Walk into Galal Zekri’s office—the man behind the 10-day Cairo to Aswan NS Crossing (North to Sourth Crossing)—and you find a Google-like, colourful atmosphere, a map of the world, and a white board of the list of engagements and plans to start on.
Talk to him, and you find the most inspiring young man, looking to change the lives of people through the journeys he takes.
Young as he is, only 24, his first ever cycling trip was at the age of 15. Yet the game changer, to him, was at the age of 14 when his school took his class on a simple hike from Cairo to Suez. At 18, he embarked on various adventures, cycling from Cairo to Nuweiba, North Sinai (450 kilometres) in 3 days, at 19, he headed to the Western Desert, and at 21, he made his biggest trip yet—Egypt on Two Wheels—that triggered sponsors and inspired him to pursue this track professionally.
Currently, he works as a Domestic Line Manager at Wild Guanabana, guiding mountaineering trips across Egypt.
As eager as he was to make Cairo to Cape Town his next adventure, as much as he wished to share the road with other enthusiastic people, he says.
And sure enough, Cairo to Aswan’s NS Crossing turned out to be “by far the best trip I’ve made in my whole life,” he said.
“It’s a feeling that I would never forget; to change someone’s life, to empower someone to achieve impossible dreams. I probably believed in my voyagers before they started to believe in themselves,” he added.
So rather than the road, it is the journey, and setting your mind to it, he emphasises.
You would think that participants in the NS Crossing were professional athletes, but for some of them, it was the first time to set out on such a journey, Galal explained.
Sixteen voyagers, men and women, joined stage one of the trip that took them on a route starting from
Cairo to Sokhna, then Ras Ghareb, El Gouna, El Quseir, and Marsa Alam. The second stage pushed 12 voyagers to take the most challenging part of the trip, namely from Marsa Alam to Aswan, surprising themselves by completing 175 kilometres in one day, spending a total of nine and a half hours in unity with the wind and their bikes.
The success rate was 100% during the entire expedition; all voyagers reached their destinations.
Some test trips were made to Sokhna before the actual big one. And different GPS devices helped them stay connected along the trip via satellite, in addition to internet solutions they used when they were off the grid.
Often on the road, they were escorted by police patrols in the area, with some even joining the cycle! The process was well-facilitated, since the Ministry of Youth and Sports as well as the Egyptian Cycling Federation joined as sponsors of the trip.
A trained first aid crew accompanied them all long, carrying their needs of food, water, and all other necessities.
Actress Tara Emad also joined the trip. Seeing the post shared on “Nomads”, she instantly hopped in, and was enthusiastic ever since. “To be honest, her enthusiasm and her cheerful spirit were a great contributor to why this expedition was special,” says Galal.
Yet, the NS Crossing is not the only such adventure on the Egyptian scene, with many initiatives and individuals taking similar trips on the asphalt.
And although these independently-organised initiatives seem promising, they remain under the category of “underground sports,” comments Ahmed Ismaeel.
A judge at the Egyptian Cycling Federation, Ismaeel left his career in the affluent telecom sector to move closer to his passion. He says that sponsorship remains an issue for professional cyclers, and particularly for Egypt’s national team.
In cooperation with the federation, some projects have been launched to promote the sport; a bicycle lane added in some parts of Cairo, and—surprisingly enough—in other governorates like Shebin El-Kom and Beni Sueif. Another project, in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, aims to add a cycling lane to all of the downtown Cairo area, a district that abounds with amazing architecture and history at every corner.
There are different types of cycling categories based on style and other considerations, clarifies Ismaeel, but road cycling is the most prevalent—almost the only—type in Egypt. Other types include mountain biking, BMX, and triathlons.
The latest, specially-established velodrome track, the first in Egypt, should also provide a stage for more cycling sports, and other types of cycling.
Elsewhere in the world, cycling may not be allowed on highways, but it seems that these roads are what cyclers mostly use in Egypt. Sokhna road is one of most preferred roads, while other trips head to Fayoum, Ismailia, and other cities where the road is paved and smooth enough.
Ismaeel is part of another initiative, the Cairo Crit, which aims at introducing the idea of cycling competitions to the community, enhancing the network of cycling enthusiasts in the process. Their latest race was to Sokhna, 115 kilometres away from Cairo.
To make it safe for all participants, the tribe of cyclers moves in groups with a specific formation including a leader at the front and end.
Compared to a few years ago, it has now become common to see a solo cycler or small groups of cyclers trekking together around the streets of Cairo, with people are joining from Assiut and different parts of Egypt, adds Ismeel.
When he set on the road in 2014, the NS Crossing founder, Galal Zekri, wrote that he “discovered that bicycles do not have windows, and I get to see the world differently from its saddle. Breaking all the barriers, I get the chance to see the world as peaceful and as quiet as it really is.”
But if you cannot join one of these life-changing journeys around Egypt, make sure to catch one of the many cycling events happening on a weekly basis in Cairo’s booming cycling scene.
Photos Handout to DNE