This morning was day two of our mad dash for Tunis. We were in good spirits, but our muscles were sore as we groggily shuffled down the stairs of our hotel for breakfast. With each step it was becoming increasingly obvious that stringing a series of 100ish kilometer days together after a month off was going to be more than a little challenging.
While we wolfed down crepes, coffees, muffins and croissants, we joked that we were hardcore cyclists who were "carboloading" for the extreme ride ahead. All the while we rubbed our aching legs, feeling in reality, like weaklings in dire need of a very long nap. On our way out we surreptitiously pocketed a few hard boiled eggs, vowed to pace ourselves, and hit the road at the early hour of 7AM.
The skies today were nothing short of spectacular. The wide array of puffy white clouds against a clear blue backdrop served as a good distraction for the first twenty kilometers. It wasn't long before no amount of pretty scenery could take our minds off the facts: we needed of a break. I retrieved some bananas for a healthy snack, and did some often ignored but probably advisable stretching.
Continuing on, the skies and terrain became even more surreal. Soon we'd covered over 50 kilometers, cheering as the mile markers for Tunis fell into double digits. We were exhausted, and collapsed in a heap by the side of the road for a nap.
Still groggy after a thirty minute break, we carried on. Several snack stops and a lot of slow riding later, we'd covered 70km. Try as we might, shoveling food into our faces wasn't doing the trick; our muscles were simply giving up. Around the same time we felt ourselves grinding to a halt, the wind started up. Not knowing how we would make it, we nevertheless decided to squeeze in another 10km leg before making camp and resting for one final push tomorrow.
We made it about 2km further when the road turned upwards into the mountains and the winds were now horrendous. Under normal conditions it would have simply made for difficult riding but in our weakened state, every whisper of a breeze practically blew us over.
We didn't really have a plan; were just plodding forward at a snail's pace because 12PM seemed too early to stop. Though we were exhausted and the winds were chilling us to the bone, we managed to make it over several hills. After a particularly blustery descent, Tara shakily called it quits. It was getting too dangerous to continue.
There was no shoulder, no guardrail and far, far too much wind. When trucks sped by, blasting crosswinds in our faces it was everything we could do to stay upright. Instead of riding, we decided to push our bikes for a little while. Though our biking muscles were shot, our walking muscles were still holding up. After an enjoyable walk to the top of another hill, we were better able to appreciate the truly incredible landscape.
At the top of the next hill, two cops were chatting and pulling cars over to check their papers. They were very friendly and funny and were shocked that we were attempting to ride bicycles at all. They convinced us it would be WAY better if we just got a ride directly to Tunis. Tara was in total agreement, and though I felt a little like I was compromising my ideals, I agreed to this plan, if only to have an excuse to sit down again.
A few minutes later, the officers waved down a guy for passing on the winding mountain road when he wasn't supposed to. We're pretty sure they told him if he took us to Tunis, he wouldn't get a ticket because he kept sizing us up with strange looks, smiles, and head shakes! Assuming they did make this offer, the guy opted for the ticket; a few minutes later he sulked back to his van and drove away.
The next truck the officers stopped looked promising: there was only person (enough room for us!) and no load in the back (enough room for our bicycles!). Amazingly, it worked. We had successfully secured a ride! The officers helped us load our bicycles into the truck bed. We gave them our cards, thanked them, and waved goodbye from the warm comfort of an automobile.
The man in the truck, Ahmed, agreed to take us as far as he was going (30km) for free, or to the outskirts of Tunis for 40 TND. After much quiet discussion, I decided, conflicted, that the ride was well worth the money. While I consoled myself, promising that we wouldn't make a habit of bailing out on riding, it began to rain. As we sped effortlessly over green mountains in a cold, bone-chilling downpour, I was suddenly very, very thankful we had.
On our way through northern Tunisia, Ahmed, who turned out to be incredibly friendly, stopped so we could rescue our camera from the downpour, and then again a few kilometers later so we could snap photos of this crumbling Roman Aquaduct:
About an hour of driving later, the rain had stopped and Ahmed pulled into a gas station on the outskirts of Tunis.
Phew! Our whirlwind day wasn't over yet. We still had twenty kilometers of riding ahead of us to reach La Goulette, the port town just north of Tunis. As we slipped our feet into our Power Grips, the abating clouds began pouring once more. Madly pedaling through gray puddles, getting splashed with mud by passing semi trucks, we slowly made our way over the very long bridge spanning Lac Tunis.
We made it! Just as the sun was setting we found a fantastic, relatively inexpensive hotel. Then we reveled in the fact that we had free wi-fi, a bathtub, two clean DOUBLE beds, and faucets that gushed forth unlimited scalding hot water.
As soon as we were settled, we walked to the train station and took the next commuter tram to La Marsa where we found Carla's house and picked up our package.
Tearing open the cardboard box, our long day was so, so worth it. Maple syrup, vanilla extract, a book about Greece, a wi-fi finder, Tara's new jacket (the zipper on her Gore jacket failed and the company never replied to our repeated communications for help), surprise ROASTED GARLIC TRISCUITS just for me (they're my favorite!), several thoughtful notes from Tara's parents, and many other exciting discoveries later, we felt very lucky to have such a great support team.
THANK YOU SO MUCH, Lisa and Mark! We love you!