The Gathering

Our third morning in Cairo. A couple of days to recover, explore, acclimatize. Our time is too short to get a deeper sense of the place but we are beset by a welter of fleeting and striking impressions: the dust storm on our first day, fine sand sifting through everything; a constant stream of pedestrians in what seems like suicide runs across the ceaseless, chaotic rush of traffic; the calls of muezzins echoing across the city, loud, robust, cowing even the relentless hooting and honking of the cars; crowded, bustling marketplace with men in flowing robes and women, some with simple head scarves, others burqas; here a man flexes the neck of a squeaking goose before rejecting it, there a young girl pulls parsnip from straw panniers hung over the back of an endlessly forbearing donkey.

Over the last few days the riders have been trickling in, in groups of twos and threes from Canada, the States, Europe, South Africa. A motley group of varying ages and as we introduce ourselves to each other and grab brief life histories, I have the impression of a gathering of strangers each at a point of transition in their lives, impelled by internal forces to join TDA, as in another era one would have signed up for the Foreign Legion.

We are all here for the love of adventure and discovery, of engagement with all that is different from us. There is always also something else, a subtext to those who leave hearth and home for an extended period of time.

There are the recently retired for whom time beckons like a secret passageway to our Rosebud: dreamy, seductive, diaphanous and, unexpectedly menacing, sending a fleeting shiver down the spine, a premonition of finiteness creeping in like the desert sand. Some have experienced loss. That is how they say it. “I have lost him or her” as if misplaced and it is that too for the absence is always present and yet never to hand. There are those, younger, at the cusp of middle age, who call a halt to career and even home to embark on a voyage that is a kind of pilgrimage to discover something other, different, true, the echt self.

For me, as for all of us, this trek is many things. It is, at least in part, this too: a method to scrape off the lifetime of encrusted barnacles that form, deform, and define what one is.

Called to our first briefing—now its brass tacks, all idle speculation is out the window. This is about navigation,

saddle sores, hydration, meals, setting up our bikes. The tingle of excitement is palpable as D-day approaches.