11pm Thursday March 4th, 2010: Matt B., friend from Wisconsin / Yemen, arrives safely to my apartment. We begin a year of catching up. I drink 3 cups of coffee and smoke about half a pack of cigarettes as I prepare.
2am Friday March 5th, 2010: Team Honeybags calls; they are waiting outside and ready. I bounce around the car, overcaffeinated, until
3am: Huge hidden pothole on the road to the starting line at the Dead Sea explodes two of our tires. I change one while three army officers amusedly observe the white guy in biking tights in the whee hours of the morning change that tire in no time flat. Other team members flag down cars and ask if we can buy a spare, but to no avail.
3:30: Team Honeybags is jammed into a car driven by an employee of Bike Rush, our team sponsor, and another employee stays behind to “figure out the tire.” We speed to the starting line, for if the team is not registered and does not begin with the rest of the participants, said team is disqualified.
4:00: With minutes to spare we register and start.
4:02: Despite shouting all the advice out the window we can, our first biker just can’t get the gears on the bike to work correctly. From all the jostling on the ride over, something has come undone, and we begin the race like tortoises. Poor Lydia is pedaling like crazy but only inching forward. We stop to switch bikes.
The Next Twelve Hours: Dude used rocks to hammer the rim of the wheel back into shape, speeds forward to switch cars with us. We are now 4 people in a roomy car and one on a bike instead of 5 in a tiny coupe and one on a bike. We face packs of wild dogs jumping from the side of the road to chase the biker down. We face a 2 hour sandstorm in which we barely pedal in place, cannot see, breathe, or stay optimistic. We see teams around us cheating. “I’m coming up on someone! I’m going to pass them! Damnit, this is the fourth time I’ve passed them….” They put the bike in the back of their trucks and drive past us. By the grace of God we reach Aqaba and think we are almost done, but they picked the most outlying hotel for the finish line. Here is the final stretch, video by Regina:
(Most of the race was through the desert: sand dunes framed by distant mountains, nearby Bedouin villages, and the empty expanse of the soul. The trees and traffic were quite the change in Aqaba after twelve hours of sandy monotony.)