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Nile Bike Ride Journal

Cycling Day 1

Monday 11th February, Esna-Edfu (54km).

Woken up at 7:30 am by the phone. Thankfully Jason had unwittingly picked the bed by the phone so at least I wasn't the one who had to answer it! Four hours sleep, a foreign country, a long day ahead... getting up was not easy. Opened the curtains in an attempt to get some motivation from the promised bright sunshine, and saw... the windows of another boat, moored right up against ours. This was the story all week - no view for us.

Somehow got out of bed and got dressed and made it to the restaurant for breakfast. The food was quite pleasant - I went for the scrambled egg, hot-dog-sausage-and-peppers-type-thing, and a couple of sticky croissants just to round off with! Everyone was very sleepy. Then went outside for bike fitting. The sky was not exactly the piercing blue we had been expecting, and the sun was not entirely visible (See picture at right). Big sandstorm yesterday, we were told - and the air was still full of sand. Just my luck!

Bike fitting (see pictures) began in earnest at around 9:30, and took quite a long time. The whole process was conducted against a backdrop of local onlookers hanging over the railings and shouting well-known English phrases such as "lovely Jubbley!", "What's your name?" and "How now brown cow?". Ah, home from home.

Back to the restaurant for lunch, which was some kind of beef, some kind of chicken, vegetable and various salady stuff. (The latter was especially welcomed, since we had been warned to avoid anything prepared with water, such as salad, in order to avoid the dreaded Pharoah's Revenge, aka diarrhoea, vomiting, etc.)

At 12:30, we set off for our first excursion, Esna Temple. This was just a short walk away from the boat, and most of us enjoyed it, despite being very keen at this stage to get on the bikes and start the ride. Also had our first experience of an Egyptian market, complete with "enthuasiastic" salesmen.

At 1:30 we were on the bikes, covered in sun cream, and ready to go! Not just sun cream, actually - to illustrate the amount of gear some of us had, on the far right you can see a lovely picture of me in my cycling gear, complete with tree growing out of my head. (What can I say? I'm in the picture so I obviously didn't take it!). From top to bottom, the Amanda Essential Cycling Kit comprised:

  • Helmet (the tour organisers don't let you ride without one)
  • Sunglasses. Every single moment of the ride would have been extremely unpleasant without them. Perfect for covering in suncream and then scratching with sand whilst trying to rub clean enough to see through. By the end of the week, I needed a new pair.
  • Marvellous purple-checked, tasselled scarf worn underneath the helmet and tied under the chin, covering shoulders, back of the neck and throat, to make sure the sun doesn't get a chance to burn those delicate places.
  • Hydration pack (worn on the back like a rucksack) for easy drinking at all times.
  • Mencap Nile Bike Ride t-shirt, to ensure that if we looked like idiots, at least we looked like part of a team of idiots.
  • Bum bag - annoying, but the only way to carry stuff since the bikes didn't have pannier racks, contrary to previous information (grumble grumble).
  • Gloves. No, not to keep the hands warm, but to make sitting on a bike all day easier on the palms and wrists. This can get quite uncomfortable without padded gloves.
  • Cycling shorts - the whole super-padded, tight-lycra affair.
  • Little tiny white socks(Out of picture) - wonderful at collecting a day's worth of desert sand. By the end of each day it looked as though the brown rim was part of the design.
  • Shimano cycling shoes, again, out of the picture (Again, I did not take this picture!).

I think we were all very excited at the prospect of actually starting out on the ride we'd spent so many months preparing for. Well, I know I was! We all set off in a big clumsy clump, but very soon spread out as people began to cycle at their natural speeds. Jason and I started somewhere near the back but soon made our way through the field to the leading group, which we found quite encouraging. Had one slightly unnerving moment when a goat showed incredible determination to be run over by me, but one emergency stop later everything was fine again.

The most unexpected thing at first was the crowds of people, mainly children, who lined the routes shouting "Hello!" and waving. I don't think any of us had been expecting that, and it was quite scary at first, but I think we soon got used to it! It was like being famous - people cheering at you wherever you go. Quite good for the ego!

Felt quite amazing to actually be cycling in Egypt. The first 20K didn't seem to take very long at all, and at our first stop of the ride (see right) I was feeling pleasantly confident about my ability to manage this ride. Nuts, fruit and water were provided, as they would be at all the stops throughout the week, and I ate some of these, along with my first energy bar.

Then I visited the toilet. I was delighted to learn that there was actually a toilet at the stop - we had been told to bring toilet paper for weeing in the desert at stops, a concept which had worried me, but for a moment I thought maybe we weren't that far from civilization after all. Here is a picture of the toilet - not very pleasant, but necessary to illustrate the standards which became luxury to us as the week progressed. Not only was it a hole in the ground, but it was surrounded by walls, and to cap it all, it even had a door! The fact that the door had a bolt on it was an added bonus. Later in the week I became grateful for anything that didn't involve relieving myself in an unshielded, public place.

Enough toilet ranting! Discovered that some people had had problems with the local children throwing stones at them and trying to hit them with sticks. One person turned up with a wound on her leg from such an incident, and this made the children seem even more scary.

Just as we were about to set off again, I discovered that I had a puncture in my back wheel, and located a drawing pin sticking into my tyre. Grabbed one of the mechanics, who took the wheel off, replaced the inner tube, inflated and put the bike back together again all within about 2 minutes - impressive!

Just time to reapply the sun cream before setting off for the next 20km. Restarted mid-field, but again, caught up with the leading group. Those of us at the front missed most of the child-related problems, because they hadn't had time to gather their forces when we reached them! By the time some of the people further back came along, large crowds had accumulated and trouble was more likely. Resolved to stay at the front of the group whenever possible! As well as the shouts of "Hello!", the locals were also heard to call "Welcome to Alaska!", and "What's your name?!", and to make ooh-ing and whistling noises - probably due to the fact that they're not used to seeing women in lycra shorts!

10km or so short of Edfu, our final destination that day, made another stop. Someone turned up with a big stone wedged in their spokes that they hadn't been aware of - the result of a child-propelled missile. Lesley managed her first SPD-related-falling-off-bike incident (one more to come each day for the next 3 days!), but thankfully wasn't hurt. After filling up on fruit and nuts, off we went again. Jason and I dropped back from the leading group this time (ho hum, the limit of our fitness!), and ended up in a group of 2. This was quite scary once we got into Esna and the number of obstacles increased.

Arrived at the finish at Edfu, the day still as hazy as it had been throughout. Leapt onto the boat due to the promise of tea and cakes, but sadly this turned out to be just tea - we were tricked! A quick shower (lovely leaky and spurty shower head), then back up onto the deck, where I sat in the peaceful breezy evening with the calls of the muezzin wafting over from the nearby minarette - exactly the image of Egypt I had been so looking forward to. Dinner was beef and chicken (as it was in fact for every single meal throughout the week), and this was followed by a briefing in the bar.

We were told that although the ride to Aswan would be long and hot and mainly through barren desert, we would at least have a tail wind. Heartened by this knowledge, I fell into bed completely exhausted, and in an almost unprecedented move fell immediately into a deep sleep.

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