Monday, January 31, 2011

TdA Stage 13. Sand Everywhere.

143km. Dead Camel Camp to Desert Camp.

Roads, geography and general conditions are still conducive to group riding, so I've been lucky enough to continue working on my group riding skills and socializing as we pass the miles through the desert.

Traffic is beginning to get heavier. There are a few cars, but most of the traffic is big coach buses that appear to be relatively new. It is so strange to be in a place that is so undeveloped and yet has this new pavement and new buses.

We saw the men racers come and go within our short lunch. It is funny watching their games. One will quietly sneak off while the others are peeing or eating. The group that I ride with is much more cooperative. No wasting time waiting for people, but no sneaking, either.

The wind picked up in the afternoon, which meant a nice tail wind coming in to camp. Jorg and I hit 59km/hr on our final sprint. The wind also meant setting the tent up in a mini sand storm. Everything that I own is covered in dust and sand (thank god my chamois are in a zip lock bag). I tried passing the time until dinner by taking a nap in the shade and protection underneath a parked truck, but it was futile. I have sand in my ears, through my hair, in my nose and an exhaust stain on the back of my shirt. When I ate dinner, I could feel the grit of the sand grains in my teeth.

Now that it is dark, the wind has subsided. It is warm enough that I'm still wearing shorts. I think that I might even sleep with no fly on tomorrow! The stars are amazing at desert camp. I can't wait to fall asleep staring at them.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

TdA Day 12. Time and Punishment.

141km. Dongola to Dead Camel Camp.

Why aren't there more (any?) songs about breakfast food? Nothing brings in the dawn like a good song and a good breakfast. Yet, all of the good songs are about love and broken hearts.

We rode strong but fun for most of the day. Big group for the first half, and about seven of us (carrie, peter-the-plumber, luke, martin, henry, mike-with-three-bikes) for the second half. The group shrunk on account of 'tori's quick lunches'. I consider myself pretty easy-going, but that's not how everyone else interprets it. When we stop for a sandwich, I call a time and count down until we leave. No time for f'ing around. Muscles get cold! Like the Ger once told me - just keep moving. Anyhow, I guess some people are the same way. And...others are not. At least I don't have double standards. I left in such a hurry that I forgot to take my jacket off. Rode the last 70km in blazing heat with my jacket on. Martin spilled the tomatoes from his pita onto his brakes. It was a quickie.

I broke away when the fast guys came by with about 15km to go. I couldn't catch them, so I rode it alone and totally punished myself. On the one hand, it was a great chance for me to see how much farther I could push myself (not much, apparently). On the other hand, I totally destroyed myself and had to spend most of the afternoon rehydrating and laying in the shade. And in the end, I think the solo effort to the campsite only bought me a few minutes over Carrie and a few minutes out of the scorching sun. Very inefficient effort/time ratio. Oh, time, you've got me again!

I managed a short excursion down to the Nile to wash up. 30 minute walk each way in the blazing heat. I think I'm going to have to get a test for that liver parasite when I get back but, oh man, that water felt good!

I was on dish duty with mike-with-three-bikes and funny-matthew-from-edmonton. I'm fairly certain that three people never had so much fun doing chores. Unfortunately, we are going to be smelling a lot like currie for a while.

I haven't figured out why they call this dead camel camp yet. Then again, I haven't exactly been searching around for carcasses.
Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Saturday, January 29, 2011

TdA Rest Day 4. Dongola.

My rest day in this little town was very restful. I didn't get out of my tent until after sunrise as it was coooold. Is it just me, or is it strange that I have been sleeping with a toque every night since we started...I thought that africa was going to be hot. Wtf? Meh, the hot days will come and I will be wishing myself back to this temperature.

The day was focused around preparation, organization and relaxation. And eating. I've been doing a lot of that. A few tent repairs were necessary from the windstorm last week; fabric tears and also a sandy zipper. It will be a miracle if this thing makes it through the next four months. I probably should have spent at least a moment considering whether a tent called the 'birdhouse' could survive 120 consecutive days of camping in africa.

I had some time to wander around Dongola. I don't know anything about it...population, economy, history. But I can tell you a few things that I like about this place:
- people take pride in their property. Tuktuks are nicely decorated. The tile floors of the little shops are clean. Litter is limited.
- people are smiling and very friendly. Walking down the street, people say 'welcome' and 'hello'. They seem genuinely excited that we have come to see their home.
- people don't seem bothered by western women. I had expected that I would need to dress differently here, but I can wear shorts and a tshirt and not even get dirty looks or cat calls.
- people don't try to scam you. Prices are basically fixed and reasonable.

Tomorrow we carry on south. Four riding days and then we will arrive in Khartoum.

TdA Pictures - first two weeks

Thanks to Erik, I'm now caught up on publishing daily updates. I've been publishing my photos to facebook, if you are interested in catching a glimpse of my experience here so far.

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Stage 5
Stage 6
Stage 7
Stage 8

In Transit 

Stage 9
Stage 10
Stage 11

ooh, and a friend of mine made a little video of the first week.

oh, and there is a young Norwegian guy who takes fantastic pictures. check those out here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

TdA Day 11. Safely in Sudan!

107km. Desert Camp to Dongola.

Yay, I have cheekbones again!

Adam, Carrie and I headed out shortly before sunrise this morning. And I had this feeling like this is what bicycle dreams are made of. The air is fresh. Really, really fresh. And the pavement is flawless. And there is no traffic. And there are miles and miles of open road ahead. And the day is just beginning, so you have so much to look forward to.

We rode at a moderate pace in the morning and then Adam and I joined a pack of men's-peloton-dropouts in the afternoon (Scott, Paul, Joerg, Mike-with-three-bikes). I think that some of these guys will move up in the standings as the roads get tougher, but they are opting out of the chaos that has taken over the men's race. They are just burying each other.

We entered the city of Dongola with a police escort in front and back. Both with sirens on full alert. And there was a media truck with two guys with video cameras beside us, filming. (Probably should not have worn my short shorts today?). I've never had such an entrance. It was exhilarating. And then the local tv station wanted to interview me. And then the national tv station wanted to interview me. Cool.

Communication has been quite limited, so it was only here that rumours started to go around about the stuff going down in Egypt. Erik sent me some news articles. It is so strange to think how worried we were about Sudan and then for Egypt to be in such a state right now. Our timing was very lucky.

Our camp for the next two nights is at the Dongola Zoo. The only wildlife I have seen is a rat and some pretty birds. We have a rest day tomorrow, so I will check around to see what other signs of life I can find.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

TdA Stage 10 - Without a Stick it's Just a Carrot

148km. Desert Camp to Desert Camp

Another lovely day of smooth roads and low traffic. The winds kept us on our toes as it switched from head to cross to tail wind. Felt like it was working against us most of the day, but that might just have been me.

We've had 10 days of riding so far and this is the first time I've really buried myself. I think it started yesterday with inadequate hydration. And then I was so focused on hydration today that I didn't eat enough. On the ride it was fine, but I have just been trashed since getting to camp. I guess I would not appreciate the good days so much if I never felt like this.

Desert Camp was again right next to the Nile. Again, Carrie and I were the first to get in. It was cold and so refreshing. I can't believe how luxurious it feels to shampoo my hair. Not luxurious enough to cure my blues, but still good.

There are no locals in sight. The camp is quite remote. This is more like what I expected camping in the desert would be like. The view of the stars is incredible. And the setting is pretty cool, too. The landscapes around here are a bit mars-like. No vegetation except for a think line of green along the river.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TdA Stage 9 - Borders

150km. Wadi Halfa to Desert Camp

Dude, I'm in Sudan!

Most people probably don't think of Sudan as a destination for early season riding. But they should. Smooth pavement. Low traffic (makes the Dempster Highway look busy). Sure, it's a little dry and looks a bit like mars, but that just adds to the out-of-this-world feeling that you get when your tires roll effortlessly over mile-after-mile of perfect highway.

I've crossed a few borders in my time, and I've always thought it was funny how there was nothing physically to distinguish one side from another; just currency and rules. But it is different here. Crossing from Egypt to Sudan, the landscape is different. The houses are different. The roads and traffic are different. The people look different. I can't tell if I am satisfied or depressed by this.

I decided early that I would make it an 'easy' day and not chase the peloton. Good thing, too, as there was a two man break away and the peloton was making chase. We still made good time, but I didn't pummel my legs. I want to work on getting stronger without needlessly exposing myself to injury or illness.

Our camp today is close to the Nile and a bunch of us went for a swim to clean up and cool off in the afternoon heat. There are a few locals milling about. Quite friendly. Sudan is really nice so far.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TdA Rest Days 2 and 3. Tetris Championships.

In Transit to the Sudan. Aswan to Wadi Halfa.

The day started with a 17km bicycle convoy across town, over two dams, to the ferry terminal. Although the boat doesn't set sail until 6:00pm, getting there before noon was critical. It takes that long to load so much cargo and people. These guys must be masters at Tetris. And the way it comes in is absolute mayhem. Boarding and loading of this thing makes India look orderly.

There was bed space for only half of the riders. So, the rest of us had to find space in the public area on the top deck. Space went quickly, with people laying blankets and stacking boxes (of karaoke machines, pots and pans, juicers, remote controls, etc.) in a fortress-like fashion to re-enforce the borders. A bunch of riders came around and we made a circle and dumped all of our groceries in the middle. Kind of like how kids build forts and share candy. And, as it turns out, our 'groceries' included a lot of candy - snickers, nutella, coke, etc.

I had managed to carve out a square about 6 feet by 6 feet that I thought could fit two or three of us in an emergency. But demand for space far exceeded supply. We ended up sleeping six there. It was another tetris-inspired achievement!

For the second night in a row, I awoke in the middle of the night with intense leg discomfort. It feels a bit like the growing pains I had when I was a kid. But it's just in my quads. Maybe my muscles are growing? Like the hulk? Or maybe I'm getting taller?! Or maybe I'm just riding too hard.

The random stuff on this boat is hilarious. The safety equipment (ex. Rescue boats) is bolted to the ship. There was an announcement in the morning 'if anyone has lost a machete, please come and claim it on the captain's deck'.

The paperwork is nuts to get into Sudan. I applied for, paid for and received a visa before coming here. That was $100, a courier to/from ottawa, a sponsorship letter, an application form, and a passport photo. But, registration is necessary upon entering, which requires another form, $65, and another passport photo. And then there is another form that you fill out on the ship. And then there are another two more forms that you fill out before you get off he ship. I'm not even joking. And then they check your bags. And then you have to hand in your passport. I'm not sure where mine is exactly, right now. But neither does anyone around me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

TdA Day 8. Battle of the Prayers

115km. Idfu to Aswan.


It's 5:05am and it seems that there is a mosque on every corner of this town and they have chosen this morning to have a prayer battle. Aaaaaalllllaaa!


Yay! Nutella at breakfast!


I started out with Carrie again. We held a good pace for the morning and (again!) I took off when the peloton came through. We finished the ride in Aswan, which is, in my opinion the nicest Egyptian city that I have seen so far.

There are three Egyptian riders (former national team) that have been cycling with us for the last week. They took us to 'planet island', which is a botanical garden on an island in the Nile. It's a tourist trap, but it was a nice break from the noise of the city. And, after the last week in the desert, it was just nice to be around some green stuff. We hung out on the roof of the transport boat like we had known each other for years; even though we met just over one week ago. I can't believe how quickly a community can form and become close under conditions like this.

Since we will be heading to Sudan tomorrow on a ferry (which means being off the bike for 2 days and then without a drink for a couple of weeks), Carrie and I decided to light it up in Aswan. We heard that there was a club at the Movenpick (apparently they do more than just ice cream). We brought some male escorts (mike-with-three bikes and funny-matthew-from-Edmonton) for company. The hotel is located in the middle of the nile, so getting there involved another boat trip. Wicked view from the Panorama lounge on the 13th floor and some fancy (and expensive) cocktails.

It wasn't quite the evening of indulgence that we had set out for, but it sure felt glamorous for a handful of people who haven't had much access to showers or toilets for more than a week now.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

TdA Day 7. Hello. Sex?

116km. Luxor to Idfu.
Started again with a friendly pace and group. Carrie, Peter-the-Plumber, Mike-with-three-bikes. That lasted till lunch and then the men's peloton showed up. Again, I hopped on and managed to cling to it until the final sprint. I was so excited that I felt high all afternoon.

We walked around Idfu and, somehow, amid the run down shops, we found a back alley oasis with the most delicious fresh falafels in a little alleyway. I'm pretty sure this is the sort of thing that my travel doctor told me not to do, but this is what makes travel so satisfying. Mmmmm. Local food. And an endless appetite!

The popular greeting here for western women seems to be 'Hello. Sex?'. Carrie and I passed a burqa shop and decided to make an investment in one (each). Between here and Sudan, I'm sure we will find opportunities to use it. And it doubles as a curtain for post ride clothing changes, since there seem to be few bushes/hills/structures in the desert to give a girl some privacy.

Many people seem to be suffering from saddle sores. This is another topic that normally wouldn't make it into dinner conversation, but is now a regular topic for discussion. I'm just thankful that I'm not one of the medical staff. As I was walking by the med tent this afternoon, I overheard someone say 'do you want me on all fours?'.

Friday, January 21, 2011

TdA Rest Day 1 - The Journey and the Destination Rest Day. Luxor.

People laughed at first when they asked me what I planned to do on my rest day and I answered 'buy a case of beer and hire a driver to take me around to see the sights'. But, I managed to convince 10 other people to join me, so I at least I'm not the only crazy one.

We walked down the street until we found someone who could take us across the river and to the Valley of the Kings. And then we remembered that we still needed to get some beer. Though beer is readily available at tourist spots, the muslim leanings of the locals make it slightly harder to find elsewhere. Our 'guide' picked up our beer from a local shop, which was a building that looked abandoned. The driver kept our minibus moving while the guy knocked on a plywood window. We eventually turned around and picked him up about a block from where we had dropped him. And he had a big bag of beer cans at about a third of the price that we normally paid.

The Valley of the Kings itself was impressive, though I will have little to remember it by as, once again, cameras were prohibited. To be honest, though, the adventure of procuring transportation, scouting out 'underground beer' and bumming around town was really the highlight of the day. The sights were just an excuse to get out and have these other experiences.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

TdA Day 6. Souvenirs and Memories

93km. Desert camp to Luxor.

Mike-without-a-bike received news that Iberia found his bike. Unfortunately, he had already bought a new one in Cairo AND ordered a new Moots to be built up and shipped to Ethiopia. I guess this makes him Mike-with-three-bikes.

Tomorrow is a rest day (no riding) and the distance today was short, so I had ants in my pants to lay it out. I started out with Carrie and Peter and a few others that are fast-but-not-too-too-fast, bit when the peloton came by, I jumped on. I took a few pulls and managed to stay with them until Luxor. It felt great!

Generally speaking, I'm riding faster than I ever remember being able to ride. I keep trying to cool it, but I'm feeling strong and it is hard to hold back. I know that the roads will soon change and there won't always be a chance to ride with the group like this. So, I am just going to go with it for now.

I'm not a big fan of souvenirs, but an opportunity arose today that I could not resist. A Hookah pipe! I don't think it is Egyptian, per se, but it certainly is popular here. And the best part is that we can use it as we make our way down to Cape Town and it will be loaded with so many memories before I take it back to Canada.

Carrie, NoHomo, Mike-with-three bikes and I went for a late lunch at the Military Club and then rented a boat to drive us up and down the river for an hour. The kid driving the boat offered to let me drive. I took the bait and gave it a go, not realizing that it was a juvenile ploy to cop a feel. It was so subtle that I didn't process what was happening until it was too late. And then it was Carrie's turn. We had a good laugh after, but we are not letting that happen again.

We finished the day with a midnight Hookah session on the roof of the hotel beside our campground. From the roof we could see the Valley of the Kings, the stars and the city lights. Pure magic.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TdA Day 5. Treasures of Safaga

139km. Safaga Beach Camp to Police Check Stop Camp.

We woke up to the sound of prayers over a loud speaker from the mosque shortly after 5:00am. This is our typical wake up time. I've really come to love the sound of the prayers; it beats an alarm clock and so nicely fits the soundtrack of this chapter of my life. I think that it has even helped me come to enjoy waking up before sunrise; something that I thought I'd left behind when I stopped working.

Suddenly 139km doesn't seem like much distance at all. Carrie got chased by a three legged dog during the ride, which was hilarious for me but rather terrifying for her. That was the first dog that had the balls to come out on the road to chase us. I guess that it shouldn't be surprising that he is missing a leg.

This was by far the most relaxed day that we've had so far. Bas and Scott hung back from the main peloton for a relaxed day and acted as good meat shields for us. We rode in an awesome group all day. Good tempo. NoHomo introduced me to Hoho's, which are a nice alternative to the Snickers/Bounty diet that I've been keeping during the rides. A nice find!

Our camp for the night is also a police stop. We arrived relatively early and it was still hot out, so I found a tap with running water and I tried showering there in my underwear. Probably not the most culturally sensitive thing to do in a muslim country. I definitely had an audience. But it feels so good to have clean hair; I could not resist.

The shovels were out in full force tonight. When you camp without toilets, you have to have a system to deal with waste. Ours is to dig 'cat holes'. For most of my life, talking about taking a shit has been taboo. But, suddenly, now that we are digging cat holes, we are keenly aware of the bowel condition of our friends based on the pace and frequency at which they walk/sprint toward the shovels. I've seen the Indiana Jones trilogy many times, and I've never seen an archaeologist run for a shovel. It can mean only one thing!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TdA Stage 4. Having Cake and Eating it, too.

100km. Desert Camp to Safaga Beach Camp.

There was a crazy sandstorm last night. It felt like armageddon was upon us. I thought my tent was going to rip off and fly away, Wizard of Oz style. The dust was fine enough to get through the mesh layer in my tent, which was hard on the eyes and lungs, but I suppose that everyone is in the same boat. It was a relief to wake up and sea that I was still in the same spot.

Carrie and I tried again to stay on the men's peloton but got dropped in a hurry. Bas came back to pick us up and bring us back, but it was too much for us to sustain. So Carrie and I dropped back. Not 2km later, they were still within eyesight (so close, yet so far away). Their presence got the attention of a pack of wild dogs (we are guessing that there were 8 or so). The dogs weren't quick enough to get to the road in time to chase the boys. It was a different story for us. Fortunately, for some reason, they did not set foot on the road. Nonetheless, it got the blood flowing.

Thanks to a nice tail wind, we were in before noon. Though I will be camping on the beach tonight, I was able to get a shower at the hotel next to the campground. Felt so nice to use a toilet and shower. I can't believe how far I can feel from civilized society after only a few days from these luxuries.

With the afternoon free, Carrie and I set out to find a birthday cake for Lindsay who turns 57 today. You might be surprised how much you can communicate with someone who speaks another language if you are willing to draw pictures. We drove around town in the back of a man's car to try to find a bakery that could make a giant cake to feed 70 people. It felt like we were doing something sketchy as we would drive a few blocks and the driver would stop the car and get out and Carrie and I would sit and wait and then the driver would come back and go a few more blocks and do the same again. In the end, our local search came up empty. So, we found someone who had a brother in another town that was 60kms away who had a friend who knew someone who had a bakery. We hesitantly handed over a big pile of money and, a few hours later, a man showed up in the alley with a gigantic chocolate cake in his trunk. It said 'Happy Birthday Lindsau'. Close enough.

There were no candles to speak of, but we found some small scale pyrotechnics to shove into the icing for effect, and a plastic little flower that opened up when it was set on fire. Although I've had more snickers bars in the last four days than anyone should eat in a year, it was really nice to have some cake after dinner. This is life.

Monday, January 17, 2011

TdA Stage 3. We Don't Need no Civil War.

133km (actually, 137km). Desert camp to desert camp.

My strategy for the day was to start with the male racer peloton and hang on as long as possible. Hopefully until lunch (70km). But they were animals. It was civil war in there and Carrie and I dropped out somewhere after the 10km mark (not entirely certain as my odometer was not functional). After we dropped back, we slowly picked up singles and doubles until we formed a mini-peloton of eight or so. We had good rhythm for a long while. Then stopped for lunch. I wanted to make it a short stop, but the men thought differently and seemed to settle in for a picnic. So, Carrie and I headed out on our own with one friend and the three of us hammered out the last half of the day.

Getting to camp early has its benefits. Besides getting to pick out a choice spot for my tent, it affords the time to go to the beach of the red sea, which was probably a half hour walk this time, through desert and over pipelines. A good way to bond with a few new people. I've been spending a lot of my recreation time with Peter-the-Plumber, Scott (who is engaged to a Tori), and a dutch guy named Bastiaan (Bas) who measures more than two metres in height (great tor me to draft off). This time, I saw a stingray!

I ate so much at dinner that it probably could have fed a regular family of four. I'm not used to riding with such intensity, so I don't know how much to take in before, on or after a ride. I've just been eating like crazy over the last few days. I wake up in the middle of the night and eat. And I've already lost my cheekbones. Even my eyelids are getting fat. Is it possible that I could gain like 4kgs in 4 days?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 2. Red Sea Calling.

167km. Carrying on south and east toward the red sea, I started the ride with a group of dudes today. They were fast and we rode in a fairly organized pace line that even had an organized sunscreen/pee break. Carrie and I were the only girls in the group and we took full turns to pull. We stayed with the group until lunch (70km) and then had a crazy crosswind for the next 20km. I got stuck on the bad side, so it felt like I was pulling the whole way. Just as well, since Carrie cracked. So, we dropped off the back and rode the rest of the way together. No point in burying ourselves, as we have another four months of challenges ahead. Carrie helped me out with some laughs and made sure that I didn't burn myself out. I just pulled. For 67km.
Our camp was a seemingly random spot on the desert roadside. After setting up our tents, a few of us went for a swim in the red sea! Cold, but refreshing.
Four more days of riding. I can't remember the distances as I'm tired enough to just be playing this adventure minute by minute at this point. Life is good.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

TdA Stage 1. Dead Cats and Cairo Real Estate

Heading south from Cairo by police escort, with a quick detour to the pyramids. Riding in a busy city by police escort is challenging, but was probably the only way for a group of our size to make it safely out of the city. At the very least, it was a good opportunity to see this very big city in a way that I might not otherwise be able to. For example, if I had been in a taxi, I probably would not have noticed that dead cat in a puddle. Still, I love how cities and places smell and sound different. Since starting in Alexandria, I've seen dead dogs, dead horses, dead cats, live camels. I've smelled fresh falafel, raw sewage, diesel exhaust.
There are a lot of half built buildings on the way out of Cairo. At first, I thought they were just run down condos, but a lot of them are just empty. I'm not sure what they are building for, but if someone offers me an real estate investment opportunity in Cairo, I will have no trouble turning it down.
NoHomo rode this stage in his bibs, which was good entertainment. I preferred to stick with my jacket, as the ambient temperature could not have been more than 15 degrees. We had a good tail wind for much of the last 70km rolling into camp. It helped me stick to riding mostly by myself, which I wanted to do until I get into a rhythm. Got a flat about 500metres from camp. I think that I will have to revise my strategy of riding over and through everything as I found two pieces of wire and two pieces of glass that had made their way through the rubber.
We are camping in the desert tonight, and we will continue to do so until we reach Luxor on Thursday. That means no toilets and no showers until then.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cairo / Pre-tour

If I lived in Cairo and breathed this air every day, I would probably smoke, too. But, once you get past the rancid air, the city has a really great vibe. Over the past few days here, I've met a few of the people who I will be riding with as I cycle from Cairo to Capetown over the next four months.
- There's Mike-with-no-bike from San Fran/Boston. Iberia managed to lose his brand new Moots and there was a problem with his baggage tags, so they don't even have a record that he checked in his bike. I'm not an expert on airline baggage tracking, but I think that the prognosis on this one is not good.
- Then there's Megan, a 22 year-old girl from Florida. She's already traversed America three times by bike, which makes her one of the most experienced distance cyclists here.
- There's also NoHomo (long story) from Hong Kong/Seattle rocking the hipster fixie look. He's the youngest (20 years old) and by far the most fashionable rider that I've met. I'm not sure how the chain smoking will work for him, but perhaps this is a great opportunity for a lifestyle change.
- Len and Scott are one of three father-son duos on the tour. Pretty cool way to spend some family time. They both seem well traveled and are avid cyclists. Len is good at 'not taking any crap' and Scott is engaged to a girl with the same name as me.
- 'The Brams', two totally kitted out dutch road riders (rocking the Kelme kit). Running 23mm tires on nice road bikes. They seem to be well prepared and driven for performance on this ride. The rumour is that they both also work for the same company and have girlfriends with the same names.
- Peter the Plumber, a 60-something Aussie-come-South-African-Vietnam war vet. Definitely not shy. But he looks like he has the legs and the mental fortitude to crush just about everyone here. I can't tell yet whether he's gonna drive us all crazy or whether we are all going to fall in love with him.
- Carrie from New Zealand. About my age and full of energy. I haven't gotten to know her very well, but she seems the closest to me in age and fitness.
My actual excursions around the city have been limited. So far, they have included a visit to the Egyptian museum, the camel market, and the pyramids. I know there's more to see, but it will have to wait until the next time as last minute errands have kept me busy over the last few days. I've never had so much time to prepare for something and it is starting to drive me mad. Time to get on with this adventure!

p.s. Picture uploading over the next four months will primarily be by way of facebook. Mostly because it is easy and I'm not sure what kind of internet access I will have.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pigs Get Slaughtered

I may have checked out of the game early, but I still regard Gordon Gecko as a pillar of wisdom. And, his words 'pigs get slaughtered' ran through my mind this morning as I pedaled my way out of Alexandria.
Starting from my hotel in the dark, I made my way around the sea wall to the Biblioteca Alexandria as the sun was coming up. From there, it was a long haul south and east to get out of the city. Traffic mayhem. No shoulder. Strange smells. Heavy road debris. But a beautiful sunrise.
People don't smile and wave here like they do in Guatemala. It's more of a glare, bordering on a stink eye. I'm sure that they don't mean anything negative by it. But, just in case, I made my pit stops brief.
The best stop was at Omar's Cafe, which was almost precisely at the half way point. My egyptian friend Joerg had recommended the feteer here. I think that I might be addicted. Perfect cycling food!
Traffic was courteous (relative to Calgary), but challenging. The most crazy one out there was my driver. Except for the time that he hit me while trying to sneak a picture of me on his cell phone, I think that I was safer on the bike than I would have been in the car.
It was only after he took me down with his car that he understood that I did not want him to take pictures of me while he was driving. So, he switched to practicing his english while driving, which involved reading out of his book (while driving) and then shouting a phrase out the window at me.
Naturally, it was hard to hear, which made responding difficult. So, I asked him to stop. After that, he just played music and would clap to it with both hands or try to impress me with his dance moves. It was so sweet that I couldn't bear to ask him to stop that.

By the nine hour mark, we were in Cairo and 244km of the 248km journey were under my belt. It should have been smooth sailing, but my driver was confused about the final destination. So, we went on an hour long tour of a major street in Cairo - Champs Elysees style (albeit a bit less glamourous).

When we eventually got on the right track, a police car pulled over my drivers car. The communication barrier between me and my driver made it impossible for me to know what exactly the problem was, but I could tell by the look on his face that it was serious. It took 1000 egyptian pounds to get us out of the situation and back en route to the hotel.

Not a bad intro to cycling in Egypt, but the trip was not without challenges. I've got another 12,000 or so kilometres ahead of me...and no doubt some more unexpected challenges. Along the way, I'll try to reflect on this experience whenever I feel tempted to try to grab more. I'm caught between wanting to have it all and knowing that, eventually, pigs do get slaughtered.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Bags Arrived!


I slept in so late after arriving in Alex that I didn't have time to see much of the city, so I walked over to the Montazah Palace and gardens as that seemed the only feasible sightseeing opportunity remaining in the day. It was hard to walk 10 feet without getting some sort of attention. Cars would roll up slowly behind me and follow for a bit. Sometimes they would just move on. Sometimes they would say something in arabic. And then there was one car, with the bass pumping and a familiar sound...western music...what was it? Nellie! I pictured a black dude with a bandaid on his face driving an old cutlass but, when I looked back, I saw this:
Rami and Mohamed (as I eventually learned after they followed me on foot for a while) were just curious what I was doing in Alex, if I was alone, and if I wanted a tour of the city. I politely lied and declined the tour invitation and we went our separate ways. 

On a recommendation, I grabbed seafood for dinner near the sea wall. One of the servers sat at a chair next to me. Not to keep me company, but to keep the tenacious (but extremely cute) kittens from pestering me for scraps. I didn't mind the kittens so much, but the kitten-shoer guy could have been handy during my walk around the Palace gardens.

A band was performing at the restaurant and began singing Boney M's Brown Girl in the Ring and I couldn't help but think that this was not as I pictured Egypt would be. Today made up for that. I hired a car to take me sightseeing for the day; a two day itinerary in one day.

My 'english speaking' driver made my spanish skills look advanced. Most of the tourist sites in Alex do not work well for 'self-guided' tours as there is no english language explanation to guide one along. And, free of the distraction of a verbal explanation of what I was looking at, this left me with plenty of time to walk around and not take pictures (no cameras in most places - even some outdoor exhibits!).

A productive day. I feel that I've seen Alexandria now!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Egypt and Miracles

By a series of miracles, I made it to Alexandria on schedule, just after midnight. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for my bags (location unknown). So, when people ask me what I have been missing since arriving in Africa, I will have to tell them 'everything!'.

After an hour and a half of speaking with the airline, I stepped out the door only to find a bunch of men loitering and staring in the place where I had hoped to come across a taxi.

I eventually found someone to help me. He took me down a short (but dark) alley, into a building and up some stairs and to, miraculously, the tourist police. Despite a near complete language barrier, the policeman took my money, secured me a taxi and I was eventually on my way.

So, what is this place like so far? smells like...cigarette smoke. It tastes like chocolate (on account of the midnight raid of my mini bar). And it sounds like...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dreaming. Doing.

when I fly in my dreams, it is more like i am swimming than moving like a bird. hands reaching in front of me, cupping the air and pulling my body forward toward my destination. and it is silent. free of distraction. i'm peacefully gliding. unencumbered. smiling. free.
i had this feeling today as i left today for the airport; the first step on my journey to egypt. i dreamed about this trip for years; prepared for it for months. and, now, it begins. it doesn't really feel real just yet. but it feels good. no more anxiety. i'm doing it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Years Eve. Prague.

Another city, another story. The backdrop for this one is Prague. The soundtrack for this adventure is served up by Duck Sauce. Barbra Streisand.
The cast is filled with people who I've worked with before. No surprise, INSEADers.
And the theme was unbridled fun. 22 of us made it out in the end, from Canada to Singapore. And I'm pretty sure that none of us will miss it next year.