Today was always going to be the hardest day of this trip. It is dominated by a huge amount of climbing up from the Dead Sea, leaving the Judean desert and riding into the Negev desert. The big climb of the day is Scorpions Ascent on an ancient trading route over a mountain ridge, followed by another ascent similar to the nasty one yesterday.
We met at 6.30 am for snacks in the car park and were on the road by 6.45. As I finished writing yesterday’s blog just before midnight only had about 5 hours sleep, but felt OK.
The sad news was that Alan had bad stomach problems overnight, couldn’t sleep and was in no state to leave his room, let alone ride. He must have been hugely disappointed as he was so looking forward to the challenge, as we were.
The first 25 miles or so were hard but ok. The Dead Sea still our left and spectacular desert scenery. Baron, rugged, hostile looking, hot, dry. We had breakfast at a petrol station at 8.30, provided by the hotel in packed boxes of cheeses, bread eggs and we added a coffee from the shop.
Talk was always about Scorpions. Would we, could we?, how bad was it really? etc.
Some of the road sections were so long and straight you couldn’t see the end. They looked flat but were mostly up hill. For most of the first part of our ride today the formation was the original team Danish of Richard R, Keith and Darren cycling off in front then Stuart, Richard and David and me in another group. For quite some time I cycled off on my own, and had some long periods of just me and the road in the desert. No traffic a lot of time. I like that feeling, but half an hour of it was enough and I dropped back to join the others.
At one stop, just for a shade break and to refill water bottles, Stuart left his bike by the road as the shelter was 20 or so metres away up a dirt track. Just as we were leaving, a huge trailer carrying road making machinery was pulling in. Stuart said, ‘please run over my bike so I can stop here!’ It was hilarious but I’m sure he wouldn’t have been glad if it happened.
On we went in the heat and hills, always thinking and talking of Scorpions Ascent.
Before the ascent there was about 10 miles of steeper constant incline with the occasional bonus little hill and small downhill bit for some respite. Not that the downhill lasted long. That took about 50 minutes and was tough going.
So it got to about 11 o clock and we had done 43 miles, cycling for 3 hrs 20mins when we arrived at the foot of the ascent. Assaf had parked up and set out the 2nd breakfast, which was remarkably like the first but without the coffee!
We all ate, drank and generally made merry whilst looking at the start of the ascent. In actual fact the reality was that we were looking at a few bends before the ascent started and not the actual ascent – which was just as well!!
It was baking hot, we were all weary and apprehensive. Energy gel taken, wheels checked, bottles full of water, off we went into the unknown.
Just as I set off for the ascent my cycle app somehow started to play music from my phone. It was playing some, kind of popular opera which I have no idea how it got on my phone or why it started to play. It was all quite surreal, given the setting. Later in the day I worked out how to stop and start the music from the app and so later in the day had times with music blaring, singing along, helping to pass the time. I forgot just how bad my singing is, but didn’t care a jot.
Well, Scorpions was horrendous! There is no way we could have prepared for this in steepness or heat. I was one of the last to leave and after selecting the lowest possible gear struggled up the first few bends that I thought were the start. Then, round a corner I saw the actual ascent which is marked with concrete filled metal drums. The trouble was that I also saw 3 of the boys already struggling up, very very slowly, but already pushing their bikes!
I gritted my teeth and got into the slope. It was so steep 30 degrees, probably more. I did 2 of the switchback hairpin bends and looked for the flatter parts Assaf said were between the bends. They weren’t there. There was just no respite from the steepness. It was impossible for me and I felt terrible to get off my bike so soon. Determined to walk a bit then get on again when I had recovered I pushed the bike up. Even that was so hard. I was overheating so took of my helmet and poured some water over my head, shoulders and back to cool off .
It’s impossible to explain what it was like and how steep it was, not forgetting the heat in the equation. Hot, out of breath, legs hurting so much, I got back on after a few more bends on one of the not flatter bits between the bends. It wasn’t any different, I just couldn’t get going or fight my way up the hill and so I called it a day. Richard P was with me and we both said it was going to be pushing only. I felt bad but knew I just couldn’t do it all. I could probably have done some more, maybe, but just didn’t have it in me to do so physically or mentally.
After about 10 minutes pushing the van caught up with us and Stuart was inside. He’d done well without hardly any pre-trip training and his goal for the day was to get to the start of the ascent which he did. I put my bike on the van but wanted to walk up. So after a quick rummage in my case, changed into my trainers, grabbed my hat and water bottle and set off, with Richard to walk up.
Memories of our trek up Kilimanjaro ( which stated all this madness, thank you Stuart!) came flooding back and when we had some breath, reminisced about it. The “pole, pole ” mantra from Kili,( pronounced poli) meaning slowly, slowly was most apt. Just walking up was such hard work.
Several months ago my father in law, Cecil, was in this area of Israel and drove the Scorpions Ascent. We have had many discussions since about it and he kept asking me if we were cycling down or up, always looking strangely at me and amazed when I said we were going up it for the challenge. Now I understand all those “you must be cycling down it surely, not up, you must be mad” looks I got. Now I understand and what with the heat, it was a completely mad challenge.
The descent was quite flat as descents go but the scenery changed to a huge plateau with a further range of hills ahead. We were actually in a large crater being the inside of mountain that imploded millions of years ago. The area again had endless roads and seemed quite a militarised zone. We saw the nuclear reactor at Dimona in the far distance and a white hotair ballon above. Assaf said the air balloon had military cameras in it, so I waved. We could see the balloon from the ascent and I wondered what they though of us. Mad English fools?!
We carried on for ages through the desert on and on, hotter and hotter. Eventually with 60 miles done we met with the rest for food and a “who did what?”
Well, Darren was the only one of us to do the whole ascent without stopping or getting off. That’s 5 miles of intense cycling and a huge amount of physical strength plus will power. Darren you have my utmost respect for that, an unbelievably super human achievement. Keith made it about 2/3 up before needing to walk for a bit and the others walked and cycled. Well done to everyone for their individual achievements. We will enjoy the stories for many years to come. Darren, how many cogs on the front did you have?
We were all drained and tired. It was now 60 miles done, 5 1/2 hours of cycling and 2.30 pm with blazing heat in the middle of a desert. The final part of the ride was another 3 kilometre hard climb, and 3km after then to the hotel. The huge double length lorries that passed us for some of today we’re going up the climb so slowly, as were the ones going down. It was so steep again, and almost like the hard climb yesterday.
Again, much talk of should we, can we, etc. For me that was enough. I didn’t want to push myself any more and so called it a day. I have never cut a days riding short before in my cycling career, but a climb and a few miles was just beyond me on this occasion. I was a bit sad but that’s how it was. Stuart called it a day at that point too.
On reflection, I am disappointed with myself today, because I like extreme challenges like these to push myself mentally and physically to achieve. But then again I think of what I have been through in the last year and how proud I am of myself to be here at all. I committed to this trip knowing it would take a lot of effort and training at home beforehand to prepare. I achieved all that and today fell short of an ultimate goal. I’ll allow myself that. Perhaps that was in my mind all along. I certainly am not prepared to completely drain my energy reserves at the moment and subconsciously that may have defeated me before I started. I’ll never know, but am content with what I achieved today.
Back at the hotel I showered and felt so tired I went to sleep. After 2 hours of the deepest sleep I can remember it took me ages to wake up. I really needed that and a good dinner too, which we had. Today most of us had a beer to celebrate. We had earned it.
Alan got a taxi here late afternoon and is feeling a little bit better, but understandably weaker. We hope he has a good night and can ride again with us tomorrow.
Now it’s 10.15pm and I’m done for the day. Early for once. The blog at the end of the day takes me a couple of hours to do and send the pictures each night but the effort is worth it. I am trying to cut it shorter, but there is so much to report.
Please note that the remaining 3 days of the blog may be delayed from now on or be shorter. This is because my chief editor Lorraine and assistant editor Stephane are off for a few days holiday themselves. Sightseeing, not extreme cycling. That sounds like a good idea to me! I hope you both have a wonderful time.
Today was another epic day. Tomorrow is supposed to be an easier recovery day before a hard day 7. Let’s see what it brings.
Workout: Road Cycling
Date: 14 Oct 2015
Distance: 60.18 mi