I am quite new to cycling. I had a bicycle when I was a kid, but never really got on one again until about 4 years ago. I had considered getting a bike before, but those close to me were of the opinion that I would never use it and it would just be more clutter, which was probably true. But, with my partner’s encouragement, I have been riding a bit of late and enjoy seeing the English countryside close up. It is the ideal compromise between walking, which is slow, but you see everything, and a car, which is fast, but you see nothing.
So, when my partner suggested a cycling holiday, described as “moderate” in the literature, I was ready to entertain the idea …
My partner’s other goal was to visit to Syria, which she had been interested in for some time. She found a cycling package holiday called “On the Road to Damascus” – a week in the country, with six days in each of which 30-40Km of cycling featured. It was expensive, but not outrageous, and with a well respected tour company, so we booked.
In the weeks weeks leading up to the vacation, we did try to do some training – going out on our bikes on the weekend when the opportunity arose. But English winter weather and life in general got in the way and we did rather less than planned. So, as we set off on this trip nearly two weeks ago, I had a number of fears: Would I really be able to cycle that much each day? What state would I be in after 6 days of it? What would the rest of the party be like – all cycling nuts who would regard me as a millstone inhibiting their progress?
In the end, my fears were almost totally groundless. The first two days of cycling were gruelling, with a cross- or head-wind and rather boring desert scenery. On the evening after those, I felt I was close to giving up, but, the following morning, it all changed – we had a great ride through interesting farmland and villages and over a dam. That pattern continued. The riding was often hard and at the limits of what I could do, but I made it.
People are always the strongest influence on life. In this case, I am thinking of the rest of the party and the Syrian locals. My fears about being surrounded by cycling nuts was somewhat unfounded. We found ourselves with an eclectic, interesting crowd, every one of which was great company. I did spend a lot of time “leading from then rear”, but the rest of the party were always supportive, as was the excellent backup team from the tour company.
Syria was a fascinating country to have a glimpse of and cycling was definitely a good way to do it. Most Syrian people were friendly and very welcoming (with the exception of some “special” police guys who tried to arrest some of us). As we cycled through villages there was always a cheery wave and “Helloo” and children doing a “high five”. They clearly saw this bunch of cyclists puffing past their homes as one of the most exciting events in a while.
Someone, who had been logging out trips, calculated that we had done almost exactly 200Km (125 miles) over the week. For some of the people there, this represented a good weekend’s pedal, but, for me, it felt like quite an achievement, which, only a few months back, I would have regarded as impossible. I promised myself that, if I managed to complete all the cycling for the week, I would get myself a new bike when I got home. I think I will be going shopping soon.
A lasting memory will be of the people by the road waving us by. I wonder what they really thought. I imagined the following comment from one of them: “You know all these tourists that are coming here from the West and laughing about how cheap everything is? Well, it seems that some are not so rich. They cannot afford any real transport – no bus, no camel, not even a donkey. Maybe we should send them some money …”