Since leaving Cairo on the 11th December we have now cycled 762km – around 508 miles in 6 days. Despite the longest of these days being 166km (just over 100 miles) and the greatest distance I have ever covered this has not been the toughest part of the challenge so far for me. Indeed, while I was not looking forward to digging my own toilet in days of wild desert camping it was the difference of environment from one cycle buddy to being in a group of more than fifty that has proved to be the hardest adaptation.
I like groups and most who know me would say I’m pretty social. While I can be shy initially, once comfortable I am more than confident with all sorts of people. When deciding to do this trip through Africa it had been John, my cycle buddy, who was more concerned. I have however found it much harder.
Of all the riders taking part in this trip to Capetown most ride much faster than me. While good on endurance I am not speedy, whether it be running or biking and with John also being a faster rider this has proved to be tough.
The first day from Cairo started as a group convey, led with a police escort we all had to cycle slowly for the first 35km or so. Traffic was busy and safety was paramount. It was cold as we slowly ambled out from the pyramids towards our first desert camp. Once on quieter roads, and following a long queue for the one ladies toilet in the gas station, we were off. We still had aound 95km to ride and the slow start meant there was still a lot of ground to cover before darkness set in.
I set off at what for me was a fair speed. I had been looking forward to starting the ride ever since packing up the bikes in Mumbai. It was too cold to cycle much while back home at Christmas and being on my bike was now part of a very regular routine. Unfortunately I arrived at camp very deflated and with everyone dispersed I collected my bag and tried to find a pitch for my tent. While the ride finished with slight uphill against the wind I had cycled around 75km on my own. Ordinarily this would seem no problem but having got used to the banter, humour and all round company of my cycle buddy John I found myself feeling alone amongst this new, larger crowd. I cried that night and could not look through his photos depicting his more exhilerating afternoon in a group with around eight others. It just seemed to make things feel worse for me.
He rode with me the following day and despite feeling much better that day I was still finding the adjustment really tough. The following morning I did not know who to cycle with and once again I left with John. It was a mistake. The tailwinds were strong and despite pushing my hardest I could see he was very frustrated staying with me as others overtook. I stopped sharing any information on distance covered and was just looking forward to the ride being over. This was the worst day yet. After lunch I cycled with two other folk to reach camp and despite having a better afternoon I was not 100%.
I arrived at camp to find John had lost his tent to very strong winds and as as we tucked into my tent that evening we tried to speak about how the journey through Africa would work. Having thought a group trip would be a good idea, given John and I had only met three times before we headed off last July, I was now not so sure. There was nothing wrong with the trip – staff and other participants, food and even desert camping were all fantastic. It was the feeling of loneliness that I could not stand. I felt like I had just lost my best buddy. He’d described his afternoon with others as being let off the leash in his blog and I slept little that night as I mulled over these words he had meant as a light joke.
I woke the next day and all I really wanted to do was go home. I was hating this and after more crying on John’s shoulders we set off. Normally such a strong minded individual it was hard to understand just why this was so hard. The headwind continued and I drove down on the pedals, conscious not to be too slow. We arrived at lunch quickly – at least by my standards – and I waited around to cycle with folk from the previous day. John headed off at a faster speed and I felt we reached a good compromise so we both get the best from the trip. I certainly don’t want to hold anyone on a leash, much as I would hate that too, but I also want to share this next stage of our adventure with him too.
We’re a couple more days in now and things look to be settling down. We usually set off in the mornings together, giving me a chance to push myself and then he goes on from lunch to ride faster too. I have found some greart folk to cycle with and as i feel less lonely I am of course more happy to be alone. I hope we’ll go on to share our African adventure, with each other of course but also with new friends too. We’re both here and looking out for each other and that’s good for me.