18 April 2015

A desert in Barbary: Main mounts & salt tablets

MdS Race Recap: Stages 2 & 3

6 Apr, 0900GMT: Stage Two, 31.1km (19.32mi):

If you noticed yesterday, the start of the race was according to GMT, which, incidentally, is one hour earlier from local time, which means we turned our watches back one hour. Another twist of the MdS, we were truly on our own program. (As an aside, I brought only my Timex Ironman, no GPS watch for me, no keeping track of pace, only hours.) Other things the race did were to hide the checkpoints behind terrain features, so you rarely saw them until you were less than 1K away but then placed the bivouac sites within your sight line, often from 5K out. Merciless humour.

The distance of Stage Two was not particularly daunting, but once you looked at the map of the day's route, you realized why it was less than 20 miles - three mountainous climbs and descents, with two ridge-line runs, and a 7K flat but searing slog across a dried salt bed. This is what the course looked like on the map:

From the top of the last ascent, you could see the bivouac, 8K away. 
Yes, a rocky descent, then sand dunes before the bivouac.
Our tent somehow missed the morning photo but Mos and I got our start photo.

Stage Two!
I loved the climbs and took advantage of my stature to pass many on the ascents. Why? Because I am slow as molasses on the descents, all of which were technical, even the sandy one, as there were slate-like rock shards nestled throughout. What's my deal with downhill? I don't like the idea of falling. (Never mind that I haven't fallen going downhill in who knows how long.) Pretty inane excuse, I realize; a skill I will work on. The photos don't entirely capture the inclines of each climb; suffice to say that there was a rope attached to one of the final sections, it was that steep.

Start of the day. 
From the top of the first climb.

The ridge line. 

Halfway up the last ascent. Mosi took the photo. That's me, #877. 
During the first climb, I remarked to Mosi that the ridge would be perfect for main mount landings (pilot, after all). He asked, "Was that the guy who invented it?" I was thoroughly confused until he said, "Was his name 'Mane'?" I laughed out loud for a good ten minutes. "Uh, no. The main mounts are the primary wheels on which you land, Mos." Pause. "Oh." Yes, and later we discussed that it wasn't Jerry who invented the jerry rig.

Stage Two was my favorite for a variety of reasons - the ascents, the views and the undulating rocky trails - despite the terror I felt during the third descent. Seriously. My heart rate felt like it was higher going down than it was going up.

Health assessment at the end of the day: Heel blisters worse, especially on the left foot. Large blister on my fourth toe, right foot. A weird pain above and in front of my right ankle. Tender to the touch with a small lump. I assumed it was my shoe structure and made some modifications with my knife to the top of my shoe. Other tent mates had similar foot issues, mostly blisters though, with Dean & Alissa getting some on the bottom of their feet. There is no real remedy for this but to lance them, drain them, cover them in iodine and tape them up in the morning, raw or dry, for the next's day's trek.

Laundry at the bivouac.
Sadly, we lost a tentmate that night - Rachel - who had succumbed to dehydration and heat exhaustion along the course. She spent the night in the tent and then returned to Ouarzazate with several other course casualties the next morning. A precautionary tale and one we took earnestly as temperatures during the day varied between 99-120F. The race provided 120 salt tablets at the start, and if you needed more, you went to medical and got them. I alternated them with Hammer electrolyte tablets, two every hour until five hours, then four tablets per hour. This in addition to Tailwind/Skratch electrolyte powder in one of my water bottles. Serious business.

7 Apr, 0900GMT: Stage Three, 36.7km (22.8mi):

A lot of people asked me what I thought about during all the time out on the course. Thankfully, I was able to be in the moment most of the time and just be, without pondering how to resolve the world's crises. I will say that Mosi and I had some fun and random conversations that punctuated each day and on Stage Three we crafted the broadcast sign-offs for each major newscaster in recent history, with a twist, gangsta style, as in "This is Dan Rather and that's the muthaf***in' news up in this b***! Watch yo' back."

Absurd humor notwithstanding, this was my least favorite stage. Not because it was particularly difficult with respect to terrain, but because I got into my head a little too much about the race, my goals, the munchkins and thinking about Stage Four. As a result, I didn't enjoy the course, and by the time I got past CP2, at 25.9km, onto a whole series of steady, sandy rolling hills (not dunes, mind you, just sandy enough for no traction, so extremely tiring), I was ready for the stage to be over.

So yeah, no photos from the course this day.

See those undulating sandy hills? Yeah, they were no fun for me.
Tent 178, still going strong with seven! A little dirtier, perhaps.
Mickael, one of the eight members of the Transavia team. They were in Tent 179, our next door neighbours for the week.
I also started to feel really guilty about Mosi's company, because I knew he was itching to just go. I told him, thank you for keeping me company through these stages, but I think that you need to open up and go. We trekked together until 8km to go and then bid each other adieu; he took off like a gazelle, barely touching the sand. I was happy to see him in full stride. I finished the day and commiserated with Alissa, who had felt the same way during her day out in the desert. I was grateful that I could share my blah day with her. That, and my vegetarian lasagna and bacon jerky.

Oh yes, the bacon jerky. It was pretty much heaven to have out there and there was much sharing of it, both to tent mates and to other runners along the course. (You can keep your British beef jerky, Kieran!)

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