Cairo to Luxor
We've finally made it to Luxor, a distance of 763 kilometres in 6 days. It has to be said that so far the trip has been harder than I thought it would be :). I'm currently enjoying a much needed rest day whilst camping in the grounds of a hotel in Luxor.
The first couple of days were especially tough. Day 1 was 128km through Cairo and then out into the desert uphill and into a strong headwind. To matters worse, I was carrying a large and heavy rucksack full of some things I hadn't been able to pack into my locker on the truck the night before.
Day 2 was easier in that the intial section was downhill and with a reasonable tailwind, however, at 168km it still took around 8 hours of pedaling to reach the camp.
On both these days I cycled into camp around sunset with enough time to set up my tent, get some food and fall into an exhausted sleep.
Fortunately, for remainder the trip we've had some excellent tailwinds which have really helped to cover the kilometres quickly. This means getting into camp in the early afternoon and having some time to rest and relax.
A typical cycling day involves getting up at around 5:40am to pack tent and camping gear, eat breakfast, fill water and energy drink bottles and generally prepare for a days cycling. On racing days, the race generally starts at 7am so getting ready in time can be a little hectic. Most riders are in bed well before 8pm.
So far, my total lack of training and preparation for the ride is showing in that I'm way off the pace of the race winners. I'm not really bothered but it will be interesting to see how much closer I can get to a competitive time as my fitness improves. Right now, I'm happy to be coping with the riding without any major problems.
Throughout the trip so far, we've been well looked after by police and soldiers. I don't think we're in any danger, but the Tour is quite high profile, I believe having appeared on Egyptian TV and I don't think the authorities are taking any chances with our safety.
Today started with an early rise and breakfast at 5:30. Everyone was very excited to finally be off. First we cycled 9km in a convoy from the hotel to the pyramids at Giza for the official start of Tour d'Afrique.
The pyramids looked stunning in the early morning sunlight. After some photographs and speaches were finally off on the first stage of our journey. The first part of the route took us past the pyramids and through Cairo with police escorts.
We cycled for approximately 25km along a busy motorway through the centre of Cairo before taking a turning off into the desert. Police were stationed at some intersections to control traffic.
Just to make the day more interesting, I was carrying an enormous 100 litre rucksack full of things that I hadn't been able to fit into my locker during the previous nights packing.
The Tour provides a locker for each rider on one of their support vehicles however, I had overestimated how easily my stuff would pack inside. I decided to carry the extra stuff in a large rucksack and then re-organise it all to fit when we arrived at the first campsite.
The other riders seemed surprised when I turned up for the start of the ride with a massive rucksack – but hey, they don't know me :) Some of the TDA staff wered concerned about me carrying such a large and heavy pack and offered to bend the rules and put the pack on one of the trucks for the day. I had already mentally committed myself to carrying the pack the entire distance and wasn't going to give up at the first hurdle.
As the kilometres ticked by, the pack became heavier and heavier. I tried to adjust the straps and position of the pack but whatever I did it continued to become unbearably heavy and uncomfortable. By about 50km I had to ditch the extra 2kg of water I had added to the pack just for the challenge.
At this point, the pack was crushing. The headwind, the almost continual uphill and the pack combined to reduce my average speed to about 10k. I had no energy and was aiming for the lunch truck at 70km to get some food. By the time I reached the truck, I was extremely tired and having to stop approximately every 1km to rest. It is very dispriting
Finally, after 5 hours of carrying this 20-25kg pack for 75km I finally arrived at the lunch truck. At this point, it was silly to carry on as things were and gratefully accepted the offer of putting the pack on the truck.
After lunch I rode out with Paul and Edward (who was riding a full suspension recumbent) to complete the final 63km to the first camp. With only 3 hours of sunlight left we had to maintain quite a challenging pace (into a headwind) in order to get to camp before sunset and for me to maintain my EFI (Every F*cking Inch) status. I learnt the benefits of drafting as Paul rode in front and basically towed me for a large part of the way. Drafting makes a massive difference (about 30% easier) for riders following in the draft of another rider.
Despite riding absolutely on the limit of exhaustion for 3 hours, I wasn't able to get to camp before sunset and had to pull over and get picked up by the truck once it got dark. It was a slight disappointment to have blown the EFI thing on the first day, but I was more disappointed about not managing to carry the pack the entire day.
I'm not sure where we camped, because it was dark when we arrived. I set my tent and when to bed at about 8pm and was asleep instantly.
First race day. No pack, a great tailwind and a long downhill to start meant made day 2 and easier day.T the km's ticked past quite quickly, which was great because there were 168km's to cover today. My method of dealing with the distance is to aim for the lunch and refreshment stops. However you try and think about it, it's pretty hard when you've been cycling for hours and hours to find that you've still got 60km to go.
We camped near the sea and next to some kind of walled compound. I was too tired to go for a swim but I did manage 49kph in a sprint to the finish. I was in bed and instantly asleep by 8pm.
A really good tail wind made this a nice easy ride through the desert. I finished the ride at about 1pm and we camped behind a police station. I also started to realise how you have to feed yourself properly on rides of this distance. On the first few days, I thought it was all about endurance and fitness, but these factors are irrelevant if you're not feeding yourself energy drinks and energy bars almost continually throughout the day. By the time you start to feel tired, you've left it too late
A nice, easy, relatively short day of cycling through the desert with a good tailwind. We camped on the beach in the grounds of the Toubia hotel. I had my first shower in 4 days. I wasn't expecting it to be as fantastic an experience as it was, but after days of “tent showers” ie washing in my tent with baby wipes a proper shower is a much underestimated comodity.
One of the most fun cycling days so far. We needed to cross the mountains at Safaga in order to reach the Nile valley. The day started with a 40km gentle yet continous climb of 600 metres through a winding mountain pass. The climb itself wasn't steep and maintaining a speed of about 20kph wasn't too much of problem. I took the precaution of eating a couple of extra energy bars to make sure I didn't run out of energy.
On reaching the top of the climb there was a flat plateau which continued for about 6km followed by yet another gentle climb of about 60 metres over about 5 kilometres. The always welcome sight of the lunch truck was just at the top of this final climb.
After lunch was the longest downhill I've ever ridden. Probably about 80km's of gentle downhill through the other side of the mountains. Sometimes it was flat but mostly with quite a strong tailwind. Maintaining 40kph was pretty effortless which after a week of such hard cycling was really welcome and great fun.
We camped at a water pumping station in the desert.
After a short 26k ride from camp we arrived in Qena. Turning left as directed by the police took us along the Nile and through town towards Luxor. This being a short cylcling day, the lunch truck was parked at around 42k.
After lunch we continued on towards Luxor. I was certainly feeling the cumulative effects of 6 days of cycling and looking forward to a rest day in Luxor. I know that many of the other riders were feeling the same way.
All along the road from Qena to Luxor groups of small children shouted excitedly to us from the side of the road or from the opposite side of the Nile. After a while, it became quite tiring waving and shouting “hello” back to them. As we got closer to Luxor, we passed through some areas where the crowds were larger and some weren't entirely friendy.
Some of the older children threw stones, some tried to hit us with sticks. At one point, as I was stopped at the side of the road, a van of full of about 10 young men slowed down and appeared to be stopping. The men were shouting something at me. I had no idea what however they didn't look friendly. Fortunately, they drove off. A few other groups of older children also appeared to weighing up their chances of getting me off my bike.
Whilst this section of the ride into Luxor was pretty exciting it, we certainly saw a different side of Egpyt, which had so far been notably very friendly. These events made me appreciate the presence of the Egyptian police and soldiers, even if only to prevent us from being bothered by curious Egyptians.
We arrived at Rezeiky Camp (a hotel) in Luxor just after lunch and had plenty of time to chill out, sort out our gear, get some food and beer and then have whole day of not cycling.
Day 7 (Day off in Luxor)
I decided not to take the optional day trip to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. I'm sure it would be a great trip but honestly I've had enough of being milked by the Egyptian tourist industry and I'm quite happy to relax in the camp. I also wanted to use the time to sort out some of my stuff and write this blog post.
Egyptians really are very friendly, very helpful people however it just gets very tiring and more than a little tedious when just walking down the street in tourist areas results in 20 or 30 or 40 conversations which all go the same way. I've (had to) become very hard hearted to the various pleas, deals, offers and downright scams that are continually pushed whenever walking through such places.
Soon I will start packing my stuff and preparing for 2 days of riding to the ferry at Aswan which will take us into Sudan. The ferry journey takes around 24 hours, most of which is waiting to get on and off the ferry. Apparently (and not surprisingly), internet connectivity is not great in Sudan, so I'm not sure when I will be able to post my next update.