Cycling 100 miles and 11,000 feet elevation: I did it!

I did it! I cycled 103 miles (166 kilometers) over killer hills with a total elevation gain of 11,000 feet (3353 meters). That’s more than half the height of Kilimajaro (Africa’s highest mountain) in a single day!

An official event picture during one of yesterday's climbs.

An official event picture during one of yesterday’s climbs.

As much as I hate running, I absolutely love cycling. But I don’t love it so much that I’d do as my husband does and cycle to work every day, taking an extra long route for the extra training. Nor do I love it so much that I’d focus all my attention on cycling training; going out, like I see the cycling guys here in the UK do, three days a week with Saturday or Sunday completely set aside for a very long ride. I can’t train for the sake of training. I train so I can do stuff.

That’s why I go to the gym. It’s why I run (sometimes). It’s why I’m now working on my swimming. And it’s why I cycle. I want to be able to do cool stuff and enjoy myself. And the cool stuff I want to do requires training.

That means I’ll probably never excel at any of these things. But I don’t care. Compared to runners, swimmers, and cyclists, my abilities are less than average. I’ve gotten myself up to the level that I can participate in some of the same events they do, but I do them much more slowly. But I don’t give a shit because I can do them too!

Yesterday was such an awesome day. I enjoyed every single bit of it.

The Hoy 100 is a cycling event organized by Evans Cycles in the UK together with Sir Chris Hoy, the most decorated Olympic cyclist of all time. He was there! I saw him! (more…)

The soullessness of city travel

I think being able to climb mountains, dive in seas, and cycle across continents has ruined the typical city visits for me.

I was bombarded with stuff (albeit very tasty looking stuff) as I walked through the city - Turkish delight

I was bombarded with stuff (albeit very tasty looking stuff) as I walked through the city – Turkish delight

This is my fourth visit to Istanbul. I remember loving the city on my previous three visits. But that was before my adventuring began. That was before I started learning there was so much more out there.

When I learned I’d be coming to Istanbul on a quick business trip, I made sure to add an extra day to revisit the city I recalled being so enchanted with. It had been several years since I was here and I couldn’t wait to be back.

My disenchantment started at the airport. It was run down in a way that reminded me of Cairo’s old airport. The driver that was arranged to take me to my hotel was some 40 minutes late. He blamed the traffic; just the way Egyptians do. We walked out of the airport and I was hit in the face with a thick wall of cigarette smoke. Does everyone here smoke? I had to cover my nose and mouth with the scarf I had thrown around my neck. I could barely breathe.

At 4:51 AM (I know the exact time because a very luminous alarm clock was lying next to my bed), my hotel room door opened (yes, as simply as that) and I heard someone starting to walk in. “Heeeyyyyyyyy!!” I yelled as loud as I could. “Oh, I’m sorry. Sorry,” I heard a man say and shut the door back behind him. I got out of bed, opened the door, and yelled down the hallway, “How is it that you can get into people’s rooms??” (I never say the right thing in these circumstances). “I’m here for bar lock, madame, and I entered the wrong room. So sorry,” someone replied from two doors down.

I complained the next morning, of course. They said they’d find out who it was and give him a warning and they sent fruit to my room. (Can you see me rolling my eyes?)

To get to Istanbul’s old town, I took a taxi to the underground station, rode the underground and then got onto a tram. I could have taken a taxi all the way into town but I wanted to save some money and I also wanted to experience more of the city the way locals would. I eventually arrived at the marvelous Blue Mosque, took a selfie with it because I felt I had to, and then I walked into the mosque.

It was flooded with people, everyone holding up their cameras to the exquisitely designed domes. (more…)

How the dream of travel can hold you back

Recently, I’ve started wondering whether I’ve played some small part, through social media and blogging, in making some people think that the secret to happiness is to go out into the world on a grand adventure. I also wonder if I might have fallen into that trap myself.

For many years now I’ve been convinced that the thing I’m looking for is not happiness; it’s contentedness. Happiness, I now believe, comes in fleeting moments that we should be grateful for. Contentedness is a sustainable state of being: no matter how bad things get, no matter how seemingly routine and boring, no matter how complex, we can still be content.

Travel and adventure are wonderful passions to have. There is so much one can learn about life and about oneself by going out into the world. Travel and adventure have given me rare moments of clarity of mind and heart. They have made me, I feel, more tolerant of others and even of myself. They have given me so much food for thought about faith, politics, human rights, human potential, and what it means to be alive.

There are some things you can only truly learn when you expose yourself and your “givens” to others and to their givens. There are some things you can only truly learn when you shake the foundations of what you thought were truths. Travel is one of many other ways that allows you to do this.

I say this to emphasize that my aim is not to downplay the role travel can play in finding ways to learn and grow. It just isn’t the only way. (more…)

Frozen in Loneliness Without People

Sometimes I feel so lonely that I feel frozen. Are we meant to feel this way sometimes? Is it just a part of living? Is it a part of learning that the only person we really have to depend on is ourselves?

I miss having people. I remember when I didn’t have a husband I felt terribly lonely. I remember thinking that having a husband would make everything better. My husband is my best friend. But that doesn’t take away the loneliness.

I’ve had friends in grade school and university who were like sisters to me. You know, the kinds of friends you barely part with? While in university, there was one friend I’d spend hours every day on the phone with after spending hours every day with her on campus. Her father, God rest his blessed soul, used to joke about how much we talked with each other. “When one of you goes to the toilet she calls the other to tell her about it!” he’d jest. It wasn’t far from the truth. I don’t even know where that friend is in the world today. I’m not even sure she’d want to know me now that I’ve taken off my hijab. But I miss her dearly. After university we all sort of went our different ways. A few girls in our group of friends travelled abroad. We all started families. Some of us managed to keep in touch with each other. But I haven’t heard from most of my university friends in years.

I’ve made lots of new friends throughout my working life. (more…)

I Hate Running So Much I Ran a Marathon

I hate running. I was made acutely aware of this yesterday, yet again, when I went back to running my

Running the Barcelona Marathon (while I was still feeling strong).

Running the Barcelona Marathon (while I was still feeling strong).

city’s weekly Parkrun, a 5km race held every Saturday in cities all over the UK.

I wanted to get a good time. I knew I wouldn’t be able to beat my “personal best” time for that race. I hadn’t been running for a full month. I needed the rest and recovery after successfully completing the Barcelona Marathon on March 15. The tendonitis I had for weeks building up to the marathon seemed to have mostly withered away. So I started out the week with a slow 5km jog, added a 15 min faster jog in the middle of the week, and hoped I would be able to do a decent 5km run at the end of it.

Running is such a head-fuck for me. (more…)

The NHS: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

When you start wondering whether it’s better to be treated in Egypt rather than in the UK, it might be time for the British healthcare system to undergo a revolution.

At the end of last month, a Guardian link appeared in my Facebook feed that immediately touched a nerve. In an article titled “The doctor won’t see you now”, Victoria Coren Mitchell wrote about her difficulties in gaining access to her GP.

As a newcomer to the UK, I have had my own, admittedly different, issues with getting the kind of medical attention I believe I need when I need it. I made a comment to that effect on the Guardian’s Facebook post of Mitchell’s article and was taken aback by some of the responses I received from readers. “You still got time change your mind and go back to where you came from,” was one type of comment. A couple of others told me that GPs knew better than me whether I need a referral to a consultant. My comment was about my complete and utter inability to get a referral from my GPs to see a consultant about a condition I had they were unable to treat.

Although very frustrating for me, the condition I was talking about was a chronic skin condition I have had for years. I had seen several doctors over the years in Egypt, where I’m from, who were also unable to properly diagnose and treat me. My misplaced optimism that I might finally resolve the issue by visiting a British doctor is not the biggest of deals. I’ve had the condition for years. I can continue to live with it if I must. Or the next time I’m in Egypt I can easily schedule an appointment with another top-notch dermatologist and hope I might get somewhere.

I convinced myself that because my condition was not urgent or life threatening, it was all right if it was not treated. I had made three different visits about my condition to three different GPs in my local surgery to no avail. All three refused to refer me to a consultant until I tried their suggested treatment, none of which worked, and I completely gave up going a fourth time. Because of this experience and another, I no longer visit the GP with anything that I think can be delayed or ignored; a dangerous thing for anyone to decide. Despite all this, I still believed that getting access to the right doctors in the UK would not be an issue with more serious conditions.

That is until my British-born-and-bred husband, a Caucasian Scot (according to the comments made to me by some Brits on Facebook, this distinction seems to be important), fell off a horse and broke his collarbone while we were on holiday in Egypt. (more…)

Getting the Post-Marathon Blues…Pre-Marathon

I’ve long known I have a lousy personality. I’ve written as much many times. In five days I’ll be trying to Barcelona Marathon 2013run a marathon after months of training and all I can really think about is: and then what will I do?

While I was training, I read lots and lots of articles on running. One of the things that really stood out was the amount of material available on post-marathon blues. There I was, hating almost every single minute of my training: the boredom, the loneliness, the freezing cold, the rain, the snow, the mud, the puddles, the pain, the injuries…and there were people out there telling me that once it was all over I’d feel depressed. They were saying that all that training gives the runner a sense of purpose and a routine. Once it’s done, runners feel loss. It all sounded crazy to me. I couldn’t wait for it to all be over.

Yesterday I did my last training run and I already feel a horrible sense of loss. Training for this marathon took over my life for many months. My whole life revolved around my training schedule, my workouts with my personal trainer, and my visits to the physiotherapist. I ate to fuel myself up, iced and stretched to recover, swam to get rid of lactic acid, saunad to relax tight muscles. I put many other activities on the side burner because I needed my weekends for the long runs and non-activity days to rest.

And now it’s all done.

I’m freaking out about the marathon, of course. (more…)

The pros, cons and responsibilities of popularizing adventure

This morning I woke up to the news of ten people dying when two helicopters collided while filming a French survival reality television program. This horrible accident has me questioning, yet again, the wisdom – or lack thereof – behind popularizing highly risky adventure activities through reality television.

Several weeks ago, British television aired a two-part documentary about a British adventurer trekking the length of the Nile River. While on the trek, the adventurer and his guide, at this stage completely on their own, had to walk through territory they knew was under the control of armed men. They clandestinely filmed an exchange in which they gave the armed men some of their gear in order to secure their passage through the territory. Later, in the same documentary, a journalist and his photographer came across the adventurer and asked to join them for part of their trek. Apparently they were heading in the same direction. They were welcomed by the adventurer, who continued on his way to trek by the side of the Nile, during the daytime, in exposed 50-Celsius heat. The journalist got heat stroke. Due to the nature of this particular trek, the emergency evacuation available to the adventurer was hours away. All that could be done was to set up a makeshift shade for the journalist and try to cool him with the little amount of water the group had. The journalist died. The adventurer appeared incredibly sad. The end of the documentary showed a black screen with the picture of the journalist and a nice “In memory of…” And viewers were expected to then watch the second part of the documentary the following week and cheer the adventurer on for the remainder of his journey.

I felt insulted. A man died, in my mind and from what we were shown, directly as a result of this group engaging in unacceptably risky behavior, and I was expected as a viewer to take this in my stride as being normal and expected. I was supposed to accept that the adventurer continued on his trek, continued to film, and continued to enjoy and revel in his own experiences. I refused to watch the second episode of the documentary the following week. Not that it mattered to anyone.

I believe it is one thing for an individual to engage in risky behavior only at his or her own expense. But that it is a completely different and unacceptable thing to take inexperienced people under one’s wing while engaging in such behaviors. Much worse, I believe, is popularizing this sort of activity in a way that undermines the seriousness of the activities involved. (more…)

Guest Post: Myelofibrosis and Willing to Live

“Diseases are only rare until you know someone with that disease” – Amy Dockser Marcus Myelofibrosis_MF_awareness_badge

I first read this some eight years ago in an article in The Wall Street Journal, but I only understood what it meant when I suddenly found my life turned upside down.

Six months ago, I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis – a rare type of blood cancer where the bone marrow cells, which are responsible for producing the different cells of the blood, die off and are replaced by fibrous tissue.

These fibers disrupt the body’s normal production of red blood cells (which carry oxygen to all organs of the body); white blood cells (which protect the body against invading diseases); and platelets (which help the body form clots when we are injured to stop bleeding and allow our bodies to heal).

Before this, I never knew what myelofibrosis was. My quick reading on my phone as I drove back after getting my results from the clinic showed that it is a fatal, rare disease that usually hits people over 60, with an expected lifespan of two to seven years after discovery. It very rarely affects young people. Every new piece of information I read came as a shock to me – I was in my early 30s, I was part of a small and very loving family, and I realized I had an untreatable type of cancer.

I spent several weeks in a very, very dark place. I was confused, desperate and had nowhere to turn. The only thing that kept me going was support from my partner who stayed strong to help me through this confusion – even though it was confusing for them as well. (more…)

The Need to Write

Sometimes I feel like I just need to write. 

When I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I’m confused, when I’m excited… sometimes I feel like I just need to write.

Many times when I feel like I just need to write, I don’t have anything of importance to write about. I’ll dig deep inside, try to disentangle all the thoughts and stories inside of me, and find something worthy of letters. I think that’s why I blog so much about my feelings. They are the most accessible things for me to write about. They are always there, ready to be dissected and exposed to the world.

Writing connects me to people. I need that connection. Now more than ever because I have so few people who appear regularly in my day-to-day life. Can I blame everything on the Egyptian revolution? I want to. The sense of loss…loss of family…loss of friends…loss of purpose…loss of hope…loss of home…loss of work…loss of passion.

I make it sound horrible. I know it is not. Not always. Most of the time I manage to keep myself in a positive frame of mind. So much has happened in four years; in my personal and professional life, in Egypt, in the world. I cope by approaching life with tunnel vision. I focus on the one thing I feel I have some minor control over: me. I focus on the day-to-day. I give myself goals. I entertain myself. (more…)