Miles on the clock: 41,810
Snorting with disbelief at my own stubbornness, I silence the dutiful alarm and sit up. My bedroom is vast and without ceiling. It is a home to some, but not to me. The wind that has blasted out of the north for many thousands of years has completed its nightly ritual of weakening to a stiff breeze. I had foregone a tent as the dust and sand have a way of getting in. With no tent it piles up beside me and then simply blows past.
The wind feels stronger once I start riding into it. In the daytime it is beyond strong. It is enough to invalidate a weary man's efforts. With the moon over my shirtless shoulder I start to slowly chase my shadow. The pace is frustrating but the solitude is appreciated when my mind is set to it with enough determination. The surrounding landscape is a morass of eerie shapes, all sculpted linearly in a north-south direction by the eons of wind.
* * *
My legs are complaining but I force them to complete the last of the 60 miles I asked of them when I mounted in the nighttime. For several hours now the regular, whitewashed kilometre stones have glided by, ghostlike and floating in the gloom. Thankfully the dark rendered them unreadable to my straining eyes so they couldn't tease me with their vindictively slow countdown to zero, and to the Mediterranean.
The bicycle computer ticks over the set target so I dismount and wheel gratefully over the stony ground to a large rock. I slump down sheltered from the wind, scrape plastic cheese over stale bread, and eat it. Falling back, I sleep until the afternoon heat wakes me. The wind comes from the north and the sun from the south so I must choose which I prefer to be plagued by. The sun sets, the land cools and I sleep again.
Snorting with disbelief at my own stubbornness, I silence the dutiful alarm and sit up. It is night...
There are few people in the disputed Western Sahara territory. Larger than the United Kingdom, it is only home to half a million people. Morocco currently administers the phosphate rich region but the indigenous nomadic Saharawis made their claim after Spanish withdrawal in 1975. For the last 40 years the disgruntled, largely-camel herding Saharawis have continued a guerrilla insurgency that has left the area peppered with up to 500,000 land mines. I never slept far from the tested safety of the road.
Towns gradually became more frequent and the desert less barren. The wind lessened slightly too. I began to stop for a couple of hours each day at small cafes and drink a cheap coffee while reading the news with their wifi. I slowly began to enjoy touring again. To really enjoy it. To enjoy it like I did when I was first hurtling through Europe with bags crammed with new kit and a mind crammed with long held positivity. How had I let myself become so jaded?
Riding down the ramp onto Spanish tarmac was a euphoric moment but, with nobody to share my ebullience, I just smiled uncontrollably. A quick stop in a supermarket preceded a sharp hill climb and my way to a flat ledge on the sea-facing hillside. As I sat in front of my tent eating a chorizo and blue cheese-crammed baguette, I stared across the water at Africa. It was still so close but I'd already left it far behind in my mind. I'd had many hard times over the previous year and a half on that continent but I'd enjoyed much of it too. I raised a bottle of cheap rioja to my lips.
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