It is 6.30am. You are already covered in a sheen of perspiration. You are groggy from sleep and have just - unwillingly - shoved bread down you in order to get some energy. It sits strangely in your stomach and the back of your throat. Your dull head tries to wake up. Every pot hole you hit reminds you that concentration is paramount. As does the passing of each ten tonne lorry and every bus which cuts you up as it drops its passengers along the roadway. There are hills. It’s smoggy. You are guzzeling water with the niggling concern that you may not be able to replenish it. You are the slowest thing on a three lane motorway…
And so we left Cairo.
The calm of the felucca ride we had enjoyed the night before a distant memory.
But it was off to Suez or Seuz/Suze/Sezu - depending entirely on the sign writer - and the desolate interior of the Sinai peninsula.
Sinai is usually known as a tourists mecca. Snorkeling, diving and kite surfing abound. Naturally we were missing all this and heading into the desert. Again.
The road to Suez was great. Wind behind, easy terrain and a lovely guy gave us cakes (always a winner). Finding somewhere to stay at the other end, however, was another matter. It was especially difficult when our lodging request involved ‘being close to somewhere showing the Wimbledon final’. We failed. Explaining Wimbledon involved some rather eloborate miming of tennis in general. In case anyone is thinking of trying this, please note that it really only makes you look like you are trying to beat someone up in a slightly camp manner…
Anyway, up with the call to prayer and on to the peninsula. Sadly, fortune had turned against us with the wind but the day started with an entertaining trip through the car tunnel; the police commandeering the nearest truck with space and forcing them to take us.
Our ‘maximum speed’ peaked quite early.
It was to be a huge slog.
It was the first time that we had really come up against all conditions working in conjunction against us. Beating sun, gale force winds and mountain passes in an area with no shelter, food or water.
Still it made the free drinks from the army station, watching a donkey stare down a juggernaut (the stubborn as a mule phrase shown to good effect) and eventual ride into Nakhl all the more wonderful.
As was the food that evening and shower in the cafe. The owners of which refused to let us camp in the desert and made us pitch tents on the porch. (Sadly they also stayed up all night watching exceptionally loud TV but I guess we avoided snakes…)
The next day was a whole other matter. If one day can bring an arduous ride, the next can bring nothing but joy (well, if you discount the keen mileage).
The fog had come in overnight and we set off into it as dawn broke. We could only see a few metres ahead but the water wrapped around us in a cooling cloud and the thick drops turned to Crystals on our arms. As it cleared, the huge black sand mountains emerged. Truely stunning.
The final push to Taba was equally as impressive. We had climbed (oh boy had we climbed) a long way and what comes up must, indeed, come down. As the heat of the day began to drain us and dull our spirits we took a sharp turn to the left and headed straight into a canyon gouged through the imposing cliff edge. High speed downhill for about 20 minutes. Just cruising. Checking out the incredible scenery. All the way to the sea!
The next day it was all about the ferry.
And nearly mising it.
It transpires that the ferry from Taba does not take UK citizens without visas so it was off to Nuweiba down the coast. Jamie had offered to cycle down to the Port to pick up the tickets for the boat later that afternoon.
All was calm till the text came in:
“We have to leave. Now!”
Bundling the bikes into a cab we raced down at break neck speed. Ahmed, an incredible guy, was helping us and clinging to the back of the jeep as it carreered around corners. I hadn’t envisaged too many high speed car chases on this trip but it was exciting as well as terrifying!
We had to be at the ticket office with our passports. We made it with 5 minutes to spare.
And then it took 8 hours to actually make the 1 hour journey to Jordan.
We met a guy on the boat who takes the trip regularly. “You are lucky. Sometimes it takes three days…”
Passport confusion at the other end led to our first night cycle. But it was not to be the last.
After a short nights sleep we left Aqaba at 7 the next morning. Jordan is clean. Beautiful. And…. somewhat mountainous.
The plan was to cycle the 130k to the ancient city of Petra. One of the wonders of the world. (And destination for Indiana Jones in the Holy Grail…)
The road out of Aqaba heads straight uphill. Again it was into the wind. When we stopped to get water at 9 we realised that - at current rate - the trip would take a further 17 hours. Oh dear.
Events continued to conspire against us. The trudge was unrelenting. One of the funniest things I have ever read was a description of two old ladies having a zimmer frame race. Progress was much like that. To call it snails pace would be generous.
We stopped for lunch at 2, exhausted. We would normally be nearly finished a days ride by this time. We had only gone 60k.
We took a while to rest and also to film some footage for the ‘We Support Solar’ campaign (sign up, sign up) before grudgingly getting back on the bikes.
A further 17k and we found a road block.
A lorry had fallen over and was being towed off the hill.
It took 45 minutes.
It was nearly 6pm.
We were still a long way from our destination.
By nightfall we had climbed over 2000m.
Still 30k to go.
But we were determinded.
Right up until the dogs. And the lights. And the potholes…
The road to Petra is called the Kings Highway. It is stunning and - in the Southern part at least - populated by Bedouin people. Bedouin people who keep sheep. And dogs to protect their sheep.
Despite the fact that my lights had broken and it was pitch black (Mum - would it help if I pointed out that I was still wearing a helmet…) the dogs heard us coming. And viciously gave chase. Twice we were saved by buses coming in the other direction. A blessing at that time but traffic is generally less of a bonus when you are freewheeling down a mountain blind at night.
After the second pot hole we decided that we may be tempting fate a little too far. Plus we had finally found a town. We stopped and - auspiciously - the first car to come round the bend was a taxi big enough to take bicycles….
Today we are having a day off today to see Petra but the plan is to go back to do the missed 20k this evening. Well, that’s the plan at least…
Anyway, I had probably be getting on but to round up we got taken to the wedding of the drivers cousin on the way to Wadi Musa (naturally), ate more than should be physically possible and slept like logs.
And today it is sightseeing.
Ever onwards in the morning though so if anyone fancies a pedal we’ll be on the Kings Highway heading north to Damascus.
Apparently the mountains continue.
So you wont miss us!