KM384: Cycling the Atlas and Anti-Atlas

2.10.2016

Friday, February 5

Afternoon: I arrived in Marrakesh yesterday after two long days of flying: Washington to Miami to Madrid to Casablanca to Marrakesh, with all the requisite delays and incidents one could expect from a piecemeal international journey. Chiefly, a late Madrid departure guaranteed a missed connection in Casablanca, but fortunately another plane departed just a few hours thereafter and I made it to my hotel, albeit jetlagged and exhausted, no later than midnight.

My bicycle, whom I've named Yoshi (partly a nickname for the kind and dependable Alyosha of The Brothers Karamazov, and partly in homage to the green dinosaur who carries Mario through endless adventures), slept in the bulky suitcase next to my bed, all disassembled and packaged up and in an unknown state of well-being. Being loaded on four different planes, she'd been handled a minimum of eight times, and I've heard airlines can sometime be rough with checked luggage. I dreaded opening the box to find a bent fork or busted derailleur or broken spoke, and truthfully I tossed and turned in the night just thinking about it. On a few occasions I had half a mind to get up and have a look, but the room's walls were thin and the hotel full and I didn't imagine the other guests wanted to hear my mechanical clanking about, or possible wails of despair at an unfortunate discovery, around four in the morning.

Of course, it was the very first thing I attended to when I woke. I laid some covering atop the mattress for a work surface, as eight-tenths of the room was covered by bed, and carefully unzipped Yoshi's travel case, removed each of her parts, and inspected them for damage. What luck! Other than a few minor scrapes (and a small hole punched right through the bag), she was looking just fine, and I eagerly began to put her together.

It had been my first time fully disassembling the bicycle, and so this was my first time fully reassembling her. First I joined the two halves of the frame, then the cables, and after the saddle, the wheels, the brakes, and the handlebars; then I realized I had a few wires twisted and had to remove the front wheel, reattach the bars, and only then drop the front wheel back in its place. Lastly came the pedals and the rack, and within an hour or so she was all ready. So what else to do but go for a ride?

My hotel is just a hundred meters from the main square of Marrakesh's medina, and it felt wonderful and freeing and perhaps a little strange to be here, looking down at my own bike, but with such foreign surface underneath it and foreign smells and sights and sounds all around it. I kicked the pedals and did two or three or maybe ten laps around the food stalls and souks and touts and all, and Yoshi felt just about right in her handling. Of course, this is without my panniers; we shall see tomorrow how she does with them on the rack.

Evening. I'm still jetlagged for sure, and didn't have the energy this afternoon to really go out and explore beyond my trial ride. Instead I rested through the afternoon in the room with my National Geographic map spread out wide on the bed, figuring routes and destinations and, most pressingly, what direction to head tomorrow. There's an eastbound road to Essaouira, on the coast, and from there I could follow the coast south to Agadir, but both towns are notoriously touristy, and Essaouira is notoriously windy on top of that. A few days with the Atlantic on my side would be lovely, though.

The other option is to follow a seemingly busy highway down to Taroudant. It's more direct than the coast, and where I want to end up anyway, but it's a highway and not indicated as scenic at any point, and it also appears to cross the edge of the Atlas Mountains, which suggests some climbing.

I think I'll sleep on it. For now, there's a food stall I passed earlier that smelled delicious, and I'd also like to find some denatured alcohol for my stove if I can figure out how to ask for it in French, Arabic, or Berber.

Saturday, February 6

Early morning. I've decided on the third option! Option three, so ludicrous I failed to even think of it yesterday, isn't a wide arc around the mountains or a narrower arc along their edges, but a brazen pass right through them, all the way up to the Tizi n'Test. Frequently cited as Morocco's most difficult, dangerous road, it's a rough climb over the Atlas Mountains to 2,100 meters, followed by a brief but magnificent descent down the other side.

Of course, I intended to pass through the Atlas during my time in Morocco, but I'd imagined that coming at the end, through the Tizi n'Tchika on my return to Marrakesh, when my calves have had time to strengthen and my mind time to acclimate to the struggles of long-distance cycling. As it stands, between a winter largely passed in Namibia and a few weeks of snow and ice and blizzard in DC right before my departure, it's been months since I've even ridden a proper ten kilometers uninterrupted in flat old Washington.

It's not the wisest plan, but the sun is rising and there's light shining through my stained glass window and that means the day outside is waiting. The mountains are calling, and I must go.

Early afternoon. What a morning it has been! Certainly not easy, and not all too scenic to start out with, but just wonderful still. The climb out of Marrakesh was a straight and boring road that just went up, up, up for about twenty kilometers: no bends, no depressions, not a single moment where I could stop pedaling and just coast. The views became much more lovely after hitting Tahanaoute, but at a steep cost. Here the struggle really began, with twisting switchbacks that sent Yoshi all the way to the lowest gear on her admittedly too-compact-for-mountain-touring double chainring. I'm hot and tired and rethinking this choice so early in the trip, but there's sun and there are snowy peaks and I'm here on an otherwise empty restaurant patio (well, just me and a begging cat) with a heaping pile of couscous and tajines in front of me. Things could be worse.

Slightly later afternoon. Well, good news and bad news. The good news is that I thought it would take hours longer to make it this far after lunch, but shortly after getting back in the saddle the climb reversed itself and Yoshi and I hurtled downhill, easily riding along at twenty-five or thirty kilometers per hour, and coasting for the better part of fifteen or twenty or maybe even thirty minutes. The bad news is that this welcome reprieve will clearly have to be made up tomorrow with an even steeper ascent; I imagine my elevation now and the elevation of Marrakesh cannot be all too dissimilar, thus erasing all that hard-earned altitude gained this morning.

Evening. I'm at a bed-and-breakfast in a small town called Ouirgane camped out rather inelegantly on the front lawn, a nice little patch of dirt the owners said would cost but fifty dirhams. It's right across the road from a placid lake, and we're encircled by mountains. I took a nap around three and awoke around four or five: needed rest from the physical exertion or the altitude or the jetlag or all three, I'm sure. Upon waking I did a little work on Yoshi, having noticed in our recent descent that her rear brake was a bit loose. The Berber family who runs the establishment has a pack of adorable young girls, maybe ten and seven and three, and they all stood transfixed as I flipped the bicycle over and operated on the brakes and wheels. I even got a little help from the two youngest, having them squeeze the handbrake as I spun the back rim to make sure it wasn't rubbing against the brakepads once the adjustments were made, which they loved. Later, I cleaned and regreased the chain and sprockets, blew up my sleeping pad, and had more tajines for dinner.

I also met a lovely group of cyclists staying in the rooms: Richard and Lois, from Nottingham, and Dave, also from Nottingham, and Dan and Carol, from Canada and the States respectively. The five, all retired but full of youth nonetheless, were wrapping up a five-week cycle across southern Morocco. There was some overlap with my loosely planned route, so we discussed that, and Dan (who seems to have cycled nearly everywhere on this strange little ball of clay) entertained me with stories of trips past. I felt instant warmth from the group, and for the first time reveled in the natural affinity long-distance cycle tourists have for one another. I bid them all goodnight not too long ago, and now I'm in my tent and it's getting cold up at this elevation, so I think I'll bury myself in my bag and go to sleep.

Cycled today: 66 kilometers

Sunday, February 7

Noon. It's been a marvelous day so far! Wild dogs barked and howled for hours last night, so I passed some time reading before dawn. This consequently left me tired this morning, which meant I slept in past sunrise but had the good fortune to catch the five cyclists awake and breakfasting as I was leaving. If possible, they were even friendlier and more cheerful than the night before, and they all admired and remarked on the lightness of my load, which made me feel terrific because I'd been feeling I packed too much. After another round of generous goodbyes, I pedaled away to the collective bon voyage! of the cycling group, and my Berber hosts, with a warmed heart and an exciting day ahead.

Now it's noon, and that spirit and energy is still with me. Though the climb has been tough, the ascents have been punctuated by shorter drops of pure joy, and for most of the morning I feel I've had the road (and sometimes the whole mountain range, as far as I can see) just to myself. A little earlier I passed an enormous kasbah perched proudly on a cliff, and just now I stopped at the Tin Mal Mosque, an absolutely gorgeous artifact from the 1100s, when these mountains used to be teeming with Berber civilization. The mosque had room for thousands, but after a conquering army infiltrated the mountains and destroyed the homes, farms, and livelihoods of almost every last inhabitant (but not the mosque, of course, for that would be immoral), the house of worship was left to ruin and later opened to passing travelers. Incidentally, I read somewhere that non-Muslims aren't allowed in any of Morocco's operating mosques, so this detour was a unique treat.

The open-air, cedar-raftered stone edifice was exquisite, easily the most magnificent place of worship I've seen since the Jain temple in Ranakpur exactly one year ago. I wandered about for a bit, leaving Yoshi on the ground outside, and now I'm back on the main road through the mountains, leaning against a road sign, with the mosque to my left and the kasbah in front of me and the pass somewhere many, many kilometers behind me, snacking on dehydrated mango slices and teaspoons of rehydrated peanut butter, which I'm spooning from the bottom of a water bottle that I've cleverly cut and crafted into a small bowl. I think this cycling lifestyle agrees with me.

Early afternoon. I don't think this cycling lifestyle agrees with me very much at all. The descents are gone and now it's all uphill, which of course means less to climb in the future, but also less relief in the present, with not a moving moment to relax my calves. My arms are sore and my left calf is particularly tense, and perhaps most distressingly, I discovered a short time ago when I stopped to pee that I have absolutely no feeling of my genitals whatsoever; after hours of pressing hard into the saddle, it's all just entirely numb. Saddle adjustments will need to be made, but I haven't patience to do them now. I just want to get to the top. Surely it can't be much farther.

Mid-afternoon. To alleviate the numbness I'm standing on the pedals whenever I can, and doing my best to remember to sit far back on the seat. Neither helps for very long. In happier news, I passed a busting little town and replenished my water supply. I'm always amazed at how quickly the mind adapts to a different pace of life: this place wasn't more than one street with a handful of small storefronts and a few dozen people out at once, and yet it's the most development in one place I've seen all day. I bid salaam to as many as I could as I pedaled along and, shortly after leaving town, discovered I was being followed by a young boy on his bicycle. He smiled and I smiled and we pedaled along together in silence for a few kilometers, and then, either bored by me or beyond the radius of his spatial curfew, he turned around and went home.

The grueling ascent continues. I was told by a villager at Tin Mal that the pass was only twenty-five kilometers ahead, and so I've been watching the meter markers closely, counting down the revolutions until this misery is over. But the expected marker came and went without the expected Tizi n'Test, and now I'm baffled and disheartened and, most of all, just plain tired.

Late afternoon. I was biking along a while back when I heard a shout from over in the trees: "Hello fellow cyclist!"

There was a British woman about fifty meters away, and she told me her and another cyclist, perhaps her partner, had set up camp, and that I was welcome to join them. How thoughtful! It sounded just lovely, getting off the bike and spending the evening getting to know new friends, and so badly did I want to say yes and haul my bike over to the trees. But it was getting cold, and the nights were still long, and the only thing that had gotten me that far was the promise of a warm bed and a warm meal at the summit. I'll have plenty of wild camping and bland boiled grains to come, I'm sure, and I'll love every minute of it, but not now, not tonight. I shouted over an apology, said I was going to try to make the most of the remaining daylight, and asked if they knew how much longer it was to the pass. "About twenty k's!" came the reply.

My heart sank. Twenty more kilometers!? At the going rate, I'd never make it by dark. But hey, I was certain to make it farther than stopping now ...

So I pedaled on, up not one but two rough sets of switchbacks, and for maybe a dozen kilometers along a ravine, and then the road dropped and Yoshi and I picked up speed, racing around one bend and another, and just on the other side, still in the distance but visible, really visible: something!

It was too far to make out what purpose the building served, but it had a small radio tower and looked higher than anything else in the area and even though it was still another seventy or eighty meters above me, the pain had all washed away and it hardly mattered: I pedaled as hard as I could, laughing and cheering to myself, and ten or fifteen minutes later a road sign announced Tizi n'Test and a smiling man greeted me in front of his hotel and restaurant, and I was so happy I could cry.

I'm still so happy I could cry. Or maybe that's from the pain, I don't know, but after a large meal of bread and salad and (surprise, surprise) vegetable tajines, I'm now buried under a heavy mound of blankets in an old stone room with a propane lamp and a propane heater and the cleanest air one could breath just outside my window. It may have been one of the most grueling, trying days of my life, but I've made it.

Next time, I should probably eat more than a tablespoon of peanut butter and a few mango cheeks before crossing the Atlas. But hey: tomorrow? Nothing but downhill, I'm told.

Cycled today: 72 kilometers

Monday, February 8

Late morning. What a nice rest! I went to sleep early and woke late, and the view from here in proper daylight is simply unreal. In all the struggle of yesterday, I forgot to remark on the pure aesthetic of the Atlas.

Not unlike the Sierra Nevada in its bald, rolling mountaintops and proud pines scattered below, it seems endless and enormous and almost pristine, spare the occasional pastel village hugging the cliff edges or buried low in the valley by the dried remnants of a once mighty river. Like Italy's Cinque Terre without the appalling commercialism, these towns are gorgeous in their posture and mystical in their remoteness. Though they're sure to have changed since the French built the roads through the pass in the 1920s, these small, isolated Berber communities seem among the last remaining survivors against the unrelenting plague of modernity. Here things seem simple, and honest, and quiet.

Quiet: that's the defining word of the Atlas. Beyond the occasional motorist who can be heard kilometers away, these higher reaches of the Atlas are nearly still and I'm brought to realize that this is but one of a few rare instances in which I've been among the mountains as they really are: no vehicles roaring by, no humming engine of my own cooling in the background, no clicking and chattering of nearby tourists. For most of my arduous ascent yesterday, the only sound to be heard was the shrill chirp of the infrequent bird, and the lovely, gentle buzz of my rear hub as it freewheeled now and again.

Having packed up Yoshi and gotten my fair share of views from the tizi, I had the good fortune of running into Paul and Elizabeth (from New Zealand and Ireland, in turn), before breakfast. These were the cyclists who had called from the woods last night, and they had woken early and made it to the pass just a short while ago, where they were stopping for tea before continuing on down. I joined them and the French couple they were seated with in a cushiony common area, and we all shared a pot of oolong, and a little conversation, before the cyclists departed for their bikes and the others left for their van to continue on their respective journeys. Meanwhile, my hosts at the hotel had prepared a beautiful breakfast for me out on the patio. The gorgeous spread on the lone table on the little patio overlooking the descent to the north and the descent to the south was an image fit for a magazine cover, and I'm still seated here now, taking it all in.

Unfortunately, ordering vegan hasn't been as easy as ordering vegetarian, and so my breakfast of bread and olives and honey and jam and argon oil also includes yogurt, cheese, and a hard-boiled egg. Aware that uneaten food may be taken as an insult that the food was no good, I was thankfully able to pass my egg off to Paul before the cyclists departed, and scooped whatever remaining bread and olives I had into a bag to snack on later, leaving the appearance of a tray that had otherwise been appreciatively consumed. And now: the descent awaits.

Mid-afternoon. It's taken but an hour to undo two days worth of climbing, but what a trip down it has been! I can't have given the pedals more than two or three honest turns the whole way down, instead providing my hands a workout at braking every now and again. Though I can certainly imagine what a fright this road must be in a car (with no more than ten feet to accommodate traffic in both directions), Yoshi and I had no trouble rounding the bends and keeping a responsible (yet still thrilling) speed the whole down, stopping every so often to savor the views above and below.

Eventually, the road flattened out and the splendor gave way to a bland horizon of dry sand and stout thorntrees, and I commenced pedaling once again. From here it was a long slog across desert and straight-as-an-arrow highway, and I find myself growing excited by even the simplest curve in the road. To make matters worse, there's a moderate headwind down here, slowing my progress and lengthening the bore of this desolate stretch. At any rate, I still have a great view of the mountains whence I came from my current perch in the shade of a roadside palm, as I chew through pitted olives and wait for the headwind to die down or change directions.

Evening. Deciding that the headwinds were not to die down, and if anything were strengthening, I carried on through two exciting little towns along the highway that broke the monotony of the otherwise uneventful afternoon. Ouled Berhil and Ouled Aissa were both pleasant, bustling waysides, filled with locals on dusty single-speed clunkers. Expectedly, Yoshi was admired and complimented by many of them; shiny and chrome and accessorized to the nines, she was a thing of beauty. It was nice to see such a preponderance of bicycles and the respect they were given by those in vehicles, and great to see the diversity of riders too: little boys, and men on their way to work, veiled women, and girls returning home from school. Unlike back in the States, it appeared here (and has throughout Morocco thus far) that bicycles are held as a legitimate form of transportation, equally deserving of the same respect and space as the bulkier, uglier objects that might occupy the road.

And indeed, Yoshi and I covered some truly legitimate distance today. Our plan was to camp in Taroudant, but the town was loud and noisy and a search for camping on the outskirts just led us further and further south, until we were no longer around Taroudant but actively distancing ourselves from it. I thought about turning back, but we still had maybe three hours of daylight and surely something would come along in that time: if not a campsite, then an open stretch of land for wild camping.

Unbelievably, neither presented itself. I stopped at a fuel station with a beautiful garden area and asked if I might camp there, but they said they closed up at night and camping, even behind the station, was out of the question. I stopped at a hotel and a snooty French Moroccan couldn't offer even a small square of dirt for my tent, instead asking an outrageous six hundred dirhams for a single room in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, the land all around the road was naturally fenced by thorn bushes, and entirely tilled as farmland: off-limits. I turned onto a secondary road heading southwest, and here tall adobe walls protected vast fields of orange groves on both sides. Muscles sore and skin raw, I pressed on, riding into the sun and then the sunset and then just the stars. It grew dark, but the road was virtually empty, and besides Yoshi was outfitted with lights on her front and back. If it wasn't such a long day, it would have been a terrific ride (and still, I'll admit, it was quite nice), but I was eager to find somewhere to rest my head: hotel, campground, empty field, anything.

After hours of this, I spotted a well-lit minaret in the distance. Minarets mean people, and people mean lodging, or even just the friendly offer of lawn space, and I pushed furiously against the pedals to get there. Though I could see it right in front of me, it hardly grew larger as I drew closer, suggesting that it was likely very large (and very far away), and I was buoyed by the thought that a large minaret meant a large group of people: surely somewhere to sleep. Still, all around me was walled off, and the ditches were filled with thorny branches.

Indeed, the structure was large, and it was far away, but as the evening call to prayer sounded behind me and to my sides on those various hills and mounds, I was perplexed at the silence from up ahead. Surely a minaret that large wouldn't go unattended?

No, a minaret would not. When I finally reached the very-large, very-far-away edifice, a sign pointed the way to Ciments du Maroc (or something thereabouts), a metropolis-sized cement factory with a large tower somehow crucial to the process. I was reminded of a very similar night I'd spent scootering through rural Louisiana toward a city of lights that came to be a place called Sulphur, not a city at all but a ghastly, glowing refinery. Both then and now I was left standing before what appeared a dark dystopian world absent of humanity, just clanging machines and groaning instruments howling in the night.

I was through. I was tired of cycling and had little hope of salvation further on ahead, and even though the land behind the concrete plant was likely government property and most definitely covered in fist-sized rocks and the pointy spears of one million thorntree branches, I carefully carried Yoshi (so as not to get a puncture) and my panniers fifty meters into the field, pitched camp, and hoping that no pointy bits would pierce my inflatable sleeping pad, climbed on inside.

The sound of concrete being processed is similar to the sound of people being tortured while a crying cat scrapes her nails on a chalkboard.

Cycled today: 134 kilometers

Tuesday, February 9

Late morning. I left the side of the cement plant at sunrise, hauling Yoshi back to the road and pedaling away with still-sore muscles. The singular reward for 134 kilometers of cycling yesterday was two dehydrated mango slices and three tablespoons of rehydrated peanut butter in the tent last night; with the precariousness of my campsite, I didn't want to draw attention to myself by lighting a cooking fire.

I've been looking for a place to stop to eat, and have found nothing in all these kilometers. Restaurants are promised by road signs but are either shuttered or under construction upon my arrival, and entire towns may not have anywhere to grab a bite, for here people can cook for themselves.

While being off the beaten path costs these conveniences, I've been riding beautiful country roads against a river all morning, after an unexpectedly high climb to Ait-Baha. My next destination, Tafraout, seems to be about ninety kilometers away, so I'll need somewhere to replenish my water supplies along the way, if nothing else. 

Afternoon. Fuck. I'd been warned by Moroccans in our passing charades to each other that Tafraout was an uphill journey, and so I was prepared for a climb. I was not prepared for this: the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Looking at my map now, it's painfully obvious that I'm not skipping from town to town as I gain elevation, but passing through yet another mountain range, with all the grandness and scale of the Atlas yet without the proper preparation or, importantly, any respectable summit. Instead, this range is all false summits, long climbs followed by long drops that just become long climbs once more. I'm out of water (drinking over three liters this morning), and ate my last two mango slices earlier, and without water my dehydrated peanut butter and my quinoa won't do much good. The sun is blazing and my face is burnt and my palms look near to forming, well, palm-sized blisters, and I have saddle soreness that makes both stopping and going equally miserable.

I pass through mountain towns that appear entirely deserted, and otherwise there's little sign of life here. The Anti-Atlas, being far less traveled than the High Atlas, never really developed the infrastructure of the latter, and so while the High Atlas was relaxed and quiet, the Anti-Atlas feels lonely and inhospitable.

Early evening. Some good news! Earlier I came upon a single "restaurant" up in the mountains that didn't have much in the way of actual food, but did have bottled drinks and packaged snacks. I purchased a liter of water, a liter of orange soda, and a liter of sparkling apple juice, and figuring that my body needed sugar as much as water, I first chugged the orange soda, which made me feel terrible. I don't feel thirsty and haven't had to pee all day, and I know these are not good signs, but I'm doing my best to force myself to drink the other liquids.

Of the packaged foods, I selected a pair of tiny shelf-stable muffins with a little orange jam in the middle. No comment one way or the other. I asked the shop owner if we were at the top (miming these motions, of course), and he mimed back that there really was no top, that I was indeed in hell and would likely die up here, because this mountain just goes up and down forever and ever and eventually loops back on itself, like that old illusory staircase. Or, at least, that's what I read from his hand motions.

And indeed, it has been nothing but since. The descents are thrilling, but there's so much climbing, and I don't know how much more I can take of it. I can always camp, and I may well have to, but the thought of having to spend another day slogging through these mountains is unbearable.

I shouldn't overlook the beauty of the Anti-Atlas. Even red-faced and red-palmed, the range is every bit as beautiful as its sister, perhaps more so for its tranquility. There's such mystery in these abandoned villages, if they even are abandoned, in their simple construction of rock and plaster and their bright, beautiful metal doors standing out in the glint of setting sunlight.

The setting sun: it isn't far from the mountaintops now. I must be going.

Evening. Two days ago, I would have said passing the Atlas was perhaps the most physically challenging task of my life. And sure, there have been other moments where I've felt spent and hopeless and unable to go on: trekking the summit of Emei Shan, returning from the depths of the Grand Canyon in the sweltering heat, walking from DC to West Virginia in one day, running twenty-five miles barefoot. And sure, maybe it's just the newness and the clarity and the present soreness of my whole being, but at this very moment I feel that today may have been the single most enduring day I've yet managed. Cycling 112 kilometers for ten or eleven hours straight, dropping and rising hundreds and hundreds of meters again and again and again, all on the meager rations of mango slices and two measly muffins with no real hope or end in sight (quite literally): toward the end, I was ready to flag down the next camper van to pass and hitch a ride to Tafraout (which would, of course, have been quite fine).

In fact, when it did eventually come to an end, I was stopped on the road by a camper van steered by three travelers confirming they were on the correct road to Tafraout, which seemed a question with an obvious answer, for in these mountains there was only one road to Tafraout. I told them yes, that I thought it was, that it was maybe another twenty kilometers, and they looked at me and thanked me and waited, and half my mind thought they were waiting for me to ask for a ride, and half my mind jumped at the chance to take that ride, but the other half thought no, just a little longer.

And how glad I am that it did! Resigned to another arduous twenty kilometers, I hardly expected coming through the gorge up ahead to a breathtaking view of the valley down below, a valley with the very road I was on scribbling across it. It was a deep, wide valley, just glorious, and I knew no honest roadworker would build this road all the way to the valley floor unless it was for a good reason: Tafraout.

I clicked my gears up, leaned forward, and flew, and I'll tell you, I've never felt anything quite like it. Amber haze hung in the air and the wind cooled my sun-kissed face, and for kilometers and kilometers I slid down the switchbacks of the mountainside at thirty or forty or fifty kilometers per hour. For fifteen minutes I didn't pedal once, and though my skin was rubbed raw in some places and numb in others, all the suffering of the day just subsided, going so far as to justify itself for this one, singular moment of bliss.

Yoshi purred the whole way down, past boulders, past villages, deep to the floor of the great Ameln Valley. The meter marks flashed by and hardly mattered anymore: we were fifteen and then ten and then five away, and though the last three or four kilometers required a little pedaling, that was done on pure adrenaline alone.

And now we are here, in Tafraout. I've just had a real meal for the first time in two days (would you believe it: tajines!). I have a big, soft bed and a hot shower and have just washed the salt lines from my well-worn shirt. My body has worked hard since leaving Marrakesh, and it has some healing to do. I think I'll rest here for a while.

Cycled today: 112 kilometers

Wednesday, February 10

Afternoon. Yoshi is resting in the courtyard lobby, and it's strange to be away from her, strange to have my panniers mostly unpacked and my belongings so easily accessible without the reaching and the shuffling. I slept late today and am still sore in places. I ate lunch today (couscous for a change!) and it was the first time I've actually been able to fully finish a Moroccan meal, and even went to the souk afterward to pick up some bread to snack on.

I spent the morning reading books and typing up, or otherwise arranging, these very notes, and also studying my map closely. It's impressive to see the distance we've covered in just four days, but distance, of course, is not everything. Having summited two of Africa's greatest passes, and gotten my fair share of mountains and hot desert, I've begun to rethink my direction east, which would bring long, desolate, dry, and likely hot stretches, and eventually another return over the High Atlas from Zagora to Marrakesh. It's an ambitious route, one that would keep me cycling a good stretch each day.

But there's another enviable way back to Marrakesh. West of here lies the Atlantic, and if I can make it back over the Anti-Atlas (by bus or self-supported) to Sidi Ifni, I'll have nothing but beautiful coastline to my left for hundreds of kilometers. I reckon I can find a quiet spot to camp on the beach, maybe pass a few days there, and head north to Agadir and later Essaouira for leisurely rides along what I've heard called "the Big Sur of Morocco." There are bound to be some more tourists, and a bit of wind, and definitely some climbs this way too, but the ocean does seem more pleasant than the desert right now. I'm still recovering, so there's time yet to think this over.

Cycled today: 0 kilometers!

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