So it’s all done. We have arrived safely at Taba, the most southern point of Israel on its border with Egypt a few miles south of Eilat. We have completed the north to south ride.
Today was shorter mileage than planned and on a different route. Richard R, Keith and Darren all had to catch a flight home this afternoon so we needed to end in time for that. Also the original route would have taken us back up the huge descent we came down yesterday evening and on a road with more inclines and often into a headwind. Assaf didn’t really give us a choice or mention it, he just told us we were turning left out of the kibbutz and keep going on the main road – highway 90 all the way to the end. He knows us well by now and to be truthful, none of us wanted to do another hard climb.
I slept well but only for about 6 hours until the alarm went off at 6.00am. All ready and packed up for 6.45 we met at the picnic table outside our room for the packed breakfast. Actually it was quite good with nice rolls, cheese, apples and water.
The kibbutz representative that welcomed us yesterday said he was also a cyclist and invited himself along. We hatched a cunning plan for a relay basis to speed along and see if he could keep up and how good he was. I’d guess he was in his mid 60s but he was clearly still very fit and had invested in his cycle kit and bike, giving the impression he was a serious cyclist. He explained he often does the climb we came down yesterday and had done a lot of mountain routes accross Europe. We thought we may have trouble keeping up with him! Once we got going at 7.15 it was clear he was a very competent rider and the relay idea faded away. He cycled wth us for an hour then turned back.
He was interesting to chat to as he was one of the original settlers that established the kibbutz we had stayed in, being in charge of buildings and tourism. He explained that we had slept only a few metres from the border with Jordan, which none of us had realised before. He also showed us we were cycling parallel with the border fence which was only 50 metres away at times. When asked if there had been any incidents over the years he said it was normally quiet. Once a disturbed Jordanian had sneaked across the border through the date groves, hidden overnight then shot one of their ladies whilst keeping another hostage. It ended when a specialist team arrived who “dealt with” the situation. The positive to come from this was that the medic – who saved the shot lady’s life – and the lady got married and now have 4 children. The kidnapped lady, after dealing with her trauma, became a psychologist to help others. It was good to hear a positive spin put on such events.
The road today was mostly flat, and empty. As it was Saturday and the sabbath here, it is still a day of rest for a lot of the country with many shops and businesses closed. Similar to a Sunday in the UK 40 years ago. When I say empty, thats what the roads were. It was as if they had been closed. No traffic in either direction for miles, then one car went past and again nothing. It was bliss, a private road just for us. We could cycle 3 abreast in one of the 2 lanes and not really worry about the traffic at all.
My legs took a bit of of time to get going today but I’m not surprised. It wasn’t too hot but getting hotter all the time so we were still drinking a lot. Then we seemed to pick up speed and get a real crack on. Team Danish had gone ahead with our guest but didn’t shake him and I was with RP, Alan and David. Is it me, or has that kind of grouping happened before?!!!! We knew it was fast but still kept pushing along.
At one stage David said he was pushing ahead to catch the others but I didn’t fancy and stayed back. But soon I felt strong and started to push very hard. I got up to 30mph + for a good few miles and it was hurting, but I could see David was being reeled in and kept pushing to catch him. Eventually I made it and was pleased with myself, only for him to push on again! I let him go. We stopped after 29 miles for a last water fill -up and snack. Looking at the speedo, we had done that stretch in 1hr 30 at an average of 19.1 mph. That’s a record for me I was very pleased with. Then Assaf asked how we liked the tail wind and slight downhill road!! OK, so the elements were with us today, we have earned it.
Conversation was about our favourite parts of the ride and how we have enjoyed it all, that it was excellently organised and surpassed our expectations. We had individually all done well too. No injuries, not even much talk of aching knees or backs that we normally fress about at the weekends at home. Not that anyone gives sympathy, but it just didn’t come into the conversations on the trip. When all is considered we have done brilliantly.
As for me, I could not be happier with how I did. Only occasional niggles in a knee, back or hamstring that soon went away. Remarkable really. Perhaps the dry heat helped with all that, but it’s most likely that we are such finely honed athletes, properly prepared and doing all the stretching before and after, that we had no problems! Long may it stay that way.
Richard P’s wife Simmone and youngest daughter Lucy had flown out to Eilat to meet us before having a few days holiday. Because we had taken a shorter route than planned and made such good time, Richard had to keep making their arrival at Taba earlier.
The scenery today was again spectacular. Similar desert to before but some wide vistas. The Jordan mountains dominated the landscape from our left, again giving us an appreciation of how vulnerable this small county could be. As we went south there was more cultivation in the valley but not much else until we approached Eilat. We passed where a new international airport is being built a few miles north of Eilat. It’s a shame they couldn’t agree with Jordan to make it a joint venture but Assaf said they couldn’t agree on the immigration and security aspects.
At the water stop and when wiping the dead flies from our glasses and helmets, Richard asked Simone to leave for Taba straight away, probably missing breakfast as we had not long to go until the end and we had decided to slow down too.
We left as a group and agreed to cycle the remaining 10 miles or so as a compact unit, soon cycling into Eilat passing various hotels and shopping areas. The roads were still very quiet, although it was still early at only 9.20am, which made negotiating the roundabouts easier. We passed the town and then the deep-water port with rows of new cars waiting to be sent north.
Then a taxi drove close to us with a lady waving out the window at us. It was Simone! I was so glad she would be at the finish to see Richard lead us in, as is his deserved privilege as our leader and organiser. We passed Coral Beach where we were going back to for a swim, which was full of vehicles, gazebos, small tents and sunshades. It looked very bohemian but was most likely just a normal Shabbat at the beach.
Today was tinged with sadness as the tour came to an end, which only increases in the last few miles. The atmosphere changed to what I call “going home mode” as work and normal life comes back to the front of our minds after having been demoted for a while. Jerusalem and the trip north seemed an age ago not just 7 days. So much happens and time seems to take another dimension on these trips.
We had been cycling single file for quite a while and now called Richard forward to take the lead, which he just about did, very reluctantly.
Then all of a sudden we were there. At the roundabout by the border with Egypt. Much hugging, congratulations, photos, ensued. We were all happy to have made it with hardly any mishap or injury. We again thanked Assaf for his part in making it happen.
Then we cycled back to Coral Beach and got off the bikes for the last time. Assaf set up the snacks and he dismantled the bikes. We got changed and went for a swim in the sea. I took the opportunity to do some snorkelling on the reef just off the shore. It was lovely to see the many diverse fish and corals, reminding me how much I enjoy scuba diving and must do it again. But, back home it’s far easier to go out on the bike than it is to dive so I’ll keep the diving on a back burner for the time being.
Then at 12 noon Assaf took us back to town where he dropped our cases into the hotels, he then drove back up north and went out for a lunch. Ricard R, Keith and Darren then left for the airport and I went back to my hotel to shower and sleep.
And that’s it. The end of another fantastic trip.
A total of 409 miles, in 30 hours of actual cycling with an average of 13.6 mph.
The total is slightly less than planned mainly because today was shorter. The hours cycling is very misleading because of the extra time needed for water stops, sight seeing and the like. It seems not much, but that’s an average of 3.75 hours a day for 8 days in a row which isn’t bad at all. I’m impressed with the overall average mph because of the heat mostly into the 90s and the climbing we have done. Although the downhill part does compensate for the uphill.
So far I am proud to have raised over £3,250 for Prostate Cancer UK. Thank you again to all have donated. The page will stay open for quite a while for those still wishing to do so – (www.virginmoneygiving.com/neildriver).
Thanks especially to my wonderful wife Lorraine for all your support, encouragement and love. I couldn’t do this without you and for your help with staying up to edit and publish the blog.
Thanks to Richard P for pulling this all together.
Thanks to Assaf for guiding and helping us through. He was just brilliant, educational and unflappable.
Thank to the rest of the team for another epic tour. Love you all.
Lastly, it’s normal at certain just times of celebration to end with a saying of…. ” Next year in Jerusalem”. Well as we have now done that in the cycle tour context, how can I end this? How about by saying……next year in Hanoi !?!?…. watch this space….
I have more to add on the trip in general so will do another blog post in the next few days.
Until then…….. X
Stats for the day from mapmyride app