Your comfort zone isn't the place to learn about yourself or seeing where your limit's really are. This year I am trying to go deeper in what I am doing without taking on new hobbies or activities. Bikepacking is on that list of hobbies I want to get into deeper without adding stuff but more about taking on the experience of the rides. I want to use my current setup, even though I dream and plan on new equipment, I want to use what I have. To help drive my creativity and enjoy bikepacking for what it is and not for the stuff associated with it.
One of the great things I've learnt from bikepacking is the people associated with it. Coming from a racing background the roadies were different from the cross country racers. There is camaraderie among your fellow cyclists although everyone is out to win at the end of the day. Bikepacking seems different, it comes from a source of people wanting to explore. They want to get out there and experience the world and the people who populate this crazy earth. Helping each other as they go along and sharing the knowledge freely because they want more crazies out there wandering around on remote goat tracks or lama paths cut into the landscape over time.
My last last trip down to the desert. I have been a bit hesitant to get into the desert solo. It's just something that I am a bit scared of. Not the wildlife but rather the lack of water. Don't get me wrong I love the solitude of the desert and the wide open spaces it provides. I've just always been in a group to do day rides and with not having bikepacked before in the southern arid area's of Israel, I felt it would be better to dip the toe in the water with some more experienced desert travelers.
My luck was that two brothers saw that I was interested on a local Facebook group. Social media finally being used for it's actual intended, of meeting other like minded people and not the narcissistic mess it has evolved into, but that is a rant for another day. Liran and Ronen were going down south and invited me along with them. This was both awesome from them and a bit of a step it the unknown, literally, I had never met let alone ride with these chaps. Here i was going to the desert with folks I'd never met before, with lots of places to bury me if you can see where my mind was going. Within 5 minutes of meeting Liran I felt like I had been friends with him for years. We spent the drive down chatting and it was cool to meet another bike geek who loved the weirder parts of our sport.
The first day it was just me and Liran riding with Ronen joining later in the evening. It gave us both time to iron out the creases with our equipment. Liran's bike had been in pieces the day before so you can imagine the extra trepidation of heading into an overnight trip. Thoughts of hike-a-bikes into a sand storm were not far out of mind. I had bent my derailleur hanger and got a sneaky puncture, a lesson was learnt from my last ruined trip and an extra bottle of sealant was soon poured into the wheel and off we went. I'm a bit of a head down and get the miles in, Liran let's just say is much more relaxed and I loved him for it. I really got to take in the views and we did less kilometers but the experience was so much better for it. The relaxed attitude on the route led us to really have a great ride and finish fresh. I was learning on each trip more and more about how to actually enjoy the trip and not just blast through the day to get to the camp spot in the end of the day.
The desert is full of surprises and not more so than the fantastic people you meet along the way. Most are running away from something so the stories are usually interesting and the characters are larger than life. People slow down in the desert, you don't have much choice which the distances between places and inability to pop to the local shops to pick up something you forgot about. I think they appreciate what they have more in a way. Money is not the issue and the daily grind is out the window, the grind is more of just settling in and taking in what mother nature is setting up for the day. Summer heat must be oppressive and yet people manage. I gained more respect for the people and not just thinking they were running away from something but rather looking to find something the hectic world doesn't always allow in the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
The overnight stay trip was along the Israel Bike Trail with some really beautiful single track weaving along the cliff tracing down towards Eilat. You get some really spectacular views of distant mountains of Jordan and when you're in the more elusive wadi's the surrounding white cliff's really make you re-consider how small we really are on this third rock from the sun. The forces that have shaped the land over years, slowly wearing away in places and in others folding the mountains as if it were play-doh, burnt rocks scattered around. You could imagine you were riding through a giants kindergarten and the kids were a bit more ruckus that usual.
There are a few climb's but again the trail has been built in such a way that your knee's are not whining to by the time you get to the top rather you arrive to massive vistas. Pushing along is also not a bad thing as you take a step back, breath and really take in the beautifully carved landscape. We found rock's or mineral formations that were really weird and had us betting on what these salt like formations were, ancient tree's was the winner although I'm still not 100% sure what they were. Hopefully a geologist I got in touch with can shed some light on the subject.
One of the biggest things I learnt is that in the desert longer and bigger is not always better. You often forget when living in the north of Israel that the desert is really far away. I did not take the drive back into consideration but here again the experience of Liran and Ronen helped. We finished the second day around midday but there was still a 4 hour drive ahead and work the next day. This small change actually left us all with a taste for wanting more riding but still left us with that happy stupid smile of a great trip. Over night trips to the desert is possible and I would even recommend just getting down there and an out and back. To truly enjoy the experience water is key and you should be taking plenty along. A small oversight on our part but we were never in any trouble although you can never have too much water our there wandering the drier parts of the country. I would also say that the last day can always be lengthened but planning for a shorter day means getting back not a complete wreck the next day for work. I even managed to finish my washing of the weekend on arrival.