Bike Egypt – Kiera Roche

Bike Egypt

by Kiera Roche

Night Plane to Cairo
We arrived in Cairo in the early hours of Monday evening after a two hour flight delay. Mike Paterson, a double below knee amputee and myself had the usual airport shenanigans, setting off the metal detectors on the way through customs.

We stayed at a hotel in Cairo, which reminded me of a holiday chalet, of course our rooms were at the furthest end of the complex, so I struggled with my suitcase, spare leg and travel bag until I spotted a porter who took pity on me, thinking I was a weary pack-horse.When we arrived at the room I put my hand in my pocket to give him a tip and pulled out what looked like a reasonably sized note (100 Egyptian pounds) approximately £10, what I didn’t realize was this is about half a months salary C-leg, Otto Bock, and it took us 10 minutes to convince the porter to leave the room with the money in hand.

It is always a difficult judgment to know where to draw the line between being kind and flaunting the fact that we in the west are richer and have access to a better quality of life. This is something that I feel we often get wrong . Once I’d unpacked and plugged the C-leg (a computerized leg made by Otto Bock) in to the wall socket I was ready for bed, Mike and Cathy popped outside for a night cap on the veranda, so they wouldn’t disturb my sleep. They need not have worried; as I lay my head on the pillow, a slow distant chant arose, growing louder and louder: it seemed to last for an eternity.Welcome to the five 0’clock surround sound prayer session. It was quite a moving experience and if I hadn’t been so tired I might have enjoyed the experience. As the prayers subsided and I lay my head on the pillow a rooster belted out the start of his early morning wake up call. Suddenly roast chicken seemed like a nice idea and I was ready to catch the bird myself!

The next morning was a fantastic opportunity to see the Pyramids, something I have wanted to do for as long as can remember, but I had to drag myself out of bed at what seemed like the crack of dawn. Cathy and I kept up our tradition of being the lastof the group to arrive for breakfast. However hard I try to be quick, it just takes me longer to get ready because I have to wash the socket sleeve of the artificial leg with antiseptic wipes, put on the sleeve and a stump sock and finally don my artificial leg, which isn’t always easy. It doesn’t help that I wasn’t Speedy Gonzalez to start with.

After breakfast we gathered our belongings and headed to the coach for what we thought was a long coach trip to the Pyramids, so I nearly fell off my leg when I walked out of the lobby into the bright sunlight to see the Pyramids staring back at me. It was the most bizarre site, standing in the middle of a street in a built-up city looking at the most talked about historical construction in the world. It somehow reduced their magnificence.

As you approach them they seem smaller than expected, which is an illusion because they are actually further away than you think. It is only when you are upon them they you realize their enormity and are awestruck by their magnitude. Chris, one of the bikers, an architect was on hand to explain that we still haven’t unveiled how the Egyptians built the pyramids. He explained about their perfect symmetry and the magnetic force which was created internally, enabling the mummified and other organic objects to remain intact until the tombs were opened.

Walk like an Egyptian
We were invited to take a tour of the Pyramids, but were warned that the entrance passages were small, narrow and dark and should be avoided if you are claustrophobic. I did think twice about this and decided that I would never have an opportunity again to go inside the oldest surviving man made structure, so I seized the moment, but not for long.

The entrance to the Pyramid is a small square tunnel descending into the ground at approximately a 20 degree decline. There were no steps, just a wooden slope with strips of wood attached to stop you slipping. I managed to get down the first section where there was a railing to grip onto, but I couldn’t descend the second steeper section, so I had to turn back disappointed. Even with a C-Leg it was nigh on impossible, because you needed to descend in a crouched position. And it is impossible for me crouch and move at the same time, although quite amusing to watch me try. Mike the double below knee amputee made it though. Everyone was kind and said that I hadn’t missed anything. I didn’t mind because I had a go at it and did my best, besides it gave me an opportunity to be trigger happy with my camera.I only took 400 photos!

It was at the Pyramids that I discovered a new , effective sales technique I had not used myself. The street seller gives you a free gift, of a small blue beetle for good luck. After you say thank you and start walking away the street seller will enquire “Do you have something for me”? Before you know it you are leaden down with gifts for which they require a sum of money. Next we visited the Sphinx with the head of a king and the body of a lion. I did wonder how the Ancient Egyptians knew what a lion was, but apparently the Pharos of Egypt concurred much of Africa during their reign. Sphinx was an incredible site , all the more so because it was created over 4,000 year’s ago.

On the river Nile
After lunch we flew from Cairo to Luxor where we joined the Nile Queen, our home for the week. Staying on a boat on the river Nile was a lovely touch and added a hint of romanticism to the trip.

On the Queen we were introduced to the ground crew led by Theo Peters, an ex-pro cyclist Pro Holland, who now lives in Israel.Those of us who had brought our own bikes had the wonderful task of putting them back together, while the other bikerswere fitted with their bikes. This all took place on the deck of the Queen and was a great bonding experience and gallantly many of the chaps offered their services as temporary bike mechanics and together we put the Pink Lady back together.

During dinner we were given a run down of the next days itinerary and informed that we needed to be up at 6.30, which meant a 5.15 wake up call, yes 5.15. I’m not quite sure how I actually made it out of bed, got washed and dressed, put my cycling clothes and cycling leg on and made it to the deck on time, but I somehow did. The biggest difficulty I have as an above knee amputee is that I weight bear from the Ischail bone (bottom bone) and the socket which encases the bone interferes with the motion of cycling, throwing me off the saddle on each rotation, not a comfortable option for 400 kilometers.

My prosthetist Richard Nieveen and I devised a plan to cut the socket back and load the weight bearing in other areas, which would be more comfortable for cycling, but uncomfortable for walking.

So on the first morning, I had to negotiate my way, not only off one boat, but through a number of different sized and therefore different height boats. Nile Boats are similar to barges; they line up next to each other to dock, so to get to the shore you walk through the lobbies of each of the boats that have docked before you. Quite an interesting experience when each boat has it’s own mental detector at the entrance and exit, after a few daysI simply sidestepped the detectors and went on my way.

Day 1 – Bad Vibrations
The first day’s cycling was mainly off road and, where there was road, it was covered in pot holes and rather large rocks to negotiate. The Pink Lady would have shivered, curled up in a ball and refused to move had it been organic. We started on the first leg of a 115km day which was a lovely ride apart from a small incident involving a car, Cathy, myself and a donkey cart. Fortunately, I was next to the donkey cart and I held on to steady myself and managed to stay upright on the bike. A promising start I felt.

About half way through the second leg I wasn’t so lucky.  We reached a road which had more pot holes than a lawn at a moles picnic. Cathy and Mike were riding in front of me on an uphill stretch, when Cathy stopped suddenly to take a photograph, Mike pulled across my path to join Cathy which left me no option then to go head first into a pot hole the size of a swimming pool, shame it wasn’t full of water to cushion the blow.

I knew before I hit it that I was coming off because my road bike has a rigid frame and my artificial foot is attached to the pedal with SPD clips, so I can’t unclip my foot to get out of danger. A small inconvenience unless you are crashing head first into a pot hole the size of a pool.

Mike said he saw it in slow motion, but couldn’t get to me on time. I landed on the elbow, which has a mental pin in the humorous shaftwhich was a tad painful to say the least, however I was more concerned with my beautiful new bike and my immediate reaction was to check her for scratches. It wasn’t until Doc pointed out that I was bleeding quite heavily from a puncture wound in my arm. I noticed I had a bruise, which looked more like a plum, from an internal bleed. It actually looked a lot worse than it was and once Doc had patched me up with a bit of TLC and given me some pain killers I was ready to go.

Doc suggested that I take a rest but I knew that if I didn’t get straight back on I might not get back on at all and I had done a lot of training and come along way to complete this challenge.I jumped on a mountain bike and was on my way again, or so I thought. The saddle on the mountain bike was too low for me, so for a few miles I cycled with my bottom being thrown in the air with every rotation.I jumped in the van while Adrian from Classic Tours fixed the saddle height and I was on my way again.I worried that I was holding the group up, but them seemed pleased that I had continued and didn’t seem to mind at all.

The next section on a mountain bike with suspension was much easier.Doc stayed close by which helped boost my confidence. We stopped for lunch along the bank of the river Nile in a make shift tent, with lots of beautifully colored rugs. It was a well earned rest and the food was excellent.

I was warned that the first section after lunch would be difficult because it was a road which had been dug up and not resurfaced and that I might struggle; this only spurred me on. I wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it would be and the distance it would cover; approximately 8 kilometers of strugglingto cycling across gravel and pebbles, some as big as those on Brighton Beach. After about 5 kilometers of pounding my wrists and bottom couldn’t take anymore and I conceded defeat and jumped in the van. To my relief I wasn’t the only person who had found the section too difficult as Cathy and Mike jumped in the Van with Tony and I to enjoy the scenery. I was disappointed that I had missed about 12 kilometers of the days ride, but we got back on the bikes and cycled the next section.The days cycling was 120 kilometers of which I completed around 90 kilometers, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

Day 2 – Aswan to Kom Ombo
Day two was on a much smoother surface, so is as back on the Pink lady. It made such a difference being back on my bike and I had a really enjoyabl morning ride. We spent the morning cycling out of the city of Aswan through traffic which was a bit hair raising to the two dams, the Low Dam and the High Dam.

This involved cycling up a couple of hill sections, but I enjoyed the challenge. Fortunately or unfortunately my bike is exceedingly quick on the descent, which I find a little scary, so I spent the declines holding on for dear life. When we arrived the group went on a tour of the Low Dam with a guide, unfortunately I had to decline because my cycling leg is not made for walking and can be quite uncomfortable. I took the opportunity to bask in the sun and watch the world go by. We then made our way to the High Damn for a photo

Road to Kom Ombo
After a well earned rest we were back on our way. We arrived back in the town during lunch time traffic, which can only be described as hectic.On the way back up one of the hills a local taxi driver clipped Nimesh’s elbow, fortunately he wasn’t badly hurt. We decided to bunch up for the last section of the cycle back through the town to avoid any further incidents. Mike and I were somewhat of a novelty to the locals with our hi-tech limbs. People would shout hello as we cycled past, see my leg and either look surprised or excited and cheer us on. I was amazed at the positive attitude towards disability displayed by the locals. There were both supportive and helpful.

We cycled back to the boat for lunch and some R & R.

In the afternoon we headed north cycling through small villages. The local children were fantastic, shouting excitedly and running alongside the bikes waving their arms in the air, shouting “hello” “hello” “money” “pen”. Some of the adults were a bit more suspicious with the odd stone being thrown. One or two people were hit on the bottom with sticks (sugar cane poles). Chris was cut on the leg by a stone which looked more like a small rock! A minute pebble hit me on the head but I hardly felt it. During the afternoon the wind picked up making the cycling a lot more difficult.It felt like I was peddling up hill for the most of the afternoon.

In the evening we celebrated the half way mark with a fancy dress party and a barbeque on the deck of the Nile Queen. Nimesh came up with the idea of Cathy and I attending the party as Belly Dancers. We snuck off the boat on a secret mission to find some costumes. We found a local shop and bartered for our wears, but definitely paid too much and left with things we didn’t need.

The party was great fun with everyone dressing up including the guides! The only downside was that the alcohol was London prices, as the Egyptians only really serve alcohol to the tourists.

Day 3 – Kom Ombo to Esna
On day three we cycled 120 kilometers. This was the toughest day, with much of the cycling against a strong headwind as we headed northbound along the east bank of the river Nile .

I had to take a couple of rest breaks along the route due to some sores on my stump. I was amazed and delighted that I had reached this far before I started to feel the effects of the socket rubbing against the skin. I would like to thank Assos for their superb chamois cream for getting me this far, not to mention my prosthetist Richard.

It was actually nice having a couple of rest breaks because it gave me the opportunity to take in the scenery, which is breathtaking, with the exception of a few dead carcasses. The last 20 kilometers of the leg was lined by tropical fruit frees and smelled wonderful.

We finished the day cycling in the dark, Fortunately I had my waterproof/windproof jacket with me, as the temperature drops very quickly when the sun sets. Due to the headwind each leg of the day had taken us approximately an hour longer than the previous equivalent legs.

For the last leg of the day we cycled through the town in the dark. We all bunched together between the support vehicles, which provided light, protection from traffic and a bit of security. Although cycling in the dark was a little more dangerous, it was an incredibly atmospheric and romantic way to finish the days cycling. We crossed a cobbled river bridge which could have been in Venice . The bridge was lit up and the locals were milling around cobbled streets going about their business. The whole area was buzzing with life.

Day four—The Valley of the Kings
We started with a scenic ride through the countryside. Today was a shorter day of 80 kilometers. I was conscious the whole day that I wanted to be fit enough to complete the ride into the Valley of the Kings , so I sat out for leg two and took some excellent photo’s of the other riders. I made the right decision because leg three was a full 21 kilometers before we even started the ascent into the Valley of the Kings .

I lost my cycling gloves at the rest stop and road back to find them. By the time I set off again I had lost the group and I rode the whole leg with Doc, We had a lovely ride and we did eventually catch up with the group which I was delighted about. I think I enjoyed this leg the most out of the whole trip, partly because you get stronger as the days go on, partly because we were near the end so I didn’t need to worry about keeping energy reserves so I just cycled at my own pace so I could watch the world go by and just enjoy the ride.

We stopped for lunch at the start of the Valley of the Kings by the Colossi of Memon. It was lucky that I had some energy left because the 7 kilometer ride into the Valley of the Kings was hard work. The entire leg was uphill, but what made it really difficult was the illusion created by the valley that you were cycling on the flat. In some places it even looked like we were on a descent, but when you stopped pedaling the bike would stop. We are cycling into the mid day sun, which also took it’s toll, as the heat was overbearing and there was no breeze. Tony and I had to stop a couple of times while I had a drink of water and caught my breath. The scenery was incredible and I had to pinch myself to make sure that I was really there.

Cycling into the Valley of the Kings 
Although this section was hard I enjoyed it the most and felt a sense of achievement as I turned the last corner and saw the coaches park full of tourist busses. It was a great feeling knowing that we had cycled to this incredible place while other people had come on the bus. We had time to look around the tombs before cycling to the finish line. I just couldn’t miss out on an opportunity to see the tombs so I wobbled up to the first tomb. It was just incredible, the tomb was over 3,000 years old and we could still see remnants of the vivid colours from the original wall decorations. It felt like stepping back in time.

We descended the Valley of the Kings as our final decent of the challenge. It felt like we were in a famous five novel and had just solved the mystery and decided to descend the hill with our legs in the air. If I could have swung my legs in the air for the whole decent I would have.We passed through a small village to reach the finish line, which I crossed a couple of times because I didn’t want it to be over.

We enjoyed some champagne, took photo’s and packed up the bikes. We then embarked on a special boat trip across the Nile back to the Nile Queen, with cold beers waiting on board for us, thanks to Osmond the Egyptian tour leader. My bike had pride of place on the roof of the boat.

In the evening we visited the Sound and Light Show at Karnak Temple . The temple was awesome; there was something mystical about the place. You left with the feeling that the Ancient Egyptians knew something that we don’t or that something valuable had been lost along the way about spirituality and architecture. It was a humbling experience.The sound and light show itself may have been good, but we were all too tired to concentrate with some members of the group falling asleep during the show.