Mars, Venus and the Sun
A long bike ride in future deserts
Words and photos by Ryan Le Garrec.
Riding at the break of dawn on a dusty track in the middle of nowhere, the sun hasn’t come up yet but the mercury is well up on his way. I try to catch my breath but I still long for breakfast, the stretching track feels like an elastic getting bigger and bigger, unbreakable and pulling hard on my stomach, tighter and tighter limbs and then my thoughts got confusing in an old misty fog, I try to find the words, the lines, the aim. What am I doing here? Why am I doing this right now? There will be a shade, a freshness and a gloaming, I might be well, still and put for a moment to hunt for the right words. There will be a more suitable occasion to raise an opinion, to stand up on my own and try to make some sense out of the chaos of this trip. Yet, somehow, I wanna find that line, that first echo or ricochet pulling out all the other wagons at higher speed. That’s when the deer appeared, was he running away? Then why run parallel to my direction and not away from me ? Was there something else scaring him? He looks at me furtively, while I can’t take my eyes off him.
Deers run fast, I can't believe I get to hold his pace for so long.
I’ve been on the road for quite a few days now but I count in miles and Celsius, too little of one and too many of the other, Farenheight would be in three digits.
I am far from the coast and the windy shores, deep inland and well isolated. I am now in Spain, but a place no one goes to visit. The North of Extremadura is a beast of its own, no real high mountain but many steep hills, no real desert but the sun here behaves like a mad man on the hunt for flesh and skin to roast.
I have been commissioned to film burnt out forests for a theatre play.
The irony is I am about to almost burn myself more than once on this ride. I really think my tyres melted on the asphalt at some point. Droughts are surprisingly way easier to find than the burnt areas. Why? Maybe because there are a constant consequence, not a deviated accident, of global warming.
Later that day…
I am riding a non existent track in the middle of a large river, I should be swimming here, or that’s what says my head unit.
DEERS ON SCREENS
That deer ran for a good mile, and of course the most stupid reflex came to me and I pulled out my phone. Funny how we ruin a moment trying to capture it through a screen when it’s there for the taking in 3 dimensions and a billion pixels per second. How many times did I think this at a concert and why am I doing the same now?
A few days later I finally reached Plasencia over Caceres, up North and at the bottom of these small ignored mountains. Temps raised up to 42, but it’s a dry oven rather than humid hell. I prefer it but it’s a starter for those wildfires. The total irony of this trip is I keep hunting for burnt out areas and never find them but on my way I find extreme heat and droughts everywhere, it’s more obvious in some parts than others.
Somehow riding lookalike desserts satisfies my thirst for exoticism but it takes only a little while until I understand how dramatic the situation is, and when I ran out of water and found all surrounding public fountains to be shut, crowded with thirsty desperate bees. I understood the fake yet gentle reminder of the reality of a precarious situation I could now be in. Now or a few years. I can't help thinking of how this must be further down South.
It’s siesta time in Spain and even the gas station seems to be asleep.
The temperatures went up and over and I decided to ride all the way to the mountains in the evening, I would climb the first one at night, far from the heat of a few hours ago. Or that’s what I was planning anyway.
THE NIGHT WINS AT ALL COST
The more I got into the night and the warmer it felt, the air seemed dryer and dryer to a surreal feeling of smoking oxygen rather than breathing it. I didn’t know the fire was alive, I didn’t know the forest was dying at that very moment. I couldn't see it from where I was but I was heading for it. Even the blasting sirens of the fire truck passing me fast somehow didn’t alert my tired brain.
No, what happened is I saw a pizzeria and it was open and then I found out that there was a cheap hostel nearby and so I bailed out of my nightly adventures plans.
When I woke up the next day and talked to the lady making my cortada, she explained it to me, last night, “este montaña that you wanted to climb, it was burning, de puta madre they fought the fire all night, it’s actually the second night in a row but this morning you might be able to crest it.”
The mountain was still bleeding smoke when I passed and tv crews had invaded the village below.
I found myself at the top with a cameraman from Spanish tv "Que pena eh?”
We stayed silent while getting a few shots, both astonished at how the whole mountain had turned to black.
It’s one thing to be revolted about global warming and the damage we do to the planet. It’s another story to lose your land and work. Nature, plants and trees grow back at an incredible speed, crops don’t, walls won’t, the lemon tree won’t give you exactly what you need anymore.
When I showed my son how burnt out trees are still standing ( I had no idea to be honest ) he told me that they know when the area is about to burn: "Trees communicate through their roots, the first burnt ones warn the others and every one holds fast.”
STATE THE OBVIOUS
There was a global heatwave in Europe when I left home. Global but the place I live in Portugal is always blessed with shore winds and freshness, it rarely gets over 26 degree Celsius. So I left naive and scared at the same time. The sky at home was a passive blanket of grey, unemotional and bored but ten kilometres in land and it was blue, ten kilometres inland and the Ceclius raised by almost ten too.
It wouldn’t take long to go from 25 to 42 Celcius, it was matter of exactly 80 kilometers.
It’s amazing how slow you get in the heat, don’t get me wrong, I am and never was a fast rider but still, 15 km an hour average speed does hurt the ego. It took me two weeks until I had the idea to throw my jersey in a local fountain. Fifteen minutes with a sort of an air co machine next to skin, fifteen minutes till it got dry again and the salt reappeared.
I started obsessing things with a different outlook, water became sexy and then holly, shade was a gift of the gods, ice cream the most amazing culinary invention of all times and a fresh coke felt like a ration of gold dust for the mouth, the cold can metal was a kiss on the lips, and the ice cubes went in all kinds of places from my gloves to my cap.
To think that Summer could become like this and forever depressed the hell out of me. There is an emergency for radical action and I contemplate the idea of ecological terrorism. I could go to jail and watch my son in the eyes from my cell in twenty years: “Son, you know, I had to try something…” But now I am just trying to pedal that isolated stretch to finally find some breakfast.
And the birds are waiting in line to pick up at my brain.
The World is so beautiful from a bicycle, it’s so obviously precious and glorious, it isn’t proud of its glory, it shines in humility.
I raise my glass of fresh water slightly up and pours a bit on the ground, like I saw them doing when I was a kid in Burkina Faso, “For the ancestors” I whisper.