Tag Archives: Holyland Challenge

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

 

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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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