Mediterranean Cycopaths

Fertile Ground

Target: Jijel – Skikda (152kms)

Status: Achieved (Actual 150kms) – 470kms remaining.

Report: Todays riding carried us through the most rural territory we have encountered in Algeria – the road surfaces appropriately deteriorating to reflect this fact. But in fairness, Algeria has provided us with some of the best roads of the trlp, and this seemed a small price to pay for the rolling hills and river valleys on show. Indeed, Algeria is more fertile than I ever imagined – men lined many roads flogging crates overflowing with ripe tomatoes, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), beans and capsicum (peppers). 

We once again proved the star lunchtime attraction – todays lucky host, the town of Ain Kuchera (photo below). With an audience mainly consisting of children, we found it a little easier to escape without the earbashing of yesterday.

King of the Kids

Now freshly showered, fed and photographed for our moustache competition, it is with satisfaction that I report our arrival in Skikda a day ahead of schedule – the result of 3 long days on the bike. As I have left Jon to examine his ‘battle scars’ the vital question will be: at what cost?

Scrotometer: The nagging headwind and long stretches of rough surfaces could have made the day a lot worse if we weren’t blessed with a 2nd successive day of cloud cover – and for the fact that we virtually rolled on all downhills to placate Jon’s screaming upper thighs. Still, they were screaming: 3.8/10

Sean

July 10, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Kabylie – Grande and Petite

Target: Yakouren – Ziama Mamsouria (140kms)

Status: Exceeded (Actual 163kms to Jijel) – 622kms remaining.

Report: An early morning start was the order of the day and after scarfing down breakfast, we were on the road by 07:20.  What a treat was in store!  The day would be divided between steady climbs and mountain scenery in the Grande Kabylie region before bottoming out near Bejaia and a coastal ride from there.

Three mountain passes were the first obstacles set before us and the TC steam train huffed and puffed over the top of them no problems at all, but not before pulling in at a couple of stations for picture opportunities.  The fresh mountain air was doing us the world of good – just a pity about the hot, acrid, black smoke that is unfailingly sent our way by overtaking trucks.  A big descent and we hit the coast, before stopping for an early lunch at a quiet looking roadside cafe where we wouldn’t get hassled too much…

A very lengthy French/Arabic/English conversation later (with many new friends that kept turning up out of nowhere), 8 or 9 pictures, the obligatory exchange of email addresses and countless handshakes, we were finally back on the road.  Some topics of conversation covered at lunch included:

  • The (abundant) similarities between Australians and Algerians
  • North African Berbers empathy for Australian Aborigines; and deep appreciation of their music
  • Russell Crowe’s brilliant acting skills
  • Zinedine Zidane’s Kabylie heritage

After that half-time ear bashing we ran (rode) out for the second half feeling a bit flat, but soon received two massive boosts –

  1. A thick cloud cover was providing welcome relief from the energy sapping midday sun; and
  2. The coastal road, which we were worried would be similar to the ups and downs of the Rif, was relatively even and flat. 

It was a joy to ride on and the days distance was again extended.  If we can knock off 152kms tomorrow, we will have made up the day we lost due to our money woes in Algiers.

Scrotometer: It all sounds rather rosy above and I don’t want to give anyone sleepless nights by going into any more details about the effects of chaffing and spending so long on a bicycle day-in-day-out.  I am still searching for the root cause of why I am having so much trouble now when the last 12,000kms have been ok, so on this occasion I’ll just let the Scrotometer rating speak for itself: 2.9/10

Jon

July 9, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Monkey Business

Target: Algiers – Azazga (122kms)

Status: Exceeded (Actual 151kms) – 782kms remaining.

Report: 70kms in and coasting, I allowed myself the following indulgent thought – well today’s been fairly uneventful, we’ll cruise this one in – and within minutes the following sequence of events kicked off, reminding me, once again, not to take anything for granted:

Large, unrepairable puncture, front tyre; loud, unrelenting torrent of expletives; sobered by coming across a serious road traffic accident; temperatures continue to climb to near unbearable levels; skull pounds with spliting headache; smaller, repairable puncture, rear tyre; louder, reprehensible torrent of expletives; long climb to finish in target town; target town does not have a hotel, so climb extends the best part of another 12kms until we reach a hotel.

On the plus side, the final stages of todays climb flattened to a nicer gradient, allowing relatively pleasant final kilometres through heavily forested hills, with a few cheeky monkeys thrown in for good distraction.

Scrotometer: Late climbing and extended distance (initial distance estimate had been inaccurate as well, compounding our pain) in the afternoon heat saw the scrotometer plummet from a relatively high position: 5.9/10

Sean

July 8, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Living on the Breadline

7th July, 2007 

Alger La Blanche (‘Algiers The White’) – so named for the distinctive white of the City’s buildings as viewed from the sea by departing / returning seafarers.  This nickname resonated with us as the hilly city came into view.  Two rest days here was the plan, giving us time to wash our clothes and have a look around while recharging the batteries.  Oh, and get some cash out.

It was this last, seemingly straightforward, task that threw our plans into disarray.  We arrived on Wednesday afternoon, giving us Thursday to wash and get the cash before Friday which is always a day off in the Arabic working week.

To cut a long story short(ish), Thursday turned out to be Algerian Independence Day (July 5th, we should have known), effectively meaning no banks would be open for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  This combined with the fact that ATMs here are effectively useless with foreign cards, including Mastercard and Visa, mean that we are unable to get any cash to pay for our hotel and see us out of the country, until Sunday.

Result:  Team Cycopath to stay in Algiers an extra day and survive on the equivalent of £5 (GBP) for nearly 3 days.

There is one, rather significant, saving grace in that we can eat evening meals at any of four 5 star hotels, the only places in town where credit cards are accepted.

Wonder what the poor people are doing?

The rest of the time it is bread-sticks, water and the occasional piece of fruit.  We can’t even afford internet access until after 18.00 when they drop the rates, it’s horrible.

Anyway, dinner time, must run up to the Suisse Hotel to see what’s on the Menu du Jour.  Hopefully no hitches with the banks tomorrow and we’ll be on our way again,

Jon 

July 7, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Team Cycopath: a National Security Threat?

Target: Khemis Meliana – Algiers (121kms)

Status: Achieved (Actual 121kms) – 916kms remaining.

Report: Let me begin where Jon left off: “my bum is screaming at me to go back to the Team hotel and lie face down in a prone postion on the bed for the next 12 hours.”

What he failed to mention was his intention to do this on top of the sheets, starkers.

Several hours later, having managed to get to sleep – despite the perturbing surrounds – I was shocked to be awoken by a loud banging. Stumbling for the door with a bedsheet wrapped around me I am met by a large Algerian man who states he is with the Secret Police. When I ask to see some ID he flashes his walkie-talkie and says “this is my badge” to which I naturally respond “that’s not a badge”. He then waves a uniformed officer (until then obscured from view) over and demands to see our passports. Trying to ignore thoughts of reports I’d read about militants dressed as police officers slaying people on roadsides at night, I retrieve the passports and wedge even more of my body behind the door.

The officer looks taken aback when I refuse his request to enter the room  – with homosexuality severly punished in Algeria I didn’t fancy trying to explain the reason behind either Jon’s resting pose or the dodgy moustaches we are both sporting! Thankfully it all ended quite tamely with 3 men pouring over our passports – for such issues of national security as our dates of birth – whilst I attempted in vain to maintain a disapproving glare as Jon flashed various parts of his anatomy in my direction from behind the door.

Our subsequent early departure had an inauspicious start – I snapped the valve on my tyre tube and then when I went to replace it realised the spares I had picked up in Almeria did not fit my newish, deep-rimmed wheels. Using my only compatible tube, the early climbs were then marred by me staring at the rear gears and trying to work out why I felt so sluggish: is a brake rubbing? do I have a leak? is it the poor sleep? sub-optimal carbohydrate intake at breakfast? No dimwit – you’re climbing on your highest chainring. Phew, back to worrying about what happens when I wreck another tube…

Of note, Jon reckons he would have had the land speed record today if it weren’t for the trucks descending in first gear. He is charitable enough to concede that I may have “pushed him for it”.

End result is arrival in Algiers a day early and the luxury of 2 rest days before saddling up again.

Scrotometer: After a pretty amateur start things picked up with wide motorway shoulders and tailwinds ensuring high speeds and us reaching Algiers before the early afternoon inferno. 7.7/10

Sean

July 4, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dashboard – Week 24

  • Days Cycled – 4
  • Distance Covered – 556km
  • Cumulative Distance – 12227km
  • Almerian Tapas bars ravaged as we psyched ourselves up for Algerian night life – 7
  • Random Acts of Algerian Kindess – 6
  • July 3, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    Bum, Bean and Vaseline – 1124km to Tunis

    Target: Chlef – Khemis Meliana (87kms)

    Status: Achieved (Actual 87kms) – 1037kms remaining.

    Report: As much as I enjoyed cycling 390kms in baking temperatures over the course of the last two days, when I peeled my shorts off to inspect the damage last night, my body told me in no uncertain terms that it had had enough. I will spare you details of the remedial actions taken but, after a better than average nights rest (still not great mind) and with enough vaseline lathered on to lubricate 10 Sumo wrestlers, I rejected Seans offer of a rest day and was ready and raring to go again this morning.

    The good news, thanks to our efforts of the previous days, was that Algiers – the capital of this big brown land – was only two shortish days away and the logical stop in between, Khemis Meliana, a lazy 87kms, which would allow us to avoid sleeping in some renowned trouble spots further down the road.

    So as I sit here, in a dingy room full of Algerian men looking at porn, after another days work (hopefully only 9 more to go), my bum is screaming at me to go back to the Team hotel and lie face down in a prone postion on the bed for the next 12 hours. Looking forward to those rest days in Algiers …

    Scrotometer: A much needed sleep-in meant another mid-morning departure – not at all advisable in these temperatures. However, the short distance, a two stop strategy and standing up on the bike whenever possible, all combined to ensure a far more comfortable day than the previous two (notwithstanding injuries already incurred) – 6.8/10.

    Jon

    July 3, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

    Further into Algeria – 1332km to Tunis

    Target: Oran – Chlef (208kms)

    Status: Achieved (Actual 216kms) – 1124kms remaining.

    Report: The day started normally enough – some fruit for breakfast, Jon determinedly searching for anything to give me a caning about, and a random stranger requesting a photograph with us on the street. Despite earning the right to shave off my mo – by virtue of the mighty Hawks (my AFL team) thumping the Pies (Jon’s team) on Sunday – I decided not to for the sake of the competition we are having out here. Not that I’m entirely sure how one wins a moustache growing competition.

    Good winds and decent surfaces saw us sailing past beaches, huge piles of watermelons and hay bales stacked to look like haybarns early on. The only limit to progress were the queues at regular army checkpoints.  Hospitality again was high with several rounds of drinks picked up by generous locals and regular hoots, toots and wails of encouragement. Alas the wind turned at the death with 60km of headwinds tarnishing a fine days cycling.

    216kms a pleasing achievement. A quick check with the Statistics Department places this on the podium as our third longest day (for distance), 6th time over 200km and 17th time over 150km.

    Scrotometer: Fine sailing early on but closing headwinds extended the time in the saddle to 7 1/2 hours, leaving both boys saddle dimensions firmly imprinted on their nether regions – Jon in particular discomfort. Temperatures forecast for 32°C – felt much hotter. 3.1/10.

    Sean

    July 2, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

    Into Algeria – 1500kms to Tunis

    Target: Ghazouet – Oran (168kms)

    Status: Achieved (Actual 173kms) – 1332kms remaining.

    Report: It was a nightmare ferry ride from Almeria to Ghazouet, with the boisterous junior passengers doing their utmost to ensure that the passengers of reproduction age trying to sleep nearby, would not consider reproducing for a good number of years to come. 

    Team Cycopath rolled off the ferry and were raring to go … alas, entry procedures delayed the start a further two hours as, amongst other things and regardless of our best charades effort, the border police couldn’t quite get their heads around what a physiotherapist was.  It didn’t help matters when I said it slowly either: “PHYSIO-THE-RAPIST”.  I’m going to insist he writes masseuse from now on.

    After further delays at the bank, we were on our way.  Progress was slow as we climbed up through the coastal mountains to the hinterland highway, the swirling winds also thwarting our attempts to get any sort of rhythym.  But things slowly started to improve and the wind swung to the forecasted NW to give us a a boost along.  Lunch stops look like being a real winner here and the people are amazingly interested and friendly.  It’s like being back in Libya!

    Scrotometer*: After going showerless (cycling directly off the overnight ferry) and straight into a hot and sweaty ascent, it was looking like being a bad day from the Scrotometer perspective, but things started to improve as we hit the better roads.  Still, it was 31° and we spent 6.5 hours on the bikes – 5.2/10.

    Jon

    * Comfort assessment of days cycling and rating out of ten (10/10 being perfect and sliding downwards from there).

    July 1, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    The Final Countdown

    After a planned detour back to Spain to get around the impenetrable Morocco / Algeria land border, Sean and I arrived in the Algerian port of Ghazouet this morning to begin the last leg of our journey.  To say motivation has been a little low lately, would be an understatement – we are running out of steam and the day to day grind has been wearing us down over the past month culminating in a real test of character through the Rif mountains (read below).

    We have tried to keep spirits high by watching the Fred Hollows total rise (thanks to all those who have donated so far) and even resorting to the desperate measure of having a moustache growing competition, but the undulating topography, searing midday temperatures, saddle sores and lack of anything to do after hours, is making it hard.

    So, we have decided to change our blogging format over the last couple of weeks – we will be updating the sight each night to report on the days progress and particulars – giving our readers a (almost) real time insight as we close in on our goal.

    There is a approximately 1500kms to Tunis from here, which we estimate will take us 12 cycling days .  Stay tuned as all of those questions you have been asking yourself for months – Can they really do the FULL LOOP?? Can Jon re-take the landspeed record? Does Sean really lubricate his groin each morning? Who will win the TC moustache growing competition? – are finally answered.

    Cheers

    Jon and Sean

    July 1, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment