Well I left Winnipeg just under a week ago, so here’s what I’ve been up to since:
The First Few Days
I felt overwhelmingly lost, confused, scared, lonely and anxious my first few days. So much so that I would have considered quitting had I not been half way around the world, so financially invested, and too proud. Gradually though, these feelings are being replaced with more confident and excited ones, especially as I meet more riders.
On my first day, I connected with a rider from Canada at breakfast who offered to help build my bike (thank Allah).
After building my bike, I had the opportunity to visit the Egyptian Museum (insane) and Tahrir Square (fascinating) and the Nile with some other riders and an Egyptian man (Osman) who is distantly connected to one of the riders. We couldn’t have asked for a more interesting and generous tour guide. Osman is an engineering professor, focussing on renewable energy. He oversees some council that develops alternative energy for all of Africa, has personally started a large wind farm and is the primary advocate for sustainability here in Egypt.
I was so happy to meet up with a friend from Winnipeg, Adam, who has been living in Cairo for over 2 years! He showed me around this great city and gave me some insight into the culture. He also helped me get my phone up and running which is how I’m able to post this from my tent in the desert!
There are 43 riders on this year’s tour (29 men and 14 women), which is a slightly smaller group than in previous years. Two couples, a father son duo, and two sets of friends. Ten riders are from Toronto, and another 5 from Canada. The rest are from the other English speaking countries of the world, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Spain, Taiwan and Namibia.
There are many interesting riders but by far the most impressive is an American man who will most likely win the race. He had (until last year) the Guinness world record for fastest 1000 km cycled 32 hours), completed the Race Across America in 11 days (averaging two hours of sleep per night) and his longest race was 58 consecutive hours. Wow. The host of Canada’s Worst Driver and Handyman is also a rider!
The first thing or tour director said in our first meeting was that this “is not a bike tour, it’s a social experiment,” and that or biggest challenges will be with our other riders. So far I think I will get along really well with all but one, and maybe two riders. I’m looking forward to the competition between the male racers. The women on the other hand, have all agreed to sign up as racers so that we can fix the race and each win a stage, and thus take home a plaque.
Traffic in Cairo is something to write home about. Osman had TWO accidents while we were with him. After one in which he rear ended someone, several waves and nods were enough to get us on our way, with Osman acknowledging “it’s always social when you live in a circus.”
Another notable point about Cairo is the men. If I didn’t know better, I would think that Cairo had 19 million men and 1 million women based on the people you see outside. I was prepared for a lot of stares (which I got) and harassment (which wasn’t as bad as expected). For the most part, every Egyptian has been exceptionally friendly, starting every conversation with “welcome welcome!” Tourism is very very slow and everyone is eager to gauge our perceptions of the country and convince us that we are safe and must tell others. Here’s how dozens of conversations have proceeded:
Egyptian (always a man): “you are welcome!”
Me: thank you!
E: where you from?
Me: Canada 🙂
E: Canada dry!
Me: haha yup
E: I have a (son/friend/cousin) in Canada! How do you like Egypt? You are very safe here, very safe (I was even told this at Tahrir Square with A protest in te background)
Me: Egypt is great I love it!
E: tell everyone! (at this point, I’m relieved if they don’t point out that they are the owner of a shop and try to drag me there-can’t collect any knick knacks on this trip after all-though most do)
The First Day
I was feeling pretty calm in the morning, after months of anxiety, the day had finally arrived! We left the resort at 7:00, to make our way in a convoy to the pyramids (the official start) through heavy traffic. After lots of pictures and media, we were finally off. Getting out of heavily polluted Cairo took three hours, and we only covered a distance of 40 km, so that was pretty draining on our energy levels. It gave me an appreciation for the size of the city however, and the fresh air we will have for the rest of the tour!
Temperatures were a big concern of mine. The daily high through most of Egypt is around 16 degrees, and the overnight low around 5 degrees. Not exactly ideal camping weather, but as uncomfortable as the mornings and nights are, I brought the appropriate clothing. What a huge relief.
The Challenge Ahead
We must cover a distance of 166km today, double the longest distance I have ever cycled (until yesterday). I am already sore (knees and neck) and still haven’t kicked my jet lag, but the roads are amazing. I’ll listen to some podcasts, take a lot of painkillers, and do my very best.
I truly appreciate all the support you guys have given me, it will really keep me going through the homesickness, pain and cold!! Thank you!
Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll try to answer them in future posts. I’ll definitely post an entry about logistics and our daily schedule!