Archive for the ‘Check Point Updates’ Category

24th to 27th December

Monday, December 28th, 2009

27th December
At 6am our worst fears are realised when Aly replies confirming that he advises that we should look at an alternative route. This is gutting for both of us and we know it now leaves a big chunk of land mass out of the challenge. The Tropic of Cancer passes through the heart of Saud Arabia, and we still haven’t reached it. With Iraq to the north and conflicts in Yemen in the south our travel insurance would not be valid, and as our safety is paramount we are not going to risk it through these countries.
At breakfast we try and think positively, and our new idea is not to let Saudi Arabia beat us. We are going to go through all the correct channels, make sure we have a group of four people and come back next winter to complete this leg of the challenge. For the time being it will be onto Hurghada and then flight to Abu Dhabi.
Our so we thought. After letting some key people know of our dates in Dubai from 4th to 10th January, we then find that all flights from Hurghada go via Cairo and prices are double what they should have been. So back to the drawing board again. The only option left for us is to just fly from Cairo, and as we don’t want to be in this horrible city any longer it means tomorrow!
One hectic afternoon writing press releases, booking flights, (flying to Abu Dhabi, with a transfer in Bahrain which will be a luggage nightmare), telling Holly that she has two days to book a flight herself, confirming with contacts for accommodation and packing up the bikes for the flight (thanks to Magdi and team), tempers flare before we crash out at 1am.

26th December
While the UK relax their turkey filled bellies, we are back to work on the challenge, route planning two options. One will take us down the Red Sea coast to Hurghada and one up to Jordan in case we are unable to pass through Saudi Arabia. But after much deliberation, we decide that the later doesn’t make any sense. We would be cycling for the sake of it and northwards as well, when we have spent the last 75 days cycling down towards the Tropic of Cancer.
Stodging through work, we are really waiting for one email – the one back from HRH’s office to confirm a green light for Saudi. So you can imagine our disappointment when the reply comes back referring us to another department for youth welfare. This isn’t good as we have been to the top of the tree, and this is a big nail in the coffin. One last ditch effort is ask Aly’s advice, so we then console ourselves with a Cadburys chocolate overload (we had to buy this, but hopefully in the NY Cadburys are going to send us out a parcel of chocolate and sweets).

25th December
Happy Christmas! After saying goodbye to Cata at 4am, Jon and I had a chilled morning before heading off to see the Pyramids (our Christmas present from the family). They are an immense sight, although could probably be replicated quite easily at Legoland, and despite the scamming Egyptians we got a camel and pony ride to view the awesome sights. This was funny when I was on the pony next to Jon (I looked like Dennis Waterman off Little Britain), and looks like someone shrunk me and the pony, (see gallery) , but we did get some stunning photos. With the sound of praying booming across the Cairo jungle below us, this was certainly a different way to spend Christmas.

Telling several more Egyptians to “do one mate” as they tried to sell us everything from tatty plastic pyramids to rubbish t-towels, we headed off to enjoy a civilized xmas lunch buffet (well they had some turkey!) at the Marriot. We desperately need Sky, as we had to make do with some terrible movies back at the hotel. (Miss Doubtfire, Hook and Jingle All The Way).

24th December
Another day in Cairo and embassy mince round 4. Today we need the Saudi embassy to clarify exactly what we need to fill in on the moody medical certificate required for our visa application. Our driver Magdi is trying everything he can to help, but after walking into the certificate office, we all realise that this route is a dead end. We need a sponsor and address in Saudi before this hurdle can be leaped over, and we might now have to do a detour to reach the Tropic of Cancer. With our heads pounding, we decide that we should head back to the hotel and try a few more tour companies, before rewarding ourselves with a break for xmas. Jon made one more call to Aly, and he said he will see what he can do on Saturday.
While trying to book a driver to see the pyramids in reception, we bump into a stunning Columbian girl called Cata, who decides that we should join her on the belly dancing cruise tour she booked with Magdi earlier. With a few hours to kill before we leave, Jon skypes Holly, while Cata and I go and grab some food out in the Cairo urban jungle. This is one hyperactive, fiery South American who doesn’t stop talking but I like that, and even with a bit of a language barrier, my embassy headache soon washes away.

Magdi didn’t know what had hit him when we jumped into his car heading for the cruise. Cata cranked up the radio to “Loveshack”, and we raced off into the Cairo metropolis (well down potholed, slum streets!). The belly dancer was ok, and a couple of Egyptian morris dancers completed the act, but it was all a bit budget. This was until she dragged Cata up, who then blew everyone away with her dancing and became the star of the evening. I like this girl! Back at the hotel I leave Jon talking to Holly, and head off to do my bit for British Columbian foreign relations – Christmas certainly came early for me!

14th to 23rd December

Friday, December 25th, 2009

23rd December
Off to embassy mince round 3. Despite being told that the letter was going to be ready at 9am it wasn’t until 1 that we left the embassy after having to get the letter changed, our patience was pushed to the max. While in the embassy a young woman walked in, I couldn’t help overhear her dilemma as she explained to the less than helpful woman behind the counter. She had lost her passport and needed a temporary one so she could fly back to the UK. She had been in Cairo studying for a year and a half and had converted to Islam, as a result her family in the UK had disowned her, she was now homeless and had no money as she had been screwed over, she had no work permit so couldn’t get a job and had exhausted all her friends patience in Egypt asking for loans. A friend in the UK had paid for her flight on 6th Jan and all she had was 300 Egyptian pounds. She was in tears when useless behind the counter was saying she couldn’t help her without money. I felt compelled to try to help her and went over, I knew she was about 300 Egyptian pounds short of what she needed so I tried to give her 400 (about £50) I wanted to use my Christmas present to give to her, after all Christmas us a time of giving. As expected she was too proud to accept my money and dropped it off on my table I was using when she left saying she’d find it by other means. I only hope she wouldn’t do something stupid. What could I do but wish her luck and tell her to stay positive. Off we went back to the Saudi embassy now armed with the required letter only to find out we now needed a medical certificate proving that we are free from infectious diseases or chronic illness. Eeek- I kind of think that cancer could be classed as a chronic illness. This should be interesting. The Saudi consul was on our side and told me not to mention the cancer, he gave us the contact details of a moody doctor who we could bribe to get a medical certificate so now we’d opened a whole new can of worms. We spent the rest of the day chasing the illusive doctor around the city. We now needed to fill out a form in Arabic explaining what we are doing before the certificate can be issued. Another frustrating day in the office and not much progress. We’re staying positive though, and I’m kind of likening it to walking through a maze; while there seems to be many paths there is only one true path and at every crossroads you’re shown a little bit more of that path. Where there is a will there’s a way and as Dom says we’ve just got to keep chipping away.

22nd December
Embassy mince round 2. Our hotel arranged a driver for us at a reasonable rate and even better was that he wasn’t trying to rip us off at every opportunity. First stop British embassy to get this letter. The less than helpful receptionist refused our requests to see a consul and kept reverting between us and them which took ages. She kept us waiting for 3 hours and when the penny finally dropped we were told the letter would be ready at 9am but we had to pay now. Although i was reluctant to pay for something I’ve not seen I ran across the street to get the 700 Egyptian pounds she needed. When I got back there was some people waiting but as it was empty when I left and all I had to do give some cash I thought the less than helpful receptionist would allow me to push in, I was wrong. There was also a girl waiting who had here knickers in a knot, she wasn’t going to let me complete my 20 second task and forced me to wait 40 minutes. This meant that our scheduled tour to see the pyramids had to be postponed. Pissed off with the embassy and with huffy attitude girl I left the embassy with the raging hump only to find out that Dom had been speaking to her boyfriend outside and arranged to meet them in Hurghada. That should be fun. She did however apologise to me via Dom and take the time to put a message on the website so all is forgiven, the British embassy in Cairo is after all enough to push even the strongest minded laid back person to the edge. After the embassy mince round 2 our driver, Magdi, took us to the Egyptian museum where we saw some really impressive statues and some artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The best thing though was the Royal mummies, the unwrapped bodies of 4,000 year old kings- thats some seriously old corpses! They had to be kept in temperature controlled individual units and photography was banned but I did manage to sneak a couple of photos with my iPhone- see the gallery section.

21st December
Great night sleep but both of us were stiff when we woke up. We got our moneys worth from getting the concierge to run around for us doing various tasks while we tucked into the best buffet breakfast yet, freshly made chocolate and banana waffles pipped the post for both of us! Spent a while on the net looking for a cheaper hotel as movenpick was too far out of budget. We found a hotel called Tiba Pyramids just down the road for £37 a night with good wifi. Then it was off to the embassies to try and sort out entry to Saudi. I already had a headache from yesterday but our lardy disgusting driver made it worse by his poor navigation across a hectic city home to around 22m people. At one point he drifted into the news van in front while he was telling us about his Belgian girlfriend who he got with 3 weeks ago just 4 days after his wife died. He proceeded to tell us that her boobs were like apple and mango – quite funny but a horrible thought if you’d have seen him, he certainly wasn’t an oil painting. In fact I’d go onto say that he was so ugly tears actually ran up his face! The Saudi embassy revealed the lengthy visa process and said it would be 3 weeks at least before we had our visas provided they were approved by senior officials. Before they could begin the process they needed a letter from the British embassy explaining what we were doing. By the time we arrived at the British embassy it was closed we’d have to come back tomorrow. I now had a cracking headache. It was time to call in the contacts all guns blazing. Aly had now put me in touch with the office of HRH the General Secretary – if anyone can sort out this huge Saudi hurdle it was a Saudi prince! I sent an email asking for assistance worried that I’d hash it up addressing him incorrectly or something but crossed my fingers and sent it. Got rid of the headache by listening to holly’s beautiful Christmas songs ( which made us feel a little festive – hard to do when it’s mid 20s compared to -5c back home. I miss her terribly, and can’t wait to see her in Dubai.

20th December
Without a doubt the Alexandria-Cairo desert road is the most dangerous road we’ve ever cycled along, it was a mistake having shisha and beer last night but that was the least of our worries. We saw 4 car accidents which included a crumpled van and orange truck which had flipped over. It took 100% concentration not to get hit ourselves. After the first 30 miles we decided what we were doing was ridiculous and dangerous so we jumped on the motorway which was being built which ran parallel to the desert road we were on. Mobs of construction workers stood in disbelief looking at us like nutters cycling along an unbuilt road especially when we came across a section of freshly laid tar. Obviously very sticky the tar flicked up onto our legs and covered our panniers Dom even pointed out some on my nose! this was clearly not a good idea either- we didn’t fancy getting knocked off our bikes nor did we want to get stuck in the tar. When the new road turned to rubble and then being dug by JGBs enough was enough and we had to jump back on death highway. Although night time was heavily upon us by the time we got to Cairo we did make it in one piece with bikes still intact. The ridgebacks who we’ve named Ronnie and Reggie had certainly been put through their paces and deserved a rest.

19th December
Today was supposed to be a nice and easy 45 mile cycle to the Adham compound, a resort highly recommended by the solar cycle team. The map on the website wasn’t clear and so we plotted the sat nav about 10 miles away. Still knackered from the previous day the extra miles was not exactly welcome with open arms but we still found the resort nice and early and enjoyed free wifi throughout. Dom pulled off an impressive blag and haggled the rate down. They also had a pool table where dom whipped me- my excuse was there was a slant but I was just crap. We asked for some advice about the long desert road to Cairo and ended up meeting Tim, the owners son. Tim thought we were absolutely bonkers cycling to Cairo and even more so for booking a cheap downtown hotel, “things will go missing and that’s if you can find it”. He advised us to book into the movenpick hotel about 10km outside of Cairo and gun it in one day although we were still mental. We were now faced with a dilemma, no hotels were open in the halfway town and it wasn’t possible to camp anywhere. We took his advice cancelled our budget hotel and booked one night at the movenpick to use as a base. The night was another sleepless for me I was concerned the wind would be against us and we’d struggle with the distance, to make matters worse, Abdul the Arabic mosquito was out of hibernation and fancied a buffet feast on my feet.

18th December
Our longest cycle yet! 125 miles but unfortunately the tailwind of the storm was now starting to fade. We were supposed to reach Sidi Abdel Rahman but when we arrived the town was nothing more than a base for construction workers building 5* resorts across the street along the coast – that’ll be us 2 yrs too early then! Instead we decided to pedal on an additional 26km to the next town El Alamein but when we arrived we found no hotels. Starting to panic and with the sun setting we were told that there was a hotel back on ourselves 5km. Not the best thing to cycle back on ourselves after such a long cycle but we did, no hotels there either now we were told there was one about 15km on. By now the darkness of the night was against us, and as we cycled on to find this needle in a hay stack of a hotel a van load of construction workers cruised alongside us for a couple of miles at first a little banter but we could sense the situation turning hostile. If they stopped and 15 construction workers jumped out we’d have no chance, fortunately they didn’t. We found a hotel in the marina as it was out of season the price was heavily discounted from a rate of 3,000 Egyptian pounds a night it’s a favourite for Saudis. We got a room for about £60 and because there was only 13 guests we had our own chef, own hotel wing, private concierge and super speedy wi-fi. This place had it all and dinner was out of this world – anything we wanted from the a la carte menu.

17th December
We left Sidi Barani with the wind still behind us and took full advantage, heads down pedal hard and let’s get there early. We wanted to make it to the tourist police office to get a camping permit in case the wind gods have a change of heart. We’re also a little concerned about the desert road link Alexandria and Cairo- a 200km south easterly road with no hotels, it’d be best to break this up with a camp so we don’t arrive really late into Cairo. Over a windy lunch we noticed a pack of wild dogs nearby that kept barking at and chasing after passing cars. They seemed to calm down and soon stopped. We were still getting used to the bikes with all their panniers on, they were like dead weights again and sluggy off the mark. So when we got back on the bikes after lunch the dogs seized their opportunity and burst into life. Dom in a lovingly brotherly way hung back letting the dogs chase me (cheers bro) while I peddled my socks off, the last thing I wanted was a skanky hobo dog sinking his rabies infested teeth into my calf. Two of the 3 dogs gave up after a while but one was determined, by now my speed had picked up and I was reaching 25mph but the hobo dog was alongside me drooling with a crazed look in his eyes. I knew the mut would not be able to keep up for long but I wasn’t taking any chances, I reached into my handlebar bag and pulled out one of my mouldy Italian sweets and threw it hard catching him in between the eyes. The dog reacted with a short squeal and dropped off to the side of the road. Jon-1 hobo dog-0 Arrived early in Matruh no luck with the tourist police and the camping permit but did manage a 3 hour Internet mince where we got loads done, got an email back from Thomas tapken who I’ve been chasing for a while and Aly who’s trying to help us in Saudi he’s assigned it to someone from his Riyadh office which is an awesome contact. Also got to wish Gran a happy birthday was great speaking to her briefly. Tucked into dinner of shish taewok only to find out half way through that the chicken wasn’t cooked – nice.

16th December
Woke up to find the fly army that invaded us last night had bought it more troops seeking revenge for their fallen comrades spattered all over the walls and floor. I had a bad feeling and a look out the window confirmed our fears – trees blowing around in what looked like a fierce wind. ‘Chin up’ we thought we’ve got to get on with it, this is what we’re here for. Once outside it was clear that the storm was now in full force, rubbish was swirling around in a mini tornado and I got a crisp packet in the face while fixing on the panniers. Not only did we see a look on the locals faces like 2 aliens had just rocked up in their town but they were also looking at us like absolute nutters for even attempting to cycle into a full on storm. Fortunately, once we were out of the town the wind changed and was now behind us pushing us along at 25mph! Tempting as it was to cycle the additional 80 miles onto Marsa Matruh we decided to play it safe, we had left late in order to have a little lie in, so it would have been tough to make it before dark even at these speeds, also the wind can change in a split second. We arrived in Sidi Barrani in rocket time 2.20 hrs to do 50 miles. When we arrived sand was everywhere in our ears, our hair, mouth- our faces looked like a couple of Essex tarts caked in foundation. At least in arriving early meant we had time to clean our bikes and ourselves. We spent the afternoon doing a bit of admin & drafted emails; I’m looking to get some PR in Egypt and Saudi on the back of the Libya article and also trying to get us on BBC world news. It was interesting communicating when ordering food across the street for dinner, Dom almost had to do a chicken impression but the iPhone translator saved the day. Just when we were about to go to sleep there was a knock at the door. Dom drew the short straw and opened it to come face to face with 3 Egyptian policemen. This didn’t look good as I heard Dom say “I know it’s the police”, but luckily they were just looking out for us and wanted to check what time we were leaving tomorrow.

15th December
6.30am came round far too quickly – because of the wind, we had no sleep and woke up with half a tent, and it sounded like machine gun fire. We were in the full force of a sahara gibley. Clouds of sand dust rushing towards us hitting us right in the face reduced our speed to 7 mph & it became obvious the 130km cycle to Sidi Barani wasn’t going to happen. In fact the wind was so strong that Dom somehow managed to splash piss all over his face – that was funny! It took 2 hrs to get through boarder, with loads of check points and after being handed from one set of authorities to another, it was weird being back on the lonesome & having to put panniers back on. It took a bit of getting used to as we started our wobbly cycle off into the wilderness of Egypt. Then in a valley below a town (As Sallum) appeared suddenly through the mist of the storm, and a windy road down enabled us to get some cover from the gale. Egypt is certainly going to take a while to get used to as crowds of kids gathered around me in, while Dom checked out a lonely planet recommended hotel that stank of poo. Luckily the manager suggested we didn’t want to stay there! and we found another hotel nearby for a bargain rate of £15. With our phone back able to send texts we chilled out, had a dreadful dinner with some unidentified spongy meat, and retired to our fly invested room.

14th December
Woke up to hear the howl of the wind and that sinking “oh no” feeling quickly followed, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been though – it was a side wind but still not much fun. As we left town more drivers were beeping and friendly people waving, a sight and memory which I’ll miss after Libya. Two brothers marched up to us in small town near camp and shook our hands – they were only like 5 & 7; the younger offered me his straw drink as a gift, this act of generous hospitality blew me away – these people have very little but are still offering what they have. I rustled around in my handlebar bag and managed to find two sweets left over from Italy, they declined. Yeah I wouldn’t fancy them either after a month in the sun. I just about managed to get a photo of the younger brother shaking Dom’s hand. We introduced Fathi to Ramsay’s nightmares and enjoyed our last desert dinner with him. He’s been great to us and really deserves a medal for driving at 25km/h across Libya – not many people can say they’ve done that. As we checked out the landscape Fathi pointed out a weather front coming our way – wicked! We had a sleepless night with harsh wind pounding the tent halving its size.

23rd to 28th November

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

28th November
Off we headed towards the boarder, loads more black market currency traders waiving chunks of cash at us as we peddled past, we got to the boarder about an hour and a half early to meet our guide and passed through the last few Tunisian checkpoints relatively smoothly, we weren’t expecting the same at the boarder. When we arrived I was following the traffic when one of the officials waived franticly for me to cycle down a different lane towards the control kiosk. I obliged not wanting to upset any Libyan officials and braked to do so not realising how close Dom was behind me. Our first accident certainly broke the ice with the Libyan officials- they all roared with laughter as Dom went straight into the back of me and fell off his bike. Sorry didn’t quite cut it for a very disgruntled Dom but at least the ice was broken. After that the officials were all sound to us and despite not understanding each others language we managed to chat to them about football and build up a little rapport, good job too because they failed to charge us for some boarder payments we were expecting of around 200 dinar thus saving us about £100. What a result! Speaking of football we met a couple of Tunisian fellas at the boarder who are cycling to the world cup next summer.
Our guide, Fathi (pronounced fatty) who l thought looked a lot like Borat was waiting for us as we got through. The whole process of getting through the boarder was a lot easier than we thought, largely  due to the fantastic assistance of Sami at Ocean Tours. Fathi showed us to his jeep and offered us to put our bags in his car, now you may call it cheating but as we have this mandatory guide for getting into Libya who has to drive behind us in convoy the whole way… well you would wouldn’t you.
A little serreal cycling in Libya and now our 5th country of the challenge, as expected Libya is rather bleak despite it still being Eid holiday we managed to find another budget hotel for 15 Dinar, best thing was they had cable so we could catch up on world news although nothing happy, another terror attack, this time on a train in Russia. Dom asked fathi for a good cheap restaurant, he took us to a Turkish kebab house where we each had 4 kebabs!! So my stomach is finally getting back to normal size again not sure the choice of cuisine will help at all though.

27th November
We left the hotel to the bemusement of a large group of French guests corrugating outside the front, and who were heading out on a museum tour. I gave a little speech in French, well “toute la monde” and “c’est bon”! I’m getting fluent at that now! Proper mincing about and finding out that the sat nav/ milometer wasn’t working, was not a great start. You think we would be more organised after a 4 day break!
Progress was really slow, and Jon was still weak from the tail end of his Tunisian belly, but we pushed on heading for Ben Guerdane, our last stop in Tunisia. After lunch we saw another touring cyclist heading towards us, and it’s only Christophe our friendly Belgian who helped us find the hostel in Tunis. He was trying to get into Libya, but his tour company had let him down on the visa, so he was turned back at the border, and was cycling back to Sfax to sort something out. This hardly filled us with confidence, and raised all the questions like, “what happens if Sami lets us down”, or “we get turned away at the border?”
We rolled into Ben Guerdane about 4pm, and because of Eid, most hotels were closed, and it felt the most hostile place we’d been in in Tunisia. Luckily Jon spotted a hotel, and while we waited for the owner, we were conscious of lots of staring eyes!- once again the aliens had landed. The toilet in the shared bathroom didn’t flush so you had to hold your nose when using the bathroom- it must have been broken for a few weeks and Dom complained his pillow was like a nik nak but it was cheap and there really wasn’t a lot of choice.
The other thing worrying us about Libya, was getting cash as we had been told there were no cash machines between the border and Tripoli and we didn’t want to let the guide down by not having money straight away. Luckily a very active black market saw us haggle 3 street sellers for the 800 Libyan dinars (£400) which we needed to get started.

26th November
Living up to our reputation as the strange English guests, this morning we nonchalantly walked through the marble reception hall armed with a wastepaper basket full of hot soapy water and our tent. You see last time we used the tent was in torrential rain in Sicily and it was starting to get funky. With the hot desert sun, this was a perfect opportunity to clean it and get it ready for next time we camp. We unwrapped it on the perfectly mannequired hotel entrance gardens and erected it there. We did get some strange looks from all the guests setting out on their desert tours!
More strange goings on at the hotel today included a brutal cat fight on the driveway, a camel by the pool, an African drummer and his pan piper mate, and five blokes standing one legged on top of galloping horses on the beach.

25th November
One thing that annoys me the most is unnecessary spending of money (even if it was only £7!). We headed back over to Houmet Souk this morning to try and obtain some euros in preparation for entering Libya (currency of preference, rather than actual currency!), and after being told on Monday that this would be possible, we only found out by getting a taxi all the way over (20km) that you can only do this as a Tunisian resident. Rubbish, but the bank told us there is an active black market (!) in Ben Guerdane where we should be able to exchange money.
The rest of the day we spent chilling out on the beach, wondering when our next opportunity would be to do this again! We are now at home at this hotel complex, and the managers all know the Wright brothers! I don’t think we have been that difficult guests, only a blocked bath twice, only speaking pigeon French and complaining about off milk, but when we got back to our room late afternoon, they had made swans out of towels, and sprinkled flower petals on the beds!- a little odd perhaps confirming our fears that there was more to Rym Beach than we’d first thought. We’d have preferred some money off the room.

24th November
Over lunch we took some time to scope out some of the guests and staff. There was Marcel, the over friendly Belgian on our table as well as Porno shorts. Aerobic Mike who liked nothing more than encouraging 75 year olds to do pool side star jumps to cheesy Euro pop, over enthusiastic Greasy Cheeko who loved shouting ALLLLEEEEEEZZZZ while he tried to drum up takers for a beach volleyball tournament (you’ll have to wake them up first mate and find their verifocals).
Ok so now my Tunisian belly bug had gone into the next stage, I was through the projectile vomiting and consistent ’10 second dashes’ to the toilet every 10 minutes, now my stomach was churning and spluttering like a 1979 piaggio struggling up a steep coastal road and all that was coming out was gas, lots of gas I seemed to fit quite well with the flatulence crowd and tactically parked up next to them for dinner so that the other guests would be none the wiser. Poor old Dom had to use his anti pollution mask we got for the busy Asian cities when we got back to the room, even I was choking. If only I could have bottled up the gas we’d surely set an unbreakable record for travelling round the tropic of cancer on a bicycle!
Received our visas this evening, but as there is a public holiday in Libya on Friday, we still need to stick to the original plan, and meet the guide at the border on Saturday.

23rd November
Checked into hotel, and rolled sleeves up for the buffet lunch. I could see the tears in Jon’s eyes as lashings of food were being served; beef, chicken, fish, pasta, chocolate, fruit etc, he took it steady with high fibre food to shake his belly bug. It’s weird suddenly having everything all there to eat (certainly times out on the bike we dreamed of a day like this), but I resisted the urge to overeat, and just had 4 courses!
Only bad thing about the hotel is that we are about half the age of the average guests, and so sunbathing around the pool, there is far too much flesh on display than we would like. Stomachs lined up on sun loungers like over basted turkeys at Christmas. Most of the guests are retired French and Italian couples, who have a penchant for speedos and bikinis. And bum munching bikini bottoms is certainly enough to upset even the most steel of stomachs! Over worn speedos where the elastic has gone are certainly not much better, hanging down like a bag of old sprouts. Speaking of which, that is what Jon’s farts are currently smelling like! All inclusive are great value, but very little class!

23rd to 30th October

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

22nd October (Day 14)
It all started off ok, and well pleased to leave the ‘cave hotel’. We left the UK in such a rush, that we had loads of unwanted leads/ plugs, so found a post office to send a package back to the UK, with a couple of letters too. My French is so pony, that even a simple task like this is a misson, but we got it done eventually.

About mid morning it started spitting as we made our way through windy roads, and after a brief stop for lunch the sky went black. For the next 4 hours it rained constantly, along with a bruising headwind, so by the time we arrived in Draguignan we were absolutely soaking to much amusement of the locals. Sadly no hotel blagging tonight, but did get a great pizza next door, which set up a good movie night of Casino Royale.

23rd October
At last, a sunny day – hurrah. And the roads all looked pretty flat too. We headed off towards Grasse, and it just got warmer and warmer. Beautiful warm day, but slow progress around the windy mountain roads which didn’t actually matter we were just happy to have a dry day and beautiful scenary.

3 english guys who overtook us yesterday, went flying passed again, and funnily enough we met them at the intermarche for lunch. They were cycling from Barcelona to Nice. Stuff the patio furniture for sale outside – it all made perfect picnic beneches for us all.

After lunch we reached Grasse – a stupid town which went on for ages – we actually entered it 3 times! but it was worth it – in the distance we caught our first glimst of the med – sparkling in the afternoon sun it was like we’d found the treasure we’d been looking for for the past two weeks- great sense of achievement. The best cycling followed, apex, hairpin downhills all the way into Nice.

One scary moment, when Jon and I took a wrong turn and ended up on a single lane motorway flyover in Nice rush hour traffic. The French were not amused – in fact our best traffic hold up yet – so many beeps we found highly amusing but left the motorway pretty sharpesh!

As the sun was setting, we decided to push onto Menton (on the Italian border), rather than set down in Beaulieu sur Mer. This meant going through Monaco at night – very glizy and sparkly, with as much boat porn as you’d ever need. Sadly no time to stop at the casinos, but did have fun upsetting more traffic – Jon did a Porsche 911 C4 off the lights, and I managed to annoy a Z3 driver. A budget 1 star hostel meant we had to carry our bikes upto the first floor and keep them in the room over night!!

24th October
With our planned rest day in Menton, we had a chilled one, although still admin stuff to do! We enjoyed a lie in, although seriously upset the cleaner as we hadn’t left our room at 11am. Key jangling, foot stamping and lots of huffing and puffing, she was rather upset! Anyway, we then made our way to the laundrette, and finally managed to enjoy some sun by the med for a couple of hours. We laid all our clothes out to dry along the promenard wall, and everyone who walked past thought we were selling things! We decided to do a short 20km ride later that afternoon across the Italian border, and found a campsite soon after. A serious lack of grass made for an uncomfortable bed, but we chilled out watching a funny yank talking about the 9/11 conspiracy, and telling us all the things “…you never thought you’d know!”

25th October
Didn’t realise the clocks had gone back in Italy too, so later that day we found out we had left the campsite at 8.30am (our best, non mincing time yet!) As well as being religious, it also seems that Sunday is the day of cycling in northern Italy, and never before have I seen such posing cyclists, all in their white lycra – not something I really want to see again! We were making good ground today, passing through beautiful Italian seaside towns, but lots of cycling up and down in between. We pushed onto Savona, but the light was starting to go when looking for the youth hostel. We couldn’t find a hotel for directions for love nor money, but just when we were about to give up, we found a plush 4* hotel in the docks (much more Dom’s cup of tea!) We realised that the youth hostel was miles away, and as the hotel manager took pity on us, she offered us a half price stay including buffet breakfast – touch – that was definitely getting nailed the next day! The massive power shower also sorted out the last few days of sweat!!

26th October
After a 5 course breakfast of bacon, eggs, cereal, chocolate croissants, chocolate muffins, fruit, yogurt, bread and cold meat, some more internet mincing meant we didn’t leave until midday. But the weather was beautiful, and soon we were battling traffic (and potholes) in our first Italian city, Genova. We were starting to realise how bad Italian roads are compared to France, so avoiding potholes became our next challenge! We cycled 55 miles today, a bit less than we wanted, but we pounced on the first campsite we saw, and luckily it was open and right by the sea. Another pitch on gravel rather than grass wasn’t brilliant, but at least they had warm showers, and we finished watching our 9/11 conspiracy.

27th October
A hard, hard day cycling today, rising over 800m into the hills above the med. The views were stunning, but it was at the detriment of our milage, only managing 20 miles before lunch. However, there aren’t many places as beautiful to enjoy a sandwich, far reaching views across the hills to the sea. We must have looked like a couple of sweaty aliens, as a few of the locals tried to come over one by one and speak to us (and we didn’t have a clue what they were going on about – we think that one Italian farmer used to like cycling before a nasty accident with a tomato cutting machine, but to be honest, it was anyones guess! After lunch followed some sweaping downhill which we had earnt!, and apparently was flat all the way to La Spezia. But it was still tough gradual gradient, finished off with a 2.5km tunnel – not fun at all! Beaten by the light again, we found a 2 star family hotel, which had a massive room for us.

28th October
After some admin, and Jon finding a supermarket eventually for lunch we started off heading towards Pisa. We utilised Mc Donalds outside benches for lunch & then you can’t beat a smartie mcflurry (universal language) for desert. Good news for Jon too – Holly confirmed her correct flights to Rome, landing on 31st and leaving on 4th Nov. So a few days for admin catch up, washing, bike maintanence etc. After lunch we saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa from the main road – as one of Jon’s mates rather obviously said “…its just a tower!”, we carried on towards Livorno, passing hissing prossies on the way – actually more like ugly grissly bears! We found a nice 3* campsite by the sea, and our stable diet of wieners, pasta and bolognese sauce accompanied the glowing sunset over the med.

29th October
A big day today – we now have added pressure of needing to get to Rome to meet Holly by 31st, so set ourselves the target of reaching Grosseto (120km). Another warm day, and the stripey tans are coming on a treat! Strange goings on at the supermarket we stopped at – someone tried to sell Jon a dustpan and brush, and I was not happy getting overtaken by a grandad on an electric bicycle!! Realised today that we are not allowed to cycle along dual carriageways, so I have a habit of stopping on very bad junctions just to make sure!! Luckily we managed to find an ‘A’ road which followed the motorway all the way down. Calorie intake now is upto 4,500, so we are now eating 3 kitkats a day as well as breakfast, lunch, dinner, apples, bananas, crisps, yogurt and a bag of sweets! Found a cheap hotel in Grosseto, which included another buffet breakfast, which is now almost mandatory for us!

30th October
We knew today was going to hurt! Without being able to travel on the SP1, we had to head for the hills of tuscany. Beautiful scenery, but the rolling landscape made for tough cycling. And man, the Italian roads are terrible. It feels like you have punctures, but in fact it is the sound of cycling over lose, rubbly tarmac. And this is a main A road! The bikes were being battered (probably a test for when we hit India), luckily they held up, and after an hour of nightime cycling we reached as far as we could, to a town called Vetralla. We started panicking a bit when we couldn’t find the hotel, but a restaurant helped with directions (which we later found out owned it!) We headed for that restaurant for some pasta energy, but didn’t have a clue what anything was! We managed to get a pasta starter right, but my main course was palma ham & mozzerella and Jon’s was lamb chops with a slice of lemon!

The first challenges, 9th to 14th October

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Well what a week it has been so far. To be honest there were times leading up to the challenge where I thought it wouldn’t be possible, but here we are already on day 7.

The challenge started from the Bank of England on 9th October – challenge being the operative word (sorry Plurimi, I know you hate that word!). The first we faced was getting used to some 30kgs of extra weight on each bike, but fortunately neither of us fell off in front of the crowd! The next challenge was getting out of London, and after that was trying to use the cleets. Dom stacked it twice in the first 10 miles. Reaching Rochester we realised we were losing the challenge of time for making the ferry by 7pm. Dad opted for the train, and we all put our foot down along the A2. About 20 miles outside of Dover, the heavens opened, and the challenge of torrential rain and bad visibility forced us off the A2 into windy village roads. With the lights of Dover in the background, we realised we were not going to make the ferry, and were forced into a warm bath and bed in Dover.
The second day we made steady progress. We stopped in a small town called Abberville and managed to find probably the worst 2 star hotel in France, the short rather odd looking hotel manager had a servere mucal problem and made it known through wierd wretching noises and hocking up greenies- we shouldn’t have opted for the horrendously overcharged breakfast, we were lucky not to find something green and salty in our tea!
The third and final day with Dad took us on a long ride to Beauvais. Jon used his best possible French and managed to get 3 French ladies to lead us to a hotel with internet, he continued to use his broken French to try to haggle for a free room but they didn’t have a clue what he was trying to say. Good to use the internet to pick up e-mails and a nice pizza in a pub with a beer was a treat.
Then there were two! We ploughed on towards Criel, the full map of France we had wasn’t quite cutting it and we were clearly doing more miles than we had to by missing shortcuts, new map now top priority. Set up camp in a town called Lizy and cooked frankfurters and pasta on the trangier. Trouble was the fuel we picked up took ages to light and cook the food. Methalated spirits was a very important thing we forgot!
We had gone off course dropping Dad off near Paris so we decided to use our 5th day to make up some ground to get back on track. A hostel with internet access was our goal in Troyes 120km away which we arrived at by 9.30pm that evening. Dodgy roads approaching Troyes dual carriageways at night time are no place for two Englishmen on bicycles! We arrived shattered but with a great sense of achievement, we were given cheese and bread once we’d checked in which was a right touch.
Still not great at the morning routine we need to get better. We find ourselves repacking every morning which takes ages. Dom decided to hand wash all our clothes and with no dryer or airer in the hostel it was clear they were never going to dry in time. By the time we’d left the hostel it was 11am. Have made a rule to leave 1 hour after waking up and to repack the night before if need be. Once we did leave had a great days cycling through the Champagne region and were gifted with clear blue skies. A great opportunity to take some camera footage although it was a bit chilly.

Lights out!! 8th September

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Not a clever start on our new bikes!

The afternoon was stunning. 27 degrees worth of stunning in fact! How I’m glad I’m now training rather than stuck in a sweaty tube train carriage. Jon and I headed over towards Stevenage for our second photoshoot with the renowned pap photographer, Lucy Bennett. We needed some more press shots for sending out to our PR agencies and charities.

Well the problem is, Lucy does like to talk, and as she was downloading the 400 images to DVD, the light was fading fast! So fast that when we came to leave, it was actually dark. We had one reflective strip and 18 country lane miles between us and home! My new bike very nearly ended up in a ditch, and Jon got stuck in a cattle grid! We made it as far as a conveniently located curry house, and luckily one of my mates came to the rescue in his van! Note to Ridgeback – we must order some lights soon!

We are now sponsored by RIDGEBACK!! 4th September

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Today we took delivery of our Ridgeback touring bikes and all of our equipment provided by Madison. We were like two over excited kids at Christmas opening up half a dozen boxes full of spare tyres, water bottles, panniers, helmets, shoes, first aid kits… all the equipment which we will heavy rely upon to help us round the world!

Then it was off to our cycle mechanic’s (Jeremy Mulkern) house to put the bikes together and have a crash course in gear ratios, breaking systems and all aspects of bike mechanics that we needed to learn. At times it was hard to stay focused with two gorgeous chocolate labradors craving attention.

I will be riding a Ridgeback Voyage and Dom will be riding a top of the range Ridgeback Panorama as they didn’t have his size in the Voyage (there are benefits of being short) :o )

PHD Summer Ibiza Party, 26th August

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Faced with the prospect of PHD Media not having their legendary annual summer party, I thought I’d organise one, to co-inside with me leaving, and secondly raise some important sponsorship funds.

So I negotiated a venue for free, together with Ibiza DJs from Pukka Up, and set to work on organising the party for Wednesday 26th August. The place was Centro bar close to Tottenham Court Road, and the times were set for 7pm – 1am. It was a bit close to the wire on raising enough media owner funds to enable us to get plenty of free drinks (always the important element), but lucky the bar tabs were settled just in time (sadly I couldn’t justify the mini burgers too – another essential ingredient for a good media party!) We had a Mixmag photographer down, a Vodka luge funded by Google, and the UK Bodypopping champion busting some serious shapes on the dance floor.

I was so pleased that the whole company got behind it, and with ITV donating X Factor and Arsenal tickets, we raised over £2,500 for the TCC Challenge charities. It was an amazing night, but some seriously banging heads in the morning!

Dom x

Rock for a rock, 4th August

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Holly was my rock through my cancer. We were just 3 months into our new relationship when I dropped the cancer bomb on her but she was so understanding and supportive I couldn’t have wished for anyone better, she was my angel and gave me the strength to pull through. Our relationship grew stronger as a result of the cancer, she even wrote songs about me (‘count on you’ and ‘that side to me’) which she recorded at Abbey Road with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra ( shameless plug for you baby!

I wanted to take Holly away on an unforgettable holiday before I left. It’s been a life long dream of ours to see tigers in the wild so I organised a tour to India, a country which I have always wanted to visit. Some questioned my motives for taking her to India in the middle of monsoon but I actually had an ulterior motive of proposing to her before I leave to go on the TCC Challenge.

Fortunately for us there was not a drop of rain the whole time we were there and the weather was gorgeous. After doing the golden triangle we went to Tadoba Tiger Reserve for 3 days of morning and afternoon safaris. The first day we saw no tigers but did see a whole host of other wildlife including a sloth bear. That night I took Holly out onto the balcony of our jungle lodgings and dropped down on one knee and asked her to marry me. I had succeeded with the element of surprise- she went through a whole rainbow of emotions. She was my best friend, my soul mate my absolute rock so what better way to show her than to give her a rock in return?.

The following day we tracked a female tiger walking in the middle of the road for 30 minutes, the day after we stumbled across two tigers mating- now that’s the power of the secret!