Stage 11 - The Wind giveth and the Winds taketh
Updated: Apr 25, 2022
A beautiful morning, skies clear and the breeze barely perceptible. All in all, a good sleep on my concrete bench by the pool. We’re back to early starts, which is fine by me. The mornings cool and winds usually low. And packing up this morning is quick, as no tent to worry about. I knew today was going to be a long one; the longest distance of this trip plus the forecast of winds and temperature more than a little daunting. The saving grace was that overall, it’s a downhill run out into the Western Sahara.
The first hour is delightful, running down the Gorges du Ziz on the main road past or through small villages. The paved shoulder is minimal, but the drivers are again more than courteous giving a good clearance or a friendly toot beforehand. The barren hills present a stark contrast to the date palms of the river valley. This section even includes a short tunnel (built by the French is 1920, apparently). Soon enough unfortunately, we’re through all that and the country opens up to a large reservoir and past that, we’re into a stony plain. The winds are picking up now, although still tolerable. We’re running essentially south, and these winds are primarily coming out of the west to southwest. I stop just shy of 60 kms and eat my pb & j … no point carrying it all the way to the lunch stop. Turn right off the main highway after about 75 km onto a very small road - ‘circuit tourisme‘ according to the sign post. Quickly into a small village, winding dirt street, very narrow; miss the critical turn right again, but eventually figure out that I’m off track and double back. Run the gauntlet of bemused village elders and kids possibly wondering what this crazy old guy on a bike thinks he’s doing.
Get to lunch I think before 11:00 with both water bottles depleted, but only just. Top up those, and soak my arm sleeves, hat and neck-wrap. The day is getting warmer by the hour. I team up with Mark for the remainder of the day (smart move!). Leaving lunch, the first short while on an ephemeral river course, winding through some sporadic fields, date palms and collection of settlements. Then we re-join the tarmac which I suppose is the main road in this area; open now on both sides to featureless stony plain - but featureless is incorrect. It has features all right: bleak, windswept and hot.
The remainder of the afternoon is a challenge; the winds continue to pick up as does the noise of the beast. A coke stop, and then we turn due south and cross the River Ziz at about 115 km and head further south. The air is positively murky (I abandoned my camera, jacket and buff at the lunch stop, figuring the afternoon light wouldn’t be good for photos, but I’m starting to rue not having the buff to cover my mouth and nostrils). The wind noise is positively fearsome, driving out a lot of thought, let alone the chance of even shouted conversation. We try cycling behind one another in turns, but the cross gusts negate most of that effort; we try riding en echelon, but again the gusts make it problematic and of course, we’re then taking up the entire lane. In the end, I just focus on Mark’s wheel as a point of visual reference. We set each 5 km as the objective, no more; as Mark shouts at one point, what else would we do today?
Doug and the support van catches us about 10 km from the end; Doug hops out and joins us, taking the lead. We follow him in; the entrance to hotel is marked by a drift of fine sand, I bog attempting to cross over and do a full slow-motion Artie Johnson, still clipped into the pedals. A wonderful photo op missed! Just over 8 hours ride time, and I’m pretty well spent.
The room and hotel is wonderful; hard to describe but will attempt to do so tomorrow. The shower is bliss, washing the sand out and off.. Dinner at 7:00 and I’m done for the day.