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This is part 3 of the Cairo to Cape Town series. If  you missed Tessa’s last post, Goodbye Cape Town, Hello Cairo – you can read it here.

Date: 15 January 2013

We started the first day super early. I was unable to sleep as excitement just took over. We set off in convoy through Cairo toward the pyramids for the TdA opening ceremony. Seeing the sunrise over the pyramids was truly special, and a moment I’ll always remember.

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It was very cold, but as the cycling began, I began to warm up. As we made our way over the highways, a rusty nail destroyed my back wheel. The road was too busy for repairs to be done alongside so, with my safety in mind, I hopped onto the support vehicle which carried me to the city exit where I changed my first flat of the trip. I couldn’t believe I was already having bike problems after only 35km. All I could think was please let this not be a sign for the days to come. Well, wow, was that wishful thinking!

I got to our first desert camp just before sunset. There is absolutely nothing for miles around but sand, and if you’re lucky, more SAND!!! After a lovely babywipes “shower”, and good food in the tummy, I was in my tent as the sun set at 17:30, asleep by 18:30. This has become the norm. It takes a little longer to fall asleep if it’s a cold night with a howling wind. On those nights, I’m asleep by 19:00.

Day 2: I woke up just before sunrise the next morning, and took down my tent. Early morning in the desert is freezing. You put on your gear and hope it warms up quickly. I left camp at a good time, and cycled along the Red Sea for the first 50km alone, enjoying the ride.

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At 60km I was joined by my Kiwi friend, Vincent, who became a great support for what was to become a tough day. We had a distance of 165km to cover. After the lunch stop we set off, only to discover that my front tubeless tire pressure was too high. This caused it to pop straight off its rim, covering me in tubeless tire slime. I repaired the messy damage, and discovered that I didn’t have another spare. Vic very generously gave me his spare road tube, which we pumped to capacity. This carried me for another 70km, until some dirt caught between the tire and tube, causing yet another puncture. With neither of us carrying more spares, I felt pretty much screwed. A group of cyclists passing by asked if everything was okay? After explaining my situation, a fellow TdA cyclist kindly donated her spare so that I could continue. With 80km to go, I just prayed I would get to camp before sunset. I eventually did, and some of the TdA group came over to give advice and words of encouragement. I was in bed very early that night, completely exhausted.

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Day 3: I woke up and knew this will be my good luck day. Well, it was, until about 65km into the ride when I felt my bike getting heavier with each turn of my peddle. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the slower a bike becomes, the higher the probability of a slow leak… my back wheel was slowly going flat. I pumped it up as much as I could to make it to the lunch stop, when I’d replace it with the spare tube I had been travelling with. However, as I reached it at 70km, someone pointed out to me that my front tire was also flat. So there I was, once again, with one spare tube and two flat tires. Feeling completely defeated, I sat for a while, wondering how I’d pick myself up from this. Basically you just gotta get on with it. It’s just another bike problem which can be fixed. I’m still fit and healthy, and so what if I finish last? It’s not about winning for me at this point, it’s about not giving up.

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Yet again, a fellow TDA member shared a tube with me. Everyone is happy to help because they can see I don’t want to give up, despite all the bad luck. If I didn’t get another spare tube, I was almost thinking about pushing my bike to camp. An hour later, having done the repairs, I was on my way. I’ve never been so happy to arrive at camp. I decided it was time to start fresh. I pulled out a set of new tires and repaired all my tubes perfectly to ensure my bad luck was over. With new tires and new tubes, Day 4 had to be a good day.

Day 4: I woke up the next morning, and everyone wished me well as I started the days 100km ride. I thought to myself if you get another flat, well then you just keep doing what you’re doing. This is much easier said than done, I MUST ADMIT. The day’s ride was amazing. For the first time I had no flats and I finished under 3 hours, reaching an average speed of 29kph. I was flying! It felt great to keep up with the group and cycle at pace. We arrived in Safaga and I rewarded myself with a hotel room and the longest, hottest shower… No words can describe how good it feels to be clean, at least for a little while.

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Tomorrow we begin climbing, as we head into the mountains, covering a distance of 136km and yet another starry desert camp. This will be a true physical challenge, but it’s not long now and then it’s Rest Day #1 in Luxor. If it’s possible, I’ll be shopping around for road tires to help make my life a little easier.

If you’ve missed any of Tessa’s previous posts, you can read them all here.

Time and Tide
Tessa Melck

Born and raised on a farm near Velddrif on South Africa's Cape West Coast, Tessa Melck is made for adventure. After spending five years working on luxury Super Yachts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, she has taken her life to the next level, competing in the 2013 Tour d'Afrique – a cycle race from Cairo to Cape Town, covering 11 different countries over a distance of 12,000 km in just four months. Adding heart to her endeavour, she is doing this in aid of the Make A Difference foundation, a charity that gives financial support to deserving young people to pursue an education. Follow her on Twitter, donate to her charity (tdatessa.givengain.org), or find her on Facebook.