Coffee in Palestine

Nicholas Carman1 3801

He insists that it must be cold in Alaska.  “Yes.”  I resist divulging any further details.  My computer is plugged into an outlet shared by a machine stirring an iced drink across the plaza.  A plastic bag containing a 1 kg tub of hummus and a pile of pita bread sits on a bench next to my bike.  Small shop windows encircle the plaza.  This public space is borrowed from a Soviet urban planning guidebook, or from community college design.  The man keeps a shop full of junk best described as a hardware store, but he is offering herbs procured from Arabs over there, looking to a rocky grassy landscape beyond a security fence.  This side of the fence is an orderly collection of homes and a managed pine forest.  The herbs are claimed to cure almost anything, he jests, or so they say.  I ask if he ever goes over there.  Only when going to Jerusalem.  It is 40 minutes this way, much longer to go around.  

I ask, in exact words, “What’s going on over there?”  

“They live with the sheep, the goats.”  

Now he’s trying to sell me a bottle of 100% alcohol.  I inquired; my own fault.  I’ve never seen 100% alcohol and I can’t read the Hebrew label and the price is kind of high.  I return the bottle to the counter.  Ethanol reaches a 96% equilibrium with water at standard temperature and pressure, bolstered only by the presence of benzene or other exciting additions, as I recall to myself.

I continue asking, and he continues to describe the life of Palestinian Arabs with an obsessive focus on the animals they tend, as if the practice of our forebears is anymore admonishable in light of microwavable chicken nuggets and foil-sealed yogurts.  At a high point, he exclaims, “they eat the eggs from the chickens!”  Lael and I look at each other knowingly.

We pass an unmanned gate, like a toll booth, just north of Meitar.  The HLC route circumnavigates Palestine.  To Israelis and much of the world, this is the West Bank.  To Palestinian Arabs, especially those living in the West Bank, this area is unquestionably Palestine.  However, Areas A, B, and C are all administered differently.  About 70% of the West Bank is wholly secured and administered by Israel and the IDF.  This is Area C.  Jewish settlements in Area C of the West Bank are rapidly growing and are encouraged by Israel, creating a Jewish majority in a region which is largely off-limits to the Palestinians living in Areas A and B.  Those areas, on the other hand, prohibit Israelis and are administered by the Palestinian Authority.  In some cases, such as with the security of Area B, the PA and the IDF work jointly.  

Every map of Israel I have seen includes the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights without question.  One map included the land area of Sinai, formerly under authority of Israel, although at least that map indicated the area is part of Egypt.  It reminds us of the tourist map we received when arriving in Serbia.  Where is Kosovo?, we wondered     

We continue uphill on a secondary paved road.  Men stand alongside sheep and goats on the roadside as promised.  Unsanitary water flows downstream toward Israel.  Half-built homes, similar but different than those in Israel, stand tall on the hillside.  Certain adornments and features connect them to homes I’ve seen in Egypt.  We pass a steel gate onto a disused paved road.  A dirt mound blocks the road beyond the gate.  I ask a shepherd if this is the way to Dahariya.  He agrees, repeating the word as it is pronounced locally.  

We enter Dahariya past dozens of auto repair shops, men with greasy hands standing in amusement and awe of two tourists arriving from a closed road by bicycle.  Tourists visit placed like East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron, but not Dahariya.

Our eyes focus on the light traffic ahead, our minds peer out the corners at fruit stands and homewares sold in small shops.  Mops and colored plastic buckets are remarkably common in Muslim countries.  Cleanliness, especially clean floors, are a homemaker’s obsession.  The camera remains hidden.  When stopped, I make obvious gestures toward beautiful fruits and taller buildings.  I do my best to act like a tourist.  Everyone wonders, suspects, supposes we are Israeli.  I photograph the street and obvious things, and slide the camera back into the pouch over my shoulder.    

At a major intersection a man confronts us.  He is obviously asking where we come from and where we are going, through basic English.  I pretend not to understand several times to decide how to respond.  I first insist I am from Alaska, from America.  He continues with the exact query.  I admit we have come from Meitar, which doesn’t please him but doesn’t surprise anyone.  A group aged from young boys to old men congregate, each and all with a more polite and positive demeanor than our surly captor.  The next question I don’t understand.  Each time he repeats it I hear the word evrit, which I repeat as a question.  Satisfied at my inability to answer, we are told to come inside.  

We cross the street into a coffee shop, a covered open air space nicely kept with far more space than patrons, printed murals of fresh fruits and cooked meats posted to the walls.  We sit, the two of us and the surly man and another man by my side.  I hate it when Lael is cordoned away from me in a group like this.  She and I sit diagonally from one another, each sitting next to and across from strangers.  It feels like a strategic move, but it couldn’t possibly be the case.  We relax into the absurdity of the situation. 

Four coffees arrive in paper cups, boiling water poured over fine grounds with sugar, the smell of cardamom light but present.  The day reminds me of those cool Sundays in autumn when a sweater is necessary.  It is already late afternoon, springtime in Palestine.  As I finish the first cigarette, a second man offers from his pack, offering fire from his lighter.  Two bottles of water arrive at the table.  The older men inform us apologetically that they do not speak English, in English.  We deny any reason to apologize.  Young men near to my age come and go through the door; most are a little younger, carrying smartphones in their hand.  Someone is fishing the stream of pedestrians on the sidewalk to see if anyone can speak English.  A string of unenthused men arrive and politely ask us where we are from.  We exchange names.  “Welcome”, they say before they exit.  It is a pleasant charade which continues for some time, as the third round of cigarettes are drawn.  Two non-alcoholic malt beverages are brought to the table.  A teenage boy takes the place of the man next to me.  The surly man across from me has lost interest and the round of questioning restarts.  The boy to my right opens the strawberry flavored drink and pours it into two plastic cups.  At the wave of a hand, two packs of chocolate wafers arrive at the table. 

A boy, perhaps thirteen or fifteen years old, is given a smartphone to bring to me.  A Facebook application is blank, awaiting my input.  I type my name, selecting the image of me and Lael in front of our bicycles with the subtext listing my high school.  The boy scans the page and reads the title of a past blog post on my Facebook wall, but all I hear him say is the word Israel.

Lael returns from the bathroom and we stand, shaking as many hands as we can find.  Two boys want to ride the bikes.  They throw a leg over, manage not to fall off as the seatpacks wag side to side, and skid to a stop after a short tour.  They point to the bottle of wine rising from Lael’s feedbag and say whiskey.  “Wine”, I reply.  But the word whiskey comes back at me again and I give up.

Into Dahariya. 

Nicholas Carman1 4069

Leaving the coffee shop.  I am Facebook friends with the young man in the black sweater on the right, and with shepherds in Lesotho, young boys who love Mercedes cars in Albania, and a soldier in Egypt who frequently posts selfies of himself in front of sand colored tanks.  One young boy in Kosovo casually tells me he loves me whenever we chat, but I think the translation is imprecise.  

We turn the corner and stop to consult the GPS.  First, let’s ride out of town.  Then, we’ll figure out where to camp for the night.  It may be easiest to pass back into Israel if we can find a gate.

Nicholas Carman1 4070

Rowdy, but friendly.  Lots of skidding tires.

Nicholas Carman1 3802

Nicholas Carman1 3803

Nicholas Carman1 3804

From Dahariya, we descend back to Israel.

Nicholas Carman1 3805

Nicholas Carman1 3808

The unmistakable skyline of a Muslim village, punctuated by the minaret of a mosque.

Nicholas Carman1 4073

Nicholas Carman1 3809

We pass a small security gate manned by two young soldiers.  We show our passports and are allowed to pass.  Just a few kilometers away we make camp amidst ruins on a grassy knoll.  Tonight, Israel is a quieter and simpler place to camp.

Nicholas Carman1 3810

Nicholas Carman1 4074

Sunrise over Palestine.

Nicholas Carman1 4076

Sandstorm out of the Dead Sea on the HLC, Israel

Nicholas Carman1 3929

At 1200ft below sea level, there is nowhere to go but up.  Into a stiff west wind, we depart from the gas station at Newe Zohar, at the south Dead Sea.  The ascent out of this big hole, the Jordan Valley, comes in three distinct parts.  The first thousand feet are a steep hike up a signed footpath.  The second thousand feet are gained slowly up a wadi along a signed cycling route, which often rides above the drainage on a series of camel trails.  Finally, a dirt road leads up to elevation and to the city of Arad.

Leaving in the afternoon from the sea, we top out by the end of the day.  The wind clouds the sky with earthly particulates, concealing the sun.  The wind slows us to a stubborn crawl.  By the end of the day, we camp by the side of a dirt road, sheltered by a barren hillside near a Bedouin community.

Through Arad the next day, the wind intensifies.  We consider out options and consider the forecast for rain and wind next week, when Christina arrives from Alaska.  

We press on through slowly greening hills, past cherry trees, grasses, grazing sheep.  Riding and pushing another couple hundred feet upwards, we reach the Yatir Forest and the border of Palestine.  Israelis refer to is at the West Bank.  Across that fence is Area C, which is described as being under “full Israeli civil and security control”.  There are no trees on the other side of the fence, only rocky hills and grasses and two communities, each centered around the towering minaret of a mosque.

This is a dusty beautiful place.

A group of seniors are walking the entire INT, one day per week.  They offer to take our bikes on their bus and to house us for the evening.  We can restart in the morning.  Aside from severe wind, I remind Lael that everything else is just fine.  It isn’t raining, it isn’t cold.  She glares at me.  We continue.

A moment later large rain drops begin got fall.  Pushing across a grassy field towards a number of unfinished structures, a pair of eyes and hand emerge from behind a tarp.  A Bedouin shepherd invites us into his camp.  We sit, and have lunch, offering an orange, which he accepts.  He refuses our bread and hummus.  He makes mint tea with sugar.  Lael pulls our her sleeping bag and rests until the rain passes.  We continue.

We camp in the Yatir Forest near a large tent which serves young IDF recruits who are staying for the week to utilize the nearby weapons range.  They sit around the fire on the morning of their departure.  We make coffee on their fire, they make coffee on a gas burner.  They offer cigarettes and a kilo of apples.  Several speak English; the feeling is much like being with a group of young men anywhere.  It reminds me of the night spent in Egypt by the highway, mothered by a group of 22 your old boys.  Other than Lael, there is one other girl around the fire.  

The morning air is clear and the technicolor kaleidoscope of Israel presents itself, an exciting change after two weeks in the desert.  Going to Jerusalem.

Nicholas Carman1 4032

Nicholas Carman1 4046

Nicholas Carman1 4033

Nicholas Carman1 4034

Nicholas Carman1 4035

Nicholas Carman1 4037

Nicholas Carman1 4038

Nicholas Carman1 4039

Nicholas Carman1 4040

Nicholas Carman1 3927

Nicholas Carman1 3928

Nicholas Carman1 3930

Nicholas Carman1 3933

Nicholas Carman1 4042

Nicholas Carman1 4045

Nicholas Carman1 3935

Nicholas Carman1 3937

Nicholas Carman1 3946

Nicholas Carman1 3938

Nicholas Carman1 3941

Nicholas Carman1 3942

Nicholas Carman1 3800

Nicholas Carman1 3806

Nicholas Carman1 4044

Nicholas Carman1 3807

To the Dead Sea on the HLC, Israel

Nicholas Carman1 3881

We complete a circle around the Negev desert with Ilan and Danny, connecting new singletrack from Mizpe Ramon with the now familiar HLC route from Tsofar back to Sde Boker.  Moving north from Sde Boker, we eventually descend 3700ft to the Dead Sea, over 1200ft below sea level.  We ascend an ancient Roman road into a forest along the border of Palestine, we cross paved roads teeming with inexperienced roadies pissing by the roadside on Shabbat asking for snacks from their group’s escort vehicle; we sleep in a cave in a forest park outside Jerusalem and push our bikes through the Old City market in the morning, deflecting questions from Arab vendors about “How much, the bicycle?” while we seek the earthy brown bread they make.  Israel, the Negev, Palestine, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Area A, Area B, Area C; chalky lime wadimakhtesh, savvanafication and desertification, kibbutzim, fences, farms, forests, 4×4 tracks, and so many signs and trails, but one simple GPS track from north to south, or south to north.  That’s only a few days on the HLC. 

The HLC, as you well know by now, is the annual bikepacking race across Israel from north to south, although it really only becomes an annual race after its second running this April.  By now, you also know our propensity to follow existing routes through new lands, using them as backcountry highways and approximate touristic guides as we slowly peel away the layers of a place.  From scheduled off-pavement touring routes like the Traversée du Massif Vosgien in Alsace, France to rough and tumble footpaths across Poland and the multi-day stage race route across Greece, the Bike Odyssey, we like to know that even when our maps don’t entice us in one way or another, we can continue along a charted path.  These routes aren’t challenges to be accomplished and completed, but sometimes-challenging paths of discovery.  Most of the time, just as we set off across South Africa on the Dragon’s Spine, we don’t really know what we are in for.  Two weeks out of Cape Town I wrote about our growing understanding of strongly institutionalized racism only twenty years after the official dismantling of the Apartheid system, “and I thought I was just bikepacking across South Africa”.  There was a lot more to South Africa than dirt roads.  There are many things you cannot learn from the internet, or from others.  Those are discoveries to be made on the ground.

Seven years ago we looked at dirt routes with curiosity.  Several years ago, we pushed onto dirt almost full time, beating around the bush on an old Schwinn High Sierra and a Surly LHT, but singletrack and true all terrain biking loomed.  Our current bikes, a Surly Krampus and Lael’s secondhand Raleigh XXIX enable access to most of the riding we encounter.    Even so –and we have already spent lots of time on fatbikes– there is a proper fatbike tour in our future.  Places like Namibia, Jordan, Finland, Baja California, Australia, Mongolia, Bolivia, Egypt, and Alaska beckon.  How best to use a bicycle to reach new places?  I’m not ready to abandon the bicycle.  Lael talks about walking.  I think about fat bikes and full suspension and ultralight, perhaps not all at the same time.  Having a bike by my side is a strong habit.  Our current equipment is suitable for about 90% of the riding we can expect to find (including pavement, of course), which makes our bikes reasonable, and as close to perfect as one could ask.  But the other 10% is fascinating.  Maybe it is more than 10%, once the lens of a fatbike is properly focused.  A full-suspension bike is a similar extension, although more a difference in degree than in kind.

As for the HLC route, the riding ranks alongside some of the best explorations we’ve had in Europe and uses a similar mix of well-signed dirt roads and walking trails.  The chance to ride in the desert reminds us of the AZT, but is far less technical.  It is like the Divide, with much less climbing, yet more technical than the endless dirt roads which link Canada and Mexico.  The route includes a mix of recently built IBT singletrack, technical jeep trail, sandy wadi, mellow dirt roads, and just a bit of pavement.  

No, the politics of the region do not present themselves significantly along the HLC, especially not in the desert.  The entire route remains in uncontested Israeli territory, excepting the section in the north in the Golan Heights, which is under full Israeli military control.  Israel is extremely safe.  However, it is not uncommon to see young soldiers with automatic weapons over their shoulders, a duty of their combat training to keep the weapon with them at all times.  Otherwise, overpriced gas station snacks, smooth paved roads, an efficient bus system, and helpful but know-it-all Israelis welcome you as in Germany, or America.  

For anyone interested in a bikepacking challenge in the style of the Tour Divide or the AZTR, airfares to Tel Aviv are very well priced including roundtrip rates from NYC for just over $600, and the bike flies free with Aeroflot.  It is rumored that the great Scott Morris will be there, alongside AZ compadre Max Morris who returns for a second year.  Even Lael is thinking about a nice ten-day riding binge back to the Red Sea.  There may be no other bikepacking race in the world that pushes through the crowded marketplace of an ancient city.  The HLC starts April 9.

From Sde Boker to the south Dead Sea.

Nicholas Carman1 3866

Nearing the rim of Makhtesh Gadol, or the Great Makhtesh– The Big Crater.

Nicholas Carman1 3953

Into the makhtesh, a natural non-impact crater found only in this region.  The entire makhtesh drains though a single wadi at the southeastern end.  

Nicholas Carman1 3874

The HLC features miles of mellow dirt roads, sinuous lines of singletrack, and here, some chunky 4×4 tracks.

Nicholas Carman1 3877

Nicholas Carman1 3878

Nicholas Carman1 3879

Nicholas Carman1 3954

Nicholas Carman1 3880

 Nicholas Carman1 3955

Nicholas Carman1 3883

Nicholas Carman1 3885

The Tsin River at -200ft, and still descending.

Nicholas Carman1 3886

Weathered date palms and other salt-resistant flora.

Nicholas Carman1 3888

Nicholas Carman1 3890

Nicholas Carman1 3893

A short lungbusting climb to a high vista above the river, still only at -278ft.  The lowest point in the USA at Badwater, Death Valley, CA is just four feet lower at -282ft.  But I am still on top of a hill.

Nicholas Carman1 3894

Nicholas Carman1 3895

Our route crosses to an adjacent valley, where we ride a gravelly wadi, recently compacted and cemented by rain.  The jeep tracks in the center are softer than the surrounding riverbed, which is often less smooth than the softer tracks in the center.  It is a riddle often without an answer, except perhaps a fatbike. 

Nicholas Carman1 3896

Nicholas Carman1 3897

Into a precise and narrow canyon of soft limestone, down to Ein Tamar at the southern end of the Dead Sea.  Looks like rock, but is soft like fragile dry clay.  Really fun and easy downhill riding, especially when a clear drainage presents itself.  This section is signed as a local MTB route.

Nicholas Carman1 3899

Nicholas Carman1 3900

We arrive in Ein Tamar just after dark and discover a public camp in a spacious town park featuring fresh water and pit toilets.  The local grocery is well stocked and open late.  We often dream about free, legal camping and cold beers at the end of a long day.  The combination usually remains a dream, but is not uncommon in the Negev.  In most communities in the desert you may ask for a place to camp, while some even have simple established places for camping.  Just ask.

Nicholas Carman1 3903

About a kilometer from the town is the southern terminus of the Dead Sea, which is exclusively cultivated for salt production in the south, separated into evaporation ponds.  No floating in the water down here.

Nicholas Carman1 3904

Additional spoils of our free campsite, and of traveling in a wealthy country.  I find 22 strawberry yogurts in the trash at the park, obvious remnants from a picnic on the previous day, discarded alongside plates of Israeli salad and paper coffee cups, and a persimmon.  How many yogurts can we pack on our already loaded bikes?  Well, about 22.  There is always a way.  I ate 14 that day.  Lael insisted on counting.  

Nicholas Carman1 3905

Salt ponds, land mines.

Nicholas Carman1 3957

Shade.

Nicholas Carman1 3906

The HLC follows dirt tracks to the west of the Dead Sea for some time, crossing drainages at the base of the mountains before turning sharply upward and away from the valley.

Nicholas Carman1 3907

Nicholas Carman1 3908

Nicholas Carman1 3909

More chalky wadi riding.  Sublime when dry, miserable when wet.

Nicholas Carman1 3910

1000ft up an unrideable hiking trail away from Nowe Zohar begins our ascent out of the Jordan Valley.  Toward the center of the country, forests and flowers, and Jerusalem!

Nicholas Carman1 3913

Central Negev Loop with Ilan and Danny, Israel

Nicholas Carman1 3815

The plan is to meet in Ezuz on Thursday night, near the border with Egyptian Sinai.  We’ll ride for two days through a southwestern slice of Israel normally reserved for artillery training and ranging antelope, and not much else save for a single road crossing with a free campground and a water tap.  Israelis call this “the backyard”.  When we arrive, I ask about the terrain even through I’ve studied the GPS track.  “Should be mostly dirt roads”, Ilan says.  

Ilan and Danny are coming from the city, escaping busy lives for fifty something hours of touring and training in preparation for the upcoming Holyland MTB Challenge, a north-to-south cross country endurance race set to depart in early April.  Ilan is, as he calls it, a shadow organizer of the event, who is proud of the route, the website, and the chance for others to ride and race across Israel.  Both Ilan and Danny rode last year– mostly together– and both scratched from the race after five days.  Achilles tendons worn by pushing bikes uphill is the shared excuse, although they weren’t on track to finish the 800+ mile route within the 11 day cutoff.  Both are keenly working to improve several underrepresented mountain biking skills: bike pushing, sleeping comfortably and efficiently outside, and learning to rest and relax while stopped outside gas stations and grocery stores.  

Lael and I plan to arrive in Ezuz by way of dirt roads from Sde Boker, which is a quick ride on hardpacked dirt with tailwinds.  It is Thursday afternoon and the area marked “No Tresspassing!  Firing Area”, is silent.  The Israeli weekend is Friday and Saturday.  We arrive in Ezuz four hours before Ilan and Danny will arrive, but just as two other riders depart the cafe.  One rider is named Ilan.  For a minute, I’m confused.  What is your last name?  “Rubenstein”, he clarifies.  Ok, not the Ilan we are meeting, but he knows that the other Ilan is coming.  How is it that on the same day two bikepackers named Ilan are riding across the same desert tracks from Ezuz, a tiny community of only twelve families?  This Ilan assures me that the coincidence was discovered days ago, via email or forums.  Since the route is only passable on weekends, and the desert is only palatable in the cooler months, and the HLC is fast approaching, the coincidence is understandable.  This is our second major introduction to the active bikepacking community in Israel.  The first are the dozens of emails I’ve received from riders who have offered assistance, shelter, and routing through their country.  Lael and I remark that South Africa was supposed to be real hot about mountain biking.  I’d never heard of mountain biking in Israel, but I’ll be sure that you do.  These people actually ride bikes!

Danny and Ilan arrive in the evening as scheduled.  After introductions and a beer, we settle into a nearby grove for an early rise, agreed not to come from an alarm– we’ll meet in the morning when we wake.  Seems logical.  You never know who you’ll meet on the internet.  

Morning brings a casual pedal up-drainage, slowly trending steeper through gravelly wadi and hard dirt riverbank.  The effort comes from the upper legs, from deep muscles, but is not entirely exhausting for us.  That is, Lael and I have been at this for over six months, and we’ve been sucking air tackling steep climbs and gravelly wadi since arriving in Eilat.  Danny and Ilan are more accustomed to the hard dirt trails up north, and probably office chairs, I think.  They describe spacious pine forests and manicured trails in the center of the country.  

Nearing our expected midpoint lunch stop– a campground with water– we split the group in half.  Lael and I ride onward to rest at the campground.  Lael wants to go for a run, so we agree to get there first.  Danny and Ilan rest in the shade of a river bank, agreeing to meet a short time later.  Danny arrives at the campground as Lael is off running.  We talk.  Lael returns.  The three of us talk, fill waters, lube chains.  Ilan is missing.  Danny and I jump on our bikes, now several hours since arriving here for our rest.  The sun is getting low.  We meet Ilan just over the first rise, pushing his bike.  He has pushed for 6km, which accounts for some of the only easily rideable dirt road of our half-day wadi ascent, not that it was easy.  But it was rideable.   

Under the shade of stone walls and palm fronds– a free camp area provided by the Israeli government– we clean out the inside of his tire.  Danny has a tube that doesn’t have any holes in it.  Ilan has been carrying his tube for years– never needing it, until now– discovering it has since been damaged by two years of transport on a bike.  Flipping his Trek Superfly right side up, we consult the maps loaded to memory and agree to ride the paved road to Mizpe Ramon.  There, we eat, we sleep, and restart in the morning.  Most importantly, we alter our course across the desert in trade for some fresh singletrack.  A section of the Israel Bike Trail from Mizpe Ramon to the ruins at Moa (near Zofar) has recently been built and signed, the newest piece in an expansive cross-country trail project which mirrors the Israel National Trail.  And, we’ll descend all day.  At least, we’ll finish the day lower than we started.

The IBT is a delicacy in a land of rough cut 4×4 tracks and sandy wadi.  The modern, durable trail is cut from cliffbanks, sinuous and signed for miles.  Intermittent sections of doubletrack offer mental respite from the trail, although in total, the IBT is suitable for novice to intermediate riders with strong fitness.  This is not the kind of trail that will scare first time bikepackers.  It will embrace them, leaving a smile.  It is a welcomed resource in a country already densely woven with riding and walking.  Israel is a great place to ride, and it’s getting better.  Events such as the Holyland MTB Challenge are working hard to make that fact known.

Swinging from canyon wall to canyon wall, traversing the sandy wadi with spinning legs and speed, the IBT shuttles us back down to sea level, to a series of ancient ruins, to a McDonalds on a paved road, to a bus back to Tel Aviv, and to the end of our brief partnership.  Ilan washes in the public bathroom, exiting almost as if he has showered wearing flip-flops and wet hair.  Lael and I are quick to buy and finish an expensive beer from the convenience store.  Sharing a few more pedals strokes away from the McDonald’s, we turn back upstream toward Sde Boker, now 11 feet below sea level in the Aravah Valley.  Danny and Ilan continue to the bus stop on the roadside.  

Arriving at Sde Boker, about 1500ft.

Nicholas Carman1 3756

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, lies here.  The community also claims a university in an idyllic mountain desert landscape.  Many rural Israeli communities were built in the 1950’s and 60’s, reminding me of the many large university building built during this era in the US.  I think of SUNY Albany.  The designs are efficient, square, concrete.

Nicholas Carman1 3757

Nicholas Carman1 3855

Nicholas Carman1 3758

Sde Boker has a small bike shop, guarded by a tough group of local riders.

Nicholas Carman1 3759

To Ezuz.  They say it rained the week before we arrived.  Nothing but sun for us, although nights are cool and breezy.

Nicholas Carman1 3760

Ezuz.  Singlespeeds, Revelate luggage, and some capable riders.  Ilan Rubenstein, on the right, had kindly contacted me via the blog prior to our meeting.  I just didn’t know we’d meet like this.  We wait for Danny and the other Ilan.

Nicholas Carman1 3761

Pizza and beer in the middle of nowhere, Israel.

Nicholas Carman1 3763

In a stack of National Geographic magazines, I spot a series of issues from 1973 and 1974.  I know what I am looking for: “Bikepacking Across Alaska and Canada” by Dan Burden, May 1973.  This is the earliest use of the word bikepacking I’ve seen in print.

For Velo Orange fans, you’ll be excited to know the article which follows it is about the wild horses of the Camargue preserve in Southern France.  The Camargue is the name of a new Velo Orange touring frame with clearance for full-size 29″ tires.  An unnamed disc variant is soon to be released, although the styling breaks from the traditional European elements Velo Orange has championed for so long. 

Nicholas Carman1 3764

Many Israelis speak excellent English.  Even so, there is a unity in familiar equipment and sleeping on the ground.

Nicholas Carman1 3768

Nicholas Carman1 3770

As promised, “dirt roads”.  Kinda soft for 2.2″ tires, in my opinion.  Thinking about coming back to these parts with fatbikes some day.

Nicholas Carman1 3772

Some riding, some walking.  Good training for the HLC.

Nicholas Carman1 3771

Nicholas Carman1 3778

Nicholas Carman1 3773

Nicholas Carman1 3774

Nicholas Carman1 3776

The track finally climbs out of the wadi onto a hard dirt road.  We ride to fresh water, leaving Danny and Ilan behind.  

Nicholas Carman1 3777

Nicholas Carman1 3779

Nicholas Carman1 3780

Danny and I return to find Ilan, pushing his bike.  The rear rim skips across angular rocks, the deflated tire battered by months of use and six kilometers of pushing.

Nicholas Carman1 3782

Nicholas Carman1 3781

Nicholas Carman1 3784

Nicholas Carman1 3822

A quick tour of the tar road to Mizpe Ramon.

Nicholas Carman1 3788

Nicholas Carman1 3791

Nicholas Carman1 3792

Digital and caloric refuel at the gas station in town, before rolling less than a kilometer down the road to a free public camping area for the night.

Nicholas Carman1 3824

Nicholas Carman1 3795

Nicholas Carman1 3794

The small forest features fresh water, toilets, and trash cans.  A youth groups tends a fiery blaze for a few hours, until bedtime.  Free camping is awesome.

Nicholas Carman1 3796

The next morning, we arrive at the edge of town, at the edge of a cliff, at the edge of a crater, called makhtesh in Hebrew.

Nicholas Carman1 3798

Fresh IBT, all day long.

Nicholas Carman1 3820

These non-impact craters are the largest of their kind in the world, and the Hebrew word is accepted by the geologic community to describe them.  A single water gap drains each crater.  There are three prominent craters in the region.

Nicholas Carman1 3813

Nicholas Carman1 3814

Danny removes a broken spoke which has wound itself into the back of his cassette, hindering the freehub.  Both Danny and Ilan are part of a MTB group– 4 Epic– which organizes local races and rides.  Israelis are organized and efficient.  

Nicholas Carman1 3818

High quality trail, simple and durable, perfect for multi-day rides.  Would you please sign it in the other direction?  The trail is currently only signed north to south.

Nicholas Carman1 3826

“Get off bikes!”  Yeah right.

Nicholas Carman1 3825

Nicholas Carman1 3828

Nicholas Carman1 3830

A gasline road rolls across the basin of the makhtesh.  On their second day from town, and from office chairs, these guys are finally finding their stride.  Less than two months to go!  We talk about new gear choices for this year, and new strategies.  Ilan is walking the 11 flights of stairs to his office, preparing his hike-a-bike legs.  Rubber soled shoes are to be used instead of the hard plastic soles found on many performance shoes.

Nicholas Carman1 3831

Nicholas Carman1 3833

Nicholas Carman1 3834

Some of the trail is “green circle”, which makes Lael grin.

Nicholas Carman1 3836

Nicholas Carman1 3837

Ilan rides a full-suspension Trek Superfly with a mix of Revelate Designs and Nuclear Sunrise luggage.  The framebag space of a hardtail would be nice, he says.  The modular waterproof Revelate Terrapin setbag allows easy gear removal at the end of the day.  An SP dynamo hub powers an Exposure headlight, and soon, also the GPS.  A Lezyne backpack carries extra food and water.

Nicholas Carman1 3841

Nicholas Carman1 3842

Danny is riding a hardtail Trek Superfly with a Jones Loop H-barRevelate Designs luggage, and a Wingnut pack for extra food and water.

Nicholas Carman1 3843

Up, but not much.

Nicholas Carman1 3844

Nicholas Carman1 3845

And down.  Way more flow than the previous day.  

Nicholas Carman1 3847

Finishing with a short downstream wadi ride, we miss the final section of IBT singletrack to Moa.  We’ll have to come back with our Alaskan friend Christina for this piece of trail.  She arrives next week.

Nicholas Carman1 3849

Retro-modern: checking the bus schedule aside several thousand year old ruins.

Nicholas Carman1 3851

The end of our partnership.  Back to our real lives.

Nicholas Carman1 3852

Nicholas Carman1 3853

Nicholas Carman1 3854

Back to Sde Boker, by the now-familiar HLC route over the Marzeva climb.

Nicholas Carman1 3856

Nicholas Carman1 3857

Nicholas Carman1 3858

Nicholas Carman1 3859

Nicholas Carman1 3860

Camel tracks.

Nicholas Carman1 3862

Nicholas Carman1 3863

Back up to Sde Boker, just 1500ft above sea level.  Our next day of riding will take us all the way down to the Dead Sea, more than 1000ft below sea level.

Nicholas Carman1 3864

Thanks to Danny and Ilan for a great weekend on the bike.

Thanks to Tamir and Adi for hosting us in Sde Boker.

Ilan– the other one– we may still see you in Eilat.

Nicholas Carman1 3868

Negev heart, Israel

Nicholas Carman1 3744

Some days in the Negev desert: resupply at kibbutz, riding sandy wadi and rocky trail, sleeping out under a waxing gibbous, a full moon, and not too distant artillery fire.  Thorny acacia trees are the bridge between South Africa and Israel, although shade is far less important in this northern winter.  We love the desert.  Halva, olives, persimmons, wine, pita, cucumbers, onion, hummus, and water.

Nicholas Carman1 3718

Nicholas Carman1 3733

Nicholas Carman1 3736

Nicholas Carman1 3722

Nicholas Carman1 3725

Nicholas Carman1 3735

Nicholas Carman1 3723

Nicholas Carman1 3743

Nicholas Carman1 3726

Nicholas Carman1 3727

Nicholas Carman1 3738

Nicholas Carman1 3739

Nicholas Carman1 3728

Nicholas Carman1 3730

Nicholas Carman1 3717

Nicholas Carman1 3731

Nicholas Carman1 3747

Nicholas Carman1 3719

A bus on the Jordanian border, Israel

Nicholas Carman1 3713

A night on the HLC and IBT routes, which for a time follow adjacent tracks along the Jordanian-Israeli border in the Aravah Valley.  No plan for camp and too much time spent inspecting sandy dates and pomelos on the ground, night falls too soon.  The desert expanse is without features for miles, and a north wind blows.  A bus resides between and beneath two communication towers, within sight of a disused observation structure on the Jordanian side.  Russian and Hebrew graffiti color the outside of the bus.  Passing from Egypt to Israel, we are no longer wealthy tourists but experienced opportunistic dirtbags.  I swear, we haven’t changed.

Nicholas Carman1 3715

Nicholas Carman1 3708

Nicholas Carman1 3709

Nicholas Carman1 3711

Nicholas Carman1 3710

Nicholas Carman1 3714

From Eilat on the IBT and HLC, Israel

Nicholas Carman1 3696

No culture shock, except two-thirds of every road sign is illegible, and one-third is in English.  And, for the first day we don’t know the exchange rate from shekels to dollars, so Monopoly rules apply (try not to spend, but it is not real money so who cares).  The other two languages are Hebrew and Arabic, with Hebrew on top.  

Leaving Egypt, border agents rigorously inspect a few chosen items, ignoring most of the rest.  They seem most curious to fondle the sack of flatbread in my framebag, ignoring the conspicuous 2L steel bottle on the underside of my down tube.  Israeli border agents are far more professional, interviewing each of us separately to determine how we manage to travel with so little luggage, for so long.  “Don’t you stop to see the sights?”  Lael informs her that we are always seeing sights, all the time.  Our bikes are loaded onto the conveyor and sent through the x-ray machine.  

Public bathrooms with sit-down toilets and paper and hot water, and they don’t cost two rand.  Free sugar packets from every roadhouse.  But cane juice is gone and the bread isn’t as good as Egypt, and everything seems really expensive except it’s really just like America.  Local kibbutz communities do produce organic dates, olives, goat yogurt, and wines; although expensive, they are worth the money.  The biggest homecoming to the first world?  Some schmuck who asks too many questions he already knows the answer to, while I am eating.  Don’t interrupt my meal to be a schmuck.  I’m far too familiar with this practice.  Americans do it well.

We connect signed dirt trails straight out of Eilat, linking to the Holyland MTB Challenge race route and the Israel Bicycle Trail the next morning.  The Holyland MTB Challenge took place for the first time last April, connecting the southern border at the Red Sea to the Golan Heights in the north, near Syria.  The Israel Bike Trail will also connect the country north to south, and is currently complete from Eilat to Mitzpe Ramon, included miles and miles of freshly signed and graded singletrack through the mountainous desert.  Thus far, in two days of riding, the two routes coincide for much of their distance.  Thus far, the riding and camping is Israel is great.   

Leaving Eilat and the Red Sea.

Nicholas Carman1 3676

Hiking and cycling trails, signage not seen since Europe. 

Nicholas Carman1 3677

Nicholas Carman1 3679

Designated camping areas minimize impact on the land.  Often provided for free, they do not have water, but offer space and fire pits.  So far, I’ve seen only drive-in sites on dirt roads.  

Nicholas Carman1 3678

Nicholas Carman1 3681

Technical riding on rocky sandy footpaths, trying to find our own way through the mountains.

Nicholas Carman1 3682

Easy cycling routes, mostly on dirt roads.  Camels on wheels are cool.

Nicholas Carman1 3683

The colors of the Israel National Hiking Trail.

Nicholas Carman1 3684

Which provides a shortcut up a mountain.  We choose to hike our bikes to avoid a $12 per person park fee, required by way of the main dirt road and the HLC/IBT route.  

Nicholas Carman1 3686

Nice trail.

Nicholas Carman1 3688

Nicholas Carman1 3689

Which opens up to a rideable plateau up top and a playground of trails.

Nicholas Carman1 3690

Nicholas Carman1 3691

Nicholas Carman1 3692

Eventually connecting to the IBT and the HLC route.

Nicholas Carman1 3694

Nicholas Carman1 3697

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) property and nature reserves cover much of Israel, I’ve been told.

Nicholas Carman1 3698

Incidentally, IBT signage only routes from north to south– no signs coming from the south.  Hopefully the northbound signage is forthcoming.

Nicholas Carman1 3675

Fresh trail.

Nicholas Carman1 3699

And an unofficial wild camp on an east facing ridge.  A campground listed on my GPS turned out to be a commercial quarry.  Instead, we take the opportunity to camp up high, overlooking the Aravah Valley and Jordan.

Nicholas Carman1 3670

Haven’t found alcohol for our stove yet, so a fresh cup of singletrack will have to do.  The imprint of the trail-building machines can still be seen.  Jordan in the distance.

Nicholas Carman1 3671

Switchbacks and countours– modern trailbuilding, durable trail.

Nicholas Carman1 3701

Old trail, and new bike-specific trail, both apparently in use.

Nicholas Carman1 3702

Some sand, not too much, but just enough soft stuff to think that now would be a good time for 29+.  Are those Surly Dirt Wizards available yet? 

Nicholas Carman1 3703

Fresh goat yogurt at our only resupply point for the day, the cafe at kibbutz Neot Semadar.

Nicholas Carman1 3705

More fresh trail.

Nicholas Carman1 3704

Arroyos, called wadi, which is Arabic for valley, usually a dry desert valley.

Nicholas Carman1 3672

We plan to ride a few more days of the HLC/IBT before turning west to meet a group of riders over the weekend, which will lead us back south toward Eilat.  Thereafter, we shoot north to meet our friend Christina in Tel Aviv, who is flying from Alaska for ten days of sun and sand in the desert.  Cool nights, warm days; dry, not too hot, fresh trail– nothing not to like.  

Nicholas Carman1 3669

Facebook and cigarettes; Sinai, Egypt

Nicholas Carman1 3597

I’m taking grainy high ISO photos of soldiers taking pictures of others soldiers standing with their arm around Lael.  The sun has set and we’re standing outside a major military checkpoint on the main highway in Sinai, at the junction with the road up to St. Catherine’s and Mt. Sinai.  They’ve taken pictures standing beside me, but they seem to prefer Lael.  I’ve been in this country long enough to expect that.  Technically, the soldiers are considerate of the way they handle her.  It still kind of disgusts me, but that’s my own projection on their otherwise polite behavior.  Maybe it is the comments in Arabic which are followed by laughs that concern me.  I smile in non-commmital non-agreement, so as not to be standing expressionless when they are laughing.  One of the three men in the group named Muhammad offers another Cleopatra cigarette.  Butane lighters rise from every pocket, each reaching to light another man’s cigarette.    

I’m told to show the photos I’ve just taken.  “You must delete, no military picture”.  They continue the cell phone photo shoot.  Another truck arrives, expected to be our last ride of the day, now past dark.  We sit in the back seat of this vehicle, the first extended cab and the first cushioned seat of the day.  The truck will depart at 7.  Meanwhile, four soldiers including the commanding officer, who compares himself to a tiger, are huddled around four cell phones.  They are focused on the larger Samsung phone with a proper screen.  What’s the chance they’re handling official business via the phones?  Within the hour we’re blowing up the pockets of Egyptian soldiers all over Sinai.  From the last six months in Albania and Lesotho, and now in Sinai, I’m convinced this is “the year of Facebook”.  I wasn’t alive when we set foot on the moon or color television arrived.  But I was in Sinai when Facebook landed.

We’ve been shuttled down the western coastline of the Sinai Peninsula in five different trucks, this our sixth.  Riding from Cairo under the Suez Canal– I surely thought we wouldn’t be allowed to ride through the tunnel– we are stopped at the first checkpoint leading south onto the peninsula.  There, the police confiscate our passports.  We wait in the shade.  A “convoy” will soon arrive.  We begin riding behind a police truck.  Within a kilometer, the commanding officer realizes we are not riding motorcycles and that we will not be able to keep pace at 90km/h.  A coach bus full of tourists is part of our convoy and the driver is yelling about something.  We are forced to load our bikes into the back of the truck, reluctantly, although I quickly relent.  The road is flat, surrounded by mostly flat desert and abandoned hotels and trash.  At each checkpoint, we unload our bicycles and wait for another truck to arrive to cart us across the following section of road.  By the time we reach the second checkpoint no one knows who we are or where we are going, except they ask for our passport and ask where we’ve come from and arrange another ride. I’ve taken the front wheel off our bicycles to pack them into the back of the second truck, leaving room for the two of us and two young recruits with two ancient AK-47s.  By the third checkpoint, it is assumed our bicycles are broken.  Surprisingly, nobody speaks more than a few words of English.  I don’t speak a word of Arabic, yet.  I am surprised, considering the hordes of young men with near-perfect English in Cairo selling services and counterfeit sunglasses and jeans.  Not until we arrive in the city of El Tor do we meet someone that can explain the situation, which doesn’t require much explaining.  They consider the road isn’t safe to cycle, although dozens of private vehicles and tour buses pass.  We’re told we cannot be riding after dark.  I try to explain that we weren’t; we were first stopped seven hours ago.  Another officer insists, scathingly, that we mustn’t ride after dark.  Okay.

After a night in Tor, we are allowed to ride to Sharm el Sheik, the package tourist resort town at the southern tip of the peninsula.  Arriving at dark we camp out in the desert on the way out of town.  In the morning, we are not allowed to pass the checkpoint, and are forced to pay for a seat on the next East Delta bus to pass.  Arriving in Dahab, I spot a dotted line on a tourist map connecting to Nuweiba via the coast.  I ask the attendant at the petrol station if such a road exists.  “Yes, behind the Blue Hole you must carry your bike over the hill.”  This is our only chance to explore Sinai off-pavement.  If we go back to the main road we surely will not be able to ride.

To anyone looking to ride through Sinai, until the situation changes, which it will, you should be allowed to travel from Eilat, Israel to Cairo, but almost certainly not via the road straight across the peninsula.  Rather, you will take the road to the south through Sharm el Sheik.   At the discretion of each checkpoint officer, you may be allowed to ride.  Otherwise, frequent bus services are offered between Taba and Sharm el Sheik, and from Sharm to Cairo, with stops in between.  You may be shuttled into the back of police trucks as we were.  It is not the right time to plan a visit to Sinai, but if you are hoping to continue a long-distance ride through the region (Syria would be a bigger problem), it is possible.  Sharm el Sheik and Dahab are still welcoming a small but steady flow of tourists from Russia, UK, EU, and USA, as well as many Egyptians on winter holiday.   

Leaving Cairo via the main road, decreasingly busy as we near Suez and the Sinai Peninsula.

Nicholas Carman1 3613

Nicholas Carman1 3614

Our first night is spent adjacent a military checkpoint in an abandoned building.  Six 22 year old soldiers invite us in for tea at dusk, sit us in their bunkhouse, and prepare a dinner of flatbread, scrambled eggs, and soft feta.  They close the door and leave us to eat privately.  After another cup of tea and the offer of a cigarette, they show us the building across the road.  While protected from the wind, the sound of passing trucks commands our dreams for the night.

Nicholas Carman1 3615

Roadside stops are nicely appointed, offering hot drinks and shisha.  Cold drinks and packaged goods are available.  Amazing how a cooler full of cold cans and some dusty seating could be anywhere in the world.

Nicholas Carman1 3617

Nicholas Carman1 3598

Sinai at the speed of a police escort.

Nicholas Carman1 3618

Both boys are named Muhammad.

Nicholas Carman1 3621

Nicholas Carman1 3596

Another checkpoint, between mountains and the sea.

Nicholas Carman1 3623

El Tor to Sharm el Sheik.

Nicholas Carman1 3624

Nicholas Carman1 3627

Sharm el Sheik is the kind of place to avoid unless you enjoy the spectacle.  A constant state of incomplete development and cheap tourist tricks mar the otherwise beautiful setting at the southern tip of Sinai.  Many signs are in Russian.  

Nicholas Carman1 3628

Nicholas Carman1 3594

Nicholas Carman1 3630

East Delta bus to Dahab.

Nicholas Carman1 3629

Dahab, a long-haired version of Sharm where divers and Russian beach bums spend the winter.  The Blue Hole is a popular diving attraction.  Not a bad place to kill a few months for cheap.  Reminds us of Baja.

Nicholas Carman1 3632

We’ll come back with fatbikes some day.  

Nicholas Carman1 3631

Nicholas Carman1 3612

We push out of town just before dark, hiking over the hill behind the Blue Hole and camping on the beach for the night.  

Nicholas Carman1 3634

Nicholas Carman1 3611

The trail continues for several kilometers to Ras Abu Galum, where a dirt road resumes all the way to Nuweiba.  

Nicholas Carman1 3604

Nicholas Carman1 3637

Egyptians account for the few people enjoying the simple beach camp at Ras Abu Galum.  The Peace Land Cafe provides simple foods and some drinks, as well as accommodations in the form of simple shelters.

Nicholas Carman1 3638

Other than a few tourists and some Bedouins, there isn’t much out here.  There are two military checkpoints on the way to Nuweiba.  None of the young men at either checkpoint are in uniform, and none are armed.  There is a friendly Jordanian-Italian man who lives in Holland fishing for calamari with an old Bedouin man whom he calls his uncle.  

Nicholas Carman1 3642

Nicholas Carman1 3639

Nicholas Carman1 3640

Nicholas Carman1 3641

Near Nuweiba, local Bedouins are fishing for the day, preparing foods over fires on the beach.

Nicholas Carman1 3667

Nicholas Carman1 3646

Nicholas Carman1 3647

Nicholas Carman1 3602

“Come!  Tea!  Eat!”  Typical Egyptian hospitality.

Nicholas Carman1 3649

Nicholas Carman1 3603

Old Testament.

Nicholas Carman1 3654

Nicholas Carman1 3652

Home for the night in one of many abandoned buildings on the coast.

Nicholas Carman1 3601

Nicholas Carman1 3660

Nuweiba.

Nicholas Carman1 3658

Nicholas Carman1 3662

Nicholas Carman1 3655

Just about a dime a dozen.  Beats the hell out of a baguette.

Nicholas Carman1 3659

Nicholas Carman1 3663

Thankfully, we are allowed to ride from Nuweiba to Taba, and across the border to Israel.

At the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

Nicholas Carman1 3610

Welcoming Russian, Ukrainan, and EU tourists.  Who expects Ukrainian tourists?  You know you’ve found a budget travel destination when…

Nicholas Carman1 3664

Israel claims only several kilometers of Red Sea coastline, as does Jordan.  Both make the most of it. 

Nicholas Carman1 3665

We are not in Egypt any more.  Into Israel to check out the Israel National Bike Trail and the Holyland MTB Challenge race route!  Anyone living in Israel, Jordan, or Palestine?

Nicholas Carman1 3666

Dragon’s Spine: Barberton to Limpopo (to Joburg)

Nicholas Carman1 3380

This is another composite route, heavily guided by the Dragon’s Spine Route through Mpumalanga and Limpopo, with the exception of the section through the Wolksberg Wilderness.  The route from Messina to Joburg is our own.

Nelspruit- Alkmaar- Mount Carmel Pass- Long Tom’s Pass- Blyderivier- Pilgrim’s Rest- Kaspersnek Pass- Ohrigstad- Burgersfort- Bothashoek- Makuba- Dublin- Kappa- Modifa- Wolksberg Wilderness- Haenertsburg- Houtbosdorp- Mooketsi- Blinkwater- Letaba Dam- Thohoyandou- Gundani- Klein Tshipise- Popallin Ranch- Limpopo River- Messina (border town to Zimbabwe)- Mopane- Waterpoort- Vivo- Senwabarwana- Monte Christo- Rebone- Marken- Visgat- Vaalwater- Alma- Sandrivierspoort- Rooiberg- Leeupoort- Assen- Brits- Hartbeespoort Dam- Pretoria- Centurion- Johannesburg 

Dropping from elevation into Barberton and Nelspuit, in the northeastern Lowveld region of South Africa, the air is hot and humid.  We’ve tasted this air since first passing within range of the Indian Ocean, leaving the high mountains of Lesotho, but the experience is thickening by degrees and percent humidity each time we enter the lowlands, each time a degree of latitude further north to the equator.  Mangos are plentiful, such that we can hardly consume them as fast as we find them or are given bagfuls.  Bananas are sold by the roadside, but we do not see the trees.  Macadamia nuts are the new choice crop of white farmers, formerly citrus, avocado, or banana farmers, or urban professionals.  On a clear day it is hot.  On a hazy humid day it is hotter.  At night, inside two layers of tent (one for the bugs, the other for the heavy dew), millimeters from the sunbaked earth, stuck to a plastic sleeping pad without clothing, it is hottest.  There are a few nights where we don’t fall asleep until very late at night, already morning.  

The night before Christmas, tired from several long days of riding and too much sun, we awake before 5AM.  The night was too hot, the sunrise reveals the too hot sun.  But by the time we are rolling on the bikes, the breeze matches the rate of perspiration and the atmosphere is bearable and until midday I forget that I am tired.  In the shade, if you aren’t moving for long enough, it is possible to stop sweating.  Just don’t lift a finger.  

Day after day of sleepless nights and too hot days and wondering if anti-malarial Mefliam pills are making me hallucinate or if it is just the mirage and a tired brain, the challenge of a brief period of washboard on the sandy road alongside the Limpopo River is too much.  That feeling of riding full-speed into a rumblestrip of sandy washboard with sweat dripping from my nose, to be slowed to a speed in which every corrugation becomes an obstacle, bucking up and down– that is the moment.  I wait in the glittering shade of a thorn tree, agreeing to swarms of micro malarial mosquitoes in trade for some respite from the sun.  Most of my body is content with the sun, including my arms and shoulders, but our noses have taken a beating.  Lael arrives.  Almost without saying anything, there is agreement.  “I don’t think that I can do this for the next six months”, I say.  If we continue riding at our current pace, we’ll follow the vertical noon sun north, past the equator and all the way to Ethiopia and Sudan.  This is not the season for that trajectory.  “I don’t want to do this for the next six months.”  

We were planning to cross the border to Zimbabwe tomorrow.  Within six hours, having arrived in the border town of Messina, we’ve bought cheap plane tickets to Cairo.  In less than three weeks we fly from Johannesburg back through Doha to Cairo.  Our focus is on Israel, Turkey and Georgia, but there is more to it including Egypt, Armenia, and Lebanon.  Georgia has been the goal for the last two seasons.  There is much to be excited about.

Planning to cross into Zimbabwe soon, I prepare the bikes for several months of travel while in Nelspruit.  I service both suspension forks, replace consumable drivetrain parts on my bike, source a spare tire, brake pads, and a cable.  Lael‘s secondhand Rock Shox Reba fork came to us with her Raleigh XXIX back in 2012, part of a mostly complete bicycle sourced for $400.  The fork has been serviced four times, seals replaced once, and it has almost always been neglected on the road.  It still functions, and the stanchions show only slight wear, indicated by the subtle lightening of the gold colored finish. 

Nicholas Carman1 3357

It is a challenge to find suspension oil, even in a larger city like Nelspruit.  After asking around for a while, a friendly mechanic at the local BMW dealership gives me half a bottle of 10W oil.  The Reba technically calls for 15W, my Fox requires 10W. 

Nicholas Carman1 3321

Sadly, as I’d been warned, the stanchion on the air-spring side of my Fox Talas fork is greatly worn.  This is surely the result of contamination the many muddy situations we’ve found in the last six months.  Officially, negligence is to blame as Fox recommends the fork oil is replaced every 30 hours.  It has been well over 500 hours, I think.  

The fork never felt as supple as I would have liked, even when new.  I assumed tight-fitting fresh seals were to blame.  I should have serviced it when new, and several times since.  Yet, Lael’s fork has been similarly neglected four times over.  I might be looking at a Rock Shox fork next time around.  A rigid bike is again a consideration, especially with the widening range of 29+ rims and tires.    

Nicholas Carman1 3358

Leaving our hosts in Nelspruit, we shoot out of town after a full day of bike repairs, yellow fever shots, and preparations for crossing the border.  We spent three days with Warmshowers.org hosts in Nelspruit, and when we ask for a place to camp near the end of our first day from town, we are again invited inside for dinner and breakfast.  We’ve come to rely on South African hospitality.  Thanks to Vim and Estra in Nelspruit, as well as Edie and Roy on the road to Long Tom’s Pass.

Nicholas Carman1 3359

The meeting of commercial timberlands and the Escarpment gives us some of the most memorable rides in South Africa.

Nicholas Carman1 3360

Citrus and avocados abound.

Nicholas Carman1 3361

And timber.

Nicholas Carman1 3362

Nicholas Carman1 3363

Connecting to pavement, we round out the day’s ride by climbing Long Tom’s Pass, up near 7000ft.  Cool and breezy up here.  There is a brewery at the top of the pass called Hop’s Hollow, worth a brief visit.  Storm coming in.  The Dragon’s Spine route leaps away from the tar road onto a disused doubletrack, which connects to well used forest roads by morning.

Nicholas Carman1 3367

Nicholas Carman1 3369

Nicholas Carman1 3372

Nicholas Carman1 3371

Riding high above the town of Sabie, we spend most of the morning wondering if we should descend 3000ft+  to taste the famous pancakes in town.  Sabie is also known as a popular mountain bike destination.

Nicholas Carman1 3375

This and the edge of the Drakensberg Mountains between South Africa and Lesotho are some of the most clearly defined section of the Great Escarpment.  Small waterfalls drop from the Highveld to the Lowveld.

Nicholas Carman1 3376

Clear cut.

Nicholas Carman1 3377

Forest service roads are one of few resources in South Africa to get off the beaten path on a bike without crossing fences.

Nicholas Carman1 3379

Beautiful and plentiful dirt roads.

Nicholas Carman1 3381

Colorful shacks near the old mine at Pilgrim’s Rest, still inhabited.   

Nicholas Carman1 3382

Leaving Pilgrim’s Rest, we ride north on a roundabout path to Ohrigstad over Kaspersnek Pass.

Nicholas Carman1 3383

Surprise, a terrestial crab.  

Nicholas Carman1 3384

Nicholas Carman1 3385

Thanks to recent rains…

Nicholas Carman1 3386

…the bush is thriving.

Nicholas Carman1 3387

Back to the RR, an old friend by now.

Nicholas Carman1 3389

South Africans love the disc brakes.

“Where from?  Where to? How long?”

 “From Cape? Seriouz!?”  

Nicholas Carman1 3388

Seriouz.  And we’re off.  It’s the same in America.  Everyone is impressed, but nobody cares.  That’s fine.  

Nicholas Carman1 3390

Nicholas Carman1 3391

We blast thorough one town after another enjoying the open roads and the approach to Zimbabwe.   

Nicholas Carman1 3393

The map doesn’t really indicate that we’re entering a former black area, except that a lot of small towns with unfamiliar names are shown.  I’m not sure how it was administered during Apartheid, but there are thousands and thousands of black families living in villages along the road we’ve chosen.  The road diminishes in quality, eventually the kind of thoroughfare which naturally widens as each vehicle tries to avoid the rocks and potholes and frozen ruts in the center.  Most small towns in South Africa don’t even build sidewalks to connect the sub-urban black townships to the historically white towns.  Shame. 

Nicholas Carman1 3394

South Africans of all kinds love margarine.

Nicholas Carman1 3400

Coca-Cola for the whole family, offered at a special price with a loaf of white bread and a can of Lucky Star Pilchards, a popular canned fish product in tomato sauce.

Nicholas Carman1 3395

We’re happy to know that maas is always available, as it has become our daily breakfast.  This is the most common brand in the country, produced by Danone.  It is consistently chunky and not too funky.  Most of the local brands feature variable textures and flavors, depending upon how much the cultures have developed.  Some have a definite sour cream flavor.  Most are more like yogurt.

Nicholas Carman1 3396

Nothing goes with pilchards, maas and Coca-Cola like the ANC (and pap), the most powerful political party in the country since the 1994 elections, currently blamed for mishandling the government.  Yet, “the people” vote for the ANC every year, winning more than 60% of the vote.  Eventually, the party will fragment.  The Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, and Congress of the People are gaining steam.  Competition is good.

If you haven’t heard, president Jacob Zuma has spent millions of dollars on his personal estate in KwaZulu-Natal.  This is as far as we get with most political discussions.  Surely, it is abominable, but the claim that everyone and everything is corrupt has lost value to me in the last six months, from Ukraine to Albania and South Africa.  It is often an excuse as much as an explanation.

Nicholas Carman1 3397

Into Dublin, South Africa.  We stray from the Dragon’s Spine route to explore a 4×4 track spotted on my Tracks4Africa maps.

Nicholas Carman1 3399

Nicholas Carman1 3401

The track makes a connection through the Wolksberg Wilderness.  It promises to be a 4×4 road, a designation that sits between “gravel” and “path” on my basemaps, leaving lots of room for variety.

Nicholas Carman1 3402

It turns out to be a true 4×4 track, abandoned due to washed out bridges, reclaimed by occasional cattle traffic and the odd hiker.    

Nicholas Carman1 3406

The twenty mile route begins with ten miles of flat singledoubletrack and many warm water stream crossings.

Nicholas Carman1 3403

Nicholas Carman1 3405

The only bridge still intact.

Nicholas Carman1 3408

Nicholas Carman1 3407

Eventually, it climbs 2000ft+, requiring a push up to elevation on the loose track.  

Nicholas Carman1 3411

The views are worth it, and the chance to be up at elevation is exciting.  A cool night would be nice.

Nicholas Carman1 3410

Nicholas Carman1 3412

Except we descend most of that elevation before dark.  We camp next to an abandoned house in the Wolksberg Wlderness, once a ranger’s residence or similar.  This place is one of few wide open spaces in South Africa, without people or fences.

Nicholas Carman1 3413

In the morning, we pass through Haenertsburg and load up with supplies for Christmas Day, not that we’ll need them, but we don’t know this at the time.  We encounter boundless hospitality and lots of shops open for business on Christmas Day.  Read more about it in the post “A Limpopo Christmas“.

Nicholas Carman1 3464

Nicholas Carman1 3423

Nicholas Carman1 3422

Nicholas Carman1 3465

I buy 6 vetkoeks, she offers two for free as she is packing up her stuff, stuffing a total of 8 into a plastic sack.  I hand her two more rand, because it isn’t a lot of money.  She finds that to be hilarious.

Nicholas Carman1 3425

People trails.

Nicholas Carman1 3426

Post-Christmas at the Shoprite.  

Nicholas Carman1 3428

The spoils of a climate and a season with nights to hot to sleep.  Mango fibers are stuck between my teeth for days, riding from mango tree to mango tree.

Nicholas Carman1 3431

Descending for the last time, the Limpopo River is in the distance.  Zimbabwe is just beyond the river.

Nicholas Carman1 3435

Uphill, a seemingly sisyphean task.  But that’s what dung beetles do, they roll shit uphill.

Nicholas Carman1 3434

Baobab.

Nicholas Carman1 3437

Along the Limpopo River, we decide that we simply cannot spend the next months of our lives in the tropics.  We gotta get out of here.  Joburg is about 500 miles south by dirt.

By sunset the next day, we have two plane tickets to Cairo.  The cart is momentarily in front of the horse, but we’ll catch up.

Nicholas Carman1 3482

Nicholas Carman1 3436

We start back towards Joburg along the RR line.

Nicholas Carman1 3443

A group of woman are harvesting mopane worms, the caterpillar of a common moth in the region.  

Nicholas Carman1 3439

A stick forces the guts out, like toothpaste from a tube. 

Nicholas Carman1 3438

Nicholas Carman1 3440

Nicholas Carman1 3441

We stop into the shop in the small RR town of Mopane, named for the tree, for which the caterpillars are also named.  The shop is housed in the old RR station which still serves a once or twice a week passenger line.  The shop, managed by an older couple who have lived most of their lives in rural South Africa, preserves the building and a valuable community resource.  

Nicholas Carman1 3448

Classic rural South Africana.

Nicholas Carman1 3444

Nicholas Carman1 3452

Nicholas Carman1 3451

They live in one of the old RR houses adjacent to the station.  

Nicholas Carman1 3447

We just wandered in for a cold beer near the end of the day, but the result is many hours of conversation, dinner, a bed for the night, and coffee in the morning.  And the chance to be a part of the community for a time.  If riding near Messina, stop through Mopane, just 20 miles southwest of town.  This couple has adopted a boy– nine year ago– who is now thirteen and would have loved to see our bicycles, they say.  Sadly, he is at home with his extended family for the school holiday.

Nicholas Carman1 3450

We find ourselves picking lines on the map again, passing miles and miles of game farms, which mean miles and miles of fencelines and bush.

Those are some big tracks.

Nicholas Carman1 3459

In typical South African fashion, we are invited to stay with a family on holiday, who are residing for the week within a game park.

Nicholas Carman1 3461

In the morning, some tame zebras are eating hay by the side of the house.  

Nicholas Carman1 3462

Thunderstorm avoidance.  Open on Saterde from 8:30-14:00.

Nicholas Carman1 3466

Hartbeespoort Dam near Brits.  It is all tar from here to Pretoria.

Nicholas Carman1 3470

But there is a healthy slice of singletrack en route to Johannesburg, by way of the Braamfontein Spruit Trail (nice video here).  

Nicholas Carman1 3471

We’ve ridden in every province in South Africa, except the North Cape, but including the embedded countries of Swaziland and Lesotho.  We’re already talking about coming back someday, possibly with fatbikes, to visit the North Cape, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.  For now, the chapter is closed.  That’s three months in South Africa.  Three months ago, I didn’t know anything about South Africa. 

Nicholas Carman1 3473

Thanks to David Bristow and Steve Thomas for compiling the Dragon’s Spine Route, and for publishing GPS tracks on the Dragon Trax website.  The route connects the southwestern city of Cape Town to the border of Zimbabwe in the north, through Lesotho, and is a treasure for anyone interested in adventure cycling and South Africa.  This is the definitive off-pavement touring route across South Africa.  

Nicholas Carman1 2478

 

Grassveld, Battlefields, Timberlands, Swaziland

Nicholas Carman1 3230

This route is a composite from the Dragon Trax website and our own adventure compass, connecting the border of Lesotho at Monantsa Pass through Swaziland at Bulembu, passing through part of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga Provinces in South Africa. The riding mainly consists of wide open gravel roads, railroad service roads, and forest roads, as well as some tar.    

Monantsa Pass (Lesotho/RSA)- Phuthaditjhaba- Kestell- Aberfeldy- Harrismith- Colling’s Pass- Elandslagte- Wasbank- Dundee- Utrecht- Knight’s Pass- Paulpietersburg- Piet Retief- Emahlatini Border (RSA/Swaziland)- Mankayane- Lusutfu River- Bhunya- Thembisa- Ngwenya- Maguga Dam- Pigg’s Peak Gold Mine- Ntabeni River- Bulembu- Josephdal Border (Swaziland/RSA) 

Only a week ago, I was happy to be leaving South Africa for Lesotho.  But we’re pleased to be back.  We look forward to a proper shower, an internet connection, and vetkoeks.  The thing we crave most is the mental space to relax.  I’ve never considered myself an especially private person– and I’m not in my own culture, I don’t think– but Lesotho has shown me how much personal privacy we have built into our lives. 

In time, South Africa is less and less challenging.  And while we are still learning and questioning and understanding, we begin an unconscious process of acceptance.  We know what we will find in local shops and what we like to eat.  We know how and where to find places to camp or who to ask.  We know which tar roads might have wide shoulders, which will have little traffic, and that the endless gravel roads are our home.  That word– “home”– is something which comes up infrequently while on the road.  It is only through the impassioned love of a place, such as in Albania, or with time that we might think of a place as home.  Here, it is time which has worked to make us feel this way.  That, and the shared cultural elements which make South Africa so much like America.  I have to laugh when South Africans ask knowingly about America, to point at the faults which Hollywood and media have so effectively spread to their shores.  Yes, we eat a lot of junk food and drive big cars and get fat.  It’s true.  

“But so do South Africans”, I say.

“Is it?”, which is the universal response for anything agreeable or disagreeable in South Africa.  Lean you head to the side, and ask calmly, “is it?”  It means as much or as little as “really”, which is as much a habit in America as “is it” is in South Africa.  But to me, the accent which Afrikaners impart on English is beautiful and charming.  Is it?  

We define newly discovered cultural similarities daily.

Coming from Lesotho, we shoot north to Kestell to camp for a night at the Karma Backpackers

Nicholas Carman1 3219

Vintage South Africana is everywhere in these old towns, which reminds me of the American West and the history of westward migration.  Voortrekkers left the Cape Colony to settle vast tracts of land in the interior, c. 1830-1840.  Many people traveled overland by covered wagon into sometimes challenging climates, to face attacks by the displaced or defensive native people, to eventually establish farms and communities such as the capitol city Pretoria, named for Andries Pretorius

Nicholas Carman1 3220

Vetkoek, literally meaning fat cake, is common in small town shops.  The fried dough is like an unsweetened donut, and at 1 rand apiece, makes an affordable packable snack.  Lael puts salt on everything.  

Nicholas Carman1 3221

The Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, or the Dutch Reformed Church, is a feature in many South African towns, although Anglican churches are also common.  Toyota trucks are a favorite of South African farmers.  Ford has recently entered the market.  Other Asian brands such as Mahindra, Isuzu, and Nissan are present to a lesser degree, as a lower priced alternate to the revered Toyota.  

Nicholas Carman1 3223

The greeting of wide open roads and rolling topography is refreshing after our time in Lesotho.  Each time we leave a country and return, it feels more and more like home.  

Nicholas Carman1 3225

Harrismith.

Nicholas Carman1 3228

Stretch the legs.

Nicholas Carman1 3229

Nicholas Carman1 3323

Nicholas Carman1 3233

Nicholas Carman1 3232

Nicholas Carman1 3235

Nicholas Carman1 3234

This is a continuation of the Drakensberg, which are featured more prominently to the north and the south.

Nicholas Carman1 3236

This is the kind of riding, much like the karoo, that makes the Dragon’s Spine route like the Great Divide.

Nicholas Carman1 3237

Nicholas Carman1 3238

Nicholas Carman1 3239

Dropping off the edge of the Escarpment, from 5000ft+down to about 2000ft.  Trees, heat, and humidity are more abundant down low.

Nicholas Carman1 3240

The Dragon’s Spine route takes us along the railroad tracks from Elandslaagte to Wasbank, a once-great town that is now an impoverished shadow of its past.  Trees are growing through the windows of the old train station.  A hotel is advertised, now home to a single pool table and a bottle shop.  Some old towns are charming, but not Wasbank.  We are grateful to meet a shop owner who calls his parents, who offer us a place to put our tent for the night.  Inevitably, they invite us inside, feed us a traditional Indian meal, and offer showers and a bed.  Their family has owned the petrol station in town for many years.

Nicholas Carman1 3242

Nicholas Carman1 3244

This is not the first time we’ve ridden RR lines in South Africa, but it cements the concept.  Most RR service roads are ungated and seem to be pretty reliable routes to travel by bike, although interruptions in continuity are possible, which add to the adventure.

Nicholas Carman1 3245

Dundee, where we are interviewed by the local newspaper, the Northern KwaZulu-Natal Courier.  

We speak with two very nice young woman, a reporter and a photographer, and the next week they publish an article titled  “Living young, wild and free from Alaska”.  

Nicholas Carman1 3250

Nicholas Carman1 3249

Nicholas Carman1 3246

Everyone describes the failing school systems in South Africa.  Most people have to pay to go to school, and options for high-priced education is available to those that can afford it.  The poorest children can attend school for free, and there are food programs as well.  I’m not certain of the quality of a free education in South Africa.  I’ve met some promising youth, but a lot of young people are slipping through the cracks. 

Nicholas Carman1 3247

RR lines are awesome in South Africa!  Johann, our host from Prince Albert, described a trip he made many years ago following RR lines for a great distance across the country.  We’ve only seen freight lines thus far.  

Nicholas Carman1 3252

Nicholas Carman1 3251

Nicholas Carman1 3253

Railroads, like canals, show you life away from tar roads.  We meet a farming family for the night.  We tour the farm and the irrigation system, which provides just enough water to grow maize in this semi-arid climate.  They prepare a braai.

Nicholas Carman1 3255

Nicholas Carman1 3254

Nicholas Carman1 3256

Nicholas Carman1 3260

Near Utrecht, the only town in South Africa within a game reserve.

Nicholas Carman1 3258

Riding the RR line toward Piet Retief, and Swaziland.

Nicholas Carman1 3262

The quantity of productive timberlands increase around us, all the way across the border.

Nicholas Carman1 3263

Nicholas Carman1 3264

Nicholas Carman1 3267

We immediately notice the nice roadside bus stops.  The absence of now-familiar South African economic inequality is obvious.  That is, people are more uniformly poor in Swaziland, which to us, makes the county feel wealthier.  There is a calm to the country.  There are few fences.  People smile.  People speak English really well, and have ideas and opinions.  These are our first impressions.   

Nicholas Carman1 3268

That’s how you source local food.

Nicholas Carman1 3269

Nicholas Carman1 3270

Nicholas Carman1 3271

As in Lesotho, Swaziland is also the beneficiary of foreign aid.  New schools are a common project, as are improved toilets and rainwater catchment systems for the schools.

Nicholas Carman1 3273

Nicholas Carman1 3274

The timber industry is healthy in the mountainous west of Swaziland.  In the eastern lowlands, sugar cane and bananas are the main production crops.  Agriculture and other industries are partly organized through the monarchy.

Nicholas Carman1 3275

Nicholas Carman1 3277

Nicholas Carman1 3278

Eucalyptus is a common hardwood resource.  It appears to be fast growing, resulting in tall, straight pole-sized trees

Nicholas Carman1 3279

Pines produce pulp and other low grade products such as fencing and palettes.

Nicholas Carman1 3282

The Coca Cola Company dominates the market in South Africa.  This cold grape-flavored Fanta is 40 rand, or about $0.35.  The currency in Swaziland is also fixed against the South African rand, as in Lesotho.

Beer and soda sold in both Lesotho and Swaziland is made in country, licensed from the South African parent company. 

Nicholas Carman1 3284

Nicholas Carman1 3299

No need for coins, I watch these kids play round after round of ‘The King of Fighters” by coaxing the tines of a plastic fork into the coin slot.  This is outside a rural shop.

Nicholas Carman1 3283

Timber mill and timberlands.  

Nicholas Carman1 3285

Nicholas Carman1 3286

Nicholas Carman1 3287

Shoot me!  The kids are relaxed and kind, a little less maniacal than in Lesotho.  I really enjoyed this group.

Nicholas Carman1 3289

Nicholas Carman1 3290

While taking a series of obligatory portraits, I try to organize a group photo before leaving.  They stop me as I begin packing up, “you must shoot him”.  

Nicholas Carman1 3291

They are referring to this young boy, who has been slowly making his way from down the road ever since I arrived.  All the other children quickly arrived at the road.  It just took him a little longer.  

All smiles.

Nicholas Carman1 3292

Mostly, the children don’t treat him any differently.

Nicholas Carman1 3293

Summer nights are nice, as long as the heat sets with the sun.

Nicholas Carman1 3295

Nicholas Carman1 3296

Tracing the western border of Swaziland on our brief tour of the diminutive kingdom, we camp near Ngwenya for the night.  

Sunday night party outside the General Dealer and bottle shop.  This bar is bumping tunes to a small crowd of men, children, and older woman.  It is not uncommon to hear Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album in between classic African artists and more modern electro-pop.  The song “Koze Kuse” by DJ Merlon featuring Mondli Ngcobo is the most popular song in South Africa right now, if the stereos of local taxis are any indication.  The music video captures some classic South African scenes.

Nicholas Carman1 3297

Steps Over Swaziland, a film project advertised on the side of the road by this LP-sized sign.

Nicholas Carman1 3301

Nicholas Carman1 3303

Swaziland claims the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world.  Public service announcements, free public health services, and free condoms are common.

Nicholas Carman1 3302

Diving back into the Timberlands on a series of tracks in the area near Pigg’s Peak.  This northwestern part of the country is prime for explorations, folded with mountains and laced with logging roads.  There are several MTB races in the area, mostly attracting South African riders.

Nicholas Carman1 3305

Nicholas Carman1 3306

Nicholas Carman1 3308

This route connects us back to the border of South Africa at Bulembu, now famous as the home of the Bulembu Emasi dairy.  Called mass, amasi or emasi, this cultured milk has a bright fresh yogurt taste, much like the yogurts we enjoy in Eastern Europe.  It is the best energy food in South Africa (sorry Coca Cola and Nik Naks).

Nicholas Carman1 3309

Bulembu is an old mining town revitalized by the dairy and a small stream of tourism.  Asbestos was once shuttled to Barberton, South Africa by an aerial cableway (like an alpine gondola), a distance of over 20km through very mountainous terrain.

Nicholas Carman1 3311

Nicholas Carman1 3312

Back in South Africa.  While the roads turns to tar across the border, the ride from Bulembu to Barberton is epic.  The road rides high ridgelines until a blazing fast descent drops us into Barberton, 3000ft below.

Nicholas Carman1 3313

The road is punctuated by geology lessons, funded by the state.  Called the Geotrail Route, the new roadside facilities don’t seem to get much use.  The road is deserted.

This academic paper provides a fascinating overview of the mining history in this region, with maps and images.  This is one of the most significant gold mining regions in South Africa.

Nicholas Carman1 3317

Nicholas Carman1 3314

Descending to Barberton, we once again meet hot and humid weather, as well as mangoes and bananas.  We’re about a week away from the border of Zimbabwe, and the end of our ride across South Africa.

Nicholas Carman1 3315