Within a few minutes we packed the bags on the bike and left the hotel in Abha. After several one-way streets and U-turns in the opposite direction, we thought we had lost the escort😊.

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Finally, after we had mastered the first 40km through the criminal city traffic, we enjoyed about an hour without the constant pursuer… but already before the lunch break, the secret service stuck to our rear wheel again.

Saudi Driving Style

When we sat down for a picnic in the shade, our pursuer started gesticulating wildly and used Google Translator to tell us something about another cyclist. We continued to eat rather unimpressed, when suddenly George, a Romanian touring cyclist and his escort drove up. He too had been accompanied for two weeks and the order seemed to be that we strange bike tourists were never to be let out of sight.

After lunch together, we pedaled on with George and escort. The new pursuer took his task so seriously that he spent the night in the car with visual contact to our tent. Because he was not prepared for a night in the open, we had to supply him with water and dates in the middle of the desert… for his own safety😉. Our long (tea) breaks😊 did not fit George rhythm, so we parted ways after some days. We also got rid of the escort when we entered the new province. With the help of an elaborate text in Google Translator, we asked politely but assertive several times to leave us alone – and we succeeded😀!

Apart from one day spent at a gas station due to a sandstorm (we turned back after 20km or 2 hours of headwind), we had good wind conditions and made rapid progress. On the road #10 from Abha to south of Riyadh we found enough gas stations and villages to supply us in intervals of 30 to 100km. Along this stretch, a lot of agriculture is done by means of irrigation with (fossil) groundwater. In the middle of the desert, water-intensive animal feed is grown on round, lush green fields. Since water is practically free, it is used very wastefully… according to the motto “Devil may care!” (More about in this German article of the FAZ).

South of Riyadh, the fields have been replaced by huge cow sheds. Almarai, the largest dairy company in the world, produces about 1.5 billion (1,500,000,000) liters of milk per year in Saudi Arabia with 195,000 cows. We would have loved to visit the company, especially since we rode 50km along the Almarai site. Despite several attempts and very friendly, helpful employees, a visit without prior registration process and security check was unfortunately not possible.

We decided against a side trip to Riyadh, especially because of the traffic and our lack of enthusiasm for another Saudi city. After almost 1000km of riding from Abha towards the northeast, we took “THE” right turn before the capital and followed the same road for another 450km towards the east. The beautiful sand dunes along the road gave evidence that we crossed the outer reaches of the largest sand desert in the world (Rub al-Khali). According to the Guinness Book of Records, we rode the longest straight road in the world (263km without a bend) until we reached the border to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Whether this record was purchased or too much Guinness was involved in the maintenance, we cannot judge… but over the years the road has clearly got bends😀.

Even with strong crosswinds, the sections between gas stations (with Pakistani or Indian restaurants) were easy to master with prior planning. On the longest stretch (=100 km) we had the only shade and wind protection in the middle. It was an old, decaying building, of which only the shelters for the polished police cars were in usable condition. Through the open (broken) gate, we sought wind and sun protection in the courtyard for our snack break. After a few minutes, a police car drove in, to which we made our presence known. The policeman agreed that we should take a break for half an hour. Only 10 minutes later he came back and told us that our time was up and we had to leave… Ironically, the day before we had to use all our negotiation skills to avoid another police escort for our “safety”…

Apart from the strange situations with the police, the Saudis were extremely hospitable! Again and again we got small glimpses into the hidden world behind the windowless facades. Particularly unusual for us were the complex family relationships and traditions. Marriage among cousins is widespread (about 50%, depending on the source). It is arranged and negotiated by fathers. Typically, the bride and groom see each other for the first time at the wedding. (Family life takes place in the closest circle, and privacy has the highest priority. Often, girls as young as 7 wear a nikab or a veil in front of their cousins. I was allowed to see women – in reality and on TikTok – without nikab, but the face and hair of Saudi women remained hidden from David.)

We also had very nice encounters with the locals and their guest workers on the long desert stretch: Mohammed took time on his last day of vacation to show us the zoo in the “neighboring village” 170km away. Truck drivers stopped to give us water, two gentlemen gave us their Saudi headscarves (Ghutra) to protect our faces against the sand and Mubarak handed us fresh camel milk. With this we toasted the end of road #10 and the successful border crossing to UAE after 13 days and 1500 km.

Fortunately, while “celebrating” we were not aware that the most boring and tedious desert section was still ahead of us. Until Abu Dhabi we rode almost 400km with constant side/headwind on the dead flat highway. The whole stretch was lined with street lights and power lines, and to the left and right there was only boggy salt desert. Road signs and overpasses were the only landmarks that provided any distraction. And on the entire route, we only had two opportunities to stop at an Indian gas station restaurant… The northeast of UAE is really something cyclists shouldn’t put on their bucket list😉.

Yesterday we arrived sweaty, dusty but very happy in Abu Dhabi… Now we really crossed the Arabian Peninsula by bicycle😊! Here we allow ourselves a few rest days before we explore the UAE and plan our onward journey…