The First Step
They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And if that single step happens to be in the shadows of the only remaining wonders of the ancient world, then hey, I guess we’ll just have to call that a perk. While our 12,076km transcontinental voyage may be a bit longer than a thousand miles, we could not have asked for a better send off than a perfect desert sunrise over the Great Pyramids of Giza. As our riders set out into the desert, the air was filled with emotion; excitement (it’s finally starting!), awe (yes, those are actually the pyramids) and fear (pretty sure I left something in the hotel…). But as clip met pedal, all faded to the cathartic bliss of tire and tar; the song of rubber and road that will see us through the next four and a half months.
Cairo fell away quickly as we made miles on Egypt’s excellent road system. For all the chaos and cacophony of traffic in Cairo, Egyptian drivers made safe and courteous road partners. As hours turned to days, we made our way to the coast of the Red Sea. With oil rigs and Suez-bound ships to our left and the rugged mountains of the Eastern Desert to our right, we swept down the coastal plains to Safaga, our first town since Cairo and the last time we will see the ocean until Capetown. After a gorgeous night of camping on the beach, we bid farewell to the sea and headed inland, climbing over the mountains of the Eastern Desert to reach the heartland of Egypt. As we rolled down from the mountains, it was startling to see how abruptly the landscape changed from empty desert to intensively farmed agricultural land; in some places we would have a desolate moonscape on one side of the road and lush sugar cane fields on the other!
The Nile river valley is home to one of the oldest agrarian civilizations in human history; together with the Euphrates, Ganges, and Yellow rivers, it is considered one of the cradles of civilization. It has been continuously inhabited by various groups and empires for over ten thousand years, and has borne witness to everything from the agricultural revolution to the Arab Spring. Even today, it is home to the vast majority of Egypt’s ninety million people. With that kind of population, it is not surprising that it is one of the most densely populated and most intensively farmed areas of land on the face of the earth. In Luxor, one can sit see almost five thousand years of human progress in one place, as the great temples of ancient Egypt abut canal irrigated fields, the modern city, and the timeless Nile herself. To witness the relentless flow of this river as it cuts a swath of fertility through the continent spanning desolation of the Sahara is both a privilege and an honor; to have her as our riding companion for this section of our adventure is the treat if a lifetime.