Warning: the following words and images will allow you to vicariously see the world with the eyes of Sultan. Read at your own risk. The name Sultan has many meanings, but derives from the peak Sultan Mountain in Silverton, CO!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Tangier to Cabo Negro, Morocco - 77k

I woke up an hour late, and laced up my running shoes, and headed out the door at 4am. I wanted to run a few hours in the dark as I knew at this time there would be less traffic than the insanity of mid day traffic in Tangier and Tetoun. I would also be avoding the deadly heat for a few hours. Abdul Azziz, my mobile aid station was following me along the way. We had pizza, watermelon, 10 liters of water, imitation Gatorade, two bottles of ensure, boiled potatoes, 6 gels, and 4 packs of cliff blocks for fuel.

New energy came out of me when the sun rose an hour and half later. It was here that the elevation began to kick in. It was only 2 weeks prior I had finished the Grandfather Mountain marathon. This run was equivalent to two Grandfathers in terms of elevation gain, and 4 miles short of 2 marathons. The heat was unbearable in Tetoun. Running in the dry heat with the sun beating down on my body was difficult at times. Shade was nowhere to be found. Twice I sat in the car with Abdul Azziz in the car for 10 min just to shade my body from the scorching sun. Both times I contemplated abandoning my idea of running from Tangier to Cabo Negro. If I didn’t finish this run now, and decided to drop, I would have to come back again next year to do another run I kept telling myself. I kept on going. I reached Cabo Negro in 9:27 (11:51 pace). I surely thought I would do this run in much longer time considering that my legs were still a little trashed from Toubkal 3 days prior, and the sun ravishing my body.

I built a small reputation for myself in North Morocco, the crazy American that ran longer than anyone they knew. Some of them promised to run with me next year!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jabel Toubkal 13,671 feet

Morocco is always an adventure. Every year I discover a new village, and meet new people while I am in Northwest Africa. The very same mountains that inspired me to get out and become more active and learn how to run in the hills were paid homage. Jebel (mountain in Arabic) Toubkal, the highest of the Atlas stands at 13,671 feet. I reached the summit of Toubkal on Tuesday July 24th at 8:45am. I remember the summit being cold, and very windy. Windshield temperatures were freezing which was cooler than expected up there.

My journey started on Monday when me and my cousin Ra’fat started a seven hour drive down to the Berber village of Imlil. We started in Tangier Morocco, the gateway to Africa from Europe. In route we passed Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakesh. Driving conditions were good as the new highway that was built in the last few years now went all the way to Marrakesh.

When we reached the town of Imlil we parked the car and attempted to find the trailhead. We didn’t hire a guide because I knew there would be many people attempting the summit and we would be able to follow people we met on the trail. The first half an hour we got lost a few times, but then we go on the right track and headed up the trail. The town of Armoud was especially nice. Here you can visit a village that has about 180 households with no road access. The only way in is by foot or by mule. Further along the trail I visited the mystical shrine of Sidi Chamharouch. Here only Muslims are allowed to enter and view the shrine. By this time, Ra’fat was feeling the heat and the effects of hiking for 4 hours on the Moroccan trail. This was his first time ever attempting a hike. The pack I was carrying had approximately 50 lbs. and I offered to carry all of his weight. A few Berber villagers offered to carry his pack on their mules, but being a trooper, he declined and wanted to carry his own weight.

Darkness was quickly approaching and we still had another hour of hiking until we reached the base camp of the French Alpine Refuge (10,686 feet). We headlamped it until we reached our base camp where we found a warm bed, food, and a group of 50 other climbers. We were the last two to reach camp that night. I was impressed with Ra’fats accomplishment so far. After dinner, I explained to him that we would need to get very early start so we can beat the heat on the way down. The next morning after hiking for 20 minutes, Ra’fat decided to stop as exhaustion took its toll on his body. He hiked back down to camp and rested as I continued to push on for the summit. I took off at this point and was passing several hikers along the way. Some rock scrambling was required in certain area’s. Much of this area reminded me of Kilimanjaro. The scree was a bit annoying on the way up, and was very dangerous on the way down.

After reaching the summit, I stood on top of North Africa and admired the view for 10 minutes. It was here that the high winds stopped blowing for 2 or 3 minutes. Complete calmness, and then back full force. The wind was so strong that I had to crouch down a little for fear of flying off the face of Toubkal. An hour and forty five minutes later I was back at base camp. I hired a mule and his owner Ibrahim to carry my cousin Ra’fat down the mountain, and also carry my heave pack down as I wanted to save my joints for my run that I would attempt 3 days later.

We made it back to our car, and drove to Jama elFna in Marrakesh for dinner, and continued all the way back to Tangier arriving at something like 3am on Wednesday.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Grandfather Mountain Marathon

365 runners crossed the finish line at this years Grandfather Mountain Marathon. This point to point asphalt marathon starts in Boone, NC and finishes at the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain, NC. According to my AXN500 we experienced a 2,570 feet of net gain over the 26.2 miles. That not an easy task while trying to maintain a marathon pace. I finished in 4:03:55.

The weather was perfect for July and thankfully not too hot. The race was well organized, but I do have to mention that the aid stations were fairly basic with just H2O and some Gatorade. Some fruit would have been nice.

After taking the first shuttle back, we discovered that we had to take yet another shuttle (2 miles away from the car). We didn’t have the patients to wait for the second shuttle and decided to walk, adding on an extra two miles for the day.