25th October 2022
Atlas Mountain Race - thunderstorms, rivers and sleep deprivation
Friend of MASON Marcus Nicolson took his InSearchOf (ISO) to Morocco to take on the Atlas Mountain Race. On top of an already tough ultra-distance bikepacking race, the event challenged riders even further with a freak thunderstorm, unexpected river crossings, and for Marcus, sleeping in a garage only to be woken up 2 hours later at 4 am, as the owner arrived home to park up. Here he shares his full adventure...
October 1st 2022 saw the start of the 2nd edition of the Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco. I was one of around 150 individual riders who set off from Marrakech on the adventure. The route is 1170km in length and includes over 23000m of climbing. Compared to other ultra-distance bikepacking events the Atlas route is largely off-road where conditions are tough and the riding is slower.
Riders set a fast pace heading out of Marrakech but the unrelenting climbs of the first day served to break up the pack. It was hot, dry, and dusty and we stopped in villages to replenish our water bottles as we made our way up to the Telouet pass which is the highest point on the route. After over 4000m of climbing we made it to Checkpoint 1. I stocked up on soup and tagine before heading out into a stormy night.
A freak thunderstorm made for interesting conditions on the first night of the race. Some unexpected river crossings had to be negotiated. There were even stories of riders being swept away in the current! I eventually found shelter in a garage building in a small hilltop village. Unfortunately, the owner of the garage arrived to park his car at 4am so it was time to hit the road again after just 2hrs of sleep.
The next day was tough after the poor night of sleep but I managed to keep to a rhythm and it was always fun to bump into fellow riders in remote villages where we would stock up on omelette and other supplies before heading off again into the desert. There was a long 100km section without resupply options so it was necessary to carry plenty of water along. I think I had over 4-litres to keep me going. A bone-shaking 20km descent led off this mountainous section and back down to civilization.
I used my trusty Mason In Search Of bike for the race fitted with wide 2.2” MTB tyres and dynamo lighting. Front suspension would also be a huge advantage on the rocky terrain of the route and I’d definitely make that upgrade if returning to this kind of course again. However, I had fitted a suspension stem just before the race which I think saved my neck on those rocky descents especially.
The riding conditions in the race were tough! I had developed a chesty cough from the dust I was inhaling along the trail and my nose was clogged with dried blood. I found some of the days very hot, having travelled from Scotland for the race, where it was a good deal colder. Unfortunately, I lost my suncream on a rocky section and later got a bit burned by the midday heat.
The next few days are a bit of a blur in my memory but I managed to slowly work my way up the leaderboard by putting in long days and trying to keep my stopped time down. I had a big refuel at checkpoint 3 and kept rolling on that last night until 6 am. I took a short power nap by the side of the track as I heard the call for prayer from a nearby village.
I rolled into the finish in Agadir in 14th position overall, with a total time of 5 days 2 hrs, and 40 mins. The next few days were largely spent eating and sleeping while celebrating each new arrival.
Thanks, Mike Debernardo for the photos.