Bikepacking Races

The Atlas Mountain Race 2020 – My journal of the inaugural edition (Part 2 of 2)

I veröffentliche mein Atlas Mountain Race Journal zweisprachig. Suchst du nach der deutschen Version? Folge diesem Link.

Welcome to the second and last part of my two-part diary of the Atlas Mountain Race 2020. You can find the first part here.

It was already published in May of the year 2020. That means just 3 months after the race. So still with fresh memory of what happened.

It is now the third attempt I take to finish this second part.

End of 2021 I started with the following words:

The pandemic, recognized as a reality everywhere in the world at the latest after the return from Morocco, has changed all our daily lives and yet the summer and within it the chance of cycling alone and self-supplied seems to give at least a small ray of hope. Since the Transcontinental Race No 8, for which I have a starting place, was sensibly postponed for 2020 (and the same had to be done again for 2021), I am thinking about a replacement with not quite so many border crossings and where I can travel to the startline and back from the finish line completely individually (without trains or planes). I find it in the form of the Three Peaks Bike Race 2020. So the summer is filled and also the other (my real) work does keep me busy. Therefore it took another 19 months until this continuation of my diary. Within which timeframe, unfortunately, it still has not come to a second edition of this wonderful race. This year, both the original February date (expected by me as almost certain and accordingly occurred) as well as the alternative date in October had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. I hope for the sake of all the intended participants that the edition now scheduled for February 2022 can take place. So hopefully this second and final edition of my AMR diary comes just in time to further strengthen what is surely already a high level of anticipation and to provide a few more impressions and nuggets of info should you, the reader, have a starting spot for AMR2022 or otherwise be interested in a bikepacking trip to Morocco next year.

Well – as we’ve long known by now, the Atlas Mountain Race still couldn’t happen for a second time even in the spring of 2022. But it did work out with the alternate date in October this year. And what a great second edition this was!

I accompanied it „up close and personal“ as an official Dotwachter volunteer. Not at all with the intention of securing a place on the starting grid for the next event. But much more because I was interested in „the other side“ and I wanted to get an insight into the organizational and volunteer side of a self-supported race. And I found it was very worthwhile and exciting. Quite independent from the race as such. But also like the race itself unfolded – my goodness! Super interesting and eventful! For those who want a quick impression – I still have my Instagram commentary that I featured during the race archived as a cohesive story on my Instagram as a highlight. Here it is: Instagram Story Recap of the AMR2022. This second AMR was won by Marin de Saint-Exupéry. No stranger, he won both the Hope1000 and the Further Pyrenees in 2021, for example. The podium was completed by Jochen Böhringer and Rodney Sonco.

But enough about the second edition. Here we cover from now on again the first Atlas Mountain Race. The inaugural edition held in February 2020.

Fortunately I started writing a part of this second diary part presented here already in June 2020 and then pushed it a bit further in 2021, so I can go into the usual depth with it alongside with my records and photos again. :)

So briefly a look back to the first part: In this I closed with my arrival at checkpoint 2. CP 2 of a total of three. Located in the oasis valley of Aguinane. A sight of full splendor which was unfortunately denied to me, because I drove down into the valley in the dark and would also leave it the next morning still in the dark. That was after a little over half of the race. 673 kilometers out of 1174 kilometers. It had taken me four days and just under 13 hours to get there. And I arrived there a mere 48 minutes after the control time cut-off.

Chapter 11: Intermezzo – one night at CP 2

Check or control points in ultra distance races. Always a great thing. Depending on the race and your position in it, often several days pass between consecutive checkpoints. Days in which you sometimes even meet not a single, or only a few, other race participants. Except for isolated contacts with a shopkeeper here or an innkeeper there, you hardly get any social interaction. Which, I have to say clearly, also has its advantages and its appeal. And yet you want to communicate somehow. Not just via isolated tweets or Instagram posts. And you don’t just want to look at dots on the map on the tracking website and their position relative to your own. Manned checkpoints provide a great opportunity to meet other race participants and also volunteer supporters already during the race. Who share the same passion. Who share the same hardships. Yet all have their own adventures. And yet share so much with you. And all of them linger a bit at such a checkpoint. Sometimes only as long as it takes to get the stamp in the brevet card. Often, however, long enough in order to take in new food and perhaps even a meal at the place. Or, if it’s already late in the evening, perhaps to even spend the night there. It’s the best opportunity to exchange impressions with fellow racers already in the race for a brief moment. And simply to have a good time.

It was the same case here. Because the CP2 was accommodated in the Auberge le Paradis d’Aguinane. Here we had a warm evening meal (Tajine, what else), a bed and the possibility for breakfast. Three striking arguments. There is slight confusion and muted anger about the pricing policy of the two innkeepers in charge of the hostel that evening, but they were probably not the same as the owner. If I understood correctly, the all-inclusive price for dinner, bed and breakfast quoted to new arrivals over the course of the evening got higher and higher. However, there may have been some misunderstandings. All in all, the price even now wasn’t really much to worry about at all. Therefore I could enjoy my Tajine quite soon in the circle of the remaining present participants. About ten of us sat outside at the tables. Others were already in the accommodations, prepared their night camp or slept perhaps already.

Soon I wanted to follow their example. I had to put the bike in the hallway of the annex. There were various single and double rooms, which were all occupied. And a few open shared rooms. I took one of the beds. The washroom looked awful – but that was more due to the participants than to the hostel. There was no hot water either. The next morning after getting up, I would choose the only toilet that wasn’t already clogged. That one didn’t have any Toilet seat left. But at least – it was no squat toilet. Probably better would have been… Before going to bed – I didn’t wanted to mess up the clean sheets – I at least wash my arms and legs at the sink and instead prefer to mess up a still halfway suitable towel hanging there.

But now I’m off to bed. I think I get just under 6 hours of good, restful sleep. It is shortly before 6 o’clock, when I can sit down at the breakfast table. Ready dressed and with all my stuff readily stowed in the bags of my bike already. With all the discussions last night about alleged price gouging I can’t blame the landlord this morning for any efforts withheld. Quite the opposite. No matter how early various participants in the night or now in the morning made themselves ready for departure, they got coffee, bread, butter and jam from him without any problems.

A frugal breakfast at CP 2: Coffee, flat bread, butter, marmelade (in mini tajines)

Two other participants are already sitting outside. Another one will join soon. A pillow under my butt and my micropuff jacket on, it’s also quite comfortable outside. Before I leave, I take care of my drivetrain. It is dusty without end. Just rinsing it with water works wonders against creaking. I get the water from a sink. My remaining water in my drinking bottles is too precious. I then apply a drop of chain wax on each chain link. And also the pedals are briefly rinsed and waxed. It won’t last long, but it’s better than nothing. The fine dust is everywhere and settles on the entire bike and bags. Especially the function of the clipless pedals suffers. Clicking in and out becomes increasingly difficult. Now, after cleaning and waxing the function is buttery again. It will not last long.

I had a good dinner, good sleep, a perfectly good breakfast. What I don’t have is new provisions. I can just about talk the innkeeper out of a half-liter bottle of water. But that’s all I have. The whole hostel is empty. A bit annoying, certainly not optimal. But not too bad. I have options. The first two of them, however, at this hour will not work out. As I have already anticipated, while another participant is still trying to get some information on shopping options from the host. He gets but little encouragement. There is indeed a store here in the place (according to my notes one kilometer back in the place), but that will probably only open later. In 2.5 kilometers an Epicerie, i.e. a small grocery store would follow. Although no entry from the Race Manual, but I had found that one during my pre-race preparation from Google Maps. In doing so, however, one must always be careful – one must not rely on such entries in such countries. Especially not, if it is the only option far and wide. To stand in front of closed doors, because an entry was long outdated or anyway never applicable and then to stand there without any spare provisions would be grossly negligent. But – at this time of day, this entry doesn’t help me anyway. No – my next refreshment stop will have to be Aka Ghuiren. In 30 kilometers. A bit off the actual route, but still the only next supply point listed in the race manual. After that, the next one would only follow in 85 kilometers.

Ok. So off we go. It is still pitch black when I press the start button on my Wahoo at 07:01.

Chapter 12: From CP2 to over the Mount Doom

I roll off easily on slightly downward sloping asphalt. I don’t get very far. Green palm fronds are visible in the light of my lamp. Above them the silver crescent of the waning moon. Slowly, rock outlines peel out of the black of the night sky. This is a very interesting motif! Barely a quarter of an hour into the journey, I stop for a few photos. While I’m going through various details and focal lengths, dusk begins to fall. Next to the moon, two prominent „stars“ can be seen. But they are planets. Jupiter above the moon, Saturn faintly to the left of the moon, as I check later at home. Wonderful!

First signs of dawn in the Aguinane-Valley
Moon, Jupiter and Saturn above Palm-Silhouettes

I roll on, the valley, or rather the gorge, becomes narrower. I have now covered not quite 12 kilometres on asphalt going downhill. Slowly the sky becomes coloured and the rocks start to get redder and redder from the top.

Red Rock Canyon

A short climb follows, taking me out of the canyon. An hour after I set off, I stand on a small pass and watch as the sun’s disc begins to peek out from behind the mountains on the horizon with a flash. Wonderful. With me being just started from CP2 any sense of urge isn’t yet felt. That means, as I am not in the race for the top places at the moment (far from it), thoughts of CP3 are still far away. So I enjoy the moment and wait (and photograph) until the sun has fully emerged.

Only then do I continue. My shadow as companion on the rock right next to me, which is even redder due to the first rays of the sun.

Shadow (Rider) on the Wall

Four minutes later the asphalt ends and the track has me again.

The next dry river bed that needs to be crossed is not long away. Such dry riverbeds are encountered in all sizes during the race. The smallest ones are perhaps just a dent or gully in the path or in the track. Sometimes more, sometimes less deeply cut. But even these usually have an area of deep, fine sand and then banks of coarser gravel and really rough boulders beside or behind it. Sometimes you can just drive through them, sometimes you are forced to dismount. Even when they are passable, however, it is always an involved act that requires quickly finding a passable entry and exit and the line in between, and appropriate body weight shifting. The bigger ones, like the one below, require dismounting and pushing the bike. The shortest or best line between the end and the new beginning of the piste has to be found during the pushing. That is, if you can make out the opposite re-start of the piste from your entry point into the river bed in the first place at all.

It is no coincidence that the race manual for this section states „Piste gets rough, likely to be some pushing required. Resupply is scarce, the surface has been badly eroded.“

Dry riverbed

The following kilometres of the route are one of the highlights of the race for me. Shades of reddish brown and ochre, the sinuous lines of sediment forming a harmonious pattern with the contours of the surface and the curves of the track, above them a steel-blue sky with individual matching clouds – glorious. And then the monumental view down into a deep valley with the prospect of a brilliant descent!

Such a view, such a descent, a full-suspension race MTB and still in the morning hours – the best prerequisites for the best mood. Man, was that fun! Afterwards the track meets asphalt again. Again very good, as almost always when we are on asphalt. The race route would continue to the right. But Aka Ghuiren, which is the only resupply option near and far listed in the race manual, is on the left. And that’s where I have to go. There was nothing left to buy at CP2. And the next possibility is only in 85 km!

Anti-Atlas Landschaft
What a view, what a downhill!

From studying the map, I had noted 3-4 km one way. It’s a bit difficult to be sure when you can’t find a direct entry for a café or shop on Google Maps or match it up with the entry in the Race Manual. The settlement signatures on the map should also be treated with caution. Is the café or shop at the beginning or at the opposite end of a village? Well, it will just work out. It has to. And since I knew this route was on tarmac, that was a good conceivable alternative. Shouldn’t be too bad, I suppose. But as it turned out, it was a full 7.6 kilometres from the turn-off to the middle of Aka Ghuiren. That was already evident when riding towards it. At least the road was very good. And it led slightly downhill. But that only meant that I had to go back slightly uphill. Sigh. Pedal on, make haste. Here I was in a hurry now – because now I wasn’t on course towards the finish, but away from it. I roll over low bridges that cross a wadi. Palm trees stand here, then comes the village. On the map there is also the name Aka Ighane. This is sometimes not clear between the maps used depending on Google Maps, Komoot and there the various layers of OSM and Co. that can be swapped in.

The place is not that small. On the main crossroads you will find all kinds of things. A butcher, a shop, a kiosk, a café and what not. In the café I order water, a coffee with milk and an omelette. Interesting: for once, the bread here is not flatbread, but a piece of baguette. While this is being prepared, I move to the other side of the street. A shop kiosk there is much higher than it is wide. Long shelves grow up on both sides of the counter. With all kinds of things inside. I want to know if they also have sanitary wipes or wet wipes, and finally I have to get my little pack out of my seatpack to explain exactly what I mean. No – there’s nothing like that. But I can get dry cosmetic wipes or paper handkerchiefs. Of course, only in a huge family pack. Ok – bought. Costs only a few dirhams anyway, so a few cents. Since I don’t know where to put all the stuff, I just take out 2/3 of the contents on the spot and leave them in a rubbish bin there. Otherwise I get the usual: A 0.5l soft drink bottle for the backpack, packaged mini cakes or muffins, chocolate bars, two small chip bags, more water.

After eating my omelette, I meet one of the film crews covering the race. But they are off-duty and only here to pick up food.

So now it’s a full 7.6 kilometres back again. Well supplied, but man, more than 15 kilometres diversions for that. Very annoying! I wouldn’t do that again.

After that, it’s pretty flat for the time being, with only a very gentle uphill section. And all asphalt. 45 km to the next off-road section. Huge scree plains or basically dry riverbeds spread out on both sides of the road. The wind comes pretty much from the front. I am very glad to have aerobars. Here I finally see camels. Real live ones and not just painted on a road sign. But those were to remain the only two for the whole race.

RP1734 between Aka Ghuiren (Off-route resupply after CP2) and Ibn Yacoub.

Then I get to Ibn Yacoub and with it back to the next mountain ridge and off-road tracks and tracks again.

Morocco has stones in abundance. So it’s only normal to find them in the villages too. What always fascinates me is when everything has the same colour and becomes one with the landscape. Because everything is made of the material that forms the respective landscape. In this case: dirt roads, retaining walls and masonry etc. Partly quite dilapidated walls. No matter if they are retaining walls or house walls. Dark doorways make me wonder what it will look like inside. The eye has no time to adjust to the dark interior from the bright sunshine. Steeply, the road climbs up through parts of the village. Where at the bottom I imagine myself in a half-ruined section of a Berber village, at the top I pass a small and modern-looking sports ground. Interesting.

I’m now looking for some shade and a good place to sit. As is often the case, I find the surface a bit too rough to really eat anything well while riding, so I want to sit down to eat every now and then. Not every time, of course – I eat a lot while riding, too. But now it’s time for „Luuuuunch!“ so to speak, and I want to feast on my Coke and crisps. A self-portrait could also be in order. My usual problem – of course there are no race photographers near me. You have to do everything yourself. As a true self-supported rider ;-) My wish for shade doesn’t work out, but I find this small rising rocky edge, which at least offers protection from the wind and a place to sit because of the stones lying around:

MTB auf dem Boden und Fahrer bei der Pause
Snack and self-portrait break

The sun has recently passed its zenith, but I find the landscape just as brilliant as this morning. A little after my crisps break, the next insane view deep into the following plain opens up. Along the rocky slope, the steadily descending line of the track is unmistakable. This is the way – wow what a descent!

Spektakuläre Aussicht, spektakulärer Downhill - wieder einmal.
Spectacular view, spectacular downhill – again.
Do you see the participant who is fixing a mechanical in the photo?

So down I ride – after taking enough photos, of course. Halfway down I pass a participant. His bike is jacked up. I ask him if he can manage. Yes, he can. He hopes so. At the moment he still has hope of saving his tubeless tyre before he bites the bullet and has to put in an inner tube. All right – bonne chance. On I go. At the end of the descent the next participant. Bike also jacked up. He is just about to close his chain. The reason for this is next to him. He has converted his bike to single speed and is almost done with it. Wow. Ace performance and no small feat. His 12-speed Shimano XTR rear derailleur had come apart. Uh-huh! Exactly the same as the one that does the shifting for me at the rear of my bike. Ooops! Well, fingers crossed that nothing of that kind happens to myself. I leave him behind after a short exchange of words – I don’t know if his singlespeed conversion could still get him to the finish or hopefully at least to the next bigger town without any problems. So now I continue on the flat. Still on dirt road. That surface is quite of the rough sort, still. Nevertheless, I let it fly, I can even ride in the aero bars in parts. Thanks to the suspension. In this way, I speed past a chatting duo of participants and just give a quick wave. Hussah, that was great!

Then comes another stretch of asphalt. There are now 10 kilometres to Tagmout, which I will finally reach with 131 kilometres on my Wahoo. Here I can expect various cafés and restaurants as refreshment points. But first I have to get there. The wind, which was already quite a hindrance yesterday even more thant the days before, is also today against me. And has ample fetch on this plain road. Slowly I approach a participant in front of me. I know this silhouette. I saw him this morning on the way to Aka Ghuiren and we waved briefly. It’s Örs, Cap No. 106. I pass him with a short exchange of words and then am finally in Tagmout. Where might the shops or cafés be here… Nothing points to it, but half on intuition, half looking at Google Maps, I turn right off a dusty road and head for an opening in a wall. Voilá! Behind it, a kind of marketplace square opens up. Surrounded by single-storey flat-roofed buildings with light arcades in front. In them, one café, kiosk or shop after the other. I stop in front of the first one and park my bike. In front of it are two refrigerators. The best prospects. One is full of soft drinks and water bottles, the other with yoghurt and things like that. Great! Above the owner behind the open counter hangs a flat screen. Soccer is showing. If I’m not mistaken, there’s even a German team playing. I am asked where I am from. I don’t know whether I said Germany or Allemand. In any case, he is pleased. While I quickly gather everything I like, Örs joins me. He is in the mood for something heartier. Lo and behold – I wouldn’t have guessed that there was something of a warm meal to be had in this very shop. But Örs asked if he could get something, an omelette or something. And of course he could. Well, well – I’ve learned something again. The place where you can’t get an omelette in Morocco apparently doesn’t exist.

The place where you can’t get an omelette in Morocco apparently doesn’t exist.

Meanwhile, I spot another driver at the other end of the square. Hmm, I know that one… Is it really…? It’s a few metres, but I go over. Halfway there, I see that I was right. It’s Robert, who is dismantling his bike to load it into the taxi standing next to him. „Robert, what’s wrong?“ I don’t remember the exact reason he had given me. But I don’t think it was something concrete, something that ended the race on its own. It was more the sum of the circumstances. Somehow he just didn’t have the right motivation, he said. Maybe there was something wrong with his back or physical problems. He would now take this taxi and drive to Agadir or Sidi Rabat, i.e. to the finish of the race. If I remember correctly, it was about 60 euros from Tagmout. Well then – too bad and have a good trip, Robert.

I go back to my bike, spoon up another yoghurt, say „see you later“ to Örs and cycle off again. On the way down from the market square and out of town, I pass another small restaurant or café in another street. Three other participants are sitting there. I give them a friendly wave – there’s still a long way to go today. A very good stretch. Even though it’s already late.

From the Race Manual: „between Tagmout and Issafen may be our personal favourite. … Old piste, two broken sections of road, a short walk down and around the wash out, and you’ll be back on the road…“

over Mount Doom…

And Issafn is still 67 kilometres away. With the infamous „Old Colonial Road“ which leads more badly than well over the Tizi Touzlimt at 1767 m above sea level between me and this destination…

It is already very late afternoon, or better, early evening, when I leave Tagmout behind me. Not the best prospects for one of the most difficult passages in the race. You would rather tackle something like this completely in the light of day. But as it looks, I’ll be lucky to reach at least the first „broken section“ in the fading daylight.

Wüstenebene durchquert durch Piste
The start of the Old Colonial Road after Tagmout

At first the track is quite good, heading south-southeast through a plain. Then a bend towards west-southwest and the mountains to be overcome move into the central field of vision. Shortly before, the track had already begun to climb very slightly. The late daylight of the sun, soon fading behind the mountains, gives the hill ranges an almost etheric surreality.

Old colonial road after Tagmout

The Old Colonial Road from Tagmout to Issafn was definitely one of the highlights of the Atlas Mountain Race. Not much further now and that’s where the (type 2) fun and climbing really starts at up to 1750m above sea level. At this point I was still blissfully unaware of how much of an understatement the race manual really was in its description of this section. I later titled that day’s activity on Strava „From CP2 over the Mountain of Doom“. Why that is, and why it’s not just to do with the quality (or lack thereof) of the piste, I’ll get to that now.

The gradient is slowly increasing and dusk is slowly approaching. The „road“, well, the off-road track, is still relatively easy to ride on. On the left, it nestles against a mountain slope and on the right, it descends abruptly between 2 and 5 metres. The whole time I’m waiting anxiously to find out when these two sections described in the roadbook will come and what they really would mean.

„Two broken sections of road. That won’t stop us though, a short walk down and around the wash out, and you’ll be back on the road“ it says.

Old colonial road partly broken away

I come to a place where the road has eroded for the first time. A good part of it has broken away. But it is still easy to get around. Oh, I think with relief. This is supposed to be a „broken section“? Ok, that’s not so bad then. Haha, far from it! Just one bend further and I see the first real broken section!

Oh! Ok. Oh wow – complete, deep hole. Where and how do I even get off the road which is several meters high above the surrounding landscape in the first place? „Short walk down…“ Haha – oh Nelson!

The photos hardly convey the dimension of this gap. It must be at least 3 to 4 metres down and there is no obvious way of getting down and then back up. Let alone with your own bike! And fortunately I can still see a bit now. Soon dusk will give way to completely dark night. Literally hanging and choking, I manage to lower my bike somehow halfway down, then myself all the way and then I can reach to my bike from the bottom and ease it all the way down. Clambering up the other side is a little easier.

I stand at the top, look back and think – well, that’s going to be fun at the second gap. But the view back is once again super atmospheric and goosebump-inducing. Against the purple twilight sky I see another participant riding up the Old Colonial Road in the light of his lamp.

Another participant tackles the climb in the light of his lamp

I don’t have to wait long for the second gap. Only an about 3 minutes ride after the photo and I am standing in front of it. The previous photos were not only deceiving in terms of dimensions. Also from the amount of light. Thanks to relatively long exposure times and high sensor sensitivity. Now it’s pitch black! So I have to rely on the light of my lamps alone to find out how deep it is and how to get down and up again. It’s almost more difficult than the first gap.

But – soon that will be done too! Phew. Now I can at least tick off this topic. And get back to the usual. I.e. the increasingly broken, rough and steep piste and its altitude profile. That shows two peaks. If only I were already at the first one. But it’s still a long way to go!

There are now frequent stretches where not all, but at least half of the road was completely worn out. In the light of my lamps, I could only guess how deep the potential fall down them would be. That same them would later continue on the descent. But until then it was still a long way to go.

Again and again wide parts of the „road“ are missing

The ascent seemed to drag on endlessly in the dark. But I didn’t want to give in. It was technical, but I could ride every part. When will there finally be a flatter section, when will I at least reach the first summit? Defiantly, I told myself „No – I won’t stop! I won’t dismount and push – not until I reach the summit!“.

Expressed in numbers, that was „only“ 145 watts on average, even in the last continuous stretch. But that’s just the situation at the end of the sixth day criss-crossing the Atlas and Anti-Atlas. And on average at a cadence of 64, which was due to both exhaustion and the roughness of the terrain. Again and again, it was necessary to apply high torque to cross loose stretches, make it over a step of stones or circle around particularly rough pieces of scree. A full body affair. Again and again there were „peaks“ of 220 or even 256 watts. In a fresh state that would still be below my FTP. But after 6 days in the race there is no freshness. Before that I was even at 305, then 329 watts. And that is still not the complete picture. Apart from the sheer watts, the whole body was in action and tension, had to be partly balanced, partly pushed hard and in regard to the pedaling you not only pushed them but also pull. But I didn’t want to let up!

Finally I’m at the top and at some point I’ve also left the second peak behind me. A little further on in the descent I have to vent. I tweet: „Jesus Christ, what a shitty pass! Very nice, Mr Trees, very nice! 🤬 Finally in the downhill.“

„Jesus Christ, what a shitty pass! Very nice, Mr Trees, very nice! 🤬 Finally in the downhill.“

So my time up and then down Old Colonial Road wasn’t bad at all, but already on the descent I also notice that my left foot and the area in the front of my shin was starting to hurt. And it wasn’t the usual thing you might expect, but a very strange pulling or rubbing sensation that made me think back to my rupture of the big toe tendon just two years ago. At that time, it had happened right at the beginning of the New Year while cross-country skiing, when I slipped and got stuck. This resulted in a later surgery and a longer convalescence, which only allowed me to ride my bike outside again at Easter of the same year.

Oh man! I hope I haven’t overdone it now! It’s true that I made good progress two years ago and was able to ride first the Three Peaks Bike Race and then even the Transcontinental Race in the same year of that accident and surgery. In the end without any issues. Nevertheless, it was not at all to be expected to get back flawlessly into shape like that. As surgeons go: „Yes, it’s not as good as new now, of course…“ That’s why I was so happy with how smoothly it went in the end. Here in my journal on the TPBR from Vienna to Nice you can read more about it right at the beginning (text in German only): The Three Peaks Bike Race from Vienna to Nice – my experience report from the first edition in June 2018 …and the road from torn tendons to the Transcontinental Race 2018!

So that was almost a full two years ago now at the time of the Atlas Mountain Race.
But the AMR was also a whole different ball game! The stresses and strains of mountain biking over rough terrain are just a whole other level from even the nastiest low cadence grind over a paved mountain pass. Then there is the extensive hike-a-bike. Up as well as down. I already wrote in the first part of this race diary how nasty it got for my ankles, foot flexion and heel area. I already titled the 4th chapter in part 1: „Try walking in my shoes“. And how glad I was that I had my Lizard Kross Ibrido trail sandals with me, which I had bought especially for this race. Actually, primarily for river fording and otherwise as a replacement for my KungFu loafers, which I like to take with me for travelling to and from races like the TPBR or the TCR. I could never have imagined beforehand how priceless these trail sandals would become for me throughout the AMR!

Was the climb up Old Colonial Road now not the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the wooden beam that had broken the camel’s back? More than worried, I decided to take a break for the night’s rest sooner rather than later. Good – I was planning to do that anyway. After all, what was I going to do in the middle of the night in the next village? Better to bivy here and time the whole thing so that I would arrive in Issafen for breakfast, so to speak. And maybe things would look better after a few hours of sleep and rest?

Thought and done. After I had done almost the entire descent from the twin summit of the Old Colonial Road, I find a nice spot for my night bivy and rest there for almost 6 hours. Not even the longest time so far in this race. But the activity time since the morning start was the longest of the whole race for me. I had been on my feet for 17 hours and 46 minutes.

Chapter 13: Stint No. 7 – Brilliant canyon, wind on high plains and Sahara sand in the air

Excursus: my sleep system

I had a good night’s rest. I was very happy with my chosen sleep set-up for the whole AMR and think it proofed itself. It was not too much and not too little. Only the breathability of my ultralight sleeping bag, the Sea to Summit Spark I, was and is subpar, I find. It’s very light – just 348 grams – and super compact and compressible, which is very important to me. But with the outer fabric used, Sea to Summit might have gone too much in the direction of windproofness and resistance to down penetration. In any case, I found myself sweating relatively quickly in this sleeping bag, even when using it indoors in cool conditions without any further trappings like a bivy sack etc. around it (so before any reader wants to blame such items). In contrast, my Mountain Equipment Helium offers a much better body „atmosphere“. But that’s my only criticism, and I’ll still probably take the Sea to Summit Spark I again just because of its compact pack size. It is also deliberately only the Spark I, which is a summer sleeping bag with a comfort range only down to 8 degrees of Celsius. On Atlas nights, however, the temperature easily falls below 8 degrees. So to have enough warmth, I rely on the combination with my light „down“ jacket, the Patagonia Micro-Puff Jacket and the Patagonia Men’s Nano-Air Pants. Both are filled not with down but with synthetic fibre material, which also works in wet conditions, and are also highly wind and water repellent and DWR impregnated. The pants are also slightly stretchy, so I could cycle or walk with them in quite cold conditions if need be.

In contrast to a thicker sleeping bag, which would ultimately weigh the same as a lightweight sleeping bag plus the trousers (and jacket if necessary), I am much more versatile with a comparable pack size and weight.

I use the SeatoSummit Ultralight Insulated Air mat as a sleeping pad. Unlike the sleeping bag of that brand, I am very happy with the mat. I’ve been using the normal Extralight for years for my bikepacking races. But they always take place in summer. For the Atlas Mountains, I needed a mat with a higher R-value of 3.1, but still a very compact pack size and light weight.

With everything of the aformentioned, I lay in the Outdoor Research Interstellar Ascentshell Bivy. I discovered this after a lot of research (see the very bottom of the article Tent, Tarp or Bivy – Shelter for the Atlas Mountain Race in German only) and it really ticks all the checkboxes I had for use in the Atlas Mountains. First and foremost: it is a true 4-season bivy that allows you to even spend the night in the snow and completely without another shelter. It’s actually sufficiently breathable and it’s very roomy inside even with a compact pack size. The only drawback is that it has a lot of zippers! The outer shell and mosquito net require two zips all the way round. So far, so normal. But since the design brief of this bivy is that you should also be able to sit up with this bivy and handle stuff and chores in camp with your arms out, there are two zippers per side per flap – a total of eight! But I’m happy to put up with that – because apart from that, the Interstellar Bivy has proven itself very well.

So you can see most of that in the photos I took on this once again great morning (minus the jacket and trousers, which I must still be wearing).

Onwards to the breakfast

Writing this 2.5 years later I don’t know how my left foot is doing for this morning – I’ll come back to that in a moment. Now it’s time to pack up and then the next destination is breakfast in Issafen.

It is only a little over 2 km downhill on the off-road track until I come across an asphalted main road. Then another 5 km downhill and I’m already in Issafn. The race manual lists a resupply point as a „small shop“. That’s exactly where I head for. But I wouldn’t be so dependent on exactly this given point, because Issafn and the main road from this point onwards is very busy and there are plenty of other shops and cafés along the way as I find out. But I am very happy with my find. Here I can stock up on water and provisions and treat myself to a nice breakfast. Omelette, what else!? ;-) But in a very luxurious version with four eggs, tasty peppers, bread of course and coffee!

Thus well supplied and fed, I continue along the R109 road on excellent asphalt and ever-so-slightly downhill.

The first thing that comes to mind when I see the following sign is: „Die Karawane zieht weiter, der Sultan het Durscht…“. Which is a line from a German carnival song translating to „The caravan moves on, the Sultan is thirsty…. „

Straßenschild in Marokko, Warnung vor Esel, Ziege und Kamel
„Die Karawane zieht weiter, der Sultan het Durscht…“

Another short stretch, and before the next cluster of houses, the road turns right off of the R109, still on tarmac, still super new, but of a rougher surface. And slightly uphill. At least the road sign warns of us cyclists…. ;-)

Here, as well as in a few other places, I notice that Morocco is of course pushing ahead with its road construction. Where, according to the race manual or rather on the basis of the race files provided in Komoot or in RidewithGPS, I should already be off-road, there was still or already fine new asphalt to be found in the race. While I take a short break exactly at this point and hope that I can benefit from the asphalt a little more because of my left foot, which is clearly noticeable now that it is slowly going uphill, I look at my bike and once again take the time to document its condition. Everything is covered in a fine layer of ochre-coloured dust. The entire drivetrain is dry as a bone. Everything works great, but I’m particularly worried about the clipless pedals. Getting off the bike becomes increasingly difficult. I can’t and don’t want to grease them so often that they always work smoothly. Every now and then I have to rinse them out of the water bottle to get them to clip in ok again. That’s also the case here and now. Normally that wouldn’t be such a problem. It’s just getting a bit harder to unclip, bit by bit, so what? But it is precisely this unclipping that is becoming increasingly difficult with my left foot and I feel that it is not doing the tendon any good at all, but is contributing to the increasing aggravation of the situation.

And not only the clipping out. Consciously pulling with the left foot and even unconsciously angling it upwards in the course of a round crank revolution also hurts and seems to make the situation worse. Not good, not good at all! I know very well that this is not a common pain that „you just have sometimes“. Like, for example, in the Achilles tendon or sometimes in the knee. And then they go away all by themselves. Or after you have adjusted something (such as the seat height – although there should be no need for this if you really have a good bike fit in advance, which has been tried and tested over bikepacking distances and with luggage). No, this feeling of pain goes directly back to my operated big toe tendon, I’m quite sure of it.

Will that be a reason I would have to scratch out of the race for? According to Nelson’s race itinerary, there are only two stages left! Today’s, from Issafn to Tafraoute, is estimated at 154 km and then another from Tafraoute to the finish in Sidi Rabat at 155 km. But that’s literally over the hill and far away. And with my current condition in my left foot, I am more than handicapped! But I want to keep trying!

How good that I not only have my trail sandals, but in this context I also deliberately chose pedals that offer a click mechanism on one side and a platform for normal shoes on the other! For this I chose the Shimano PD-EH500 Explorer SPD pedals. These are not only functional, but also extremely light. The pair weighs only 383 g, which is in a good range even for normal pedals, and even excellent for alternating click and platform functionality.

From here on I ride at least with my left leg on the platform side, i.e. not clicked in. And later on, I will also switch more and more often to my trail sandals, because they are absolutely problem-free for the ankles when walking, but my cycling shoes irritate the left foot too much in the ankle area and, more importantly, also on the side and most at the front, when I have to go uphill and up and down rocky trails with them. I then consciously keep my calf tense so as not to let my left foot buckle. Absolutely not ideal for the speed of progress in hike-a-bike passages. Just as for the balancing load in other parts of the body, such as the calf.

This is the state of affairs right now. While the Race Manual has this to say about it:

„Issafen to Ait Mansour
Probably one of the toughest sections of the race. The rocky track that follows the riverbed will likely have you cursing us, with reason. It will be a frustratingly slow section of the route. If there had been another viable option, we would have put it in the race!“


Great! Not! Once again, the amazing rock formations and sediment layers, which are shaped and folded in a particularly interesting way here, provide a distraction. Although the asphalt stops now, it changes to a fresh, well-rolled subgrade. Asphalt will probably be found here soon.

At least until the next settlement, which will soon come into view. Green palms grow close together on both sides of a small river in the gorge and on the other side grow the sand and ochre coloured houses of Tizaghte (or Tazegzaout?) up the slope. Various maps sometimes disagree on place names, if any are given in Latin script at all in the first place. Impressive!

Inside the Tizaghte gorge

But shortly after this settlement, the road, or rather the rolled gravel surface, drops down and ends directly at the bottom of the gorge. As it appears, the road now continues more or less on the dry riverbed. Or the dry riverbad is supposed to be the road. Most interesting! What do they do if it rains and the river has water? Then the only way to get to the next village must be via paths along the rock faces that are not recognisable from here? I soon reach the next village, whose houses are more or less directly in or next to the riverbed. Riverbed Mainstreet:

In the photos you can see that the coarse river gravel is at least somewhat compacted by ruts. This was not the case everywhere, however, and while the riding was more possible than on many other riverbed crossings, it truly wasn’t a walk in the park. Eight or ten bends of the meandering gorge later, the ascent out of the gorge begins, which will take me from around 1400 m to around 1800 m of altitude.

There I am greeted by this amazing tree in full bloom. Only the tree is standing there next to the track. Otherwise there is only reddish-brown rock to be seen far and wide. And any small islands of bushes that barely stand out against the backlight. Surreal.

Kurvige Wüstenpiste mit einsamen Baum
Solitary Blossom Tree

Equally fascinating how different the colours and the situation are in the front light. Of course I have to stage my faithful bike, my Desert Rose, in front of this tree.

Mountainbike unter einsamen Baum in roter Wüste
My Desert-Rose, my Rose Thrill Hill under the solitary blossom tree.

Shortly afterwards I reach the next real road. At least that’s what Komoot says, and it’s not wrong. What was always the question in the preparation of the race: road is the categorisation (there’s also single trail, path, road, main road). But what does it mean from the underground? That is the second categorisation typically given by services like Komoot or RideWithGPS – based on OpenStreetMap information. Here, for this section, it is „road surface“. This can be anything that does not fall under „loose surface“, but is not really „asphalt“ either – the latter which can also have very different qualities. Sometimes it is so bad that a good section with „road surface“ is much more pleasant and faster to ride on as maybe a bad asphalt section. Well – I can’t really interpret what’s going on here where I am now. Rock surface, graded with a heavy duty grader (a construction vehicle)? Ancient asphalt, long since without a wear layer and in the same colour as the surrounding rock and soil? Mineral-bound and rolled gravel road? In any case, it is relatively rough, but also firm and rather easy to ride on.

S-Bend on a high plateau

And because it is now well rideable and firm, I dare to change out of my trail sandals into my Lake mountain bike shoes again.

Zwei Paar Schuhe
Lake MTB shoesaund Lizard Kross Ibrido Trail-Sandals

What you can’t see in the photos, however, but can guess from the terrain, is the now fierce headwind that sweeps across the 1800 m high and barren plateau, slowed down by nothing. It has increased in strength for the third day in a row now and is really nasty up here. It also blows a lot of dust and desert sand into the air, which contributes to a very special atmosphere and makes even nearby hill ranges disappear quite quickly in a dust haze:

After about 15 km in a rollercoaster of emotions between „finally a reasonable surface again“ and „I can hardly make any progress in the wind and can’t put any pressure on my foot“ later the long descent from this high plateau begins.

At the start of a long downhill.

At the very end of this long descent will be the oasis valley of Ait Mansour. And in it – though far at the other end, the CP 3, the Auberge Ait Mansour.

The photo shown above is from 18:21. CP 3’s closing time would be in 51 minutes. Today, at 19:00. Not that it would have been decisive for me, as technically I had already missed the closure time at CP2 by a few minutes. Nevertheless, I had planned to get back on schedule and at least nominally ride me inside the control times again. I think I would have easily managed that if I hadn’t developed this problem with my tendon past surgery last night. My progress today was extremely slowed down because of it.

And even here and now, even would I have been in the best physical condition, I could not hope to be at the checkpoint in 40 minutes. How good will the descent be? It goes down a good quite a bit, so far so good. From about 1800 m of the high plateau down to only a good 1100 m. For the time being. But then it goes up again, slowly, but also along the oasis valley. How far? And what counterclimbs, barely visible on the computer display, will slow me down on the descent? And also, even with promised asphalt is to come soon – how fast will I be?

My roadbook, which I always have at my fingertips on my iPhone centrally mounted on the cockpit, gives me the essential details:

  • 104 km: Begin descent, gravel. (I’m already a bit further along at that point in time)
  • 121 km: short uphill section, asphalt
  • 130 km: Afella Ighr, asphalt, Begin climb (gentle) now followed by gorge worth seeing (Les Gorges d’Aït Mansour).
  • 131 km: Ait Abdelkader, asphalt
  • 132 km: Aguerd Imlalen, pavement
  • 134 km: Gdourt, Chez Rachid auberge (Tel: 212 671-126650)
  • 139 km: Restaurand Alimentation General Massoud (7T 10-19:00)
  • 141 km: CP 3 Auberge Ait Mansour, asphalt

Whew, still almost a full 40 km! But at least the beginning of the oasis valley of Ait Mansour is only 23 to 25 km away. I want to make it at least in daylight. I have already „seen“ the oasis valley of CP2 only in the dark.

But of course – it drags on. And with the sun soon getting low and a lot of desert dust in the air, a short time later I get to experience some fascinating „aerials“ of the mountain ridges still ahead of me:

Dust shrouded sunset

I prefer to soak up this atmosphere rather than rush – which I can’t do anyway because of my foot – and then yet arrive in Ait Mansour in the dark nevertheless. So I take my time and then reach Ait Mansour a little later. And, as it is always the case, what appears to be a relatively gentle ascent on the altitude profile, in reality has numerous short, stinging sections. Nevertheless, the rest of the ride is relatively easy. In complete darkness, every now and then a street lamp lights up the scenery and I can hear the calls to the evening prayer echoing through the gorge or the valley.

Finally, at 8:41 pm, I find the entrance to CP 3, the „Auberge Ait Manour“. But everything is dead silent, no light far and wide. That I am indeed in the right place is shown by a small paper sign „Check in this way. AMR“. That’s all. I will learn later that Nelson was not very happy with this CP anyway. Even less, I suppose, than the description in the Race Manual could have suggested:

„The Auberge that will be used as the location for the checkpoint is a little more rustic than for the other checkpoints…“. Even before me, this checkpoint was said to be indeed „rustic“, even by Moroccan standards, from other participants. Now, a mere 2 hours after the checkpoint closed, there is absolutely no one here.

CP3 Selfie

So I don’t get anything to eat here nor is this a good place to spend the night. But it doesn’t matter, I have still a bit supply left. That’s why I ride straight on. I want to get out of the valley at least a bit and get a little closer to the next village, which is supposed to be 11 km after the CP and which also offers a resupply option, says the race manual.

But I am also really exhausted and my foot has been giving me trouble all day. Nevertheless, I made it to CP 3! But it’s still a long way to Tafraoute, the actual end of the daily stage as Nelson had divided them up. A good 50 km to go.

At least the tendon has held up until here. Something I couldn’t be certain of this morning but could only hope for. But it hasn’t got any better, either. Quite the opposite! The only thing that can help now is a good night’s rest. That’s why I stop as soon as I find a suitable spot next to the road in the light of my lamp. It’s only 9:17 p.m., but so be it.

It’s a wide bend with space next to the asphalt. It’s not as sheltered from the wind as I’d hoped, but it’s better than nothing. And – there is a crash barrier. I like that because I can lie down behind it. Not because it offers any kind of wind protection. But – do I know who will come by here at night? Maybe with a lorry and he takes the bend too far? Even in Morocco, I don’t want to be right next to an asphalt road and get run over in the dark. The crash barrier is also a good place to lean my bike onto.

After quickly spreading out my bivy, inflating the sleeping mat and putting in my sleeping bag, I am dissatisfied with the wind after a short test lie-down. I can’t get a good night’s sleep that way. Now my bivy is quite robust, then there’s the sleeping bag and the puffy jacket. But all this doesn’t seem to suffice. It is still very uncomfortable. The wind is still blowing so hard through the gorge!

Well, what can I say. I opt to do some „nest-building“. Of course, this is the complete opposite of a power nap or even only a short sleep break of maybe two to three hours, which is advisable for a participant with podium ambitions. But I’m miles away from that now anyway (not that I wouldn’t ever). So I’d rather spend a few minutes looking for a few stones lying around in abundance than spend double and triple the time trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep and still not find any good nights sleep.

You can admire the result of my little „castle building“ in the following picture. I was very satisfied and was able to recover very well that night. I slept a full 8 hours and that was necessary! At the end of the day I only had a activity time of 12.5 h since the start before Issafn and in motion it was 8 h and 45 minutes. All this resulted in a covered distance of just 105 kilometres.


Chapter 14: Climbing and more climbing and really steep climbing.

A full 8 hours of sleep were a blessing. But that also means that despite the early stop the sun is already close to rising when I open the bivy sack and look out.

Hello Day 8 of the race! Today is Saturday, February 22nd. A full week has passed since the start. Tonight at midnight will be the official finish of the race and at 19:00 the finisher party is supposed to start. But it will be without me, because I have to be happy that I can finish the race by my own means at all. As is usual with bikepacking races and especially with such above-average challenging routes, many participants have thrown in the towel already much earlier; they have „scratched“, as it is called, for various reasons. In other words, they have told the race organiser that they are abandoning the race. Because they are completely exhausted, because they have found that they are in over their heads, because some part of their body has been too badly affected, because the bike has suffered irreparable damage, or sometimes, unfortunately, because of the consequences of a fall or an accident.

The map of the other „Dots“, the other still active participants around me, has therefore been diminishing for a few days now. As I write today, I don’t even know how many actually still active riders are behind me or even a few in front of me. There can’t have been many, because in the end – let me say this in advance – I will be the last participant to cross the finish line. Although after the official end of the control time, I will have completed 100% of the course under my own steam.

It is 9:20 a.m. until I have finally packed everything and press „Start“ on my Wahoo, ready to go. It is now „only“ 207 km to the finish. On the road and even in such a challenging race as a Transcontinental Race „a piece of cake“ and, if there weren’t 2 or 3 Alpine passes between the start and the day’s finish, it would be easy to arrive by midnight.

But I’m not on the road and not in Europe, I’m still in the Anti-Atlas of Morocco. There will still be various hike-a-bike sections and character tests to master, I can safely assume. And I’m still worried about my foot. But it seems to be getting at least a tiny bit better. The long sleep break has definitely helped. It’s far from good – not even ok. And I still have to remain extremely careful especially over rough ground, so the rate of progress is even more limited than it already would be because of the terrain. But I am confident that I can now finish the race under my own steam and don’t have to give up.

With these thoughts and the prospect of finally being able to get some more food, I ride to the next town. After about 10 km on a slight uphill, but on the asphalt of a narrow road, I reach Tassirt.

Indeed, there is a small shop. And a very old man appears, who knows even less French than I do. But with a few bits of French and gestures and facial expressions we understand each other. I think I was still slightly chilly then and because the shop was on the shadow side, I move to a sun-warmed and wind-protected corner on the opposite side of the street. I put my bike against the wall and start to eat some of my groceries. Before I have even started, the old man brings me a plastic chair and invites me to sit down. Hospitality everywhere!

My Thrill Hill, the chair and a typical iron door in Morocco

Just 6 kilometres further, the next town, the next shop is listed in the race manual. I stop here again. I don’t think they had the right food or everything I was looking for for the rest of the ride in the previous town. Here the shop is actually a bit better stocked. As the photo with the puppies reminds me, the chocolate and biscuit bars in the food pouch are probably from this shop, and there is also a tin of sardines in the net bag outside – whether bought here or still on board from earlier in the race, I don’t know.

Behind the village the surface changes to an off-road track, but one in excellent hardpack quality. The track leads across a very arid plateau. Again. Far away I spot a settlement. It seems to me that it is a village in the middle of nowhere.

Village in the void

But shortly afterwards I come across an asphalted main road, only to have to leave it again after a hairpin bend and 3 kilometres. The track gets a bit rougher again, sometimes downright singletrack-like. But generally always slightly downhill. For the first time in the race, I also see extensive collections of cacti on both sides of my path. Great, some of the withered and fallen off sections, including their massive thorns, are also on the path. I will ride through another extensive similar section not far from the finish later. It’s a good thing I’ve got good and tubeless tyres mounted. Much later I will take them off at home and then find three massive cactus thorns stuck on the inside when inspecting them, but they were sealed without any problems. I didn’t notice any of this in the race itself.

Finally I ride into Tafraoute on a well-maintained road. A little more than 50 km after the morning start – and yet it is already a quarter to three in the afternoon.

Entering Tafraoute

Apart from Taznakht, Tafraoute is the only „town“ or big place for lack of a better term that is touched by the route of the Atlas Mountain Race. Tafraoute seemed even bigger to me than Taznakht. There would be lots of cafés, shops, a boulangerie and even hotels. Of course, I don’t need the latter, it’s still too early in the day. But a well-stocked shop is very welcome. I find one where you can really go in and walk through the aisles. Quite a change from the usual other shopping opportunities in the race. Where there is light, there is also shadow – at the checkout I have to wait behind a small troop of loud Scandinavian youths who are apparently on holiday here. Shortly after my visit, the shop closes. Strange, it’s only 3:10 p.m. when I take the photo of the entrance door. Or rather, where I take the photo with my bike, the door is just opening again and rinsing water from scrubbing the floor is being scrubbed out.

Nach dem Einkauf in Tafraoute

In any case, I am well stocked again. From here on it’s 155 km to the finish. Let’s see how much of it I can manage today. After Tafraoute I can roll downhill for a while until a long and really nasty climb begins. On good asphalt, but with a gradient of up to 15 percent. Here I am at around 900 m above sea level. But with no wind and no shade the Wahoo records temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius.

I am absolutely flat – not hungry, but somehow exhausted. In any case, I’m crawling along the climb at just 5 km/h, sometimes even less. I’m almost pushing faster than that. My super-adequately equipped sprocket set with up to 51 teeth doesn’t help either. I only ride with 100 to 140 watts anyway. I also don’t want to pedal any faster either – so downshifting wouldn’t make any sense. Instead, despite the good asphalt, I prefer to dismount and push for short stretches. I’d rather do that than worry about tipping over while riding. The view, on the other hand, is quite interesting and different from what I was used to from the Atlas and Anti-Atlas. In some places, terraced fields have been laid out along the mountain slopes. However, nothing is growing here at this time of year:

When I finally reach the top of the ridge, I take a long break. On the rest of the way to my next night’s camp, I only took a single photo in the village of Tanalt. The route went up and down, never wanting to end. Towards evening there were also some super-steep, but fortunately only short ramps as narrow, concrete-paved paths. And shortly before the „Short hike-a-bike to get onto one final, remote piste“ announced in the race manual, I got fed up. No energy and no need to struggle through a night with a still suffering foot and yet to still arrive well after midnight and after the finisher’s party anyways. If it would still be the night at all, that was. And not only the next morning. So I’d better continue to take care of my foot before it gets even worse again and to cover the rest of the distance in daylight. I have planned enough time until my return flight, so I don’t have to take any ill-considered risks for my own health.

So therefore 81 km before the finish, I stop before the last part of the descent into the last valley before the final descent over the next mountain ridge into the coastal plain before Agadir. I deliberately stop on the slope because, on the one hand, I see a few lights down in the valley and I prefer to be alone and undisturbed. And on the other hand, a wadi or simply a dry river bed is absolutely no place to sleep. Don’t do such things at all! This is what one participant had to learn the hard way in the second edition of the race, which took place only recently in October (earlier attempts had to be postponed again and again due to Covid). During the first night, rainfall caused the otherwise dry riverbeds to swell into strong rivers. Fortunately, nothing happened to the participant who had set his night camp in one such dry riverbed and he got off lightly. His bike, however, was found only a good distance downstream later.

Here and now I find a nice bend in the narrow, winding track down into the wadi and prepare my bivy under small trees.

The last bivy of the race

But I must have been noticed anyways. Because a short time later a moped driver comes by and adresses me in Arrabic. I wonder if he wants to invite me into his house or can’t understand why someone would just lie down like that in the barely available botany. In any case, I try to say, „No, thanks, everything’s fine, I’m not interested, I just want to sleep. It helps, because he soon leaves again.

So today I managed 125 km after all. And I’ve climbed almost 2300 metres in altitude. Oh well – tomorrow I’ll do the rest, then!

Chapter 15: To the Atlantic Ocean! And to the finish in Sidi Rabat!

Today I’m starting at 08:37. Due to the time of year, it is just about dawn. One last day and then I will have finished the Atlas Mountain Race! 81 km only, but what else will Nelson have in store for us? One last climb, and then „smooth sailing“ to the sea? Hardly! Spoiler alert: for these 81 km I will need almost 10 hours total and 6 h 45 minutes in motion!

At first it’s the last bit down into the river valley. Interestingly, it’s still on a concrete slab path. On the plain, still before the river itself, another participant is packing up his bivy. Wow – apart from me, I think that’s the only other still active participant I’ve just passed. Maybe there are still one or two participants ahead of me, I don’t really know anymore. But I don’t think so. Those who couldn’t anticipate to make it to the finish last night during the finisher’s party had long since given up anyway. Quite a few participants had already been on a kind of „party train“ for a few days, taking shortcuts on asphalt towards Sidi Rabat. They had scratched long ago, but didn’t want to miss the finisher party or even had to go to Sidi Rabat because they had their bike box or bike case transported there by the race organisation.

Gosh, I wasn’t even the last active rider on the course! Unfortunately, the tracker was also no longer active at this point. That seems to be the norm at Nelson’s races. It’s the same with the Silkroad Mountain Race and it was the same with the second edition of the Atlas Mountain Race last October 2022. It seems that he deliberately books the tracking service only until the second of the official control closing time. This is a pity, because at many bikepacking races quite a number of participants are still on the road well after the official closing time. And dot watchers and relatives would naturally like to follow their favourites or loved ones to the finish. However, Nelson has to be given credit for the fact that he usually sets the closure times at a very reasonable range. So that – as long as nothing really unforeseen happens (such as in my case a feared break-up of a past surgical history) or there is no other slowing down – every able-bodied participant really has a chance of reaching the finish line by then. Well – I haven’t yet and technically it’s only 8.5 hours after the finish line closure at this point.

When I find out about my invisibility via the tracker, I update my Twitter and Instagram feeds a little more frequently so that the followers who can no longer see my dot can still get various updates.

The supposedly last hike-a-bike climb is showing it’s teeth. Just alone getting across the river is not without its difficulties. But the following rocky path is quite busy. I count 8 encounters, each between 1 and 4 people, who follow the path down with their mules. When people talk about mule or goat paths in Morocco, they mean it. Probably they were all wondering what this guy was doing here with his bike…

When I finally reach the top, I take a short break for a second breakfast with the food I brought with me from yesterday. The first real break with food supplies will follow in a café in Ahandour. Finally an omelette again ;-)

I don’t know how many of those I had in the race. But it’s wonderful and super necessary. Together with the usual bread, a nice sweet latte, coke and water!

The last Omelette-Stop of the race.

Here I also talk at length with a group of four young adults. About all sorts of things. They want to know a lot about Germany and Europe. I notice how they think about future careers or just better lifes and earning opportunities. I have and want to ride on. There are still 62 kilometres to go.

Maybe 20 kilometres further on, I actually pass a small mini construction site in a town that I have to ride around very briefly. I joke on Twitter and Instagram: „Moar rocks! Les amis des Paris-Roubaix already branching out to Marrakesh-Agadir…“.

So new paving is being laid here. More stones to ride over… ;-) Quite sharp. But maybe this is just the substructure and a smoother layer of gravel will be laid on top.

Rural road construction in Morocco

Actually, I could do with a nice flat roll out to the finish from here on. The race manual doesn’t contain any warnings or nastinesses here either. On the contrary, it only says something about „ride down towards the ocean and the finish line“ and then lists the amenities of the accommodation chosen as the finish line hotel „Auberge La Dune“ as a „cosy hotel“ and „ideal spot to relax and have a few beers„.

The reality is quite different! On the one hand, there is the last section, which has already become notorious during the race, as a sandy hell through the dunes until you actually reach the finish. And even before that, the route goes wildly back and forth on narrow paths between fields which are now real farmland. The aforementioned cacti make their reappearance here and there are also thorn bushes to the left and right of the path. Finally I come to the sandy hell. Indeed – fortunately I have daylight and can thus find at least halfway passable spots in the path covered by deep sand. At least I can try. This way I can get a lot of the path behind me – with some difficulty – but at least by riding quite a bit. At night, even with the best light, this would be much less successful. Inevitably you would be stuck there rather than being able to stay balanced on your bike.

Final test of character: Sand!

But eventually even that is done. Not without mockingly ending up on a road with finest asphalt on the last two kilometres!

But so be it. It is done! I roll up to the Auberge and put my bike right up against the outside wall for a photo of the finish:

I reached the finish!

I have reached the finish! In Sidi Rabat, directly on the Atlantic Ocean, after 1174 kilometres from Marrakech over the Atlas and Anti-Atlas, over mountains and across valleys and 18123 metres of altitude. It took me 8 days, 9 hours and 41 minutes.

And I am indeed the last rider to have officially reached the finish line, covering the full distance under my own steam.

Because – I’m amazed: exactly at the moment when I’ve taken my finish photo, a taxi stops in front of the Auberge. Out climbs the participant I overtook in his bivy this morning. He just couldn’t or didn’t want to do it any more and simply fetched a taxi for the last stretch…

Chapter 16: Homely post-race bubble and limping through Marrakech

It is half past six when I arrive at the gates of the auberge. Shortly afterwards Nelson comes out and welcomes me. I also get my brevet card filled out by him and even re-stamped with the still available stamps. :)

Brevet card at the finish

At this point there are about a dozen people still in attendance. Nelson and his family included. Most of the others who made it to the finish in Sidi Rabat had already gone back to Marrakech on a pre-arranged transport, including their bikes. Those who are still here either have a later flight or otherwise wanted to stay in the country a little longer. These include Magnus with his girlfriend Laura who was a volunteer at the check points or Raphael (who will launch the Orbit360 gravel series together with Bengt a little later in the year). Andrea is also still there. And various others. I like it a lot. So it’s comparatively homely and familiar and for the evening and the beginning of the next day it is a small but fine post-race bubble I find myself in.

Palm in front of the Atlantic

Since most of the participants are already back in Marrakech, there are even rooms available again in the hotel, which consists of a series of nested mini-bungalows. Yesterday it must have been very busy and crowded here. Now I actually have a proper room and a decent bed for the night’s rest.

Mein Zimmer in der Auberge La Dune

The following morning until noon is spent with breakfast, talks and washing the bike. Together with a participant from the USA, Casey from Crested Butte, I organise a taxi with the help of the hotel owner and Nelson. Door to door Sidi Rabat to Marrakesh, back to the Hotel Mogador Kasbah. It couldn’t be easier or more comfortable. And it only did cost 1700 Dirham, the equivalent of 170 Euro. Divided by two, that makes 85 Euro. Not bad and only about 20 Euro more expensive than going from Sidi Rabat to Agadir (only taxi possible – or bicycle, if you like…) and then by bus to Marrakech.

The taxi has two drivers (you have to make use of the opportunity or one of them wanted to go to Marrakech anyway, who knows…) and we stop midway at a café for a hearty snack.

I can’t remember exactly how long the drive took. Sometime in the late afternoon we reach the Mogador Kasbah again. The hotel where we started 9 days ago. Without further ado, I booked two nights until my return flight. So now I have two nights and a full day off for Marrakech.

Finally in a proper hotel by proper standards again. With towels. And with toilet paper ;-)

And not to forget with a terrific breakfast buffet that do my best to take care of at the next morning.

Then I want to finally visit the centre of Marrakech, primarily the Djemaa el Fna, the central market square there. On the one hand a notorious tourist trap, on the other a must-see. Unfortunately, I didn’t had the opportunity to do so before the race, as I had to take care of locating and then at the last minute picking up my bike, which was initially lost and then delivered by a separate flight.

And even now I am handicapped. Every movement of my left foot feels like a rusty chain is rubbing up and down where the big toe tendon actually runs through the foot and along the front of the shin. Oh dear… But limping is possible. So I get a taxi to take me to the centre and walk slowly and deliberately through a few alleys and then onto the Djemaa el Fna.

It is terribly loud and bustling there. I find the troupes of jugglers on the square particularly annoying, trying to motivate tourists to wear hats and dance along. The full package consists of mobile phone photos and films with the tourist’s mobile phone and the dancing protagonists next to it. But this has to be paid for properly – and don’t you dare to not pull out your wallet immediately…

I found the many alleys running under shadow elements with shops and stalls on the left and right much more interesting. There, too, the spice traders, for example, want to entice potential customers with all kinds of stories, so that people will buy plenty. I do take a few little things with me. For example, some argan oil, one of the typical Moroccan products. I don’t have room for anything bigger in my luggage anyway, and I don’t want to burden myself with it. Nevertheless, in the evening I go to the Carrefour supermarket near the hotel and get a small metal teapot and a set of 6 nice tea glasses as well as some loosely packed mint tea. But deliberately from the supermarket and not from the Djemaa el Fna.

The next day, my return flight takes off. Fortunately, it’s in the afternoon, so I can have a good breakfast and take a taxi to the airport at my leisure. What an interesting trip, what great impressions!


I was immensly glad when I finally stood at the finish in Sidi Rabat. 1174 kilometres after the start in Marrakesh. Countless views and experiences later. With a left foot at the brink of breaking up off an old rupture. And at the day after the finisher party. But in no way would I have wanted to exchange the finisher party with me being able to ride and cherish every single meter of the race on my own. From start to finish. To finalise the inaugural Atlas Mountain Race as the proper Lantern Rouge. Thank you Nelson and all the people I have met there for this amazing experience!

What none of us knew at the time: The Atlas Mountain Race was the last bikepacking race before the Covid pandemic. Shortly after my return flight, borders were closed everywhere and flight connections were cut and the time began that we all remember only too well. A follow-up event was therefore out of the question for the time being. Well – I have already written about these special circumstances elsewhere, not least in the introduction to this second part of my Atlas Mountain Race diary.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have thought of taking part again in a second edition. Firstly, it is not easy to prepare adequately for a race in February in cold and wet Germany just over winter and Christmas. And secondly, I was still so impressed by Morocco that I could live off it for a while. Why try to repeat that right away? After all, there are other great events, too.

I am writing this now, a few weeks before the start of the third edition of the Atlas Mountain Race. Through my Dotwatcher volunteering last October (I mentioned it at the beginning) I had built up real motivation again. That wasn’t planned at all ;-) I just wanted to look behind the scenes of an official race organisation. Well, that also secured me a place in the coming edition. What can I say – I can hardly wait to be back on the starting line on 3 February!

By the way, my left foot got better soon after returning to Germany. A few days of rest and I could be sure that everything would be fine again. It will remain a „construction site“ for such races „à la Nelson“, I have to assume so unfortunately. But I hope that now, more than two years later and with different cycling shoes and more caution from the start, I will be able to control the problem or prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Now fingers crossed that everything works out and that I will be at the start line together with many other participants at the beginning of February in Morocco, again in Marrakech!

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