We had just walked in from a birthday party held at Cheeky Monkeys Playground for a three year-old Emirati girl. At the party, K-pop was playing on the PA, Filipino staff manned sack races and two employees dressed as Superman and Superwoman surveyed 20 excited kids hailing from all corners of the globe. I couldn’t imagine a better encapsulation of globalization until they started playing a selection Christmas carols.
The guys at Firefly where pretty prescient when they scheduled the United Arab Emirates ride following the U.S. election. Who knew questions about globalization and Muslims would be trending topics in the waning months of 2016. Apparently, Kevin.
The United Arab Emirates, most often referred to as the UAE, is a Muslim country on the Persian Gulf founded in 1971 as a federation of seven emirates, the best known being Dubai and Abu Dhabi. After discovering the seventh largest reserve of oil in the world, the leaders of the respective clans – called Sheikhs – came together for the betterment of the local population. Under the leadership of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the country embarked on a massive infrastructure and economic diversification project to unify and modernize the UAE for a post-oil economy. From origins of pearl diving and Bedouin trading, the country has made enormous progress. Today, there is a robust tourism trade and widening economic base.
For context, the Arab world is made up of 22 countries, spanning from the Gulf across North Africa. While the UAE is often lumped in with the rest of the Middle East, it is exceptional in the region. Within certain norms, it is open to a variety of religions, cultures, and people. With a total population of 9 million, there are 8 million expats living within the Emirates. My wife, daughter, and I are three of those expats.
Amy and I have been on one long adventure since leaving Washington in 2013 when we relocated to Johannesburg. I have been fortunate to work in various roles at Edelman, the world’s largest communications marketing company, in offices in the U.S., South Africa, and the UAE.
While we were living in Washington, Jeff Miller (the DC Cycling Concierge, FF103) introduced me to Firefly. Jeff and I ordered bikes around the same time, picking them up from the original shop in April 2012 and riding them back to D.C. Since that initial trip, my Firefly (FF104) has traveled the East Coast of the U.S. for various rides and races, spent nearly three years in South Africa chasing Dale, JB, George, Richard, Ian, and Jason around Johannesburg and now resides in Abu Dhabi.
In setting out on this particular adventure, the goal was to highlight the diversity of the UAE. With an extra day off for National Day, Amy and I roped in the Edelman UAE CFO, Jared Robinson, and our nanny Linda (to watch our daughter) to tackle a couple of rides.
Our first ride was near the Saudi/UAE border in an area known as the Empty Quarter. In more nomadic times, this was the area of no return – a broad swath of rolling dunes, little vegetation and even scarcer water. Today, in the middle of the desert is an amazing resort, Qsar Al Sarab (thanks @anantaraclub for fitting us in). The road to the resort made for some isolated and relatively car-free riding.
While I would love to tell you these are ancient gates to the lost city of the Empty Quarter, they were in fact a signal to us that we were getting closer to the resort pool, which was a welcome destination after the ride.
On our second route, we went to an outcropping of rock known as Jebel Hafeet on the Oman/UAE border. With approximately 1,000 meters of climbing and an average grade of 7 percent (topping out at over 12 percent, according to Strava), it is a challenging ride. Fortunately, for the reigning KOM, we had to stop and take photos.
Finally, the last ride was to get an ice cream on the Corniche in downtown Abu Dhabi. It was a good time to be in the city as the UAE celebrated its 45th National Day with streets and buildings illuminated with a variety of lights, flags, and signs.
A big thanks to Firefly for including us on the Adventure team. A special shout-out to the sponsors Vittoria Tires, Pedros, and Lizard Skins for supporting all the adventure rides. Building brand loyalty is tough and these are clearly companies that get it.