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(no subject) [Mar. 6th, 2006|05:14 pm]
Nile for a Smile

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Hi! I’ve been meaning to put some pictures on this website for ages, and the recent interest by some of the allied medical press has given me the kick I needed!

The first couple of pictures are of me at the pyramids. The pictures really don’t do justice to their sheer size, but you can see some white uniformed policemen sitting on some rocks at the base of Great Pyramid to give you some idea of their scale.

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If you scroll down you can have a read through the entries I made during the route, but for here I will just answer some of the most common questions I have been asked.

Why did you cycle the Nile?
The Children’s Variety Club fund everything from rehab equipment and specialist nurse training, to grants for custom motorised wheelchairs and fun days out for the kids. They are about as ‘rehab’ as it gets, and I thought they were worth supporting.

How many of you went?
Just me.

How much did you raise?
About £1,500 so far – Go look at my sponsor’s page!

How much of that went to cover the costs of the trip?
None. I covered my own costs for the trip through a part time and summer job in year 1, plus some bike shops donated some kit & me a discount (my thanks to Evan’s Cycles and British Airway’s for that).

What was the best part of the challenge?
The friendliness of the people was overwhelming – many would shout out ‘welcome’ and wave as I went passed or insist on buying you a drink when I stopped off. The pyramids by Cairo and the temples at Luxor were mind blowing. The sense of achievement when I got to Aswan at the bottom of the Nile.

What was the worst part of it?
The first few days, all the Egyptians I met said it was impossible to cycle the Desert highway from Alexandria to Cairo, it did make me a bit concerned they knew something I didn’t! I also picked up a stomach bug half way through, which was less than fun.

What was the weirdest part of it?
Eating pizza in a restaurant with six armed bodyguards waiting outside. Sohag was the centre of a fundamentalist uprising 10 years ago, and although it has been a while since there was any shooting, it’s also been a while since a pasty faced Westerner stopped by. When I arrived at town I had a squad car in front of my bike and a land rover full of troops behind me in the most ridiculous motorcade the world has ever seen. My hotel came with 3 men with machine guns (2 in the lobby, 1 outside) plus 6 who drove me to a restaurant. I wish just I could have thought of something more ‘presidential’ to order than pizza.

How can I sponsor you?
Click on http://www.varietyclub.org.uk/ and press the button ‘make a donation’. E-mail me at Simon_black9366@hotmail.com to let me know and say ‘hi!’

With that done, here are a few snapshots from the ‘Nile for a Smile’ challenge!

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There were a lot of cute kids on donkeys, the one in the middle looks about 3 years old.

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Some of the buildings were really pretty. They often seemed only two thirds done, as if the owner wanted the option of more floors in the future!

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‘Simon of Arabia’! The heat was pretty severe the further south I got, and I was under it for 10 or more hours a day so protection for my ears and neck were wise (plus enough sun cream to come out of the whole thing with a vitamin D deficiency!

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A painting of the god Horus from Valley of the Kings, this picture is about 3,000 years old.

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Two more recent religions, an Islamic pray tower and a Christian church.

Thanks for reading, if you think the cause was worth it, please sponsor me. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a line!
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The last day [Sep. 20th, 2005|09:34 am]
Nile for a Smile

Breakfast consisted of some tinned tuna fish and bannanas (Edfu is a bit of a dump, so I wanted to avoid risking stomach upsets for the harshest day of the route).

As the heat would be building from 9:30 I made sure my bags were ready the night before so I could make a 6:00 am start.

There would inevitably be more beuractatic hassles with the police and I considered trying to sneak past their large checkpoint on the crossroads just out of town. Sadly my bike seems to have picked up a nasty squeak (possibly in exchange for some of the spokes that seem to have fallen out of my increasingly mangled rear wheel) so I'm sure they heard me long before they saw me come over the Nile bridge to the main road for Aswan. So much for 'stealth mode'.

"Stop! You must wait until 8:00 for an escort, it is safer"

After a brief, and futile arguement trying to get it through to them that making me cycle through the mid day heat of southern Egypt did little for my safety, I decided to head back to town and get a quick look at the Temple of Horus wondering if the militaries grasp of safety, timing and distance could be the reason Egypt has come second place is so many wars in the last 2000 years.

The temple gate guard told me they did not open until 7:00, although as he had no watch I was able to get in early by setting mine ten minutes fast and showing him, enabling me to sneak in and grab some shots of me an my bike before the tour buses arrived from Luxor). A small coup, but a nice start to the day.

Returning to the police station I was told to wait '5 minutes'. At about 8:30 I decided it was time to kick up a fuss as cleary nothing was happening and to the best of my knowledge no-one hwas actually arranging this magical escort they insist I have.

Eventually a pharonic general showed up at the checkpoint (not even speaking to me), gave a not of his head, and one of his minions informed me that I could go now, with the caution the "It wil be hot" (this one must be their leader).

Having been arguing this point for 3 hours I bit back on "May I borrow your gun for a few moments?" and suggested I should get underway as soon as possible.

It was past 9:00 when I got underway, and having wasted my time for 3 hours, I was suprised when my escort
pulled me over 45 minutes from town, declearing this was the limit of their juristriction.

A police escort has it's uses. Nothing gets you through the traffic of small towns, and I can usually dump some of my kit in their car, but the can also be a practical barrier to just stoppig at a small cafe for a drink and meeting people for 10 or 20 minute, or just pausing to take some photos of the scenery (a sand and rock theme for this area).

After a few hours cycling I paused for half an hour at just such a cafe. The owner was a lovely old bloke who marvelled at my digital camera (looking into the zoom lense when he tried to take a picture with it). He insisted of us posing for a few shots and asked that I post them to him.

It was after 12:30 now, but with only 50 km from Aswan now and just decided to press on. The going was fairly brutal for the second half with fewer places I could restock my water bottles and almost no shade. What shade there was had to be avoided as it would lure me in too close to the side of the road where metal pins or shards of glass lurk (such a mistake had already cost be a flat tyre a few days previous).

A part of me was OK with the situation, though the going was as tough as it could get (thanks to my extended stay at the Efu checkpoint), the feeling of achievement if I could knock off these last miles would be all the greater for it.

Every now and again I'd pass by villages built into the hillside, crumbling multi coloured shacks with satalite dishes. The roadsigns helped a lot as every few kilometres the signs would declare Aswan to be closer.

The end came suddenly as I turned a bend in the road to see the whole city laid out before me, complete with little fishing boats and the larger tourist cruisers.

It's 2 days on and I'm back in Cairo now (by train this time!), Theres lots to say about Egypt and the experiences I've had that are not recorded within the focus of my progress down the Nile but I will try to get some thing written up.

So how do I feel?

Yeah, pretty good.
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Luxor - Edfu [Jul. 22nd, 2005|07:42 pm]
Nile for a Smile

The spirit of the Pharoes lives on in Egyptian Police generals.

Following a terrorist attack on a tourist coach in the mid 1990's all tourist traffic is acompanied by the police. At set times each day a small convoy will depart Luxor for the Temple of Horous, my next destination.

After imperiously inspecting my papers the previous day, the general in charge of seeing the convoys off had declared that he would provide a police escort for me the following day.

All things in Egypt are subject to arbitrary change, in this instance I arrived bright and early to be told by the (different) general that it was impossible.

Much polite arguing ensured, which finally went my way when I told him it was to raise money for sick children (giving my total raised as over 10,000 Egyptian pounds), and that companies would refuse to pay if I did not cycle the whole route. Him insisting I would have to go by coach, and me determined that I had not come this far to clamber aboard a bloody bus at the last minute.

In the end he gave a kingly wave of his hand and one of his officiers delared that I could cycle.

Altough I lost the first hour of the day I felt an ETA in edfu of 13:00 would spare me from too much of the mid day heat (40 degrees +).

Fortunately my brave escort were on hand to ensure that I got to enjoy every blistering second of it with a long delay at a checkpoint waiting for a shift change (the same checkpoint that had turned me away the previous day - though in fairness, he would have been in a ot of trouble with his bosses back in Luxor if he hadn't (he could have offered me a damn lift back though ratherthan making me do another 30km).

Most of the detective grades are from Cairo, with a decent level of English, much better than my understanding of Arabic which consists of:

'Salam' = Hello
'Shokran' = Thanks
'Wait 5 Minutes' = You will die and old and bitter man at my checkpoint.

The detective who had escorted me was curious about British police, and that they carried no guns (he had an MP5 with a spare magazine taped to the one already loaded sitting on the desk). He was also a bit of a football fan (as are most Egyptians and talked of the UK's problems with hooligans.

After about half an hour I was back on the road. The heat was really picking up, but I was able to put one of my pannier bags and tent into police pick up truck, so loosing over half my cargo load, and increadng my speed.

For a few happy hours it looked like I could still keep my ETA to about 13:00, leaving me to fry in the hottest part of the day for only a few hours when the police pulled me into a touristy serving station to await the next car.


An hour from now with the next tourist coach. Protests got me nowhere so I could only wait it out while a police captain danced about to my Minidisk player.

Eventually the coach rumbled in and the passengers dissembarked to by icecream at 5 times the normal rate.

It was here that I met a fellow Brit on a motorbike who is heading overland fom London to Capetown for a kids charity. As with my own jaunt the Egyptians have no concept of 'The Journey'. He was asked in all seriousness why he didn't just take the plane.

The convoy was finally waved off and I was underway again. It was seriously hard ging (the temp was 42 degrees). I was able to carry on for another hour when the Captain told me he had to leave to meet up with another tourist convoy, and no I couldn't just carry on on my own.

14 miles out from Edfu I was ordered into the truck. To be honest I felt OK about it. The 60 km (40 miles) road to nowhere more than covered both the 14 miles to Edfu and the distance lost out from my bike puncture a few days back.

It was late afternoon by the time I finally made into Edfu (and the Temple of Horus was shut!)

Little remained but to rest up in a scummy little hotel in prep for the final day's cycling.

I'll let you know how that went tomorow
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Over There and Back Again [Aug. 17th, 2005|11:33 am]
Nile for a Smile

I made the main road out of Luxor by 7 am and, slightly slower than usual progress towards the Edfu, only a bit over 75 miles south as I was cycling against a slight breeze from the Nile.

It was nothing concerning and added an hour to my estimated arrival time.

Birds sang, small children waved and some bloody minded policeman at a checkpoint almost 20 miles out from Luxor said I needed an escort from Luxor if I wanted to cycle to Edfu and I would have to cycle back. "The roads are too dangerous for cyclists, big lorries"

The roads were utterly empty, save for the occasional mini bus or donkey cart, and pointing out at almost 40 miles to and from his checkpoint, in terms of distance, it would be only another 35 in total for me to reach my destination at Edfu.

Sadly he was of the 'Policy Enforcing' rather than 'Policy Making' molds, so here I am back at Luxor.

It's too hot to start cycling now anyway.

I've chatted with the police back at Luxor and they have offered to either try and put me on a tourist coach for Edfu today or let me cycle tomorrow (radioing ahead to let the bureaucratic idiot in question let me pass (he refused to radio the main station at Luxor himself saying there was nopoint).

It would be purer to spend another night in Luxor and begin cycling afresh tomorrow, the original visions of my arrival at the Temple of Horous did not include a tourist coach.

Other the other hand, losing an entire day for the sake of 40 km seems poxy and 3 nights in Luxor has been enough), so the coach is tempting. And then just go on a cycling day trip south of Aswan to make up the distance.

Ah, who am I kidding? I know my own nature well enough to know that there is no serious debate.
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Punctures [Aug. 16th, 2005|09:57 pm]
Nile for a Smile

The disaster I'd been worried about since starting out from Alexandria struck at about the worst possible of times.

Half way to Quena the road crosses the river Nile itself, providing a spectacular view of the river, but placing me on the much less populated east bank.

Through illness I was already going slower than usual and was now cycling in the hotest part of the day when my rear tyre developed a puncture.

As disasters go this might not sound too bad, but it is a realistically common experience for any cyclist (much more likely than a car accident). The reason it was of such concern is that the rear wheel has to take my own weight, plus all my equipment in pannier bags, ruck sack and a tent.

Luckily it was a slow punture and I'd been able to loose enough weight from my load out to get off the bike before any significant damage was done to the wheel itself.

With a little help from a passing Egyptian policeman I got back on the road using one of my two replacement inner tubes.

The same thing happened again only a few miles down the road.

Now at 2 in the afternoon in the southern Nile region, out of water and with no shade as far as the eye could see and wary about risking my only remaining unpunctured inner tube to whatever had cost me the first two, there was no choice but to flag down a passing car and get a lift the last 20 miles to Quena.

The bike itself is now fixed and I was able to get to Luxor on it without problem the following day. The problem was a tiny steel slither that had made it though the kevlar weave of the tyre, and only poked up when the outside of the tyre was pressed upon (sadly, that meant when cycling it was poking up whenever the section of tyre it was imbedded in came into contact with the road, causing it to slowly chew through the inner tube).

Both punctured tyres have been patched up and can be used as spares should (God forbid) I get another puncture between here and Aswan. Even though both punctures were slow, and detected very quickly, the sheer loadout of the bike (even reduced from the start of the Nile for a Smile challenge) was enough to buckle the rear wheel.

It's not too bad and I'm confident that it will hold up untill Aswan.

I've rested up for two days in Luxor, seen some sight seeing (there will be some decent pictures to put up when this is done!). Some antibiotics from the pharmacy have also taken care of whatever was lurking at the bottom of the dodgy take away pasta I had in Minya (4 days was more than a enough of that).

Tomorrow is the beginning of the last part of my Cycle down the Nile, the two day route to Aswan.

I'm not sure how I feel about the 20 miles my bike was strapped to the roof of the car. A look a the distance I've covered makes such a distance pretty insignificant, but I might extend my cycle route a little south of Aswan to make up the difference. We shall see.

In any case.

Fingers crossed!
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Any Questions? [Sep. 13th, 2005|10:00 pm]
Nile for a Smile

If anyone has any questions about any aspect of the trip, or my experience of Egypt, click 'comment' and I'll do my best to answer.

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(no subject) [Sep. 13th, 2005|09:18 pm]
Nile for a Smile

The route to Sohag took a bit longer than I had hoped for. My escort was an hour late in arriving at my hotel, and I was also starting to feel a little bit unwell (I suspect the pasta take away pot I had in Minya, it's spectre haunts me still...)

Cycling through middle Egypt has been an interesting experience. Because of the recent security situation, the locals simply have not seen a live westerner for years. The reaction I have encountered has been warmth and curiosity. Many people calling out greetings from the roadside. A few even wanting to give me a drink from their stalls, and waving goodby when I head out. Some areas have been less warm with a few greetings, but most people seeming to ignore me as I go by (although this might actually be a morning thing, perhaps the sight is just too much to be dealing with at 6:30 in the morning, much as if you were to open your front door to see an Arab on a donkey go speeding by).

Sohag has quite a strong coptic Christian presence, and there were several churchs to be found along the way. In one village a man crossed himself and gave me a thumbs up, presumably to say thathe was a Christian (or that he assumed I was on, and that was fine with him - either way it was a nice gesture). The Coptic church uses a cross shaped like a sign post at a crossroads. I'll have to look up the symbolism at some point.

Muslim prayer towers were still very much the order of the day, near some towns the horizon appeared like looking out across a chess board..

Arriving in Sohag was a little daunting. Most police checkpoints I have encountered consist of a little police hut with a car, and two watch towers at either end of the stretch of road they are guarding.

Sohag followed this basic format, but with tire shredding stingers ready by the roadside, large bullet proof steel shields and a general air of alertness, with most police officers having extra ammo magazines taped to their AK-47's.

Despite this, my escort to my hotel consisted of two junior cops sharing a motorcycle (which took them 10 minutes to get started). They cheerfully rode alongside me through town until we eventually arrived at my hotel / bunker for the night (I had little joy trying to explain to them that it would be easier to follow them if they actually rode ahead of me).

Again, three policemen took station in the lobby, one or two accompanying me to the shops across the street so I could re-supply. Perhaps I was too tired from the road, but unlike Asyut, Sohag did seem to have a bad vibe to it and I was content to watch some old movies on the one English speaking station (I managed to stay awake for half of 'Jurassic park', and woke up for the second par of (the far superior) 'Conan The Destroyer'. Classic stuff.

Dawn saw me back on the road. This time heading for Quena, but actually hoping to make it all the way to Luxor, only 70km further south (the plan being to make it to Quena by midday, and then chill in a cafe until 4ish and do the rest of the road to Luxor.

My police escorts for the first stretch had a habit of zooming off into the distance and waiting for me to catch up with them at whatever roadside cafe they had decided required their investigating prowess. But it was little wonder, almost as soon as I left the city of Sohag the atmosphere changed with everyone smiling and waving at me from the roadside. It was like the first stretch of the trip all over again. Soon the police stopped escorting me altogether and I was back on my own.

I'll write up the rest of the route to Luxor tomorrow.

Goodnight for now.
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Motorcades, bodyguards and Pizza [Sep. 11th, 2005|08:57 pm]
Nile for a Smile

The ride from Minya to Asyut itself was fairly uneventful, though people seemed much less inlclined to call out 'hello' from the roadside, there was no overt hostility either.

Being an 'Amerik-han' (which is what I am assumed to be unless I correct them with 'Britania' - then Egyptian name for British is possibly a throwback to when the UK ruled Egypt).

Although people may be angry at the USA government, either the core Arab hospitality over-rules it in one-to-one encounters, or possibly the many satellite dishes you can find on even the most run down of appartment blocks gives Westerners an air of glamour (understandable if you ride your donkey home from a hard day in the fields to watch CSI Miami). The people I met had no concept of sunblock lotion (and I think those who saw me puting in contact len's were a little freaked by it!). This region is was off the beaten tacks, and I may be the first actual westerner a lot of these people have ever seen given that other cyclist I have spoken to were refused acces to the area.

Asyut itself, a large provincial capital some 400km south of Cairo, is regarded as the gateway to southern Egypt. It used to be the end point for trading caravan (until 150 years ago, primarily slaves). Since the 1980's until fairly recently and I was a little suprised that the police were content to let me cycle the area.

I was met by an affable police captain on the road to town wgho asked what I was up to and called me a "great hero" when I said I had started in Alexandria (I'm sure the lucky policemen he asigned to slowly follow me through the region called me a lot of things as they crawled along at 20k an hour, 'Great Hero' probably didn't feature on the list). Every time the car reached the end of it's duristriction, the replacement would try to convince me to just load the bike into the back ('Very Faster').

As I reached the outskirts of Asyut a police car took station just in front of me and a Nissan pickup truck (favoured by the police) move in behind me to form the most bizarre of conveys, with a dusty cyclist in the iddle as 'El Presidente'.

Getting a hotel in Asyut was not easy, with the first claiming to be full (e.g. you are more trouble than you are worth) and the second trying to charge me 3 times the going rate (the guy at reception having to make a phone call when asked 'how much is a room for the night?', I mean, I can't be the first person to ask this).

Once I was eventually settled in the cheap no star 'The Accursed Infidel' (I can't recall the actual name, it was possibly less interesting) I found a policeman at the front door and 2 plain clothes guys in reception (who were to stay there all night).

I explained that I was just popping out for food and was told to 'wait here 5 minutes' until another pickup truck with 6 plain clothed State Security guys showed up and drove me to a nice pizza place, waiting outside while I ate.

They shoved me in a taxi for the return trip to my hotel (with one of their number in with me, while the rest of the troops followed up).

It was here that my tired brain collapsed and I left my travel wallet in the car, containing my passport, a couple of months worth of a local's wages and my visa cards. Utter disaster.

The policeman at the door could only shrug his shoulders, with a 'not much we can do' air (here you hail a passing taxi at random). Much stress followed with an English speaking elderly gentleman translating for me to a telephone hire shop (basically several phone booths controlled by the receptionist). She was kind enough to let me call the British embassy to get help from the consular desk.

It was looking like I would be stuck in town with no money for few days at least, possibly a train trip to Cairo when the hotel manager walked in and announced "Your body guards have found it".

Fortunately the positive flip side of religion is a fairly clear cut view on stealing things and Ahemed (the driver's name) found the wallet and drove back to my hotel to return it (I tipped him 100 Egyptian pounds).

All in all the good folk of Asyut proved to be the nicest bunch you could hope to meet.

My motorcade returned to collect me in the morning and drove me to the city limits where a series of single police car escorts escorted me futher south to Sohag, birthplace of the past fundamentalist insurgency.

More to follow
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Here be dragons? [Sep. 10th, 2005|03:15 pm]
Nile for a Smile

You join me in 'Sohag' a few. I'll cover the last few days in brief.

Cairo - Beni Suef

I didn't hit the road until 8:00am which was a real setback s the time from first light at 6 am is precious stuff.

To make up for lost time I cycled all day, taking a one hour break at 14:00 and arriving in Beni Suef for 17:00.

My eyes were killing me though, the dust and heat of the road, combined with a long time in bright light (even through my new sunglasses) gave me a nasty eyeache and I was knocking off the last few k's as fast as I could.

Foolish, and a lesson learned - I will make sure I am on the road for dawn and, if I don't make it o my destination by miday, hold up in a cafe until 16:00.

The scenery along th was was fantastic though and I did catch sight of one Azteh style pyramid looming over the palm trees. apparently it's one of the oldest pyramids. The Egyptians had not perfected their building techniques and over the centuries the sides collapsed leaing the Aztech style structure that remains.

In Beni Suef some nice men from State Security plonked themselves outside my hotel for the night. In times gone past (10 years now) there was an armed Islamic fundamentalist insurgency in the region between here and Quina which claimed over 1000 lives. It's all been quiet for over a decade and the Embassy no longer advises against travel to the region.

That said I doubt much could do more to wreck a police inspectors career than having a Westerner get into trouble in their district.

I have heard of westerners being put onto trains of being followed on the road by squads of security police (Chris, the Caman Islands cycle cop who was this way before me found himself put inside an armoured car and driven through one region!).

Beni Suef - Minya
The polie man was waiting at the hotel door as I went to leave. 'George Bush very big bad man, many people very angry. You wait here, I call police care to escort you'.

30 minutes later and there was still no sign of the Boys in Biege so he just waved me on.

I must say I was wary once I left the town (especially after sigting 2 people in traditional clothing toting rifles and a giant pump action shotgun). As I progressed I found myself looking at the roadside, not for it's fantastic scenery, but potential value as cover!

There was no need to worry, people from the roadside continued to call out "Hello" and 'Welcome' as I went by. One asked me to join him for tea (which I couldn't do as I was running late).

The police at checkpoints waved me through without problem and all was well until an elderly nutcase started shouting 'Allah Ackbar, Allah Ackbar' at me from his field.

Sure enough two minutes later I found myself at another checkpoint where the police decided they would escort me by car. 15 minutes they had a flat tyre.

Although there are a lot of police here, they seem to be very much part of the comunity they work in, joking and chatting to people as they go by.

Eventually I arrived in Minya without incident (appart from passing several Coptic Christian monestries that would have been nice to visit, but that's hard to do with a car load of armed men trundeling behind you!)

The State Security man in front of the hotel asked me my plans for the evening, but after clearing it with his boss on the radio, had no opposition to me going out to town alone. Minya itself was fairly unremarkable except for it's excelent view of the river Nile (most of my route has been aout 1.5 km inland so I don't get to see the nile that often!
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Cycling [Sep. 3rd, 2005|09:00 pm]
Nile for a Smile

Tomorrow morning at 6 am {first proper light} I will leave Alexandria to begin the 2 day trek back to Cairo.

I checked out the route to the desert road to Cairo this morning {which took me 2 hours of roaming in circles about Alexandria, which shows that it pays to plan ahead - had I been making the trip today I would not have actually left Alexandria until 8 am. I want to have over half my days cycling done before the hot part of the day. Then I will make a call on the spot and either chill out at a service stop for a few hours until later in the day (it starts getting dark about 7, so I could get in a good few hours late afternoon), or keep goaing for the Hotel at the midpoint.

If it comes to it, I have a tent and sleeping bag and can camp out like Chris and his friend did when they passed this way a few years back. This will be the longest single day's cycling at arround 95 miles to the hotel, but I have covered similar distances in the UK.

Right - early start tomorrow so I'll go and get my bike packed and my head down.

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