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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.