Monday, 2 March 2009

Day 16: Shacharut to Eilat

This is my final end to end Blog - Mission Accomplished ! The Israel Bike Trail has been ridden and conquered.

At 15.30,1st March 2009, I dipped my wheels in the gently lapping waters of The Gulf of Aqaba. It is 16 riding days, 982 kms, and innumerable revolutions, since they were dipped in the snow of Mount Hermon.

I actually completed the trek one day ahead of schedule as the planned route over the Eilat Mountains from Shacharut had to be changed due to the severe weather conditions and the possibility of flash flooding.The length of the revised route,meant Eilat was attainable in one riding day.

We had spent an uncomfortable cold night in the Shacharut Khan tent.The rain pounding, the flapping of the awnings, and the local cats howling under our common shelter. We set off in full winter gear, the wind factor reducing temperatures to near zero.

Ariye and I descended Ma'ale Shacharut , steep but mostly rideable,with an amazing view of the Arava under a threatening blanket of black clouds. Thankfully though, the weather held out, and actually improved, with little wind, but occasional spots of rain. I thought, what were the chances of rain at the start and finish of the end to end !

The Grand Finale, was following the IBT into the Eilat Mountains,trails that climb and wind around rocks of yellow, red, purple. The designers of the trail ensured that it will fittingly lead straight to the sea along the dried river bed of Nahal Netifim, although the Eilat Municipality has to clean it up before it is open to the general public.

Ariye had mysteriously found a large Israel flag in one of the drainage tunnels, was it by chance or had it been planted? I will never know, but it made it , the last few metres, to the sea shore as well.

The Israel Bike Trail can be and will be ridden in the future by countless cyclists and all, like myself, will find it a challenge, a unique way to absorb all the physical elements of the country, and a life affirming experience.

Thanks to all who helped me fulfil my ambition to ride the end to end,those who rode with me, your companionship was deeply appreciated; my daughters, their partners, other friends, for all their support, those who gave me shelter from the storm, and of course Yvonne, who was compliant to my dream beyond the call of marital duty, and who faithfully uploaded my postings sent from my trusty Ipod.

Oh yes, all prohibitions against the p-word, are now lifted.

Ride Stats:
Distance 63kms
Final Total 982 kms
Duration 7 hours
Agg Climbs 496 metres
Max gradient 39% (elevator in Eilat hotel?)
Max Rideable Descent -14% (Ma'ale Shacharut)
Temp Range 9C - 22C
0 punctures
Overall Enjoyment Factor : 982 k's

Written on an Egged Bus from Eilat to Haifa , 2nd March 2009.

Long. Live. Long. Rides !

Sent from my iPod

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Day 15: Paran to Shacharut

I am writing this from the Beduin tent in Shacharut. On arrival, I guess from
my ashen pallor, I was immediately offered a sweet cup of tea which revived me somewhat. It had been a tough day in the saddle.

It was a ride divided between trail and road, but with a common factor afflicting both, gale strength winds. If we had sails we could have done the ride in a couple of hours ! Unfortunately, it was Blowing in from the direction we were heading, Idiot Wind, no matter which way we turned (apologies to Bob Dylan).

I was reduced to counting the kilometres to each waypoint, no matter if it was in the great empty expanse of Nahal Paran (25km of unending gravel) or the ribbon of highway heading south, I could not muster, on average, more than 10kph.

Frustration reigned ! On eventually emerging on to the Mitspe Ramon road from Nahal Zichor, we collapsed next to a signpost to take on some energy supplies. Afer a few minutes I caught sight from my prone position the unmistakable sight of a peloton of racing cyclists, who passed us with a whish and a wave. How I wished I was on one of their light bikes with the wind on my back.

As a postscript, the next day we met by chance an organizer of the Eilat Ironman competition, who told us that many of the competitors had been blown off their bikes and injured in the strong wind. Lucky your Ironman Blogger was on his heavy mountain bike.

Ride Stats:
Distance 74kms
Total Distance 919kms
Duration 8.5 hours
Agg Climbs 668 metres
Max Gradient 22%
Av Temp 20C (wind chill factor 14C ?)
0 punctures
1 bent dérailleur (Ariye)

Friday, 27 February 2009

Day 14: Tsofar to Paran

On paper this was going to be a short easy section , between Tsofar and Paran, riding what is called The Springs Route.

Eitan had left us at the end of yesterday's ride, catching a bus north. The five days he partnered me were invaluable in maintaining my momentum and morale.

So it was left to the orginal 'A team' , who had started this oddesey in Neve Ativ, to continue onwards together to Eilat.

The severe weather that was afflicting the north was reaching the Arava with high winds and the odd shower. The route took us over some hills, where we had difficulty staying upright in the strong gusts. When we descended to the Paran Valley, this had blown up to a full blown sandstorm. Visibility was reduced so Ariye would sometimes disappear from sight, only to reappear as some ghostly figure on his silver steed. My GPS was a real saviour in plotting a course to Paran, which we could not locate in the midst of this yellow soup. We knew we were finally there when we heard the unmistakable tones of Thai drifting towards us from the murk, then we saw the hothouses of Paran.

Ride Stats:
Distance 37kms
Total Distance 845kms
Duration 5hours
Agg Climbs 395 metres
Max Gradient 33% (not rideable)
Av temp 20C
0 punctures

Day 13: Mitspe Ramon to Tsofar

My end to end trek is based on the general route that will be taken by the Israel Bike Trail. Amongst the geographical challenges that will be presented to the cyclist on the trail will be to climb in and out of the Arava three times. Taking a route in one direction, straight down the Arava, might have been more logical (and saner) but that wouldn't give the rider a true impression of the country.

Today's section was a ride back down to the Arava, an overall height drop of over 800 metres, via the Ramon Crater, Wadi Nekorot, and the (Nabatean) Spice Route.

We again were three, which subtly changed the dynamic of the riding, mostly for the better. For example, we could see who was taking a more rideable direction in areas of difficult passage.

The road descent into the crater is truly one of the great cycling experiences. Eight kilometres of fast freewheel, chilling to the bone in the early morning.
Things got tough in the Nekorot Valley where overuse by 4x4s has created a vast expanse of fine gravel for most of its length. This was hardly rideable and if terrain untouched by the evil jeep wheels could not be located, we were reduced to pushing the bikes. This went on for about 20kms, in the heat, reducing us to frustrated panting specimens, arms aching from the efforts.

As things do in cycling, as soon as we extricated ourselves from this vale of tears, and reached the Spice Route, we were rewarded with fast flowing trails over the highlands, with amazing views to the Arava.

So again, in cycling, as in life you've got to take the rough with the smooth, and it all evens out, eventually.

As a postscript, you can see I had my first puncture on this ride. Not bad going after 800 kms, evidence enough that Slime (self-sealing inner tubes) are one of the greatest achievements of mankind!

Ride Stats:
Distance 56kms
Total 808kms
Duration 7.5 hours
Agg Climbs 255 metres
Height Differential 840 metres
Max Gradient 13%
Max Temp 32C
1 puncture (0k, you at the back,
own up, who said the p-word ?)

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Day 12: Sadeh Boker to Mitspe Ramon

Today I was pleased that my birthday was behind me, I had survived the day (both physically and mentally), and there had been no sudden deterioration in my condition on passing this dreaded landmark.

Whilst riding,I remembered a book I read , 'Passages' : Predictable Crises in Adult Life. Now another passage to negotiate and perhaps the wheels were guiding me , the frame supporting me , along this rocky road.

On my 12th riding day, we took tracks and trails that run alongside the main highway between Sdeh Boker and Mitspe Ramon. This led us through scenes that might go unnoticed from your average tour bus. Beduin villages, Nabatean irrigation canals, a long deserted stretch of narrow asphalt that was once the only road leading south. It wound us over the Negev hills and will make an excellent bike path for the Israel Bike Trail in this area.

We ended in Mitspeh Ramon, on the lip of one of the most impressive geological features in the world, the Ramon Crater, and into which we shall descend tomorrow.

Ariye rejoined in Mitspeh, this time without his field kitchen, but with his recorder to serenade us on our way.

Ride Stats:
Distance 52kms
Total 752kms
Duration 6 hours
Agg Climbing 683metres
Max Gradient 8%
Av temp 22C
0 punctures

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Day 11: Hazeva to Sadeh Boker

Today we got serious ! It was a ride I shall remember for a long time, and not only for the fact that it was my birthday.

We are now riding in full desert mode. This requires that we carry enough water, food, and energy supplies for the duration of the ride. Before setting out, we make sure the bikes are in good working order and we have all the usual spares and tools. There is no room for error in The Wilderness of Zin. You and your bike are alone, far from any help or from a local MacDonalds.

The riding took us on a road up from The Arava and down into The Zin Valley. We had as company the IAF who use an area nearby for target practice. F-16's were buzzing us, some letting off anti-aircraft flares; if this did nothing else , it spurred us on to reach the areas of solitude.

This goal was delayed by us having first off all to by-pass The Zin Industrial Plant and the monster tractors that prowl around there. Eventually we emerged into the unspoilt wilderness and were pushing up the dried out valley. It was kilometre after kilometre on gravel and rocks, some of it as we say in the business, quite technical.

It was tiring and draining in the heat, and our water supplies were running low. However we eventually climbed to Sdeh Boker, on a serpentine road, and finished next to Ben Gurion's grave. Quite fitting I thought for my birthday ride.

Many thanks to Miranda and Hagai who appeared in the evening with some beers and a celebratory pizza.

This is where I was meant to be on this day, but the story continues.

Ride Stats:
Distance 67kms
Total 700kms
Duration 7.5 hours
Agg Climbs 873 metres
Max Gradient 13%
Av Temp 28C
Punctures 0 (shhh....)

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Day 10: Neot Hakikar to Hazevah

My last posting was perhaps a little disjointed as it was written under the influence of a few Thailandi beers. Moshav Neot Hakikar has a whole sub-culture catering for the Thai worker, which must represent a good proportion of the total population. We had quite a job to locate the corner in the local mini-market reserved for western food, amongst all the far-eastern delicacies.

So to the day's riding, which was far from a short relaxing spin amongst the local palm trees.

We rode the length of Nahal Amatziyahu. Although it is scenically impressive with its eroded sandstone cliffs, it is 25kms of very slow progress on a gravel surface which sucks at the wheels. We were pleased to exit on to the Arava Road and revive ourselves with long espressos at the Hazeva Junction Gas Station.

Tomorrow is a long climb up to Sdeh Boker, and will probably be the toughest day of the trek so far. Having now completed about two thirds of my challenge I feel physically good although my backpack seems to feel heavier with every day that passes.

My bike has been superb although today an ominous click was heard from the bottom bracket. I shall offer some further thoughts on the intimate bond that develops between man and his machine in another post. Suffice it to say that the bike stays with me where possible in my room at night, and I never, but never, mention the 'p word' in its presence.

Ride Stats:
Distance 30kms
Total 663kms
Duration 5 hours
Agg Climbs 279 metres
Max Gradient 8%
Av Temp 28C
0 punctures (the dreaded 'p word')