Firstly and thankfully I did sleep well and feel a lot better today. My prayer in the note I left in the wall must have been heard!!
Here I sit at the end of our first day cycling on the Veranda of our very nice kibbutz hotel overlooking the southern shores of Lake Tiberius. Lake Tiberius is the lowest freshwater lake in the world at 200 metres below sea level.
We have had an absolutely amazing first day cycling, so much better than I was expecting.
The day started early with a 6.30 breakfast to which everyone turned up on time and we left the hotel at 7 o’clock. The ride north to the very tip of Israel on its border with Lebanon took about four hours as expected. The roads were really clear as it was a Saturday and there was hardly any traffic at all. I wrote up the blog from yesterday whilst we were in the coach and sent it from the Wi-Fi that we connect to from in the coach itself, which is quite amazing.
Assaf explained a lot about the history of Israel, its borders, timeline and lots of other interesting things to learn about although for some of his explanations quite a few of our group were asleep! We stopped a few kilometres short of Metula at a petrol station that had somewhere to change from our normal clothing into cycle shorts etc. It was most handy.
We then drove through Metula and seemed to keep going through checkpoints that said ‘army only’. I did want to start at the northern border but certainly didn’t expect to be only 150 metres away from it or at least go there for a photo and move on quickly. Whilst I am normally very positive about the security situation day to day in Israel I must say it did feel a little bit scary to be that close to a border with what is perceived to be a hostile neighbour. However Assaf explained that this part of the northern border is actually agreed between Israel and Lebanon and is generally quiet. Well, thank the Lord for that!
We, (Assaf mainly!) then spent about half an hour getting the bikes fully prepared and eating a breakfast from all the food that was on the van. This includes, fruit, bread and peanut butter or chocolate spread, various health and energy bars, dried fruit, crisps and a whole selection of drinks. Generally the bikes are really good and we don’t have any complaints about them.
Unfortunately one of Alan’s pedals somehow get lost and Assaf didn’t realise until today. This resulted in Alan using normal pedals for an hour or so whilst Assaf found a bike shop that was open so he could then change the pedals for Alan. Understandably Alan was a little bit upset but soon calmed down.
Eventually everybody was happy with their bikes and we set off. When we were cycling in California I think we got about 100 m before someone thought we’d gone the wrong way. This time we made a right turn after about 500 m and started to explore some steep hills around a residential area. After a good few minutes of climbing we decided that we were not where we were supposed to be. Not exactly lost but just not on the route!! We eventually worked it out and got back on route, but we hadn’t reckoned on having such a steep awakening for our legs. Assaf has kindly later said that he should have given us better directions from where we started because it was slightly different from the turn by turn sheet he gave us. Whether that is correct or if he thinks that we are a bunch of middle-aged men from London that can’t read maps is still being debated.
The ride was a lot downhill to start with as we were going down into the northern end of the Rift Valley that starts at the Red Sea. It was needless to say very nice cycling because we didn’t have to do very much. We set off in the heat of the day and it is indeed really really hot. There is lots of water to drink on the van and it’s down to us to keep properly hydrated. Probably we should do better on that front.
It’s strange how a slight change in equipment can cause little things to go wrong, for example three of us including me dropped our water bottles when putting them back in the cages on our bikes. This never happens at home!
The roads were very very empty and the countryside seems rugged and interesting. I can’t describe it in any way that will do it justice. There was surprisingly little agriculture or buildings in the north, in fact we didn’t go through any towns at all.
The roads were not too steep until we had crossed over the Jordan River and started to climb up part of the Golan Heights. It was a 5km climb at over 8% gradient in the boiling heat of the day. For the first 3km I was fine but starting to tire. I thought we were near the top when I saw a sign that said 2 km to go and for some reason that seemed to stop me in my tracks. It is not like me to stop on a climb but this time I just needed to. So I found a nice bit of shade and stopped for several minutes until I felt able to continue. I think it was a combination of the heat and tiredness from travelling and any other excuse I can come up with but for the remainder of the ride after that I slowed down quite considerably. This is not a bad thing because the scenery seemed to just get better and better with the highlight being coming down from the Golan with lake Tiberius coming into view down below.
Having been on the Golan, it is obvious how important this is to the security of Israel. Syria would have easy sight of so much of Israeli land, there would be nowhere to hide.
We made it back to the kibbutz hotel at about 4.30. Checking in was quite funny at one stage because reception have got my name mixed up with the driver of the vehicle. They have thought that there were two tour guides, one they had down as Assaf -driver and the other as Richard – driver. There was quite a funny few moments as far as I was concerned trying to explain that my name was Neil Driver however the receptionist just didn’t seem to get it. I couldn’t be bothered to explain any more and as I had my room key just left it at how it was. However I later learned that Stuart and Assaf had a similar conversation with the receptionist trying to get Stuarts’ key which got all mixed up.
I think I should mention at this stage that the notion of “all cycling together” put forward by our dear Richard R lasted for approximately two hours. Richard P wins the bet on day one.
We all met up at 5:30 and went down to the sea for a swim. This was so so welcome and the lake was very warm. By then the sun was going down and so we sat and watched a beautiful sunset and relaxed after our day.
At 7:30 we met for dinner and went to a very nearby small new shopping area which had a great selection of restaurants. We chose a burger restaurant called BBB and the food was just what we needed. A nice long cold beer, big salad, double burger, chips. Perfect. The salad was to make sure I kept a healthy balance in my diet!
I also have to mention another great moment today which was Richard P, David and I all singing along when cycling to various songs being played on Richards bike juke box, including some by Billy Joel but the highlight has to be are extremely loud and tuneless rendition of Angels, accompanied by Robbie.
I think I have droned on enough and I’m now certainly very tired so need to turn in for the day. Today was tougher than I thought, far hotter than I thought and far more enjoyable than I thought it would be. But it didn’t take long to remember the reason we do these trips which is that all the hard effort and training pays back quickly and many times over. These are great times to enjoy and remember. It is very easy to forget about any stress, worries and issues back home and lose yourself in the cycling and scenery which all together gives certainly me, a strange feeling of freedom.
Anyway that’s enough for now, it’s time for bed so we can be ready for our 7 o’clock breakfast to leave promptly at 7:30.
I have to apologise for the slight lack of photos at the moment but this is because I am taking them on my camera and using my phone as a speedo on my bike with the app that tracks our route. I hope to sort this situation out from tomorrow and send more photos to you as a result.
I would like to thank my new friend ” iPad dictation” which has helped with this blog and also my ‘old’ friend and wonderful wife Lorraine who as normal is dealing with the technical side of getting the blog live on the Internet.
Good night X
Stats below from my app