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?
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.