PARIS – DAKAR
Posted by Nathan Hughes on
This project is the project of a 32-year-old boy who had the idealist dream of raising awareness about climate change and desertification by exposing himself to heat on a 5700km track between two capitals of Paris and Dakar in less than 20 days, by bike.
A world record, a first, a nod also to Pierre-Georges Latécoère who, in December 1918, imagined an air "line" linking France to Senegal via Spain and Morocco. The pioneer pilots Jean Mermoz, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Henri Guillaumet... have made Latécoère's dream a reality.
Everything started on March 15th at 10am Place du Trocadéro facing the Eiffel Tower, like a symbol. In fact, this adventure began long before that. There is almost a year to the day in the return plane after my crossing of the Himalayas from East to West by mountain bike. In this plane, I always imagine the next adventure, which will animate me in the coming months or years.
First of all, I look for meaning, then for place, and finally for how to transmit it to as many people as possible. My desire for adventure is always closely linked to my desire for transmission. I decide to set up a project far from the Himalayan mountains, a flatter, bigger, longer project with a meaning as big as the planet: climate change.
My idea? Crossing 6 of the most hostile deserts in the world on 6 continents in 6 times a month, a project never carried out by man and for good reason. Hot deserts, cold deserts, mountainous deserts or not. Atacama, Gobie, Simpson in Australia, Arctic, Antarctica and Kalahari-Namib to finish
To introduce this project, I decided to start with the epicenter of the heat on earth: the Sahara by doing "my" Paris-Dakar by bike as soon as possible. To show the world of tomorrow, to show the reality of a man in these hostile universes where each must be responsible because absolutely expensive in energy. After 6 months of funding, searching for partners, an intense preparation and punctuated by multiple difficulties with in particular a fracture of the shoulder blade at 1.5 months from leaving I am ready to do the impossible: to get from Paris to Dakar in less than 20 days.
The doubts, the headwinds are behind month, now the project is on after one year of work. I am back in Paris at the Trocadéro with about twenty acquaintances, friends, relatives I leave the Eiffel Tower after a great inspiration. Let's go for 20 days of adventure.
Direction Chatellerault, more than 300km planned from this first day. I was stopped by fatigue, the night was well advanced and the proposal of Karin, a German expatriate who welcomed me and her family to the suburbs of Ste Maure de Touraine after 1am. We have dinner, she explains her love for France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, St Louis, Dakar. She tells me about her multiple travels and her dreams of adventure. As a sign. I leave this first stopover around 8am on a full stomach towards Bordeaux.
First step of more than 300km of this project, I suffer a lot with Remy, a fan on social networks who came to join me along the way. 30km from Bordeaux, I fall asleep on the bike, I just spent more than 14 hours on the bike and feel very tired by the pressure of this beginning of the project. Suddenly, two lamps in the distance, it was Laurent who came to get me on the road. I am extensed, I arrive at more than one o'clock in the morning, fall asleep between the time I arrive at his house and the time he serves me a dish of pasta. It is not going to be given this project.
I leave Bordeaux a little exhausted, after 10am, heading for the Basque Country. I am looking for accommodation in Anglet, I decide to go to Sandrine's house who participated in the crowdfounding campaign of this project. Everything is beautiful on the road, the light, the green vegetation and not insignificant, the wind almost favourable for the first time of the project. Halfway along the way I meet a former Moroccan skier of international level who runs a grocery store in the heart of the Landes. Like a wink again, right? I arrive in Anglet, Sandrine welcomes me and her whole family, we talk, climate, environment, planet and also laundry because I haven't washed my clothes since the beginning.
Direction Vittoria Gasteiz the next day via Pamplona, a very hilly stage and one of the coldest of the project with passages at more than 1500m, melted snow, cold, rain too. I am exhausted, refrigerated by the constant driving rain at the end of this stage. Then I dive tirelessly south to Seville. The further down I go, the hotter it gets. My knees call me to order several times from Seville, screaming to tears. We're going to have to drink more, Mr. Stéven, and take care of those knees. Not easy with what I can achieve.
Shortly before Seville, I am expecting the boats to be delayed or cancelled from Tarifa until further notice. Change of program therefore, it will be Algeciras. This implies a 70km detour, an extra drop in altitude and above all a 60km/h headwind to reach the port of Algeciras.
I arrive at the port around 11pm, Leo one of my cameramen is waiting for me there, I'm exhausted. I eat, drink something and wait for the boat. 1h then 1h30 back. We are only at 5am in Tangier. I am exhausted, I sleep 1h30-2h, hosted by a friend of Leo's parents. Group breakfast and then Pierrick and his friend Carlos are waiting for me in front of the building. I'm as stressed as I am exhausted. More than 300km on the program. I feel like it's going to be hard without sleeping. I'm leaving, wind from behind, the guys are as fresh as guards, not me. I get angry that I can't keep up. I stop to put a key on my chocks and leave. It's hard, very hard.
The knee is getting warmer but I dread the end of the day. It's getting dark, I'm exhausted, I crack 10 times. I stop in Rabat at Pierrick's house, a French expatriate who is a consultant here in Morocco. I was hit but not sunk after these 290km. The next day, direction, Casablanca then Ben Guerir. Passage to Marrakech in the morning then the Atlas Mountains, an intense day on the road of heat with more than 40 degrees on the clock. The Atlas surprises me by its beauty and that of its inhabitants.
Then I accelerate the rhythm, the machine that was sleeping in me wakes up, the athlete comes back to the gallop and it's not too early. First 300km in Morocco the next day in the direction of Guelmim, 243km the next day then a series of 340km to Boujdour / 370km to Dakhla or 710km in 24 hours. Dakhla which will disappear in a few years due to the rise of the oceans. I've had enough, especially since I've been very hot since Tarfaya. I am living a moment of madness in this desert, I am living hell with this loneliness and warmth. I have a better understanding of the great desert explorers.
I entered Western Sahara or Morocco as the Moroccans say. I drink between 6 and 8L of water every day but I lack water and food, petrol stations and shops are scarce in the Sahara. I take up the thread again when I meet Emmanuel, a French cyclist. This meeting soothes me and allows me not to blow up the engine which is already well overheated. Physical, mental, psychological motor.
But it is the motor of meaning that makes me go back to the machine every morning. Bir Gandouz - Chami, a border with more past and not the least, the Mauritanian border. Chami, the city of gold and diamond prospectors. The creation of the new town of Chami (north-west Mauritania in 2012 comes against the backdrop of the decongestion of Nouakchott, a city that is home to half of Mauritania's total urban population. I'm heading for Nouakchott where Fred, a new expatriate guardian angel will serve me the table and do everything for me for a few hours.
I am only 200 kilometres from the Mauritanian border, I go fast, despite the terrain, the roads and tracks damaged near the border, I take the ferry, I go towards St Louis. Pehuen, my cameraman is here, he's coming to film the arrival. Nouakchott - St Louis will be my last day of more than 300km, 333km exactly, 333-666 is nothing there?
In St Louis, I am very far from enjoying the beautiful city. I eat, I sleep. Tomorrow is Dakar, tomorrow is the culmination of a new adventure, a new dream, a somewhat crazy project between Paris and Dakar.
260km separate me from Dakar and its statue of the rebirth that I chose as the place of arrival on the advice of my Senegalese friends. I'm having a difficult day but happiness is at the end of the road. 100, 150 then 200km, a motorcyclist now escorts me in the madness of the Dakar road network, tears gradually rise. 5 motorcyclists arrive, then 20, 30, 10 bicycles are added to that, 30 young people on roller skates, cars. Dakar celebrates me, the road is completely blocked by the procession, all this for me. I'm like an 8-year-old kid who wins his first race, like a teenager who has his college diploma. I suddenly have a better understanding of footballers, singers and heads of state. I am literally carried by the jubilation until the status, I do a live on my social networks. Tears rise but never flow.
I am aware that I am experiencing something unique, something exceptional in the life of a human being. I take the microphone and express myself in front of the crowd, I am celebrated like no one has ever celebrated me before, I dance, I laugh, I cry with happiness. I am happy, proud and absolutely overwhelmed by what is happening. Thank you Dakar, thank you Senegal, thank you life.