We arrived at Marrakesh airport on Thursday evening, giving ourselves a day spare incase the bikes went walkies during the flight. No need to worry, they turned up fine. We got a ride to the hotel that also happened to be where the race would start the next morning. We built the bikes up and had a late supper.
Next morning we went out for a little spin to check all was okay and then loaded those ponies up with a lot of what we’d need for the next week. Mostly sleeping kit, food / stove and some spare clothing – pack list at the end.
185 riders set off Saturday morning at 9 under the watchful eye of the storks in the mobile mast tower. Steady away for us and we were just aiming to get past the first checkpoint before stopping for the night. We reached that after 12 hrs 59 min, just 7 hours after the first rider had passed through. Think. about. that. for. a. minute. Astonishing pace. 125k or so up a mountain to two and a half thousand metres and then a less than graceful tumble down the other side in the dark.
Once we’d collected the all important stamps in our brevet cards we were on our way into the night. A couple of hours more riding under our belts and we were looking out for a comfy spot to sleep. As was the pattern for the rest of the week, we couldn’t find one so rolled out our bedding under a tree and got 5 hours sleep.
Up before light we set off to get a couple of hours in before breakfast. It’s chilly in the dark so we generally waited til the sun warmed up a bit before getting the water on for a hot brew and something to eat. We took some pre-made porridge to either leave to soak overnight and have cold or tip some hot water on in the morning, the cold stuff kinda grew on us! Coffee was just instant sachets.
So, that’s how it started and pretty much how it went for a nudge under 7 days and 7 hours when we got to the seaside finish in Sidi Rabat. We started riding usually around 6 and stopped sometime between 11 and 12. Snacking on whatever we fancied and / or could get hold of. As vegetarians we got very bored of omelette sandwiches but those were readily available and quick. We tried to stop for a larger re-fuel sometime during the day, usually that was at 4 or 5 and we ended up setting off into the super hot evening sunshine, timing was never quite right. We took 4 dehydrated ready meals each and ended up having these just before going to sleep – comforting that warm belly feeling! We drank far too much Coke and Fanta, something we rarely do outside of these situations and probably never enough water ( but did manage to keep slapping on the factor 50 )
Out of the 185 riders that started 123 finished. 62 riders scratched / dropped out for various reasons, mostly mechanical problems, endless punctures or stomach problems. We attempt to take pretty good care of ourselves when doing these events so luckily had no health issues of note, a bit of saddle soreness was all that troubled us. No mechanical issues either apart from a rock induced puncture on the last day. Fixed that with a tubeless tyre plug and then that was swiftly followed by some thorn issues, easy enough sort but probably slowed us down by an hour. Rich’s front tyre actually gave up with a sad little ‘pfft’ as we rolled into the finish compound… timing ;o)
We kept coming back to comparing this to the Silk Road Mountain Race – only natural as it was put on by the same Nelson Trees. Our conclusion was that we’d almost misinterpreted the brief. We took big gravel bikes to a mountain bike race – while the tracks in Kyrgyzstan were certainly wild they were for the most part rideable, in fact drivable, and so even though they were remote you could almost get your head down and grind it out. Here things are different. You need to pay attention and some of the long descents really are long and rocky. Think about that when you choose your bike. That aside the Salsa Cutthroats proved themselves again as more than capable. Comfy, stable, reliable and light with plenty of carrying capacity for long days without resupply. Eager to get a wriggle on when necessary and surefooted on the rocky stuff – best when ridden loaded? Maybe.
So, we used tried and tested bikes. That also applied to luggage. Apidura 14l seat pack for Rich and a Porcelain Rocket Mr Fusion for Shona – she’s diminutive and struggles to keep seat packs off a 29er tyre. Spare clothing and dried food & stove in those. Salsa full frame bags held waterproofs, synthetic down layers and spare gas, filter, etc.
Up front we have Salsa Anything cradles with Voile straps securely holding dry bags containing our sleeping bags, liners, bivvy bags and roll mats – we don’t usually bother with those but the ground here is just so rocky! Those cradles are just the easiest to use, so quick to get the bag off using Voile straps and super speedy to reload in the morning. Rich used 2 x Apidura feed pouches on the bars too, for snacks and bits & pieces that migrated from elsewhere. Oops.
Got the electrics sorted this time too. Sinewave Beacon with a SON rear light strapped to the seat stay. Most of the ride this was hooked up to a small ‘pass thru’ power pack into which the Etrex gps was plugged – so that was powered all day and when needed in the dark. AA batteries were installed so that it still works if there was no power supply. If required we could unplug the power pack and plug in a phone lead – the pictures on here and those you may have seen on Instagram were taken with either an iPhone 11 or Ricoh GRiii. When going slowly uphill or in tech situations the Beacon will flicker so as a back up we added a 10,000mah battery to keep the light constant – this lasted 6 days of 7 hrs approx of darkness per day before running out. Pretty good. Spot trackers lasted the whole event too – we pressed the okay button and then turned them off at night. Same batteries as we had at the start of last years SRMR, just 2 days then…
Anyway, here’s a list…
Salsa Cutthroat 29er
38/28 & 11-42 cassette
Force shifters and brakes, Shona ran DT 240 hybrid rear hub and SP dyno front on Velocity Blunt SS rims. Rich was running a stock set of Halo Vapour wheels with an SP dyno up front too. Stans fluid and Halo tubeless tape. All true and trouble free at the end, bar the punctures x 2.
Luggage already detailed. Apidura, Salsa and Porcelain Rocket.
4 ready meals each, 4 portions ready made porridge, various snacks, sweeties and bars – not too many though, picked up most of it on the way. MSR Pocket Rocket 2 with some locally picked up gas and an MSR Trail Mini Duo cook set, just perfectly small to stow and quick to use.
Sleep system was a Mountain Laurel Designs Dog Tarp spread out as a ground cloth to afford some protection to out sleeping pads. An Exped SynMat HL for comfort from the rocks and we used a silk liner inside our Criterion sleeping bags with a Terra Nova Moonlight bivy bag to keep the wind off. We had a last minute wobble before deciding on bivvying, the tent would have been difficult in such rocky terrain and packing up a bivvy is just so quick! Temperatures weren’t below freezing depending on where you decided to stop so no need for the tent really.
2 x standard tubes, 2 x Tubolitos, chain links, gear cables, patches for standard tubes and Tubolitos, Topeak Mini Morph pump, Crank Brothers multitool, Leatherman, Wolf Tooth Pack pliers – all split between us and stored in tool kegs under the downtube. Don’t carry spare spokes these days.
So, there you have it. One super fun reliability trial over 7 days and 7 hours in the wilds of Morocco. Sign up for next year, you’ll have a blast!