Part 2 of Stu Taylors amazing Atlas mountain race, that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
By this point into the race (601km, with 11600m of ascent in just under 3 days) my body was showing a few signs of being on the bike for long days. I could feel the saddle sores starting to develop and a dull ache in my neck, but other than that all was good. My Sonder Broken Road was spot on, riding like a dream, and no mechanicals to date.
By 8.30am the following day, having stopped numerous times due to neck pain, I began to worry if I was developing sherma neck. A condition where you cannot hold your head up for any length of time, making riding your bike interesting, to say the least. At 12pm having popped numerous pain killers, it was time to do something.
I strapped my helmet to the back of my hydration pack to hold my head up and in position, so I could see where I was going slightly easier. The rest of the day became a blur just riding, battling my neck and the inner demons to keep going, with a target of reaching Issafen a small shop with the hope it served food. At 11pm, I finally rolled in after what felt like a constant battle. When I found that a lot of other riders were resting here, I was relieved. I inflated my Cloud Base mat and climbed into my sleeping bag upstairs in a spare room of the shop with the others.
The usual 4am alarm went off, my swollen eyes just about opening. Knowing that today was going to be an easier day of 135km to reach checkpoint three (which was at a hotel in a big town), I had decided that I needed to eat well, rest and shower in an attempt to sort out my body to make sure I could finish this race! So, I enjoyed the day taking extra time at any shops to stock up along the way. Stopping to take photos and to take in this amazing country, we even got a good dose of sun.
Arriving in good spirits at checkpoint three, it was packed with riders who I had leap frogged back and forth for the last few days of the race. A massive 936km into the race but it had all changed for me so much. It was now a war of attrition to make it to the end. I had resorted to putting a toilet roll around the chin strap of my helmet to hold my head up rather than strap it up. This took the pressure off and relieved the pain slightly. It also meant that I missed so much of the scenery along the way, just staring down at my crossbar. The ascents were bearable, but the downhills were so tough. Having to stop to rest on the way down when you should be enjoying the downhills was mentally too hard!
After a sandy stretch through the desert that was questionably rideable, this resulted in a 12km walk, ride, push in the sand. Having pushed through beautiful desert sunset, it was now late. As I approached a little shop to stock up, I asked if I could sleep inside. Although it had warmed up, it was still very cold at night. Instead of the usual space on the floor, Akim from the shop welcomed us into his home, offering a bed and shower whilst his mother made hot food, cakes and mint tea. This is one thing I really love about these events. The experiences that you are exposed to along the way and the generosity of people. Akim’s father a deeply religious man. He was very meaningful at how our paths had crossed, he gave me a very small token of gesture to take on my travels. A small silver spoon, so humbling.
With only two big climbs left towards Isaura and the finish line, I broke it down into the smallest of sections to maintain momentum. Head down, keeping going before finally rolling over the finish line for the last brevet card stamp at 1366km some 7 and a ½ days later. A couple of days slower than hoped due to my neck issues, but I made it to the end which was always the goal - with some of the most amazing memories and brutal experiences of life out on the road!