Part Three: Nizwa to Oriental Nights Rest House (CP3)
188.2km total distance
9:21 moving time
11:01 total elapsed time
The cavalry are here
Three Omani police officers - one man in a thobe, and a man and woman in uniform stood stiffly on the steps as I approached the Oriental Nights Rest House - more significantly known to us riders as manned checkpoint #2.
I was wrecked and as I pushed my bike over the camel grid, Axel - one of the founders of Bikingman - came jogging out to greet me, helping push my bike the last few meters towards the building and the officers. "They're here for you," he said, to which I immediately laughed at what I thought was a joke.
It was only then it all came rushing back to me. The events of the day replayed in split seconds and a sinking feeling replaced the relief I had felt at finally being able to dismount my bike after a long hard day on a sketchy road shared with traffic and not quite enough room to call it a shoulder.
A familiar face
I had left the previous night's accommodations - the apartment on the outskirts of Nizwa - at around 3:30AM, making my way up to Izki in the dark, craning my neck to look behind me each time I heard a car approaching from behind. The traffic whizzed by and I used my left hand in its reflective glove as a kind of traffic signal - waving to ask passing cars (particularly the ones that I can hear speeding towards me) to give me a little space. It is a waste of energy and a weak attempt to feel some sense of control when in reality I realize I have absolutely none.
I know it's useless, but it sometimes makes me feel better. After John's accident, I was left feeling extra vulnerable on the road and while I've mostly regained at least as much confidence for riding with traffic, I am still hyper-vigilant. So I pedalled on, expending energy by needlessly directing traffic, and feeling only marginally safer.
I soon arrived at a service station. I still had plenty of water, but I knew I would need more supplies to get me through most of the morning. As I rode towards it past the pumps I caught sight of another loaded bicycle in front of the door. Inside was none other than Andre(as). Did he never sleep?
I walked into the shop feeling a surge of energy and looking forward to seeing a familiar face. "Ha!" I called wickedly as I burst through the door, "I caught you!" Andre(as) was clearly not in the same spirit. He turned slowly to look at me with a pained expression. When he spoke his voice was lifeless, "I am not feeling well" he said.
I grabbed a Pocari Sweat and advised him to do the same. After the recent shops, this one practically felt like entering a Costco! There were lots of great snacks and I bought too much as usual. Andre(as) told me he had left Nizwa hours before I had. He didn't look good, but I had places to be. I left him in the shop with a wave and after wolfing down a doughnut, an Oreo and two small bottles of Pocari, I mounted my Bokeh and rode downhill and away from Andre(as). I wouldn't see him again until Oriental Nights.
The next few hours were out of this world. I rode through splendid mountains and made a mental note to come back here in the future. I wanted to take more pictures, but I was already stopping too much in an effort to get some relief from sitting on the saddle. My butt and upper back were hurting now, and standing up on the hills was helping but there were also other aches and pains, including my sunburn which I knew would not be helped today no matter how much sunscreen I applied.
I did take some photos, but I knew if I continued at this pace, I would never get anywhere.
Here's where it goes south
The beautiful mountain range did not last. I soon left the breathtaking sights behind me to start down a long lifeless road with too much traffic. This part of the day is kind of a blur for the most part. I had started listening to Brené Brown's Braving the Wilderness the day before as I approached Jebel Shams, and picked up where I had left off.
It was around 9:20AM and my Wahoo was just about to clock an unceremonious 100km (amazing how 100km now felt like a warm-up!). I still had my earbuds in when I passed a man in a brown thobe pacing behind a large dump truck with a phone to his ear.
I continued pedalling, just trying to tap out a consistent cadence. The wind was blowing and I knew I was going far too slowly. The road seemed to be on a constant slight incline and there was never a moment of freewheeling on the straight stretch. I barely registered the dump truck driver as I passed. He seemed to shout something as I passed but I completely ignored him, oblivious to what he had even said due to my audiobook blaring in my ears. I do recall feeling a slight twinge of guilt, however, as I pedalled past without even acknowledging him.
I quickly thought, "You could have at least said hello. After all, everyone here is so friendly."
This is a phrase I have heard countless times about and since arriving in Oman. It is even something I told people after visiting Oman a few years ago with John. I have researched and problematized the so-called "positive stereotype" in my graduate work as a sociolinguist, so it is with some embarrassment that I admit to buying into and even perpetuating the same tropes I have aimed to interrogate.
As a woman, I am also painfully aware of the implicit expectation that it is of the utmost importance to please others, to smile and be friendly, and of course not be a bitch. But that is exactly what I thought - in the most fleeting of ways, but nonetheless thought it - as I passed this man on the roadside with barely a glance. "You could have at least said hello," I felt, not so much thought, after passing him.
I plodded along. I can't remember how much time had passed, but I'd guess only minutes - maybe five - I found myself bizarrely approaching the identical scene, like the deja vu scene with the cat in the film The Matrix. Instead of a cat, the same man in his brown thobe was pacing behind his parked truck while speaking into his phone. Just ahead. I didn't quite compute what was happening, and only looked for the simplest solution. Perhaps he needed to use my phone I thought, as he started to walk towards me now pointing to his phone. Maybe something is wrong with his and he just needs to use my phone.
With that, I decided to stop to see what he wanted. I removed my earbuds asking "Can I help you?" He grinned and pointed to his phone, "Selfie! Selfie!" I had already stopped, so I thought what the heck. I may as well let him take a quick selfie, and also there was that niggling thought that I should make up for being such a bitch before. Bear in mind, this was all happening really really fast.
As I pushed my bike the meter or two towards him, he darted behind and under his truck and between the large tires as though fixing something or looking for something. I had a bad feeling, but I pushed it down. "Okaaaaay, I'm in a race," I said loudly in an annoyed tone. "I have to go." And with that, I started to turn my bike back towards the road.
"Selfie! Selfie!" he called as he ran towards me. He was smiling a greasy smile and now had turned on his phone and was getting ready to take the selfie. I looked at the camera but felt his hand groping me over my right shoulder as he leaned his face squarely towards me as if to kiss me on the mouth. My face twisted into a disgusted grimace as I took both my hands off my bike to push him as hard as I could - managing to catch his shoulders squarely so that he stumbled backwards while I took off on my bike, now pedalling with far more urgency than I had all day.
I started shouting at him, "You're haram!" I shouted, hoping to make him feel guilty for doing something he knows is wrong. In Arabic, haram refers to forbidden things. Especially things forbidden by Islam - eating pork, drinking alcohol, or touching a woman you aren't married to, amongst other things. I continued shouting as I rode off, "Why would you do that?!" I cried into the wind, starting to feel all the weight of the incident gripping my throat, and basically initiating an intense threat response.
I was shaking from what had happened but had the wherewithal to capture his license plate as he sped away from me. Careening around me slowly like a drunk driver as his truck picked up speed, I thought for sure that I had seen the last of him.
After he drove out of sight, I texted the group to let them know I had just been harassed by a man driving a dump truck and sent the photo. I told them what had happened, and wondered if we should try to get in touch with Valentina who was behind me but I wasn't sure where or how far. Also, he drove ahead, so I thought it was pointless to worry her unnecessarily.
After the selfie incident, I encountered him a third time in exactly the same scene. Pacing with his phone at the back of his dump truck. By now I was angry and scared in equal measure. I immediately started filming him yelling, "I'm calling the police! I'm calling the police if you don't stop!" not knowing if he even understood English.
It was at this moment when I felt myself start to break. When we are resilient, have had enough sleep, enough to eat, and are feeling generally strong and healthy, we are better able to cope with shocking or traumatic events. Imagine you've been pedalling a bike for nearly three days with three or four hours of sleep per night, you have a terrible sunburn, and your diet consists mainly of nutritionally questionable sweets and cakes from random roadside gas stations and shops in the middle of nowhere. That was where I was at.
So when I heard a large truck approaching from behind, I turned to look at it to make sure I could react if necessary. It wasn't him. I relaxed for a split second before the next truck following immediately behind the first started blaring its horn in long, loud blasts.
I turned to face my adversary in his giant dump truck now bearing down on me like something in a movie. I didn't know what to do as I was now caught between the truck and a guard rail as he swerved into me, missing me by inches and missing the guardrail maybe by an inch. It all happened just in front of my wheel. It was a miracle he didn't crash into me, crushing me into that metal rail. I have no doubt he thought he had picked me off.
If I thought I was shaken before, this took things to a whole new level. Cartoon tears sprung from my eyes, rolling down the insides of my sunglass lenses. My body shuddered and I knew I would have to stop at least for a few minutes to calm myself and clean my lenses so I could at least see where I was going.
I started to fear what was coming up ahead. Would he be waiting for me again? I knew I had to tell someone so I texted the group "He tried to run me over! I'm really scared now. Can somebody call the police?"
People started to respond quickly, including race organizers and others still out on the road. I was afraid to move forward but also afraid to stand still. Also, I just desperately wanted to get to the checkpoint so I could stop riding for the day, but I still had another 80km or so. I was stuck mid-way and had no idea where the other racers were behind me. I tried to flag down a car, but nobody would stop. I then started to wonder what I would even say or ask for if someone did stop. I wasn't thinking clearly.
I took a few deep breaths, drank some water and started pedalling. That is, after all, why I was there. I refused to let this dirtbag ruin my Bikingman! I let my anger guide me and tried to channel some Brené Brown to help me find some compassion for myself and maybe for him - but not just yet. I was still in fight or flight mode and I needed to just survive.
As I pedalled forward, I started to imagine what I would do if he was in fact waiting for me ahead. I opened my frame bag looking for anything sharp or remotely pointy that I could wield as a weapon. Tire levers? Tiny blunt allen key? Oh, there's that crappy survival knife John had given me before I left. Nope - I remembered I had left it in my luggage back at Al Nahda the day before we set off. Bare hands, strong legs and pure scrappiness it would have to be, then.
Also while I talked myself through this mini survival lesson, my thoughts turned to the injustice of this type of incident. Of all the people in this race, there were exactly seven people who had to think of this very thing on top of all of the other considerations one must make to prepare for and endure this type of event. The unfairness of it caused fresh tears to spring to my eyes. I wiped them away trying not to dislodge a contact lens as I only had exactly enough to get me through to the finish.
Moving on...in the wrong direction!
After an hour or so, Anthony and Axel pulled up in their red Toyota truck. Anthony is the film maker who was documenting our race, so he was equipped with cameras as always. I stopped to recount my story while they listened sympathetically. I said I would meet them ahead at the next town where I would stop to get some food.
Having only spoken a few times and just met in person the day before the start, I can say that I already adore Anthony. His humour can lighten virtually any situation no matter how grim, and I looked forward to him and Axel popping up at the most random moments. He distracted me by asking for a tour of the shop where we briefly discussed the problem of nutrition on the route. I can't even remember what I ended up eating but I think it involved bananas and probably some more cakes.
Just before I had arrived at the shop, my spirits were lifted when Davide and Dirk pedalled up behind me - two of the fittest guys on this adventure who happily took the honour of last to cross the finish line. I was perhaps most impressed with those two gentlemen who are so confident and self-assured that they had zero ego in this race. They had nothing to prove, setting out to enjoy Oman, and to use the mileage as training for upcoming Ironman races. There is something pure about it that I find inspiring in a completely different way from all the other racers. They were completely relaxed and seemed in no hurry to get to the Checkpoint.
Leaving the shop, I first went the wrong way. My mind felt foggy and I was making stupid decisions. My Elemnt had indicated to turn right and that is what I had planned to do, but when I approached the turn, it appeared to be blocked for construction. So I stupidly continued straight over a bridge and then proceeded in exactly the OPPOSITE direction from where I was supposed to go.
I rode very slowly. I knew it was wrong, but I didn't stop for some reason. My brain was not switched on. I rode backwards along the shoulder with cars barmping their horns at me trying to tell me I was going the wrong way. Finally, I saw a break in the traffic and took the chance to cross the large motorway, hoisting my heavy bike over one and then two barriers to get back to the other side.
I started into still more wind and even more construction. They are building a brand new road, so lucky for us, we were riding on the old road, which is flanked by the construction for the new road. I could see the new road was fully covered in lovely fresh dirt and had already been fairly well graded. It was tempting, but I didn't know how long it would last and didn't want to keep hopping between paths. I was eventually so stressed from the speeding traffic passing so close to my elbow, I couldn't take it anymore. I ventured over to the dirt road as soon as I spotted another opening. I stayed on it for a little while but knew I was just making it harder for myself because it was taking far longer and I was going really slowly.
The roadworks that never end
I had long ago used my energy for the day and texted the group to say I was bonking. Again, not wanting anything in particular except some acknowledgement that I was suffering and that it was indeed hard. I pushed on but it was never ending. I hated that road. Others talked about riding that leg of the route at night and thinking the construction scarecrows (or whatever you call those fake safety people) were real. Some mentioned waving while others had actual conversations with them. I saw those figures as well, but it was still light and I hated everyone at that moment, so I wouldn't have waved or spoken to them no matter how real they were.
I finally made it to the checkpoint completely spent. That's when the police greeted me on the steps as Axel and I slowly pushed my bike to the building. I barely said a word to them, but managed a weak smile as I walked up the stairs past them. They seemed to understand and Axel managed to recount my story for me so I wouldn't have to. He could see I was not in any state to talk to the police. As I ate, the thobed policeman came to reassure me before they left. He was sure they would find the assailant and he hoped that I could continue to enjoy my race to the end.
I ate the food without any pleasure before heading to my room to shower and prepare my bike for the day ahead. I was drained, but the shower was exactly what I needed and revived me enough to allow me to unpack the only fresh kit I had, repack my bags, and to do some much-needed bike maintenance.
I cleaned my chain with a few baby wipes I had packed, and I derived a great boost from removing the grime and reapplying some clean oil. I used another baby wipe to clean the frame, get some of the dust off my Apidura bags and even my shoes. I was looking for a boost anywhere I could get it. I am a firm believer that when you look good, you go faster. I felt ready for the day ahead and fell into bed eager to greet the early morning hours when I was to rise for another pre-dawn effort.
But before I could shut my eyes, the hotel manager came banging on my door...but not before knocking at nearly everyone else's first. "Jinn! Jinn!" he shouted while knocking on random doors. "Police are here!" I froze.
I don't know if this is obvious, but as we are trying to save as much weight as possible, most of us don't have lounging clothes to wear during the race. So, if there is no hotel bathrobe, you're pretty much guaranteed to find us lounging sans clothing while in the hotel until we kit up for the next effort. I was astounded that the police were trying to find me at 9:30PM knowing what we were enduring. Did they not think I'd be asleep? I would later find out they have apprehended the assailant and wanted to know if I wanted to pursue it any further.
But in that moment, I wearily resisted any further involvement. I sternly told the manager I would not be opening my door to them this night. "Please go away," I repeated. There is no way I am opening this door tonight. Tell them to come tomorrow morning," I said, knowing full well I would be long gone. And that was that.
It's not that I wouldn't talk to them if they needed something. It's just that their timing couldn't have been worse. I still had a ways to go, and I did not want this incident to take up any more energy or strength than it already had until my race was over, and only then if it was absolutely necessary. I had done my part in reporting this man. It is now their responsibility to take care of it so he doesn't re-offend.
I checked my phone for social media messages, texted John goodnight and checked my route for the morning. I was more than halfway now and felt the pull of the finish. With the worst day (emotionally anyway) behind me, I was hopeful for better days ahead and looked forward to cycling up the coast!