If you spend a few evenings a week pedalling away on the exercise bike in your local gym, we imagine you have pretty taut calf muscles and toned thighs. However, there’s currently a whole other, more exciting and more charitable way you could be keeping trim in the UAE.
Gulf 4 Good’s latest charity challenge – a five-day cycle trek across all seven of the emirates – offers a rare chance to couple your exercise regime with a spot of community-minded do-gooding, with the aim of raising at least Dhs300,000 for an extremely worthy local cause.
Rana Said, a 48-year-old corporate communications director who lives in Sharjah, was one of the first to sign up for the trip, having completed a 360km ride across Cuba with Gulf 4 Good last November.
‘It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, physically,’ she told us. ‘So the reason I signed up a second time wasn’t so much the challenge, it was the chance to get to know the parts of the Emirates that I’ve not yet seen. I’ve lived here since 1995, but still there are places I haven’t been to.’
And see plenty she will. Starting in Al Ain on November 28, the challenge heads first to the rocky surrounds of Hatta in Dubai. After a brief stop for lunch, it’s a rugged 55km slog to Kabla, a small enclave of Sharjah on the UAE’s east coast. And if you think that sounds like a tough day’s work, prepare to wince. Each day of the trip requires the Lycra-clad convoy to cover an average of 80km of ground – that’s five-six gruelling hours on the road (or mountain trail, or desert path), per day. As such, Rana recommends training – and lots of it. ‘You don’t want to be on the bike two days before the trek. I got a personal trainer before I went to Cuba, just to help me prepare. Gulf 4 Good holds weekly sessions on a Friday also, which are very diverse.’ Anything else? ‘Oh and take some Tiger Balm, [a Chinese heat rub ointment] it’s an absolute miracle-worker. Your muscles will ache in places you didn’t even know you had, and it ''really helps soothe the pain.’
There is, of course, method to the physically-exerting madness. All funds raised by the challenge will go towards developing the Al Manar Charity School – a project in Ajman providing education to 2,400 disadvantaged children. Since it receives no government funding, the school is relying on Gulf 4 Good’s piston-legged participants for money to buy new AC units, roof repairs and a new playground, among other essentials. And, as Rana explains, the way Gulf 4 Good works means these changes are 100 per cent tangible. ‘They don’t just raise money and say “go spend it.” They’re into capital expenditure – the recipient has to show Gulf 4 Good exactly what they’ll be spending the money on, so you can really see where it’s going. It’s a very reassuring model.’
Beyond the obvious benefits to your fitness and karma levels, the trip also offers participants a unique social opportunity. ‘After Cuba, some of us became strong friends, and we still regularly meet up,’ Rana tells us. ‘Our challenge leader says he’s never seen a group gel quite so quickly.’ And it makes sense – we imagine you’d have to have a heart hewn from solid granite to spend 400km on the road with someone, share in their screams of triumph and blister-popping pain and not feel some sort of affinity for them. Still, if nothing else, the group (a maximum of 25) ought to at least give you the mental strength to make it to the finish line – as Rana can attest. ‘If I’d done it alone, I’m not sure I would have finished it. But having a group of people from the UAE with me, from different backgrounds and religions really did it for me.’
Join Rana on Gulf 4 Good’s Cycle The Seven Emirates challenge, by visiting www.gulf4good.org and download a registration form. The challenge takes place from Nov 28-Dec 2 and registration costs Dhs2,200.