Sojourn in Jerusalem, Israel

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Journey to Jerusalem between solar powered weeks in the Negev and the rising tide of spring in the rest of Israel, unfolding new layers of riding to the north.  Arriving in Eilat on the first of February, we cordone ourselves to the south for a few weeks, making circles in the desert to join Ilan and Danny for a fresh piece of the IBT.  We finally pass north to the Dead Sea, and out of the deepest natural basin on Earth, in a sandstorm.  We continue toward the north– just to the center of the country– to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Jerusalem: an ancient modern city amidst a series of steep hills, bounded on three sides by Palestine, one of the highest densities of religious Jews in the country, rich in culture and beauty and diversity.  Tel Aviv, I now know, is quite the opposite.

Rain arrives in tandem with our arrival to Jerusalem, 2500ft above sea level.  Cold weather sees us into a cave for the night, one of hundreds or thousands in these limestone hills.  But this cave just happened to find us on a dark night on a terrace just below the HLC route, just out of town (GPS coordinates here).  We push onto a narrow track to set up our tent in the pines.  A dark hole in the yellow glow of the evening catches Lael’s attention– just a mile from the edge of the city, properly– we literally walk into a warm dry cave out of the rain.  This becomes our home for the two and half days in Jerusalem.  This place, we promise, remains on the list of places to revisit.

On our first morning in the city, we meet Louis in the souk.  Dates and nuts and Euro-chocolate pastries take center stage, next to olives and piles of pita and fruits and vegetables.  It is a nice market, probably stunning if you come from Iowa, but nothing compared to Cairo.  Cairo tends not to be a popular topic of discussion in Israel; instead, I tell people we have come from Eilat.  That’s nice.

Louis comes from Iowa.  He first traveled to Israel at the age of 18.  Ten years later he has just completed six months of mandatory military service, now awaiting his Israeli passport in the post.  He will maintain dual citizenship, but plans to live in Israel.  He finished with the military last week, and begins work as a music teacher on Tuesday.  After a cold shower and several cups of hot coffee, we walk all around the city to the tune of every thread of information our impromptu tour guide can offer.  His knowledge and passion for the city is contagious, passing secret alleyways and favorite eateries.  He rides a Brompton and without hesitation, asks us to coffee at his apartment as soon as we meet.  Thanks Louis!

We meet Julian on our second evening in town.  Julian comes from Philadelphia by way of a semester in Jerusalem a few years ago through Eastern Mennonite University.  He came back to volunteer time to develop the Jesus Trail.  He now works for the Abraham Path, an international walking path projected (and growing) across the Middle East, from Sinai to Turkey.  Through the development of local walking resources, the organization aims to empower governments and people to welcome visitors, and in return, to hit the trail to discover other parts of the Middle East.  This is grassroots diplomacy, although the organization claims to be “non-profit, non-religious, and non-political”.  Most staff members come from the USA and the EU.  The Abraham Path relies on the vast network of existing trails in Israel, yet charts a new path through the West Bank (Palestine)  The Jordan Trail is now complete.  A projected route is in development in Sinai.  Scouting trips have been made to Eastern Turkey.  Syria is on hold for the moment.  There is talk about extending the path into Iraq.  Julian has been a valuable resource to us, even before we set foot in the country.  He has suggested routes and contacts in Israel, and proposes a trip to Jordan later in the month.  He rides a secondhand Surly Pugsley.  Thanks Julian!  

Yuval stands outside staring at our bikes, locked under the sodium glow of a street lamp.  We exit the coffee shop with Julian, a stack of 1:50,000 hiking maps in his hand.  Yuval is in awe of our bikes, “they are beautiful” he repeats over and over.  Immediately, he offers a place to stay for the night.  He invites us to the small bar where he works, for a round of Goldstar lagers.  We talk until late in the night about bikes and travel and Jerusalem.  He has recently completed his three year military service and has begun to study animation at Bezalel Academy.  He rides a finely appointed Surly Long Haul Trucker which he acquired in Germany and has taken to Iceland.  There, he ran into a guy that wrote a story for Bunyan Velo.  “You know Bunyan Velo?” he asks.  

Yuval asks if we know Poppi, aka @UltraRomance.  I don’t, but I point the question at Lael, knowingly.  You know a guy named Benedict?  “You mean Jeremy’s buddy from Texas?”  We’ve both heard that name while camping with Jeremy.

“I drew a picture for him.”, Yuval says simply.  “He said he would send a patch.”  

He never sent a patch, despite the massive popularity of Yuval’s pencil work, including a recent feature on The Radavist.

I’ve been carrying a Bunyan Velo patch in my wallet for the last eight months.  As I pass it to Yuval, he reaches for an envelope from Matt Whitehead, Patagonia-sponsored traveler, fatbike rider, and surfer.  The envelope contains a small stack of patches, a white background with a line drawing of a bicycle and a bundle tied off the back.  The bundle is a heart.  He hands one patch to me, and another to Lael.  Thanks Yuval!

Bike, electric bikes, and pedestrians; signs warning not to enter religious Jewish communities dressed in pink shorts and cutoff sleeves; an Ethiopian Orthodox church, lions everywhere in there; the Old City, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and a big line to visit the Temple Mount, normally closed to nonbelievers; hummus, dried fruits, sweets; Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, lots of English; vineyards and INT singletrack and farm tracks and a dirt road entrance all the way into Jerusalem; a mosaic showing Jerusalem at the center of the world; Louis, Julian, and Yuval; an IMBA certified trail out of town and a signed route to Tel Aviv; and of course, our cave.

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Legion of the lost

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Larry caught my eye from a mile away. Something about his sillhouette spoke to my touring sensibilities. Smallish panniers in the rear; a tidy bundle up front simultaneously suspended from the handlebars and atop a Nitto mini-rack, “from those guys with the nice catalog”, he says. I know what he means.

I ask where, when, why?… all the annoying questions. My queries slide off him as if he were coated in Teflon– a sure sign he knows what he’s doing.

He’s an engineer, as evidenced by his spreadsheets. Oh, his spreadsheets– they account for everything. But they are a help, not a hindrance. He’s got touring style; just not my style.

Here we are, two guys that probably know everything about riding bikes, and it takes a minute to find something to talk about. I don’t need to ask if his ride has been enjoyable, or if he likes his bike, or gets lots of flats. We talk about places we’ve lived and places we’ve been; bikes on Amtrack and Greyhound; drinking half-gallons of milk, eating loaves of bread, and thumbing rides.

This is exactly how I met George the Cyclist (Annapolis), and Cass Gilbert (Anchorage, Denali), and Chris Harne (Key West). None is the same as the other, but we are always moving, and we often hide our transience. At any time, you must be able to decide to stay, or to go– a trade secret.

In Whitefish, I stay.

I haven’t known a more contented, intelligent group of people than my fellow cycle-tourists. My comrades in transience, we are an army of moving philosophers. Being right isn’t important; spinning circles with our legs and thinking, is.

The Teton Cyclery Cyclo-Tourist’s Register takes account of over a decade of tales from the road; broken Campy axles, headwinds, hills, traffic and shoulders are common fare. I read it all, and I left my mark. The registry is resurrected after 19 years.

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Whitefish cares for me, full circle

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I pushed up and over two passes and eighty miles yesterday to reach Whitefish by afternoon. Sunny, smiling, and prosperous; Whitefish invites me to stay, for a while. Ski season is around the corner, as is Glacier National Park, Whitefish lake, and plentiful hiking and biking trails. Work seems plentiful, mostly in the service industry. Whitefish definitely makes the list.

Whitefish has two great bike shops; always a good reference in describing a town. And I saw two Pinarellos before 10AM, another telling reference.

Great Northern Cycles is a transplant of Teton Cyclery of Jackson Hole, WY, the owner’s former shop and residence. Contained within the GNBS is a manicured boutique of high-end road and mountain bikes, and a real coffee bar, offering caffeinated fare with as many as 6 shots (did I read that right?). One overcaffeinated drink was called “The Mechanic”. Aside from a free Americano and cup of blueberries (thanks Zana, not the last time), the shop was postered with historical cycling memoribilia, and featured some choice, vintage gear including: a Paul Components CNC rear derailleur, Campagnolo Gran Turismo rear derailleur, and assorted vintage bar-end shifters. Finally, disguised as “just another book on a shelf” was a cyclist’s touring register from before I was born. Apparently today was the day for it to be reborn-
– after 19 years. See the post titled “Legion of the lost”.

The Great Northern Bar has music and burgers and beer. Works for me.

Murmurs of a Pedalin’ Pete aroused my curiosity– an area resident who rode up to Denali for a little climb in the park. After hearing about him the second time, I demanded to know how to find this “Pete”. I was given his phone number on the spot.

I hesitated. Then I called. Pete answered; he was nice from the first word. I mumbled something about his Tout-Terrain Silkroad that I had also heard about, twice. He invited me to dinner, offered a place to stay, and we were on-site friends within the hour. His friend expertly managed a pizza-making marathon; sun-dried tomato goat cheese, Kansas City style bacon, avocado, and herb-crusted blackened chicken all made the topside of our dough. His friend– Zana. I’ll be damned if the same woman fed me breakfast and dinner in the same day, and provided a roof for the night. Whitefish comes full circle.

Spotted in Whitefish:

A Raleigh Technium city bike featuring a six-speed Maillard freewheel hub with drum brake, and large wire basket. An unexpectedly slick bike with some RivAtlantis-like flair. Check the stem height.

A 1986 Schwinn High Sierra, spotted from 50 ft away. I shouted at the operator to come hither. He was delighted at our pair of old bicycles. I delighted at his svelte SR MT-150 stem, a cousin of my MT-100.

A modern hybrid– not my favorite interpretation– with a fishing pole lashed to the top tube. That’s how they roll in Whitefish. A gun rack for your bike, sort of.

Canis lupis: are these dogs or wolves?
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