Stage 9 - Middle Atlas
Morning wake-up and departure delayed by an hour today due expected (and ultimately confirmed) cold temperatures, too close to 0° for my comfort. The hills above the campsite were socked in with low cloud upon waking this morning, and ground fog or mist hanging about the valley below.
The initial 13 km essentially straight up which was just as well, keeping me warm. Mist started blowing across the road at about 1600 m but no actual rain. There was wind for sure, but as we were climbing through a cedar forest, mostly sheltered. No sign of the Barbary macaque which are reported to be living in this forest; perhaps too cold this morning for them to be out and about.
This first hill topped out at 1965 m and we’re on an almost surreal highland plateau. Vegetation limited to very short grasses amongst the limestone outcrop. Scattered flocks of sheep and solitary shepherds…. A few herds of small, and heavy-coated donkeys. Strangely, more than a few dogs as well, almost all of whom are laying close to ground, presumably trying to get through another hungry day.
The vista stretches out on either side for kilometres; wind swept but in a way, austerely beautiful if that makes sense. It’s heavily overcast, but with a moderately high ceiling. This goes on for almost 50 km of riding against the strong crosswinds. We dip down at first into this plateau, but never below 1850 m, then start rising again to almost 2200 m by the lunch truck.
Winds are steadily stronger than 30 kph, but gusting at times to mid-40s. It’s cold. I don’t take any meaningful photos, as my camera is three layer deep, and it’s just too windy to bother. The road surface is at least very good tarmac, but not especially wide or with an appreciable shoulder. One needs to concentrate to stay on the white line marking the road edge, not straying into the centre as there’s no way I can hear the vehicles coming up from the rear until they’re right behind.
The last hour or more of riding to lunch is a struggle as the road has turned to the southwest; the westerly crosswinds now now on my front quarter. I catch Eric and then just focus on his wheel as a point of reference, making the lunch stop about noon. Getting off the bike, I realize I’m colder than perhaps I’d realized; Holly puts me in the van and I’m bundled in a sleeping bag as well as her toque. It takes about an hour before I’m warmed up sufficiently to step back outside to get some food. I was thinking I’d push on the last 40 km to the camp, the first quarter of which is all downhill, but that wind cuts through and I decide to give it up. I’m not alone, as almost 2/3 of the group similarly abandoned.
JJ on my right, Terry on my left; the old guys.
I doze off on the ride down. Camp is at ~1480 m; winds still blowing hard,and we have a rain shower shortly after I get the tent up. We’re again in the grounds of a hotel; showers have hot water. There’s even a restaurant with coffee and free Wi-Fi. Most of us are on here in the warm restaurant for the latter part of the afternoon. I’m lent both a down vest for the ride tomorrow and a pair of cycling leggings. Tomorrow’s weather will be much the same as today, I suspect, but hopefully do-able. We’ll be dropping significantly in elevation and should be on the margins of the Sahara by tomorrow afternoon. We’ve already well removed from all that agriculture of the past week.
Dinner is delicious, but over quickly given the temperatures and the winds. I’ll be in the tent and in my sleeping bag before 8:00.
Todays is Miles 8th birthday - he’s growing so quickly … I’ll see him soon.