Thank God it's Friday

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
Monday Floating in the Dead Sea is not as easy as it looks. I have to use maximum effort to avoid rolling over and swallowing mouthfuls of incredibly salty water. Still, it proves a great ice-breaker for our group of 100 charity cyclists.

After lengthy showers, we are briefed by our Israeli guides. Military manoeuvres have forced a change to the first stage of our 250-mile route to Eilat. We set off to Beersheva to pick up our bikes. Conversations revolve around training and fund-raising: the first person I chat to reveals that she done more than 2,000 miles in training and raised more than pound;8,000 in sponsorship. Can this be true?

Tuesday We're off. We all look the same (Mencap t-shirts, helmets, pale faces from the factor-40 sun cream), and soon string out along the hard shoulder of the busy road, avoiding the dead dogs.

The Lycra-clad boy racers are disappointed when we make our first stop. The rest of us are relieved to see what becomes a familiar sight - a clump of cycle helmets glistening in the distance as people pull off for a fruitwater stop.

We set off down a sandy track into the desert. This is more like it. The slower pace allows time to admire the scenery: we see our first camels, Bedouin settlements - even a school for children who walk miles across the desert.

Wednesday Decide to set off at the front of the pack for a change. Soon realise the tense, cut-and-thrust atmosphere is not for me and am soon back in my usual position at the rear. Here conversations are relaxed and we all support each other.

It's incredible how the group has gelled. Our identities back home fade away as we settle into the routines of long-distance cycling. We share strategies to cope with the physical demands and are united in our views on hills (nightmare), Vaseline (invaluable), and guides (wonderful). So much for my hopes of using the trip to plan my future career - the furthest ahead I can imagine is the next fruit stop.

We descend 400m into the Ramon Crater, and cycle through a cross between the Grand Canyon and the surface of the moon.

Thursday We have brought torrential rain to the desert for the first time in years. We try to empathise with the excitement of the local people, but are unimpressed by the thought of cycling the next 70 miles out of the now-muddy crater wearing bin bags. Our kit list did not mention wet weather gear.

But the skies soon clear and we set off on the longest day's cycling. Delicate desert flowers bloom in the sand after the rain. During late afternoon, with the shadows lengthening, we cycle through a beautiful, barren valley and up to the top of a mountain overlooking the hills of Jordan. As the sun sets we see the lights of Eilat in the distance.

Friday An exhilarating off-road track leads us across to the main Eilat Road. My legs feel like lead and I devour glucose tablets.

After a wonderful lunch we set off on the final 20 miles. Outside Eilat we stop for a group photo and to allow everyone to catch up and travel the last section together. The sense of elation and achievement is overwhelming - and the first beer in the hotel is the best I've ever tasted. We have made it - and raised pound;750,000 for Mencap.

Sue Walker, a primary and secondary learning support teacher from Sheffield, took part in the Israel bike ride for Mencap's Blue Sky appeal.The ride was transferred from Egypt to Israel because of the difficult political situation in Egypt

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