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by SS at 11:06 am on Tuesday 19th January

Today was the first and (in my opionion) probably the easiest day of the Tour D'Afrique. It began early, a 4:30am wakeup for a 6am (but actually 7am) departure in a large convoy to the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Once we arrived at about 8:45am, we met with local Egyptian riders who would join us for this stage (or day) of racing, and took many many photos in front of the start banner. The morning was marred by excessive equipment 'failure' - in an attempt to reset my cycle computer to kilometres (which all directions are given in), the reset button became stuck (leaving the screen to flash 'km/h' for the whole day), so I turned to my backup navigational aid, my Garmin GPS unit. Unfortunately this had run out of charge, and a lack of forward thinking meant all spare batteries were behind a locked door. Finally, it was cold in the morning and my heart rate monitor's chest strap failed to make adequate contact with my skin (lack of sweat y'see), giving erroneous readings for the first two hours (220 BPM I think not!).

Soon after this we were underway on our journey out of the city of Cairo. On this leg and the previous we were escorted by the local police who blocked off ramps (we were on the highway) and made sure we were protected from the surrounding traffic. It is likely a feature of all developing countries that drivers must horn excessively (something I picked up many a time on my visits to India, and also visible in Kenya and Nepal). The police are no exception to this generalisation, only more potent in their damage to our hearing - they have LOUD sirens. In addition to their excessive volume, they also have many different types of siren and it was a mildly entertaining game trying to determine which siren came from which vehicle (it is a many to many relationship).

Another two hours into the ride, we finally left the polluted and unpleasant highway to start our journey East towards the Red Sea, which we will follow down for some time until we cut back to the main road to arrive in Luxor. I left pretty quickly (choosing not to stop for a rest break) and was relatively near the front - they were being held up by an over enthusiastic police escort. Once he stopped limiting their speed, they soon shot off into the distance. I was soon caught up with a growing peloton of riders comprising of some of the Australian riders I had met early on. Putting the force down a bit, I was able to keep up with them, only finding it extremely difficult when I was at the front. Luckily we soon reached the lunch truck and my turn was short lived.

The scenery in the Egyptian countryside is starkly different to anything I have ever seen before. The colour of the landscape is, well, sandy. There's a lot of sand. And as far as the eye can see - more sand! The sand is contoured in a way that I'm sure even the most lackadaisical Geologist could appreciate. The sky was deep blue without even the slightest hint of a cloud. It made for some beautiful photos. The tragedy of being a cyclist however is that your motion is effectively powered by you. It seems like a terrible shame to stop unless absolutely necessary since it's your energy at stake. If you're a racer, your pride also stops you from stopping. I'm going to work on my taking-photos-whilst-cycling technique.

After a quick (15 minutes) lunch (pitta breads and peanut butter, surprisingly good) I rejoined the 'peloton' feeling fairly energetic. Sure enough, this feeling worse off and after some time I eventually hit the 'wall' and was unable to keep up. This is probably a good thing since my heart rate was pushing a good 180-190 BPM while I tried to keep up with them. After I dropped out of their group, it was a case of just pedalling on - something I think we will all become quite familiar with in the next 4 months! Some company would have been nice but it was refreshing to choose my own pace again.

It took a good two hours of solo cycling before I reached the stage finish where the trucks were parked. I was quite anxious for the first hour or so because of the sheer lack of other riders overtaking me. Soon enough though, a group of the local Egyptian riders came blasting past on my left, and soon after them, the lunch truck. As I got closer to the rough area where the campsite for the night was, I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of the trucks. When they finally came into eyeshot, it took some time to actually convince myself that they were there!

This first day was 133 kilometres of cycling, about 83 miles. This is the longest distance I have ever cycled in my life so far and tomorrow will be worse - 168 km, over 100 miles. Today wasn't as bad as it could have been, although every joint that has ever ached before in my life was aching at some point throughout the ride. My neck is sore from maintaining a grip on my drop bars - I wonder how sleeping on the floor will help that. My speed wasn't too bad (I think I was roughly 10th out of the male riders) but I was pushing hard for about 60km or so. The plan for tomorrow is just to chug along at my own pace - slow and steady wins the race, or at least reaches Capetown!

Oh and a final word - the trucks that are supporting us are FRICKIN COOL. Photos up soon but between the two of them they've basically got everything to support 60 people. A tonne of lockers, a huge supply of water, bike racks, FAT tyres (and lots of them), containers for food, and some other cool bits.

1 comment posted so far
nilesh wrote at 12:23 pm on Thu 21st Jan -
well done sonny.

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