Saturday, 21 May 2011

Haifa to Tel Aviv

What could be more appropriate than writing this while listening to a Bob Dylan tribute on the BBC? The man is reaching his 70th year, and I've been listening to him since since my 16th, and Freewheelin, the title of his second album, is my adopted Blog Name - combining two of my passions - and perhaps something of an outlook to life too.

So maybe it was in that spirit one evening last week on the spur of the moment, I decided that the next day, I would get up early, pack a few sandwiches, fill up the water bottles, and ride my bike to Tel Aviv.

I concluded that my route would have to be as off-road as possible, and definitely avoiding any major highways. That was the challenge, I always need a challenge ! My revolutions would not be motorized, only I would allow myself the indulgence of getting down to the starting point by car, and after coming back by bus from TA, using the car again to climb Mount Carmel to my home. I calculated that after pedaling for around 100k, I wouldn't feel guilty about doing that familiar ascent home with the aid of fossil fuel.

The next day dawned grey. The weather, as forecast, was to be dry, dusty and overcast; that could be regarded as optimum conditions for the task ahead and as I pushed off from Hof HaCarmel, at around 06.15, the express train to Tel Aviv was also pulling out of the station on its 50 minute commute. I wondered how long my parallel journey would take. The train apparently averages 85kph to achieve this. I set myself the target of averaging 15kph to be able to complete the comparatively longer cycling route, in time to catch a bus back north at 14.45

The route I chose worked out pretty well. The riding was a mixture of trails, paths, side-roads, beach promenades, and urban thoroughfares. There were a few places that required a little bike carrying , such as a drainage ditch in the Ma'agan Michael fish ponds, the Nahal Hadera stream, or the sand dunes around Or Akiva, but no major obstacles to speak of. A detour was necessary when my front wheel became stuck in a swamp of raw sewage in a field next to the main coastal highway at Jisr El Zarka. This all added to the unique atmosphere of my journey

Travelling this alternative way along a major axis of communication in the country, enables one to feel, see, touch, (and smell !) much that is lost in the blur of speed when travelling by road or rail. The slower pace generates encounters with people and places normally pushed to the fringes of one's reality: Thai workers singing in the banana plantations, fishermen in deep and silent contemlpation of the Poleg Lake, tourists sun-catching on the Netanya promenade, Phillapina maids in Kfar Shmariyahu pushing babies while talking on their cell-phones (probably very long distance).

And yes, there were a few other cyclists to wave to and even have a word with; some incredulous at the scope of my journey, many just going about life on errands, carrying fishing rods, building materials, or even collecting waste tin cans. The wonderful ubiquitous uses for a bike, sometimes as beast of burden.

Seven hours after leaving the Hof HaCarmel promenade I was rolling on to the Tel Aviv promenade at Reading Power Station. My GPS gave me a distance of 104kms completed, which included the sewage and other diversions, around 10% more than I had calculated.

I managed to catch that bus back with enough time to have had a self-congratulatory beer at Tel Aviv port, I called it my '100k 1/2 litre', never had Goldstar tasted better ! The bus was crowded, standing room only, and after pushing my bike into the baggage hold, I managed to squeeze on before the driver closed the door behind my back. A girl soldier proffered me her seat, I wasn't quite sure if the gesture was for a senior citizen (ok, I admit it) or for a senior citizen cyclist who has just broken 100k (which she couldn't have known). Either way, it was a hard reality check !

The bus journey on the coastal highway, took 70 minutes, it was like playing a film in reverse at double speed