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')

Monday, 23 February 2009

Day 9: Arad to Neot Hakikar

> I am sure you must all be on tenterhooks about my shoes, well I am not revealing whether they were dry or not this morning. Suffice it to say I now believe newspaper is more effective than toilet paper.
> I have been joined by Eitan, a partner I've ridden many a kilometer with over the years, and hopefully he will continue with me to Eilat. Now I've dropped down to the Dead Sea, I actually feel the reality of my goal is nearer.
> The ride today was all I expected for this classic experience to below sea level. We had some mighty downhills in the still arid Judean Desert landscape, passing Beduin farms and trying not to alarm grazing camels.
> My only disappointment was that my navigational skills let me down (I could blame my GPS, but won't) and we missed the track that would have taken us down Ma'ale Azgad. We ended up on the Dimona road instead, and had the pleasure (sic) of waving to All The Lorries as we hurtled down to the Arava Junction. Still a valid riding experience.
> The 15 degree difference in temperature between Arad and Arava ensured my shoes had finally dried out.
> Ride Stats:
> Distance 62 kms
> Total 633 kms
> Duration 7 hours
> Agg climbs 682 metres
> Max Gradient 27% (not rideable)
> Total Height Loss 1000 metres
> Temp: 10C (Arad) 24C (Neot Hakikar)
> 0 punctures

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Day 8: Meitar to Arad

Well, there had to be a day like this! A day when perhaps it would have been better to stay indoors, in the comfort of my friends' home, with a hot mug of coffee, watching the National Geographic channel. Instead I was up a mountain with my head in the clouds.

Against everybody's better judgement,including my own, I set out, alone, on the wettest and stormiest day of the year, to complete this stage and to maintain the continuity of the trek. If I'd known ahead that my route, in the prevailimg conditions, would generate the greatest figure for climbing to the highest elevation so far, I'd have definitely opted for the evening bus to Arad.

My first attempt to leave Meitar was A Disaster, I immediately got bogged down in the quick-sands surrounding the place. I managed to extricate myself to the local gas station, hose down the bike, and tried the roads instead. I was fortunate to locate the KKL scenic route ( marked blue on the maps) which was well surfaced, and took me up to the Yatir Forest. It had that vicious 22% gradient, at one point, but mercifully, it was on asphalt and I was able to maintain traction.In the sheeting rain,at the highest point, I was stopped by a soldier from the nearby camp, who quite understandably could not fathom the sudden appearance in the mists, of a helmeted, balaclava'd figure on a bicycle. I think I was more of a security risk to myself than to the Yatir Army Base!

By the way, how long should it take to dry out sodden shoes stuffing them with toilet paper ??

Ride Stats:Distance 65kms
Total Distance 571km
Duration 6.5 hours
Agg climbs 1254 metres (biggest so far)
Max Height 857 metres
Max Gradient 22% (I remember that one!)
Av temp 10C, lowest 6C, rain and hail.0 punctures
2 very wet shoes

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Day 7: GalOn to Meitar

Another inspirational bicycle quotation sent to me by my daughter Miranda, this time by William Golding:
'Consider a man riding a bicycle. Whoever he is, we can say three things about him. We know he got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that at some point he will stop and get off. Most important of all, we know that if at any point between the beginning and the end of his journey he stops moving and does not get off the bicycle he will fall off it. That is a metaphor for the journey through life of any living thing, and I think of any society of living things.'

Each day of this cycling trip is a metaphor for a journey through life. Starting, maintaining machine (and body) in working order, learning the way, staying upright and true over rough terrain, not deviating from the designated route, coping with the difficulties, and at the conclusion looking back with pride at the achievement, but always looking forward to the next day.(That's your dose of home-spun cycling philosopy for today !)

The night at Kibbutz GalOn near Bet Gubrin and we were joined in the morning by Yair and Yotam . So now we were a serious group, ready for anything the day could throw up at us, and this it certainly did in no small measure.

The wind had picked up again ; a very different beast to that I had experienced in the north. It was a hot , dry yellow wind, laden with dust ,constantly in one's face, coating the teeth and throat, and cutting down visibility.

Regardless, we pushed off on in a southerly direction following the Israel Trail passing the mulitude of caves, ruined villages, and other sites of antiquity in the Bet Gubrin area. The greenery of the north and Jerusalem areas, was now being diluted to a yellower hue, and the flowers still in hiding, not yet in bloom. There was ample evidence everywhere, of the dearth of rain affecting the area . We were passing through the transition of the Mediterranean landscape to the arid desert zone. The terain was hilly and undulating, we were notching up quite a repectable figure for climbs.

We had our break in the Amatzia Forest, near a dried out reservoir to the backdrop of serial booms ,thuds, and rat-ta-ta-tats, the unmistakeable signs we were in proximity to an army firing range. Yair had brought with him a kumkum (kettle), a little fire was lit, and we brewed up some coffee with cardamon, with its distinctive aroma. Such is the ambience of long distance riding in Israel.

Ride Stats:
Distance 65kms
Total 506kms (over half-way ?)
Duration 8 hours
Agg climbing 1045 metres
Max gradient 16 %
80% Off-road
Av Temp 25c (hot, dry, wind, and dust)
0 punctures

Day 6: Zova to GalOn

I was reunited on this stage with Ariye, my partner during the first three days, and Ami, a longtime riding buddy from the earliest days of our club.While I enjoy riding solo, and having the freedom and responsibility for my own decisions, determining your own pace, tempered with the constant inner debate of when to stop and start; I do recognise that having companions does have it's merits, especially on long rides.

The trail from Zova took us in and out of two major valleys (Sorek and Refaim), along some demanding single track involving carrying the bikes, and a near vertical push up from Mata. My partners provided the balance of a sensible pace with more breaks than I would have allowed myself riding solo. This made the experience more enjoyable and less of an energy sapping slog (rhymes with dog....)

Dogs ! Ariye has a mystical way with them. We were attacked out of the blue by a pair on the road near Tsur Haddasah. Whereas I have the dubious strategy of screaming obscenities at them (presuming they understand Old English) and try to accelerate away from the bared canines, Ariye stands his ground, stares them out, and they duly melt back into the foliage. Mind you, I forgot to mention in an earlier posting, that this skill does not extend to bovines when, in the Jordan Park, he was nearly trampelled by a charging jealous cow, after venturing too close to its calf.

When we eventually dropped down from the Jerusalem Hills, to Emek Ha'Elah, it was on a wonderful trail in Nahal Tsadsar which I suppose was a reward for all the effort in getting up there. That long descent with its twists and turns, ever changing vistas, and the technical challenge of the rock strewn path, was a joy, and intensified by the fact that it could be shared and remembered along with my companions.

Ride Stats:
Distance 61kms,
Total 441kms,
Duration 8.5 hrs,
Agg Climbs 936 metres,
Max Height 750 metres
Max Gradient 16%
Av temp 20C
0 punctures.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Day 5: Rehovot to Zova

As can be seen from the figures below, this was a big day for climbing. This is the stage the future IBT will ascend to Jerusalem,and for the cyclist, there is no escaping the inherent topography.

The old cycling mantra, 'No pain, no gain' neatly sums up the experience.I chose to start my attack on the holy city ( not the most significant in its long history) from Rechovot. This was an inspired suggestion by Yotam as it skipped all the muddy bits around Tel Aviv. There was also the convenient fact that an articulated commuter bus, going in this direction, stopped nearby. So after some delicate negotiations with the driver my bike was let on board and placed on the swivelling floor in the middle. It was fun to see my riderless bike turning corners!

Oh, that climb. ...

Well here I am in Zova to Blog you the story, and that's all that matters. The pain was the wear on the knees over two mountain ranges (Estahol and Har Hatayasim) and the gain was the view down to the coastal plain then the well earned indulgence of a hot bath in Zova !

Ride Stats: Distance 60kms
Total distance 380 kms
Agg climbs 1177 metres
Duration 7 hours,
Average gradient 5%, Max Gradient ( a whopping) 18%
Max height 730 metres
Av temp 14c
0 punctures.

Sent from my iPod

Monday, 16 February 2009

Day 4. Habonim to Tel Aviv

So the saga continues !

For this stage I was riding solo, my pre-arranged partner was unavailable (perhaps he he was put off by the bad weather forecast). Undeterred and confident, I set off from the Habonim area , the weather at this stage was sunny but with a very strong opposing wind that made riding a bit of a struggle.

As encouragement, I was sent this quote from Yvonne. It's by by Ernest Hemingway, and nothing could be truer:
"It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle".

It was supposed to inspire me over the central plains of the country. I discovered that the plains of the Sharon Valley area aren't so flat but softly undulating, it is true that this is not noticeable in a car, but on a bike this becomes very noticeable. Especially if there is a strong wind in your face or the terrain is sandy or muddy, which often it was.

I mentally gloating about the great weather I was having and the rain I had left behind in the north. I could not, however, outpace the speed of a weather front which was relentlessly moving south. Eventually the rain-storm hit me near Tel Aviv on the Yarkon River Trail. In an instant the surfaces had turned into a sticky morass and I could not continue as my wheels had expanded to muddy discs that could not turn anymore. I escaped the wicked trail by lugging the bike under a motorway, and over a railway line (not recommended), and ended up in a high-rise building site near Petah Tikvah. From here I was rescued by Yotam (my daughter's fiance) and ferried to their appartment in Ramat Aviv.

There is no better feeling to be hosed down next to ones bike and see the mud trailing away down the drain !

Distance 83 kms, Total Distance 320 Kms, Aggregate climbing 404 metres, Ride Duration 8 hours, Max climb gradient 4%, 80% off-road, 19c sunny at first turning to heavy rain, 0 punctures, 1 mud bath- all part of the fun !

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Day 3. Kfar Tavor to Habonim

We said farewell to the luxurious cyclysts house in Kfar Tavor, and climbed into the Bet Keshet woods below Mount Tabor. Like yesterday, the area was awash with blooming flowers, and we pedalled full of the delights of spring. The fact that the route then took us through the municipal rubbish dump of Daburia, did not dampen our spirits. Anyone travelling the back-trails of Israel soon notices that the unregulated disposal of wastes is a major problem.

We are doing this trek unsupported, that means we take all our stuff and belongings on us or the bikes , are independent, and have no vehicular back-up. This, of course, adds to the challenge (and difficulties) of the project ! However, on this day we relaxed our regime, as we were relatively close to our homes and arranged for our back-packs to be picked up. We could now complete the latter half of the ride without the burden of 5kg on the back (in my partners case, at least twice that, as he insisted in carrying half a field-kitchen !) Many thanks to Dekel who greeted me at Mishmar Haemek with some sandwiches and a flask of coffee, such a welcome sight.

The day finished we some superb riding over Ramat Menashe, which will prove to the jewel in the Israel Bike Trail's route, if one closes ones eyes, to Highway 6, which now cuts cruelly through the area. I was met at the gas station near Habonim, by Amy and Yvonne, which was very much appreciated.

Distance 80kms, Total Distance 237 kms, Duration 8 hours, Aggregate climbing 944 metres, Max Gradient 15%, Av Temp 22C, Off road 75%, 0 punctures.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Day 2. Gadot to Kfar Tavor

A hard day in the saddle, but very satisfying to have crossed a major part of northern Israel. The countryside was at its best, and the rain must have encouraged an early blossoming of all the usual flowers, and the grass never looked greener. Many of the tracks had dried out so we were able to get in more off road riding.The climb up from the Arbel Valley afforded magnificent views of the Arbel Cliffs framing The Kinneret.
We encountered many a typical scene on our ride; a platoon of soldiers on a hike-exercise taking turns to carry a comrade on a stretcher; a couple from an Arab village picking herbs on the Galillee hillside who wanted to invite us in for a coffee; Thai workers in the fields who gave us friendly waves; and boistrous Israeli famillies making a break at a McDonalds , incongruously situated, next to a Golani Brigade war memorial.
We finished the ride at a smart new hostel/hotel for cyclists in Kfar Tavor. Everything the weary cyclist could need, not least a spray down for the bikes and a jacuzzi for the riders !

Distance 73 kms
Duration 8 hours
Aggregate Climbs 1025 metres
Max climb gradient 14 %
Highest Elevation 250 metres
Lowest Elevation minus 200 metres below sea level
Av Temp 22 C
0 punctures
Conditions: Warm and Sunny
50% off-road
Enjotment Factor : Good if you enjoy climbing.

Day 1. Neve Ativ to Gadot

The rain and hail continued into the morning, eventually at around 11.00 the window of opportunity opened, the mist lifted , revealing the Hulah Valley below and above the slopes of 'Old Man Hermon'.
With the obligatory photo-op next to the fake snowman at the entrance to the village behind us, we set out in a vague southerly direction, which I assumed must be the way to Eilat. What lies between me and that goal, at this stage, is largely an existential question.
This first day across the Golan was largely a matter of riding the roads, the only major off-road, was on a cinder track through the Odem Woods. Any other trails we tried, that are linked the Israel Bike Trail, were quite glutenous with mud.
All in all, a good start, with no major mishaps, and as we swept down from The Heights to the swollen Jordan River in the valley below, I felt the exhileration that more of this lay ahead for me and my spinming wheels.

RIDE STATS :Distance 64 kms
Duration 6 hours
Aggregate Climbing 557 metres
Max Climb Gradient 15%
Hightest Elevation 1150 metres
Av temp 13C
0 puncture
25% off-road
Conditions: Some rain at start, strong wind, partly cloudy in the afternoon
Enjoyment Factor: Good

Day 1. Neve Ativ to Gadot

The rain and hail continued into the morning, eventually at around 11.00 the window of opportunity opened,the mist lifted , revealing the Hulah Valley below and above the slopes of 'Old Man Hermon'.
With the obligatory photo-op next to the fake snowman at the entrance to the village behind us, we set out in a vague southerly direction, which I assumed must be the way to Eilat. What lies between me and that goal, at this stage, is largely an existential question.
This first day across the Golan was largely a matter of riding the roads, the only major off-road, was on a cinder track through the Odem Woods. Any other trails we tried, that are linked the Israel Bike Trail, were quite glutenous with mud.
All in all, a good start, with no major mishaps, and as we swept down from The Heights to the swollen Jordan River below in the valley, I felt the exhileration that more of this lay ahead for me and my spinming wheels.

Distance 64 kms
Duration 6 hours
Aggregate Climbing 557 metres
Max Climb Gradient 15%
Highest Elevation 1050 metres
Av temp 10C
0 Punctures
25% Off-road

Eve of the Ride 10/2

The taxi careened upwards through sheeting rain and hail, our bikes had been stuffed into the boot and the open boot lid was ramming my rear breaks at every bend on the tortuous road. The omens were not good!
Arriving at our B&B in Neve Ativ, clinging to the slopes of Mount Hermon , our bikes were extricated, and closer inspection showed no serious damage other than some ajustment necessary to the abused discs, and a missing bike bottle. My riding partner, Ariye, ultimately retrieved the bottle from a raging torrent that had transformed the street outside.
The electrical storm that followed the rain added further drama to our evening; a suitable backdrop to the election exit poll predictions. No real excitement for revolutionary cyclists !
The dire conditions will necessitate changes in our route, I am trying to work out which trails will be passable and where we should stick to reliable old asphalt.
So my adventure gets off to a cold and damp start tomorrow ; thanks for all the messages of support and encouragement received, they will keep me going over the next 900 K . It can only be downhill from here !