Saudi woman completes 1,400 km cycling trip around Iceland

Yasmine Idriss has made history as the first Arab woman to complete the grueling 1,400 km cycling trip along the Nordic Ring Road. (Supplied)
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Updated 31 December 2023
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Saudi woman completes 1,400 km cycling trip around Iceland

  • Yasmine Idriss hopes her ‘heroine’s journey’ will inspire others to take the road less traveled

RIYADH: Earlier this year, Yasmine Idriss sat down with Arab News just before setting off to Iceland to cycle the country’s Ring Road on the journey of a lifetime. Now, she has become the first Arab woman to complete the grueling trip.

Initially, she thought her time on the road — which runs for almost 1,400 km — would give her the chance to plan her next career move. Little did she know she would pedal her way to much deeper enlightenment.

Her entire journey, from raging winds to sweet serenity, is captured in a documentary film titled “Threshold,” due out in 2024.




Yasmine Idriss has made history as the first Arab woman to complete the grueling 1,400 km cycling trip along the Nordic Ring Road. (Supplied)

“I open up quite a bit (in the film) about what this was for me and what the ‘heroine’s journey’ is. The heroine’s journey isn’t just a woman going through the hero’s journey. (It) has a lot more surrender embedded in it, and that’s a huge theme of what Iceland was for me,” she told Arab News.

While Idriss knew there was no way to replicate the effects of Iceland’s biting winds during her training period, she hadn’t expected them to be quite as fierce as they were — she faced the highest winds of the entire season and was blown off track in all directions. With oncoming traffic on one side and sharp rocks on the other, she prayed for stability.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Yasmine Idriss’s entire journey is captured in a documentary film titled ‘Threshold’ due out in 2024. 

• Kathi Hendrick helped create the narrative for the documentary while Madison Hoffmann is the lead filmmaker.

“It was a very brutal welcoming to what this Ring Road journey was going to be about,” she said.

With the exception of just two days in her three-week trip, the wind was constant — not stopping “even for a second,” she said. While most life challenges come in waves, ebbing and flowing, the continuous assault brewed frustration.

“Why? What is the purpose? What can I be learning from this? Why is this so hard?” Idriss says she wondered.




Yasmine Idriss, Cyclist

Her close friend — and one of her two companions on the road — Kathi Hendrick, said to her: “Wind stops inertia, wind forces you to move, it forces you to be awake, otherwise you would fall.”

The physical challenges paralleled the emotional. Realizing that she was exerting more strength than needed, she surrendered.

“The muscles that needed to be working were working, and the muscles that didn’t need to be working were relaxed. Psychologically, how that translated was: I just let anything that needed to happen, happen,” she explained.

I feel proud to be able to represent Saudi women. I don’t feel like I’m the first. There are so many amazing Saudi women who have paved the way for me, (who have) done amazing things (and) are doing amazing things.

Yasmine Idriss, Cyclist

Hendrick supported the cyclist on the trip and helped create the narrative for the upcoming documentary, while Madison Hoffmann, also a good friend, was the lead filmmaker.

Idriss said: “Somehow the three of us were mirroring each other’s experiences. Each of us was going through something very similar; even though I was on a bike and they were in the van, there was a sort of synchronicity that was happening. It was just really beautiful to see the magic that can happen when women come together in a supportive way.”

The trip was meant to help clarify what the next chapter of her life would look like. Idriss had just left her position as the head of a sustainable footwear company, which she thought was her dream job.

Removing herself from the responsibilities of daily life, and being disconnected from family and friends, ignited a deep transformation, as trips of this nature tend to do. “Over 20 days on the bike, it was an inward journey,” she said.

While there was no hiding from the elements, there was no avoiding the self either. From ending a close relationship to facing difficult questions, “everything was brought to light,” Idriss said, adding that that was exactly what she needed.

Idriss is now advocating for time away to recharge and innovate in a hyper-productive society, packed with intense working hours and social commitments.

She explained: “For Vision 2030, we’re developing like crazy. We’re one of the fastest developing countries in the world, and it’s happening with such beautiful leadership. We also need rest, and we need space, and we need to take care of ourselves in order to be as productive as our communities need us to be right now.”

While she primarily embarked on the journey for her own self-exploration, she humbly hopes to drive others to do the same.

“I feel proud to be able to represent Saudi women. I don’t feel like I’m the first. There are so many amazing Saudi women who have paved the way for me, (who have) done amazing things (and) are doing amazing things,” she said. “If I can be a mirror for the world to look at what women are doing in Saudi Arabia, then that would be a huge privilege. And if I can inspire others to go on their own road, whether that’s a walk in the neighborhood, or climbing Mount Everest like Raha Moharrak, then I have accomplished my mission.”

Immersing herself in the landscapes of Iceland, with all the challenges and revelations that it brought, inspired her to “(bring) this work to others and invite others into similar journeys of transformation in a very different form. This is what I’m working on next.”

 


Saudi electric car consumer base growing as Kingdom aims to become a hub for the technology

Updated 58 min 14 sec ago
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Saudi electric car consumer base growing as Kingdom aims to become a hub for the technology

RIYADH: Hamed Al-Rafidain, who works in HR, drives a fuel-guzzling 4 X 4, as many in Saudi Arabia do — but his other car is electric.

Al-Rafidain, 39, is part of a small but growing electric vehicle consumer base in the Kingdom, which aims to become a hub for the technology.

“What drove me to buy electric was financial considerations,” said Rafidain, who spends up to SR2,000 ($530) a month on fuel for his off-road vehicle. “Maintenance costs are also lower compared to a conventional vehicle, with no oil changes.”

For a little over $53,300, he bought a BYD mostly for short trips within the capital. Driving outside Riyadh was a “gamble, especially since the infrastructure is still underdeveloped,” Rafidain said.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the PIF, owns 60 percent of electric car maker Lucid and South Korea’s Hyundai plans a factory in the Kingdom. The Saudi brand CEER, launched in 2022, expects to start production in 2025. Eventually Saudi Arabia aims to produce 300,000 electric cars a year.

Meanwhile Chinese giant BYD is expected to dominate the Saudi market, since its global rival Tesla has no dealerships in the Kingdom.
Electric car sales tripled last year to nearly 800 and salesman Hassan Mohammed expects more this year. “More than one car brand has opened its doors in the Kingdom and now offers after-sales service, which has encouraged consumers,” he said.


Saudi leaders offer condolences to Kuwait after passing of Sheikh Jaber Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah 

Updated 24 July 2024
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Saudi leaders offer condolences to Kuwait after passing of Sheikh Jaber Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent letters of condolences to Kuwait’s Emir Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah over the death of Sheikh Jaber Duaij Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah, the Saudi Press Agency said Wednesday.

The Crown Prince also sent a separate letter to Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.

Sheikh Jaber died at the age of 71 and will be buried after Thursday’s Maghrib (Sunset) prayer, Kuwait’s news agency said.


Looking sharp: Prickly pear cactus takes over Baha

Updated 24 July 2024
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Looking sharp: Prickly pear cactus takes over Baha

BAHA: In the heart of Saudi Arabia’s Baha region, a humble cactus is sparking an agricultural revolution. The prickly pear, known locally as Al-Barshumi, has blossomed from a niche crop into a burgeoning industry.

Once confined to private farms, prickly pear cultivation has spurred scientific research and yielded an array of food, medical and cosmetic products.

The fruit’s triumph is evident in the vibrant tapestry of green, yellow and red hues that now adorn Baha’s mountains, terraces, valleys and plains — a spectacle amplified by the region’s regular rainfall.

Fahd Al-Zahrani, director general of the Baha branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, spoke about the government’s commitment to this agricultural renaissance.

“We have established a dedicated production line and oil press benefiting all regional farmers,” he said.

He also hinted at plans for a more comprehensive production line and the creation of an integrated prickly pear city, developed in partnership with the region’s Prickly Pear Association.

The initiative’s architect, Faeq Al-Ghamdi, recounted its humble beginnings. He said that what started as 80 tangled seedlings on a single farm had flourished into a network of 26 cooperating farms, collectively producing 40-70 tonnes annually.

By 2021, the farms had more than 400 seedlings of premium varieties, including “Gimoncaryo” and “Marez.” This growth has enabled a diversification beyond simple fruit production, with the range of innovative products, including prickly pear juice, ice cream and soap.

Al-Ghamdi’s original farm now has 3,000 seedlings, including imported varieties, with an annual yield of 3-5 tonnes.

“In just four years, we’ve developed 20 products, with some already registered and others in various stages of registration and research,” he said, adding that more innovations, including a perfume extract, were in the pipeline.

The project, known as the Al-Sarah Al-Barshumi Initiative, has also spawned seven scientific studies aimed at sustainable development of the prickly pear plant.

Al-Ghamdi’s vision extends beyond cultivation toward establishing Baha as a regional leader in prickly pear production, achieving domestic self-sufficiency and tapping into export markets. The project is working to double the current acreage dedicated to cultivation, establishing model agricultural cities, creating a specialized processing industry and marketing 30 prickly pear products.

“The cultivation process begins with what we call pads or stems,” he said. “These parts are carefully separated from the mother plant and we then expose these cuttings to sunlight for a period of seven to 10 days due to the high fluid content of the pads, allowing them to dry and prepare for planting. Once cured, we carefully select the planting formation.”

Beyond its economic impact, the prickly pear boom promises significant health benefits, according to Dr. Nadia Al-Zahrani, a nutrition specialist at Al-Baha University.

“Prickly pears come in a spectrum of colors, ranging from green to red, with the red variety being notably the sweetest,” she said.

Noting their rich content of fiber, vitamins E, C, and K, and various minerals she said: “These components contribute to weight management and blood sugar and lipid levels regulation.”

Al-Zahrani said another use of the prickly pear fruit was in skin care.

“The rich vitamin and mineral content of the cactus play a crucial role in enhancing skin appearance and health,” she said.

A number of farmers in the region are cultivating prickly pears, capitalizing on the area’s unique environmental assets, leveraging the region’s fertile soil and abundant water resources.

They have embraced modern cultivation techniques and begun introducing new varieties of fruits and trees, many of which were previously unknown in the region.


Like father, like son: 10-year-old walks 150 km to Abha

Updated 24 July 2024
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Like father, like son: 10-year-old walks 150 km to Abha

  • Sultan Al-Bariqi’s trek promotes tourism in Asir, health benefits of walking

MAKKAH: In a remarkable feat of grit, Sultan Al-Bariqi, a 10-year-old Saudi, has become the country’s youngest person to complete a 150-km journey on foot from Al-Namas to Abha in southern Saudi Arabia.

Accompanied by his father, who is also an adventure enthusiast, Sultan finished the five-day trek last Thursday.

Sultan’s father, Mohammed Al-Bariqi, told Arab News that the walk aimed to promote tourism in Asir, showcasing the region’s cool climate, dense vegetation and towering mountains.

The route offers visitors the chance to experience lush green landscapes and enjoy the natural environment. 

“We chose Al-Namas as our starting point, passing through Balasmar, Billahmer, Tanomah, and Shaar en route to Abha,” he said. He highlighted the region’s significance as a hub for domestic tourism, attracting thousands of visitors annually. 

“July typically sees high temperatures, but Asir enjoys a moderate, cool climate perfect for hiking and exploration,” he said.

Despite initial concerns about Sultan’s age, Al-Bariqi was impressed by his son’s enthusiasm for walking and experiencing nature first-hand.

Sultan, he added, was inquisitive about every stop throughout the five-day journey; the trip was filled with excitement for the young adventurer. He reported that the trip sparked joy in Sultan, keeping him motivated and eager from beginning to end.

The journey was also filled with encouragement from passersby, who offered drinks and motivational words. Sultan maintained high spirits and fitness throughout the trek, fueled by light meals and energy-boosting fruits, Al-Bariqi said.

With Abha as its final stop, the trek not only marked a spirited achievement for the young boy, but also highlighted environmental consciousness and long-distance walking’s therapeutic benefits.

Al-Bariqi, 52, is no stranger to long-distance walks, having previously journeyed from Asir to Makkah for Hajj in 16 days and to Madinah in 27 days.

He advocates walking as a holistic health practice, urging people to reduce dependency on cars and travel by foot, which he believes offers a comprehensive regimen for health and wellness. He also finds genuine pleasure in walking to explore tourist areas. 

The younger Al-Bariqi, initially apprehensive, found the experience life-changing. “I was afraid I could not complete the first stage, but my father’s encouragement motivated me,” he said.

The 10-year-old now aspires to make long-distance walking a regular part of his life and is encouraging his peers to embrace physical activity. 

He highlighted the universal importance of exercise, saying that it was not exclusive to any particular youth group. He also advocated for community-wide support and encouragement to foster a healthier, more active society.

Sultan eagerly anticipates recounting his adventure to schoolmates post-holiday, aiming to share the many benefits he discovered during his journey.


Development of Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Park gets underway

Updated 24 July 2024
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Development of Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Park gets underway

  • Project spanning 4.3 million sq. meters set to take 3 years to complete
  • Green space will feature 24 children’s areas, 2m trees

RIYADH: A three-year project to develop King Abdulaziz Park in the nation’s capital is underway following the completion of a design competition, the Royal Commission for Riyadh City announced on Wednesday.

The winning design was one of several presented by four international companies and once completed will cover about 4.3 million sq. meters. It comprises six distinct green spaces, the most prominent being the central Botanic Garden spanning 200,000 sq. meters and featuring more than 200 species of local plants.

Part of the Green Riyadh initiative, the new park will be built in the north of the city, close to King Khalid International Airport, Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University and a train station.

A key element of the design is the Munsiyah Tributary, a branch of the Al-Sulai valley, which runs for 11 km through the park. The design also includes sustainable commercial buildings and a 2 km pathway overlooking them.

More than 2 million trees and shrubs will be used to provide shade throughout the park, each of them served by an irrigation system using recycled water. 

Khaled Al-Bakr, CEO of the Quality of Life Program. (Supplied)

As well as terraces, squares, open theaters for events and festivals, restaurants, the design includes 24 children’s areas and 30 sports zones.

Khaled Al-Bakr, CEO of the Quality of Life Program, said parks and other green spaces were vital to a good quality of life for the residents of any city.

“King Abdulaziz Park, King Salman Park and King Abdullah International Parks are among the major park projects in the city of Riyadh, which will enhance the humanization of the city of Riyadh and provide vast spaces for residents and visitors,” he told Arab News. 

“Parks enable sports activities and provide recreational places for individuals and families, in addition to their environmental and climatic benefits.”

The parks development project, supported by the government, was helping to change the face of the city and achieve the goals of the Green Riyadh and Vision 2030 initiatives, he said.

Several other green spaces, including Al-Urubah, Al Munsiyah, Al Qadisiyah, and Al-Rimmal parks, and planting along main roads like King Salman Road and King Khalid Road are already underway.

An irrigation network spanning 1,350 km has also been developed to service the new parks.