Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Safaga, Egypt-on the Red Sea
Today marked our 4th day on the road and 530 km or 318 miles so far. The first day was the toughest. We had a headwind of about 24 m/hour. It was all I could do to pedal into camp that day. The sides of my knees were aching, the "bunion" on my right foot was throbbing, and I was just spent. Luckily, I was in good company. We started the day out under the Tour d'Afrique banner next to the pyramids. Before I arrived to our starting point, I played dumb tourist and got cajoled into taking a camel ride from this Egyptian camel driver. It was thrilling to be on a camel walking alongside these ancient pyramids much like the ancient Egyptians would have but I didn't realize until I was up high on the rider platform that he probably wanted money! It was an amazing start to the day. After a quick rider briefing, we followed the police convoy until our desert camp. Biking alongside the highway for about 30 miles was not as bad as a thought. You just need to be wary of buses that pull off to the side to pick up people and then start again. Every Egyptian driver has been very friendly with cheers and lots of encouraging honks. They also honk their horns to let you know they are coming. Once we got out of the city that is when the headwind appeared. All I can say is tough, tough, tough.
I road with a bunch of different people the first day including the tour doctor, Dr. Luke. It is good to "get in good with the doc" I figured! We pushed up the last incline into camp and had about 10 minutes to set up my new tent before it turned dark. I had never set it up before, not good, but luckily I had lots of help from my new friends. Everyone has been so helpful and friendly. We are all interdependent so far and I hope that it stays this way.
The second day we biked along the Red Sea and we had an amazing tailwind. That tailwind made all the difference. Who would have known we could have covered the longest distance that I have ever biked without too much pain. We biked 168 km the second day which is approx. 100 miles. On a mountain bike nonetheless! We took pictures along the way and I got to know fellow rider Joachim Loeffel, a German, a little better. Lunch is always about half-way through the ride and is full of tuna fish, pita bread, some fruit, cheese, sometimes sandwich meat and refills of water and energy fuel. I have begun to eat the energy bars that PMV, a South African company has generously provided.
By the third day, about 8 of us have formed a peloton of riders who all go about the same speed. It consists of Joachim, Alex, Ashleigh, Harrison, Josh, Maxime, Natalia and me. We were "bad" cyclists and practically took over the road (there was hardly any traffic) and with the wind at our backs we all had Titanic moments! We have been working well as a team; they have been some issues-bloody noses and 3 flat tires. We all wait for one another and encourage one another when the going gets tough!
Yesterday we got into camp early-we camped besides an abandoned building. The Red Sea was a 10 minute walk away and since I had never been swimming in it, I just had to. It was as cold as Lake Superior but has beautiful greens and blues and the bottom was sandy. I got to wash myself off a bit in the salt water. Some of the young guys tossed a soccer ball around and some riders were like polar bears and stayed in the sea forever.
We had a fabulous meal last night for dinner: mashed potatoes, green beans, and beef with onions-all cooked in a spicy sauce. First time I went back for seconds. After dinner it is pretty cold in the desert so we pretty much return to our tents to snuggle into our sleeping bags. The alarm (aka "truck horn") goes off at 6:00 am and breakfast is ready by 6:15 am. There are bigs vats of porridge, Nutella and bread, jam, eggs, and tea/coffee. I am working on my system to make things a little quicker and become more organized but I figure I will get faster with time.
We usually take off about 7:30 am to start our day. Tomorrow is going to be another challenge as we start biking through the mountains to make our way into the Nile Valley and head for Luxor. I plan on going to bed early tonight. My tent looks out to the Red Sea as we are camping on a hotel beach tonight. Not too bad, eh?
I'll try and report the happenings in a couple of days. For now, know that I am well-fed, surrounding by like-minded active people, making astute observations, and suffering/enjoying the challenge!