…Or how forty fund-raising lunatics took on Egypt armed with nothing more than some padded pants – and won!


The pale sun was sinking slowly down behind their tired shoulders as the banks of the Nile kissed goodbye to yet another glorious January day. It had been all of wild, hot and dusty these last few hours out on the ragged roads of Egypt. But with the dignity of labour behind them, the six men slid slowly down into the tempting waters of their ship’s on-deck Jacuzzi, prepared to fully appreciate an idyllic end to what they could only describe as “a religious experience” these past three days. How to sum up the trials, the tribulations, the unforgettable shared moments they had all participated in? How to give words to the sense of intense satisfaction each and every one of them felt at having truly sacrificed their own physical health and wellbeing for no other reason than the simple desire to help others? An emphatic silence descended, each man alone with his thoughts and the encroaching darkness. Finally, one brave soul dared to break the magical spell of silence in order to share his innermost feelings….


“Fuck me, this water’s freezing!”


“We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” said Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was inducted as US President in 1933 at the height of The Great Depression. Easy for Frankie to say, mind. He’d never decided to offer up his body and soul to the challenge of three days’ intense bike riding in Egypt, had he?


Fear, it must be said, did look to be uppermost in the minds of the “30 odd arseholes just like me” (© Tom Baigrie), who first saw the whites of each others’ eyes at Cairo Airport on the early afternoon of June 21. An advance party of 14  had departed 24 hours ahead of the main group to see if the Pyramids really were that big (they were!) . This was a mild diversion before keeping our creaky frames from disintegrating into dust over the course of the next three days and 170 kilometres (over 100 miles) of arse-attacking riding. What were we doing here? But where The Good Shepherd Rod leads, others will duly follow. Baa!


Cajoled to sign up for this unforgettable experience by Iron Maiden manager and veteran Charity cyclist Rod Smallwood, our 40 Riders came from many backgrounds – concert promoters, barristers, record company and theatre executives, Corporate CEOs, accountants, swagmen, sports agents, rock managers, solicitors, night club and hotel owners, waste executives, radio execs, record media promoters, property developers, music publishers, journalists, city slickers, bodyguards ….and a parliamentary candidate, an ex England prop forward and Thunder’s guitarist.  With this entire mixed gang united, it was a quick internal flight down south to Aswan, into our hotel right ‘on the banks of the River Nile’ (© Madness) and a chance to meet, greet and repent at leisure for having been so foolhardy to volunteer for this escapade! Tour Managers Phil and Rachel were gamely looking to give us details of the wheres and the whens of the next three days of activity. The majority of the riders were merely concerned as to how quickly the welcoming coffee could be turned, by some sort of miracle, into beer. We were in the Holy Land, after all! Prayers were duly answered and night one came to a satisfactory beery end for one and all, discussing exactly how much Vaseline constitutes a recommended daily dose!


Up the hill to Aswan Dam - no rush!

Lower Aswan Dam

Bright and early Friday morning and after a staggered bike fitting that seemed to go remarkably smoothly, our group of intrepid cyclists, wearing more lycra than an ’80s metal band, set out on the first leg of our charity ride. Having been assured that there would be no such thing as hills, it quickly became apparent that the noble art of lying wasn’t entirely beyond the folk in charge as we found ourselves out of the saddle and huffing and puffing our way upwards to Aswan’s famous lower dam. ‘Damn! Maybe this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought’ might have been a more appropriate name for the edifice, though perhaps Jan McGinty was going too far in his attempts to escape all physical exertion by hurling his body and his bike into his unfortunate co-riders within five minutes of departure, thus causing an early pile-up! (learn how to use your cycle clips next time, Jan!)


Lunch en-route

With nothing more than bruised egos and 30km under our belts, it was off to a late lunch, watched over by a number of locals whose jobs seemed to consist, mainly, of sitting around doing nowt. Perfect fodder for the music business, then! The exception who proved the rule, though, was the chief who was clearly in charge of providing police support for our challenge, a craggy old cove who clearly was not to be messed with. Sadly for him, his authority was somewhat undermined when he failed to negotiate the challenge of stepping onto one of the small boats detailed to take us to visit Philae Island and promptly ended up with a trouserlegful of Nile for his troubles! Prayers were immediately offered that Andy and Candice, our resident ‘Mr and Mrs Film Crew’, had captured all the action!


The afternoon’s visit to the Temple of Philae at the hands of our Egyptian guides was accompanied only by the sound of jaws dropping at the sheer magnificence of these ancient monuments. It was all a bit tricky keeping up with the various legends and tales depicted by the hieroglyphics that were carved into the walls, but by the end of our time in Egypt it seemed that some members of the team had got the hang of it. Was it John Cooney who helpfully summarised: ‘There was a lot of marrying sisters, having hundreds of sons and getting your head turned into a hawk or a crocodile!’ No real need for Howard Carter, then, was there?!


The gang at Philae



Philae is remarkable not only for it’s spendour but has an extraordinary tale to tell. Once the dam was built on the Nile at Aswan and Lake Nasser formed, the temple would have been underwater. So as to preserve it and allow random bikers to visit it the whole Temple was moved stone by stone to a higher point some three hundred yards away, which became, as the waters of the lake rose, Philae Island. Some task!


Our boat, The Aurora

Dinner that night aboard our boat and home for the next three nights, the Aurora, proved to be quite the social event. With waiter Horace/Horus doing his level best to keep everything in check – though failing where his copious upper torso and the white shirt on loan from his nine-year-old brother were concerned – stories were swapped, tales were told and general joshing ensued. The fun was first rate, though little did we know just how much the ante would be raised on the final night.



Kom Ombo

Day Two began with a swift visit to the temple of Kom Ombo, unusual in that it is dedicated to two Gods not the usual one, then a jaunt by mini-boat to pick up our bikes on the west bank of the Nile. The promised journey time of “a few minutes” turned into about 30 of the buggers, though at least we had a number of unidentifiable on-board artefacts that looked like they’d been stolen from Tracey Emin’s handbag just to keep us amused. Soon poor old Goran wasn’t laughing though, having felt “a loud snap” while dishing out some punishment to his bike. Some might say the bike was brave, nay foolhardy, to fight back against a man like Goran. But sadly our resident Serbian bodyguard was ruled out with a snapped tendon and had to sit out the rest of the pedal-oriented action. (although we had to chain him down for his own good!)

Which way now?

PHEW! Battling through the desert



The mankini brigade

It wasn’t only the bikes that were fighting back, though, as the road ahead rose up in protest at the yellow-shirted fools who’d taken it upon themselves to ride on it. Wheels turning round and round ever more slowly, our intrepid gang knuckled down and broke on through to the other side, where lunch awaited. The food was fine, but a large number of the party had trouble keeping theirs down when Mark Fuller chose this particular dinner time as the perfect moment to reveal that he was, in fact, wearing cycling apparel’s very own version of the mankini. Mark was soon joined by a number of other miscreants, who all seemed surprisingly happy to ‘out’ themselves as mankini men! As Rod so rightly noted, “The talent around here ain’t up to much!” Onwards!



The long haul up to The Valley of The Kings

Back on the road again for a relatively long stint through the desert with awesome views of the Nile, we saddled up to head in the direction of the town on Edfu which saw all us finally getting used to the sight of thousands of Egyptian children lining the routes to wave and smile and shout ‘Ellllohhhhh’ as if this was the Tour d’Egypte, rather than simply a bunch of out-of-shape folk doing their red-faced bit for Childline and Nordoff Robbins. Still, a bit of hero worship did help us all forget that we were, in fact, all getting more and more saddlesore!


And, 80km completed, so to Edfu. Crazy name, crazy place! Cycling through this melting pot of humanity is something that will stay with all of us forever, no doubt, especially those of the party who received the ‘traditional’ greeting offered by one teenage girl, a good old rap around the legs with a dried out piece of sugar cane. Ouch!


No matter, such antisocial behaviour was soon forgotten as the shy and retiring salesmen of Egypt got down to business outside the incredible temples of Edfu. These guys simply do not give up. Sign them up for the next bike ride, Rod. A couple of them did, however, win my vote with two magnificent sales pitches. ‘Nice price. Better than Asda!” and ‘Come inside and look at my recession-busting prices!’ With patter like that, how could anyone’s wallet stay closed?

Overtaken again

Made it - to The Valley of The Kings


And so to our final day – and an early start to beat something or other (Sun? Rush hour? The previous night’s hangover?). By now we were all really into the groove. Inspired above all by the never say die spirit of our very own ‘Indefatigables’, Robin Moore and Simeon Thrower, pedals were pounded and 70km were eaten up by the true professionals that we were fast becoming as the climax of our trip along the Nile approached. The Holy Grail of our bike ride? Luxor and the appropriately-named Colossi Of Memnon. Or was it? Somehow the post-lunch ‘coach transfer up to the Valley Of The Kings’ that had been promised in the itinerary to all those who were weary of leg and sore of arse had mysteriously been replaced by a pedal-powered final eight kilometre ‘steady as she goes’ ascent up the throat of the Valley Of The Kings, the final resting place of Egypt’s ancient great and good. How appropriate! With one last Herculean effort the Peloton set off for one final assault on Egyptian cycling’s Everest and the long and winding road finally took us to nirvana – THE FINISH LINE!


To mark the event, the terrific and ever-willing Egyptian crew had ingeniously rigged a Childline/Nordoff Robbins Charity Bike Ride 2010 banner between the two ‘support’ cars (geddit?) and in a moment of almost surreal pleasure for everyone the oldest member of the crew, 69-year-old Robin Moore, led the team home to thunderous applause from some local folk who had great trouble understanding what this bunch of lunatic foreigners were up to. Yes, it may have taken the ancient Egyptians hundreds of years and millions of man hours to construct the tombs that were hidden in the mountains behind us. But ours was surely a level of physical endeavour on an altogether more gargantuan scale! Various pairs of wobbly legs provided ample proof! Celebratory drinks were handed out – sorry chaps, its fruit juice….alcohol in banned on Holy Ground, which this of course was. Much moaning ensued!




In the early evening we all boarded a bus to head for the mind boggling Temple of Karnak and the Sound and Light show. Some experience. We were guided around the Temple by loudspeakers telling us the story, and where to go. Finishing off seated on a bleachers overlooking this magnificent monument to the many Pharoahs who built it over a 2000 year period, this sitting without moving proved all too much for some of this hardy gang judging by the zzzzzzzzz’s wafting in the cold evening air!!.


With the physical work finally over and if we say it ourselves, a fairly sizeable chunk of change for our chosen charities righteously earned, it would have been rude not to celebrate our achievements in some style. And the style chosen by The Shepherd for our final night dinner on the boat couldn’t have been more appropriate – the local dress favoured by our Egyptian hosts! I’m delighted to say that each and every member of the party entered into the spirit of the event with the same amount of gusto with which they rode and the competition as to who would look the most authentic was as fierce as it was ridiculous.



Special mentions for Sara Bennie and Candice Farmer for adding a much-needed touch of glamour to proceedings. Gold star for Matt Ash for winning the ‘Man Most Likely To Be Flown To Guantanamo’ trophy. A for Effort, B For Style for the local lady who ‘treated’ us to a belly dance after dinner. Words fail me for the fella who did the weird stuff with the skirt and the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. A spinning Dervish, you say? Most spectacular!


Words do not fail me, however, when it comes to describing Phil Serfayti, whose solo performance on the dancefloor at the after show party even eclipsed Paul Curran’s truly awesome impromptu piano playing, accompanied as it was with no little talent by the endlessly enthusiastic John Cooney. Sign him up Bill Taylor! But back to Phil…


Dressed in by quite some distance the most stylish interpretation of local gear on display (linen trousers, patterned blue shirt, expertly wrapped lo-rise white turban), Mr Serfayti swept our Sudanese waiter off his feet and out onto the floor with a dancing performance of such raw emotion, daring innovation and, let’s be frank, sexual dynamism that it would have had Craig Revel-Horwood in one hell of a tizzy. The waiter, too, was clearly moved by the gesticulating, the gyrating, the pointing and the seemingly endless thrusting. And when he donned the comedy glasses that dear old Phil offered up as some sort of… well… token, there simply wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And the judges’ scores are in. “10, dahhling!’


Barry shows us how to do it

John and Tom go wild

Honourable mention in dispatches for Barry Drinkwater’s impassioned ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ dance and Tom Baigrie who, tired and emotional at some ungodly hour, finally performed an astonishing array of twists and turns that would have seen a man less supple in casualty, before finally drawing a close to proceedings and tottering off to beddy byes! Somehow there could be no more fitting end to a very arduous but incredible three days!


Can it really be legal that so much fun could be had in the name of raising money for good causes? Well yes, actually, it can. Thanks to everyone’s efforts and led with tremendous determination and drive by The Good Shepherd, it looks like a frankly staggering sum of somewhere over £200,000 has been raised for Childline and Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, which is ‘playing a blinder’ in anyone’s book. So heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you who came along for the ride, as it were. Sorry I couldn’t mention you all personally, but we couldn’t have done it without you… so better luck next time…..and get that Vaseline ready for next year!




Yes, ok!

Postscript – still in alcoholic haze about half of the gang decided to go through London’s Heathrow airport still in their local costumes….sadly they were allowed back into the country!!



*NB For those with a serious, even bookish, desire to understand the many and varied wonders of Egyptology, Rod recommends Iron Maiden’s 1985 album ‘Powerslave’, available from reputable music retailers everywhere!









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