We’re a week into the ride, which is just about enough time to paint a picture of what a day in my new state of existence is like. Here’s a taste of what happens when you’re riding across Africa.
The schedule is fairly simple and almost military in its consistency. We wake up at 6:15 am, although I’ve determined that the secret to a good day is to wake up twenty minutes sooner and have some time to collect my thoughts and possessions. The other riders are extremely efficient at packing up; the one day that I dallied an extra ten minutes, I exited my tent to find myself standing on an empty, windswept plain.
We head to breakfast at 6:45 am. Meals are a time to eat as much as possible, especially because I seem to be eternally hungry. The first few days I exercised some phenomenal self control and allowed myself a square of chocolate that I’d carefully hoarded from Cairo every few hours between meals. Now I just eat full bars in one go. Breakfast consists of oatmeal or muesli, fruit, and bread. All of these foods are delicious, but they primarily serve as vehicles for as much Nutella as I can respectably nab without drawing accusing stares from other riders. After breakfast, we fill up water bottles and hit the road by around 7:15 am.
The morning ride is anywhere from 60 to 80 km, depending on the roads. We’ve been lucky so far: with the exception of one day that involved a steady climb for 42 km, the other roads have been flat and paved. In that sense, Egypt is a warmup for some of the mountainous roads ahead, most notably in Ethiopia. Our major obstacles have been children. Most have greeted us in a peaceable manor on the road to Luxor, but some have been stone-throwing demons. This is evidently a major problem in some areas of the ride, an issue we attempt to avoid by riding in packs where appropriate. I’ve already identified the riders who look the most intimidating, as I’m fairly certain that I don’t fit into that category myself.
Lunch is generally a hasty affair, but also a good time to relax the bum and leg muscles. During the first few days, I decorously consumed two sandwiches and a few oranges at each lunch. Those days are already long gone, and I think my record is now seven sandwiches, one of which was a peanut butter and jelly that I ate just for comfort. Lunch is also a good time to regroup if I want to change around riding partners. I often ride by myself, but if I do ride with a group or another person I try to stick with them the full morning or afternoon. The other riders (there are 32 of us; plus four who are only riding from Cairo to Khartoum) are an interesting bunch from all over the world – most have crazy stories from previous adventures – and it’s been fun getting to know them.
The afternoon ride is another 60 to 100 km, depending on where the tour organizer is able to find a suitable campsite. In Egypt, we’ve had an extensive police presence accompanying us who dictates where we can stay the night. I haven’t decided whether this is comforting or alarming. It was, however, pretty impressive to watch them shut down a major artery in Cairo on the first day of the ride. While it helped that most people were at Friday mosque at the time, I’ve never seen the ring road around Cairo so clear.
Depending on energy levels and speed, I usually finish my ride for the day around 3:30 pm, which gives me enough time to pitch my tent and go to a stretch session led by one of our fellow riders who is a yoga instructor in her other life. We then have a rider meeting at 5:00 pm to discuss details of the route for the following day. This is a moment of truth, as we get to hear whether the terrain is likely to be easy or grueling.
After the meeting, we have a hearty dinner, spend some time washing dishes, and head to bed. At least for this first week, we’ve been going to sleep around 7:00 or 8:00 pm – bedtimes that I haven’t followed since I was six years old and in trouble for something. It helps that it’s dark by then; it’s also been bitterly cold so far – unseasonably so, according to the Egyptians. It gets warmer as we go south, and I’m looking forward to the morning when I can feel my fingers even before I’ve had an hour or so of warmup on the bike. From what I hear, I should be savoring these moments because it’s about to become devastatingly hot.
The beautiful and varied landscapes make up for what might otherwise seem to be a monotonous routine. We’ve traveled along the Gulf of Suez, through various desert landscapes, and over beautiful mountain ranges that look utterly unique. One day we had a short ride of only 84 km, which provided enough time to brave the cold and go diving in the pellucid waters of the Red Sea.
We’ve also been lucky to have a group of Egyptian racers accompanying us to Sudan. One of the riders is a hopeful for the Egyptian national team, and all of them are friendly and extremely patient with the multitude of questions they receive about Egyptian culture. Ahmed and Khalid have been helping me with my Arabic, which is likely to become increasingly useful as we head further south and encounter fewer English speakers.
Overall, the experience has been amazing. I’ll write more about being back in Egypt in a separate post, but it’s a country of incredible history and energy. Meanwhile, my bum has moved from denial, through anger, and into bargaining. With any luck, I’ll achieve acceptance within the next week.
Getting ten hours of sleep every night
Feeling like any form of sustenance is a feast
British cyclist: “The Brits don’t really do sex.”
American cyclist: “Then how do you procreate?”
British cyclist: “A firm handshake.”
Lowlights (easy winner):
Putting on chamois cream in the morning. SO COLD.