Life is one big adventure … but we have to make our adventure and experiences happen.
This blog entry serves as a journal for me to remember a kick ass 2 weeks, and also it might add value to anyone who is looking to go cycling in Oman.
And for those readers who are none cyclists … think about your own dreams and goals for 015.
Are you going to achieve them?
I have lots of dreams and aspirations, but its so much easier just to sit around and talk about doing them than to wake up early and get on with it …
This is my big theme for my RAAM 015 and the other big challenge I plan to go after in 016. I can sit around and dream about what I am “gonna” do tomorrow; and get all excited and talk about it … but, at the end of the day, I have to make it happen.
UAE/Oman (Al Buraymi) border across to (Sur) and down Oman to the Yemen border and back to UAE border … 3,000+ kms in 13 days, riding 8 -13 hours a day with a 2 hour recovery ride on day 5.
A few months back, during a “hell week” training camp with Marko Baloh, in the middle of a 14 hour ride … probably around 2am somewhere in the middle of the desert, I came up with the idea of doing my Christmas holiday 2 week intensive training camp for RAAM 015 in Oman …. And not Gran Canaria like we were planning to do.
We did Gran Canaria last year – and although it was a great 14 day training camp, we did GC already … and I wanted to experience something new.
So somewhere in the middle of the UAE desert around 2am …. I dreamed about “what if…” we rode from the UAE border all the way across Oman, down the coast to the Yemen border … and then back to UAE….
Could we achieve this challenge within 2 weeks?
Marko was skeptical, and focused on Gran Canaria … but over the weekend, we drove to Muscat, Oman and saw the mountains and terrain, and saw firsthand that Oman offered ideal cycling conditions – because the roads are perfect, and there are lots of mountains and steep climbs.
Climbing is my weakness, and the one area that I wanted to focus on the most during my 2 week hell camp; and I wanted to do the 2 week camp in a place that I would have lots of climbing.
We went to Muscat to meet Frans who owns what I have read is considered the best bike shop in Oman, www.omanbicycle.com
Frans told us that the climbing in southern Oman would be better than Gran Canaria, esp the mountains at the Yemen border. He also joked that as we rode south towards Yemen, we will see more camels than cars and people …
Frans was very helpful and I highly recommend his bike shop to anyone who lives in Oman.
For the rest of December, I trained in Dubai while Marko worked with Frans to outline the ideal training course in Oman.
To fit all of this in within my work schedule, We decided to begin the training camp from early morning December 30 – and finish on sunday, January 11th (my 44th birthday is the 10th)
Tue 12/30/2014 12h 300km Border UAE to Barka to Sur (1,500 meters of climbing)
Wed 12/31/2014 13h 330km Sur-Mahoot
Thu 1/1/2015 7h 175km Mahoot-Ad Duqm
Fri 1/2/2015 12h 300-350 Ad Duqm-Shuwaymiyah (1,500 meters of climbing)
Sat 1/3/2015 12h 300-350 Shuwaymiyah-Salalah (3,000+ meters of climbing)
Sun 1/4/2015 2h Salalah rest
Mon 1/5/2015 12h S300km Yemen border (5,000+ meters of climbing)
Tue 1/6/2015 9h Find a steep climb and do several times until 9 hours is reached (3,000+ meters of climbing)
Wed 1/7/2015 14h 210km Salalah + 360km towards Ad Duqm (3,000+ meters of climbing)
Thu 1/8/2015 7h 185km Ad Duqm-Mahoot
Fri 1/9/2015 11h 270km Mahoot-Sur
Sat 1/10/2015 7h 155km stage Tour of Oman + Jabal Akhdar (4,000 meters of climbing)
Sun 1/11/2015 10h 285km 10h Nizwa-border (1,000 meters of climbing)
To make this happen, we needed a proper, experienced crew so we brought Bob who lives with me in Dubai and crews for me on the weekends, and Matic flew in with Marko from Slovenia. Matic has crewed with Marko on RAAM, and has lots of cycling and crewing experience, and is also a sports therapist which Marko wanted to ensure we had with us. Bob would do most of the driving and Matic would pass us our food and drinks, and be able to massage our sore bodies at the end of the day.
We left my home at mid night and drove 2 hours to the border, and went through immigration and within 2 ½ hours of leaving my home in Dubai, we were setting up our bikes at the exit of the immigration building in Oman.
Day 1: 330km started well, and we were both excited about the coming 13 days of adventure. We had a nice tail wind at our back, so we rode fast. But I could tell that Marko was skeptical on the difficulty of Oman, esp. considering the first few hours were flat and easy …
We organized my feeding schedule to be one Ensure+ every hour (ensure+ has 352 calories) and quickly the hours seemed to pass as Matic handed me an ensure from the truck each hour. I felt great.
As the day progressed, the climbing began … and we seemed to have long roads of what seemed to be continuously climbing.
Towards the end of the ride, I was very tired from sleeping only 90 minutes night before, and I asked Marko “how many kms left?” And was surprised when he replied, “we have 73kms left.”
I thought we were nearly done, but still had a ways to go …
I should point out that Tom, my PA made all the hotel bookings for the coming 13 days (thank you Tom), and Sophie told me how he was very nervous because most of the hotels were 1 star, truck stop type of places, and in almost all cases was the only “guest house” or “hotel” around for miles … but I didn’t care. We were on an adventure.
2nd day: Sur to Mamoot: 330 km was gorgeous.
We rode along the coast, and away from civilization … and for many long stretches, we rode in the desert with many camels along the road, and often in the road.
We had a fast, easy ride … and arrived to the “Guest House” at the end of the day. It was New Year’s eve … but we were really in the middle of nowhere. The “Guest House” was a real treat … probably less than 1 star, with filthy showers and toilets, but overall the room served its purpose, and I slept well.
It was a quiet, peaceful new years for all of us. There was no fireworks or any noise at all.
Dat 3: Mamoot to Aduqm 175km was our first real adventure ….
After riding for 3 hours, the road came to an end … with only sand dunes in front of us. We put the bikes on the bike rack, and got in the truck … and I was very happy to discover that Matic is an ex-rally driver and has extensive experience driving in the sand. I think we drove about 15 kms across large sand dunes … to finally reach the road again. It was surreal to be driving around in my truck in steep, high sand dunes somewhere in Oman, and think how if we got stuck we would be stuck for long long time because there was no cell connection, and we were far from a city …
Luckily, Matic expertly drove us through the dunes, and we got back to the road.
It was an easy, gorgeous ride … but deep down inside, I was concerned the riding in Oman was too easy … (this concern would soon be crushed)
The City Hotel in Duqm was great! The service and people at the hotel took great care of us … compared to the other two hotels we stayed at, it seemed 5 star and luxurious!
Day 4: 300-350km We woke at 4am and the terrain began to change … as if we were riding on Mars, or in a Star Wars movie. Gorgeous scenery, and very few cars. We rode and rode and rode until night time when we came to a small city called Shuwaymiyah.
When we arrived to the hotel, it was closed … no one was there, not a single car in the parking lot … but a mobile number was written on a posted note on the door … Bob called it and a young guy came 3 minutes later on a scooter and opened the hotel for us. The hotel was not fancy, but very clean and comfortable. Our room was great. (we took two rooms at each hotel, but this hotel the room has 2 bedrooms and kitchen like an apartment – ideal)
30 minutes after checking in, I was getting something out of my truck when a Nissan Patrol drove up … and the young man in the car asked me how everything was, and if I needed anything. I was impressed with his friendliness, and he told me that he was the owner of the hotel.
When we went to sleep … we were the only car in the parking lot, but when we woke up, the parking lot was nearly full..
Day 5: 330 km: Shuwaymiyah-Salalah …
This is the day when both Marko and I discovered that Oman has great climbing … and many 13-15% long, steep climbs…
As the sun rose, we began riding towards a big mountain … and obviously, there was no way around the mountain … after a few hours, we had a long, super steep 15-17% climb up to the top of the flat mountain top … and when we got to the top, we discovered the terrain changed again ….
But soon the ride became extremely tough. Lots and lots of steep climbs .. or long roads that seemed to be one continuous climb … after several hours we arrived to the top of the mountain at the section where we began to ride down.
We had a gorgeous view … but a view of many many mountains, and we could see lots of long climbing roads below. But the view made everything peaceful. We saw many goats on this day …
As we rode down a steep, long winding decent … I briefly thought to myself … “damn .. we are going to have to climb this when we go back..”
Soon we came to the coast.
The ride along the coast into Salalah is indescribable. We saw many camels .. and many of them on the beach.
We arrived to Salalah, and quickly got to the hotel – and sort of celebrated making it all the way down to the south of Oman – 153 kms from Yemen!
After 5 days of pasta for dinner … we all looked forward to a proper meal. That night we went to what I had read was the best Lebanese restaurant in Salalah, “Baalbeck.” The food and service were very good.
Day 6 was an easy 2 hour recovery … but riding with Marko is never easy, and we had a brisk 2 hour ride around Salalah.
I should mention that every night after the training, Matic would give me a great massage – and he played some relaxing music which really helped clear my head. Thank you Matic!
Day 7: Salalah to Yemen and back …
As long as I live … I will never ever forget this day. I am sure neither will Marko, Bob and Matic.
This was the most painful and difficult 11-12 hours of my life – even more painful than the day I swam the English channel, or any of the ironman or other challenges I have done.
I knew we had climbing, but both Marko and I never ever expected the long, steep climbs like we faced.
Not to mention, the first 2 hours riding to the mountains we faced a strong, direct head wind …
Because we began at 3am, we rode in the dark to the mountains, so we couldn’t really see what was in front of us…
Marko sort of whispered, “we have 3 long steep climbs …and the first one begins now..” and I asked, “how long?” and he laughed and said, “16kms/10 miles”…!
16 km climb is great — but when the climb is 13-24% the entire way winding around and up a mountain its .. absolute f….ing hell.
I took two bikes with me – one was my climbing bike which was set up nicely for long steep climbs … and I also, took a bike that was more suitable for rolling, or flat rides, but NOT for climbing (it has a 39/53 chain ring)
Within 5 minutes of the climb beginning, my de-railer broke on my climbing bike. So that meant I had to do all the climbing on a bike that was not set up for climbing…
But I have never failed to finish one of Marko’s training sessions … and didn’t want to fail this one; and mainly, I wanted to be able to say I rode my bike to the Yemen border and get my photo.
As I was going up and around one of the switch backs, Matic said “you are almost at the top … great job!”
I happily rode thinking to myself that I was almost at the top, but when I turned the next corner, I discovered we still had a long long way to go …up.
Finally we got to the top of this long climb … and we looked down at the valley between us and the next climb … and we saw the next climb! Incredibly, long and steep …
Part way up the climb, we got to our first check point …
(thankfully I had to stop at the check point) to show our passports … and they told us we had two more checks points before the Yemen border … and the soilder also told us in broken english “its going to get very steep.”
Its going to get very steep?? It had been steeper than I had ever ridden and or seen before. How could it get steeper?
We rode and rode and rode … unfortunately, the next check point … they didn’t make Marko and I stop (they made the truck stop) so I didn’t get the nice rest … but we plugged away.
Finally, after what seemed like forever … we got to the Yemen border. The guards let us go all the way to the very edge of Oman, on the Yemen border to take our photo … and then quickly, their commander or superior came running out shouting “No photos!” Luckily we had taken our photo before he came out.
Right in front of us we saw a Yemeni female shepherd herding goats …
We spoke with the guards for 10 minutes or so … and then began our ride back. As we started riding, Marko pointed out that going back is more steep than what we rode to get to Yemen.
We climbed and climbed and climbed, and finally got to the top of the final climb … but my legs and neck were dead.
Since we started so early, we thought we would be back at the hotel by 3pm … but we ended up getting back to the hotel by 6:30pm … we were all sort of shell shocked, and all of us said how we will never forget this day.
Day 8: 9 hours of climbing focused training.
This is a great memory … Marko found a 6km climb for us to do … and it was 10+% with two sections of 14-16%, and I was dead tired … and in a terrible mood. But I kept trying to fake my enthusiasim …
As we neared the end of the climb, I asked Marko half heartedly “how many times are we going to do this climb?” Thinking to myself, probably 2-3 times… especially since we did more than 5,000 meters climbing the day before.
I as I type, I can clearly remember the shock when he replied “8 times.”
It took about 9 hours …
Day 9: 300+ km Salalah towards Duqm …
We woke at 2am to begin as early as possible … and I didn’t sleep much at all, so I was dead tired and my head was not in the ride … I was thinking about work.
Very strange … but after 2 hours of riding rolling steep terrain, I got to the top of a steep hill, and see the truck parked on the side of the road with the chair set up, and Matic said “Scott stop!”
So I stopped and he sat me in the chair and roughly told me “your head is not with us … you are already back in Dubai…you must get your head back into this ride because I cant protect you if your mind is not with us.”
This is remarkable … because my mind was in Dubai, and thinking about business … and I don’t understand how Matic knew this. After 10 minute neck massage and pep talk, I got back on my bike and had a good, but tough 6-7 hour ride…
The ride from Salalah back toward Duqm goes back up that long long climb we had ridden down … and its 10%+ the entire time. It was very hot … but I was riding well.
Marko said he wanted to stop for 10 minute break before a 13 km steep climb … but I felt great, and didn’t want to stop, but when I did … I joyfully discussed the ride and how we were kicking ass, etc. But I didn’t eat … and had run out of ensure+ so was only drinking a regular ensure (250 calories) Matic gave it to me every 40 minutes, but because I was in the middle of a steep climb, I skipped my last ensure, and stupidly, over the 10 minute break didn’t eat much..
The final part of the climb began … and a couple kms into it, I got very dizzy and my hands started shaking … and I felt like I was going to faint.
I pulled over on the side of the road, and layed my bike down … and layed down … thinking I must be bonking. I couldn’t move at all … I had zero energy.
I called Bob from my mobile and told him to come back and bring me some food … and I just laid there shaking and shivering (very weird experience)
Matic and Bob came back, and Marko rode back quickly … and I told them what happened and I asked for snickers bar … and I ate 2 of them, drank an ensure, ate a bag of chips, drank a coke and also a gatorade .. and began to feel better – but I was still shivering and. I stood up and grabbed my bike and said, “lets ride …” But Marko and Matic felt that I was having some heat problem (it was very hot) so they told me that I was done for the day (we had done about 250kms) …
I had never failed one of Marko’s trainings, and wanted to keep riding, but Marko and Matic refused to let me.
We drove a few hours back to Duqm, to the nice comfortable, modern hotel … and after a couple hours, I felt better.
I am not sure whether I “bonked” or had “heat stroke” symptoms … but I am sure I didn’t eat enough this day.
Day 10: Duqm – Mamoot (back to the Guest House)
Nice, fast ride … Marko and I have a sort of game … he puts me in front and I have to ride fast to ensure he doesn’t pass me. Of course he can pass me whenever he wants, he is one of the best ultra cyclists in the world – but the point is to make me push hard, and if I am not going hard/fast enough, he will pass me … so when I am riding in front of him, I push hard to ensure he doesn’t pass me.
This day, I was in front the entire time and we had a good, fast 183 km ride.
Day 11: Mamoot – Nizwa (330 km)
Nice ride with rolling hills/mountains into Nizwa.
Day 12: my 44th birthday! And Marko organized we would ride a tough, steep ride that ended with a 10km hell climb at Jebel Akhbar …
The ride was tough, about 2,300 meters, but nothing compared to Salalah and the Yemen climbs .. after a great ride to the base of the Jebel Akhbar climb, we stopped took a few minutes break, and get mentally prepared for the climb that was in front of us …(first part of the climb is to a police check point 1.5 kms at 18%)
After climbing the 18% climb, we arrive to a check point – at the check point the police confirm that eeach car has 4 x 4 or not, and if the car is not 4 x 4 it is not allowed to go up.
But as I arrived to the top of the climb, I saw Marko sat on his bike … I thought he was waiting for me – but he told me that the guards would not let him go up.
I thought I could talk the guards into it … because we had been told before that we could ride our bikes up it, but this day the guards told us that we could not ride up it, and if we wanted to go in the truck, we had to leave our bikes with them…
So we didn’t get to do the ultra steep final 10km climb … I jokingly said to the guys “lets hurry up and put the bikes in the car and leave before they change their minds!”
Day 13: 300+ kms Nizwa – UAE border …
The night before, as Matic gave my legs his magic massage, he told me “tomorrow – I want you to ride as hard as you can, and really push it… show Marko what you can do…”
I didn’t say anything … but I thought a lot about what he said, and how I had to make the last day of the intensive training camp to be my best ride of the week…
We began at 4am … and it took a few kms to get my legs into it, but something clicked when we got to the final climb after 80kms or so … Marko stopped for one minute, and said this is the top of the final climb … we took a photo, and then I rode ahead of Marko with the goal of not letting him pass for the rest of the day.
I hammered it and pushed harder than I have ever ridden on the bike.
After we arrived to the UAE border, Marko told me that we had averaged 20.3 mph/32.3 km/h for the 300kms … (my polar battery had died so I didn’t know my speed) it was my best ride of the 2 weeks, and probably the best ride I have had in my life.
We successfully completed our challenge of riding to Yemen and back … we took some photos, put our bikes away, went through customs and drove home to a great French dinner that Sophie prepared for us.
The 13 day camp was much tougher than both Marko and I thought it would be … but it was an amazing, life time memory for all of us.
Only 5 months to go until RAAM 015 …
I highly recommend southern Oman for cycling training – esp. to anyone who lives in Dubai and needs to train in the mountains — don’t go all the way to Gran Canaria .. Oman has it all.
Watch now my Oman to Yemen RAAM training camp 2015 video