Last night there was such banter about “keeping together” as a group all day especially Stuart explaining the benefits of this to Richard R. The topic was discussed not once but several times and ended up with a photo being taken at dinner whether we could keep together all day. We haven’t discussed the definition of “keeping together” and all the legalities sorted out by Richard P. It ended up in a vote being taken at dinner and the score was six saying we would not keep together with only two being more optimistic. I think that was Richard R and Stuart.
After a reasonable nights sleep and a good breakfast at 6 we managed to set off by 6.45. The keeping together issue was yet again spoken about and whilst I think we all hoped it would happen few of us expected it to.
I was determined to learn some lessons from the first two days cycling to give myself more of a chance in the heat. I was not going to add any energy powders to my drinks as I believe they really didn’t do me any good on the first day and also pour cold water over my head through my cycle helmet and through to my shoulders occasionally to keep my body cooler and avoid overheating. I’m pleased to say that both of these worked well throughout the day and generally I felt fine.
When I was cycling back down to the main road I said to Alan ‘I wonder what is likely to happen today that we don’t expect’. My best guess was that we would bump into someone we knew but Alan thought it was best not to bump into anyone at all! Well the unexpected did happen and quite soon.
After a few miles my left pedal felt as if my foot was partly coming out. I unclipped my shoe from the pedal a few times but it didn’t seem to get any better, then all of a sudden my pedalling seemed to go really strange and I looked down only to see that the left pedal had come away completely from the crankshaft it is normally attached to. I had to stop straightaway and when Assaf saw what had happened he asked us to carry on a little bit down the road which is far easier with two pedals but with one it’s quite difficult, however, it was quite funny just pedalling with my right leg.
It looked as if the screw thread that held the pedal to the shaft had somehow got messed up and it took 20 minutes or so to sort it out which he eventually did. It was a shame to have happened at that time of the day as we had set out extra early to get some good miles done whilst it was nice and cool. We were all quite frustrated but there wasn’t anything we could do but wait for him to fix it. The repair isn’t completely perfect but I’m pleased to say it got me through the day and should be fine for the rest of the trip. You could say my bike has now had a Pedalectomy (copyright Alan).
We had to cycle back about 7 or 8 miles along the roadworks where we had cycled the previous evening but we passed through them very quickly this time. Then we turned south on to a quieter road. It was good to see that at this stage we were all “keeping together” which was helped by David controlling the speed from the front of the pack and everyone agreeing not to go ahead, even if someone was feeling particularly energetic. The pattern seemed to be generally set with David mostly at the front and Stuart and Richard P near the back. Stuart hasn’t done much cycling on the road for a few years but keeps fit with spinning classes. A 70+ mile ride must’ve been quite daunting for him although we all knew there was no way he would stop before the end. He just keeps going.
The heat from the sun started to be felt from as early as 8 o’clock and just got hotter and hotter throughout the day. Using my oven analogy from last night the normal oven started at about 8.30 and I would say the fan kicked in around 11 o’clock with the temperature constantly being turned up until we finished at 2 o’clock. Pouring water over myself was really very refreshing but I must remember to only do that on very hot cycle rides!
My pedal seemed to be fine and Assaf checked with me after a few miles just to make sure it was okay. He really does make a lot of difference to this trip and seems to have a way about him and allows us to do our own thing but in the background he is making sure that we are well looked after and keep to schedule.
About a third of the way through today we came to the border between Israel and the West Bank. We were all somewhat concerned about going through this part of the world. At the moment there seem to be a few incidents happening. Although Assaf assured us he knew of various people to talk to, to check out the security on our route and was generally very relaxed about things. He has explained that the main problems on the West Bank are in the north of populated areas and most of the Arab and Palestinian settlements are on top of the hills. We are cycling in the Jordan Valley which is predominantly Israeli settled and there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem at all in this area. We were very pleased to hear that!.
The checkpoint was quite empty apart from the Israel border guards with very daunting looking machine guns draped around their shoulders. We cycled through the checkpoint without them stopping us at all and then all congregated at the far corner where Assaf set up a drinks and food stop. I, and a few others needed to go to the toilet and we asked where they were. He pointed to a diagonal corner and we started to walk that way – after a few yards we were confronted by one of the guards with a question of where we were going. Once he knew he radioed to his colleagues so that they were aware why we were walking across. This seemed a little bit extreme but was quite understandable although it did add to the feeling of being unsettled about cycling through this particular area. Once we got to the toilets three of us were ready to come back but waited for the last one. Yet again another guy asked us why we were standing around. When we told him we were waiting for one of our friends he said I think you better be getting back so don’t hang around. Although he was probably only 19 years old we didn’t really think it was the right time to have a discussion with him and quickly set off back to the van.
Some of the boys on the trip said they hadn’t realised how much of the West Bank we would be cycling through and looked a little bit worried. Again Assaf assured us it would all be okay and we went on our way. Some of us felt like there was some tension in the general atmosphere but it was probably down to us rather than anything else. We did see a couple of tanks on transporters and a military plane flying overhead but in general that was the heaviest machinery we saw. There were quite a few police and patrol cars on the road and some additional patrols on a parallel path which was right next to the border fence with Jordan. Last night Assaf said that there was one small town that we would go through that he would double-check there were no problems there. We asked him how long it would take to pass that bit of road thinking it may be a fair few minutes and we would have a sprinting race through it, he informed us it was only about 600m. That is one small town!
Assaf had said we were making good time up to this point and that we had a good tail wind behind us helping us along. That was good to know and we hoped it would help us cycle quicker. Strangely from that moment the tail wind seems to stop and after around 10 miles when we got to Jericho it actually turned into a headwind! I don’t think it really made that much difference, it was hard going whichever way the wind was blowing!
It turns out that cycling through the Jordan Valley part of the West Bank was really very very uneventful. The roads were extremely empty and very soon any feeling of foreboding seemed to fall away. I was particularly impressed with some of the guys wearing day glow yellow and pink cycling tops today which was incredibly brave as we had previously spoken about wearing camouflage!
When we did get to the town it reminded me of little villages I had seen in Spain with just a few houses and a big stall set out selling various pottery items on one side of the road and something similar opposite. It wasn’t until we stopped a short while later when someone asked Assaf if that was the town he was talking about yesterday, when he said that it was, that I gave it a second thought.
About two thirds of the way through the ride we stopped off at a petrol station with a few shops for a longer break. I took the opportunity of going into a nicely air-conditioned cafe for a much needed cappuccino and a couple of large chocolate croissants. This was around 11 o’clock and I was starting to get hungry even though we had been stopping every 40 to 50 minutes to top up our water and eat more food from the van.
At this stage I was still feeling quite strong and rather pleased with myself with the amount of water I had been drinking and that the heat wasn’t getting to me so much. However, let’s be clear, it was extremely hard riding and we were all doing very well to deal with the extreme conditions. Also we were doing pretty well at cycling together much to everyone’s surprise. David was doing a brilliant job from the front and it can’t have been easy looking around every few minutes making sure we were all following on properly behind. We still haven’t worked out how he can turn around and look behind whilst still keeping his bike pointing in the right direction.
As for the scenery and terrain we were cycling through, the roads were generally downhill (as you can see from the profile map above) which is pretty much expected as we were going to the lowest place on earth, although there were still a lot of uphill parts and a couple of valleys to go through. Some of the climbs were very long but everyone just took their time as necessary. The scenery was obviously now desert and mostly very barren. However the Jordan Valley is very fertile and there were at times a lot of farms and cultivation.
Jericho was remarkably green and had an abundance of palm trees.
I was wondering at one stage that if G-d had chosen this as the land to give his chosen people why would he have decided to put them in such a hostile and uninviting place. Assaf explained that 6000 years ago Europe and similar regions were very cold and inhospitable whereas in Israel it was an easier way to live because of the heat. He also explained that there is a crescent of fertile countries leading from Egypt through Israel and up to what was Mesopotamia and that Israel was in the middle and therefore a strategically good place to be at that time. I think that’s a fair answer.
He also explained that as part of Israel’s security policy they encouraged and helped Jordan cultivate the Jordan Valley which is now a very significant part of their food production. He said that it was more unlikely they would start to invade through a region that was so important to the country as a whole.
Once I knew we had done 50 miles it seems like we were on the final stretch of the day. I was really enjoying the ride even though it was so incredibly hot and I was actually feeling quite exhilarated. By this stage we were stopping every 30 to 40 minutes as everyone was getting more tired and needing more water. The temperature had got up to 90° and we were all feeling it.
Eventually we saw the Dead Sea on our left and a few miles further on turned off the road to our kibbutz hotel. Yet again the final road was uphill and this time it was being re-laid as we were cycling up. The extra heat coming off the fresh tarmac was quite extreme at times and the road was so new the surface was still sticky and that felt like we were cycling for a few hundred metres. This wasn’t what we wanted after having just cycled 70 miles!
We had got to the hotel at 2 o’clock in the afternoon just as the pool was opening for the afternoon so I think you can guess where most of this headed very rapidly. Stuart was so worn out after the ride he couldn’t even cycle the last few hundred metres to his room and cheekily managed to get a lift in a golf buggy that the lady from reception was using to show us where to go!
We were all very proud of our achievement today which really isn’t bad for a bunch of 50+ guys all having a bit of a laugh along the way. And as far as the bet is concerned, I’m very happy to say that I was wrong and we did officially “cycle together” all day long. Well done us!
Tomorrow should be another fantastic day including going up Masada (by cable car!) and floating in the Dead Sea.
Dinner tonight was in the kibbutz restaurant and we all agreed that the food was, most definitely, ‘kibbutz food’!
Stats for the day as per mapmyride app