Friday, 15 November 2013

Israel Bike Trail Redux in the Golan

Nearly four years ago, on a chilly, rainy, morning, I pedalled off into the mist  from Neve Ativ, on the start of my ambition  to ride the length of Israel, end to end. Four years on, I decided   that it was high time to revisit the Israel Bike Trail, at its very start. Maybe now  there was some indication that the IBT was actually becoming a reality in the area.  If not, perhaps I could construct an improved  route across the Golan when compared with my 2009 version.

So last week, I took two days out, and   I found myself again on the bus to Kiryat Shemona. On arrival at the bus station I transferred to the local GolanBus ( service to Neve Ativ. This is a  welcome development since my last journey here, when I had to rely on a taxi to take me up the mountain with the bike stuffed dangerously into the trunk. The  GolanBus was comfortable, with plenty of room for bikes in the hold, and the ride up to Neve Ativ took around 30 minutes - all for 20sheks!. This will be a very useful service for anybody planning to ride the IBT in the future.

As I suspected, on arrival in Neve Ativ, there was no indication that this is the start of the IBT. No sign or map for the end to end cyclist to have a photo taken next to,  just the same sad fake  snowman with a map of the village. Surely  it would be a good idea, for the Israel Bike Trail Committee to at least  erect a sign indicating that this will be the planned start of the end to end in the future. It would show ambition, be encouraging for the cycle-tourist, and complement the sign already erected in Eilat, indicating the end of the trail.

So it was clear that the IBT still does not exist in this area (the only completed sections are in the Negev, from Mitspe Ramon southwards), however, I discovered  the next best thing - The Golan Trail ( ). This is a north south trail bisecting the Golan Heights designed for walkers and cyclists, which is well signposted, with regular information points. I am certain it can be the basis for the future end to end trail.

 I connected with the Trail at the settlement of Nimrod and rode it, more or less, with only a few detours, to Ein Zivan, where I left  to head in  a more westerly direction towards the Jordan Valley. It's a rewarding  experience, consisting of a variety of riding surfaces from asphalt to some rocky single-track, and everything in between. However, the real treat, is that you are unlikely to go hungry riding on this trail. On the narrow lanes above the  Birkat Ram lake are fruit orchards, and at this time of the year, lovely juicy apples were in season. I grabbed one and pedalled on.

Plenty of other surprises lie in store for end to end riders. There are a couple extinct volcanos to climb, one Har Odem, has a quarry of multicoloured rocks, and The Hermonit, has a very tricky descent to negotiate (there will have to be a warning sign here for cyclists  to dismount!).  Then I found myself almost on the Syrian border at the memorial for fallen soldiers. Here was a good place to take a reflective break and think what happened  40 years ago during the Yom Kippur War, and stare out over the border to Kuneitra, and look for  any signs of the the conflict there. All seemed quiet.  I was not alone, as quite a few tourist buses stop here, and a local Druze farmer sells fruit, pitta, and lebene - so I could reload with good natural energy supplies!

The ride continued between old minefields, where there were reassuring warning signs to stick to the marked paths, which of course, I did!  Amongst the natural beauty there are plenty other reminders of the military and conflict, which all adds to the 'excitement' of the experience, and further on near Ortal , there were tanks gathering for an exercise and helicopters hovering overhead.

 At sunset I descended to the Jordan Valley using the trails above Nahal Gilabon which twist and turn and drop down to the river at an alarming degree, but all very rideable, if care is taken. The view is stupendous! I finished at Kibbutz Gadot, where I had booked a room for the night.

I think, overall, I  had found  a viable routing for the IBT, and certainly better than my 2009 version, and I hope it's not too long before we see that  ride-start  sign at Neve Ativ.