Tag Archives: HLC

Camels on wheels

Nicholas Carman1 4681

Camel tracks down three thousand feet from Arad. Pavement along the Dead Sea, then to the Small Mahktesh. Headwinds.

I’m in the mix of riders again. I leave Ilan Tevet and Nir at the gas station. I pass Klaus, Ingo and Shai sitting for sandwiches. I climb past Omri on the Ma’ale Akrabim ascent. Our lights dot the darkness.

Sde Boker, 1AM

I fill water from the bathroom faucet in the center of town and there’s Yam.

He’s fine except his brakes don’t work. He’ll wait here for the shop to open in the morning.

Will you continue tonight?, he asks.

Yeah, but just for twenty minutes.

He raises his eyebrows. He says It’s going to be muddy over there. He knows these trails. He lives nearby. I shrug and head out.

I cross the highway and continue onto a bike route signed by a red camel on wheels. The trail narrows to singletrack. It’s hard to follow in the dark. I pull over and sleep.

——————————

I’m up before five, back on the singletrack in the dark. An hour later, I find myself back at the highway crossing with a sign to Sde Boker. I must have turned myself around in the dark looking for the track. I laugh and turn back. At least it’s getting light.

These singles take time. Looking for a farm field crossing, Niv finds me. He smiles tired morning warmth. We ride together. The trail is chunky. He’s hungry, but he waits for me. Chivalry.

At the gas station we split. In line for my usual coffee and carrot juice at Aroma, there’s Yam. Wide eyed and smiling.

I made the right choice. Right?

Hmm?

I took the highway. It was muddy, wasn’t it?

No, it was fine.

That’s not what he said. He points across the lot at Niv, who’s refueled and on his way out.

How’re your brakes?

Oh, the shop doesn’t open until 9, so I left.

Yam sips coffee at a deck table with two friends in bike gear. They’ve come to accompany him.

I go back inside for my carrot juice. A lady steps out of her car and approaches me. She’s shy and excited like a little kid. She’s been following my SPOT. She came to tell me that I’m doing great. She came to give me a boost and makes me take a banana and an orange.

You need vitamins!

On the road I leapfrog back and forth with Yam. His friend asks about my bloody nose.

Sometimes, when I work really hard, my nose starts bleeding.

So, you’re used to this?

Yeah.

The road to Mitzpe Ramon is easy until a rocky hiking path into town.

I fall. I scrape my knees and my saddle noses into my left shoulder blade.

It hurts. I slow my breath and tell myself that I’m okay because I am. I’m alone.

Yam & Co catch me looking for the track entering a neighborhood. Nearing the center of town, at the edge of a cliff ringing a massive crater, the track points up a short hike to a lookout. I stop to stare at the red line on the GPS.

Well, it looks like we’re heading up this.

I’d rather drink a coke, says Yam.

Yam & Co peel off and roll into town.

I shrug, grab my chainstay with my right arm, and heft my saddle onto my shoulder. I climb to the view.

I rejoin the gang at the gas station.

Wow, you’re really a rule follower.

Well, if I make a mistake with the track, it’s an honest mistake.

We shrug.

They tell me to look out for them at the campground in the crater. They’re setting up an impromptu feed station for Yam and I.

I buy an armful of sandwiches and chips and juice. The attendant points at my bloody legs and asks me if I want to go to the hospital.

No, I’m in a race!

Wide-eyed, he looks away.

That’s okay. I don’t know if I’d believe me either.

I walk outside to pack my bike and find two wadded up green apple power gels in my helmet. That’s the last I see of Yam.

I hit a stretch of the Israel Bike Trail that I’ve already ridden three times because it’s awesome. Easy breezy.

I stop at the campground to fill water and toss trash. I lift the lid and find a pink cotton turtleneck. Score. I use the shirt to wipe the blood from my shins and the grease from my chain.  Then I blow my bloody nose in it. I put the shirt back in the bin as a camper rounds the corner. I’m really glad she missed the show.

It’s hot. I fill a 3L bladder of water.

Back on route, I’m sinking in the wadi. I take air out of my tires and dump most of the water. Much better.  

I pass the Zofar detour, then the Zukim detour at sunset. Onto Pharan. The moonlight illuminates the ash white roads. I climb and descend.

I’m close and I know it, but I’m tired and I’m slow. I stop and sleep.

——————————

3:30AM

I wake up from a dream about Commander Zohar in outer space.

I get on my bike and enter Pharan in the dark, following a vehicle through the gate.

I fill water from a hose with a spray nozzle. The kibbutz gate is down.

How do I get out of here?

A delivery truck pulls up. Great, he’ll let me out! Not a chance; he’s stuck on the other side.

Well, someone has to open it. We wait. Impatient, I put my bike on my shoulder and start climbing the gate. At the top, I lift the bike over and drop it down the other side. The trucker makes as if he’ll help me and sure enough, the gate opens once I’m up top. We laugh. I leap to the pavement.

Back on route, I eat the last of a bag of dried cranberries. I pedal dirt roads along the Jordanian border. It’s easy, but I’m brain-dead. I need to eat. I stare at the blue arrow creep along the magenta line towards the outlet mall in Yahel.

While I’m fumbling with the menu, trying to order coffee and sandwiches at Cafe Cafe, Nick blazes up to the window.

Hey!

We sit and have coffee together and I’m all the biggest grins.

I better get moving. I’m in a race!

 

Staircase hike up Ketura Ascent. 

Single-track to Ne’ot Semadar.

Fill bottles with fresh peach juice at the cafe.

Down the Israel National Trail to the circus tent hiking shelter at Shaharut.

Sit in the shade on the porch and chug water.

Eat cracker and cheese stuffed pita pockets.

Gravel climb past the Uvda military base.

Up top are those trails. Magnificent and fast. If the weather holds, these trails are nothing but fun. Go ride them!

Push to Timna, to the top.

Turn left at the lake.

Exit at the park entrance.

And there’s Nick waiting to ride me to the beach.

Tailwinds all the way in.

And there’s Niv on the beach in the night. He’s really hungry, but he waited for me to finish.   

We sit down together, on a white couch. Next to Nick and across from Niv and Erez, I open the menu. It reads like a novel, only from right to left. I don`t read from right to left.

What’s good here?

At least it’s got pictures.

 
Nicholas Carman1 4680

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

 

Tagged , , , ,

take no prisoners

Nicholas Carman1 4559

Biria Forest, 6AM

I wake up in the daylight in a rumpled plastic bag in the dirt. I pedaled a gap last night. A real pirate takes no prisoners.

I pack my bags, drink my juice and get back on the bike. I climb steep hills through the forest to single-track, up a clearing and down the pavement to Jish. The town is still asleep, but the bakery is open. I buy a stack of Druze flatbread, labane and zata with sesame seeds. 

The track takes me by a salon and the dump and back to the forest. I stop to eat a can of sardines and mop up the chili oil with bread.

I’m onto a section of the Israel National Trail. Orange, white and blue blazes sign me over loose rocks and between branches. I ride when I can and hike to the pavement and familiar domed ruins. We camped here two weeks ago in a rainstorm. It’s overcast and cool.  I keep to the pavement to finish the climb. It’s a workout: heart rate up, legs burning and lots of standing. I like this.

Back on dirt I wind around Mount Meron, breezing past hikers. A man yells after me asking if I need help. I reach another highpoint in the clouds and start descending back to the Galilee– slow down chunky rock roads, fast on pavement through two communities and bumpy on cow tracks.

I cross over the highway and edge down a steep drainage. I grip the brakes for stability like an old man with a walker. A steep hike up a grassy hill and a smooth dirt descent lead me to the dreaded Gospel Trail. The trail consistently traverses swamp and thorn. It feels like penance. I wouldn’t recommend it.

But there’s Nick! He’s whooping and hollering with his arms in the air. He shouts: You’re crazy. You made it to the top of Meron nine hours faster than anybody last year.

And I’m whooping and hollering and grinning. And I don’t care that we’re on the Gospel Trail. I’m crushing the little wadis.

We hit the gas station. I order chicken schnitzel and omelet sandwiches to go. Nick rides with me to Golani Junction. A couple of kids on electric bikes pace us uphill past an Arab village. We push through thorns where we got lost in the dark on our last time through. My brain starts getting really goofy, so I eat another sandwich.

Nick splits. He might meet in Jerusalem. The forecast calls for definite rain in the dark. I’m aiming to make it as far as I can before that happens.

I ride hours of flowy single-track to the bike shop at Alon HaGalil. The shop is closed. A dad and two sons are camped under the covering.

Are you the American girl?

Yeah.

Someone is looking for you.

I go looking for water.

An older man finds me. He’s excited and shakes my hand. 

What you’re doing is amazing. My wife has a hot shower waiting for you. He holds out a couple of candy bars.

I’m sorry, I can’t take them. It’s against the rules.

He’s confounded. 

But I brought you fish and crackers.

I smile and thank him and he understands.

His name is Israel.

I fill up my water bottle and push into the night.

It starts sprinkling and turns into real rain, but it’s not cold. I keep pedaling along, but slower and slower and then I’m not.

Mud. 

I push my bike a few steps and stop to grab handfuls of mud off of my front tire. After ten slow minutes, I lift my bike by the chainstays and rest my saddle on my shoulder and trudge forward. It’s slow, but moving keeps me warm.

Two hours pass. It’s dark. I’m tired. It’s raining. I’m not going to make it to the next gas station soon. I think about leaving my bike on the route and hiking to a community to find cover to sleep. Then I see a tree with dense boughs, but it’s on a steep hillside. I push under it, lay my bike at my feet, pull the emergency bivy over my head and I’m out. I wake up somersaulted against my bike. I push my feet into my frame to straighten out and fall back asleep. 

Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

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.  

 

Tagged , , , ,