Lael racing the local e-bikers away from the Sea of Galilee.
The HLC departed Mt. Hermon April 9 at 7AM. After one solid day of riding, most riders intercepted scattered showers and increasingly unrideable roads and trails some time during the second day. Lael’s strategy to ride long and hard on the first day payed dividends as she was the only rider over Mt. Meron that did not encounter significant mud (until later in the route). Ingo Schulmeyer, the next rider, got through without too much trouble. Everyone after that was carrying heavy muddy bikes for miles over the mountain. Lael and Ingo continued pace about 40km away from each other into the second night and on the morning of the third day. Historically, Lael has been a late rider and Ingo an early riser. Niv Amos, Yam Raz, and Omri Ben Yaish have all been in contention over the first few days of riding, until the mud.
By the middle of the third day everyone was walking their muddy bikes, or carrying them. Lael declined a hot shower and a dry bed from some fans who had stalked her track online, and managed to sleep relatively comfortably under a tree with a broad and dense umbrella of leaves on the second night. Her biggest complaint was that she was sleeping on a steep hill, but used her bike at her feet to stabilize herself. The rain was forecast to continue for several days, and it would continue longer in the north than in the center or the south. Theoretically, if a rider was able to walk with the bike through Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, there would have been an eventual break in the weather, slowly drying trails, and rideable conditions. But that was many days away and many miles of walking in between, including some travel on managed mountain bike trails which would suffer damage. HLC race organizers scheduled a restart in Arad for noon on the fourth day. We were both quickly driven to Arad by a friend of the HLC named Meir. Thanks for the lift Meir!
On the morning of the third day Lael crossed a fast moving river and submerged the bike. Her SPOT transmitter stopped working at this point, just east of Mt. Carmel. She proceeded with a much lighter and cleaner bike and walked up the steep moto trail to the top of Mt. Carmel, riding hardpack gravel and paved roads into Daliyat al-Karmel at 9:30AM, still 40-45km ahead of the second rider. Two weeks ago we passed through Daliyat, and I knew exactly where she would go if she got there. I rode paved roads to meet her in the center of town, where her favorite person in Israel works at her family’s bakery. Lael was sipping coffee with cardamom and eating kanafeh, a sweet dish of melted cheese, crusted dough, and honey. She was planning to go to the bike shop in town to buy narrower tires so that at least her bike would roll though the mud. Hopefully she would be able to ride some sections. Within the hour, I got a call from Zohar Kantor informing me that the race would be rescheduled in Arad. Other riders were already planning their trip south. Lael might be the only rider without a cell phone, or even a smart phone.
At noon on the fourth day, the race restarted in Arad in high winds and rain, with a few frozen particles also falling from the sky. The route begins a precipitous drop to the Dead Sea on hiking trails, signed MTB trail, and a very steep hiking trail the last 1000ft to Dead Sea level at -1200ft. The winds and rain made some of this descent precarious, although the only casualty is that German rider Klaus Thiel cut the sidewall of his tire. Sadly, I did the same thing only a few minutes out of Arad as I chased the group on my loaded bike, hoping to capture some images. I had just received a small bottle of sealant from Limor Shany, another of the race organizers. The cut was too large for sealant to repair and for reasons too complex to elaborate here, a tube would not work and I hiked some distance down to the road where I hitched back to town, stitched the tire back together with a needle and thread and successfully reseated it with fresh sealant using the compressor at the gas station. Thankfully I had gotten some pro tips from Scott Morris a few days ago on tubeless field repairs. I hadn’t expected to need those skills so soon, but I am rolling again, chasing racers and running from rainclouds.
The route along the Dead Sea was modified to avoid wheel-sucking calciferous clay in the lowest wadis, where a friend lost a derailleur and hanger a few weeks ago. Even on the paved roads, some flooding and clay covered the riders in a coat of white mud. By evening skies were clear, although strong winds from the S and W persisted in the face of progress. I camped in the Big Makhtesh on the fourth night and watched Niv Amos, Yam Raz, Lael Wilcox, and Omri Ben Yaish pass toward Sde Boker. By morning, several other riders had camped nearby and the last of the group passed mid-morning. Omri indicated some mild pains in his legs, but was riding strong. He also expected to stop at the Geofun bike shop in Sde Boker for some brake pads and a new derailleur pulley. Niv and Yam were riding strong. Lael ate two sandwiches and rode away into the night.
As in the north, after Sde Boker, Lael and Yam Raz are near the front. Niv Amos has not been tracking successfully and he may be ahead of Lael and Yam. They will soon arrive in Mizpe Ramon where the HLC route follows much of the IBT to Eilat, Lael’s favorite section. From Mizpe Ramon the winds should be more manageable for some time, in conjunction with a total descent to the Aravah Valley.
There is some talk about accounting for the standing of the riders after the first two and half days in the north. This may be in the form of a handicap directly related to their location when the race was cancelled. Either way, it looks like Lael is gunning for a fight in Round 2 of the HLC.
Follow the HLC at Trackleaders.com.
Camped near the start, making sandwiches at 5AM before the race.
The race start from the hotel where all the boys stayed the night before.
I met Lael after her big rider over Mt. Meron. She rode until 2:45AM to Mahanayim Junction, then climbed Meron in the morning to arrive back at the Sea of Galilee at noon or 1PM.
At Ein Nun, water, shopping, and extra salt on those sandwiches.
A section of the Gospel Trail. The Gospel Trail sucks. Don’t walk it. It is all thorns and farm roads next to streams full of sewage effluent. This section was tolerable, just before the thorns.
In Daliyat al-Karmel after a day and a night in the rain, and a very wet morning where her entire bike submerged in a stream. That is the last time her SPOT tracker sent a location. Without much issue, she walked and rode to Daliyat where she was planning her next strategy, before the restart was announced.
That little pink dot on Trackleaders has become quite famous. She logged into her Facebook account in Arad to find 65 new friend requests from Israeli fans. Included in the mix was a request from Nathan Bosch. Come on Nate, does she really have to win a race to be friends? I’ve heard that some trackstalkers went looking for her when her SPOT failed. A man went to that location with his kids but didn’t find her. Instead, he found another trackstalker.
After the restart I saw Lael last night in the Big Makhtesh before Sde Boker. She slammed a couple of sandwiches and pedaled past Omri into the night. Niv Amos should be out in front somewhere, but his SPOT has been spotty, at best. Otherwise, she and Yam seem to be pedaling together or near each other. Yam is from Zofar in the Aravah Valley and claims to “know every stone” in these parts. Lael has ridden this section of the HLC almost three times.
I promised to take her back to the beach in Egypt if she wins. Go for it Lael! See you in Eilat.