Bunyan Velo, Issue No. 6

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The sixth edition of Bunyan Velo is out now. Although this long-awaited issue comes from a period of hibernation for the popular magazine, it signals a commitment to continuing the high quality storytelling and imagery that define Bunyan Velo’s reputation.  Included are stories and photo essays by Skyler Des Roches, Cass Gilbert, Mark Sirek and Przemek Duszynski, Josh Spice, Logan Watts, Donnie Kolb, and many more.  Lael shares three stories in “Camels on Wheels” from her experience in the Holyland Challenge in Israel, her first bikepacking race, just months before the Tour Divide in 2015.  Read Bunyan Velo, Issue No. 6 for free online, purchase a PDF of the magazine for $5, or donate to support the future of the best bikepacking and bicycle travel publication on the planet.   

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Prints from the Middle East, For Sale

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For sale are over a hundred small prints from our time in Israel and Jordan, mostly taken on or near the HLC route in Israel. There are scenes of camels in the Judaean Desert above the Dead Sea, images of Lael racing the HLC, portraits of Israeli bikepackers, scenes from Jerusalem, and lots and lots of incredible dirt roads and trails from all across the country. A series of larger images from the same set are also available. Smaller images are 4×6″, larger images are 8.5×6″. Individual postcard sized (4×6) images are available for $10, three for $25. Larger images are $25. Contact me if you’d like more. Additional donations would be greatly appreciated. Add $1 for international shipping.

Please leave your request for images (number of images, content) and your mailing address in the comment field at the time of donation. Select to “Leave a note to the seller” when you confirm the payment. Payment via credit and debit cards is simple and secure; or, transfer directly between Paypal accounts. Contact me directly at nicholas.carman@gmail.com if you have any additional questions. Feel free to request the content of the images your receive, such as camping or singletrack, and we’ll do our best to find a good one for you. We fly to Vegas on Monday, and ride out of town at the end of the week.  Act now!

As we pack our things in Alaska and regroup after a summer of working and racing, I found this shoebox of prints from our “Bikepacking Night in Israel” event this spring. Lael and I are greatly moved by the images and memories and want to share these physical prints with friends of the blog. Check out my HLC route resources at Bikepacking.com and Bikepacking.net. Tour the HLC route at any time, or sign up to race the HLC in April 2016.

Donate to fund Lael’s two Tour Divide rides this summer and help support her racing into the future. We’re hoping to be touring for a month in Arizona this fall before settling into another season of work in Texas to pay for her summer of riding. We’d like to be touring again in the spring, internationally, although Lael is already dreaming up some big race plans for 2016. Help keep this blog healthy with your donation. With limited support from a few companies, everything that happens here is sponsored by the work we do in the off-season, at restaurants, bicycles shops, and elsewhere. Thanks to Revelate Designs, Intelligent Design Cycles, The Bicycle Shop of Anchorage, and our friends at SRAM for helping Lael through 8600 miles of fast touring and even faster racing in the last three months. Her equipment worked marvelously, without exception.

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 Smaller images are $10, or three for $25.  Larger images are $25.  Contact me if you’d like more.
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Adventure and photography from the HLC to the Tour Divide

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Lael arrived in Banff earlier this week, 19 days and 2140 miles from Anchorage, less than a month after arriving in Alaska from Israel, less than 2 months since the start of the HLC, less than a year since we left Alaska for Eastern Europe.   She will return to Alaska within a year, but twenty countries, twelve months, and 15,000 miles richer, for what it’s worth.  

Riding from the north of Israel back toward Tel Aviv last month, we prepared an evening event informally called Bikepacking Night in Israel.  I found a small printer in Tel Aviv named Panda Labs, so as to display a series of photographic clouds comprising “Three Months on the HLC”, hung from a broad section of agricultural netting.  The installation was assembled last minute, not exactly as planned, but as I should have expected it would happen when trying to plan a small art show and a presentation while traveling by bike in a foreign country.  Special thanks to Amir for offering such a spectacular garden setting in Kfar Sirkin, and for helping with all the logistics including the dusty pile of netting and box full of paperclips.  Photos were available for sale, and all HLC2015 riders were given a portrait from the event.  Klaus, you still need to send me your mailing address in Germany!

Following the talk a group of riders rolled into the nearby forest to camp, surrounding a campfire for several hours before sleep.  In the morning, the group rode back toward Tel Aviv, losing members as each found his way to home or work.  Ilan and Nir led us all the way back into the center of Tel Aviv.

Thanks to everyone that attended the event.  A special thanks to everyone that rode to the event, that camped in the forest and shared their bikepacking experience with others, that attempted or completed the HLC, and that brought beer to share.  Most of all, thanks to the trailbuilders and organizers of all the great trail resources in Israel, especially the IBT, the Adulam singletrack, and the Gilboa Mountain singletrack.  Thanks to all the camels that have beaten trails into the Negev and Judaean deserts over the years, and for the Sugar Trail.  Special thanks to Yaron Deri from Kibbutz Samar for his crew’s addition to the IBT in the past years, and for his fervent passion for long-distance mountain bike trails.  The Israel Bike Trail is a world-class resource and makes a trip to Israel especially worthwhile.  Thanks to Limor Shany for knowledge of “every stone in Israel”, and the associated GPS data which comprises the HLC track to connect Mt. Hermon and Eilat in the least direct way possible.  Thanks to Zohar Kantor for the extraordinary passion required to ignite the concept of the HLC, after returning from the Tour Divide in 2012.  Lastly, thanks to Ilan Tevet who is the premier social mechanic in relation to the execution of the HLC event and our time in Israel.  He first invited us here last October, he welcomed us on a ride around the Negev desert a week after we arrived, he has invited us into his home, to local rides, to make a public presentation about bikepacking, and to come back to Israel again some day.

Later that evening, after arriving in Tel Aviv with Ilan and Nir, we packed our bikes in boxes and caught a ride to the airport.  Within 48 hours, I was building a new bike for Lael in Anchorage.  In just over a week, she rolled out of town toward Banff.  Thanks to Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs for crafting some of the finest custom luggage for Lael, again.  The waterproof liner from my MacPack was recycled into a liner for Lael’s seatbag.  Eric, Christina, Tamra and I rolled out of town with Lael to Palmer, met by Stacy along the way.  From Palmer, we gave Lael a giant push toward Mexico.  She’s nearly halfway there, taking the week in Canmore to rest and prepare for the next phase of the ride.  Lael rode every single day from Anchorage to Banff.  In that time, I worked every single day at The Bicycle Shop, an apt and essential antidote to her ride.  We’re both working hard, hoping to be back on the bikes full-time this fall.  

Settled back into Anchorage life means evening rides at Kincaid with friends, an eclectic mix of bikes everywhere I turn, and the chance to be part of a place which I nearly call home.  The week after Lael left town, I helped a family of eight prepare bikes for a tour of the Great Divide route.  The group includes three Salsa Fargos, six framebags, two BOB trailers, and one rider that is only 11 years old.  We tuned the bikes, prepared them with luggage, and boxed all of them for the flight.  As of yesterday, they had made it to Fernie, B.C. and will be rolling across the border soon.  Whitefish, Helena, Butte!– look out for my crew from Alaska.  Tour Divide riders will rapidly catch them in the first few days of the race.

I was also able to attend Dan Bailey‘s presentation at The Trek Store about his new book Outdoor Action and Adventure Photography, published by Focal Press.  The book is a detailed 300 page crash-course in the technical photographic elements of outdoor action photography, professional considerations, and suggestions for more engaging creative imagery.  This is a text book that reads like spending hours with Dan around a campfire, which Jill Homer almost called a “page-turner”, almost.  Dan has been published in many places and has managed to make a living with the camera.  Purchase a copy of the book through Dan’s Amazon portal by linking from his site, above.  The book is especially recommended for all of the local Anchorage scenery, including snowy singletrack, photo shoots of Eric Parsons atop the Chugach Mountains, and creative perspectives of Amy doing just about everything, especially trail running.

Back to Israel. 

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Yinon, if you recall the rider with the broken rear derailleur hanger that arrived on the beach in Eilat, found a more reliable steed in this 25 year old commuter.  Every one of his kids have grown up on the back of this bike.

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Alternatively, everyone was excited to rub shoulders with local cycling celebrity Chanoch Redlich, who arrives in Calgary this week as the sole Israeli competitor in this year’s Tour Divide.  In our three months in Israel, everyone would ask if we know Chanoch.  Now we do.  He is riding a Trek Superfly hardtail.  

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BYO Zba Beer, the mountain biker’s preferred beverage in Israel.

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 Lael and Chanoch, an excitable pair.  They’ll be the center of attention among the Israeli bikepacking community this June.  Keep track of the Tour Divide through the recently formed Tour Divide Israel Watch Facebook page.  Should be some fun with Google Translate to decipher the Israeli perspective.   

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Shay provided a custom brew for the HLC2015, a gift to Lael.

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Shay rode the entire HLC route last year in 15 days.  I’m told there were two exciting rides last year, Chanoch’s record-setting win and Shay’s ride.  As others stumbled two, three and five days into the event, Shay steadily rode to Eilat and shared his experiences every night, inspiring many local riders.

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Anywhere you ride in Israel, the 4Epic community is well represented.  Endurance events are not uncommon, but the HLC is still an extreme concept to many riders.  It was nice to meet new people, say goodbye to old friends, and share experiences.  It was nice to see the images, like the simple printed pictures we once shared as families.  In a country so connected by smartphones and WhatsApp and Facebook, I am happy to provide tangible media to share.

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Tangible media.

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Lael and Niv, two of the strongest riders at the HLC2015.

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Clean up, roll out, camp.

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Teaching the young ones to crack a bottle of beer with an SPD pedal, an essential bikepacking skill.

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Amidst growing suburban central Israel, there remain small wild spaces, old limestone roads, and ruins.

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And hummus, this local plate provided by the famous Gingi.  

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Rolling into town, the group dwindles.  

Dotan, the photographer, with his Surly Ogre.  He uses a Chariot trailer to transport his daughter, inspired by Cass Gilbert.

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Ophir, the tidiest bikepacker in Israel, who Lael and I nicknamed “Sylvester” on a series of rides before we learned his name.  When we told him he looked like Stallone he said, “but he doesn’t have my muscles”.  

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Singles into Tel Aviv.  For such a small country, these guys know how to make the most of it, like kids who know all the secret trails through fences, along the river, and under the highway

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Nir, the steady singlespeeder who crushed the last 32 hours from Mizpe Ramon to Eilat, poses for one last photo.  He almost resisted raising his hand to wave, his photobombing trademark.

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Tel Aviv is one of the most orderly and pleasant cities I’ve visited, much like the Netherlands, but with better weather.

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Ilan shepherds us through the city to collect spices and dates to bring home.  The small markets on Levinsky Street are a good place to start.

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The rapidly growing metro areas in central Israel feature world-class cycling facilities.

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30 hours later, over the Kenai Peninsula.

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Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna, and the Tordrillo Mountains; 11:30PM, May 4 taken above Anchorage, AK

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Christina is at the airport for the exciting reassembly of muddy bikes, and the chilly ride across town.  My chainring is damaged in transit, although I don’t realize until we pedal away at 1 AM.  A rock from the roadside takes care of things.

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By 10AM the next morning, we are unpacking a box with Lael’s name on it at The Bicycle Shop.

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Late that night, the nearly complete build is finished.  Before leaving town, it is important to adjust the fit and ensure all the systems can solidly support 5000 miles of riding between here and Mexico.

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Lael spends the week planning and preparing for her ride, alongside running, doing yoga, and spending time with family.  Sadly, she just missed seeing Joshua on his Specialized Hotwalk which we bought before we left town last summer.  Joshua is ripping up and down the sidewalk, and confidently lifts both of his feet to coast down the local DH tracks (driveways).  He’ll be pedaling a bike later this summer. 

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The local CBS affiliate, KTVA-11, took an interest in Lael’s summer plans.  If you missed it, check out the segment on the KTVA website.

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Days before leaving, Eric traces Lael frame.  Lael has requested a few simple features which will keep her equipment out of the weather yet easy to access.  It is cool to see prototype tech come to production Revelate Designs product.  The new Ranger and Tangle framebags will use a narrow section of elastic soft-shell fabric, also waterproof, which stretches to reduce strain on the zipper and to ensure smooth operation.  Lael’s framebag for the last 7 months of touring featured two of these elastic panels– on either side of a large YKK zipper.  The slider operates more smoothly than any other framebag we’ve used, and it slides as well as it did on Day 1.  Keep your eyes on Revelate Designs for some significant advances in waterproof features, coming soon.    

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In usual fashion, Eric crushes the race to the finish and lays the last few stitches before leaving town.

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Eric and Becky study the rig before final departure.  These two comprise half of the Revelate team in Anchorage.  Zach and Dusty are the other two, although Dusty is almost always climbing mountains, it seems.  Revelate only recently moved out of Eric’s garage and into a larger commercial space in Midtown Anchorage.

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A quick stop at The Bicycle Shop to say thanks.  Mike Shupe has owned the shop since 1964, and built the current structure on W Northern Lights Blvd in 1974.  He once hosted Ian Hibell in his home at the end of his groundbreaking trek from Argentina to Alaska, back in the early ’70s.  During the summer months, Mike works seven days a week in the service department acting as the essential bridge between technical service and customer service.  He commutes nine miles by bike most days, riding a carbon Salsa Beargrease through the winter months.  Mike grew up with Lael’s uncle, and her grandparents would gas up their sedan at the service station which Mike’s family owned.  In Alaska, this is old-time history.  The earliest white settlements in the Anchorage bowl date to 1914, Alaska statehood was not a reality until 1959.

Thanks to Ray, Chris, and Mike at The Bicycle Shop for helping with all the pieces and parts, ordered while we were still in Israel.   

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The roll out with Eric and Christina on the Chester Creek trail.

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Waiting for Tamra.

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Cruise through Chugiak, Peter’s Creek, and Eklutna; Stacy meets us on the Old Glenn Highway along the Knik River, leading us to her home in Palmer for the night.  

My Hope hub, a year later, is making some horrendous noises.

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Still talking…

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Almost there, but not before a quick stop at the new Palmer pump track, on a Trek Madone.

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Thanks for hosting us Stacy and Scott!  You can see the Knik Glacier from their home.

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Kevin Murphy, a friend from Anchorage and long-time veteran of Paramount Cycles has moved out to Palmer to join the Backcountry Bike and Ski family.  A few other friends have left town in the time that we were gone.  Lael’s gone to find Lucas and Monica, who now live in Silver City, NM at the south end of the Divide.  

Kevin is a riding a newly built Surly Instigator with RockShox Pike fork, Hope hubs, Velocity Dually rims, and only one speed.  He cycles through new bikes faster than the seasons change in Alaska, and is already talking about a new full-suspension Evil, a titanium Kona Rove, a new 27.5 Trek Farley fatbike, and a custom build on the new Trek Stache+ frame (yes, the one with the 405-420mm chain stays!).  Kevin is a super rad rider and one of the greatest cycling ambassadors in AK, from downhill runs at Alyeska, 200 mile Iditabike races, and local group rides.  There is no limit to how much Kevin is willing to talk about bikes, which is great for me.

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Lael realizes the next morning in Palmer that she has forgotten her passport.  My Hope hub has decided after twelve months of use that it is finished and will no longer freewheel; the wheel wobbles dramatically from side to side.  A drive side bearing collapsed, after weeks of creaking.  We hitch a ride back into Anchorage to retrieve the passport.  Christina grabs a demo Trek Domane from the Trek Store where she works.

After giving Lael a big push toward Mexico, Christina and I turn back toward Anchorage. 

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Yeah, road bikes are fun.  The Trek Domane promises a controlled, compliant ride via a flexible seat tube design operating on the IsoSpeed decoupler.  It rides nice, but compared to a well worn Brooks saddle, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  I’d be curious to compare it to the heralded Specialized Roubaix or the new carbon Diverge, or the new carbon Salsa Warbird.  Lael and I have a series of road rides planned at some point.  I’ll let her tell you about that later.

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I’ve been working every day since Lael left town, although there is always a little time at the end of the day for a ring around Kincaid.  After a day indoors, it is never enough just to loop around the shaded wooded flow trails.  I really like to get up on the Bluff Trail to feel the open space of the peninsula.  Cait is rocking it on the sandy trail with her Surly Karate Monkey Ops, which packs an extra punch on custom built Velocity Dually rims and Nobby Nic tires. 

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Dan Bailey shares an evening at The Trek Store, with stories from almost twenty years as a professional photographer and outdoor enthusiast.  He once spent a lot of time climbing, shooting both rock and ice climbing.  More and more, his subjects are on two wheels.  He rides a new Salsa Fargo 2, purchased last summer.  

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Pick up a copy of his new book Outdoor Action and Adventure Photography.  Click through the Amazon links on his blog to purchase the book, that’s how he makes the most from the sale.

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In a perfect union of all of my interests and skills, a family of eight riders are planning to lay tracks from Banff to New Mexico this summer, over a period of ten weeks.  There are three Salsa Fargos with suspension forks, a Cannondale 29er, a Specialized Jett 29er, one Specialized Hard Rock, a Kona Lava Dome, and a folding Dahon hardtail.  All bikes are packed with Revelate Designs equipment, most bikes support a rear rack, and several bike are fitted with skewers to connect one of two BOB trailers which will be used.  The youngest rider is 11 years old.  Best of luck to the Todd family!  I heard from them the other day as they pedaled across the border from Canada back into the USA.

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Lots of cycletourists are passing through Anchorage this time of year, especially those foolhardy riders who plan to ride all the way from Alaska to Argentina.  I intersect this French couple on my way to Kincaid one night, less than a mile from the airport, where they had recently arrived from France.  I’ve met others this summer from Germany, Austria, France, Alabama, Montana, and Taiwan.

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It’s summer, so get out and ride!

Bikepacking Israel event: References, resources, routes

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Join us Saturday night in Kfar Sirkin, Israel for an evening celebrating the simple pleasure of traveling by bicycle.  We’ve been in the country for three months, most often on or near the HLC track, joining weekend training missions to prepare for the HLC, touring the HLC, sharing the HLC with our friend Christina from Alaska (above), racing the HLC, and in my case, chasing HLC racers with my camera.  A collection of printed images will be on display from our time in Israel including postcard sized individual rider portraits from the HLC, which I will offer as a gift to all HLC riders.  All other images are for sale, so bring some shekels.  Help me lighten my load for the flight on Monday.

This reference is a companion to our bikepacking event in Israel.  For those unable to attend, some technical meat is contained in the links below, although we won’t talk about gear the whole time, I promise.  For a dose of inspiration, including words and images from our last few years by bike, dig deeper into the blog.  The search bar at the top of the page is a good place to start; the chronology or word cluster at the bottom is a fun way to navigate as well.  Be sure to read more about the other amazing riders listed below.

The equipment listed reflects a commitment to travel by bike and to an outdoor lifestyle, for more than half of each year.  It is not meant as a complete list, but only to share the more interesting choices.  Do not mistake the equipment we use as anything other than our best effort to enable the riding that we seek.  Each trip demands unique solutions, related as much to individual needs and preferences as the place or the weather or the terrain.  Lael has been sleeping without a sleeping pad for the past six weeks.  If you require a three inch cushion of air to sleep comfortably, don’t let us convince you otherwise.  Moreover, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it takes a lot of equipment to go bikepacking, especially here in Israel.  It doesn’t get any easier than Israel– the weather is great, the riding is great, you can camp all over the place, and if you really get in a bind you’ll have to fight off hordes of people who want to help.

I am especially proud of the list of European Bikepacking Routes, which I have extended to include the HLC and IBT in Israel.  This list is the result of 8 months of bikepacking across Europe, from Amsterdam to Athens via Ukraine, in the summers of 2013 and 2014.  Cheap flights from Tel Aviv enable access to some of the best bikepacking routes in the world, only a few hours away.  More established routes will appear in the next few years, and the opportunity for custom route design is limitless.  Read more about Bikepacking Europe: North Sea to the Black Sea in Bicycle Times #30.

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News, reviews, routes, and inspiration:

Bikepacker’s Magazine; USA/global

 

Routes:

European Bikepacking Routes

Pedaling Nowhere- Routes; USA/global

Bikepacking.net Routes (plus user-submitted routes); USA/global

 

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Luggage:

Complete list of bikepacking bag makers; global

Revelate Designs; the best, ready to ship from USA

Nuclear Sunrise; custom bags from Texas

InPack; custom framebags in Israel 

 

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Dynamo lighting and power:

Kerry Staite (K-lite) guide to dynamo lighting and charging

SP PD-8/PD-8X dynamo hubs; available from Intelligent Design Cycles

Supernova E3 lighting; E3 Triple headlight and E3 Pro taillight

Exposure Revo; light

K-Lite Bikepacker 600/1000; light

B&M USB-Werk; USB power

Sinewave Revolution; USB power

Forumslader; DIY charging designs (German)

Custom switches from K-Lite; recommended for most systems with lights and USB power

 

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Our favorite equipment:

Revelate Designs luggage

Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent

Western Mountaineering Summerlite sleeping bag

Mont-Bell Down Hugger #3 sleeping bag

Surly Krampus frame, lots of tire clearance

Paul Thumbies, thumb shifter mounts

Syntace P6 high-flex carbon seatpost

Answer 20/20 carbon handlebars

Light Bicycle 35mm carbon rims

Derby 35mm carbon rims, heavy duty

Ergon grips

Brooks B17 saddle

King Cage Top Cap water bottle mount

Maxxis Ardent tires, EXO or LUST casing

Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes

Fujifilm X100T digital camera

CrankBrothers M17 multi-tool

MSR Titan 0.8L titanium cookpot

Penny Stove, ultralight alcohol stove

 

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Inspiration:

Bunyan Velo; edited by Lucas Winzenburg

While Out Riding; Cass Gilbert

El Taraumara; Michael Dammer

Pedaling Nowhere; Logan Watts

Pedaling in Place; Joe Cruz

Zen on Dirt; Ezster Horanyi

Diary of Scott Morris; Scott Morris

Mjolnir of Bjørn; Bjørn Olson

Mike Howarth

Salsa Cycles Blog; MN, USA

Event: Bikepacking Night in Israel, May 2nd

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Update: A Facebook event has been created.  RSVP and keep up with updates on the Bikepacking Inspiration event page.

Join the Israeli bikepacking community for an evening centered around your bikes and our stories of travel and adventure by bicycle.

Lael Wilcox is a finisher of the HLC2015 and will share secrets about eating on the trail, jumping rope while on tour, and why reading books late into the night is good practice for the HLC.  She will also explain why a snowboarding helmet is such a good idea when riding in Alaska in the winter.

Nicholas Carman is the mechanic and spokesperson for this mad traveling contraption.  He will talk about bikes, routes, and why it isn’t a big deal that he uses platform pedals.

For the past seven years we have traveled through North America, Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East.  Our approach to bicycle travel has evolved, and we now seek unpaved roads and trails as much as possible, including routes such as the HLC and IBT in Israel; the Great Divide and the Arizona Trail in the USA; the GR5, 1000 Miles Adventure, the red hiking trails in Poland, the Greek Bicycle Odyssey in Europe; and the Dragon’s Spine Route across South Africa and Lesotho.  Sometimes, we call Alaska our home.  Together, we share our story, as well as some technical discussion about routes and equipment.  A short Q&A will follow.  We fly back to Alaska on May 4th.

Ride to meet us at Kfar Sirkin at 6:30PM on May 2nd.  Pack your bike for a ride across town, across Israel, or around the world.  If at all possible, ride your bike!  Join us on a ride to the Nachshonim Forest to camp for the night.  It’s really close, so don’t sweat it.  First time bikepackers welcome!  It is rumored that HLC singlespeed champion Nir Almog will be present.

Meet: HaDkalim St. 3, Kfar Sirkin at 6:30PM for conversation, the program begins at 7:00.  Bring food and drinks to share, especially if you are driving.

Ride: Nachshonim Forest, after the event.  Simple camping gear, a small light should be fine, pack a beer and a topic of conversation.  We’ll probably ride to coffee in the morning.

Tell your friends!

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The End of the HLC 2015, Israel

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Lael finishes on the beach in Eilat, adjacent to high-priced hotels and the Jordanian border.  That night, we slept on the beach.

To catch up on the events of the HLC 2015 check out my article at Bikepacker’s Magazine, Live from the Holyland Bikepacking Challenge in Israel; or Update from the HLC and The Restart in Arad on the blog.  The HLC2015 Trackleaders page is a mess due to the restart, don’t try too hard to understand it.

After the first night away from Arad, Niv Amos, Yam Raz, Lael Wilcox, Omri Ben Yaish, and Ingo Schulmeyer made up the top five riders into and out of the Big Makhtesh.  Due to injury, Omri scratched in Mitzpe Ramon.  Niv arrived first to the Red Sea.  Yam completed the distance to Eilat, arriving second, but was officially disqualified for taking a paved shortcut which bypasses a technical mountain bike trail out of Sde Boker.  Lael arrived third, followed by Ingo, Ilan Tevet, and Nir Almog.  

In the north, by the time riders were contacted about the restart, Lael was furthest along the course and was 40km ahead of the nearest competitor.  Ingo and Niv trailed, respectively.  

Sifting through the technicalities of this year’s event, Niv Amos, Lael Wilcox, and Ingo Schulmeyer put together strong rides and represented the spirit of the HLC at the front of the pack in both the north and the south.  These riders limited their time off the bike, rode well, and avoided major malfunctions.

It is reported that some riders reached for outside assistance in the challenging conditions up north.  Elsewhere, the Israeli people offer hospitality like no one has ever seen in a bikepacking race.  This is a fascinating topic of debate in a culture that differs from that of the USA, on a route which is very different from the Tour Divide, in a country where almost everyone lives within 50km of the route and has a direct line to Trackleaders, Facebook, and WhatsApp at every moment.  There is an opportunity for the Israeli bikepacking community to define “self-supported” in their own country, and in the HLC, in a way which embraces the hospitable spirit of the people.  This will not come verbatim from the Tour Divide playbook, but must be a unique interpretation.  Further, how does a race differ from a challenge, and from a tour?  How can we most effectively inform riders about the HLC route, to lead them to the appropriate passage of the route?  Of course, I think that the HLC track makes for a nice tour across Israel.  

Niv Amos (below), the flower farmer from the north, proved to be the strongest competitor in the race from Arad to Eilat.  A seasoned XC endurance racer, this is his first bikepacking race.  He decided only three weeks before the start to participate.  He borrowed bags from a friend and ordered a light and a GPS at the last minute.  Niv rides a full-suspension carbon LaPierre.  

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By the time the race was cancelled in the muddy north, Lael was far ahead of the nearest competitor and was the only rider to reach the top of Mt. Carmel, although her SPOT transmitter had failed several hours earlier in a deep water crossing.  A background in long distance bicycle travel and distance running helped her through her first bikepacking race.  This year, the HLC has two victors, now good friends.

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Lael arrives an hour past dark, about three or four hours after Niv and Yam.  Erez, an HLC superfan, welcomes Lael to the beach and invites us to dinner.  Niv, always the gentleman, waited four hours for us to arrive to eat dinner.  He was starving by that time.    

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I can hardly imagine a better place to finish a long race than Eilat.  It is legal to camp on the beach, there are freshwater showers nearby, and all the food you could ever want is found along the waterfront promenade.  Lael rides a steel Raleigh XXIX with Revelate Designs luggage, including a Viscacha seatpack and a prototype framebag.

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Ingo Schulmeyer, from Germany, is always the first to rise in the morning, often beginning his day before 4AM.  Last year he broke a derailleur hanger and sourced another bike to ride.  That bike didn’t fit well so he found another bike to borrow and finally finished in Eilat in under 10 days.  This year Ingo rides a carbon Giant XTC with a Revelate Viscacha seatpack and a self-made front bag I call the “wurst roll”, because it is the worst looking handlebar roll I’ve ever seen, and because it looks like an overstuffed sausage.    

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Ilan Tevet, the 6′ 7″ former Israeli rowing champion and a shadow organizer of the HLC, started in Majdal Shams with a lingering back injury and the memory of last year’s attempt, where he scratched just past Tel Aviv.  Tevet arrives next at the sea after Ingo, quickly covering the final miles in the Aravah Valley along a series of dirt roads.  I catch him sitting in the sand with his feet in the water, gazing at the southern horizon.  Before I launch a cold IPA his direction, I stop to let the moment play.  Thoughts proceed in one’s mind at such moments.  Then I slap him on the back and pop the top.  Ilan is the main reason that we’ve spent so much time in Israel and he has been immeasurably helpful.  He rides a full-suspension aluminum Trek Superfly 100 with a mix of Revelate and Nuclear Sunrise luggage.

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The yellow foam cylinder is for back exercises prescribed by a doctor.  I don’t know if Ilan mentioned to the doctor that he also planned to ride 1000km on a loaded bike.

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Awesome ride!  Thanks for everything Ilan!

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Ready and waiting, my framebag full of beer and ice.

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Nir Almog is the next to arrive, pedaling the final miles into a brief thunderstorm.  Nir began mountain biking less than three years ago, and on this day, has just ridden over 200 miles from Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat in 32 consecutive hours on the bike.  Over the course of three and a half days, he slowly picked off one rider after another.  His tenacity and commitment are remarkable.  Nir rides a steel Kona Unit singlespeed with Revelate luggage including the waterproof Terrapin seatpack, Gas Tank, Jerry Can, and Sweet Roll.

Nir’s HLC ride is one of the most powerful stories of this year’s event.

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Guy Lavy, Eyal Horvitz, and Ilan Rubinstein arrive around 2:30AM.  Regrettably, I was not there to meet them.  This is the first HLC for Guy and Eyal.  Ilan Rubinstein is a veteran of the HLC, but this is his first ride ending at the sea.  He is known to welcome cyclists passing through Eilat, and has hosted us several times at his home and at the aquarium where he works. Thanks Ilan!

Ilan rides a titanium 29er with Revelate luggage, show here as a singlespeed but converted to 1×10 in the days before the event.  

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Jose Maria Fernandez, a Spanish rider, arrives in the early morning.  In the final hours of his ride, he accidentally followed a track on his GPS which was similar in color to the active HLC track, and detoured along the Israel National Trail for some time until an unridable trail up a mountain indicated to him the mistake.  Enchanted by the landscape and the trail in the Negev Desert, Jose stopped several times on a section of the IBT to erect a tripod to take photographs.  This is his first time in Israel.  Jose rides a full-suspension carbon Orbea with Alpkit luggage.

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Klaus Thiel, a German rider, Tour Divide veteran (22 days!), and experienced long distance touring cyclist (Berlin to Beijing!) arrives the following evening.  He withered in a small tent in the rain up north, struck by illness on the second day of the HLC.  He made a brief visit to the doctor in Arad and rejoined the group down to Eilat.  Equally enchanted by the desert and the quality of the IBT trail, Klaus settled into an enjoyable pace for the final days and says he will likely avoid long-distance races when visiting a new country (not that he won’t race again, I suspect he’ll be back to Israel).  He arrived at the Red Sea on his birthday.  Cold beer and a sandwich were waiting.  An impromptu birthday cake topped with a single Hannukah candle closed the evening, before sleeping on the beach.  Klaus rides a carbon Scott Scale 29er with a rigid carbon fork and Revelate luggage.

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Happy Birthday Klaus!  Erez and his daughter Libi try to light a Hannukah candle on the windy beach.

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Yinon Atzmon arrives at the sea with a derailleur in his pocket, riding a singlespeed.  Klaus helped him repair the bike in Pharan, but 500m later the derailleur tore away from the bike and he rode and pushed a singlespeed the final days.  This was his first attempt at repairing a chain, and he succeeded.  Yinon parked himself in the sand, made a sandwich of three day old cheese, and made us laugh with his stories of the trail.  As he says, he was  “packed like a Bedouin”, but it looks like he had tons of fun.  He rides a 26″ wheel full-suspension Santa Cruz with a seatpost rack and a drybag strapped to the handlebars.

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Congrats to all the HLC riders!

Special thanks: The HLC 2015 has two other standout participants.  Erez is a mountain biker from the north who served in the army with race organizer Zohar Kantor, which explains how he first heard about the event last year.  This year, a family vacation in Eilat coincided with the early finish of the HLC and Erez made a point to invite and applaud almost every rider to town.  He bought fresh clothes for Niv.  He and Niv met Lael and the finish, and took both of us to dinner.  Erez and Niv shared a cold beer with Ingo the next morning.  Lael and I welcomed Ilan Tevet to the beach with cold beer.  Erez, Lael, Ingo, Ilan and I welcomed Nir to the finish, after his 32 effort from Mizpe Ramon.  We missed several riders who finished in the middle of the night.  The following day, Erez, Lael, and I welcomed Klaus to the finish on his birthday.  Finally, Lael, Klaus and I met Yinon at the beach to enjoy his stories from the trail.  Thanks for everything Erez!

Back at home in the center of the country, an avid rider and HLC super-fan named Reuven closely followed the event and shared updates about the progress of each rider with commentary to the active Bikepacking Israel Facebook page, the de facto command center for HLC fans.  Including detailed screenshots, he estimated when riders were camped, he would record the time they began tracking again in the morning, and he helped Erez at the finish by estimating when riders would reach the sea.  Erez and Reuven didn’t know each other before the HLC this year, but they now have plans to ride together.  

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The Restart in Arad, HLC, Israel

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At the restart in Arad, Lael begs Niv not to ride so fast.  He is really, really strong and one of the only people she enjoys riding with.  In general, she prefers to be alone.

Following a muddy standstill in the north, the HLC is rerouted to Arad, which stands above the Dead Sea and at the far northern edge of the Negev Desert in the south, where the risk of rain is minimal in the coming days.  The north of the country is still under water.  Arriving in Daliyat al-Karmel, Lael takes refuge in her favorite bakery to decide how to proceed.  Incidentally, I know that her tracker stopped transmitting and intend to find her in Daliyat.  I do.  While there, I receive the call from Zohar that the race is cancelled– postponed– and will restart the next day in Arad.  I receive a call from Meir a few minutes later offering a ride to Arad.  We load the bikes onto the back of his vehicle and drive south.  Lael does her best to dry her sleeping bag, bivy, and clothing on the ride.  I’m not sure how all of this could have been communicated if I hadn’t had a cell phone and if I hadn’t been in the area.  My initial plan was to ride from Nazareth to Jerusalem, so it was somewhat by chance that I was still in the area.

In Arad, we stop into our favorite Eastern European grocery which is open on Shabbat, and spend some time indoors at a restaurant to stay warm.  It has rained in Arad, and at 2000ft, past dark, it is cold.  We expect other riders to arrive at this restaurant and when they do, they trade war stories from the mud.  Omri’s photograph of his Lefty fork full of mud take the prize.  With only one stanchion, the right side of the tire grew to 4 inches or more.  Neither Lael nor I are shocked by the mud– we’ve seen plenty of it in Israel and elsewhere.  Lael could see in the forecast before the race began that this would happen, and seriously considered starting a solo ITT from Eilat, which might have avoided the rains, or not.  Putting her best foot forward she started with the group in Majdal Shams and had a great time.  In the future, race organizers will have a better idea of how to avoid unridable conditions while keeping the race alive.  An official scheduled detour, as on sections of the Great Divide route in NM?  Unfortunately almost every place in Israel can become unridable with enough precipitation.  Start in Eilat?  A truncated route in the desert?  Or, leave the course as is and see if anyone has the sheer willpower to walk a muddy bike to Eilat?

Lael and I make camp in Park Arad for one of the coldest night we’ve experienced in Israel.  What especially made it cold was that both of our sleeping bags were still damp, and hers was probably more wet than damp.  Lael chose not to carry a sleeping pad so we shared a small section of foam that I was carrying to insulate our shoulders and core from the damp hardpacked dirt in the park.  Thankfully, I was carrying the tent which blocked most of the wind and rain.  I’d been fighting a cold since the start of the HLC and this weather wasn’t helping.  The fact that rain was forecast at noon for the day of the restart was also disappointing.  I wrote an e-mail to the event organizers strongly recommending a delay until the following morning, or at least a reroute around the wadis near the Dead Sea.  I’ve seen the clay in there after the rain.

The restart proceeded just past 12 noon, with several paved detours announced at the last minute.  Lael was not excited about the last minute changes.  That kind of thing throws a wrench in her confidence.  Her ability to visualize spaces is not a strength.  However, I was able to talk her through the changes in terms that she could understand.

“So, when you get to the Zohar gas station where the water is overpriced and the annoying Birthright teenagers were bothering us, stay on the paved road near the Dead Sea.  Later you will pass the bus stop where we spent most of an afternoon, near the turn to Ein Tamar, but you don’t go to Ein Tamar.  You know the bus stop with the rooster painting?  Climb the paved road to the junction where the bus stop smells like pee.  Remember, we climbed that hill twice trying to catch a bus to Jerusalem, but went to Dimona and Beer Sheva instead.  Turn downhill toward the gas station with the green and red Pepsi logo.  You will cross the HLC track on this paved road and keep going.  Take the first paved road right and climb a low mountain and then you will reach the big switchback climb with the roadies.  Everything else is just the magenta line on your GPS.”

Her eyes tell me “I can’t do this.”  I try again, slowly and sternly.  A third time with the map gives her some confidence, but not much.

The group stands under cover as Limor announces the reroute in Hebrew.  Lael huddles next to Niv, who is shaking.  She really likes Niv.  He wears a down jacket and cycling tights, and despite being built like a Soviet prison guard, he is exposed and cold and looks more like a four year old boy in an off-kilter helmet.  Amidst intermittent showers, the group gathers on a sidewalk and rides out of town.

Immediately away from buildings and pavement, a vicious wind and a dark cover of clouds force many riders off the bikes, rain and hail further challenging an already difficult, rocky hiking trail.  I drop into the trail and in minutes am stopped by the mad hissing of a cut sidewall.  The riders continue out of sight.

Later in the evening I intercept the lead group at the Big Makhtesh.  I ride with Niv up the paved climb to the dirt turnoff.  He asks about our plans in Israel and invites us to visit him at his home in the north, again.  Mostly, we pedal contentedly into the night.  I stop to fumble with some of my luggage– now empty as I’ve camped nearby to wait for others– and he stops to make sure everything is okay.  Come on, you’re in a race!  Don’t stop for me.  Niv is such an awesome guy.  He is different than many people in Israel.  He is very calm.

Descending the same road, I encounter Yam Raz.  Lael and Omri come through next.  Omri stops to open his front brake, which is rubbing due to some complication of worn pads.  I can tell his knee hurts, a pain which lingers from the HLC last year.  He downplays his discomfort.  Omri is another standout guy.  He keeps a really positive attitude and a level head.

By morning, there are several riders camped at the Colored Sands picnic area with me.  Ilan Tevet makes an early start.  He sleeps cold, and usually not that well, so rising early is inevitable.  Nir mentions an aching knee and sleeps later, departing into a warming day to continue his tortoise singlespeeding strategy, which always puts him back in front of other riders.  Nir is an ox on the bike, and has a great attitude.  I pack up and connect with Jose from Spain to make my last paved climb on the road in the makhtesh.  Jose turns toward Sde Boker on the HLC route, while I continue up to Yeroham to have a civilized morning with chocolate milk, pastries, and some time in front of the computer.  Jose is experienced in many long distance endeavors, although most are big epic rides without need for overnight gear.  This is his first time “bikepacking”, and his full-suspension Orbea is nicely dressed in new Alpkit gear.  He says nothing like this exists in Spain.  That will change.

I arrive in Sde Boker in time to meet a mass of riders at the Geofun bike shop.  Tires and brake pads are on the menu, mostly tires, and the store is low on stock.  They’ve got a bunch of tubeless Maxxis and Specialzies tires, but few options with more durable casings such as Maxxis EXO or LUST.  As always, there are swarms of kids on mountain bikes in this town.  I lend an extra hand to whoever needs it as the small shop is buzzing with needy cyclists.  Klaus buys two tires, the guy on the 26″ full-suspension bike with the seat post rack buys two chunky Maxxis meats, Nir reinstalls both of his tires tubeless and removes the tubes which are leaking air, Jose buys a rear tire, another rider buys a front tire.

The mechanic at the bike shop offers a ride to Mizpe Ramon where he lives.  I accept and am deposited in the center of town just before dark.  I stand in front of the grocery store wondering if I should pack four beers down to the makhtesh to surprise Omri, Ilan, and Ingo, or if I should try to intercept Lael.  By now, she is a long way away.  Impulsively, I jump on the bike and start hammering the pedals on pavement.  After weeks and months on dirt, riding pavement is a lot of fun.  A cool clear night, little traffic, and a wide shoulder draw me further and further.  Last I checked Lael tracked on the section to Pharan.  I know I can intercept her via a dirt road, but if I miss her I will be waiting in a dark valley with no idea where she is.  And there is nothing I can do but say something nice and ride with her for a minute.  I decide to continue to Be’er Menuha where I know I can find wi-fi and a 24 hour store.  I track Lael into the night on the computer and go to sleep after I see her pink dot fade, indicating she has turned off her SPOT.  The attendant at the store offers to let me camp under a broad tent.  I find a stack of foam mattresses and enjoy the best sleep since Majdal Shams.

I awake as a familiar desert sun rises over Jordan, and walk nearer to the building to check on the riders.  Lael is on the border road already and has just passed.  I pack quickly and try to catch her by riding pavement and shortcutting to the dirt road along the barbed wire fence which separates Israel and Jordan.  I don’t find her and can’t be sure if she is ahead or behind me.  I do my best to interpret tire tracks, including two pairs of fresh Crossmarks which I assume to be Niv and Yam.  I connect back to the paved road and time trial to Yahel to wait.  She is already there.  We sit and talk over coffee for a bit, as on any other day.  For half an hour, there is no race.  Then she stands up and her race face comes back.  She’s wide awake and happy to be riding.  I feel hung over from too little sleep, too much riding, not enough water, and too much on my mind.  I don’t know how she does it.

Daliyat al-Karmel.

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After she learns of the restart, we learn how to make kanafeh, but Lael mostly warms her hands over the fire.

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Bikes on cars.  Boys, take note when a girls toes the start line with a headtube that looks like this.

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Rest.

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Recovery.

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Pre-race prep.

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Gathering at the start.

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Sizing up the competition.  Ilan is almost 6′ 7″.

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Straight out of the gate the winds threaten to blow riders off the trail.  Rain-slickened limestone doesn’t help.

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Near the Big Makhtesh.

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Camp for the night, and a nice place to wait for racers.

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Nir packs his gear in the morning.  He began mountain biking no more than three years ago.  This is his first HLC.

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Jose dives into the Big Makhtesh, en route to Sde Boker.

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Klaus shops for tires at the Geofun bike shop in Sde Boker.  He works at the largest bike shop in Germany and despite falling ill in the rainy mess of the north, and a quick visit to the doctor in Arad, he is back on the bike.

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Remind anyone of Lael?  Smiling and riding are good fun.

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Nir tends to tires and worn brake pads.  On a longer race through varied terrain, more durable casings are a good idea.  His tires haven’t suffered any cuts, but many others have.

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Ilan Rubinstein, the poet from Eilat, finally seems to have found a happy load.  He has a gear acquisition habit, although more time on the trail is teaching him what he needs, and what he doesn’t.  Many veteran HLC riders still refer to the minimal load that American Max Morris carried last year, including his small headlamp, sunshade sleeping pad, and a plastic SOL bivy.  Ilan made a last minute switch from his full-suspenison Specialized Epic to this hardtail, which he converted from singlespeed to a 1×10 a few days before the event.  Ilan also reports some knee pains.

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There are always tons of kids ripping around on mountain bikes in this town.  There will be some seriously talented riders in the future.

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A nice night to depart Mizpe Ramon, and one of the best road rides of my life.  Pedaling with a purpose and a tailwind rivals any thrill.  Using my highest gear and my best aero position on the Krampus. I arrive in Be’er Menuha only a few hours later.

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A nice morning for a ride along the Jordanian border road, wondering if I will see Lael before Eilat.

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An unfamiliar bike rests outside the cafe at Yahel.  Much of the blue color of Lael’s frame is concealed by white clay.

Before coffee.

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After coffee.  She is quickly back on the trail to Ne’ot Smadar, Shaharut, Timna, Be’er Ora, and Eilat.  There are two riders ahead of her, Niv is still not tracking but I suspect he is ahead of Yam.  She should arrive at the Red Sea some time this evening.

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Trackstalkpacking

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Don’t forget to follow Lael and the HLC on Trackleaders.com.  She’s carrying a small transmitter called a SPOT which sends a signal to the moon every ten minutes or so.

And you thought following colored dots on the internet was fun.  At the crossroads of tracking riders online, stalking riders in real life, and bikepacking.  It’s trackstalkpacking!

I spent the first day of the HLC chasing riders, but I wasn’t racing.  I rode sections of the HLC track to meet riders at critical moments, or at scenic vistas to capture a few photographs live from the race.  I’d ride to the nearest town and scan for free wifi with my MacBook Air, to check the progress of each group on Trackleaders.com.  Then, I’d extrapolate their trajectory to try to intercept them on the trail.  I pedaled with German rider Klaus Thiel for a bit, and saw Omri and Niv about seven times during the day.  A smartphone with cell coverage would simplify things greatly, but I still had tons of fun.  After nearly 100 miles of riding on my first day, ending at Ein Nun, I can say that trackstalkpacking isn’t for everyone.  It is a curious hobby requiring quick judgement, a general interest in watching other people race, some fitness, a bike, and basic computing or smartphoning skills.  Next time there’s a multi-day race in you neck of the woods, get started with an S24TSP and be back to work in the morning (this is a variant of the wildly popular S24O).  Don’t have three weeks to burn on the Tour Divide this summer?  Go trackstalkpacking for a week in Colorado.  Live near Tel Aviv and want to test our your new Revelate seatpack?  Go for it!  Just don’t harass the riders.  Positive vibes only.  That’s a rule.

Lael reported than a man came around last night just past dark offering her spaghetti and water.  She declined, until he informed her that he was doing this for all the riders.  She took a to-go cup of hot noodles.  That is some extraordinarily generous trackstalking.  Thanks to the spaghetti man!

For a report from Day 1 of the HLC, including photos, read my article entitled Live from the Holyland Bikepacking Challenge in Israel at Bikepacker’s Magazine, your online resource for bikepacking news, reviews and features.

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And if you haven’t been following the race, Lael is out front and headed for Mt. Carmel, the Mediterranean Coast, and Tel Aviv.  A bank of wet weather is quickly approaching, teasing a few rain showers during the day today.

Thanks to everyone who shared supportive words for Lael.  I read them to her the morning of the race, and at intervals since the start.  Lael runs on sunshine, sandwiches, and the good spirit of others. 

Lael’s Other Half and the HLC

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Skip to the fun part and leave an encouraging comment for Lael at the bottom of the page.  Yes, she is racing the HLC.  The event starts Thursday at 7AM.

She rides and rides and rides, you know that.  But at the beginning or end of every day, or anytime in the middle, she bounds away for a run of an hour or more, powering up the cell phone which we rarely use to keep track of time.  She will lose track of time while running.  She has carried a jumprope for the past six months to aid the healing and strengthening of an ankle injured while working in a restaurant last summer, but the jumprope has just become another smile inducing part of an active daily routine.  She also carries a book on the bike, so it’s not all business all the time.  

At the age of 18, only a year or two after shifting focus from soccer to running, she ran her first marathon in 3:18, placing third.  Back in 2010, she decided at the last moment to participate in the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon in Urique, Mexico.  We had biked there from Tacoma via Baja.  In 2013, while living in New Mexico, she rode from Albuquerque to the start of the Cedro Peak Ultramarathon, a 45km trail run with lots of climbing on rocky trails.  She won, and rode home.  In December 2013, returning from five months of bikepacking across Europe and two months in the southwest USA, she rode to the start of the Tucson Marathon and finished 4th.  Last winter in Alaska she completed her first bike race, a 50mi fatbike race called the Frosty Bottom, and smiled all the way to the finish.  She signed up for a few local XC mountain bike races in the spring for fun.  She discovered endurance road riding on a series of springtime rides across the state of Alaska when the mountain bike trails were too wet to ride, at the same time discovering the state where she had grown up.  She rode home from Fairbanks.  She rode to Homer to see her grandparents.  She rode to the family’s cabin in the valley and back, over Hatcher Pass, returning in time for work the next morning.  On the Thursday before the locally-famous Fireweed 400, she signed up at the suggestion of a friend who offered to provide support.  Borrowing her mom’s road bike and a set of slick carbon racing wheels from a demo Trek Madone, she raced to the front of the pack as the top female finisher, second in the overall standings, and only 12 minutes behind a man on a recumbent, in just over 27 hours.  A few weeks later we left Anchorage for a period of travel expected to last up to a year.  

It has been eight and a half months since leaving Alaska.  We have travelled in Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.  Having immersed ourselves in the Israeli bikepacking scene and in the culture of the HLC over the last two months, her participation in the event was almost inevitable (thanks to the ever-convincing Ilan Tevet, no doubt).  With the strength and experience of months of bikepacking behind us and a penchant for excited last minute race commitments, you will now be able to follow a pink dot across Israel on the HLC Trackleaders.org page.  Lael will be the first and only female to participate in the HLC, and the only American this year.

Cue uplifting music to accompany the HLC training montage…

Hill climbing, hike-a-bike, protein loading on sardines and hummus, shopping for ultralight gear at a 24 hour convenience store, sleeping on the ground, a framebag full of grapefruits, learning to use the GPS, wildflowers, singletrack, doubletrack, chunk track, cattle trails and barbed wires fences, and drinking lots and lots of water. 

Photos from the HLC track, Mt. Hermon through the Golan Heights and Galilee.  Camel skull with helmet from Jordan.  Looking at these photos reminds me how much I like this girl.  Good luck Lael!  Keep smiling.

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Wheel lacing photo: Ilan Tevet

Lael with her truncated touring load on our latest ride from Mt. Hermon back to Tel Aviv.  The full race kit halves the already light system.  Thanks to Eric at Revelate Designs for the unbreakable framebag, able to contain six grapefruits without complaint.  Thanks to Charles Tsai at Intelligent Design Cycles for the new Shutter Precision PD-8X dynamo hub, the same as I have been using without fault for the last ten months.  Shipped last minute from Taiwan, the hub arrived to Israel in less than a week.  Thankfully, hub dimensions for the PD-8X match the Hope hub it replaces, enabling us to reuse the spokes.

With some rain in the forecast up north and a seasonal heat wave brewing a week away in the desert, it should be a fun ride.  She hopes to finish the 825mi (1400km) distance in under ten days.

Send some encouraging words to Lael by leaving a comment below!

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Crossing the Judaean Desert, West Bank, Israel

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It is HLC season in Israel.

Nowhere else have we engaged the local bikepacking community as in Israel.  America is a big country and there are many riders, but there are miles and miles of trail for each rider to hide.  South Africa is a big country which claims a lot of riders, but most mountain biking seems to happen behind closed doors on private land tracts, only on the day of a race or scheduled ride.  Israel is a small country with a lot of people and a lot of public trails.  The people are active, organized, and committed.  Self-supported bikepacking is rapidly growing out of a foundation of mountain biking and hiking.

We receive the details of a plan on our small yellow phone to meet Ilan Rubinstein at Mitzpe Yeriho at 1800 hours.  We will sleep within the confines of the community, a Jewish settlement on a hill above the city of Yeriho (Jericho) in the West Bank.  We ride at 0600 hours.  Active, organized, committed.

We were first invited to participate in the HLC race last fall, via the blog.  By the time we crossed the border from Egypt I had received invitations for accommodation or conversation over coffee in places further north.  Facebook friend requests flood from serious looking riders, their names masked by Hebrew characters which I still cannot read.  We meet on the trail, partly by coincidence, and they know all about us.  I don’t usually recognize them by name, but we are friends.

The 1400km HLC was organized by a core group of riders in less than a year, and the first race took place in April 2014 from the southern flank of the tallest mountain in Israel, Mt. Hermon, situated at the junction with Lebanon and Syria.  Zohar Kantor, a Tour Divide veteran, conceived the event.  Limor Shany traced a line across the country from north to south, an extension of the week-long supported mountain bike tours he has been operating for years.  Ilan Tevet is the ever-convincing marketing man with a Swiss Army knife of skills to facilitate and promote the event.  He was the one to invite us to Israel and to the HLC last October.

Last year, the weather was hot in April, with two substantial heat waves during the HLC.  April is a month tightly sandwiched between cool wet winter and oppressively hot summers– the weather can go either way, but is most likely to be hot and dry.  The north of the country features a typical Mediterranean climate with wetter winters, while the south is consistently dry most of the year.  In almost any part of the country, substantial rain results in unrideable trails.  Limestone soils quickly clog tires and irregularly shaped limestone fragments– their exterior surface slickened by moisture– are hazardous when wet.  I’ve heard the complaints from last year’s heat, but Lael and I have spent enough time traveling this country during the rains to know which is worse.

The culture of the HLC isn’t entirely new, except for the essential details of being a week long self-supported race across Israel.  Israelis love mountain biking and regularly ride in groups, scheduled one day a week or more.  We’ve met many groups of riders who have been together for as much as a decade.  Ilan Tevet’s group rides very early on Tuesday morning and gathers for a stomach full of hummus at 8AM, before parting ways for their respective professional lives.  Some groups employ a more advanced rider to aid skill building and as a guide.  And the bikes!– we’ve seen more high-end bikes in Israel than anywhere in the world.  Spotting an Ibis, Turner, or Santa Cruz in the wild in America is uncommon, except in high-octane wealthy mountain towns like Crested Butte or Moab, or attached to riders with supreme skill.  Even in the middle of a suburban forest in Israel these bikes are not uncommon, and their association with skill is seemingly at random.  The impact of global marketing has also pressed enduro and all-mountain trends into the Israeli mountain bike culture.  Knee pads and other armor are common.  At the same time, lycra kit mated to Epics and Scalpels and Superflys are all part of the scene.  A few rigid singlespeeders keep it honest.  And on Shabbat, we ride.  Check out the Ben Shemen forest on Shabbat.  Only Marin comes close in my experience.

Bikepacking is growing thanks to the HLC and to the popularity of overseas events like the Tour Divide.  Bikepacking for fun, or mountain bike touring, seems to be missing from the current patchwork of Israeli mountain bike culture, to the point that when we describe to some riders that we are touring the HLC route, they are confused about how this is possible.  American riders often make the same mistake, failing to differentiate touring the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from racing the Tour Divide.

Coming from Jerusalem to Mitzpe Yeriho, we descend 2000ft on paved highways toward the Dead Sea.  We are the first to arrive and take a place at the picnic table outside the small grocery in the community.  Like many small planned communities in Israel, there is a gate surrounding the property and a structural steel gate at the entrance, often kept open during daytime hours.  But this is the West Bank, and even if only in my imagination, it is different here.  The shacks of sheepherding families line the roadside from Jerusalem.  But when we enter Mitzpe Yeriho, we could be in any other community in Israel, from the Negev to Galilee.

Ilan Rubinstein arrives first from Eilat, and quickly unveils a third of a bottle of Johnny Walker.  We’re sitting in front of half-empty pints of Tuborg Red and a tub of hummus, one half of our now-typical dinner.  Ilan serenades us with stories about the “spirit of the trail” and about the life-changing experience of racing the HLC.  It is inspiring stuff and Ilan is one of the greatest students and most sage instructors of the method.  But Ilan scratched from the HLC last year after a monstrous effort to Jerusalem.  The details of the end of his race are never made clear to us.  Despite countless queries, he avoids answering by chasing tangential trail philosophies.  He did the same thing last time we met him on the beach in Eilat.  There is something out there for him yet.  He arrives on a Specialized Epic with a combination of Revelate and Nuclear Sunrise gear.

Omri arrives next, a much younger man on a smartly packed Cannondale Scalpel with Porcelain Rocket gear.  He scratched even sooner in the race last year, but is quick to admit his mistake, with a smile.  The HLC is not like a short-source XC race, where he excels and where he draws much of his experience.  You cannot ride the same way, at the same intensity.  He recently spent several months in Ecuador touring Andean backroads, shadowing some of the routes he’d seen on Cass’ blog While Out Riding.

Nir deboards the same bus as Omri, a relative novice mountain biker (in time, not skills, since starting to ride three years ago) and a first time HLC racer.  He rides a singlespeed Kona Unit packed with Revelate Gear.  Nir is comfortable telling Ilan when he is overthinking, which amuses us greatly.

We’re just along for the ride.

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Awake before dawn, above Jericho and the Dead Sea.  How else could you convince men to wear tights and sleep on plastic house wrapping on the ground in a park?

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Leaving Mitzpe Yeriho, we pass several small homes with large flocks of sheep and goats.  These poor Arab families are increasingly a minority in Area C of the West Bank as Israeli settlements grow at an extraordinary rate.

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A climb ending in a steep hike downhill sets the tone for the day.

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Searching for trails etched by sheep and camels over decades and centuries.

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Unlike many of the official hiking and cycling trails and 4×4 routes we have been riding, this trail likely predates the state of Israel by many years.

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A nearby mountain bike route called The Sugar Trail passes from the hills above Jerusslem to the Dead Sea, once a popular trade route now a popular shuttle run.

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Singlespeed and happy, Nir keep an even keel and an even cadence.  The sign on the front of his bike indicates that he is riding the HLC to raise money and create awareness for Asperger’s syndrome.

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There are a series of wells along the first part of our ride, which makes carrying 7L of water feel a little silly.

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HLC training.

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The Judaean Desert is never this green, locals say.

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Mountain bike traffic– luggage and water uphill, full-face helmets downhill.

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Continuing to the south, the desert becomes increasingly green.

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Short steep hikes punctuate much of the first part of the ride.  Following GPS tracks up and down steep hillsides within sight of rideable trails is amusing, but the resultant ride is absolutely worth it, making connections one would not have seen from afar or from available basemaps.  The combination of local intel and a GPS are irreplaceable.

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A donkey would be a better tool than a bike up here.  Sage is in season, easily identifiable by smell from several meters away.

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Camels and green grass.

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Some flow, some chunk, some hiking, and some technical descents if you choose to ride them– HLC training.

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Ilan, the bikepacking poet from Eilat.  Ilan is well-known to provide hospitality to passing cyclists and has met many riders connecting distant parts of the globe, coming through Israel from Jordan and Egypt.  He has arranged for us to sleep in the aquarium in Eilat on several occasions, where he works as an accountant (with seemingly endless vacation time to go bikepacking).

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Still over 2000ft above the Dead Sea, Jordan in the distance.

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Metsokei Dragot, water refuel.

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Mostly doubletrack from here to the end of the day.

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Morning above the Deas Sea, cool air reminding us that we are here in the right season.  This place is an oven in the summer.

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Our track crosses a series of deep wadis which drain to the Dead Sea.  We can ride into these canyons, but not out.  Local Palestinian 4×4 clubs are out enjoying the day, bumping Arabic electro tunes.

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Lael judging form.  Looking good guys.  Good luck at the HLC!

The race starts from Mt. Hermon on Thursday morning at 7:00.  Follow along on the HLC 2015 Trackleaders page.

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We eventually arrive at an important junction where we can continue toward our planned destination at the Aravah Junction, or ride toward Arad and end the day at a reasonable hour, before dark.  Before the decision is made, minds wander to cold beers and obligations at work the following day.  We finish our crossing of the desert in Arad, where regular bus services take Omri, Ilan, and Nir back to their lives.

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We reconnect with the HLC track in Arad and begin riding north for a second time along this section.  If anyone asks, we live on this off-road artery across Israel, on the HLC.

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