camping

The Unclimbing

I may not have summited the mountain, but I did discover the amazing wonders of the pee bottle.

I would not have thought it possible for women. I’ve long heard about men peeing in

IMG_1189

The view from our tent at basecamp (4,300 meters).

bottles while on the road and I was always envious. With years of camping, hiking, and cycling under my belt, I had become accustomed to the quick squat behind a bush and getting my business done. When I set up my tent on a campground, I always made certain it wasn’t too far away from the toilets. I’m the type that gets up at least twice during the night to pee; more during the winter when I’m cold. It’s a bother getting up, getting dressed, unzipping the tent, going to the toilet, coming back, unzipping then rezipping the tent, undressing, then getting into my sleeping bag. But what was I to do? If you have to pee you have to pee.

But on Aconcagua, Latin America’s highest mountain, I learned that it is very possible for a woman to pee in the comfort of her own tent into a wide-mouthed Nalgene water bottle with perfect aim. Of course, this means peeing in the same tiny confined space that your tent mate is sleeping in; that same tent mate that you only met for the first time three days ago. But does that matter? No! Not one single bit. Not when you don’t have to go outside into the freezing cold to pee in a dark, smelly toilet. Not when you can get your business done in seconds and quickly snuggle back into your warm sleeping bag. Besides, who wants to watch someone else pee? No one. So all you really need to worry about is others hearing the sound of a water bottle filling up with liquid. Actually, your real concern is peeing in your actual water bottle instead of your designated pee bottle. That is why the pee bottle gets taped up with duct tape that you can clearly feel in the dark to distinguish it from your other bottles.

The pee bottle is one of my most important takeaways from an extravagantly expensive trip up part of a mountain.

Aconcagua beat the crap out of me. (more…)

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Cycling Europe Day 37: A Loose Sphincter and Nice People

Today started badly. I peed in my pants. But then it got better.

I was relieved to see this sign today.

I was relieved to see this sign today.

I vividly recall the last time I peed on myself. I was 11 and we were at my friend Dietra’s house celebrating her birthday. We were playing hide-and-go-seek and Dietra and I were hiding in the downstair’s closet. For some reason I thought it was hilarious and I laughed so hard until I peed on myself. I asked Dietra to swear not to tell anyone. So what did she do? She told EVERYONE. (Love you, Dietra!) I had to wait somewhere until my mom came to pick me up. The whole thing was very embarrassing.

I wasn’t laughing today. In fact, I was very stressed. Yesterday’s multiple episodes of unkindly motorists had me very concerned for my safety on the roads of Slovenia. I had one hour to cycle before I reached the border of Austria and it couldn’t come to soon. I wanted out.

I always have to pee within an hour of having breakfast. It’s never enough to try to squeeze my bladder dry before I start my ride. This morning I needed to pee about 45 minutes into my ride. Remember how I said Slovenia was a safe haven for FPFCs (Frequently Peeing Female Cyclists)? Well it isn’t. It was just that one road from Gorizia to Ljubljana. So I’m looking for a place to pee. I’m quite modest in my requirements. But I’m having great difficulty finding any place that fulfills even my modest requirements. Then I finally spot a side road that leads up to a house far up the road. The road had a big tree on one side and high grass. If I crouched in just the right spot, most people on the main road would not be able to see me. I get off my bike, lay it on the grass, and search for that perfect spot. The second I find it, and just as I begin to reach to pull down my pants, my sphincter thinks my pants are already down and, in a reflex reaction, relaxes a second too soon. I feel warmth spread through my cycling shorts and a trickle go down my leg. I quickly pull down my pants and let the main bulk of it go where it was supposed to go. But now what?? I tried to pat my cycling shorts dry with some toilet paper. “My, that inner padding these pants have is absorbent,” I quickly observe. But I still have wet pants. Nothing that is noticeable to an outsider though, thankfully. I pull my pants up and feel very uncomfortable. “Nothing about this is to be mentioned to ANYONE!” I warn all the people in my head. “We’ll see about that!” cackled Blogger Nadia, one of my more dominant personalities in the past few years. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 33: The Small Stuff

We haven’t yet discussed the bug situation.

I'm starting to think Italians have a thing about leaning towers. The Duomo in Portogruaro.

I’m starting to think Italians have a thing about leaning towers. The Duomo in Portogruaro.

You know how when you’re driving, insects manage to smash themselves in your windshield sometimes? Or how flying geese smash into the windshields of planes? Same thing happens while cycling. Except that it’s all kinds of flying bugs smashing into your face. And if you’re wearing sunscreen, like I do, they stick. Or if you’re breathing with your mouth open, they fly inside. I had a paroxysm of coughing today while cycling because a bug went straight into my windpipe. Sometimes they fly right between the openings in your helmet into your hair. Because I’m camping sometimes on this trip, I’m getting a double dose of bugs. I have to admit I’ve come to like the little critters. They are my company since I’m all alone these days. We’ve figured out how to get along with each other.

In Spain, everywhere I cycled I saw so many little creatures crossing the roads. I would think that if drivers knew what was happening under their tires, they wouldn’t be driving at all. I was constantly swerving to avoid killing bugs and caterpillars. I haven’t seen many bugs on the roads in Italy, though. I wonder if Italian bugs just have more “street smarts” than Spanish bugs by avoiding roads altogether.

I had another road sign situation today. I was cycling out of Treviso and heading towards Portogruaro. The signs said while still inside Treviso that Oderzo, a town en route to Portogruaro, was 24km away and that Portogruaro was 54km away. I thought that was perfect. I’d have a short cycling day again. Couldn’t ask for better. But as I cycled towards Oderzo and got nearer to it, eventually seeing a sign that said it was 19km away, Portogruaro was moving away from me no matter how hard I tried to get closer. When Oderzo was 19km away, Portogruaro was STILL 54km away. It seems that I eventually was able to pick up enough speed to be faster than Portogruaro. It was actually 65km away from Treviso. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 31: Relaxing With Juliet’s Boob

I was going to do something stupid and then I got smart.

This blog post's title is meant quite literally.

This blog post’s title is meant quite literally.

When friends ask me about my timeline for this trip, I tell them I’ll keep cycling until I get tired. Depending on how you understand that, it can sound very romantic: I’ll just keep cycling and cycling like this forever, maybe.

No I won’t.

In my head, I can be ridiculously flexible. In reality, I am an organizer that sticks to the plan as if not sticking to it will bring the death penalty.

There are a million limitations. I don’t have visas to every country in the world. In fact,

Today's cycle to Verona involved the Alps as my foredrop. I've had quite a lot of that in the past few days.

Today’s cycle to Verona involved the Alps as my foredrop. I’ve had quite a lot of that in the past few days.

I am completely limited to visiting European Union countries that allow the Schengen Visa. Ramadan is coming up at the end of June and I am NOT cycling 100km a day while fasting 18-hour days. I actually need to end this a few days before Ramadan because I still have four days of fasting from last Ramadan that I need to make up before this one rolls in. I spent a lot of money so my four kids could join me in the UK this summer. I have to be there before they arrive. And finally, I unfortunately do not have a limitless supply of cash and, even though I’m saving on transportation costs by using my own leg power to get places and I’m camping when I can, this trip is still very expensive for someone like me.

So no. I’m not going to cycle forever. And yes. I do have a plan. But I am not going to tell you what it is. I do not want to burden myself with people’s expectations or with my own, for that matter. If the day comes that I’m too tired to cycle any longer, I stop. If I can manage, I’ll keep cycling until I reach my final planned destination. It doesn’t matter. I’ve already done so much and I’m so thankful. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 29: The Stuff of Nightmares

It’s not important to be the fastest or even to be fast. It’s not important to be the

This Italian hamburger gave me just enough energy to keep looking for a hotel.

This Italian hamburger gave me just enough energy to keep looking for a hotel.

strongest or even to be strong. What IS important is to be determined and persistent. Remember the story of the rabbit and the turtle? I’m a turtle. And it’s working for me just fine.

It’s the stuff of nightmares; my nightmares. I roll into a town I don’t know and can’t find anywhere to spend the night. Although unlikely, it COULD happen. I could have as one of my destinations a town so small it does not have hotels. What do I do then? I dread the day if it comes.

While I was organizing this trip, I researched hotels and campsites in and near my planned destinations. For every destination, with the exception of perhaps five, I have the address of somewhere I can stay. If it’s a campsite, I check its website the night before I arrive to make sure there is a restaurant in or near it. If not, I head to the nearest city. If it’s a hotel, rarely do I actually look for it when I arrive. My system has been to find the city center and book into any suitable hotel there.

But things are never that straight forward. Sometimes I can’t find the campsite or it turns out it doesn’t exist. Other times I get there and it doesn’t have grass plots so I can’t pitch my tent or it doesn’t have food nearby. Sometimes, like today, I can only find one extravagantly priced hotel in the whole town. There must be others but I can’t find them.

I don’t really have a backup plan. Wild camping is not an option I want to consider. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 28: Big Dreams

Dream. Dream big dreams. Leave the small dreams for those who are content to have

It was a misty upwards cycle this morning.

It was a misty upwards cycle this morning.

them. Discover what you are good at and then have faith in what you know you can do. Never allow others to make you doubt yourself. Often, their doubts are simply reflections of their own self-doubts. Dream. Dream big. And believe in yourself. Believe in yourself. Believe in yourself.

I have no idea what happened today. Whatever it was, thank you, God.

This is what I posted on Facebook last night before I went to sleep:

1. This campsite is giving me the impression that Italians travel in very large numbers.
2. I have two large mountains to climb tomorrow, it seems.
3. It’s raining.
4. I’m in a tent.
5. The weather report predicts rain tomorrow.
6. I will be on a bike.
7. I predict lots of wetness.
8. I’ve had a headache all day and just took the last Panadol tablets I had.
9. I’m going to have to have a late start tomorrow to make sure I eat a proper breakfast. The restaurant here opens 7 or 8 depending on who you ask.
10. I’m pretty sure there’s an ant or two running around in my underpants. We’re just going to have to get along together.

I was worrying about having a tough day the next day especially because I wasn’t feeling very well yesterday.

I had looked at the route that my GPS suggested I take. It involved cycling up two 500 – 700 meter mountains. The weather reports weren’t good. And it rained all night.

I woke up to a drizzle but I was feeling better than the previous night. (more…)

Cycling Europe Days 26 & 27: Italia! My Beebol!

Fatwa #397 issued by Sheikha Nadia El-Awady: Married women are not to travel unaccompanied by their husbands in Italy. Italian men are too handsome and their smiles too charming. Single women, on the other hand, should get their butts over to Italy PRONTO. 

Yesterday was a very happy day for me.

The day before, shortly after I published my last blog post, I went out for another walk

Really, Monaco?

Really, Monaco?

around Monte Carlo. My afternoon walk made me feel very overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. My evening walk made me feel very uncomfortable with the excessive opulence I was witnessing. There were escalators and elevators to take people from one level of the city to the next. You heard me. The most expensive cars roamed the streets. I walked to the casino. The cars standing in front of it! The people going into it! I watched people sitting on their extravagant yachts sipping champagne. It was the stuff of movies. And it wasn’t for me. I needed out.

I left early the next day and had another wonderful and peaceful cycle along the

Italy!

Italy!

Mediterranean. It wasn’t long before I saw it: the sign that indicated I was crossing into Italy. “Oh white day!” I said out loud in Arabic. It sounds silly in English. آنهار أبيض is what I said and kept repeating with a very silly throaty laugh. I then started getting carried away with myself. One of my many personalities started saying, “Who woulda thought? Me, Nadia El-Awady, from the fallaheen in rural Egypt, cycled from Portugal to Italy!” And then one of my other personalities interrupted, “You’re not from rural Egypt! That was your father! YOU were born and raised in the US until the age of 15!” “Oh yeah,” the other one said. “Still. Nadia El-Awady, daughter of Abbas El-Awady who WAS from the fallaheen, cycled from Portugal to Italy!

It was Italy! I was home! The Italians! My beebol (people in Egyptian English)! My most favorite beebol among all beebols. This was something I already knew about Italians. I have been to Italy many times. I know the Italians. I understand them with their loud voices, their belly laughs, their expressive gestures, their hot tempers. They are people who leave nothing on the inside. It’s all out there. And I get that. I relate to that. I understand that.

And the Italians made sure to leave no room for doubt that they were mine and I was theirs. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 18: Smells of Jasmine

I think I’ve snapped out of my initial snobbishness towards France. I always find that initial shock of change difficult. Besides, this was Spain we were talking about – SPAIN – and I was leaving it.

I woke up this morning having decided to give France another chance and it did not let me down. It all started when I checked out from my hotel. The receptionist handed me a lily of the valley and explained that the French, on May 1, traditionally give them to people to celebrate spring. What a wonderful way to start the day!

The sun was just rising, I could see the snow-capped Pyrenees to the south, I crossed the River Basse, and I was off pedaling to Narbonne in the east. And everything smelled so nice! What is that smell? I kept asking myself. Everything smells like jasmine.

At first I thought my head was just getting to me. I was feeling happy and optimistic. But I kept sniffing at the air and smelling jasmine. I took deep breaths. It felt so good. Of course, I thought. France is the land of perfumes. It must smell good. Eventually I stopped by the side of the road, determined to discover the source of the smell. I thought it might be the little white flowers scattered among the grass. But it wasn’t. Then I noticed trees on both sides of the road full of yellow flowers. I smelled them. It was them! I took a small branch and placed it in my handlebar bag along with my lily of the valley.

I’ve been reluctant to pee by the side of the road since I entered France yesterday. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 13: Everyday Stuff

Getting terribly lost a few days back evidently had its advantages. Today was the day I

Tapas!

Tapas!

was most apprehensive about before the trip. It was going to be the longest in terms of distance. But in the first few days I got lost once in the mountains and ended up cycling 156km and another time I got lost and ended up cycling 186km. Today’s 143km next to those seemed like peanuts. It’s strange how the mind works that way.

It’s all relative, though. I was thinking today that as I got on my bike this morning my friends were just starting to sit at their desks at work. And when I finished, my friends were just finishing their work and getting ready to head home. Now imagine sitting at your desk that whole time while cycling with different speeds and gradients. You do get toilet and snack breaks, but they need to be quick because every minute lost not working is added on to the end of the day. You also need to make sure your desk is within sight during your toilet and snack breaks lest someone thinks of stealing your valuable work.

I’ve been getting up just before 5am everyday. I try to sleep more but I never can. I get anxious in the mornings. I wake up, wash, start gathering all my stuff together in the panniers, and have breakfast as soon as the nearest restaurant opens. I haven’t been very happy with the breakfast portions here. Usually I’m given a croissant, some tea, and orange juice. When possible I’ll add bread or cereal or whatever I can find available. I then gear up my bike and try to be on the road around 8am. By then it’s light enough outside for me to feel safe.

(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…)