Cycling Europe Day 42: When the Roads Get Tough, The Tough Get Pumping

Where do I start?

I didn't take any pictures today so you get to see this one again from three days ago when I crossed the border from Austria to the Czech Republic.

I didn’t take any pictures today so you get to see this one again from three days ago when I crossed the border from Austria to the Czech Republic.

I’ll start with the best part of today, which might possibly be one of the best parts of this whole trip.

I was coasting very fast down a big hill. I cycled for most of today on very quiet back roads surrounded largely on both sides by small forests with a few small lakes interspersed. Suddenly, something jumped straight ahead of me over a guardrail and into the road. For a millisecond, I thought it was a big fox. But in the milliseconds that followed and as I almost smashed into it, I realized it was a deer. We almost crashed! It continued to sprint to the other side of the road and into the trees. It was just me and the deer for a very brief period of time on that road. I let out a “Oooooo!” The first two O’s were frightened O’s and the rest were excited O’s. Then I laughed out loud. What an amazing experience! What an absolutely amazing experience.

This wasn’t the first time on this trip for me to see a deer leap across the road. Once, in Spain, while I was standing on a parking shoulder on a semi-busy road eating a banana, I suddenly saw a deer cross the train tracks below me, leap upward onto the road, and then across. That one was further away though than the one I saw today.

Other than that, today was really really rough. I cycled for 131km, most of which were steep, rolling hills. I was actually a pretty good sport about it until it was all over. Every time I came up to the next hill, I just put my head down and pedaled. What else could I do? What choices did I have? None. If I wanted to get anywhere today I would have to cycle on those hills, so I did.

I broke down crying when I spoke to my husband, though. I was a good sport, yes. But it was really really hard.

To put things into perspective, (more…)

Cycling Europe Days 9, 10, & 11: When Times Get Tough

I’m sensing that my attitude is slightly changing. When I started cycling seriously last

My bike when it's all loaded with the panniers. This is what I lug around everywhere I go.

My bike when it’s all loaded with the panniers. This is what I lug around everywhere I go.

year, I’d curse at every hill and come home a dead woman after 50km of cycling, unable to move or do anything for myself.

I have had real anxiety issues on this trip. But they are always pre-cycling anxieties. The moment I put my foot on the pedal they are all gone and I take things as they come.

Exhibit A:
Day 9 (my 8th day of actual cycling) took me from Toledo to Guadalajara. According to the calculations of the route I mapped out for it, it should have been a 127km journey. Instead, I cycled a crazy 186km that day. I’ve wanted to do a century ride (100 miles) ever since I heard there was such a thing. But I certainly did not want to do it on this trip. Suffice to say I got lost in a really really bad way. So bad that I cycled one road three times and cycled down a huge hill that I ended up having to cycle up again to get myself back on track. I went into a police station in a town near Madrid to ask for directions. Some four hours later I stood in a gas station with all the staff and several motorists standing around me all trying to figure out how to get from where I was to Guadalajara. Their final conclusion: it’s too far, too difficult, take the train. They couldn’t even point me in the right direction it was that complicated. But they couldn’t possibly understand. (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…)

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…)

Racing Eyjajollyfollydolly Part VI: Help, and Lack Thereof, Electronic and Otherwise, Along the Way

It’s a great time to be stranded out there in the world. It’s almost impossible to be completely on your own in such a situation. Throughout my journey I was able to keep in touch with friends, family, and other stranded people, mainly through connecting to the Internet on my mobile phone. When I needed to make a quick phone call, I was always able to no matter where I was because I had my mobile phone on roaming.

My Twitter feed after arrival in Cairo

Twitter was a God-send to me. Bharat got to calling me “Twitterer”, he saw me using it so often. I used Twitter for a variety of things. Before I decided to take the leap and make my journey back to Cairo over the European continent, I used Twitter to follow the latest updates by Heathrow Airport, Eurocontrol, and fellow Twitterers. By doing this, I kept up-to-date on the latest developments on the volcano eruptions and the reactions of airports and governments to them.


Racing Eyjajollyfollydolly Part V: Amman to Home

Our flight from Rome to Amman had left almost half an hour late. We arrived in Amman at 7:35pm on Tuesday evening. Bharat’s flight to Delhi was scheduled to leave at 8:15pm. Mine was scheduled to leave at 8:20pm. We both ran – I mean full run type of run – through the airport. We said our goodbyes very quickly and each of us continued to run to our gates. The boards said it was the last call for both our planes. I reached my gate and found it completely empty, save for two airlines’ men. Are you going to Cairo, they asked. I am, I huffed and puffed. Calm down, they told me, smiling. You don’t understand, I explained. You have no idea what I’ve done to get this far. Please do not let the plane leave without me, I begged. They told me not to worry. Where’s your boarding pass, they asked. I didn’t have one. In Rome, I was told I could only get my boarding pass to my Cairo flight in Amman. Two other Egyptians came up behind me. They were also on the flight from Rome and were trying to catch the same flight to Cairo. They also had no boarding passes. Hamdy Qandeel, the well-known Egyptian journalist, also appeared with no boarding pass. He, however, was important enough to let through without a second thought. Me and the other two Egyptians waited as the airlines fellow made a few quick calls. “Don’t allow the plane to leave,” I heard him say probably to the pilot. I still have a few passengers here who need to board, he added. It took only three or four minutes and they let us on the plane without boarding passes. Just sit anywhere, they told us. Everyone was smiling; the two airlines’ men and the flight attendant who greeted us on the plane. It was as if they had seen many people before us in the same situation the past few days. They seemed happy to be able to bring us home.


Racing Eyjajollyfollydolly Part IV: Milan to Rome to Amman

Bharat and I were lucky to arrive at the train station only 15 minutes before the next fast train to Rome. We bought our tickets and ran to the platform. We had good seats.

On the train to Rome

Both of us recharged our phones on the train’s electrical outlets and fell asleep. We had a long night and a longer day ahead of us. It was finally day time and it was possible to see the Italian landscape. Green rolling hills surrounded us on either side of the tracks. I was too tired to bother, though. I had missed so much already that it didn’t really matter if I missed more. My priority was to get home and in order to get home I needed to preserve my energy. I needed to sleep.


Racing Eyjajollyfollydolly Part III: Paris to Milan

Abdallah arrived on time at 5:45pm. Bharat, the Indian man, was getting edgy. He had a flight to catch from Rome the next morning and he was in a rush to reach the airport on time. He also preferred to drive in daylight as much as possible.

We all rushed to the car rental parking lot and searched for our car.

It was a blue hatchback Fiat. We all luckily had small carry-on suitcases with us (man was I thankful I made the rare decision to travel light for this trip, otherwise I wouldn’t have heard the end of their complaining about women and their traveling). The car was small, however, so only three of our suitcases fit in the trunk. We placed the third, Abdallah’s, on the middle of the back seat. This proved to be a suitable make-shift headrest for sleeping later on.


Racing Eyjajollyfollydolly Part II: London to Paris

I checked out of my comfortable hotel in the center of London at 9am Monday morning and embarked on the unknown. I felt excited that I was finally doing something. I made a conscious effort though to keep myself calm. I had a long trip ahead of me and I needed my energy. I did not have the luxury of wasting precious energy on excited emotions.

My train trip to Paris was scheduled for 11:30am. I decided it would be best to reach the train station early. I wasn’t sure my online ticket would actually work. I knew that there were hundreds of thousands of travelers trying to get out of the UK. I did not know what to expect at the train station. I needed some buffer time for unexpected circumstances.

Everything went surprisingly smoothly at the train station.


GPS Lady is Back with a Vengeance

The privileged few among you who follow me on Facebook will remember GPS Lady, who started communicating with me by telepathy for the first time during my road trip across Ireland in the summer of 2009. Today, GPS Lady returned with a vengeance; and with an American accent I am unaccustomed to. British GPS Lady was mean. She made sure I took the narrowest, most winding roads possible all over Ireland last year. When I yelled at her, she would telepathically respond in a cool, unnerving voice. The more she could irritate me, I could just tell she was quietly contempt on her GPS insides. American GPS Lady is cold…so very cold. After a full day together, she has not once attempted to communicate with me by telepathy. She issues orders and coldly expects to be obeyed. When I yell at her, she does not answer and continues with her orders unabated. And I have a mean yell, I tell you. You know how mothers ignore their children’s temper tantrums? That’s American GPS Lady. I didn’t like British GPS Lady. I despise American GPS Lady.

Today, while parked in my rental car in San Diego, I asked American GPS Lady how to go from where I was parked at a small mall to a supposedly nearby Mexican restaurant she had recommended. She took me out of the parking lot, onto a freeway, off of the freeway and right pass that same parking lot before having me end up at the restaurantthat turned out to be pretty much just across the street from the mall. She couldn’t just tell me, “Nadia, get out of the car and cross the street.” Nooo. She had to make me drive half way around California. And no matter how angry my yell sounded, she could have just cared less. As I said, I hate American GPS Lady.

GPS Ladies aside, I love the freedom one gets by renting a car in a new city. It’s so much more liberating than taking a taxi or riding the bus. I feel in control. And rather importantly in my case, it gives me the added benefit of a trunk for my inevitable many purchases. As usual, I have no idea whether I’ve gone overweight for the flight back home. I don’t really care though. I am now the proud owner of some extra, much-needed mountaineering gear and some diving gear! I cannot wait to try it all out. Oooh, oooh…and I bought rock climbing shoes! I’ve been wanting to try that for quite sometime. So next time I find someone who teaches it in Egypt, I am ready dude!

One of the most difficult things about driving outside Egypt is staying within the lines. It’s more difficult than they make it out to be, you know. If we do have lines painted on our roads in Egypt, none of us notice them. Two-lane roads are usually filled with four lanes of cars. We don’t like spaces in Egypt. I don’t like spaces between cars more than the average Egyptian. In Egypt, be sure I’ll yell at you if you leave a small buffer space around your car. That space could have brought me 0.5 meters closer to my destination, lady! When I drive outside of Egypt, I MUST drive within the lines and leave spaces between me and other cars otherwise I’ll have to pay a ridiculous fine. It is a challenge to say the least. Today I remembered trying to color a frog in 1st grade. I wasn’t very successful at keeping within the lines then and I wasn’t very successful keeping within the lines today. GPS Lady made it even more difficult by telling me I needed to be in the right lane at the very last second several times. So I basically ended up doing a lot of swerving. I have a line memorized in case the police pull me over: “I’m from a foreign country. I’m Egyptian. And GPS Lady is giving me hell. Show mercy.”

I hope to have interesting news for you tomorrow, so stay tuned!