As usual, we set off by dodging and weaving through a sea of people walking willy-nilly in the road, meandering about on motorbikes, and so on. I comfort myself with the thought that we’ll be going downhill a lot today, apparently, rather than climbing up those blasted mountains, which my acute bronchitis doesn’t appreciate. By the way, I’ve now collected a whole heap of various remedies to try for my illness: half a cut onion put on the bedside table at night, milk and ginger, ginger alone, absinthe. I don’t know if the absinthe is exactly a remedy, but it’s alcohol, so I’ll take it. At one point I’m pouring that shit into my mint tea like no one’s business. Doesn’t help my cough, but who cares?
We then get to the downhills.
Whereupon Miss Tasha discovers that she has a slight problem. Which I had been starting to notice before, but which becomes all the more evident when I need to clip in fast because my bike is going to go careening down a very steep mountain.
This problem is that my cleats are so worn down that they won’t clip in to my shoes anymore. At all.
This means that when I try to clip in before heading down a 23% grade with a hairpin turn at the end, I’m up shit’s creek since I can’t, and I have no control over the pedals.
This is not good.
But, intrepid and stalwart crazy person that I am, I soldier on, one insanely steep mountain at a time, thinking, what the hell is up with Morocco? Was it built on an Indian burial ground, such that the whole damn country slopes downward? Seriously people.
Then I get to one particularly steep and long stretch, with the requisite bumpy road of chip seal, and I pick up enough speed to hit 44 mph and feel my bike go into the classic “death wobble”, where it feels like it’s going to fall apart. And potentially send me hurtling over a steep cliff.
I stop. And wish for some absinthe, or even some cough syrup. Alcohol might be my friend at the moment. It’s also telling that all of the mountains have the “oh shit” sign, as I call it. Or as others in the group have christened it, the “OMFG” or “surprise!” sign. Take your pick, I think they all work.
Luckily, Khaled is toodling along behind me, so when I stop, so does he, and we discuss the history of Morocco, the language and culture, and the possibility of having a goat farm with goats that are guaranteed to climb trees. That part is critical, of course. I then careen down more mountains, and we stop and chat some more. We even stop at one point and take a picture of the two of us, as pictorial evidence should we actually lose our lives on these mountains. Hey, better safe than sorry.
I’m proud of myself for actually cycling down all these mountains rather than revisiting my walk-a-thon from the Great Alpian Trip – until I get to one completely ridiculous stretch that has a crappy steep road, hairpin turn, then an even steeper descent to another hairpin. Umm, no. And did I mention that my cleats are useless? I put my cleatless foot down, and Khaled, ever-cheerful guide that he is, says "okay!" and walks down with me, as we chat away happily knowing that we're avoiding certain death.
But after walking that one, I make it down the rest, somehow, shaving a few years off my life, until we congregate at the lunch spot. When I learn that the remaining day’s ride is full of more of these damn descents, I pack it in, since I know I have an extra pair of cleats and we can replace them for tomorrow’s ride. At least I have company – Biljana and another person join me in the van, as they couldn’t deal with descending with a death grip on the brakes the entire time.
And by being in the van, I have more of an opportunity to look for small children with chipmunks on strings. This is apparently a “thing” in Morocco, or at least according to the guidebook that Stacey and I found in our room at the riad the other night. This book claimed that children would catch ground squirrels (aka chipmunks), put them on string leashes, and sell them to people to take to local restaurants to cook them up. Thus Stacey and I also remain vigilant in our search for these BYOC restaurants.
I kind of think the guidebook was just fucking with us.
That afternoon we’re all “entertained” by David and his rubber chicken, which he oh-so-nicely continues to give to little kids to ooh and aah over….until he takes it away. I weep at the trail of broken-hearted children left behind in Morocco, who’ll always be haunted by illusory dreams of that one day in the past when their rubber chicken dreams came true….
I also try to check in on occasion with my mom, at least when we have internet access. At this point, my missives are consisting of the bare basics, a posting on Facebook that notes “Still alive!” What else is there to say?
Near death misses: too many to count