Cycling Europe Day 30: One’s Country vs One’s Basic Human Needs

Egypt is currently in the throes of a pre-presidential-elections circus. Although I’ve

Mantova

Mantova

been made generally aware of what’s going on these days, mainly from my friends’ discussions and posts on Facebook, I’ve been able to blissfully protect myself from the details. I have suffered more than my fair share of post-revolution and post-counterrevolution trauma to want to go through more of the same.

Many of my revolutionary friends have already left the country. Some of my friends are so disenchanted that they have asked relevant questions such as, “When do we call a country our home?” “Why do we feel a need to be patriotic to a country that gave us so little and destroyed so much?” Muslims believe that we can roam in and feel attached to all of God’s Earth. Why this attachment, then, to a particular piece of land whose boundaries were drawn as such not by God but by the actions of conquerors and as the result of wars?

Presidential candidates have started their campaigns and have made television appearances. Most of us believe we know what the result will be: another military man will take charge of our country with the blessing of a large number of Egyptians. Sometimes I think we deserve what’s coming to us if that’s what Egyptians want after everything we’ve been through. The revolutionaries failed miserably in forming a post-revolution united front, the Muslim Brotherhood fucked up in the biggest way possible whilst they were in government, and now it’s time for us all to pay the price.

I’m waiting for the counter-counterrevolution. That’s when I’ll start taking interest in the state of affairs in Egypt again. In the meantime, I have much greater concerns of my own.

Like finding suitable spots to pee on Italian roadsides.

When I was cycling in Portugal and Spain, I’d hop over guardrails and crouch in the shallow ditches behind them. They were perfect. It was impossible for drivers to see what was going on down there. In France, I’d wait till I came to a tree-lined side-road, park the bike, and squat behind a tree far enough from the main road for drivers not to notice. Italy’s roads, on the other hand, are not designed for women to pee on the side of. It’s preposterous, really. There are very few guardrails. The ditches are scarily deep. If I tried to jump into one I’d never be able to climb back out. And most roads are lined simply by very very tall grass. Do you know how difficult it is for a woman to squat and pee in tall grass? I do.

Today, for instance, I kept waiting for a semi-decent spot on the side of the road to appear until my bladder was ready to burst. I had no choice. Just as I was about to enter a heavily populated urban area, I spotted a group of houses separated from the road by a tall wall. Between the wall and the road were sparse bushes abd trees. I said, “That’s it. I’m peeing behind that bush and I don’t care who sees me.” I got off my bike, squatted behind the bush, and did my thing with my head (made taller and brighter by my pink bike helmet) popping up from behind it while I watched car drivers look towards the odd head in the bushes. The REAL trick is being in that position and then pulling up your pants without fully standing up. If I stood up and then pulled up my pants I would end up in Italian prison for sure. Do you know how difficult it is to pull your pants up while in the squatting position? I do.

Another greater concern of mine has been finding food. I am expending more than

Whatever this cake was, it was high in calories and absolutely to die for.

Whatever this cake was, it was high in calories and absolutely to die for.

3000 calories a day. If I don’t eat, I will vanish. I’ll also not be able to continue cycling. When I’ve completed a day of cycling, which means something in the range of 100 km, I’m like a lioness in search of her prey. I am focused on one thing only and that is finding food. Now someone tell me, why is it that I have been completely unsuccessful, with the exception of my first afternoon in the country, in finding restaurants that serve spaghetti bolognese?? An advantage to all this cycling is that I can eat absolutely whatever I want to once I do find food. Girls, do you really want to be slim and still eat that cake? All you need to do is cycle 100km a day!

Today while I was cycling from Piacenza to Mantova, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be really cool if I could hook up to the Internet via brain waves and telepathically write Facebook statuses about the things that go through my head while cycling?” No, you say? You aren’t interested in knowing my every thought? Well, unfollow me, you buffoon!

Cycling 70 – 120 km a day is exhausting. Let me tell you that much. My favorite part is usually the first third of a ride. I still have energy and I’m usually enjoying myself. Then I really want to get to the halfway mark so I feel like I’m getting somewhere and I feel frustrated when it takes too long. After the halfway mark, I start feeling tired and I just want to get to my next destination so I can shower and find food.

Today I was really feeling tired. The roads were almost dead flat. You would think that would be a good thing. I would think that would be a good thing. But it can be mind-numbingly boring. Today it was me, the trucks, the flat road, and the fields. I’m not saying I want hills again. Oh, God, no. I’m just saying my life is really hard, as you can all see.

So hard that I had to stroll through the historic city of Mantova today. The things I have to do.

I keep asking myself why it is I’m doing what I’m doing. One simple answer is that I try to have one big adventure a year to shake things up a bit. I also just wanted to see if I could do this sort of thing. A more philosophical answer would be that I’m on a road towards self-discovery. To be honest, though, I haven’t learned much new about myself, I don’t think. I already knew deep inside that if I really want to do something, I can do it. Perhaps I’ll learn new things in hindsight. I have often wondered, though, whether this sort of regular adventure I go on is my way of running away from things: running away from Egypt, from my disenchantment with my country, from feeling useless because I don’t currently have full-time work, from my general sense of failure as a person…

It could be one of those reasons, it could be some of them, or it could even be all of them. For now, there is absolutely nothing I would rather be doing.

9 comments

  1. I want to thank you all for your continuous encouragement. Every comment, “like”, and page view means so much to me and keeps me going. How our world has changed with social media so that complete strangers across the planet from each other can give each other such warm support. Thank you.

  2. Ya Nadia, Keep it up! I am so amazed when I read your posts about this trip. The best you can do is enjoy the moment- not the fatigue, mind you, just that you are doing the adventure of a lifetime! Plus, you’ve got such a great talent for writing, so we’re all cheering you on.
    Plus, although I know personally, it’s pretty difficult to push Egypt out of your mind, you should remember that that sort of thing is beyond your control and all we can do is be our best when it’s needed. Allah Ghalib.
    For now, sheesh! Just enjoy your trip! That’s what this is all about!🙂

  3. I love this post. And I love how yu immediately switch from problems in Egypt to peeing on the road. It sums it up for me too. Right now these are the things we should be really thinking about, because these are the things that we actually can do something about.

  4. Watch out …….. THISTLES! And if you think you’re having trouble rising from a squat, try it with buggered knees. Should you take trekking poles with you into a squat toilet? Discuss

  5. Nadia, I follow you since Jan 2011 as a voice of the Egyptian revolution. And nothing saddens me more to see everything there now is rebooted to Mubarak 2.0 again. That uprising meant so much for a lot of people, until the Ikhwan (and SCAF) screwed it up in their selfishness. I hope for a counter-counter also, but be very pessimistic. It’ll need more than a square to fight the army complex.

  6. I know about the peeing problem….I live and cycle out in the prairies. Nowhere to hide. EVen our major parks in city, lack enough washrooms compared to Vancouver and Toronto’s parks.

    By the way, is it safe for women to cycle in Egypt for long distances at this time? How about for local women? Or they don’t bike at all? (I always wondered about the strict Muslim women who have to dial down to sports that is “approved” or go through gyrations for appropriate dress.)

    I guess I haven’t figured out from your blog what inspired you to go on this great long bike trip? Have you been always a cyclist?

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