Here I sit in Kibbutz Lotan, in the middle of the Negev desert with just one day of the trip left to go. A tinge of sadness sets in because it’s almost over. But once again, this has been an amazing, unforgettable trip, beyond expectations.
Last night,. After dinner ( kibbutz style food again! – basically a buffet of salads, cheeses and fish, soup if you want – French onion or a vegetable option, then roast chicken, a dish of meatballs, potatoes – roast or wedges, oily roast veg and squares of assorted cakes to finish. Where are we tonight? Oh yes, a kibbutz, now I wonder what they have in store for us today?? Mmmmm!! The only saving grace is that it is Friday night, Shabbat, and I’m hopeful of something different. But given that traditionally we have soup, chicken, roast potatoes and veg, it’s not that likely to happen!
Anyway, where was I, yes, last nights briefing for today. We were all complaining that the recovery day was so hard. Richard R was contemplating calling it a day there and then as he felt so done in. Easyjet options were being looked at. He didn’t go by the way, I didn’t think he would. There were going to 3 big climbs, one after 10 miles or so getting out of the crater, another after 40 and again at about 50 miles. Much discussion was had as to how did it compare to this hill, that incline, a hill in America that Assaf had no idea about, it went on and on. In the end he had convinced us they were 3 nasty climbs but we would be fine. Just take it easy, drink a lot, blah blah blah. We all said good night. I was a bit upset at the thought of the climbs as I was looking forward to a great ride through the Ramon Crater and desert. Still I though it would be what it would be and we will make the most of it.
I had eaten so much at dinner and felt really bloated so went for a walk. A few of the boys came with and we went up the hill from the hotel. It happened that at the top, the road went onto an open area and I thought the crater would be below. It was dark but I wanted to see so walked on. The others being terribly British and not wanting to walk in the dark stayed put. 50 metres on, I could see the a low wall and after that just black darkness below. There were a very few lights in the far distance but apart from that just black. It was the crater. It’s such a weird thing to look down and into the distance seeing nothing but black. It was darker than the sky as obviously there were no stars which again is strange as the sky is normally darker than the ground. I reported back to the rescue party waiting for me should something devilishly bad have happened in the 50 metres of unlit ground (this is my sarcasm again, if you hadn’t twigged) and David came to have look too. He was so brave. (more sarcasm). We agreed a picture wouldn’t be much good but will come back in the morning before the agreed breakfast time of 6.45. We are to be back on the road at 7.30.
Back to now, we have just finished Friday night dinner. It was very nice to be in a community setting and a warm community feeling. About half this kibbutz eat together (20 of the 40 families) so there was them, us and a few groups of youths staying here, probably volunteering. We all sang the Friday night kiddish to welcome in the sabbath and linked arms round shoulders. A nice moment. The food was still kibbutz style but served to the table. Chicken schnitzel and beef, rice, veg. It was fine. Apparently it depends on whoever is cooking what we get and how bothered they can be to do a proper meal! The meal was quick and they flicked the lights on and off (this is not a religious kibbutz!) at about 8 to move us on to the community hall for cake and hot drinks. We all helped clear the plates etc off the table to the kitchen, waste in the bin, plates in the big container, cutlery in another. Memories or my Israel tour when I was a teenager came back, but unfortunately they are very faded. The food was still kibbutz style, but the different setting was quite unique.
Being our last night together, Richard P had arranged a collection for Assaf and presented him with his well earned tip and our thanks for such a great trip. As I type this at 9.45pm the community hall has emptied and we are asked to turn off the lights out when we leave (we, David and me are outside). Thankfully the wifi is 24-7.
Assaf was complimentary about us. Both as a fun group to be with and also as good cyclists. He also thanked us for coming to see Israel, for supporting the country and being so enthusiastic.
Back to earlier today. I slept for about 8 hours as the blog was done early. It was lovely! I packed up and went to the crater at 6.30 before breakfast. What an awesome, spectacular sight it was. I was also lucky to see the sunrise. It was very special. Pictures don’t do it justice or in fact the rest of the scenery today and most of the whole trip. David arrived to see the scene too.
Oh yes, the cycling. We were all up for it and somewhat concerned about the climbs. I had decided to leave my camera (not phone) on the bus today and fill the handlebar bag it is usually in with all kinds of goodies to give me energy. Little and often was my intention, keep as much energy in reserve for the latter part of the day. Fuel myself well before I would normally do and I would be fine. So I had a selection of jelly beans, dextrose energy tablets, energy bar, energy gel, nuts, sweets. It was fun!
The descent into the Ramon Crater was long steep and fast. I got up to my fastest ever, 41 mph, then thought… slow down and take in the scenery. I did that and enjoyed the ride down. Along the bottom of the crater was unique. It was about 8 miles, not flat but spectacular scenery. All around was the crater rim and none of us could remember experiencing anything like it. Even the trip to the canyons in America, Alan, David and Richard P, didn’t have the same topography (good word,). Again the roads were well kept and quite empty.
Then there was the climb up. I topped up with some energy foods and started the climb. It was steep and quite long but not as bad as before. It seems just when I was getting into it, it was done. But I’m not complaining. We stopped for a water break and food. Assaf had listened to my request for something different and got in a few new snacks. He is good, very good.
Then it was a 20 mile ride to the next climb. Undulating roads through some amazing desert scenery. Music on, cycling at our own pace, I was on my own for a fair bit but always in sight of the others. None of the ups were too demanding but there were a lot of long stretches that were constantly up. Actually, some of the road that looked as if they were down were actually up! I did struggle a bit at times with my legs hurting but I drank lots of water with hydration tablets (I did that every day anyway) and bits of energy snacks, little and often. It got me through the hard moments and I enjoyed the bursts of energy, feeling quite alive and taking it all in. This was turning out to be a great day. Just as I had hoped the desert would be.
It was still hot and getting hotter as we go further south. After 8 o clock in the morning we could really feel the heat but it wasn’t until 11.30 or so that I needed to squirt water on my shirt to cool down. I keep my smaller water bottle with just plain water specially for that purpose! I don’t know the degrees, probably in the low thirties. But I think we are now mostly used to the heat and know how to deal with it
I can’t remember when we had breakfast from the trailer, but it was the same as always when on the road. I was feeling well energised from my bag of goodies but still hungry, so I still ate a peanut butter sandwich, dates, a sesame snack, banana and lots of water. Well you just have to, don’t you?!
Eventually we came to the second climb which was the hardest. So I took a gel with caffeine for good measure! As I don’t drink much coffee generally I really notice the buzz from these. It kicked in as the climb started and so did I. Again it wasn’t so bad and was over quicker that expected. I then worked out Assaf’s policy for today, we had been moaning so much after the “rest” day that wasn’t, he bigged up the hard bits of today so we would be expecting worse that it was. He probably undersold the difficulty yesterday. At the end of the climb as we were stopping for mid-morning breakfast (it’s all about the food!) I said to him that I knew his game and he had overdone the difficulty last night. He replied that it’s all about managing expectations. How true that is, in life and everything. A lesson I must put into practice more back at home.
Back on the road for another 15 miles before the last climb. We passed a sign for a small village called Shittim. It just so happens that Alan was cycling behind me and with the normal schoolboy humour in mind I just had to take a picture of them together! Assaf explained that Shittim is actually a retreat for yoga, meditation and all kinds or similar activists and festivals. He was there a few weeks ago, but he said it was too hot!
On we went through the desert, with more wonderful scenes to take in. Large dried up river beds, different coloured rocks, eroded cliffs, long never ending roads. Just brilliant.
Lunch was at about noon in somewhere I would normally drive straight past, but it was great food. Organic, home made and wholesome. Spot on for me. I was feeling on top form and loving every minute of the day. After we had eaten, someone, probably Richard R noticed that the cakes there looked good, but I passed on them having had enough and not wanting to put in too many calories (that’s my sarcasm on the calorie bit but true on the no cake).
It’s a sign of how hot it is and how much I sweat without knowing it due to the dry heat because when I stop and go inside I just start oozing sweat. Horrible. It takes about 10 minutes for the sweat to stop literally still pouring down my forearms and dripping off. Yuck! A good wash down in the restroom was in store before I ate!
We were all saying what a fantastic day today was. Perfect cycling and the best day we have had, probably out of all the trips we have done. I’d agree with that completely. It was a day I had hoped we would have and more. Happy Neil. A very happy Neil
Then there was the last climb. Again hard and long but not that bad. Yesterday we would have been cursing but today we were OK. I was still energised, and attacked the hill as if it was the first day. It did hurt my legs but tomorrow is the last day and so it didn’t really make any difference now. We are almost done.
We pulled over and looked at the view over the valley into Jordan. Again, just spectacular. Then Assaf said we had just done our last major climb as tomorrow was mostly flat and rolling roads. Ahead of us was our last big descent. That made me sad. It’s been so wonderful and it is nearly over. I also felt so good, that I could have cycled many more miles today. My little and often fueling policy had worked, it always does for me. (Lorraine, just like on those shopping trips!!). I did have lots more goodies left in my bag to get through but they are still there for tomorrow.
The descent was indeed fast and long. Again over 41mph. I was being careful but this time I had had enough of the scenery, so put my head down and just went for speed, what a buzz and rush those few miles were.
Then on a little way more and into the kibbutz and sadly their closed swimming pool!
A shower that flooded the bathroom later (they all seem to do that here) and a lovely sleep to dream about the day again. We are staying in the original kibbutz housing that’s been made into letting rooms since the kibbutz families now live in newer, larger houses. It had the air-con already going where arrived, so lovely and cool.
And so, onto the last day tomorrow. Packed breakfast already put in the fridge for us earlier today. That should be something to look forward to when we met up at 6.45 am!! Onwards to Eilat and down to the border at Tabba.
Wow, it’s now 11.15 and I must get to bed
Stats – Day 7