The End of the Road in Egypt…

So today marks the last riding day in Egypt. I rode a total of 832 km in 8 days (out of 1005 km…more on that later), and my body is definitely feeling it, though getting stronger every day! There is so much to say, it’s hard to put into words, but I’ll try to give a general summary of my days thus far. It’s pretty simple really. All we do is bike, eat, sleep and repeat.

Bike
Egypt was a great place to start our tour as the roads are perfectly paved. Given how sore our bums still are, most of us wonder how we would have survived had the tour started with rougher roads.  We also have a police and ambulance escort for the Egyptian section (they take tourist safety very seriously!). Their presence is reassuring but for the most part they just follow us girls and film our backsides.

Most Egyptians are incredibly supportive, with 9/10 who honking in support or yelling welcome/hello/what is your name (very enthusiastically). That being said, cycling in Egypt became very challenging once we entered the Nile valley (after five days of desert landscapes).  Fertile lands equal more screaming children to dodge, donkeys, cars and tuk tuks. I can’t take my eyes off the road for more than one second or disaster could strike. We quickly discovered that the happy children of the valley loooove throwing anything they can get their hands on at cyclists. They also enjoy whipping us with sugar canes, or launching them like spears at our bikes.

Every day that we get on our bikes we assume the very real risk that we might not survive. Day 1: my friend Femke from Holland crashed with another cyclist. Day 3: I rode by myself, was followed by a truck driver for several kilometers and had someone try to “attack” me from the side of the road. My friend Marita from Ireland was molested by this boy minutes before I passed, and minutes after I passed, he pushed Shona from South Africa into a truck. Fortunately, the police and ambulance were at the scene in a matter of minutes, and an ER doctor and nurse from Canada were riding close behind. The truck driver chained the boy to his truck until the police arrived. It appears he may be mentally disabled/ill. That was the end of me riding by myself, for Egypt at least. Day 6: The attacks start. Our mechanic Doug, also from South Africa, had the worst luck. In an attempt to avoid getting whipped by a sugar cane, he was clipped by a car and went flying. He is ok but his bike is dead. Some people are pretty shaken as a result of these events but I feel it’s important to remember that the children are never really intending to be malicious. We also must remember that the rock wielding children will be worse and relentless once we hit Ethiopia. Day 7: Strategies for avoiding attacks from kids (riding in groups, starting earlier in the day, greeting them in Arabic, having water bottle handy etc) are a success. As scary as this all sounds, the reward has been great. The thrill of cycling in such a chaotic, developing and foreign (in terms of language, religion, customs etc) country, and facing my fears every single day can’t be beat.

Photos: Racer peleton leaving Safaga and me getting followed by the police

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Eat
I’m very pleased to report I have found some kindred souls who share my chocolate addiction. Very convenient really, as we venture outside our campsites to find a couple chocolate bars each night. The food prepared by the tour has been surprisingly great! Even better, I have an excuse to eat three Nutella sandwiches every day!  I switched to a vegetarian meal option when I discovered it was still very high in protein, yummy and not a high maintenance request. I’d guess around a quarter of the riders are vegetarians. In addition to 1-2 chocolate bars and 1-2 bags of chips per day, and 2 granola bars provided by the tour, we have:

Breakfast (6:45 a.m)

  • Coffee/tea
  • Oatmeal
  • Muesli and milk
  • Bananas
  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter and Nutella

Photo: Freezing at breakfast!

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Lunch (between 9:30 and 1:00, depending on how fast we ride/how far the stop is…anywhere from 50 km to 75 km from camp)

  • Tuna/egg salad/sandwich meat with cheese
  • Tomatoes and cucumbers
  • Bread and condiments
  • Oranges/bananas/apples/mangos
  • Nutella and peanut butter

Generally, I wolf down two sandwiches with Nutella and bananas and peanut butter, and one “normal” sandwich. I then refill my water bottles.

Photo: Lunch stop on the Nile

20120121-154212.jpgSoup (1:00 pm-5:00 pm depending on when we finish cycling)

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Dinner (5:30)

  • Vegetarian Dish: yummy beans, spices and veggies
  • Rice/Pasta
  • Meat Dish
  • Veggie side
  • Bread

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Sleep
Well by the third night of sleeping on the ground without running water I had matched my camping record (Duke of Ed woowoo), so pretty proud of myself, particularly because it has been so damn cold and I haven’t been much of a baby about it at all! I’m adjusting well to baby wipe showers, wearing every warm item of clothing I brought to bed, and waking up to all my belongings covered in sand, but sleeping on a thin pad is going to take some getting used to. We’re usually in our tents by 6:30 and asleep by 7:00 (yup fun bunch we are), though hopefully this will change as it gets warmer, assuming the mosquitos aren’t too bad. We start packing up our stuff around 5:30, but I’m usually tossing and restless from 2:00 am-5:00 am, so eager to get ready by 5:30. In another post I’ll explain camp in more details, because this post is getting pretty long…

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Biggest Surprise

Never in a million years did I think I would enjoy cycling on hills. That and my bum isn’t too sore 🙂

Highlights

  • I rode my first 100 km on the first day only to ride my first 100  miles on the second! yay!
  • I learned how to clean my drive train (is that what it’s called?) and fix a flat. I had one flat tire and it will hopefully be my last as I learned early on that you have to inflate your tires every night! One rider had 5 flats in one day, another couple have had 2 in one day.
  • I didn’t die when the temperatures dropped to -1 overnight. I can confirm that my sleeping bad is indeed rated to 0.
  • I survived 56 km of uphill riding (!!!!)
  • I really enjoyed my rest day in Luxor (Karnak Temple, Nile cruise) and all the markets I have visited in Egypt. It is so much fun joking around with Egyptian vendors, they have a great sense of humor, even if the constant attention for being a female is a bit much.
  • Getting to know all the riders! Please see my friend Carla from Canada’s blog for a better update and more information on our rest day excursions in Luxor, she is much more funny and organized than I am. http://www.carlabikesafrica.com

The Challenge Ahead

Tomorrow we catch the boat to Sudan. Apparently, this is when most riders first get sick, as we’ll be in questionable quarters, sharing the space with livestock for more than a day. I’ve been chosen, with 5 other riders to sleep with the staff on the deck of the boat (ie I don’t get a cabin). I hope this means that they think I’m easy going and not that they are trying to punish me. With Sudan comes HEAT, which we are all dying for, but will probably regret. With heat comes malaria, heat exhaustion and sunburns. We must be vigilant!

That’s probably enough for today huh? I think that’s enough for today 🙂 I’ll explain my injuries and schedule more in another post! Thank you all for reading!

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My First Week

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).

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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.

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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!

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The Riders

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.

Cairo

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!

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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.

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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!