have at the start of an event, where every second matters, even though you know full well that toward the end of the event you may sleep for an extra hour or two without a care in the world. I was conscious of this, and did not want to push hard just because I had fresh legs. I didn't have a power meter, but my heart rate indicated I was going fast enough.

I am not implying that I think everybody else was foolishly setting off with a pace too high, though. Most of the others were simply faster than me.

For the first 35 km or so, drafting was allowed (because it would be too difficult to enforce non-drafting), and I gathered it would be a good idea to take advantage of that. So we rolled along on a very slight incline at 26 kph.

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It was becoming evening. We got to the foot of the Atlas mountains just as it was getting dark. Only 3 km later, it was time to load up the first diversion route on my Garmin. We would be following more of a paved road for the next 18 km. But these things are relative in Morocco. It was still a rather rocky dirt road.

Although it was dark, the road was full of children cheering us on with Bonjours (never Bonsoir). There would be a lot more of that, as well as high fives, over the following days.

Just as we were about to turn right and get back on the original route, some volunteers stood there and shouted for us to turn left instead and take the national road to Zerkten. I believe that was Allan Shaw, the podcast man, and probably the rest of his media car crew. So we were now going the wrong way, heading back to Marrakech!

Some people were cycling in the opposite direction, shouting that we were going the wrong way. This confused us. A female rider and I stopped to have a look at the map. Marco Boschi from Parma also stopped. He didn't speak English. I decided to go back to the junction and ask where we're supposed to go, but at that point several other riders came by, and it seemed clear that we were in fact on the right track.

So we descended 300 meters over the next 14 km, found the national road, and turned right toward Zerkten. Seven riders got confused here and continued toward Marrakech for a bit. Nelson sent out a message warning them about going the wrong way.

The nice thing about being on a national road was a few more resupply opportunities. I stopped at a small shop and got something to drink and a few snacks.

I now had 38 km to climb from 700 to 1500 meters of elevation, and then down again to Zerkten at 1250 meters, although I didn't have this exact information at the time, because we had no route, official or alternative, that covered this particular road that we were on. I zoomed out on my GPS map until I could see Zerkten, but I found it was moving very, very slowly closer to me. I was hoping that as we got closer, the road might flatten out, but I wasn't that lucky. We were going steadily uphill until 1500 meters. I was pretty much on my own here, for the first time. This stretch took me close to 3 hours, mostly going on a 6% gradient. But the road was good, with a wide shoulder to cycle on, and there was very light traffic.

As I got to the sign saying Zerkten, it was past midnight, and everything seemed quiet. That was concerning. I could really use an omelette at this point. In fact, I depended on it. I had only eaten two bananas and a few snacks in the 6 hours we had been riding so far, and it was still a long way to go to CP1. I had my bags full of energy bars that I brought from home, but none of them were really great, and my appetite was not at its best, given the stomach bug I was battling.

Luckily, 2 km after Zerkten, the resupply point revealed itself. They didn't seem to have omelettes, but instead they had a very nice soup. And it only cost 5 dirhams (€0,50). The bowl was small so I asked a different shop worker for a refill. He saw I had 7 dirhams, and he wanted all of them. Oh well.

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Rapid Rich was here too, one of the guys I got to know ahead of the race. At 62, he's the oldest participant, and he's back for a second try, after having to scratch last time. He had been pushing himself too hard last time, thus he decided to sleep here.

I was feeling pretty good after the food stop, and continued up the hill. We were now on the major diversion, as we would stick to this road all the way to CP1, rather than going up the fabled Telouet pass at 2500 meters, with its infamous donkey trail hike-a-bike descent on the other side. On one hand it was a little disappointing to miss out on this part of the course. On the other hand, I was happy to get an easier route to CP1. No, who am I kidding, I was indeed mostly relieved.

We should be saving a few hours on this diversion, although we still needed to get up to 2200 meters, and the route we had been riding was a good 30 km longer than the original route.

In other words, I had 950 meters of climbing ahead of me. Again, it took me close to 3 hours to reach the top. Like I said, I wasn't going hard, but kept my heart rate at 145 bpm. It was really nice cycling on a bike that felt amazing, with relatively fresh legs and no saddle sores, with a (to me) pleasant temperature of 2-6 degrees C, in a peaceful, quiet night up a mountain.

Although I could see very little of the mountain in the darkness, it was clear that I was on a spectacular climb, because once in a while the headlamps of a car would light up a section of road before me, and that's when I could see that the road wasn't in front of me, but high above me, halfway up the sky!

Close to the top I checked my messages and saw a warning about windy conditions. That's strange, because it was very nice and quiet down here where I was. But they weren't kidding. As soon as I reached the top, it got very windy. And the descent was properly windy, to the point where I had to pedal in order to move at all down a moderately steep descent. Some people said on the podcast that they had to get off and walk!

A hundred meters below the summit, we left the national road to Ouarzazate in order to go east to Telouet. A volunteer sat there in a car making sure we didn't miss the turn, and he shouted that I now only had 20 km of descending. That was nice to hear, but it wasn't entirely true. There was a 13 minute climb in the middle of it, and the final 6 km were flat, but in such a hostile headwind that it took me another 30 minutes.

I was very happy to reach CP1. I got my first stamp, then I went to another building to get an omelette.

I hadn't really planned on sleeping at CP1. On other long rides that start in the evening, such as Paris-Brest-Paris, it is typical to ride through the first night, so that's what I assumed most people were planning here. But I had been on the road for 11 hours, so I had really been riding through the night already. And I was feeling quite drained at this point. Besides, the horrible wind outside was not a great motivation to keep moving right now.

There were some benches in the food area, but they were occupied, so I decided to lie down on the floor under my dining table. I think I fell asleep immediately, and I don't know how long I slept, but it must have been around 45 minutes. As I woke up, those that now occupied the dining table greeted me good morning and laughed.

There was also a small shop here, so I could fill up on some chocolate and cookies, as well as water, of course. Then I jumped on the bike and began battling the wind again.

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How would the stint to CP1 have unfolded if we had indeed started on Friday in heavy rain? On one hand, those conditions might have given me a relative advantage, since I am used to riding in the wet and cold. On the other hand, being soaked would not have made this race any easier for me in terms of saddle sores.

I wasn't actually that concerned about the rain itself, I was more concerned about riding all of next day in wet gear, with overcast and rather cold weather, not allowing any of the clothes to dry. My plan was to pack an additional, quite worn, upper and lower merino base layer, as well as another pair of wool socks. At CP1 I would switch into that dry base layer, and after another day or so, when the sun came out, I would throw away that extra base layer.

But none of this mattered now, as we didn't have a drop of rain. In fact, I was really carrying a little too much gear for the temperatures we were having. I wouldn't need my full winter jacket or winter gloves, and neither would I need my long tights. Also, I could have gone for a more compact sleeping bag, and I could have managed with just an emergency bivy, or even no bivy at all.  

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Day 1 - First taste of the Atlas

I wasn't too eager to go out cycling in the horrible wind again, but there was nothing more for me to do at CP1. And I did feel much better after food and a nap.

The first 10 km are on tarmac, first gradually climbing 100 meters, then descending again. By the time the descent started, the wind had calmed. Nice!

Then we get to the iconic singletrack through the village of Anmiter. By this time the light of my first day in the Atlas mountains was appearing, and I stopped to stow away my winter jacket and gloves. A couple riders came along, and I got a chance to photograph them:

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Immediately after the village, there is a steep climb of 150 meters to take us up on our first wild mountain plateau. 

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Looking back to the north, I can see snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas. This may be Toubkal, the highest mountain in Morocco. At over 4000 meters, it is quite a bit higher than the pass we went over yesterday.

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Later, as we start the descent from this plateau, I also get my first glimpse of the massive solar power plant of Ouarzazate. There's a giant tower in the middle, with what looks like a small sun itself on top of it. As the route takes us in a big circle around Ouarzazate, I get to see this on many occasions over the next few days.

And the descent is fantastic!

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Not too much later, I get to see a particular scene I had been looking forward to. I had even posted this view on my preparation thread on this forum. If I didn't already feel that I was doing the Atlas Mountain Race, I certainly felt that now.

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At some point it got hot, and I took off my merino jersey and tucked it under the straps on my Tailfin AeroPack. While my AeroPack was generally excellent all through the ride, the one issue I found with it is that when it is full to the point that it bulges a little in the middle, the straps can glide off to the front and back. That's what happened now, because one rider caught up to me and asked if I owned a brown jersey. He had seen it on the ground, and now felt bad for not picking it up. Anyway, it was not far back, so I turned around to go and get it. But then another rider came along, and he had stopped to pick it up for me. Excellent. I would need to be a little more careful, because it would have been very impractical to do the rest of the ride without that jersey. I would basically have had to use my winter jacket a lot.

More high mountains around me:

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We get to a big dry river crossing. This is probably the one that saw flash flooding in 2022, catching a sleeping participant by surprise, and taking his bicycle a good kilometre down the stream. 

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The following way east is a blur of rocky ups and downs, passing through the occasional small village. I start to feel weak, and a lot of people look fresh as they pass me. They probably had some good sleep at CP1.

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At some point, I have to walk up a short climb, and some local kids help out by pushing my bike.

I had decided to take a pair of long tights to ride in, because it would double as leg warmers as well as some extra padding over my saddle. But it is feeling very hot now. And I can't take it off, because my Tailfin is already quite full.

My chain also starts squeaking a lot, quite suddenly. That's a bit early, I think, considering I have a new chain that's been given my best ever stripping and cleaning before immersion waxing. It's possible my wax is quite contaminated. I haven't always done a good job cleaning a dirty chain before waxing, and I know that oils will break down the wax polymers and generally reduce the lifespan of the wax. I guess it's time to throw it out and start using fresh wax. Anyway, I apply some Silca Synergetic wet lube, and the chain goes back to being dead quiet.

After a long while, I come to a tarmac road that will take me down to the resupply at Ghassat. This is a nice, easy stretch, and some who had chosen gravel bikes with aero bars are overtaking me here. At a junction before the village, the route turns left. You have to go straight for another kilometre and a half if you want to resupply. I'm surprised to see several others just turning left.

I'm at the cafe roughly at noon, and there are several others there. I get to charge my electronics, fill my bottles, and order an omelette.

Outside, the wind blows my bike down, and with my Tailfin open, all my stuff falls out and on to the ground. I spend a few minutes repacking everything.

I speak to another rider there. We are both a little concerned about our slow progress. He wonders how long we have until Imassine. I check my schedule and see that it is about 7 hours.

I continue east on the tarmac road. We are on a very flat plain between the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas. After a while, we leave the road to go down a rocky trail into a canyon with a dry river that we need to cross. I have somebody in front of me. After the river we have to climb up again. It is very hot, and the other guy is suffering. I catch him, and he asks me where Ghassat is. I tell him we already passed it, and he's not happy about it, as he's out of water, and there's still 15 km to go until Tondoute. We are not allowed to help each other in this event. But a little further up, I "lose" one of my Pepsi bottles. He must have been fine, because he gets to Imassine before me, but apparently scratches there.

It's funny with all those people who don't know the route that well. I met several of them. I myself had spent the entire winter obsessing over every little detail of the course, and felt I knew all of it by heart. Several people asked if I had done the ride before, because that's the impression I must have given.

I pass another small village in the heat. I find some shade there, and just have to lie down for a minute or two, even though the place is full of donkey droppings.

For a Scandinavian, I seem to be tackling the heat OK, though. Certainly no worse than many others. Even Italians find the heat tough. But not the local, old men. They walk around in thick jackets and wool hats!

I make it to Tondoute. It's possible to take a small detour to go into the village, but I know there's a restaurant on the route just a little later. It's very quiet there, but the owner is very friendly and certainly lets me sit down for some Coca-Cola. I ask for ice cream, but they don't have that. Somebody else's bike is here too. Apparently its owner is inside a hall, having a nap.

A couple more show up. They also ask for ice cream, but have to settle for cold drinks. I start to feel immensely drowsy. I ask if I can lay down for a nap myself, and of course I can. I'm not sure if I actually sleep, but the short rest does wonders anyway. I post a message on Instagram about this whole thing being quite a bit tougher than expected (and I fully expected it to be tough). All in all, I'm here for an hour and a half.

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The next stint to Imassine is supposed to be one of the less enjoyable parts of the route. We will be traversing over some sort of delta of dry river beds, with myriad dry creeks where we have to climb down and then up on the other side. But before we get to it, I have some really nice evening riding on easy terrain and with a beautiful sunset. I even have the wind in my back now. Can I ask for more?

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Soon the dry creeks appear, but they're not as bad as I had been led to believe. At some points we follow downstream in a dry creek, and it is a little challenging to ride on the loose stones. But my winter fatbike experience comes in handy here, and it's not really too much of a deal. But the rivers and narrow paths here don't always match up with the GPS track. And sometimes you have to judge if that is just a mapping inaccuracy or if you are truly off course. At one point I stray a little too far from the GPS track, and I have to backtrack. It's become dark, and it's hard to hunt for the slight path in the terrain. Eventually I find it. Now there really is some pushing up and down some steep banks. Eventually, the track improves a little and becomes easier to follow. But I still have about 15 km to the tarmac road near Imassine, and in this terrain the kilometres are passing by soo slowly.

I catch up with another rider who is also trying to find the correct way. We ride together, and now we're making good progress and reach the tarmac in no time. The other guy goes straight into the Imassine village, while I turn right for the petrol station 4,5 km down the road.

As I get there, I feel a need to use the toilet. There are plenty stalls there, but no toilet paper. Then I remember that I have some that I brought with me. So that gets taken care of. But when I'm done, I start to feel nauseous again. The same feeling I had at the hotel before the start. I know I have to throw up, I just need to decide whether to do it outside in the bushes or in the toilet. I decide for the latter. As I haven't eaten a lot, what comes up is mostly water.

This isn't good timing. What I have in front of me is the longest stretch without resupply, and now I don't feel like eating anything for supper, nor stocking up on anything for breakfast. It doesn't look like the petrol station has all that much that I find tempting anyway. This whole thing smells of scratching from a mile away.

I mostly just buy water, then I decide to enter the upcoming trail and find a bivy spot. I don't have to go long until I find a nice, flat area where there is construction of some sort of outhouse going on. It looks perfect for bivying. Just as I have my sleep kit set up, a dog starts barking nearby. Great! A little later, a car rolls by slowly, then turns around some hundred meters down the road. Now what, am I going to be chased away from my first ever wild bivying experience?

No, there's no need to worry. The car leaves, and eventually the dog gives up barking too. It's not cold, and I don't have to close my bivy, just the mosquito net. I set my alarm for 3-4 hours, I can't remember exactly, but my total stop was almost 6 hours, and I can't quite understand where all that time went. Anyway, I immediately collapse into a deep sleep.

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About the sleep time, I believe I had originally planned to sleep for 3 hours, but because I wasn't feeling well, I set my alarm to 4 hours. And then I may have hit snooze a few times, because my Garmin watch tells me I slept for 4,5 hours that night. My total stop was 5,75 hours, and given that this was my first wild bivy, I think that's a reasonable amount of faffing setting up and clearing camp.

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By the way, the Strava activity is here.

Day 2 - My toughest day

The alarm clock wakes me up. I have slept like a log, much better than at the hotel before the start. When I tested my sleep setup outside my house back home, I had not slept well at all, but out here I had the best sleep ever. While the Therm-a-Rest XLite mat is very popular, I seem to be the only one on the Rigs of the Atlas Mountain Race mentioning the XTherm. But I thought the added insulation (R rating of 5,7 vs 4,2) would be worth the little extra weight (430 g vs 350 g).

Luckily, I also feel good, and I didn't have any incidents during the night. It's time to pack up and get moving. It is still dark. I continue riding this rocky trail for a short while until I get to the only river crossing of the route. This is the river that was dangerously deep in 2022, forcing the leaders to wait it out at the petrol station back at the main road. It is only ankle deep now. In daylight it might be possible to ride over, but not in darkness. Plus, I really want to try to keep my footwear dry, so I take off my shoes and socks and start walking my bike across. The stony river bed is a little uncomfortable. The mud at the river banks is too. Up on the other side, I sit down on a rock and do my best to dry my feet. First I have to scrape off as much mud as possible. It's a hopeless task. In the end, I pull my socks over my dirty feet.

I haven't eaten in a long time, and force myself to eat some of my power bars. I also have a pack of Haribos from Marrakech. That comes in handy today. I wish I had more.

The rocky trail is sloping upwards, and I am averaging less than 10 kph. After a while, daylight comes, and that's always nice. I submit an Instagram post about fighting my way forward.

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A little further along, I pass another rider who is packing up his bivy.

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It's becoming increasingly clear that we are now in a very remote desert-like landscape of stunning canyons. But we're still only at 1600 meters, and things will only get more spectacular as we climb up to 2000.

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Like yesterday, my progress is rather slow today, and I am getting overtaken by quite a few riders who probably slept in Imassine. Here are two of them:

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And here too. Can you see them?

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After a while, the 6 km long hike-a-bike starts, which will take us up to 2000 m. Actually, some of it is rideable if you have low gearing (which I do) and feel fresh (which I don't).

Remember when I said I could often see the solar power plant at Ouarzazate? You can see it here:

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It was getting hot, I was feeling low on energy, and the trail was steep. I got passed by a few people up here as well.

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As I reached the top, the landscape widened, and I felt a sense of doing the Silk Road Mountain Race in Kyrgyzstan.

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But you could also be forgiven for thinking you were in the Grand Canyon.

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The rest of the trail made all the climbing worthwhile. It was the most spectacular part of the entire route, and I enjoyed every bit of it until we had descended down to the flat gravel road that would take us in to the resupply at Afra.

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As we descended, it got increasingly hotter. And I wasn't yet acclimatised to it as much as I would be on the following days. And my long thights added to the warm experience.

The final 8 km were flat and easy, and eventually I found the place just off-route, outside Afra, with several bikes parked outside.

There was a nice room giving us shade from the scorching sun, and they were serving lovely lamb tagine with plenty of bread, as well as mint tea. This would be my first meal since Ghassat, over 24 hours ago.

There were also carpets to sleep on, and some were resting here.

This was a small shop, and I also stocked up on a yoghurt/milkshake kind of drink, soft drinks, and some cakes and cookies. And water, of course. My 3,4 liters of water had just about been enough for this stretch. If I hadn't started while it was still night, I would have run out. 

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I met some other riders here. The same Dutch (I think) rider that I had been talking to at Ghassat was here. The subject was once again our progress and whether or not we were on track for the finisher's party. At this point, I honestly thought we would not make it, but I was still hoping to make it in time for the bus back to Marrakech. If it turned out I couldn't, I would either have to scratch and take a shortcut from CP3, or I would complete the route and take a later bus. My 7 day schedule told me I should reach this place at 10:30. I got here at 15:15. 

But it was still too early to make any plans about scratching. In the end my ride turned out to be a (spoiler alert) spectacular success, as I reached all my goals. But it's sobering to think how close I was to a disappointing outcome.

Another rider here was Vedran Gračan. His arms were sunburned and he asked for sun cream. "Cream? You want cream?" The shop owner ran away and came back with some moisturising cream. I said he could borrow some of mine, but when I returned, he had already smeared himself with the moisturising cream.

There was also a hungry Italian here. He said he had been enjoying the descent until we hit a sandy section and he almost lost control going at 60 kph (likely an exaggeration). He was surprised to hear how long the Dutch guy and I had been taking on this stretch. "That long??"

Another one was seemingly constantly listening to air pods, even here when having a chance to interact with some of the others. I had decided to not bring my own Shokz headphones. One less item to carry and charge, and I'm already quite bored with my Spotify library. Plus, on epic rides like this, I like to soak up all of it and try to remember as much as possible. And if I really needed to put on a podcast, I could always just do it, without headphones.

I decided my long thights were too much to carry, as my Tailfin was already quite full, so I threw them away here. Ideally, I should have had some leg warmers, but I took a chance that the following nights wouldn't be too cold. Thankfully, this turned out to be correct.

I also threw away all my remaining power bars. It's not that they were awful, but I didn't have a good enough appetite to eat them. Besides, all the shops offered small cakes and muffins that were easier to get down.

After getting fed and restocked, I lied down for a few minutes, then I drenched my shirt and sun-covering hat, handed out a few dirhams to three polite kids, and set off heading west.

The track was now thankfully flat, but with a slightly sandy surface. It wasn't too bad, in fact it was all easily rideable.

But my stomach was in complete chaos, and felt like a gas refinery. I don't know if it was due to the tagine with peas, or the yoghurt/milkshake from an underpowered fridge. Or maybe it was due to the Imodium I had taken before now losing effect. In any case, as the sun was setting, I kept looking for a suitable tree to hide behind. But there wasn't much at all on this open plain. Eventually, I did find a spot about 50 meters off track, and I was able to do my business and dig the outcome down in the sand.

But my stomach didn't settle. Later, after riding some riverbeds, passing some small villages, and going up some inclines, I found another spot and did it again. I now used the last of my toilet paper. Let's hope I wouldn't have to stop again! At least I wasn't feeling nauseous this time.

I had some other riders around, as the Cascade de Tizgui never seemed to appear. Every time I thought we were there, it was just some other village. But in the end we reached the actual riverbed that would lead us past the small waterfall, pond, and Omar's cafe. It was entirely dark now, so unfortunately I couldn't see much of it. Luckily, the stairs out of the river were easy to find. Omar shouted for me to come and get food, but I was not up for that. Two of the other riders behind me stopped, while the third one followed me up the stairs.

It was tough dragging my super heavy bike up the stairs. I also felt that I was now really tired. I decided to stop and bivy when I found a suitable spot. I did not have to wait long. On top of the stairs, there was a big, quiet parking lot. I rolled out my bivy, and decided I wanted 5 hours sleep in order to give my stomach a chance to settle.

Once again, sleep came easily.

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Inspirerende - tusen takk for at du deler!🤩

Du kommer kanskje uansett til å nevne noe om dette etterhvert; men er du fornøyd med sykkelen, hjulene, dekk +++? Hvor mange ganger punkterte du - og eventuelt hvilke andre problemer som ikke går på egen kropp og viljestyrke støtte du på?

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Yes, I can talk a bit about that.

Punctures: 0.

Other things I needed in the big tool bag on the downtube: 0. Except that I used the pump after letting out air through the desert section.

The bike was absolutely fantastic to ride. I mentioned a bit about it in the first couple of chapters. The wheels stayed true and undamaged. The tires rolled nicely, and 2.35" also provided good flow over rocky terrain. The gearing was spot on, although I did end up walking quite a few places where I could have cycled.

Technical problems: 2. Both bottle cages on the back of the Tailfin took a beating and eventually disintegrated. I saved the second one with gorilla tape. The Tailfin itself never made so much as a squeal, and it stayed firmly in place even through the most treacherous rock piles. I am extremely impressed! The other problem was that the adjustment screw for the rear derailleur gradually unscrewed itself due to rubbing from the sleeping bag. I couldn't screw it back in and thought something was broken. I left it since the shifting worked 70% fine. When I got home, it took me 2 minutes to screw it back into place correctly!

Personal problems: saddle sores, food poisoning, sometimes a little back and foot ache. Painful tongue, a minor blister on one hand and one toe. Nothing else!

Number of times I considered scratching: 0. Although as the chapter above tells, I did fear running out of time. And I did decide to not do any more rides like this. Which I am about to forget about now. Unfortunately I told my wife.

Look where the bottle cage bolts are and where the bottle cage is:

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This one is about to give as well:

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Fixed it:

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Eg trur eigentleg ikkje det er problemet. Flaskestativ på gaffel står jo også vinkelrett. Her var det nok rett og slett den ekstreme ristinga frå bakhjulet som var problemet, i kombinasjon med at eg hadde store 950 ml flasker bakpå. Dei flaskene som står i ramma blir jo mindre berørt av risting frå bakhjulet, og endå mindre av det dempa framhjulet, men det var faktisk skade på det eine flaskestativet der også.

Men som eg skreiv, dette illustrerer kor fantastisk solid Tailfin er.

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Takk!

Det fungerte heilt greit med hardtail. Eg ville ikkje hatt grussykkel, men det skal seiast at enkelte dundra ned steinete utforløyper utan demping og utan problem.

Eg ville helst hatt fulldempar, ja. Justinas og andre har vist at det ikkje berre er mest komfortabelt, men også raskast.

Eventuelt ville eg prøvd ein heftigare dempesetepinne, antakeleg Redshift.

Utfordringa med fulldempar er å få plass til flasker og rammeveske.

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Ja, det er ikkje mange watt. Her er ein av dei raske som brukte wattmålar, og du kan sjå at det ofte ligg nedpå 140 watt.

https://www.strava.com/activities/10771843847/analysis

Min watt på Paris-Brest-Paris kan du sjå her:

https://www.strava.com/activities/9708982624/analysis

Ofte nedpå 120 watt der.

Sjølv Justinas sykla ikkje så ekstremt fort. Han hadde moving speed på 16,9 km/t i AMR. Min moving speed var 13,1 km/t. Det som skal til for å vinne er å stoppe ekstremt lite.

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OMG! This is what Cynthia Carson ate. I don't know how much I ate myself, but surely it wasn't even half of that (in almost twice as many days)! It just goes to show that ultra endurance is really an eating competition. The more you are able to stuff down your throat, the better.

•20 Huma Gels (energy gels plus - electrolytes + caffeine)
•8 servings (an entire bag) of Skratch High-Carb Raspberry
•10 omelettes
•1 vegetable tajine
•3 jars of sour cream & onion pringles
•6 packets of dry muffins
•25 hohos (Swiss rolls)
•1 justin’s almond butter “emergency”
•10 yogurt drinks
•5 bags of “tacos” chips
•1 roll of Milka Choco Creme cookies (that I carried for 30 hours)
•1 seafood pizza (half taken to go after CP3)
•2 vegetable paninis (1 taken to go after CP3)
•2 Chocolate Godiva ice creams
•1 bottle of exploding lemon soda all over my front rotor
•3 coconut chocolate bars (they were AWFUL)
•6 cokes
•18 x 1.5L of water
•5 x mint tea
•10 dry breads with omelettes
•8 Skratch marshmallow bars
•10 Skratch lemon & green tea energy chews
•1 bag of sour Scandinavian swimmers from Trader Joe’s

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Posted (edited)

Day 3 - Feeling good to CP2

My alarm wakes me up, and once again I've been sleeping exceptionally well for almost 5 hours in my bivy. And my stomach has calmed down.

As I pack my things, several others are passing by and getting started on the big climb of today. One is turning towards my bivy spot and stopping at the end of the parking lot close to me. Is he going to sleep now? No, he was just led off course by my lights 😄

As I set off, I'm immediately on a 70 meter climb that's 17% on its steepest. Nice warmup. Then it continues, mostly up, for another 150 meters of elevation.

That's when I turn right onto a major road in order to climb yet another 400 meters. This was a slight detour compared to the original race course we had been presented on Komoot. We were supposed to go on a singletrack a little further north, which had now been damaged by landslides. But I've been told that this was actually the case last year too.  

Many found this climb to be a bit of a drag, but I had just had my sleep and felt pretty good here. At the top I had even caught somebody. Now we just had a cold but refreshing descent down to the resupply at Ait Saoun. I wondered if anything would be open, as it was still dark. If not, I would be low on water as well as food. I was hoping to at least find tap water of some sort. I carried water purification tablets for this purpose.

As it happened, I found a cafe with lots of bikes outside, and it was indeed open for business. That was a relief!

I sit down with Vedran Gračan, the sunburned fellow from Afra. He tells me he's had food poisoning. I say I read about somebody who started later than everybody else because of that, and Vedran confirms that was him. He actually started 13 hours late, began catching people even on the way to CP1, proceeded to catch another 50 people, including me, and so he reached Afra a full 13 hours quicker than me. Amazing!

He was now worried about running out of time. That's strange, somebody with his pace should have no problems. But the issue was his scheduled flight on Saturday. He asked me which parts of the remaining course would be worth seeing, and which parts could be skipped. I say he should definitely do the Old Colonial Road and go to CP3. My impression was that he agreed, but I later saw on the tracker that he had a long sleep here, and then set off back to Marrakech. I hope I didn't influence his decision to scratch!

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Even though omelettes is the staple food for bikepackers in Morocco, they all seem unique. Each one looks different from the others. This one is a Berber omelette with tomatoes in it. My appetite still isn't 100%, so I only manage half of it. I also buy two bottles of apple drink. It seemed fine when I tasted it in Marrakech, but I now realise it is quite disgusting. The shop owner is out of bottled water, but I ask him to fill up one of my bottles with tap water. He assures me it is safe for drinking. Maybe it is for him, but I am quite sure it isn't for me, so I put a water purification tablet in it. This is the only time I use these tablets, and I leave that bottle for last, in case I really run out of my other liquids. In the end I don't have to drink it.

By the way, Vedran tells me he ran out of water on the long stretch to Afra. At some point we passed a pond of standing water, and he filled up a bottle. He said he filled from the top of the pond, and the water looked clear, and it had indeed recently been raining. He was fine drinking it. Maybe because he had already battled a food poisoning.

I set off, still in darkness, and I am quite cold now. But the next stretch is a mountainous desert, and that's where the sun rises.

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I feel totally great here. Maybe because the terrain is flat and nice. Maybe because I'm not sick anymore. Maybe because I just had some real food. Or maybe because this is the start of day 3, and my legs have finally taken the hint that we are on a long ride. Probably all of the above.

Anyway, I post a reel on Instagram about how good I am feeling.

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My chain suddenly starts squeaking again. Another round of wet lube, and we're off again.

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At the end of the desert is a very nice descent out of it, and eventually I am on a tarmac road leading to Taznakht, one of the bigger villages on the route, known for their carpet industry.

I am looking forward to various meal options and maybe even a supermarket. Perhaps I will find Haribos here?

10 km from Taznakht, I catch a pair of riders as there is some confusion with the route. The GPS track leads us on to a gravel road, but the newly constructed tarmac road continues about 50 meters to the left of the gravel road. Will Denning seems fresh and quick as he zooms along the road, but his partner, Marcus Wendt, is apparently fighting a food poisoning (who isn't?).

In Taznakht I stop at the first cafe I find with bikes outside. It turns out to be a grilled chicken cafe. Awesome. Anything that isn't omelette or tagine would be very welcome. I also get to plug in my fast charger and top up my powerbank, phone, and Garmin.

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Marcus and Will have made the same decision as me. 59 year old Marco Boschi is here as well. He was also at the cafe in Ait Saoun. I seem to run into him all the time.

As I'm enjoying my meal, I make a new friend. I drop some pieces of chicken. I see Marco does too.

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I ask the others if they have seen a supermarket, and I'm told there are some options down the main road. I go looking, and I see some more cafes, small shops, and carpet sellers, but no supermarkets. I choose one of the shops, and buy water, Coke, yoghurt drinks, potato chips, and some cakes and chocolate. Outside, I pour out the tap water I got at Ait Saoun and the remainder of my apple drink. A young boy wants to help throw away my trash and my empty water bottles. As I'm about to leave, he asks for a dirham. At this point two of his friends have appeared as well. I give all of them a dirham each. My helper says "shukran" ("thank you") with a sincere look of appreciation in his eyes. Everybody I meet is just so wholesome!

Fully stocked up, I now only have an easy stage to CP2. The first 23 km are a flat stretch of asphalt until a road crossing. Well, it feels flat, but in reality we are climbing 200 meters! I am passing Marco here. He's obviously kept the same pace as me so far, but here he seems to be going slowly.

At the road crossing there is a petrol station, cafe and shop, and I stop again in my futile search of Haribos and toilet paper. I buy a couple Cokes and sit down in the shade for a bit. Some older guys are playing games outside, and some younger people are playing pool inside. I drench my jersey in a sink. It soaks up a lot of water, and I actually start freezing in the shade outside!

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As I get going again, I pass Marco one more time. Perhaps he is having a problem. I later see that he ends his ride at CP2, like many others.

The rest of the stage is very nice. It is essentially a shortcut to CP2, to make up for the longer distance at the end after the finish was moved from Agadir to Essaouira. But what a nice shortcut. First, there is quite some climbing on a rocky trail, but it is easily rideable. I catch three other riders. Two of them are Marcus and Will. Will is still full of energy, and after I pass them, he races me (and easily wins) up the next incline, where he waits for his partner.

The following descents are magical. Sorry, no photos, but there is extensive footage in the video below.

The checkpoint is at the top of a cliff before a steep descent into an oasis valley. It's also a bit off the natural track, and can be easily missed, which has happened before and is quite a disaster, as you would have to climb all the way back to the top again.

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Nelson warned us about this at the rider's briefing. As long as you use the GPS tracks that are split into 10 stages, it is no problem, because stage 5 ends at CP2.

5 km before the checkpoint, a rider stood at the side of the road and asked me where the checkpoint was. I found that strange. How would he even have found his way here if he didn't have the tracks loaded on his GPS? Perhaps he wasn't using the aforementioned track that ends at CP2, hence risking missing it. He should really just have followed me, but instead, he was much faster than me, uphill as well as downhill. I was actually going quite aggressively on the descents, but he was still flying past me on his full suspension bike. How come he was so far back if he was this fast? The tracker is a bit chaotic at this point, and I can't really tell who this was.

Just as it got properly dark, I reached Asseraregh and found my way to the checkpoint. I was greeted by a cheerful volunteer claiming they had everything I would want. That sounded promising. And it's true, they did have showers and beds.

The fast guy who asked for directions was already on his way out again into the night. I headed upstairs for the showers. But there was no hot water. I guess that's as expected. But there was hardly any cold water either. The water was just about dripping out of the shower head. It was quite comical, actually. Anyway, I was able to clean up.

It was time to remove my first pair of foam dressings that I use for protecting against saddle sores, clean the area properly, and apply new ones. It didn't hurt directly under the foam dressings, but some sores were developing just outside the area that they covered. I had also brought some acne cleaner and cotton pads. When I applied that, it burned properly. That's a sign that the cleaning is working, but also a sign that I probably shouldn't have waited all the way to CP2 before doing this. I put on new foam dressings on the areas that hurt, then put on a fresh pair of shorts.

Then I was ready for some delicious tagine.

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I asked for a bed, and was shown a quiet room with two beds in it. Those beds had already been slept in by countless people, and there was no such thing as clean linen. But who cares? I set my alarm for 5 hours again, as I wanted to take full advantage of a proper bed.

I actually woke up 10 minutes before my alarm, fully rested. I had once again slept like a log, and there was now somebody in the other bed.

In the bathroom somebody was throwing up. I don't know for sure, but I assume it was Marcus. I felt for him. As for myself, I had felt fully recovered since Taznakht.

I went downstairs for some breakfast pancakes.

I am still 5 hours behind schedule, but somehow I feel less concerned about that now. I am about halfway, and even if I finish 10 hours behind schedule, I will still make it in time for the bus back to Marrakech.

Edited by torhovland
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torhovland skrev (På 3.3.2024 den 0.25):

Ho brukte 5 døgn minus 5 timar.

Copilot i Edge oversatte lista hennes til dette slik at vi kan se snittet pr dag :)

  1. Huma Gels: Approximately 1.74 gels per day.
  2. Skratch High-Carb Raspberry: About 1.68 servings per day.
  3. Omelettes: Around 2.17 omelettes per day.
  4. Vegetable Tajine: Consumed once during the race.
  5. Sour Cream & Onion Pringles: Roughly 0.78 jars per day.
  6. Dry Muffins: Approximately 1.30 packets per day.
  7. Hohos (Swiss Rolls): About 5.43 Hohos per day.
  8. Justin’s Almond Butter “Emergency”: Consumed as needed.
  9. Yogurt Drinks: Averaged 2.17 drinks per day.
  10. “Tacos” Chips: Roughly 1.09 bags per day.
  11. Milka Choco Creme Cookies: approximately 0.26 rolls per day.
  12. Seafood Pizza: Half taken to go after CP3.
  13. Vegetable Paninis: Averaged 1.09 paninis per day.
  14. Chocolate Godiva Ice Creams: Enjoyed twice during the race.
  15. Exploding Lemon Soda: Accidental spill.
  16. Coconut Chocolate Bars: Roughly 0.78 per day.
  17. Cokes: Approximately 1.30 Cokes per day.
  18. Water: Hydrated with 5.22 liters per day.
  19. Mint Tea: Consumed 5 times during the race.
  20. Dry Breads with Omelettes: Around 2.17 per day.
  21. Skratch Marshmallow Bars: About 1.68 servings per day.
  22. Skratch Lemon & Green Tea Energy Chews: Around 2.17 per day.
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