I pop the lid on the can of green olives and drain the juice into the grass. I slice them into pizza toppings on the plastic hummus lid with a pocket knife. I score the avocado, pull the halves apart, remove the pit and scoop out the meat. I slice the purple-green tiger tomatoes, then a cucumber into spears, then a yellow onion. I open five rolls and we assemble– a thick layer of hummus on one side, avocado on the other, tomatoes, onions and olives in the middle. Nick closes them with cucumber and packs them in plastic.
I set the alarm for five and fall asleep once the jackals stop screaming.
In the morning the sandwiches are heavy in my hands. I pack four and give one to Nick. Will it be enough?
I pedal past the cows, uphill to the roundabout with the statue of the mustached Druze warrior on horseback for the start. At five to seven, Zohar calls Nick to tell us that we’re starting at the hotel instead.
And so we do.
Nick starts with us and I’m happy he’s there because I’m so excited I feel like I’m going to jump out of my seat and fly to the moon. We’re on pavement for a minute, steep climbs and descents and I’m sprinting the hills in the lead. The others pass me quickly. Nick splits off to take pictures. I follow Niv up a wrong turn. Now we’re really started.
Wind turbines cut clouds. There are no views.
We pedal past farmlands and picnic areas and abandoned bunkers disguised as ruins.
I talk a little to riders– Ophir didn’t sleep well for the last two nights, Niv traveled Alaska on a motorcycle twenty-four years ago, Ingo rode the HLC last year and likes the south the best– but mostly I crave quiet. I want to ride alone.
I pull over to eat a sandwich or pee or fill up water when I need to. Otherwise, I don’t stop.
By the afternoon, I’m past the Syrian border and overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Nick meets me there. He motions to the cafe and a stack of loaded bikes. Let’s get out of here!
Nick rides with me for an hour. We stop for sandwiches. He fills me in on the race. Niv and Omri are leading, they’re hammering. Niv looks like he’s riding a motorcycle. He descends like Mad Max. Nick found them at the cafe, wolfing down sandwiches and running out the door. Ingo and Eitam are just ahead. Klaus and Yam and a pack are stopped for snacks.
It’s four in the afternoon. I’ve ridden seventy miles of dirt and trail. I want to ride another seventy before I call it a day. I know I’ve got it in me, it just might take some time.
So I continue– past Ingo and Eitam on the Galilee Trail, past banana trees by the sea, up to the heights at Givat Yoav, past grapefruit orchards, through the Jordan River and up and down again.
I don’t see anyone until I cross the road in the dark. A man next to a car hollers after me. He knows me. Do I need food? Do I need water? I tell him I can’t accept anything. He says he knows. He rode last year and he’s back to feed everyone. He gives me a paper cup full of spaghetti.
No thanks. Can I take it to go?
I throw the cup, noodles and fork into a plastic bag and stuff it into my framebag.
He tells me Niv and Omri pulled off at Ramot for dinner. I’m in the lead.
Do you need bread? There won’t be any food tomorrow. Where are you going tonight?
That’s impossible! You will never it make it there. It’ll take you at least seven hours.
I pull out my cue sheet and count out loud: thirty plus thirty plus ten or fifteen– that’s seventy kilometers. I’ll make it there.
He tells me my calculations are wrong.
I tell him thanks for the spaghetti and I’m off.
I drop down to 650 feet below sea level and cross knee deep water twice in the dark. I pull the pasta bag out and eat it in the grass. A light shines down the dirt. It’s Niv. We ride together to the beach. Niv’s light is the size of a coca cola can. He startles four wild boars out of the brush.
We reach the Jesus church of fishes and loaves past Amnon Beach, cross the main road and turn up a steep hillside. We climb together past fields and the Monastery of the Beatitudes. It’s warm. I pull over to take a shirt off. Niv keeps on. Ahead, I see his light veer off to Almagor. I stay on the route and keep climbing. It’s 1AM– 18 hours into the race. The final 30KM to the Junction on flat farm roads is easy river-grade. I buy juice at the 24 hour shop and am in my sleeping bag at the base of Mount Meron by 3. My heart and mind are still racing, but I know I need sleep. I need to close my eyes and wake up to climb tomorrow.