I woke up before dawn, to catch the sunrise in the desert. I love the solitude of the early morning hikes with nothing but your headlight for company. There’s always a bit of misery involved as the comfortable sleeping bag is quickly getting cold where you left it. Groggily walking on the dunes with the final clutches of sleep fading and the mind becoming aware of its surroundings. It’s all worth it though as the view never fails to inspire. This time was no different.
I hiked for a while and found a spot I liked. A wide gentle slope with no tyre tracks or footprints. A small abandoned hut lay in ruins between nearby dunes. The remains of an old bivouac, soon to be taken by the sands, no doubt. The glow in the eastern horizon was strengthening so I set up my equipment and sat down for the wait. The camp was quiet in the distance, and I had this dune all to myself.
I felt the wind on my face and time seemed to slow down. The world for me only consisted of the desert, and the sun. There was room for nothing else, while I waited for the first piercing rays of light to creep over the horizon. The dull blue shadows of the dune summits crept lower, as the inevitable sunlight washed over the summits in shades of magenta. It would not be long now. Night turned into day.
Hiking back to camp, I stumbled upon a sorry sight. All the waste of the camp had been dumped in a hole in the ground. It had been built for that purpose and no doubt would be covered with earth once it was full. It was equally certain, that the waste would inevitably be unearthed one way or another. It would spread over this beautiful landscape, reminding visitors of the damage we are doing to our planet.
The camp was in full swing once I made it back. Breakfast was served, riders packing their stuff as well as the support car. Some of us had clearly stood too long in the sun.
After all the frivolities, our team geared up and before not too long the thud of the single cylinders filled the dunes. We headed west through the dunes before descending to flatter sandy ground. For some reason, my arms kept getting numb. I must have strapped the armour on too tight. After maybe half an hour we were out of the sand and on the eastern edge of Lake Iriki. There was no water at this time and the surface is smooth. I think everyone had the throttle pinned and we left an impressive dust cloud in our wake. We stopped for a while at the western end as the support car needed more pressure in its tyres now that the sandy stuff was over.
Our route took us through the rocky desert all the way to the highway N12, just south of Foum Zguid. Our route was barred by military check point. There was no hassle, the officer just asked where we were coming form and where we were going and reported it on radio. Before too long we were clear to pass and took off. We stopped for lunch in the village and refueled.
Leaving Foum Zguid, we were back on tarmac for a while. It was actually not too bad as some of the sections through the desert had been very rocky and some people had dinged their rims. No punctures though, which was pretty amazing considering the terrain.
We turned south, off the tarmac and continued towards the Algerian border. The weather was great but it was very windy. The terrain changed many times and we rode through dunes, dried up rocky rivers, small tracks and sections of rocky desert with no tracks. We even crossed a river. With water I mean.
We had ridden for a long time at good speed and I was starting to feel tired. It had been a long day and we still had ways to go. I think others were feeling a little tired too as people were missing turns and making mistakes in the riding. We had a short stop on dried lake and could see the Algerian border. Not the recommended direction to go to.
In the the end we made it out of the desert and to the beginning of the dirt road to Tata, our destination for the night. We had a slight problem though. Exiting the dirt track spit us right on to a military compound. Looking back I saw signs stating passage to be forbidden. I was the only one who spoke French in the group so it was my job to sort out the diplomacy.
The compound had some serious looking soldiers and their commander, who demanded to see our passports. The only problem was that the passports were in our support vehicle, that had taken another route. Well, this was Africa and usually things seem to sort themselves out if you just play long and play nice. For the commander it was important to show his men who’s boss. For me, it was important to get my team out of there and en route to Tata. He wasn’t happy about the missing passports, so I told him we can have the support car bring the passports over, which could take a while. Or I could write down our names and we could telephone our support crew for the passport numbers, which would be quicker. He smiled and invited me to sit down and write down the names. No passport numbers needed. We sorted out the paperwork after which the commander wanted some pictures of himself on the bikes and with the crew. They ended up being pretty stoked about our dusty crew, riding in from the desert on our thumpers. Good people.
We finally got out of the compound and made our way to Tata. I was beat and had to break out the emergency recovery protein bar. A tajine would have not been enough that night.