November 13, 2010

Alyn Bike Ride 2010 - Day 3

Tuesday October 26
Sde Boker- Ein Akev- Halukim Ridge- Kibbutz Mashabei Sade
Distance: 40 km/25 mi distance
Ascent: 550 m/1800 ft ascent

We woke up just as the sun was starting to rise across the desert. Peeking out the window, we saw ibex coming out of the crater, nibbling on scraggly bushes. We made coffee in our room and I took out my steaming mug and sat quietly as sun rose above the desert. Hugging my coffee cup, I sat on a bench and watched as the ibex gathered round to nibble on the brush.

We counted around 40 ibex, including small babies and large dads with heavy twisted horns and black goatees. They all had pretty black and white marking on their legs, and beautiful markings inside their ears, that looked like silhouettes of tree branches. Although they were not so shy, Amir, in his eagerness to photograph them, managed to cause a mini stampede.

Meanwhile, the bicycle mechanics had spent time carefully washing every bike. We ate breakfast, and by 8:20, we set off down a road to the edge of the crater. Once again, I felt insecure about my ability to ride and wondered what I was doing here. In fact, every time I got on my bike, I questioned whether I really knew how to ride a bike, and how I could ever tackle the terrain ahead of me and endure yet another full day of riding with my aching muscles.

I stopped to take a photo of the magnificent crater and almost immediately found myself at the very back with the sweeper truck behind me gently but unrelentingly nudging me on. I then recieved a call from my son Shaya, the one who was sick yesterday.

"Ima, I am too sick for school today. My throat hurts."

"Fine. But you must rest. Go to sleep. No TV. No computers."

The phone rang again. "If I rest for an hour, can I paint?"

This was a surely a clue.

"Can you put the babysitter on the phone?"

I told the babysitter that Shaya had a case of frustrated artist and that he must return to school ASAP. The sweeper truck was about to sweep me up, so I put my phone away and focussed on the job at hand. The road before me was paved and steep, twisting into the crater below. As I have confessed before, biking down hills is not my specialty. I know most people get a real kick out of zooming downhill at incredibly fast speed, but I simply feel sick.

When I finally reached the bottom of the crater to the Tzin riverbed, a magnificent desert was before me. I can understand why David Ben Gurion fell in love with this place and decided to live here. A trail snaked its way up and down a valley of sand and scree, with towering mountains to either side.

At one turn, we merged with the Enduro people, all 100 of them, and the ride became more intense. The Enduros shared stories of their challenging day yesterday and of their experience of camping out in the crater. With stories of hot showers and freshly cooked meals at their camp site, it did not seem all that austere. However, many were kept awake by a chorus of clamorous snoring all night long - perhaps they kept the ibexes up all night.

We cycled to our first rest stop and then walked to a fresh water pool in the middle of the desert. Many of the riders jumped into the freezing cold water fully dressed but I decided to sit in quietly the shade of the Tamarisk trees. My backside was so sore from riding, I could not imagine adding the discomfort of wet bike shorts to my aching being.

We then gathered and made our way back towards Sde Boker, where we had to ride up an extremely vertical off road path. I waited back, thinking this would help me, but my strategy did not work. Suddenly several off road vehicles packed with tourists who hung out the windows with cameras in hand came shooting down the path. Many of the riders plowed up and still made it to the top, an incredible show of strength and endurance. Many of these riders were from Jerusalem - real pros who meet every Friday and do these types of hills. Many of them are in their fifties and as I said before, they are a real inspiration to me.

When we got to the top, we met at the edge of the canyon and heard a bit of history about the area. I learned that when Ben Gurion and his friends arrived here, they were inspired to build a land for the Jewish people. They all had religious relatives and knew where they came from. Yet they did not imagine that future generations would not be so connected. When they exchanged their religious beliefs for building the land, their grandchildren and great grandchildren soon lost an important connection. Today, many Israelis do not know where they came from and why they are here. This is a tragic failure that Ben Gurion and his compatriots did not anticipate.

We then continued across the desert. The ride was quite technical, but at least there were no huge hills. At the lunch stop, I threw my bike down and limped off in search of nourishment. Amir, who looked well rested and fed and had probably been there for an hour, intercepted me and was quick to tell me that my daughter had come home from school early, was locked out, and had managed to set off the house alarm. The alarm was raging uncontrollably and was angering my neighbours. In the midst of this, our babysitter was nowhere to be found. I did not have one sip of soup, was completely hot, bothered and exhausted. My cell phone was out of range and I soon realized that I could only connect if I walked up a hill. So I spent the lunch hour traipsing uphill and back down, balancing hot bowls of soup and a cell phone in my shaky arms. Turns out I had the wrong cell number for my babysitter. No wonder she never answered my calls. Why I had the wrong number is a mystery that I still cannot solve.

After lunch, we were told that there would be a major uphill this afternoon - a dangerous path that flew up and then shot dangerously down. We were somberly warned that this should not be attempted by anyone - unless they wanted to be taken out in a body bag. We were also warned that we would be crossing a shooting range and that we needed special permission from the army to pass through. I sincerely hoped the army remembered the booking - my nerves were already anticipating being completely shot.

As soon as the forewarned steep incline loomed before us, we came to a sudden stop. Turns out the Israeli Army was still shooting and would not let us through. So we sat on the ground and baked in the sun, staring at that foreboding hill and shaking our heads in disbelief. Most cyclists had left for the shade of a tree, a cool oasis on this savannah. But Amir and I stayed on, talking to an old acquaintance from Toronto. In an instant, we were told that we had clearance and could start the ascent.

‘You have the hill to yourself,’ Amir said. ‘This is your chance to climb a hill unencumbered by cyclists.’ He was right. It was a rare moment for me who is always at the back of a pack of 150 overachieving, well-trained and competitive cyclists who live and dream for these moments.

I set off towards the monster hill with a dozen other bikers. I knew that the others who were under the tree would soon catch up, so I attacked that hill with urgency. I pushed and groaned, passing other cyclists who soon started to fall off their bikes like flies. I too hit a rock and started to walk but was determined and got back on and pushed up and up. Sweat streamed down my forehead, burning my eyes with salt, impairing my vision. But up I went. I think I was one of the first ten to make it up there – and some of these bikers made it the whole way without stopping once.

I looked down and saw a swarm of yellow shirts snaking their way up. It was a good feeling to have done this before the others – however, when I looked ahead, I saw that the path went higher and became narrower. It looked like a mountain pass, something that I would normally hike and not bike! I decided that I should avoid the crowd and continue so that I would feel less pressured.

We biked up and up along the ridge and then came to a stand still. Before us was a rocky path barely cut into the mountain. We were told to stay in line, go one by one and to take it easy. I agreed wholeheartedly and decided to walk my bike. Afraid to ruin the insane testosterone fueled bikers’ day, I took to running with my bike. I may have looked crazy but I did not want to could ruin some bikers’ dreams – there are some in this crowd who wait a year to encounter biking down a challenging path like this.

Some cyclist did not even want to wait in line to go and insisted on barrelling down, risking their own and others’ safety. But within minutes, most cyclists ended up walking or running with their bikes. The path was rocky and narrow and the slope was full of scree. This was a true mountain pass. The trail then became a bit more manageable, but for Tiggers like me, it was hair raising.

The shadows became longer as the sun dipped in the sky and still we went down and down. There were several times where I pulled my bike to the side and walked down, slipping down the gravelly slope. I did try a few of the hills, but as soon as I touched my brakes, the back tire started to slip and I lost my nerve. I do not have the guts to pummel down a hill when I never know when I will hit a huge rock and fall over the handle bars or down a mountain slope.

I worked hard to keep up with them, however many barreled down the hills right past me.
We finally made it to lower ground and to a road that lead to Kibbutz Mashabei Sade. After spending days in the desert, it was a pleasure to enter this oasis of trees, chirping birds and lush gardens.

And like a mirage in our new oasis, there was cold beer of tap waiting for us! The owner of the Jems Brewery was waiting, handing out cold beer on tap. What a pleasure. We then walked to our rooms and had a shower, coming out feeling like a human being – except I could barely move my legs.

Each room had a little patio with tables and chairs out front. As each biker came out from his shower fresh and clean, he hung out his hand laundered shirts and shorts, bringing bottles of vodka, whiskey and wine, along with packages of peanuts and sunflower seeds. Yellow Alyn bike soon shirts dangled atop fences while lechaims filled the air. Bike hard, party hard – the two seem to go hand in hand. We had the opportunity to meet a few of the hard core bikers, all guys in their fifties who were in amazing shape and who were totally inspiring to us.

I spoke to my daughter, the one who was locked out of the house earlier on, and asked her for an assessment of the home scene. She had been away at school since I left Sunday morning and had a rational, open minded and sincere opinion.

"Let's put it this way," she said honestly. "Your house looks like an art studio."

I did not want to hear more details at this point. I hung up the phone, grabbed a handful of sunflower seeds and tried to focus on the feats of the day. My home cum art studio would have to wait till Thursday.

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