Cycling Europe Day 8: Missing My People

As the days go by, my perceptions of distance and degree of difficulty are changing.

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

After a misunderstanding between me and my GPS the day before yesterday that led to a 156km cycle through the mountains, today’s moderately hilly 75km cycle felt like a leisurely morning ride. Leisurely is probably taking it a bit far. It was cold. It was raining. I was absolutely drenched. I decided not to wear my rain coat because it was causing me to overheat. So I dared not stop otherwise I would get unhealthily cold. There were hills. The road went up and down for most of the route. But every time I saw the next hill I’d think, “Those are normal hills like the ones in Yorkshire. I can do those.” Never would I have thought that the day would come when I’d call the rolling hills of Yorkshire, England “normal”. I HATED training on those hills. I cursed at those hills. But that’s why they are such a good training ground for cyclists. Once you become accustomed to them other hills are normal too.

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Cycling Europe Day 7: Living In the Moment

I don’t have any major problems in my life. My family and I are healthy, we have food in our bellies and roofs over our heads. We’ve never faced any major disasters. A previous divorce, unemployment, difficult decisions, worries about the future, yes. But beyond these relatively simple issues we’re fine.

So I fully realize how ridiculous it is to be on the trip of a lifetime and to break down crying with worries. But I did. My bike has some issues and I can’t fix them. It’s Easter holidays so there are no bike shops open for me to get help. I’m 80% certain I can still successfully ride on the bike without major issues until a suitable time comes for me to find a bike shop. But what if? What if the bike breaks down in the middle of nowhere and I can’t get it moving again? Is it safe for me to wave down any ol’ car and hitch a ride? It’s not like I haven’t considered all this before the trip but now it all feels so real and a tad overwhelming.

I had my cry and remembered what I was thinking while cycling yesterday. When I started out, I thought that now that I had so much time on my hands why not consider my big worries in life? Maybe this trip would help me solve them. So I asked myself, “What are you going to do about your non-existent job situation?” “What can you do?” was my answer. I need to just keep doing what I have been doing: apply for jobs and keep on the lookout for opportunities. That was easy! Next!

“OK”, I thought. “Well, what about your living situation? Where should I live next year?” I won’t go into details but it is quite complicated. “There is not much you can do about this one for now,” I answered. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

My life’s problems for the time being took little more than two minutes of thinking and I was done, focusing on the road ahead of me.

“This must be what they call living in the moment,” I realized. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 6: Me and My Stinky

I think of my GPS as being an over-excited puppy. I spent weeks before the trip marking out daily routes suitable to my needs and abilities. I downloaded all the routes to my GPS gadget. Then, every evening I look in detail at the route and decide which parts to follow and which not. Now that I’m actually here it’s easier for me to tell which roads are good and which aren’t so I make changes accordingly. As a result, while cycling, I’ll sometimes go “off course” from the map downloaded into my GPS and it tells me so in so many words. I’ll be cycling along a nice flat road and it will suddenly bark, “Whoof! Whoof! There’s a big hill! Let’s go up that!” And I’ll say, “Shut up Stinky!” (my GPS-dog’s name is Stinky), “I KNOW you just want to make this difficult for me.” And Stinky throws a big pout and lets me do what I want until it sees another hill. “Whoof! Whoof! Turn left! Turn left! You won’t regret it! I promise!” And I’ll say, “Oh no you don’t. I’ve seen the map this morning. I know what you’re trying to do.”

Sometimes I follow Stinky and it asks me to take the second exit in a roundabout. But if the roundabout is a big one, Stinky gets all confused and tells me I’ve gone off course when all I’m doing is still turning in the roundabout. Then I get to the right exit and turn to it and Stinky acts all relieved and says, “Whew! I found the route. That was a close one!” Other times I really do choose the wrong exit and Stinky goes all wild and crazy, “Make a u-turn! NOW! NOWWW!” Sometimes he does that when I don’t want to make a u-turn because I see signs pointing where I want to go so I ignore him while he throws a u-turn tantrum for half an hour.

Well yesterday Stinky took his revenge. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 5: Settling In

We have a saying in Egypt: اللي تخاف منه ما يجيش أحسن منه – That which you fear most will be the best. I’ve decided my subconscious belief in the truth of this saying is the source of much of my anxieties.

Every morning since I started this trip, I’ve had bad morning anxiety. I become restless at 4AM and can’t sleep past 5AM. I worry about getting all my stuff ready. I worry about having breakfast early enough so I can start off as early as possible to avoid the noon heat. I worry about the road: will it be safe? Will I find water and food along the way if mine run out? Will I find a decent spot to pee when I need to? Luckily, the moment I put my foot on the bike pedal all my anxiety goes away and I just naturally leave it all to God. But I’ve noticed that the days I’ve been most anxious about have been the days that went really well. When I wasn’t as worried, the day was extremely difficult. “That which you fear most will be the best!” (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 4: THIS Is Why

Part of the Camino de Santiago

Part of the Camino de Santiago

Let me tell you what it’s like. Maybe you’ll understand:

The Semana Santa in Caceres, Spain.

The Semana Santa in Caceres, Spain.Let me tell you what it’s like and maybe you’ll understand:

You’re cycling along, pedaling slowly uphill in the sweltering Spanish heat. A group of five cool dude Spanish cyclists come up from behind and easily pass you. Each and every one of them gives you a wave, a smile, and a buenos dias. You forget the heat and the hill you’re ascending for just a little bit and you feel all warm and fuzzy inside (not because of the sweltering heat).

A bit later a single cyclist, in his 60s, quickly passes you, looks back at you and says, “Bon camino.” You don’t realize what he said at first and reply, “Buenos dias.” Then it clicks. “What did he say? He didn’t say buenos dias. It sounded like bon camino. I wonder what that means.” Shortly after which you start seeing signs that tell you that you are cycling right next to the famous pilgrimage route called Camino de Santiago and you get all excited, especially when you see an old bridge on the trail and a resting place for pilgrims. It is then that you realize the cyclist was saying something like have a good journey or have a good road and you feel all warm and fuzzy inside again. (more…)

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My European Cycling Adventure: Crossing from Portugal to Spain

There are so many different kinds of travel and as many different reasons to leave everything one knows behind them to venture into the relatively unknown. People travel to see sights, to go shopping, to live with nature, to learn about new cultures, to meet people, to relax, and the list goes on. Most of us engage in each of these kinds of travel at different times in our lives according to our needs and desires.

Four days ago I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal to start a trip of my own. But this trip is not to see the sights. It’s not to go shopping. And it’s definitely not to relax. I’m going on a journey to get to know myself. As long as I’m able and have the time, I’ll definitely do my best to see some of the sights in Europe. But my main goal is really to challenge myself, learn to enjoy the challenge, and to understand myself better in the process.

I arrived in Lisbon on April 13, a bundle of nerves from anticipating the challenges I would be facing ahead – ALONE. My first challenge was reassembling my bike. I had never done this before and I was very worried after I took it apart that I’d never succeed putting it all back together again. (more…)

Nadia’s Maniacal Plan to Conquer Europe by Bike

Tomorrow is the day I set off for Lisbon, Portugal. I might not get to see much of it, which is quite disappointing every time I

A Facebook follower was very generous in helping me design this for a tshirt after my husband and I cycled from London to Paris last year.

A Facebook follower was very generous in helping me design this for a tshirt after my husband and I cycled from London to Paris last year.

think of it.

I’m freaking out. I spent most of the second half of yesterday holding back tears. I’m so scared. And for the gazillionth time I asked myself, “Why I am doing this?”

On the train on my way back home from a short wedding anniversary trip to London, I posted the following on Facebook (feel free to follow me on FB but I will have to apologize for not accepting friend requests) as my mind went round and round and round:

Questions that will soon be answered:

1. Can I enjoy myself when completely on my own? As in COMPLETELY on my own.

2. Can I motivate myself when I’m ready to give up?

3. When faced with a problem I do not know how to solve, is my solution to just break down and cry? (Yes is the answer to this one)

4. Can I be the kind of tourist who does ABSOLUTELY no shopping (except for food) for quite a long time?

5. How long can my back last sleeping on the ground?

6. How long can I last without a shattafa?

7. How much pain can I REALLY handle?

8. How long can I go without soap and clean clothes?

9. How much do I REALLY enjoy nature?

10. How long can I go without getting my eyebrows done without looking like an ape?

I have a very contradictive personality. I’m superstitious. I don’t want to tell people about my plans in case it jinxes it. I fear their collective evil eye. Yet I am, at the same time, a compulsive sharer. I want to be able to write about my plans and my experiences. It helps me process through my thoughts much better than keeping them to myself in my head. And I will not lie: I also need the support and encouragement of my friends.

So I’m just going to get it out there and tell you about this trip I’ve been planning for the past few months. If anything bad happens before, during, or after the trip, I’ll lay it on YOU, the reader, for your evil eye. So before you read any further, cleanse your heart, purify your thoughts, and send me nothing but good vibes. (more…)

Dream Diary: Of Alien Pharaohs and Human Rebels

My dream last night:

A people, who are not of our kind, have arrived to invade Earth. Their origins are unknown to me, but they wear pharaonic garb so I shall refer to them as the Pharaohs. Among the humans, a small revolutionary movement has developed. Their work is made doubly difficult, for in addition to the Pharaohs, Earth is also occupied by undead. The undead eat any creature whose body emits heat. They live in underground tunnels, each inside its own cocoon, emerging from their cocoons at very regular intervals to sense around their general area for body heat. When they sense body heat, they leave the warmth of their cocoon to hunt the nearby creature and eat it. When they do not sense heat, they go back into their cocoon to hibernate until the next food-sensing time arrives; less than an hour away.

Among the human rebels was a female scientist. I partially watched this dream through her eyes. She discovered that the Pharaohs had widely distributed canisters that had the potential to destroy all. She knew that if she could find a way to remove the effect of these canisters that she could possibly spoil their evil plot to take over Earth. (more…)

Ready for a New Adventure: I Ask Myself “Why?”

Every single time I set off on an adventure, I can’t help but ask myself for the millionth time, “Why?” What seemed so logical and simple when the idea initially originated now seems so odd and out-of-the-ordinary.

“Why do I keep doing this sort of thing to myself?” I ask. “What do I get out of it? Why am I doing it?”

It is always at this stage, a few days before the actual trip, that fear, trepidation, and anxiety find their way to settle into my heart and mind. These are not new emotions for me. I feel these when I embark on any sort of change. ANY sort of change. I manage to get myself, like most others, into a daily routine that I am comfortable with. Anything that changes that routine, engaging in a new activity, writing a new article, meeting up with people for coffee, going on an errand I’m unaccustomed to, all these things cause me anxiety and minor trepidations. I have come to learn that if I succumb to these emotions every time I feel them I would do nothing with my life beyond my simple, daily routine.

Yet I am also aware that the anxious emotions I feel before an adventure are well-founded: there are risks involved, I am embarking on a lot of unknowns, and I am leaving my family behind. I have found a way to work with my pre-adventure anxieties. They guide my thoughts to the possible risks involved in my upcoming journey and I make sure to put in an extra effort to organize the trip in a way that makes it as safe as is possible.

None of that removes the nagging question, “Why?”

In no particular order, here are my answers: (more…)

Adventure Travel: When Self-Belief Faces Others’ Doubts

I vividly remember what it was like when I started to tell people that I was planning to try to climb Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. People looked at me as if I wasn’t fully straight in the head. Why would I do something like that? Who did I think I was? Did I really think I was up to that sort of thing? Most people did not ask me those questions in so many words. Those were, in my mind, the meanings behind the looks I got. The manager at the gym I was training at, however, was more blunt. He looked at me from head to toe and then said, “Do you realize how difficult that is? Do you really think a woman of your age can do something like that?” It was almost as if he was disgusted at the thought of me thinking I was up to that sort of a feat.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I can’t say that I was determined to reach the top. I wasn’t. When I got on the plane to travel to Tanzania, I told myself that the purpose of this trip was to be in the company of a mountain. Whether I reached its top was irrelevant. It was the experience that mattered to me. I did reach the top. I believe I reached the top not because of any physical strength I possess. I reached the top because I was surrounded by a very small group of people on that trip, complete strangers, who showed faith in me. That faith, added to my own faith in myself, created a will power that drove me to the top despite the pain, the cold, and the sheer exhaustion.

I’m now in the final preparation phases for another big adventure and I feel like I’m getting the same sort of responses from people around me. (more…)