Tuesday, February 16
Morning. Change of plans last night. I was holed up in the little campground restaurant for most of the evening, snacking on fries and couscous while my tent flapped about in the wind outside. The owner of the establishment, a friendly man who'd given me a very good price on the spot (just fifteen dirhams with restroom access), came in and out and seemed to grow increasingly concerned about my camping in these conditions. Now, it was cold, and it was surely windy, and I'd been in much worse before, but his lot, these friendly old Claude and Claudettes, were used to a little more comfort in their RVs, and so I suppose he took some pity on me, particularly in contrast to those other patrons (I'll admit, my little one-person tent looked pretty pathetic next to the fiberglass kingdoms on either side).
As it got darker, and colder, he approached me and asked if I wouldn't like a bungalow, for there were a few of them that could be slept in. I told him I was totally fine, but thank you, and he looked at me imploringly, making a generous offer of just one hundred dirhams for the night, which (though just a fair price in areas where more competition is afoot) I knew was a deal well below what he'd typically rent it for.
He was trying to do me a favor, and I appreciated it, and I felt it'd be rude to decline. And also it was so very windy outside, so I agreed. The bungalow wasn't much, with just a thin canvas roof that flapped about all the same. But, especially with the rain that came later, it was a touch more comfortable than a night out in the proper elements may have been.
So now it's morning, and still windy. The winds are still blowing south, so it's a rough headwind, but I'll give it a try and see how I fare. Aglou Plage isn't but a few dozen kilometers, and I have all day to make it there.
Afternoon. It's been another thoroughly unenjoyable day. Bearable, though. Endurable is perhaps the right word. At no point did I smile, at no point did I look at the gorgeous hills to my right and deep blue waters to my left and feel thankful for the scenery; alas, that howling invisible force made it all appear ugly on this return journey. Yoshi was tossed wildly and sand blasted away at my exposed skin and by noon I just refused to continue to suffer the indignity of pedaling downhill. I simply shan't do it, I said to myself. And so when a drop came I stopped pedaling and let gravity and wind currents duke it out, meter my meter. I hovered as though perfecting a track stand, I swayed side to side precariously, and after a long siege I suppose the winds relented enough for me to crawl downhill at the pace of a small child. It took ages, going down those hills, and twice as long to manage the ascents, for a loaded climb up a steep road with thirty-kilometer-per-hour winds at your face might as well be a rockclimb with a bike and all your gear strapped to your sorry back.
But finally, a faint, faded boardwalk in the distance. The bizarre quartet of waterslides from another century rose in greeting, and I raced toward them as quickly as as a snail, and upon proper arrival I hauled Yoshi into the town's only hotel and negotiated a decent price for an unpleasantly odiferous room, but one with walls and a roof! Protection from the winds! It was all I needed, really.
The gusts are howling something fierce outside, but I'll stick with the stale air inside for now.
"We lay on those divans a long time, after supper ... talking about the dreadful ride of the day, and I knew then what I had sometimes known before: that it is worthwhile to get tired out, because one so enjoys resting afterward." — Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
Evening. I've met most members of the very large, very friendly family that runs this hotel. They're lovely people. They speak a good bit of English, so we've been able to communicate more than most of my hosts. The other guests are English-speaking, too: there's a large crew that came here for windsurfing, and has been shut up all day on account of too much wind, and there's also a fellow American! Her and her husband came here to surf, but apparently there's too much wind for that too.
A quiet afternoon, overall. I stepped outside and allowed myself to get blown down to the boardwalk, where I grabbed some tea and tajines, and then waited for the prevailing winds to change direction before exiting the glass enclosure and getting swept back across Aglou, with the pebbles and the candy wrappers, to the hotel's door.
Cycled today: 44 kilometers
Wednesday, February 17
Late evening. Ah, back to a true cycling adventure. The wind died down this morning, and Yoshi and I left Aglou in the serenity that only comes from knowing that you won't, on a second's notice, be tossed mercilessly across the road by an unseeable, unforgiving force. No, Yoshi's wheels turned commensurate to the pressure I applied on the pedals, and she steered where I turned the bars. North, that is. I'd compared maps with Betsy, the American from yesterday, and hers had a little more detail than mine, so I learned that there was a shorter, pleasanter route up the coast, and I ventured to take that. It wasn't really along the coast, but a few kilometers inland, through a sprawling nature reserve locked between the coastline and the highway.
With a highway so close, most have little reason to take this road, and so I found it quiet and tranquil and modestly beautiful. Rolling hills were all the challenge in store, and mules quickly began to outnumber cars on the byway, and the occasional town passed through was the kind I'd found in the Atlas and Anti-Atlas: small, no tourist infrastructure to speak of, often deserted, a place where salaams once again trumped bonjours for those I happened by.
I pedaled quietly for hours, eventually riding into a second-order town that may have been called Massa, but may not have been, for Arabic lettering was the only sort used here. The streets were all loose rocks, and Yoshi and I struggled our way through them. People stared openly. I got a little lost somewhere in the mix of crumbling buildings and lush green fields, confirming directions with a few locals, and ultimately escaped the-town-maybe-known-as-Massa on its northern edge, shortly thereafter merging onto the highway at the roads' confluence.
Ah, the highway. What had just moments before been quiet, pretty roads of cool, clean air was so suddenly something altogether different, altogether ugly. It was disturbed in that special way only cars can disturb a landscape. What was formerly two narrow lanes of unassuming asphalt now became six wide lanes, plus a concrete median, of littered tar, with big shiny road signs obstructing any remaining semblance of pleasant view. What was formerly calm silence and chirping birds quickly became roaring diesel engines, blaring horns, noisy grinding of thick tire tread against rough, painted road.
Clean air became dirty air, black fumes. The pleasant pace of mules and cycles and people using their own two feet became a Hobbesian jungle where the automobile stood the apex predator, and any in his way the sorry prey.
"This really brings us to the heart of traffic ... We are 'selfish commuters' driving in a noncooperative network. When people drive to work in the morning, they do not pause to consider which route they could take to work, or at which time to take that route, so that their decision would be best for everyone else. They get on the same roads and wish that not so many others had also chosen the same thing. As drivers, we are constantly creating what economists call ... 'uninternalized externatlities.' This means that you are not feeling the pain you are causing others ... We do not pay for the various unsavory emissions our cars create (to take just one case, the unpaid coast of Los Angeles' legendary haze is about 2.3 cents per mile). Nor do we pay for the noise we create, estimated to be between $5 billon and $10 billion per year. How can you estimate the cost of something like noise? Real estate provides a clue. Studies have shown that hose prices decline measurably as traffic rates and speeds increase on the adjoining street, while, on the other hand, when traffic-calming projects are installed on streets, house prices often rise ... Living near a major road also exposes people to more hydrocarbons and particulates of car exhaust, and any number of studies have reported links between proximity to traffic and conditions like asthma and coronary problems." — Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do
We talk of privilege a lot these days: race privilege, sex privilege, and for good, really good, well-deserved reason. But we don't ever mention this privilege, which is arguably (strike that: inarguably) the most destructive privilege on the planet: car privilege. Motor vehicles kill more humans than any other thing on earth: more than guns, more than malaria, more than poor diet, more than smoking. More than many of these things combined. We work ourselves into a frenzy when the rare terrorist strikes, or the lone gunman acts, and these are tragedies for sure, but they are not endemic dangers in the same league as those infernal speed machines. One hundred Americans are killed each and every day by a motor vehicle: four an hour, likely one or two before you're done reading this very entry. Over three thousand non-Americans are killed every day by the same: skulls crushed, lungs punctured, carnage one should never fall victim to on a trip to the grocer or the banker. And yet, we just accept this reality as inescapable, collateral damage of a thing called Progress, as an unending line of poor sacrifices to a merciless, insatiable god called Convenience.
"Commuting is one of the only arenas of life in which we're willing to accept sudden death at the hands of another human being." — Eben Weiss, The Enlightened Cyclist
They're killing us in more than direct ways, and I don't just mean the seven million who will die this year worldwide, indirectly, from their exhaust. They carve caverns through our communities and destroy some altogether: we used to have a Little Italy back in DC, but the corrupt minions of eminent domain came and bulldozed it to make room for the city-to-suburbs I-395, destruction of an actual community to bolster a farce of one miles away. In Los Angeles, in New York City, in cities the world over, cars, and their addictive enchantment of going so very fast, have made us believe that we don't need these tight, close-knit communities anymore, so we raze them and dump stinking tar in their place. Instead, we can have heated seats!
Enough of that, for now. Suffice to say the pretty landscape was made pretty horrendous by the onslaught of fast-moving boxes of steel and synthetic, and I suffered through it for about fifty kilometers to Agadir. Then: more lanes! more cars! more honking and roaring and combusting! It was enough to drive one mad. A filthy highway wrapped back to the coast and offered none of the glory of the quiet country roads further south. Just soot and smog and enough sulphur to coat the lungs of every last man, woman, and child.
I didn't know much about Agadir on arrival, just that it was a place in larger letters on my map and thus of some import, and likely a good place to stop on my northward journey if I needed some rest. But, oh, it was dreadful. There wasn't a shred of charm to be found in that wretched little city: everything felt rushed, everything was loud, and there was nothing Moroccan about it. Not even Moroccans! I learned later that Agadir was sufficiently leveled by an earthquake in the 1970s, and rebuilt as a tourist town later. This explains much.
I was sore, and ready to call it a day, but not here, anywhere but here.
The Atlantic edge of the Atlas range picks up just past Agadir. Continuing north, then, was a struggle, made all the worse by traffic that had lessened but by no means let up. I was relegated to the Boulevard of Broken Glass, the skinny, jagged shoulder overlooking a ditch while Claudes, truckers, and grand taxis raced by without the courtesy of a brake or a meter of side space. On the other side of them, I could make out through their haze, was truly beautiful coastline, a lighter, more illustrious blue than I'd seen further south. The sky and the ocean almost seemed to blend together at the faint horizon, and in the seconds between rattling engines skimming by, you could even say it was enjoyable.
Hills aside, of course. It was an uphill journey a ways out of town, and though the first campground I reached looked more like a cramped trailer park than a quiet place to rest one's head in nature, it's beachside location and promise of no further travel today was enough to seal the deal.
Or not. The receptionist, who eyed Yoshi in disgust as though she were a wart on my face, informed in his snootiest French accent that a tiny parcel of land for the evening would run 150 dirhams, fifteen US dollars! I may have verbally snorted at the insult.
So back on the road we went, another two kilometers. The beach here was wilder, and far less crowded. I threw Yoshi over my shoulder and strapped my panniers across my chest and carried us all twenty meters from the water's edge, to a little pocket of dunes with an open, uninterrupted vista of this Atlantic sunset. Here I shall camp, at the unbeatable price of zero dirhams. Put differently: priceless.
Cycled today: 108 kilometers