We had a lie in today! Up at 6.30 for a 7.00 kibbutz breakfast and on the road by 7.45.
Yesterday we rode through probably one of the most contested pieces of land in the world, although it was quiet and peaceful for us. We also slept in the West Bank last night, which wasn’t on my bucket list, but it worked out fine.
I was ready for yet another day of cycling in the fan oven, perhaps with a hair dryer blasting in my face for good measure thrown in. You know those occasional days at home or on holiday when it’s just too hot to move or do anything? Well what (in)sane person volunteers to cycle in an even hotter climate?! There are 8 of us out here and none of us expected it to be as hot as we have experienced.
Riding through the desert is spectacular. Rugged steep cliffs that have been ripped away from the Jordanian side of the Rift Valley as the tectonic plates move apart over the millions of years on our right and the Dead Sea on the left. Since I was here as a teenager, too many years ago, the level of the Dead Sea has dropped significantly as the water which feeds it is used for both Israel and Jordan. It’s a pity to see it so low and I know it’s another contentious issue on the region. Assaf explained it was the large flat areas at the edge where the sea has shrunk back from that are now fed by fresh water that comes up for the natural springs and vegetation easily grows in the fertile ground.
We made good time in the early morning cool of about 80 degrees. Stopping at the border back into Israel for refreshments and water. It felt good to be back in formal Israeli territory even though the West Bank has seemed like that anyway, it is just the feeling one gets that something could kick off and us be caught up in it somehow.
The roads were so far normal and seems like they were newly laid. We then had our first puncture, Richard Rains on his front wheel. Assaf simply replaced the whole wheel in a minute and we were off again. So much better than getting the tyre off and replacing the inner tube. Now, who we should get to drive a support vehicle for us when we go out at home each weekend – any volunteers?
The first of our stops today was at Ein Gedi. It’s a series of natural springs, waterfalls and pools near the Dead Sea in the wadis (small valleys) of the hills and cliffs. It was a reward for a very hard climb to get there. The heat was building and we just had to “push” a little, as Assaf says. It was hard going. At the visitor centre I changed into swimming costume expecting a nice swim and put on different shoes in preparation for a half hour walk. Assaf actually decided we would stop after a few minutes at a waterfall and very shallow pool. The waterfall was so powerful but all of us stood under it and cooled down. We sat or laid in the few inches of water and literally chilled for a while. It was peaceful and beautiful. The water was cool not cold. We learned the water comes from rain in the Jerusalem area and is filtered down through several hundred feet of rock and ends up at Ein Gedi over a thousand years later. Amazing.
I was lying in the water, looking and listening to the waterfall and all the varied trees and vegetation surrounding it, all against a clear blue sky. It was a picture postcard moment but one I will have to try to keep in my mind as I had deliberately left the camera in the van, so as not to accidentally drop it in!
Most of the others were in the water in their cycle gear, we must have been a strange sight to those passing by. Assaf remarked to me that he thought I would not need to have changed as I now pour water over myself when riding to keep cool, it wouldn’t have made any difference if the cycle gear got wet! Everything dries in a few minutes anyway and we were all excited when we got back to the Visitor Center for drinks and food before the next leg to Masada.
Off we went at about 11.30. It was hotter still. Then we got to a horrendous 3.5km climb (see profile map above and spikes!). It went on for ever and I found it really hard going. About 2/3 of the way it flattened for a bit and I had an energy gel to help with the last part. I think it kicked in quite quickly which was good. The gels that Assaf got for us are more like thick sweet treacle, you can almost chew them. Much water is needed to wash it down and get rid of the taste.
The view from the top of the climb was spectacular and worth stopping at. A good excuse to recover. The hills today split up the group and we went back to far less cycling as a unit. The descent was superb. Open empty roads. I think I got to my fastest ever sped of over 41mph. Yes, I was being careful, yes, I was in control, and yes it was exciting and quite a rush. I’m a big kid really!
Turning right to the approach to Masada we had another incline, about a mile of gradually increasing incline that seemed to go on and on. We followed the van into the Masada centre. My legs had quite gone – if that’s a saying! Then there was another really really steep circular route that took us up to the car park. We had to really dig deep. We were all sweating buckets for ages after as we chained up the bikes and got ready to spend a few hours exploring the site and having lunch. It was literally dripping down my arms and it seems the water I was drinking was just oozing out. We all needed food and so went into the air-conditioned centre and found the restaurant.
A large shwarma, houmous, salad, pita and all the trimmings did the trick nicely. But by the time I had eaten it I was getting cold as the air conditioning on my still damp clothes made me feel shivery. As much as I was enjoying the feeling after so much heat it was nice to get back outside again and finish drying out!!!
Masada is a hugely unique and impressive place. Built over 2000 years ago as a mountain fortress then used by King Herod to build an impressive palace to show off to the Romans, Egyptians and anyone else at that time. It is on top of a free standing piece of rock, detached from the other hills and has sheer sides all round. The last time I was here I walked up using the snake path, that was in existence since it was built but we didn’t fancy the 45 minute hike up the steep slope and used the cable car instead! I think we have earned it!!!
Around 70 CE the Romans destroyed the second Jewish temple (that is now the Western Wall and Temple Mount) and a group of about 80 Jewish fighters fled to Masada. Believing they were the last observing Jews they hid up there for over 3 years before the Romans eventually got round to besieging the site. Because of the geography the only way they could approach the walls was to build a large stone ramp (using Jewish slaves brought down from Jerusalem). Eventually the walls were breached and the Romans retreated for the night before invading the next day. However overnight those on Masada agreed they would prefer to die as free people rather than be enslaved, wives and children taken etc. So the head of each family killed their own and the remainder famously drew lots to see the order of who would kill who with last one falling on his own sword. Hence Masada has become something of a legendary place of defiance and a symbol of freedom and courage.
We walked around, saw the ruins and learned about the site until about 3. Then back down the cable car for the final part of today. We were all feeling really tired and drained. Just walking around in this heat is enough to do that, let alone all the cycling. Doing the ride in 3 parts also makes it more difficult as we need to warm up each time and get back into the rhythm. It’s easier to just get the cycling done in one hit, but the sight-seeing today was worth it.
The sun was low and we has some shade, but it was somehow hotter at 35 degrees, near 100. We pushed on and did the last hour then arrived at out spa hotel. Arriving at about 5pm.
We got the room keys and went up in the lift to the first floor but when we got there we couldn’t see our room number. After asking a hotel maintenance man where they were, between us we realised there was another wing to the hotel. Nice of them to tell us at reception!
After a very quick change and an even quicker shower for me, we all met up in reception in our white hotel dressing gowns to walk across the road for a dip in the Dead Sea. We must above looked a very strange sight, but then again many others did too! Because of the high salt and mineral content in the sea at this lowest place on earth people just float, not swim. It’s also nasty for any cuts as the salt will hurt. We all dis-robed and tentatively approached the sea. It’s lovely and warm and the beach, with imported sand was quite busy.
We all went in (not Stuart as he was sleeping),even David, who can’t yet swim and all got the hang of it quickly. It’s quite weird that you just lie there floating, but that’s how it is. The water felt almost slimy on our skin from the minerals. It’s said to be extremely healing and hopefully will help our legs recover .
We are now half way through the tour and as I did on the SF to LA ride wanted a massage. Where better than at a spa hotel? As soon as I got back I arranged a mud wrap (something new for Costa?!) and an hour deep sports massage, I passed on the optimal seaweed layer with the mud!
After starting a payment tab at reception, it seems they are doing us a favour each time I speak with reception, I was set to go. This is a very Russian hotel and the spa employees didn’t speak much English so I hope I has ordered the right thing!
I was shown to one of the treatment rooms and told to change into disposable underwear, reminding me of the similar procedure in hospital!!!! But this was going to be far more pleasurable. The lady then plastered fresh Dead Sea mud all over me, wrapped me in a plastic sheet and towels them left me for 30 minted to baste whilst I laid there and listened to “relaxing ” music. I probably drifted off to sleep for a bit. I the showered off and waited for the massage. The therapist then reappeared in a panic and motioned me to go back to reception saying something I couldn’t understand in a strange language, not Israeli or English.
The a male masseuse came to get me. He looked like a rugby player or Russian shot putter. I knew I was in for a good massage. I wasn’t disappointed at all. He seemed to dig his elbow into all the paces in my back and legs that made me wince. At one stage he was pushing so hard I thought the massage couch would collapse. I was smiling and giggling to myself because it was so good but equally so uncomfortable. An hour later, after literally a top to toe massage it ended. I told him, (never did get his name), it was the best massage ever. In the middle of the massage I had tried to explain the cycling we were doing but either the words came out similar to those when in a dentist chair or he didn’t understand because the conversation didn’t happen!
Then I had a quick rush to change for dinner and meet the others who had already eaten as they knew I would be late. I ate quickly in order to be at the evening briefing by 8.30.
Assaf explained about tomorrow. The day we are dreading. The Scorpions Ascent. You may have twigged the only way possible from here is up and tomorrow there is a lot of up. We now know it’s 35 km of ok roads that we will start on at first light, 6.30 on the road, then 15 km of steady constant climb followed by the 8km of Scorpions Ascent. Very steep with 25+ hairpin switchbacks. I have lost track after then but it’s a tough, tough, day. The good news is that it will be 2 degrees cooler. That’s 31 degrees, so that’s ok then!
I know my limitations, know what I can do and know how far to push myself. If I can do the ascent I will and if I have to get in the van because I can’t do any more – I will do just that.
The climb tomorrow will take about 2 and a half to 3 hours. There is no training we can do for this and nothing to prepare us for the heat.
So I had better get to bed, it’s now 11.45 pm and we are up at 5.45.
For me today was one of those exceptional days in your life. Full-on, non-stop, exhilarating, interesting, educational, exhausting, restful, beautiful – I could go on. I’m sure to have missed out a lot but this is one day I will always remember.
Good night. Xx
Stats for the day
3 hours 23 mins cycling
Average speed 14.9 mph