#26 (Jaén, Spain - Arquillos, Spain)

We leave olive country. We ride through a strange, bald landscape of rolling hills and few trees. We use Google Maps for our route planning today, which is always something of a gamble. It takes us across goat trails and private access roads and train tracks and dead ends. It is unpredictable yet fun.

Ordinarily we wouldn't have time for Google Maps and its unreliable detours. But we don't have very far to go today. Just forty or fifty kilometers to Linares.

#24 (Algeciras, Spain - Campillos, Spain)

Lauren is asking a pair of police officers nearby if they know of any cheap hostels when Pablo approaches me. Our bikes and deer-in-headlights gaze have given away that we are not from here. Pablo asks where we're from. Are we lost?

A little. I tell him our sob story: from America, long bike trip, just arrived, looking for somewhere to camp, having great difficulty. He's friendly but doesn't know of any spots in the city. He hasn't lived here for a while. He's from Algeciras, and his whole family is still here, but he works up in Belgium. He's home for the holidays.

Let me go ask my brother, he says. In the meantime, come join the party. Can I get you some hot cocoa? Pastries? Here, take these.

#23 (Ceuta, Spain - Algeciras, Spain)

We have been in Spain about ten seconds.

And I am being run over. Intentionally. In slow motion.

I am banging on his hood, his windshield, his mirror. Lauren is screaming for him to please stop from across the street. I am shouting, too. I am shouting and flailing my right arm and smacking his car with my left one and also trying to heave my heavy loaded bicycle from between these two vehicles, partially submerged beneath one of them. All the while, he watches me blankly.

#22 (Douar Sidi Mohamed Chelh, Morocco - Ceuta, Spain)

You watch the news and you read the papers and you're led to believe that the world is a big, scary place. People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil. People are axe murderers and monsters and worse.

I don't buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we've invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own—it's easier to dismiss an opinion as abhorrent than strive to understand it. Badness exists, sure, but even that's quite rare. By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind. No greater revelation has come from our journey than this.

#21 (Tiflet, Morocco - Douar Sidi Mohamed Chelh, Morocco)

It is raining. We are damp. It is pouring. We are soaked. It is morning. The morning after the evening in which we were kindly given a house to sleep in when all we were looking for was a little bit of grass. We slept well, we packed our things, and we set off for Meknes. And then came the rain. Lots of rain.

And now we are wet. Very wet.

#20 (Cairo, Egypt - Tiflet, Morocco)

Of all the gin joints in all the world, we find ourselves here. Casablanca.

Approximately. We're not really in Casablanca, but the Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport, which is about thirty kilometers south and east from Casablanca proper in a dusty little place called Nouaceur.

We won't be going to Casablanca. For all its Humphrey Bogart-inspired old-timey allure, modern Casablanca is roundly summarized as an expensive, gritty, industrial port town with little in the way of pleasant ambience or Moroccan culture. There are nicer gin joints to be found.

#19 (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - Cairo, Egypt)

There is a camel. There are many camels, actually. Large, lanky, innately awkward. They are harnessed into colorful saddles with stiff leather bits wedged between their large, drooping lips. They sit, mostly. It's a quiet Wednesday afternoon in the desert and the camels are scattered about the dunes. Lounging, silent. Gazing, serene. A few rays of sunlight break through the thick grey blanket of clouds, and a strong wind blows in from the east.

I pull my camera from my pack and drop a knee into the cold sand. I watch the camel, this first camel, through the small illuminated window of the electronic viewfinder. The camel snorts, and I release the shutter.

How far do we cycle each day?

For six months across Africa, we didn't really know. We don't exactly count our kilometers. We aren't traveling with an odometer or cycle computer or live Strava tracker. We just bike, with a very rough sense of how far we've come since morning. And so our answers have always been a little vague. Depends on the roads: up or down, gravel or paved. Depends on the winds: bad, or really bad. You mean in general? Uh, between zero and one hundred kilometers per day?

But no more. Finally, seven months since starting our bike ride, we have a slightly better sense of our pace.

#18 (Iringa, Tanzania - Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

We learn the story of the TanZam Highway slowly, day by day. Clues present themselves to the observant traveler. Green markings sprayed hastily onto houses. Red Xs blotted onto each and every road sign. There's the Chinese face looking on from beneath a face mask as Tanzanian men hack away at the blackened earth. There's a careful consideration of the name, TanZam, and an answer right on the map, if one knows where to look.

All roads have purpose, and most purpose is conquest. Building a road consumes more than paint and bitumen.

#17 (Songwe, Malawi - Iringa, Tanzania)

Hop on a plane or train or bus, or even into the seat of a car, and you are transported from one distinct place to another distinct place. One of the lovelier aspects of bike touring, then, is exploring these subtle changes in landscape and culture on a continuum. Cycling is (typically) fast enough to not get (too) bored, but generally slow enough to recognize and register these in-between places. It's a wonder to wake each up morning in a slightly different place, to look back a week in time and space and find that things weren't so different, but they weren't just the same, either.

#15 (Nkopola, Malawi - Nkhata Bay, Malawi)

It is noon and I am in the cramped bathroom of a dusty petrol station vomiting my insides into the sink. I haven't eaten very much in days, and so fortunately there is little volume to the upchuck. It's mostly bile, burning at my throat, stinging my eyes. I steady my shivering body against the wall and examine my grey complexion in the cracked mirror. This was a uniquely terrible idea. One should not be riding a bike when one is recovering from malaria.

Giving thanks

Our present life, a life of waking up and riding bicycles and seeing new places, is not without its challenges. But it is a life of our choosing, and for that we are tremendously grateful. We're thankful to be in a position, physically and financially and politically and practically, to be able to travel the world in this fashion. We're privileged to enjoy a freedom of movement some do not have. We're privileged to enjoy it together. These past five months cycling across Africa have been a mostly lovely, mostly joyous adventure, and we're thankful to be here living it. To be here at all.

#14 (Nkopola, Malawi)

I spend Friday night shaking and sweating and unable to regulate my body's temperature. The air conditioner is on full blast and I'm mildly aware that the room cannot be more than 20C, but it feels like a sauna. I feel like I might vomit but do not vomit. A few times during the night, I rise to use the toilet, and walking to the bathroom next door feels like a Herculean effort. 

I toss and turn and feel an ache in my bones. I think about how we sometimes say that we can feel aching in our bones to express how sore we are, but like, right now it really feels like the marrow inside me is boiling. It's not a dull, too-tired sort of ache, but the active, acute, it-hurts-all-over kind.

#13 (Lilongwe, Malawi - Nkopola, Malawi)

Saying goodbye to the people we meet is always hard. We're a long way from home. We're going a long way from wherever we are. And it's pretty certain that for the majority of the people we cross paths with, we won't see them ever again. Saying goodbye to our new friends in Lusaka was especially hard. We'd grown attached to our hosts during our five days there. Though we'd all promised to keep in touch and see each other someday, someday is a very vague, flighty notion. 

So it was a delightful surprise to hear, during our final few days in Zambia, that Sarah and Cassidy were taking the kids for a holiday on Lake Malawi in a few weeks' time. They'd be renting a beach house with Libby and Brian (our terrific hosts in Lilongwe), and invited us along if it was on our way.