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Arwa

Nicholas Carman1 4641

In Daliyat on the top of Mt. Karmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea there is a thirty year old bakery run by a twenty-two year old girl named Arwa. On a rainy morning we come in looking for cover and coffee.

Arabic coffee? With Cardamom?

Yes please.

She scoops two spoons of coffee and a pinch of cardamom into the cezve, fills it with water and sets it on the stove. Tucked away, we watch a steady flow of customers– in from the rain and out with boxes of baklava. 

Arwa arrives with the pot of coffee and two small cups. She pulls up a chair to tell her story.

I love bicycles. I have always ridden bicycles. I take my children riding in the forest. Let me show you.

She pulls out her phone and shows us pictures of children on cheap mountain bikes riding dirt roads– children covered in mud (it’s good for them!), children straddling their bikes over a ledge (when we reach the high point, we lift our arms and cry out!), children gulping 2 liter bottles of water (You must drink!), children red in the face, smiling and exhausted.

A man comes in for kanafeh, a woman for a cappuccino. Arwa comes back.

Who are these children?

They are my family. When they are riding their bikes in the woods, there is no more stress. She hunches her shoulders up to her ears and then relaxes them down with a long sigh.

She shows us chubby before and slim after pictures of her nephew. During his first rides he walked the hills, he got down on himself, he couldn’t do it. She made him get back on and pedal. She told him that he could do it. Now he rides with the group.

It wasn’t always easy. Women in town gave her dirty looks. They told her she was too old to ride a bicycle, that she needed to stop. She didn’t. She kept riding, into the woods and definitely up the hills.

More customers, more coffee, more kanafeh.

We show her pictures of riding bikes in Alaska and South Africa and her eyes get big.

I want to do that!

We pack up to leave. I promise I’ll be back in two weeks when I race through.

You have to come see me. Even if I’m not here, make them call me.

She gives me a hug and a kiss and we pedal away.

HLC day 3, 5AM

I wake up under the tree in the rain. I’m going to see Arwa.

I stuff my wet sleeping bag and bivy into my seatpack, lift my bike onto my shoulder and trudge on. Time passes. I don’t care how slow I’m going as long as I’m going. I make it to a road– some bits are rocky enough to ride, others too muddy. I’m on and off the bike, soaked through, but warm because I’m moving.

I turn onto a riverside path and bless the overgrown thorns because they cover the mud and allow me to ride.

The path lets out to a paved road. Standing in front of a parked car, a man and his daughter flag me down. They’re friends of Niv’s. They’ve brought me hot sweet mint tea. It’s perfect. The little girl giggles because I drink three glasses in a minute. Ndav tells me the climb over Karmel is rocky, not muddy– I should be able to push and ride. He sends me off with a chocolate matzah sandwich. It doesn’t feel right to say no, so I don’t. 

Minutes later, another man pulls up in a sedan. He’s a friend of Yam’s. I stop to talk. The rain comes down harder. My gps freezes. I ask to borrow his phone to call Nick. I tell him my gps is frozen, that I’ve been walking, that I want to get smaller tires for mud clearance. He tells me he’ll see me in Daliyat-al-Karmel at the bakery. I’m shaking with cold. The sedan man follows me to a gas station indicated on the route. It’s warm inside. The two Arabic attendants look at me like I’m crazy, sedan man explains the race and I unintentionally track mud across the mopped floors. I drink hot coffee and instant soup. Two other spot stalkers pop in. They’re friends of Ilan Tevet’s. Sedan man warns me that a bridge is out down the way. I nod like I understand, but I don’t. I change the batteries on the gps. It works.

I’m back out on the road and I’m warm in the core. I’m going over the mountain to Daliyat to see Nick and Arwa and then I’ll get skinnier tires and then I’ll keep going.

Back down the road I approach a river crossing. Two weeks ago Nick and I took off our shoes, hoisted our bikes on shoulders and easily walked across. The water is bigger and faster today. I begin crossing in a calmer, broader entry. My feet sink into the mud and it grips over my ankles. I step back and push onto a rockier entry where the water courses faster. I lift my bike onto my shoulder and begin a slow, little step crossing as the current juts up against my thighs. Before the far bank, the current pulls me down. At once, I let go of my bike and fall under water. Up for air, I see my bike moving down stream and away from me. My foggy brain tells me that I’m going to lose my bike, that I need to focus, that this is getting serious. Sitting in the water, backed up to the edge of the bank, I grab onto my bike. It’s all I can do to hold on, but I need to get out. I can’t back out of the current and hold onto my bike at the same time. Instead, I lay flat on my back with my whole body submerged in the water and lift my bike over my head to the far bank. It works.

I don’t stop to think.

I cross the highway to begin a steep push up Karmel. Water rushes down the rocks like a vertical stream bed. I hike and push fast and bless the climb because it warms me up. Halfway up, the grade lessens and I’m back on the bike, riding over rock to the top. It’s muddy, but passable. I wind around the mountain and make it to pavement. A little descent through town brings me to the bakery where Arwa stands in the doorway. She’s not surprised to see me.

 

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Sandwiches

Nicholas Carman1 4556

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. 

Ketchup?

No thanks. Can I take it to go?

Of course.

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?

Machanayim Junction.

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.

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Rain in Arad

Nicholas Carman1 4423

I am standing in the bathroom at the coffee shop in Arad, looking in the mirror and crying. For all those people that have told me I couldn’t do the things that I set out to do– I can. For all those people that tell me I didn’t do the things I’ve done, that I’m lying– I’m not. For all the people that are told you’re not strong enough– you are. At least you can try. There is nothing shameful in trying. This race is not about winning. This race is about riding my heart out because I can. I wash my face in the sink. The restart of the HLC is in two hours.

Wind rushes past strip malls. Dark blue grey clouds threaten.

We meet in the center of Arad at noon. It starts raining. In Israel, rain makes impassable mud. The mud cakes onto tires. Soon, tires no longer roll. Soon, I have to carry my bike. Soon, I can hardly lift my feet and bike at the same time because they’re so heavy with mud. Forward progress is slow and exhausting.

We delay for half an hour. Niv, the strongest rider of the group, shivers with cold. Limor warns us not to cross flooding rivers.

What do we do if we encounter a flooded river? asks Ingo.

Just wait it out, replies Ilan Tevet.

I step away, into a pharmacy and out of earshot. I crossed a flooding river yesterday on my way to Daliyat al-Karmel. The current swept me off my feet and pulled my bike away. I have already voiced my concern about restarting in the rain.  

 

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