Africa and back again: bikepacking Morocco

2.01.2016

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” — Ernest Hemingway, "Battle for Paris"

It's been but two weeks since returning home from southern Africa, just enough time to check on the house and catch a little snowfall and see a few familiar faces. The memories made over that month of Namibian nights and South African sunsets still dance fervently, and I cherish the privilege and good fortune of going, of doing, of being. We saw but a small slice of a great big, beautiful continent, and it was wonderful and it was captivating and it was one hell of an adventure.

I suspect there's more to be had.

I've traversed land by plane, by train, by bus and by truck and by car and by foot, and always I find that the simpler the transport, the realer the journey. A long walk through town will always yield greater intimacy than a boxed-in drive down the highway; a cold, rainy scooter ride over the mountain tops will always earn one more appreciation and more humility than a quick flight overhead. To propel oneself across a county or a country or a continent is the truest actualization of self: here I am, and here I am going, and here is how I will get myself there.

I saw Africa and I loved Africa, but I missed Africa too. I missed the smaller bumps in the roads, missed the magnitude of the canyons we crossed, missed a conversation with that one man in the shade under the streetside tree, missed sight of that one warthog off to the left because we were driving too fast to catch it. The speed of human propulsion—that's the true limit for a healthy, sustainable, self-aware society—so I've decided I'm going back, to see another small corner of the continent at a slower pace: this time, I travel by bicycle.

It's the culmination of many past adventures, really: that time crossing North America on two (motorized wheels), in search of balance in my seat and a greater balance I was hardly yet aware of; that time I met a few travelers on the foggy Irish coast who had set out to round the world by bicycle, and forever planted that seed of simplicity in my head; that time I left the modern, English-speaking west and let myself get swallowed up by the living, pulsing medinas of Rajasthan, the markets of India, the maze-like roadways of Nepal; that time, not too long ago, when I first set foot in Africa and fell in love with its splendor. And all the while as I traveled the world, the trusty bicycle with which I'd zip about DC waited at home. This time, it's coming with.

It'll be a solo expedition, about a month in southern Morocco. I'll fly into Marrakesh with my bike and my tent and a few saddlebags and carve a wide circle around the arid landscape: first to the Atlantic, then to the Sahara, and ultimately across the Atlas Mountains, Africa's highest range. Self-supported, with lots of time for pedaling, reading, writing, and looking up at the sky, I hope it'll be an adventure.

I leave Wednesday.

Etosha National Park, Namibia; January 2016.

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