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1 Egypt

Jan. 8, ’09 -Arrival in Cairo-

I arrived safely in Cairo and was glad to see that my bike made it too. I checked into my hotel room and even though it was 2 a.m. here I couldn’t sleep. I decided to unpack my bike from the shipping crate and start to assemble it. The guys at Village Cyclery in Chicago did a great job of packing my bike and getting all of my gear in one box: 4 spare tires, 5 spare tubes, 1 spare rim, spare cables, brakes, spokes, chains etc. plus my bike pack and every bit of equipment needed for a 7, 300 ride! I had no idea just how far they had to disassemble the bike though to get it all packed in there. I spent over an hour on it before I realized there was no way I was going to get it all back together correctly. I got a few hours sleep and went downstairs to a group meeting. I was pretty embarrassed. Everybody else had their bikes assembled and there I was with a bunch of parts. The Tour d’Afrique guys were great though and helped me get it all back together.

 

There was an organizational meeting in the morning after which we had lunch. After lunch I rode for a couple of hours around Cairo with a few of the people from the group. Wow…raging traffic, blaring horns, women in Berkas, kids running out in front of us, cows and donkeys in the streets…pinch me, I’m in Egypt!

Nervous Anticipation

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Jan. 10, 2009- Day one of the Tour d’Afrique- Today I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, intimidated and was seriously questioning my decision to do this tour. I figured I’d have days when I questioned the decision but I really didn’t expect to have one on the first day. We rode about 10 kilometers to the official start of the trip at the foot of the great pyramids. Everybody seemed to have it together but me. My cycle computer was malfunctioning already. It just kept beeping and driving me nuts. Note to self: Keep equipment simple. This high tech bike computer/heart monitor is hard to figure out and the 2+ hours of beeping today almost caused me to have a heart attack! We started off on an extremely busy highway and although we had a police escort the traffic was terrifying. Huge trucks were very close, cars were constantly honking their horns and the smoke from the exhaust burned my eyes and was choking me to death. Picture the Kennedy coming into Chicago except without any rules! After what seemed an eternity we finally broke out of the traffic but then there was a constant uphill grade and a steady headwind. I was left in the dust by the group. This was definitely not what I envisioned. Am I out of my league? I was picked up by the Truck and in spite of their words of encouragement I was NOT encouraged. This is not a good start. I won’t be writing every day but for now I guess it’s just nervous anticipation.

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Jan. 11, 2009 O.K. yesterday was horrible but in the words of the famous song: “what a difference a day makes!”  I rode 135 kilometers today and I averaged 18-19 kilometers per hour. You’ll have to do the math; I’ve given up on that and am already starting to think in metric. I rode over twice as many kilometers today as yesterday in only one hour longer! What a beautiful ride along the Red Sea. It’s very stark, almost all sand and rock except for a stretch of new development that looks strangely out of place. It’s highly developed in fact with what look like brand new condominiums and townhomes. There’re bushes planted here and there that don’t look like they have a chance of survival. The strangest thing is that there are no people. It’s like a movie set awaiting the arrival of the actors. I wonder what market forces precipitated this oddity.

It’s the second day of no toilets or water. Good thing I brought 4 months worth of wet wipes! Between those and some drinking water I’ve been able to keep reasonably clean. The evening campsite is a stark patch of hard sand between the highway’s lanes. It’s kind of tight; I can hear conversation in several other tents, even some occasional flatulence…yep, very tight. I’m definitely feeling better today than yesterday though and hope tomorrow will be o.k. too.

A big climb

 

Jan. 12- I made the full 133 kilometers today but my butt is getting very sore. Took a dip in the Red Sea this evening, it was sooooo refreshing. The beef stew with couscous, tomato salad and dates for dinner were yummy.

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Jan. 13- I only rode 58 k today. I had to stop at lunch because my butt is now open wounds. I didn’t know you aren’t supposed to wear underwear. The seams cause unnecessary abrasions. Randy gave a talk on saddle soars this afternoon. There’s a special way to duct tape your butt to keep you riding…screw it, I’m taking the truck! I splurged on an $18 room at the Toubia Hotel tonight and had coffee with Anne and Cathy a couple of new friends.

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Jan. 14- Why am I here? I think it’s to bike, to see Africa, relax, explore and help the orphans. If I can’t slow down to take a photo now and then what’s the point? There are 5 of us opting to take the truck all day today. It seems I’m not the only one with open butt wounds. It was great relaxing and talking with new friends and kindred spirits. I hope the saddle sore cream works miracles. Camp tonight was pretty gross though. Sixty people fill up five toilets really fast! Our armed entourage has swollen to 30-40 men in uniform. Do we really need that much protection? Just as I was dozing off in my tent there is some loud talking and clamoring when a generator starts up about 10 feet away (2 ½ meters). There’s no way I can sleep so I went out in my long underwear to see an extension chord plugged into the generator illuminating the periphery of the camp ground. I asked why it was needed and was told they needed it to look for foxes during the night…O.K. Fortunately one of the English speaking guards agreed to turn off the generator…it must have been my outfit! I’m not sure if they’re here to watch out for us or just to watch US.

 

Jan. 15- We ride 95 km to Luxor today. We enter the Nile river valley and it is a huge change as it becomes greener and more fertile. There are more people, kids running along side us shouting hellos, donkey carts and those damn busses and trucks again. The beer at days end tastes exquisite.

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Jan. 16- REST DAY! I slept in till 7:30, what a treat. I went to the Temple of Carnack which was started in 1500B.C. Luxor is big tourism. Strangely enough though there are fewer guards at these huge tourist spots than at our camp a couple of nights ago. The market is a visual and sensory treat, much more interesting than our malls at home. It’s great to take a day off and be a tourist. It’s soooo much better than Vegas!

 

Jan. 17- We ride along the Nile today 117 km from Luxor to Idfu. I’m definitely getting stronger, I can really feel it. Some of the fast riders are starting to slow down and smell the coffee. The camaraderie is starting to build. Some of my friends have been drafting me on windy stretches. There are times though when I still end up biking alone for periods. I had two very contrasting encounters with teens today. I rode past a group of six lovely young girls in pretty headscarves. We exchanged hellos and when I asked “how are you girls?” They politely responded “fine, thank you!” For some reason I was really touched and nearly cried. Here I am a married woman, cycling across Africa unaccompanied by my husband; I couldn’t help but be choked up by the contrast in our lives. On the darker side though a group of about 20 boys on the other side of the street threw rocks at me all at once. One rock, about 2-3 inches in diameter, hit me in the leg and another hit my spokes. I was also spat at. It’s sad that of all the lovely people we’ve seen and passed, these nasty boys will stick out in my memory.

 

Jan. 18- Idfu to Aswan 115 km. Today again I found myself riding alone and another group of boys pitched rocks at me again only this time one of them hurled a broken bottle! I wasn’t hit this time but it did really scare me. At the end of the day I spoke with several riders about it and we made a pact that we’d never break off alone but would always remain together within groups of at least a handful of riders.

 

Tomorrow we ride just 17 km and then board a ferry which we ride for several hours into Sudan. I will have crossed the entire length of Egypt! I’ve decided to write about the contrasts in each country after I’ve crossed it. For Egypt it’s Fears, Hazards and Joys:

Fear- On day 1 I’m riding alone behind the pack when a car pulls up behind me and tails me for over a half hour. I’m thinking to myself “Is this it?”

Joy- Realizing that the car is the Egyptian service hired to protect us!

Fear- A pack of growling dogs with sharp teeth are chasing and barking at me.

Joy- I can out-ride them!

Fear- All tolled about 30 boys hurl stones and glass at me.

Joy- 28 of them are bad shots!

Fear- Crazy bus & truck drivers pass at full speed in my lane while screaming kids are pulling on my jacket.

Joy- I haven’t been hit by a vehicle yet!

Hazard- Unnecessary saddle sores.

Joy- saddle sore cream works miracles!

Hazard- Questionably hygienic conditions mean huge effort to stay healthy.

Joy- Great food, plenty of it and you don’t have to count your calories!

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Jan. 19- Not the QEII! We convoy 17 km to the Aswan Damn to board the ferry for the next leg of the journey. It is chaotic mayhem as we approach the boat. The Egyptian vendors upon seeing our group try to gouge us for whatever they can get. I walk away, mouth watering, from an ice cream bar rather than pay $5.00. We’re not allowed to take photographs either if we value our cameras. We board the ferry pushing our bikes up the ramps along with the other cargo, like TV satellite dishes etc. By the time we bring our bags back on board many of our rooms are no longer ours as they’ve been double booked and it’s essentially survival of the fittest when it comes to keeping rooms. Later as I’m wandering around the boat I find myself in an area that I later find out is the 3rd class section. Picture me in Oakley sunglasses and brightly colored clothing (though appropriately long pants and sleeves) as rows of seated Arab men stare at me. I’m sure I look as alien to them as they do to me. As I wander up to the upper deck the chaos is reigning supreme. Dozens of men are negotiating (yelling and shouting) and suddenly the call to prayer is made. There is a beautiful peaceful silence as the prayerful on deck bow in the direction of Mecca. In another moment the prayers are over and the yelling and screaming resumes without skipping a beat. I get the concept of praying 5 times a day but it doesn’t seem to be having the impact I imagine Mohamed was looking for. My room is decent though no windows. The TDA staff is sleeping on deck so that their clients can stay in the rooms. They do a phenomenal job of serving us selflessly. I loved the experience of crossing Egypt but I am definitely ready to leave this country.