Ever wondered what it is like to feel as though you have vaporised every last single ounce of energy in your body? Drag yourself on a bicycle through searing 45 C heat, along a desert floor, do not replenish with food during the day, drink warm water all day, and then climb up out of the desert onto a plateau some 2,000 ft higher than the valley into a fierce headwind having spent 15 hours on your bike.
Sleeping quarters on night one and my view of them as I climbed out of my bivy bag at 6 am .
It had all started so wonderfully too. Those stars that had accompanied me to sleep were still there when I woke at 6 am. As we have discovered since our arrival a few days prior, in this part of the world in early September, light of dawn doesn't appear until about 7.30 am. So at 6 am it was still pitch black. The stars still sparkled as I climbed out of my bivy bag after a fitful 3 hours sleep. Somewhat buoyed by our progress on day 1 we were full of hope of maintaining our schedule today and conquering another 165 km.
The day had other plans.
We set off down the same mountain track we had been on the previous night and dropped down into the valley floor. As dawn broke the views were stunning and our positivity index was at a high. Nick W-W had meticulously planned refuelling stops at various villages and given the undulating terrain that was not overly steep (in comparison to the previous day) we made decent progress in the first few hours in the coolness of the early morning.
Then everything changed. In small increments at first but by days end those small increments had morphed into a large ball of energy depletion in searing heat and unrelenting climbing.
Issue no.1 was that today was Monday. Unbeknown to us most shops and cafes and restaurants were closed on Mondays in this part of the world. Our breakfast was at a small cafe in the village of Dehesas de Gaudix that had been stripped bare of most of its supplies by the riders ahead of us. All that remained for sustenance were airline like ,vacuum sealed, sponge things. Hard to describe them in an any other way.
The ride then became extremely scenic and harder by the hour as the temperature soared northwards. Strangely, despite the dryness of the landscape and atmosphere we stumbled upon a verdant valley complete with a strong flowing river which supplied irrigation to an abundance of crops and even an arboretum.
Passing through another village that was completely shuttered for business we started to realise that our best laid plans of constant refuelling stops was being destroyed. With the lack of fuel and only warm water to consume the terrain and heat began to take its toll. By mid afternoon, and cycling furiously across a sandy river bed, the heat was next to unbearable. Made worse by the warm wind blowing down the valley we were heading up. At one stage we sought shade by crouching next to a spinafex type plant for 10-15 mins in the hope that its minimal shade would enable us to make some sort of recovery.
By late afternoon as we climbed out of the valley floor the heat was taking its toll on all riders. What little shade existed was taken up by riders flaked out in exhaustion. We sought refuge in a shepherds cave near the summit of the climb and weren't surprised to find another cyclist already in there. Conversation between the three of us was confined to a few grunts and the exchange of exasperated looks said it all. No words were needed.
Summiting out onto a large plateau after nearly 15 hours of riding we found ourselves cycling into an extremely strong headwind and at one point I recall saying to Nick W-W that I had never cycled so slowly on a piece of flat terrain. Our energy levels were near zero and faced with another 20km to the next town of Gor where we had provisionally planned to have dinner that night we were faced with the realisation that we weren't going to be able to make it even that far. Our very obvious concern was that we would arrive into Gor too late for dinner, and there was always the possibility that being Monday nothing would be open anyway.
I was vaporised. I cannot recall ever being so depleted of energy. A day of hard riding in searing heat and warm winds with little to no opportunity to refuel had left both us in a state of physical peril. Dangerously so.
At this point we had completed the northern loop of the route and were now back above Gorafe where we had 'enjoyed' dinner the previous night.
Faced with no choice given our state, we decided to take a detour off route and head down the impossibly steep ramp to Gorafe which was 1,500ft below us and seek dinner and rest in the township. Arriving at the Gorafe taverna at 10 pm our state of being was so poor that we were unable to contemplate eating food and instead spent an hour re-hydrating. At this moment and with self survival the key we decided to check into a local hostal for a shower and some sleep and return to the taverna at 1 am hoping that by that time we'd be able to eat. Proved to be the right decision that one. 2-3 hours sleep, eat, and then after another 2-3 hours sleep we rose at 5 am and set off back to the top of the plateau we had left the previous evening and return to the course proper.
48 hours into the ride and we had done 250km. Well short of the projected and much planned for 330km . Things were now looking a little bleak in regards to finishing within the specified time limit of a finish by 8 pm on Friday.
The 'ramps' on day two were no more friendly than those on day 1. Plenty of opportunity to get off and push the bike.
At this stage it was midday and the heat and wind and lack of fuel were beginning to take its toll.
As hot and unbearable as it was, the views were simply stunning.
A verdant valley complete with olive groves and fruit orchards all irrigated by a strong flowing river seemed a complete anomaly to the rest of the day which was hot and dry.
Fording a river seemed like the last thing we'd be doing in a desert. But ford a river we did.
Passing through an arboretum seemed almost oasis like given the rest of the day's terrain and lack of flora.
With water as scarce as it was, it was little surprise to come across a very long aqueduct transporting it (water) to various parts of the countryside.
The shepherd's cave we sought refuge in. Another cyclist had also decided to flake out inside in the cool of the shade. Few words were spoken between us as we sought to save as much energy as possible.
Looking down to the lights of Gorafe from atop the plateau. We had a decision to make. Drop down to the valley for supplies and rest or perish. An easy decision really. What it meant was that we'd then have to re-climb back to the plateau the next morning. Again, an easy decision despite the steepness of the climb.
Nick W-W's 'life index' score on his fancy watch. He informed me it was normally 75-80 and measured everything from calories burnt, to heart rate to effective sleep etc..... here you can see it is starting to climb back up to 13 from a low of 5 which was clearly where it had sat for most of the afternoon on day 2. A long way from 80 and a very good indication how low we had taken ourselves during the second day of riding.