The dust has long since settled on the first Atlas Mountain Race and it now must be on the top of every dot-watcher’s list of bikepacking destinations. But let’s forget about the haunted, sleep deprived face of winner Sofiane Sehili for a minute; it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s what I made of my trip last OctoberMy ‘holidays’ nowadays seem to involve these main ingredients: bikes, food, mountains, mild fear and loneliness. My aim is to enjoy the bikes, consume as much food as possible (essential for point one), challenge myself via mountains, the fear and embrace the loneliness.
Bikes: The Temple Cycles Adventure Disc was my beautiful partner in crime. As soon as I arrived in Marrakech I realized my bike was the perfect color for this land. The dusty pink steel frame and voluminous tan wall tyres were complimented by the gorgeous pastel hues of the old, old buildings perfectly. Byway 47’s propelled me over potholed tarmac and big gravel without fail.
Food: Every meal was an absolute joy. We’re talking omelettes, oily salads, strong coffee, endless bread and life-giving lamb. All of these goods found their way into my stomach by 11am everyday. Eating and cycling in perfect harmony. But after all is said and done, there is only one meal you need to order in Morocco: Tagine! A simple but delicious meal of slowly cooked vegetables and meat, to be mopped up with plenty of bread. Two tagines a day seemed to work for me.
Mountains: The Atlas mountains to be precise. Over 5 days, my route took me south east of Marrakech, into the tourist friendly foothills and Col Du Tichka. I then rode south into the High Atlas where the Berber folk were so welcoming and generous. After skirting the highest peaks of Toubkal I suffered on the steepest gradients of the trip, before testing my wits descending a blown out donkey track back down to the very bottom again. And finally north, back toward Marrakech, via Ouirgane Dam were I inadvertently joined a road race in full swing.
Fear: So much to be afraid of! What if my bike breaks? I’ll be miles from anywhere, let alone a well stocked bike shop of any kind. What if my phone breaks? It’s my only source of navigation and link back home. What if I break down? Am I up to this? What if I don’t enjoy myself?
All valid fears, it’s natural to try and protect ourselves, so we plan accordingly. However, none of my fears came true and I doubt this trip would have been as rewarding without them to overcome. Most importantly remember this; people are kind and they will help you (I found this to be especially true in Morocco). Face your fears and say Hi!
Loneliness: The loneliness is real! After the initial excitement and relief of starting my long awaited trip, old loneliness kicked in. Well, I was alone! Shortly it passed and I began to savour the sensation of feeling so small, travelling between the rusty, silent mountains. I would stop regularly at the constantly astonishing views, in an attempt to burn them into my memory. As I sat there in the dust, the adhān (Islamic call to prayer) would reach me from the surrounding villages, revealing their locations, nestled amongst the rocks. Peace; it’s a hard thing for so many of us to find back home with work and any number of responsibilities. Learning to appreciate it when we find it is such a reward and definitely a reason to go bike-packing!