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Stage 22 - Valée du Paradis

Late start from the Argan grove this morning. Tip: camping under an Argan tree may seem like a good idea, but the fruit drops off regularly with loud bangs, thuds, and/or whacks onto the tent all night. So I’ll not be doing that again.

The route out of camp takes us back up the road we came down yesterday, about 5 km. Then continue past that junction up the Vallée du Paradis, mostly up but occasional flats or even some minor downs following the river.

There’s a series of cafés along this first section of the valley; the proprietors have set up tables and chairs right in the river so people can cool their feet. And no need to go to Thailand - there are little fish in these pools which will literally approach one’s feet to investigate. Given it’ll be a short day, and camp will be in a barren hilltop with no amenities, we stop more than once to hydrate and enjoy the moment.

The main climb of the day starts all too soon, about 12-14 km from the morning start. At first it’s not so bad, but the grade soon kicks up, more or less about the same time as the morning temperature is heating up to its eventual high 20s. The hills are no where as steep as yesterday, but they still approach 10% in places, and it’s definitely warmer. I’m with Brad almost all today, and we both agree there’s no rush to get to the lunch break on top of this hill. It’s supposed to be well in excess of 2200 m climbing today in total but in the end my gizmo is indicating something like 1600 m. We stop a couple of times for a coke injection, or just to snap a photo (usually while in a shady spot, coincidentally catching our breaths). We eventually reach the lunch stop, and feel fairly good.

Not a long break as we feel the legs stiffening up all too soon. The next stretch is a fast and long downhill to yet another valley. As we enter the bottom, it’s feels like someone has thrown a switch. I suppose it’s radiant heating off the valley walls and hillsides, but it’s got to be well into the 30s from the impact it makes on us. We search for the elusive coke stop (last possibility on the day), but it’s closed for prayers. And here I was, dreaming of an ice cream.

We continue thru a small village and along another small river. We see a couple of riders, trying to catch some shade alongside a building; apparently there’s drinks of sorts available. Warm-ish apple juice. I’ll take that. It goes down ok … the others leave, and it’s just Brad and I, in the shade sipping our respective drinks. Some young men stroll by; Hassan and his mates. We get to talking, and we’re invited to bread and tea. Although tempting, we decline, I hope gracefully. There’s one more climb to do and now it’s 1:00 pm, approaching the hottest part of an already hot day.

Micah rides up, and he too gets into the shade. He declines the offer of a now very warm apple juice. Well, one final ascent to master, so we push off. It’s only 200-300 m and ends up being not as bad as I’d thought - we catch some breezes on the switchback corners which really make a difference.

Camp is reached - a stony hilltop, scattered Argan trees and lots of thorns. But 3 bars on the cellular which is a pleasant surprise. Time to rehydrate and snooze on a laid out tarp under one of the Argans (hardly any fruit dropping up here, at this altitude, fortunately).

I eventually surface to the smells coming out of the field kitchen - really good. Omar is showing me all these fossils, just laying about on the surface; sea urchins and bivalves, both distinctive with their patterns and shapes. Amazing to find these sea creatures up in the High Atlas.

A super dinner and lovely evening - this our last in the Atlas Mountains. A bit of a climb tomorrow after the initial descent, but then it’s a return to the coastal plain. These recent days have been a challenge for sure, but also have been truly special in their scenery and remoteness. I really do feel very fortunate in being able to experience this part of the world.

I’ll sleep tonight with no tent fly. The waxing moon not yet up for another hour at least, but I expect I’ll see it and some stars at intervals through the night.

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