To pedal out of town with your home on wheels is a particularly pleasurable blend of freedom, adventure and rebellion.
It didn’t matter that I was setting forth on a small bike trip around the touristy island of Fuerteventura. For me, I was heading into the unknown.
I was equipped with basic cooking supplies, a modest tent and a semi-permanent grin.
My route was unplanned, the duration unknown. I didn’t even know where I would sleep that night – a fact that had caused considerable pre-trip anxiety. I’d never slept out alone before and my imagination was weaving some pretty elaborate storylines as to how that might play out.
All this anxiety was released in a wonderful rush of adrenaline as I ricocheted away from my friend’s house, the bike wobbling under the unfamiliar weight and my inexperienced steering.
I felt much like a prison-escapee might feel:
Am I really getting away with this?
Erm, yes, I think I am.
Holy shit, I am totally getting away with this!
It’s that heady delight that comes when you do something new, something that isn’t really ‘the done thing’. When you peek out of the box and discover that there’s way more world out there, and not only one way to discover it.
I left the familiar main road of Corralejo and took a track I’d never been on before.
The scenery inland was of red earth and unfamiliar plants. The sight and smell of earth and desert plants triggered a surge of warmth and wild wonder. My love for this type of landscape comes easily after working in the Australian outback.
But this was definitely a landscape all of its own. The plants that grow on this Atlantic island look more like they belong under the ocean. Flowing or rigid, spikey or petalled, decorated with unusual patterns or adorned with improbable-looking flowers – nature here does not take itself too seriously.
Providing the backdrop are the jagged, black volcanic rocks and soft curves of red-tinged volcanoes rising out of the dusty orange earth. And the sea, AHHHh the sea. With its turquoise, emerald and deep blues rolling and shimmering seductively in the background, I freewheeled on my yet-to-be-named bright blue bicycle.
Whilst all this ODing on the mad beauty of nature was going on, I was also noticing lots of places to wild camp and wanted to sleep in them all. The earlier worries about sleeping out had temporarily disappeared and now I had to stop myself from wishing it was night already so I could have my first night under the stars. From nocturnal nerves to promiscuity in just a few wheel revolutions.
Arriving in Majanicho, the first little settlement I came too, I felt like some sort of intrepid explorer. It was completely ridiculous given its proximity to Corralejo and the sad fact that I’d lived in Corralejo for a year (two years previously) but had never visited.
Of course all these facts did make it feel even more special and the calm bay with shallow water and a rippled seabed had me deliriously happy to be paddling in the sea and running about the beach and searching rock pools to discover funny-looking fish. It felt a million miles away from touristy Corralejo.
After Majanicho the dirt track got a lot worse and I was focused on not going over too many rocks or sand that was too deep for my skinny tyres. I was quickly learning how far ahead to look and gaining confidence in the heavily-laden bike’s ability – albeit feeling a bit guilty that I was hammering it on the very first day.
It stayed hot and beautiful round the coast, just the occasional cyclist and the poor unfortunate souls on discovery tours, crammed into noisy jeeps. Of course they would have seen me as the poor unfortunate soul with my slow and (oh the horror) solitary journey.
I carried on in my own version of bliss, until I came across a very strange scene at El Jablito. After not seeing any cars at all, this particular bend in the track was strewn with them and the scene was full of gorgeous guys and girls squeezing brown, muscle-bound bodies into wetsuits.
The waves looked intimidating and people were on mobiles, calling friends whilst scanning the ocean, others already jogging down to the shore or paddling out. It all seemed a bit frenetic, with all the scanning, calling, squeezing, jogging and paddling, not to mention the actual surfing.
This was hardly the stereotypical, laidback surfer-bum popular culture has you picturing. This was work and dedication and passion and huge hits of adrenaline. It made for compulsive viewing.
I tore myself away to continue around the coast towards the west and the fishing village of El Cotillo. It was time to start finding somewhere to sleep. The nerves had returned and I wanted to find my place for the night, even if it meant cycling back to it later.
I was thrilled when I found somewhere suitably hidden. That had been my biggest fear before setting off. Fuerteventura is a relatively flat and open island, not exactly a prime location for subtle wild camping. But my chosen spot was off a side track, then off another track and there was a big rock creating a natural barrier.
I stored it in my mind, which isn’t the best idea given my proclivity to vague landmarks (next to the big bend) and wild optimism (of course I won’t forget where this is).
I carried on, feeling relaxed and happy as I passed bay after beautiful bay of calm azure water. I was dying to drop the bike in the sand and run into the water for a swim but wanted to get into town and get water before the sun dipped too low. Thankfully there was a shop not too far into town.
I had imagined that I might sit on a café terrace for a while, with an ice cream or beer to celebrate my escape. But the idea now seemed bizarre and all I wanted to do was grab the essentials and go feral.
How little time it takes for the wild to reclaim you.
After getting water I headed back, stopping to pick up some driftwood from the side of the road. A man was walking past and he beamed at me and started chatting away in German.
He was the first of many to assume I was German. I set him straight. He beamed at me again and packed all his enthusiasm and desire to communicate into the words: “Ah yes, fire, very good!”
I like to think these were among the first words spoken by humans. The delirious joy of dancing flames and heat inspiring us to evolve beyond the grunt.
I cycled back to a deserted beach, driftwood strapped to the back of the bike, hair streaming behind me, wondering if this is the kind of thing German girls are always getting up to.
The sun was going down behind the lighthouse, clouds had rolled over and shafts of light kept breaking through and illuminating the sea spray, turning the leaping water into gold. I drank it in, eventually unrolling my yoga mat on a natural shelf of flat sand just above the sea.
Practising yoga in nature is the ultimate reset button, not just observing nature but reminding the ever-busy mind that you are part of it, whatever it might like to think. And, oh, does it like to think.
I dragged myself away to make camp, cycling back the way I came to find my track. I couldn’t find it. I tried to forget about it and look for somewhere else but a tremor of anxiety flickered through me. I must be able to find it! That was a really good place! I knew I was being ridiculous. Just find somewhere new. But that was the best place. Jeez, drop it already, yoga girl.
I ended up back closer to Cotillo, tired after the extra exertions and with the sun now almost fully down. I was worried about having to set up camp for the first time in the dark, but I’m a sucker for a good sunset.
I scouted around the immediate area and found somewhere just over the dune. It dropped down quickly and it was unlikely anyone would come looking over this bit of dune – especially because I hadn’t seen anyone around even during the day.
The only cars were surfers heading home to sleep in beds like normal people. I waited until the coast was clear and then hauled the bike over the dune as quickly as I could. This was harder than I imagined and the pedals attacked my calves as I failed to manoeuvre both the bike and myself without repeatedly slamming one into the other.
But bruised calves were preferable to middle-of-the-night fear and I’d sleep easier knowing no one had seen me leaving the track.
I got the bike just out of sight of the road then took off the pannier bags, running them further down the dune to safety then running back up for the bike, feeling exhilarated by the speed and secrecy. It was a much more open spot than the other, only just out of sight, but close enough to hear the sea and I instantly felt at soothed by the sound.
Putting up the tent took a while. I only managed to get a couple of tent pegs to stay firm in the sand but there were plenty of rocks to wrap the guy lines around. A little bird flew over, landing on the bike to watch.
As soon as the tent was up I immediately felt like my safety was secured… so long as I didn’t stray too far from it. So strange the things we attach to, and how easily we attach.
I made peppermint tea and instant noodles and wondered over them like no one had ever made or consumed such things in the history of humankind – like I’d just discovered fire.
All this busyness and excessive self-congratulations left me with little time to be afraid. The stars were popping out and I could barely contain myself. What an unbelievable first day.
Drunk on stars, I climbed into my little tent. Even if I’d gone home the very next day I felt like all the planning and fretting had been worthwhile, just for that one taste of being in the wild.