So it’s all done. We have arrived safely at Taba, the most southern point of Israel on its border with Egypt a few miles south of Eilat. We have completed the north to south ride.
Today was shorter mileage than planned and on a different route. Richard R, Keith and Darren all had to catch a flight home this afternoon so we needed to end in time for that. Also the original route would have taken us back up the huge descent we came down yesterday evening and on a road with more inclines and often into a headwind. Assaf didn’t really give us a choice or mention it, he just told us we were turning left out of the kibbutz and keep going on the main road – highway 90 all the way to the end. He knows us well by now and to be truthful, none of us wanted to do another hard climb.
I slept well but only for about 6 hours until the alarm went off at 6.00am. All ready and packed up for 6.45 we met at the picnic table outside our room for the packed breakfast. Actually it was quite good with nice rolls, cheese, apples and water.
The kibbutz representative that welcomed us yesterday said he was also a cyclist and invited himself along. We hatched a cunning plan for a relay basis to speed along and see if he could keep up and how good he was. I’d guess he was in his mid 60s but he was clearly still very fit and had invested in his cycle kit and bike, giving the impression he was a serious cyclist. He explained he often does the climb we came down yesterday and had done a lot of mountain routes accross Europe. We thought we may have trouble keeping up with him! Once we got going at 7.15 it was clear he was a very competent rider and the relay idea faded away. He cycled wth us for an hour then turned back.
He was interesting to chat to as he was one of the original settlers that established the kibbutz we had stayed in, being in charge of buildings and tourism. He explained that we had slept only a few metres from the border with Jordan, which none of us had realised before. He also showed us we were cycling parallel with the border fence which was only 50 metres away at times. When asked if there had been any incidents over the years he said it was normally quiet. Once a disturbed Jordanian had sneaked across the border through the date groves, hidden overnight then shot one of their ladies whilst keeping another hostage. It ended when a specialist team arrived who “dealt with” the situation. The positive to come from this was that the medic – who saved the shot lady’s life – and the lady got married and now have 4 children. The kidnapped lady, after dealing with her trauma, became a psychologist to help others. It was good to hear a positive spin put on such events.
The road today was mostly flat, and empty. As it was Saturday and the sabbath here, it is still a day of rest for a lot of the country with many shops and businesses closed. Similar to a Sunday in the UK 40 years ago. When I say empty, thats what the roads were. It was as if they had been closed. No traffic in either direction for miles, then one car went past and again nothing. It was bliss, a private road just for us. We could cycle 3 abreast in one of the 2 lanes and not really worry about the traffic at all.
My legs took a bit of of time to get going today but I’m not surprised. It wasn’t too hot but getting hotter all the time so we were still drinking a lot. Then we seemed to pick up speed and get a real crack on. Team Danish had gone ahead with our guest but didn’t shake him and I was with RP, Alan and David. Is it me, or has that kind of grouping happened before?!!!! We knew it was fast but still kept pushing along.
At one stage David said he was pushing ahead to catch the others but I didn’t fancy and stayed back. But soon I felt strong and started to push very hard. I got up to 30mph + for a good few miles and it was hurting, but I could see David was being reeled in and kept pushing to catch him. Eventually I made it and was pleased with myself, only for him to push on again! I let him go. We stopped after 29 miles for a last water fill -up and snack. Looking at the speedo, we had done that stretch in 1hr 30 at an average of 19.1 mph. That’s a record for me I was very pleased with. Then Assaf asked how we liked the tail wind and slight downhill road!! OK, so the elements were with us today, we have earned it.
Conversation was about our favourite parts of the ride and how we have enjoyed it all, that it was excellently organised and surpassed our expectations. We had individually all done well too. No injuries, not even much talk of aching knees or backs that we normally fress about at the weekends at home. Not that anyone gives sympathy, but it just didn’t come into the conversations on the trip. When all is considered we have done brilliantly.
As for me, I could not be happier with how I did. Only occasional niggles in a knee, back or hamstring that soon went away. Remarkable really. Perhaps the dry heat helped with all that, but it’s most likely that we are such finely honed athletes, properly prepared and doing all the stretching before and after, that we had no problems! Long may it stay that way.
Richard P’s wife Simmone and youngest daughter Lucy had flown out to Eilat to meet us before having a few days holiday. Because we had taken a shorter route than planned and made such good time, Richard had to keep making their arrival at Taba earlier.
The scenery today was again spectacular. Similar desert to before but some wide vistas. The Jordan mountains dominated the landscape from our left, again giving us an appreciation of how vulnerable this small county could be. As we went south there was more cultivation in the valley but not much else until we approached Eilat. We passed where a new international airport is being built a few miles north of Eilat. It’s a shame they couldn’t agree with Jordan to make it a joint venture but Assaf said they couldn’t agree on the immigration and security aspects.
At the water stop and when wiping the dead flies from our glasses and helmets, Richard asked Simone to leave for Taba straight away, probably missing breakfast as we had not long to go until the end and we had decided to slow down too.
We left as a group and agreed to cycle the remaining 10 miles or so as a compact unit, soon cycling into Eilat passing various hotels and shopping areas. The roads were still very quiet, although it was still early at only 9.20am, which made negotiating the roundabouts easier. We passed the town and then the deep-water port with rows of new cars waiting to be sent north.
Then a taxi drove close to us with a lady waving out the window at us. It was Simone! I was so glad she would be at the finish to see Richard lead us in, as is his deserved privilege as our leader and organiser. We passed Coral Beach where we were going back to for a swim, which was full of vehicles, gazebos, small tents and sunshades. It looked very bohemian but was most likely just a normal Shabbat at the beach.
Today was tinged with sadness as the tour came to an end, which only increases in the last few miles. The atmosphere changed to what I call “going home mode” as work and normal life comes back to the front of our minds after having been demoted for a while. Jerusalem and the trip north seemed an age ago not just 7 days. So much happens and time seems to take another dimension on these trips.
We had been cycling single file for quite a while and now called Richard forward to take the lead, which he just about did, very reluctantly.
Then all of a sudden we were there. At the roundabout by the border with Egypt. Much hugging, congratulations, photos, ensued. We were all happy to have made it with hardly any mishap or injury. We again thanked Assaf for his part in making it happen.
Then we cycled back to Coral Beach and got off the bikes for the last time. Assaf set up the snacks and he dismantled the bikes. We got changed and went for a swim in the sea. I took the opportunity to do some snorkelling on the reef just off the shore. It was lovely to see the many diverse fish and corals, reminding me how much I enjoy scuba diving and must do it again. But, back home it’s far easier to go out on the bike than it is to dive so I’ll keep the diving on a back burner for the time being.
Then at 12 noon Assaf took us back to town where he dropped our cases into the hotels, he then drove back up north and went out for a lunch. Ricard R, Keith and Darren then left for the airport and I went back to my hotel to shower and sleep.
And that’s it. The end of another fantastic trip.
A total of 409 miles, in 30 hours of actual cycling with an average of 13.6 mph.
The total is slightly less than planned mainly because today was shorter. The hours cycling is very misleading because of the extra time needed for water stops, sight seeing and the like. It seems not much, but that’s an average of 3.75 hours a day for 8 days in a row which isn’t bad at all. I’m impressed with the overall average mph because of the heat mostly into the 90s and the climbing we have done. Although the downhill part does compensate for the uphill.
So far I am proud to have raised over £3,250 for Prostate Cancer UK. Thank you again to all have donated. The page will stay open for quite a while for those still wishing to do so – (www.virginmoneygiving.com/neildriver).
Thanks especially to my wonderful wife Lorraine for all your support, encouragement and love. I couldn’t do this without you and for your help with staying up to edit and publish the blog.
Thanks to Richard P for pulling this all together.
Thanks to Assaf for guiding and helping us through. He was just brilliant, educational and unflappable.
Thank to the rest of the team for another epic tour. Love you all.
Lastly, it’s normal at certain just times of celebration to end with a saying of…. ” Next year in Jerusalem”. Well as we have now done that in the cycle tour context, how can I end this? How about by saying……next year in Hanoi !?!?…. watch this space….
I have more to add on the trip in general so will do another blog post in the next few days.
Until then…….. X
Stats for the day from mapmyride app
Here I sit in Kibbutz Lotan, in the middle of the Negev desert with just one day of the trip left to go. A tinge of sadness sets in because it’s almost over. But once again, this has been an amazing, unforgettable trip, beyond expectations.
Last night,. After dinner ( kibbutz style food again! – basically a buffet of salads, cheeses and fish, soup if you want – French onion or a vegetable option, then roast chicken, a dish of meatballs, potatoes – roast or wedges, oily roast veg and squares of assorted cakes to finish. Where are we tonight? Oh yes, a kibbutz, now I wonder what they have in store for us today?? Mmmmm!! The only saving grace is that it is Friday night, Shabbat, and I’m hopeful of something different. But given that traditionally we have soup, chicken, roast potatoes and veg, it’s not that likely to happen!
Anyway, where was I, yes, last nights briefing for today. We were all complaining that the recovery day was so hard. Richard R was contemplating calling it a day there and then as he felt so done in. Easyjet options were being looked at. He didn’t go by the way, I didn’t think he would. There were going to 3 big climbs, one after 10 miles or so getting out of the crater, another after 40 and again at about 50 miles. Much discussion was had as to how did it compare to this hill, that incline, a hill in America that Assaf had no idea about, it went on and on. In the end he had convinced us they were 3 nasty climbs but we would be fine. Just take it easy, drink a lot, blah blah blah. We all said good night. I was a bit upset at the thought of the climbs as I was looking forward to a great ride through the Ramon Crater and desert. Still I though it would be what it would be and we will make the most of it.
I had eaten so much at dinner and felt really bloated so went for a walk. A few of the boys came with and we went up the hill from the hotel. It happened that at the top, the road went onto an open area and I thought the crater would be below. It was dark but I wanted to see so walked on. The others being terribly British and not wanting to walk in the dark stayed put. 50 metres on, I could see the a low wall and after that just black darkness below. There were a very few lights in the far distance but apart from that just black. It was the crater. It’s such a weird thing to look down and into the distance seeing nothing but black. It was darker than the sky as obviously there were no stars which again is strange as the sky is normally darker than the ground. I reported back to the rescue party waiting for me should something devilishly bad have happened in the 50 metres of unlit ground (this is my sarcasm again, if you hadn’t twigged) and David came to have look too. He was so brave. (more sarcasm). We agreed a picture wouldn’t be much good but will come back in the morning before the agreed breakfast time of 6.45. We are to be back on the road at 7.30.
Back to now, we have just finished Friday night dinner. It was very nice to be in a community setting and a warm community feeling. About half this kibbutz eat together (20 of the 40 families) so there was them, us and a few groups of youths staying here, probably volunteering. We all sang the Friday night kiddish to welcome in the sabbath and linked arms round shoulders. A nice moment. The food was still kibbutz style but served to the table. Chicken schnitzel and beef, rice, veg. It was fine. Apparently it depends on whoever is cooking what we get and how bothered they can be to do a proper meal! The meal was quick and they flicked the lights on and off (this is not a religious kibbutz!) at about 8 to move us on to the community hall for cake and hot drinks. We all helped clear the plates etc off the table to the kitchen, waste in the bin, plates in the big container, cutlery in another. Memories or my Israel tour when I was a teenager came back, but unfortunately they are very faded. The food was still kibbutz style, but the different setting was quite unique.
Being our last night together, Richard P had arranged a collection for Assaf and presented him with his well earned tip and our thanks for such a great trip. As I type this at 9.45pm the community hall has emptied and we are asked to turn off the lights out when we leave (we, David and me are outside). Thankfully the wifi is 24-7.
Assaf was complimentary about us. Both as a fun group to be with and also as good cyclists. He also thanked us for coming to see Israel, for supporting the country and being so enthusiastic.
Back to earlier today. I slept for about 8 hours as the blog was done early. It was lovely! I packed up and went to the crater at 6.30 before breakfast. What an awesome, spectacular sight it was. I was also lucky to see the sunrise. It was very special. Pictures don’t do it justice or in fact the rest of the scenery today and most of the whole trip. David arrived to see the scene too.
Oh yes, the cycling. We were all up for it and somewhat concerned about the climbs. I had decided to leave my camera (not phone) on the bus today and fill the handlebar bag it is usually in with all kinds of goodies to give me energy. Little and often was my intention, keep as much energy in reserve for the latter part of the day. Fuel myself well before I would normally do and I would be fine. So I had a selection of jelly beans, dextrose energy tablets, energy bar, energy gel, nuts, sweets. It was fun!
The descent into the Ramon Crater was long steep and fast. I got up to my fastest ever, 41 mph, then thought… slow down and take in the scenery. I did that and enjoyed the ride down. Along the bottom of the crater was unique. It was about 8 miles, not flat but spectacular scenery. All around was the crater rim and none of us could remember experiencing anything like it. Even the trip to the canyons in America, Alan, David and Richard P, didn’t have the same topography (good word,). Again the roads were well kept and quite empty.
Then there was the climb up. I topped up with some energy foods and started the climb. It was steep and quite long but not as bad as before. It seems just when I was getting into it, it was done. But I’m not complaining. We stopped for a water break and food. Assaf had listened to my request for something different and got in a few new snacks. He is good, very good.
Then it was a 20 mile ride to the next climb. Undulating roads through some amazing desert scenery. Music on, cycling at our own pace, I was on my own for a fair bit but always in sight of the others. None of the ups were too demanding but there were a lot of long stretches that were constantly up. Actually, some of the road that looked as if they were down were actually up! I did struggle a bit at times with my legs hurting but I drank lots of water with hydration tablets (I did that every day anyway) and bits of energy snacks, little and often. It got me through the hard moments and I enjoyed the bursts of energy, feeling quite alive and taking it all in. This was turning out to be a great day. Just as I had hoped the desert would be.
It was still hot and getting hotter as we go further south. After 8 o clock in the morning we could really feel the heat but it wasn’t until 11.30 or so that I needed to squirt water on my shirt to cool down. I keep my smaller water bottle with just plain water specially for that purpose! I don’t know the degrees, probably in the low thirties. But I think we are now mostly used to the heat and know how to deal with it
I can’t remember when we had breakfast from the trailer, but it was the same as always when on the road. I was feeling well energised from my bag of goodies but still hungry, so I still ate a peanut butter sandwich, dates, a sesame snack, banana and lots of water. Well you just have to, don’t you?!
Eventually we came to the second climb which was the hardest. So I took a gel with caffeine for good measure! As I don’t drink much coffee generally I really notice the buzz from these. It kicked in as the climb started and so did I. Again it wasn’t so bad and was over quicker that expected. I then worked out Assaf’s policy for today, we had been moaning so much after the “rest” day that wasn’t, he bigged up the hard bits of today so we would be expecting worse that it was. He probably undersold the difficulty yesterday. At the end of the climb as we were stopping for mid-morning breakfast (it’s all about the food!) I said to him that I knew his game and he had overdone the difficulty last night. He replied that it’s all about managing expectations. How true that is, in life and everything. A lesson I must put into practice more back at home.
Back on the road for another 15 miles before the last climb. We passed a sign for a small village called Shittim. It just so happens that Alan was cycling behind me and with the normal schoolboy humour in mind I just had to take a picture of them together! Assaf explained that Shittim is actually a retreat for yoga, meditation and all kinds or similar activists and festivals. He was there a few weeks ago, but he said it was too hot!
On we went through the desert, with more wonderful scenes to take in. Large dried up river beds, different coloured rocks, eroded cliffs, long never ending roads. Just brilliant.
Lunch was at about noon in somewhere I would normally drive straight past, but it was great food. Organic, home made and wholesome. Spot on for me. I was feeling on top form and loving every minute of the day. After we had eaten, someone, probably Richard R noticed that the cakes there looked good, but I passed on them having had enough and not wanting to put in too many calories (that’s my sarcasm on the calorie bit but true on the no cake).
It’s a sign of how hot it is and how much I sweat without knowing it due to the dry heat because when I stop and go inside I just start oozing sweat. Horrible. It takes about 10 minutes for the sweat to stop literally still pouring down my forearms and dripping off. Yuck! A good wash down in the restroom was in store before I ate!
We were all saying what a fantastic day today was. Perfect cycling and the best day we have had, probably out of all the trips we have done. I’d agree with that completely. It was a day I had hoped we would have and more. Happy Neil. A very happy Neil
Then there was the last climb. Again hard and long but not that bad. Yesterday we would have been cursing but today we were OK. I was still energised, and attacked the hill as if it was the first day. It did hurt my legs but tomorrow is the last day and so it didn’t really make any difference now. We are almost done.
We pulled over and looked at the view over the valley into Jordan. Again, just spectacular. Then Assaf said we had just done our last major climb as tomorrow was mostly flat and rolling roads. Ahead of us was our last big descent. That made me sad. It’s been so wonderful and it is nearly over. I also felt so good, that I could have cycled many more miles today. My little and often fueling policy had worked, it always does for me. (Lorraine, just like on those shopping trips!!). I did have lots more goodies left in my bag to get through but they are still there for tomorrow.
The descent was indeed fast and long. Again over 41mph. I was being careful but this time I had had enough of the scenery, so put my head down and just went for speed, what a buzz and rush those few miles were.
Then on a little way more and into the kibbutz and sadly their closed swimming pool!
A shower that flooded the bathroom later (they all seem to do that here) and a lovely sleep to dream about the day again. We are staying in the original kibbutz housing that’s been made into letting rooms since the kibbutz families now live in newer, larger houses. It had the air-con already going where arrived, so lovely and cool.
And so, onto the last day tomorrow. Packed breakfast already put in the fridge for us earlier today. That should be something to look forward to when we met up at 6.45 am!! Onwards to Eilat and down to the border at Tabba.
Wow, it’s now 11.15 and I must get to bed
Stats – Day 7
Today was a “recovery” day after yesterday’s exertions and we all needed it. Although I don’t know how anyone else would define a “recovery day” in the context of what we are doing, but it was another 36 miles in 2 hrs 40 of cycling at an average of 13.4, hardly a light days work in anyone’s book, but it was better than yesterday!
I had slept really well and woke at about 6. I don’t think I have fully woken up all day as I’m feeling generally tired. When we stop for a break, I’d just like to lie down somewhere comfy, well actually anywhere really, and have a few minutes kip. I suppose it’s all catching up with us today and we are all feeling like we need a battery recharge. In a way this vindicates my decision not to do Scorpions and the last climb yesterday. Even if I could have done it ( which to Scorpions was a definite no but the last climb probably a yes if I really wanted to) my recovery would have taken longer and the rest of the tour much harder as a result. We did talk of should we have tried harder, trained more, trained differently etc in order to do Scorpions. The considered feeling is that it would make not a jot of difference, it really was impossible for most of us ( not for Darren of course, but we don’t mention the 3rd front cog which he has on his bike that no one else does, too much! His was a supreme effort, but he is feeling the effects today too). So on reflection I still won’t be too hard on myself for not doing more of it yesterday.
Back to today. At breakfast, Stuart was in his normal clothes having decided that a ride today would be too much of a rush to get his pre planned plane home tonight for one of his sons’engagement party at the weekend. It was wonderful to have Stuart back with us and I hope he will get back into cycling regularly with us again back home. Cheers Stuart, it’s been great.
As we were in the desert area, it cooled off at night. When I awoke to another picturesque sunrise, I opened the rooms’ veranda door to the gardens outside and the air was so refreshingly cool, it was lovely. Quite peaceful with lots of birds doing their dawn chorus, I enjoyed the moment. Then, at 7 o clock the roadworks outside rudely started again, end of peace, I shut the door and packed up my case!
I think we got going at about 8 and the air was still cool. Darren managed to cycle into a parked car just as we left and we were going through the town, don’t ask how, it was only a big black shiny thing at the side of the road, but he says it just turned in and parked suddenly. Darren was OK as was his bike and after a few minutes of are you ok, I’m so sorry, from both sides we were on our way again. As I said we were all tired, so I’ll allow him a moments lack of concentration as an excuse. It’s a reminder how easy it is for some thing to happen out of nothing and how careful we have to be each time on a bike. Richard P declined the personal injury claim work even with the bonus of testimony from 6 unbiased witnesses!
Oh yes, update on Alan. Alan had a good night and managed to eat a small breakfast. When I saw him in his cycle gear for breakfast I knew he would definitely ride. He was feeling weak in the legs, and tired, but why should he be different to the rest of us?
Jumping forward to the hotel room I’m now in, it’s absolutely fine. But a bit quirky, with a kettle that keeps boiling on it’s own and a bathroom that floods from some kind of vent In the floor when I let the bath out. Perhaps they didn’t want me to have a bath (I tried a a cold bath to help my legs recover , I’ll try anything to help them ! But I didn’t go so far as to ask for any ice to put in it, I’m not that desperate!), because there was no bath plug. I discovered that the disposable hair cover provided for the shower works very well as a plug too! There goes the kettle again, I’ve now taken the plug out!
Anyway, the day was split into 3 parts as we had 2 sightseeing breaks. We were going from Yeruham to the edge of the Ramon crater at Mitzpe Ramon, which means the ” vista or view” of Ramon.
The roads were similar to before. Good Tarmac, variable hard shoulder to cycle on but generally good. Not busy, hardly a car at times. The desert today is not sandy but more strewn with small boulders, rocks and stones. The scenery is pretty, with hill ranges of all shapes and sizes, but not much colour apart from the blue sky and black road. Actually there were more scrub bushes than I expected, but they were not a vibrant green at all, more a grey green.
We had a day of rolling roads. That sounds lovely and images of scenic, lovely roads undulating off in to the distance comes to mind. I think of being at the top of them and having a lovely free cycle ride down. But there is a huge problem with that which is of course, if there is down, you have to go up! Some of the inclines were OK, some were not, actually the way were were feeling today, a lot were not. Hills we would normally just complain at, became a far bigger challenge. My legs actually hurt a lot at times today in both my thighs and calves and I don’t remember this happening before. But I eased off and they soon recovered, until the next hill! We are taking in lots of water and food but we’re still tired. We did need a “recovery” day , but one by the pool would be nice……please.
On a road bike there are normally 2 cogs at the front. The bigger one makes you go faster and is harder to use whilst the smaller is generally used for inclines. At home on training runs, we will often keep in the big cog for a harder work out. Today I had decided was a small cog moment – all day for me. Doing that took some of the hard work away but you do end up spinning your legs faster. I won’t get all technical about the differences here, but I did it for an easier ride today.
The cool air lasted for about half an hour until 8.45. It was glorious. Then the Sun hot into its stride and the heat took over. It was soon very hot again.
After about 15 miles in we arrived at the desert home of David Ben Gurion at the town of Sde Boker. His was a famously very modest small house for such a remarkable man. Ben Gurion was a visionary who came over to the county in the 1920,s and ended up being the leader of the Jewish administration after the war under the British mandate. He made the most of the opportunity after the war to forge the State of Israel, get its international recognition and was its first prime minister. He had a very socialist, zionist ideology but was also a great visionary, very much believing that the Negev desert and Eilat must be part of Israel in order for it to survive and then flourish.
We were there for perhaps an hour enjoying a tour of the house and a short film about him in an air conditioned area. We also sampled wine made from vineyards cultivated in the area. It is hard to imagine the early settlers who built these towns out of nothing and have been instrumental in making the desert bloom. There was nothing here but desert and heat plus water from some springs.
It was time for some food again so I treated myself to a fresh bread pretzel and bounty bar from the cafe, we know how to live it up!
We left there about 10.30 for some more rolling “up” roads. They weren’t getting easier and it’s hard to get legs going again after stopping for so long. In 5O minutes or so we were at the next stop of Avdat national park.
Avdat was an important town established by the Nabatean traders. There is a large ruins of the town upon the top of a hill, which we didn’t walk or cycle to. We sat for another short video and saw how their trade route linked India, the Middle East and Europe. The Nabateans were originally nomadic but the wealth they generated from exploiting being the only ones to know where water was and so establishing the trade route, made them wealthy and led to the town being established. They even struck up good relations with the Romans and flourished during that era too.
We left at just before 12 for the final 8 miles in the heat of the day. The up bits got steeper and longer, we got hotter and more tired. At the last water stop I also took on an energy gel. It must have worked because I went off at a quick pace with my music keeping me company. I pushed quite hard up the hills and to the edge of Mitzpe Ramon. I thought I’d left the others behind but suddenly as I was catching my breath, Daren passes me followed by Keith. Daren said he was going a real pace and they had to get up to over 40 on the down hill parts to catch me. After both their efforts yesterday I think they must be very strong to do that at the end of today. The others were a few minutes behind and when they caught up we followed the van to a restaurant for lunch which was a short way form the hotel.
Yet again the last few hundred metres to the hotel is up a steep hill. Why is that?
We were all shattered and agree this trip is a lot harder than we thought. The heat is a big factor, which we knew about but didn’t realIse just how much energy it takes away. The roads are also more hilly than we expected. Assaf asked if we looked at the daily charts to see what was in store. Well yes we did ( some of us anyway) but it’s impossible to convert the chart into actual cycling. Anyway, it is what it is and we will just get on with it. That all part of the challenge.
We all enjoyed a massive lunch. Mine was BBQ chicken legs, salmon pasta and a banana milkshake, plus lots of water. I know I have put on weight out here but am convinced it’s all the extra leg muscle I’m developing, as it can’t be for any other reason!
Today I wore the Prostate Cancer UK cycling shirt they gave me for the fundraising I am doing. Thanks to all of you who have donated, it’s very much appreciated, as is your encouragement. I felt a bit self conscious wearing it, but it had to be done.
I have now finished the blog before supper for once and am looking forward to an early night and another good sleep.
Tomorrow we go through the Ramon Crater and on southwards. It’s 120km, 75 miles so is a long one. There are some nasty climbs again so let’s hope the recovery day works.
I would add that Assaf has been an excellent guide. He takes everything in his stride and seems to know how to deal with all the questions we throw at him. We have learned the hard way that to Assaf, “a little push” in Assaf speak means a bloody big hill to us.
Onwards to the last but one day………. and a few little pushes……
Stats for the day
Today was always going to be the hardest day of this trip. It is dominated by a huge amount of climbing up from the Dead Sea, leaving the Judean desert and riding into the Negev desert. The big climb of the day is Scorpions Ascent on an ancient trading route over a mountain ridge, followed by another ascent similar to the nasty one yesterday.
We met at 6.30 am for snacks in the car park and were on the road by 6.45. As I finished writing yesterday’s blog just before midnight only had about 5 hours sleep, but felt OK.
The sad news was that Alan had bad stomach problems overnight, couldn’t sleep and was in no state to leave his room, let alone ride. He must have been hugely disappointed as he was so looking forward to the challenge, as we were.
The first 25 miles or so were hard but ok. The Dead Sea still our left and spectacular desert scenery. Baron, rugged, hostile looking, hot, dry. We had breakfast at a petrol station at 8.30, provided by the hotel in packed boxes of cheeses, bread eggs and we added a coffee from the shop.
Talk was always about Scorpions. Would we, could we?, how bad was it really? etc.
Some of the road sections were so long and straight you couldn’t see the end. They looked flat but were mostly up hill. For most of the first part of our ride today the formation was the original team Danish of Richard R, Keith and Darren cycling off in front then Stuart, Richard and David and me in another group. For quite some time I cycled off on my own, and had some long periods of just me and the road in the desert. No traffic a lot of time. I like that feeling, but half an hour of it was enough and I dropped back to join the others.
At one stop, just for a shade break and to refill water bottles, Stuart left his bike by the road as the shelter was 20 or so metres away up a dirt track. Just as we were leaving, a huge trailer carrying road making machinery was pulling in. Stuart said, ‘please run over my bike so I can stop here!’ It was hilarious but I’m sure he wouldn’t have been glad if it happened.
On we went in the heat and hills, always thinking and talking of Scorpions Ascent.
Before the ascent there was about 10 miles of steeper constant incline with the occasional bonus little hill and small downhill bit for some respite. Not that the downhill lasted long. That took about 50 minutes and was tough going.
So it got to about 11 o clock and we had done 43 miles, cycling for 3 hrs 20mins when we arrived at the foot of the ascent. Assaf had parked up and set out the 2nd breakfast, which was remarkably like the first but without the coffee!
We all ate, drank and generally made merry whilst looking at the start of the ascent. In actual fact the reality was that we were looking at a few bends before the ascent started and not the actual ascent – which was just as well!!
It was baking hot, we were all weary and apprehensive. Energy gel taken, wheels checked, bottles full of water, off we went into the unknown.
Just as I set off for the ascent my cycle app somehow started to play music from my phone. It was playing some, kind of popular opera which I have no idea how it got on my phone or why it started to play. It was all quite surreal, given the setting. Later in the day I worked out how to stop and start the music from the app and so later in the day had times with music blaring, singing along, helping to pass the time. I forgot just how bad my singing is, but didn’t care a jot.
Well, Scorpions was horrendous! There is no way we could have prepared for this in steepness or heat. I was one of the last to leave and after selecting the lowest possible gear struggled up the first few bends that I thought were the start. Then, round a corner I saw the actual ascent which is marked with concrete filled metal drums. The trouble was that I also saw 3 of the boys already struggling up, very very slowly, but already pushing their bikes!
I gritted my teeth and got into the slope. It was so steep 30 degrees, probably more. I did 2 of the switchback hairpin bends and looked for the flatter parts Assaf said were between the bends. They weren’t there. There was just no respite from the steepness. It was impossible for me and I felt terrible to get off my bike so soon. Determined to walk a bit then get on again when I had recovered I pushed the bike up. Even that was so hard. I was overheating so took of my helmet and poured some water over my head, shoulders and back to cool off .
It’s impossible to explain what it was like and how steep it was, not forgetting the heat in the equation. Hot, out of breath, legs hurting so much, I got back on after a few more bends on one of the not flatter bits between the bends. It wasn’t any different, I just couldn’t get going or fight my way up the hill and so I called it a day. Richard P was with me and we both said it was going to be pushing only. I felt bad but knew I just couldn’t do it all. I could probably have done some more, maybe, but just didn’t have it in me to do so physically or mentally.
After about 10 minutes pushing the van caught up with us and Stuart was inside. He’d done well without hardly any pre-trip training and his goal for the day was to get to the start of the ascent which he did. I put my bike on the van but wanted to walk up. So after a quick rummage in my case, changed into my trainers, grabbed my hat and water bottle and set off, with Richard to walk up.
Memories of our trek up Kilimanjaro ( which stated all this madness, thank you Stuart!) came flooding back and when we had some breath, reminisced about it. The “pole, pole ” mantra from Kili,( pronounced poli) meaning slowly, slowly was most apt. Just walking up was such hard work.
Several months ago my father in law, Cecil, was in this area of Israel and drove the Scorpions Ascent. We have had many discussions since about it and he kept asking me if we were cycling down or up, always looking strangely at me and amazed when I said we were going up it for the challenge. Now I understand all those “you must be cycling down it surely, not up, you must be mad” looks I got. Now I understand and what with the heat, it was a completely mad challenge.
The descent was quite flat as descents go but the scenery changed to a huge plateau with a further range of hills ahead. We were actually in a large crater being the inside of mountain that imploded millions of years ago. The area again had endless roads and seemed quite a militarised zone. We saw the nuclear reactor at Dimona in the far distance and a white hotair ballon above. Assaf said the air balloon had military cameras in it, so I waved. We could see the balloon from the ascent and I wondered what they though of us. Mad English fools?!
We carried on for ages through the desert on and on, hotter and hotter. Eventually with 60 miles done we met with the rest for food and a “who did what?”
Well, Darren was the only one of us to do the whole ascent without stopping or getting off. That’s 5 miles of intense cycling and a huge amount of physical strength plus will power. Darren you have my utmost respect for that, an unbelievably super human achievement. Keith made it about 2/3 up before needing to walk for a bit and the others walked and cycled. Well done to everyone for their individual achievements. We will enjoy the stories for many years to come. Darren, how many cogs on the front did you have?
We were all drained and tired. It was now 60 miles done, 5 1/2 hours of cycling and 2.30 pm with blazing heat in the middle of a desert. The final part of the ride was another 3 kilometre hard climb, and 3km after then to the hotel. The huge double length lorries that passed us for some of today we’re going up the climb so slowly, as were the ones going down. It was so steep again, and almost like the hard climb yesterday.
Again, much talk of should we, can we, etc. For me that was enough. I didn’t want to push myself any more and so called it a day. I have never cut a days riding short before in my cycling career, but a climb and a few miles was just beyond me on this occasion. I was a bit sad but that’s how it was. Stuart called it a day at that point too.
On reflection, I am disappointed with myself today, because I like extreme challenges like these to push myself mentally and physically to achieve. But then again I think of what I have been through in the last year and how proud I am of myself to be here at all. I committed to this trip knowing it would take a lot of effort and training at home beforehand to prepare. I achieved all that and today fell short of an ultimate goal. I’ll allow myself that. Perhaps that was in my mind all along. I certainly am not prepared to completely drain my energy reserves at the moment and subconsciously that may have defeated me before I started. I’ll never know, but am content with what I achieved today.
Back at the hotel I showered and felt so tired I went to sleep. After 2 hours of the deepest sleep I can remember it took me ages to wake up. I really needed that and a good dinner too, which we had. Today most of us had a beer to celebrate. We had earned it.
Alan got a taxi here late afternoon and is feeling a little bit better, but understandably weaker. We hope he has a good night and can ride again with us tomorrow.
Now it’s 10.15pm and I’m done for the day. Early for once. The blog at the end of the day takes me a couple of hours to do and send the pictures each night but the effort is worth it. I am trying to cut it shorter, but there is so much to report.
Please note that the remaining 3 days of the blog may be delayed from now on or be shorter. This is because my chief editor Lorraine and assistant editor Stephane are off for a few days holiday themselves. Sightseeing, not extreme cycling. That sounds like a good idea to me! I hope you both have a wonderful time.
Today was another epic day. Tomorrow is supposed to be an easier recovery day before a hard day 7. Let’s see what it brings.
Workout: Road Cycling
Date: 14 Oct 2015
Distance: 60.18 mi
We had a lie in today! Up at 6.30 for a 7.00 kibbutz breakfast and on the road by 7.45.
Yesterday we rode through probably one of the most contested pieces of land in the world, although it was quiet and peaceful for us. We also slept in the West Bank last night, which wasn’t on my bucket list, but it worked out fine.
I was ready for yet another day of cycling in the fan oven, perhaps with a hair dryer blasting in my face for good measure thrown in. You know those occasional days at home or on holiday when it’s just too hot to move or do anything? Well what (in)sane person volunteers to cycle in an even hotter climate?! There are 8 of us out here and none of us expected it to be as hot as we have experienced.
Riding through the desert is spectacular. Rugged steep cliffs that have been ripped away from the Jordanian side of the Rift Valley as the tectonic plates move apart over the millions of years on our right and the Dead Sea on the left. Since I was here as a teenager, too many years ago, the level of the Dead Sea has dropped significantly as the water which feeds it is used for both Israel and Jordan. It’s a pity to see it so low and I know it’s another contentious issue on the region. Assaf explained it was the large flat areas at the edge where the sea has shrunk back from that are now fed by fresh water that comes up for the natural springs and vegetation easily grows in the fertile ground.
We made good time in the early morning cool of about 80 degrees. Stopping at the border back into Israel for refreshments and water. It felt good to be back in formal Israeli territory even though the West Bank has seemed like that anyway, it is just the feeling one gets that something could kick off and us be caught up in it somehow.
The roads were so far normal and seems like they were newly laid. We then had our first puncture, Richard Rains on his front wheel. Assaf simply replaced the whole wheel in a minute and we were off again. So much better than getting the tyre off and replacing the inner tube. Now, who we should get to drive a support vehicle for us when we go out at home each weekend – any volunteers?
The first of our stops today was at Ein Gedi. It’s a series of natural springs, waterfalls and pools near the Dead Sea in the wadis (small valleys) of the hills and cliffs. It was a reward for a very hard climb to get there. The heat was building and we just had to “push” a little, as Assaf says. It was hard going. At the visitor centre I changed into swimming costume expecting a nice swim and put on different shoes in preparation for a half hour walk. Assaf actually decided we would stop after a few minutes at a waterfall and very shallow pool. The waterfall was so powerful but all of us stood under it and cooled down. We sat or laid in the few inches of water and literally chilled for a while. It was peaceful and beautiful. The water was cool not cold. We learned the water comes from rain in the Jerusalem area and is filtered down through several hundred feet of rock and ends up at Ein Gedi over a thousand years later. Amazing.
I was lying in the water, looking and listening to the waterfall and all the varied trees and vegetation surrounding it, all against a clear blue sky. It was a picture postcard moment but one I will have to try to keep in my mind as I had deliberately left the camera in the van, so as not to accidentally drop it in!
Most of the others were in the water in their cycle gear, we must have been a strange sight to those passing by. Assaf remarked to me that he thought I would not need to have changed as I now pour water over myself when riding to keep cool, it wouldn’t have made any difference if the cycle gear got wet! Everything dries in a few minutes anyway and we were all excited when we got back to the Visitor Center for drinks and food before the next leg to Masada.
Off we went at about 11.30. It was hotter still. Then we got to a horrendous 3.5km climb (see profile map above and spikes!). It went on for ever and I found it really hard going. About 2/3 of the way it flattened for a bit and I had an energy gel to help with the last part. I think it kicked in quite quickly which was good. The gels that Assaf got for us are more like thick sweet treacle, you can almost chew them. Much water is needed to wash it down and get rid of the taste.
The view from the top of the climb was spectacular and worth stopping at. A good excuse to recover. The hills today split up the group and we went back to far less cycling as a unit. The descent was superb. Open empty roads. I think I got to my fastest ever sped of over 41mph. Yes, I was being careful, yes, I was in control, and yes it was exciting and quite a rush. I’m a big kid really!
Turning right to the approach to Masada we had another incline, about a mile of gradually increasing incline that seemed to go on and on. We followed the van into the Masada centre. My legs had quite gone – if that’s a saying! Then there was another really really steep circular route that took us up to the car park. We had to really dig deep. We were all sweating buckets for ages after as we chained up the bikes and got ready to spend a few hours exploring the site and having lunch. It was literally dripping down my arms and it seems the water I was drinking was just oozing out. We all needed food and so went into the air-conditioned centre and found the restaurant.
A large shwarma, houmous, salad, pita and all the trimmings did the trick nicely. But by the time I had eaten it I was getting cold as the air conditioning on my still damp clothes made me feel shivery. As much as I was enjoying the feeling after so much heat it was nice to get back outside again and finish drying out!!!
Masada is a hugely unique and impressive place. Built over 2000 years ago as a mountain fortress then used by King Herod to build an impressive palace to show off to the Romans, Egyptians and anyone else at that time. It is on top of a free standing piece of rock, detached from the other hills and has sheer sides all round. The last time I was here I walked up using the snake path, that was in existence since it was built but we didn’t fancy the 45 minute hike up the steep slope and used the cable car instead! I think we have earned it!!!
Around 70 CE the Romans destroyed the second Jewish temple (that is now the Western Wall and Temple Mount) and a group of about 80 Jewish fighters fled to Masada. Believing they were the last observing Jews they hid up there for over 3 years before the Romans eventually got round to besieging the site. Because of the geography the only way they could approach the walls was to build a large stone ramp (using Jewish slaves brought down from Jerusalem). Eventually the walls were breached and the Romans retreated for the night before invading the next day. However overnight those on Masada agreed they would prefer to die as free people rather than be enslaved, wives and children taken etc. So the head of each family killed their own and the remainder famously drew lots to see the order of who would kill who with last one falling on his own sword. Hence Masada has become something of a legendary place of defiance and a symbol of freedom and courage.
We walked around, saw the ruins and learned about the site until about 3. Then back down the cable car for the final part of today. We were all feeling really tired and drained. Just walking around in this heat is enough to do that, let alone all the cycling. Doing the ride in 3 parts also makes it more difficult as we need to warm up each time and get back into the rhythm. It’s easier to just get the cycling done in one hit, but the sight-seeing today was worth it.
The sun was low and we has some shade, but it was somehow hotter at 35 degrees, near 100. We pushed on and did the last hour then arrived at out spa hotel. Arriving at about 5pm.
We got the room keys and went up in the lift to the first floor but when we got there we couldn’t see our room number. After asking a hotel maintenance man where they were, between us we realised there was another wing to the hotel. Nice of them to tell us at reception!
After a very quick change and an even quicker shower for me, we all met up in reception in our white hotel dressing gowns to walk across the road for a dip in the Dead Sea. We must above looked a very strange sight, but then again many others did too! Because of the high salt and mineral content in the sea at this lowest place on earth people just float, not swim. It’s also nasty for any cuts as the salt will hurt. We all dis-robed and tentatively approached the sea. It’s lovely and warm and the beach, with imported sand was quite busy.
We all went in (not Stuart as he was sleeping),even David, who can’t yet swim and all got the hang of it quickly. It’s quite weird that you just lie there floating, but that’s how it is. The water felt almost slimy on our skin from the minerals. It’s said to be extremely healing and hopefully will help our legs recover .
We are now half way through the tour and as I did on the SF to LA ride wanted a massage. Where better than at a spa hotel? As soon as I got back I arranged a mud wrap (something new for Costa?!) and an hour deep sports massage, I passed on the optimal seaweed layer with the mud!
After starting a payment tab at reception, it seems they are doing us a favour each time I speak with reception, I was set to go. This is a very Russian hotel and the spa employees didn’t speak much English so I hope I has ordered the right thing!
I was shown to one of the treatment rooms and told to change into disposable underwear, reminding me of the similar procedure in hospital!!!! But this was going to be far more pleasurable. The lady then plastered fresh Dead Sea mud all over me, wrapped me in a plastic sheet and towels them left me for 30 minted to baste whilst I laid there and listened to “relaxing ” music. I probably drifted off to sleep for a bit. I the showered off and waited for the massage. The therapist then reappeared in a panic and motioned me to go back to reception saying something I couldn’t understand in a strange language, not Israeli or English.
The a male masseuse came to get me. He looked like a rugby player or Russian shot putter. I knew I was in for a good massage. I wasn’t disappointed at all. He seemed to dig his elbow into all the paces in my back and legs that made me wince. At one stage he was pushing so hard I thought the massage couch would collapse. I was smiling and giggling to myself because it was so good but equally so uncomfortable. An hour later, after literally a top to toe massage it ended. I told him, (never did get his name), it was the best massage ever. In the middle of the massage I had tried to explain the cycling we were doing but either the words came out similar to those when in a dentist chair or he didn’t understand because the conversation didn’t happen!
Then I had a quick rush to change for dinner and meet the others who had already eaten as they knew I would be late. I ate quickly in order to be at the evening briefing by 8.30.
Assaf explained about tomorrow. The day we are dreading. The Scorpions Ascent. You may have twigged the only way possible from here is up and tomorrow there is a lot of up. We now know it’s 35 km of ok roads that we will start on at first light, 6.30 on the road, then 15 km of steady constant climb followed by the 8km of Scorpions Ascent. Very steep with 25+ hairpin switchbacks. I have lost track after then but it’s a tough, tough, day. The good news is that it will be 2 degrees cooler. That’s 31 degrees, so that’s ok then!
I know my limitations, know what I can do and know how far to push myself. If I can do the ascent I will and if I have to get in the van because I can’t do any more – I will do just that.
The climb tomorrow will take about 2 and a half to 3 hours. There is no training we can do for this and nothing to prepare us for the heat.
So I had better get to bed, it’s now 11.45 pm and we are up at 5.45.
For me today was one of those exceptional days in your life. Full-on, non-stop, exhilarating, interesting, educational, exhausting, restful, beautiful – I could go on. I’m sure to have missed out a lot but this is one day I will always remember.
Good night. Xx
Stats for the day
3 hours 23 mins cycling
Average speed 14.9 mph
Last night there was such banter about “keeping together” as a group all day especially Stuart explaining the benefits of this to Richard R. The topic was discussed not once but several times and ended up with a photo being taken at dinner whether we could keep together all day. We haven’t discussed the definition of “keeping together” and all the legalities sorted out by Richard P. It ended up in a vote being taken at dinner and the score was six saying we would not keep together with only two being more optimistic. I think that was Richard R and Stuart.
After a reasonable nights sleep and a good breakfast at 6 we managed to set off by 6.45. The keeping together issue was yet again spoken about and whilst I think we all hoped it would happen few of us expected it to.
I was determined to learn some lessons from the first two days cycling to give myself more of a chance in the heat. I was not going to add any energy powders to my drinks as I believe they really didn’t do me any good on the first day and also pour cold water over my head through my cycle helmet and through to my shoulders occasionally to keep my body cooler and avoid overheating. I’m pleased to say that both of these worked well throughout the day and generally I felt fine.
When I was cycling back down to the main road I said to Alan ‘I wonder what is likely to happen today that we don’t expect’. My best guess was that we would bump into someone we knew but Alan thought it was best not to bump into anyone at all! Well the unexpected did happen and quite soon.
After a few miles my left pedal felt as if my foot was partly coming out. I unclipped my shoe from the pedal a few times but it didn’t seem to get any better, then all of a sudden my pedalling seemed to go really strange and I looked down only to see that the left pedal had come away completely from the crankshaft it is normally attached to. I had to stop straightaway and when Assaf saw what had happened he asked us to carry on a little bit down the road which is far easier with two pedals but with one it’s quite difficult, however, it was quite funny just pedalling with my right leg.
It looked as if the screw thread that held the pedal to the shaft had somehow got messed up and it took 20 minutes or so to sort it out which he eventually did. It was a shame to have happened at that time of the day as we had set out extra early to get some good miles done whilst it was nice and cool. We were all quite frustrated but there wasn’t anything we could do but wait for him to fix it. The repair isn’t completely perfect but I’m pleased to say it got me through the day and should be fine for the rest of the trip. You could say my bike has now had a Pedalectomy (copyright Alan).
We had to cycle back about 7 or 8 miles along the roadworks where we had cycled the previous evening but we passed through them very quickly this time. Then we turned south on to a quieter road. It was good to see that at this stage we were all “keeping together” which was helped by David controlling the speed from the front of the pack and everyone agreeing not to go ahead, even if someone was feeling particularly energetic. The pattern seemed to be generally set with David mostly at the front and Stuart and Richard P near the back. Stuart hasn’t done much cycling on the road for a few years but keeps fit with spinning classes. A 70+ mile ride must’ve been quite daunting for him although we all knew there was no way he would stop before the end. He just keeps going.
The heat from the sun started to be felt from as early as 8 o’clock and just got hotter and hotter throughout the day. Using my oven analogy from last night the normal oven started at about 8.30 and I would say the fan kicked in around 11 o’clock with the temperature constantly being turned up until we finished at 2 o’clock. Pouring water over myself was really very refreshing but I must remember to only do that on very hot cycle rides!
My pedal seemed to be fine and Assaf checked with me after a few miles just to make sure it was okay. He really does make a lot of difference to this trip and seems to have a way about him and allows us to do our own thing but in the background he is making sure that we are well looked after and keep to schedule.
About a third of the way through today we came to the border between Israel and the West Bank. We were all somewhat concerned about going through this part of the world. At the moment there seem to be a few incidents happening. Although Assaf assured us he knew of various people to talk to, to check out the security on our route and was generally very relaxed about things. He has explained that the main problems on the West Bank are in the north of populated areas and most of the Arab and Palestinian settlements are on top of the hills. We are cycling in the Jordan Valley which is predominantly Israeli settled and there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem at all in this area. We were very pleased to hear that!.
The checkpoint was quite empty apart from the Israel border guards with very daunting looking machine guns draped around their shoulders. We cycled through the checkpoint without them stopping us at all and then all congregated at the far corner where Assaf set up a drinks and food stop. I, and a few others needed to go to the toilet and we asked where they were. He pointed to a diagonal corner and we started to walk that way – after a few yards we were confronted by one of the guards with a question of where we were going. Once he knew he radioed to his colleagues so that they were aware why we were walking across. This seemed a little bit extreme but was quite understandable although it did add to the feeling of being unsettled about cycling through this particular area. Once we got to the toilets three of us were ready to come back but waited for the last one. Yet again another guy asked us why we were standing around. When we told him we were waiting for one of our friends he said I think you better be getting back so don’t hang around. Although he was probably only 19 years old we didn’t really think it was the right time to have a discussion with him and quickly set off back to the van.
Some of the boys on the trip said they hadn’t realised how much of the West Bank we would be cycling through and looked a little bit worried. Again Assaf assured us it would all be okay and we went on our way. Some of us felt like there was some tension in the general atmosphere but it was probably down to us rather than anything else. We did see a couple of tanks on transporters and a military plane flying overhead but in general that was the heaviest machinery we saw. There were quite a few police and patrol cars on the road and some additional patrols on a parallel path which was right next to the border fence with Jordan. Last night Assaf said that there was one small town that we would go through that he would double-check there were no problems there. We asked him how long it would take to pass that bit of road thinking it may be a fair few minutes and we would have a sprinting race through it, he informed us it was only about 600m. That is one small town!
Assaf had said we were making good time up to this point and that we had a good tail wind behind us helping us along. That was good to know and we hoped it would help us cycle quicker. Strangely from that moment the tail wind seems to stop and after around 10 miles when we got to Jericho it actually turned into a headwind! I don’t think it really made that much difference, it was hard going whichever way the wind was blowing!
It turns out that cycling through the Jordan Valley part of the West Bank was really very very uneventful. The roads were extremely empty and very soon any feeling of foreboding seemed to fall away. I was particularly impressed with some of the guys wearing day glow yellow and pink cycling tops today which was incredibly brave as we had previously spoken about wearing camouflage!
When we did get to the town it reminded me of little villages I had seen in Spain with just a few houses and a big stall set out selling various pottery items on one side of the road and something similar opposite. It wasn’t until we stopped a short while later when someone asked Assaf if that was the town he was talking about yesterday, when he said that it was, that I gave it a second thought.
About two thirds of the way through the ride we stopped off at a petrol station with a few shops for a longer break. I took the opportunity of going into a nicely air-conditioned cafe for a much needed cappuccino and a couple of large chocolate croissants. This was around 11 o’clock and I was starting to get hungry even though we had been stopping every 40 to 50 minutes to top up our water and eat more food from the van.
At this stage I was still feeling quite strong and rather pleased with myself with the amount of water I had been drinking and that the heat wasn’t getting to me so much. However, let’s be clear, it was extremely hard riding and we were all doing very well to deal with the extreme conditions. Also we were doing pretty well at cycling together much to everyone’s surprise. David was doing a brilliant job from the front and it can’t have been easy looking around every few minutes making sure we were all following on properly behind. We still haven’t worked out how he can turn around and look behind whilst still keeping his bike pointing in the right direction.
As for the scenery and terrain we were cycling through, the roads were generally downhill (as you can see from the profile map above) which is pretty much expected as we were going to the lowest place on earth, although there were still a lot of uphill parts and a couple of valleys to go through. Some of the climbs were very long but everyone just took their time as necessary. The scenery was obviously now desert and mostly very barren. However the Jordan Valley is very fertile and there were at times a lot of farms and cultivation.
Jericho was remarkably green and had an abundance of palm trees.
I was wondering at one stage that if G-d had chosen this as the land to give his chosen people why would he have decided to put them in such a hostile and uninviting place. Assaf explained that 6000 years ago Europe and similar regions were very cold and inhospitable whereas in Israel it was an easier way to live because of the heat. He also explained that there is a crescent of fertile countries leading from Egypt through Israel and up to what was Mesopotamia and that Israel was in the middle and therefore a strategically good place to be at that time. I think that’s a fair answer.
He also explained that as part of Israel’s security policy they encouraged and helped Jordan cultivate the Jordan Valley which is now a very significant part of their food production. He said that it was more unlikely they would start to invade through a region that was so important to the country as a whole.
Once I knew we had done 50 miles it seems like we were on the final stretch of the day. I was really enjoying the ride even though it was so incredibly hot and I was actually feeling quite exhilarated. By this stage we were stopping every 30 to 40 minutes as everyone was getting more tired and needing more water. The temperature had got up to 90° and we were all feeling it.
Eventually we saw the Dead Sea on our left and a few miles further on turned off the road to our kibbutz hotel. Yet again the final road was uphill and this time it was being re-laid as we were cycling up. The extra heat coming off the fresh tarmac was quite extreme at times and the road was so new the surface was still sticky and that felt like we were cycling for a few hundred metres. This wasn’t what we wanted after having just cycled 70 miles!
We had got to the hotel at 2 o’clock in the afternoon just as the pool was opening for the afternoon so I think you can guess where most of this headed very rapidly. Stuart was so worn out after the ride he couldn’t even cycle the last few hundred metres to his room and cheekily managed to get a lift in a golf buggy that the lady from reception was using to show us where to go!
We were all very proud of our achievement today which really isn’t bad for a bunch of 50+ guys all having a bit of a laugh along the way. And as far as the bet is concerned, I’m very happy to say that I was wrong and we did officially “cycle together” all day long. Well done us!
Tomorrow should be another fantastic day including going up Masada (by cable car!) and floating in the Dead Sea.
Dinner tonight was in the kibbutz restaurant and we all agreed that the food was, most definitely, ‘kibbutz food’!
Stats for the day as per mapmyride app
One thing I want to add to yesterday was a discussion about food, what else? We asked Assaf if we should eat at the kibbutz or in a nearby restaurant. He just shrugged, leaving the decision to us. We wanted some more information on the kibbutz restaurant and asked what the food was like there. So he shrugged again and said, ‘it’s kibbutz food, you get kibbutz food there and restaurant food in the restaurant!!’ Well it was typically Israeli and very funny at the time. I think he was really steering us to eat out but wanted us to make our own decision.
Back to today.
I woke before the 6.20 alarm after a good sleep. It was nice and cool on the balcony ad there was a lovely peaceful sunrise at 6.00.
After a very nice ‘kibbutz breakfast’ (the restaurant would have been fine) we started our cycle at 7.45. It was lovely and cool to start with but heated up from 9. You can really feel the heat of the sun and I think the temperature will start to feature a lot over the next few days as it’s becoming something we have to learn to deal with.
They were nice roads but mainly single carriage A type roads. We cycled on the hard shoulder but sometimes it was only a few feet wide and gravelly. Sometimes nothing at all, when we stay close to the yellow line that marks the road edge. They must have the largest cats eyes in the roads here because if we cycle over one it shakes the whole bike which can be quite off putting.
I was leading at the start, although there was no particular plan, it just happened that I saw a cycle path parallel to the road which was was nice but had to slow down to let a few older generation by in their motorised buggy pass – one with flappy sides didn’t leave us much room or slow down.
The first half of the day was nice rolling roads with the farming of the Jordan Valley on our left and the Jordanian hills beyond that. Lots of covered fields, ploughed fields, tractors and farm vehicles. This is the traditional food growing region of Israel.
After a bit, we all all started cycling together at a nice pace and it was good to be a whole group.
About half way, we stopped at Bet Shean National Park. It is an excavation of a roman village that was once very grand and extensive. Assaf guided us around for an hour and a half, he is very knowledgeable and a really good guy. The city was important because it was on a trade route that linked Europe, Egypt and the East (it’s late and that’s probably not quite correct!). He has a topographical map of the area and showed us the valleys and mountain ranges with Bet Shean on a junction of all three. We learned about the Roman layout of the towns with bath houses for the wealthy, marketplaces, whore houses, living areas, amphitheatre and communal toilets. Fascinating stuff.
We then carried on for a few miles to the natural spring lakes that provide water to the Roman town and is now a beautiful park and swimming area. We were there for over 3 hours, swimming, having lunch and generally relaxing. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip and it didn’t disappoint. There was a bonus of a foot pedicure from the fish in the lakes if you stayed still enough of just sat with your feet in the water. I didn’t like it much though! The water was so clear and fresh it was perfect for today.
Then at 3pm we set off for the final hour to our accommodation, a large house on a kibbutz that we are all staying in. Anyway it must have been 90+ degrees out there and it felt like cycling in an oven – a fan oven on full blast into our faces. It was, as you may guess, boiling and very hard work. We were all drinking so much water and stopping to fill up from the van when needed. The road was busier and had roadworks on it. Large lorries passing by giving us a moment respite in their shadow. Assaf drove behind us to stop anything passing us when the road was at it’s narrowest due to the roadworks.
We had to stop for a rest after 45 minutes as I was finding it really hard. The heat just saps your energy and it’s hard to cool down. I was pleased to know I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Assaf tells us to drink more and we do. The colour of our pee has now entered conversation!
We only had a mile or so to go but most of that was uphill. We were all so pleased to get there. Although it seems we had rested a lot we were tired. Alan reminds me that we swam quite a bit too today and we agree that was the reason!
The house/villa is lovely, as are the gardens, pool and hot tub. We spent some time in the latter 2 and had a good laugh. I started the blog then, writing up some points but didn’t get to write it up fully.
Dinner was at a local restaurant which was very good – the nicest whole trout I have had in a long time, but most disappointing profiteroles (which I didn’t need or eat in the end).
There is much talk of tomorrow, it’s our longest day at approx 73 miles and it’s going to be another scorcher. That’s why we will start early, aiming to leave at 6.30 so we can get a good few miles in before it gets really hot. I’m not too excited by the thought but know we will grind it out – after all we knew it would be hot here, just not this hot!
Oh yes, I dropped my water bottle again today and can’t work out why! This time it was when Assaf was following near the roadworks and he stopped behind me, I found my bottle (I must not lose that!) after he had run it over with the van! It seems ok though.
That’s it for today, there is more to tell but it’s now 10.40pm and I’ve had enough.
Stats for today from mapmyride app: