This morning we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise although it didn’t stop me and Dom arguing like a couple of bitches over the need to do an xmas newsletter, Dom felt it had to be done in the desert.
Really tough days cycling today 70 miles into a strong headwind and I hit my first wall of the challenge, I occupied my mind by focusing on positive thoughts- the finishing line next year, Holly, family and of course to give strength to those people fighting cancer.
We stopped at a shop for some Jo Jos to boost some energy and a lorry driver wanted to give me his number saying if there was anything I needed while I was in Libya I should call him- a hotel with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and all you can eat buffet would be nice.
As we were approaching Ajdabiya feeling shattered and longing for the first shower in 3 days the town never seemed to appear- it looked like it was just down the road for a good 45 minutes. We found the only hotel in the city and were directed up the stairs to the room, the trouble was they hadn’t finished building the staircase and health and safety wasn’t big on the agenda either; sparks coming out of the tv socket, a wardrobe that fell apart when you opened it and suspicious curly hairs on the bar of soap in the bathroom were best avoided.
Today was a good day for cycle stats. With the wind gods on our side once more we managed 95 miles in 5 hours, an average speed of 19mph and clocked 30.5mph at a peak
Not much to report on the cycle day itself today, just one long straight road of nothingness again with unpaved sections of loose gravel and pot holes- not the easiest terrain but our trusty Ridgeback warhorses saw us through. The day’s highlights were camels, donkeys and goats by the side of the road.
Another really starry night accompanied by a traditional spicy Libyan dinner.
The wind gods had turned from giving us a supportive tail wind to a punishing head wind. Dom soon felt faint and dizzy so we stopped for an early lunch, despite slow progress we still managed 81 miles before finding a place to camp.
While Fathi cooked another delightful meal of lamb and pasta we recorded a video to send to Richard Branson to appeal to virgin to help run a huge awareness campaign.
A full moon illuminated the sky; the only thing that’s missing is Holly.
Today we headed for Surt, we even got there in good time to wash our sweaty cycle gear. As we approached the city huge billboards lined the sides of the road promoting Gadaffi’s vision of a United States of Africa. There was a massive sense of pride in the air, one guy pulled up alongside us and said with a huge beaming smile “welcome to my country” another friendly chap got into Fathi’s car and guided us to the hotel when we stopped to ask for directions. Later on another guy in a cyber cafe didn’t want to stop shaking my hand; he genuinely seemed so pleased to speak to me.
Dom forgot to sign out of my skype account so when I returned later to speak to Holly she saw a Libyan guy on the other end of the webcam, I went over and signed myself out of my skype account on his machine, I think the whole experience of Holly, me and skype had confused the hell out of him.
Reached the true bleakness of Libya today lots of wind (fortunately tail) sand sweeping across the road which was almost ghostly and large sections of road completely unpaved with JCB’s either side of the road. Despite the obstacles we still managed just under 100 miles. We camped tonight under a starry sky, Fathi cooked up a good amount of lamb and couscous and we watched the moon rise up over the desert. Spent the evening watching some of Fathi’s tourists videos on his laptop.
Today’s cycle took us along a busy 3 lane motorway, lorries were only allowing a couple of inches despite Fathi driving behind us channelling the traffic out of our path. There was drums full of sand in sections blocking one of the lanes, one Vauxhall Astra driver didn’t pay attention to Fathi’s hazard lights and tanked it past him straight into one of these drums, glass went everywhere but fortunately the driver was ok, a stark reminder to us of how alert we need to be and how vulnerable we are on bicycles. The busy roads did clear up a little and later on in the day with a good tail wind behind us we managed to clock 28mph!
After Sabratha we had to stop at Leptis Magna, a supposed must see, the pride of Libya. Leptis is the best preserved Roman runis in the world. I could see the excitement build up in Dom’s eyes like a 5 year old on Christmas eve. We understood the crack this time and agreed the guide rate before entering, the photos speak for themselves and you can see them on the gallery section. We were kept amused by the guides language/accent . As he was describing bronze pans it sounded just like he was saying ‘prawn pants’ and when describing bricks he’s say ‘pricks’ classic. My personal favourite was when he was playing Dom some of his music on his phone which happened to be U2, as I rejoined them after recording a little video blog all I could hear was “I like you too”. The jokes rolled off seamlessly for the rest of the afternoon.
When we arrived in Misratah I helped guide Fathi into a parking space right outside our hotel, I was waving him back in and I’m not sure if he saw more hold up my hand or say stop but he reversed straight into the managers car! Fortunately the car wasn’t damaged and the manager didn’t notice but not surprisingly that’s the last time Fathi let me help him park!
After a shed loads of dust particles in my eyes today I decided enough was enough and went shopping for some sunglasses, the best of a bad bunch I emerged from a pharmacy with a pair of Stevie Wonder style sunglasses which Dom found highly amusing. We also went shopping to a supermarket to collect some food for the next 4 days of bleakness ahead, no hotels, no restaurants, few shops, just desert. Our shopping list included 8 packets of crisps, 8 cans of drink, a huge bag of boiled sweets and 30 Jo Jo’s (cake bars) & that was just for snacks! Imagine the dentist bill when we get back to the UK.
Had a great brekkie across the street, hot chocolate/honey croissants x 4, had to wait a Libyan hour to get out passports stamped (must be done within 48 hours of arriving into Libya) so didn’t get on the road till well after 10. Today I occupied my mind by thinking of ways and means to approach companies for more sponsorship, we’re still short of our final logistics target and our Just Giving site isn’t stacking up as quickly as I’d hoped. I think a big PR push is in order once we reach the Tropic of Cancer late dec/early Jan and to get all the charities involved too. Not that the key objective of raising awareness isn’t being met, I’m really blown over by the profile the challenge is getting back home through the support of friends, family and of course fiancé be it through events or simply word of mouth.
Dom’s now lost his 3 top gears, they keep slipping and my bike seems to have made a surrogate home for an invisible mouse- a squeak that I can’t locate and oil/tightening of bolts and screws won’t solve. Hopefully the bikes will hold out until Benghazi when we’ll take a rest day and have some time for a bit of bike TLC maintenance.
Some tough hills as we approached our stop for the evening- unfamiliar territory as it’s been flat for the past 2 weeks! Also not a great welcome from some mouthy school kids swearing at us, a wave and a smile is generally better after having cycled 80 miles. We got a nice hotel at a bargain price, well, it seemed nice marble floor in reception chandellers etc but all came clear when we got to the room which is where the good impression dissolved. According to our lonely planet guide the hotel had been undergoing renovations since 2005 which were obviously still on going- that’s Libyan time for you.
The towns only restaurant of rather the only one we found was a health buster- a few dodgy kebabs and the spiciest chicken sandwich that even a Mexican hillbilly would have been proud of.
Today our guide suggested we visit Sabratha an ancient city of well preserved Roman ruins. Dom was reluctant as he was keen to get the days cycling done and far less keen when it comes to looking at ‘rubble’ but we decided to have a look as it was on our route and we needed to break up the chore of cycling through Libya somehow. We were glad we did too, fantastically preserved ruins dating back to 600BC and a really impressive museum, our favourite was an original fully preserved statue of the head of Zeus. Dom was in his element and had found a new love for ancient mythology and ‘amazing artifacts’ rather than ‘rubble’.
The highlight of the tour however had to be when I quietly suggested to Dom that he tip the guide who had been great. When Dom rejoined us Fathi asked him how much he paid him to which Dom replied “1 dinar” (about 50p) which would just about buy a bottle of water and a jo jo cake bar- not really enough to feed the family! Fathi quickly scurried over to make amends and seeing as we had a rushed half length tour due to our time restraints we agreed to pay him 25 dinar; you see in Libya at tourist attractions it’s mandatory for one of their guides to take you around at a cost of 50 dinar. A group of European tourists spoiled it for the rest of us in 2000 when they tried to steal a piece of rock art 6000 years old from southern Libya in the desert. In our defence however we didn’t know we needed to pay the guide and all friends again we headed onto Tripoli. For the next few days there would be reoccurring 1 dinar jokes at Dom’s expense.
We were intending to crash with Dave in Tripoli tonight apparently he’d arranged our own apartment through his company but despite consistent trying I couldn’t get in touch with him and we had to settle for a cheap bug infested hotel room. We’re talking bugs in the shower, climbing out of the sink, on the floor, up the walls- not pretty. At least there was a good restaurant across the street that served lovely lamb and couscous, we even caught a bit of the Barcelona v Real Madrid game on the tele, also got a chance to speak to mum and Holly on skype. I’ve asked Holly to marry me at the end in the carribean, a lot of work to do now for a cyclist with no budget, on come the blagging skills.