MTB Projekt Holy Trails Israel

Kurt Exenberger takes a ride trough the desert

The Austrian Mountainbike guide & trainer on the search of the best singletracks of the Israeli desert Negev! After all the stories he heard from the Israelean guests at the bikeacademy he Must dicover the treasures of the Holy Land on his own

See Kurt´s journey here via GPS Live Tracking between 24th of Feb. & 2nd of March

Day one - Moodin to Jerusalem

Finally I am sitting on a Bike in Israel! I heard a lot of stories about never ending Flow Trails and challenging desert rides. Let's see what you have to offer, promised land...

After a very warm welcome at Shlomi's And Einats house (Shlomi Deutsch was my first customer from Israel in 2008), Shlomi guided me to Jerusalem on his favourite trails. Wie did 90 km and 2000 m climbing, that was definitly nötig the nearest route, but very nice. We went for example to canada park, where they built an amazing network of flowtrails. While riding, Shlomi gave me also a detailed description of Israels history - very interesting and entertaining. 

Rolling into the middle of Jerusalem on bikes was a special feeling, I couldn't wait for the Nightride with the Local Amir Rockman, he got raised in this fascinating town and new just everything about it. It was good to find the Former Bus streets empty and racing past a big part of human history. 

After midnight I fell into a doorm bed At the Abraham Hostel - a place with relaxed vibes in the city center, very recommendable for travelers. Here is my STRAVA Track of the whole day.

Day two - the Sugar Trail

After a short night, Arnon Shadmi from our long term partner in Israel - BotzBike, picked me up @ 6.30 in Jerusalem. From there wie headed west into the arabic West Bank to ride an ancient trade route, the Sugar Trail.

Now I was going to ride the real desert, the judean desert - but, almost to my dissapointment, it was all green. Due to the heavy rainfalls from the days before the normally dry landscape was full of bushes, grass and flowers. After a few minutes rough descent, where we couldn't hardly find a trail, the desert gave us signs that she doesn't want us today - Arnon got a few cuts on the sidewall of his rear tire. Pretty complicated to fix. After some attempts we could carry on.

Arnon, the very expierienced Bike Guide wanted to show me the Martyrus Monastery, built in the fith century and still inhabitated. A beutiful building into the rocks of a canyon. And then it happened - on a steep climb my chain fell off with a loud crack and the chainring was broken....

In a glimpse it was clear to us, that we wont be able to get a new chainring for the special pinion drive in Israel and the technical was "unfixable". I could not pedal uphill anymore, but downhill was ok. For a short period of time my spirits sank and I thought the long awaited and planned trip has found an end just after it began. So I ran up a 700 m, pushing and carrying my heavy bike to do at least the trail I dreamed of the last few weeks...

The Sugar Trail, a flowy and fast natural Singletrail with some gnarly rock sections and a few possibilities to jump in a breathtaking landscape. I rode a few different trails in my life, but this one was one of the best of the list! As we ended up at Nabi Musa, the place where it is believed (the Muslims do) that Moses is buried, our spirits where up again. We had some food, fresh orange juice and a turkish coffee and Arnon started to organize.

After a few phone calls the solution was clear! Arnon spoke to the Ghost Bike distributor for Israel and he had a fitting Bike ready for me. Arnons dad picked us up and I had to go back to the start again - Tel Aviv. So I continued the journey on another great bike - the AMR LT LC 9 - an All Mountain machine, light and fast! I did some Enduro Races last year on this bike, so there was no adjusting needed and I new the AMR LT was solid enough. Big thanks to Arnon, his dad and of course to Adi Rimon from Bikeout.

I spent the night at the house from another BotzBike Guide, Nissim Tsuk Ran, who helped me a lit to organize the planning for th further trip and set up all the important GPS tracks on my garmin device. The STRAVA Track with the full Sugar Trail you find here.

day three - arad to the dead sea

This day (Friday) it was time to get up @ 4.30 a.m. - weekend for the Israelis and many of them going south into the desert. I got a ride from Shalom, a fiend of a friend, to the town Arad. From here I started the trip again 800 m above sea level to go down to the lowest place on land, the dead sea. That meant 1600 m of downhill with only 400 m of uphill in between - I was striked by the beautiful desert, the silence and peace I found there. That was just exactly what I wanted to expierience - being alone in this open landscape and ride my bike on sweet singletrails. My feet and upper body did the work - my mind was calm and relaxed. It was like the top of your skull got opened and all the stress and hurry of life flew away, now I was "on my trip".

After 4 hours of riding also some pretty technical and gnarly trails, the shores of the dead sea where in sight. Of course it is a must do to go for a float in the salty water, which I expected to be thicker but as soon as you went into deeper water it lifted you automatically up and you where floating. Not bad, but I was still so stoked from the previos ride, I wanted to get on my bike again.

The next 2 hours where also breathtaking - trough a salty canyon down in the ground I made my way down to Neot Hakikar, where I was supposed to meet another friend and previous client, Eduardo Oxman. He was down there biking for the weekend with a bunch of his riding comrades, the oldest one, Simon, celebrated his 70th anniversary, riding trails with friends. That will be also a goal for my 70th birthday! I was invited by them to a BBQ - good food, good times. I am very thankful for this day! Here is the STRAVA Track with my first KOM in Israel.

Day four - Dead Sea to the Mountains

This should be the hardest day on my trip! I got up at five and started one hour later to avoid some of the heat, because the route, which Arnon planned for me leads me from -400 m up to the mountains on mainly east and south facing tracks, so the heat will be a big issue. I also have to carry a lot of water, because there will be no possibility to fill up on the way. The terrain was pretty rough, a lot of dash dash (soft sand and stones where you have to fight to not get stuck with your bike) on the uphills.

The ride started with a beautiful, just slightly climbing single trail in a big canyon system (got a 3rd place on STRAVA in that), but it did not take long until the road was climbing steep up to the negev mountains. As the terrain in the desert is, you do not just head upill, no in-between you often "loose" your achieved climbing meters by "empty" (this means for me no single tracks!) downhills. The landscape was just amazing and for a long time I did not see a single person. I even had to cross a little river sometimes, I heard this is really rare to see running water in this dry place. After 40 km and 800 m climbing, I saw the "Scorpion Pass" in front of me - which meant 500 m climbing on asphalt, south facing, just before noon time in 35 degrees celsius - good pick man, thats gonna be hard. Indeed it was hard, and even harder where the next 20 km of asphalt road. I found out, that I am mentally to weak for the asphalt. No fun, no challenging surface - probably I am too much Mountainbiker to have fun on asphalt - though my body likes the easier terrain, my mind hates it.

One of the last challenges of the day was the crossing of the big crater "Ha Makthesh", which was beautiful but challenging to climb on a very bad 4x4 road out of the "hole". But with not a lot of water left I did it slowly and was very happy to enjoy the great views on the rim and to have easier terrain in fron of me. This was also the "roof" of my trip, with 1003 m, the highest point I reached in Israel. Flowing Singletrails lead me down to Sde Boker and the very nice family of Dani Ganot, which hosted me for this night, gave me great organic food to recover and a very warm welcome.

day five - Sde Boker to Mitzpe Ramon

After this long day up to the desert mountains of the Negev, I planned kind of a resting day - 60 km and 1000 m climbing where on the program. Not the direct way from Sde Boker to Mitzpe though, because my mission was to ride as much trails as possible. After the first night in Israel with a long sleep, I was perfectly rested for the day, the only problem I had was my bud: It gave me a hard time sitting on the saddle, which I wasn't used to and now is giving me hell! But its only pain, my legs where perfect!

So I headed out to the single tracks, stony and rocky, the downhills flowy, the uphills quite tough but definitely fun. They led me trough rolling hills, past Beduin settlements in again an amazing surrounding. The adrenaline kick of the day was given to me by three beduin dogs, wich attacked me as I rode past their settlement. Those guys where quite fearless and where dedicated to frighten me - they did´t let me pass until I kicked one guy pretty hard as he tried to bite my foot. After that I did a 20 sec. sprint was full of lactate and adrenalin afterwards.

There was some unattractive riding next to the road until I took a loop to ride along the cliff of the famous Ramon Crater, the worlds biggest crater which is not an impact crater nor a volcanic crater, but made from erosion. The approach to the crater was quit surprising: I rode past a little tree plantation and was not aware that I am already that close until the trail made a turn to the right and after a few meters I stood right on the cliffs where a 100 m further down the bottom of the crater was. A really amazing view!

I made a long rest on the edge and enjoyed the lonely view here in the desert. After that, the ride on the ridge was breathtaking those last kilometers of this day where very special. I spent the night in the IBike Hotel of Mitzpe and had a great dinner, filled up my body with energy for the next hard day. http://www.ibexhotel.co.il

Day six - Mitzpe Ramon to Paran

Today I had the honor again, to ride with Arnon Shadmi, one of the moste experienced guides in Israel and a specialist in the desert. After the best breakfast you can imagine in the desert, we had a late start at 9. But that did´t bother Arnon - he was speeding over the trails on the crater rim with great speed on his 29er Hardtail, I was fighting for keeping his back wheel in sight. After 2 hours of riding, we where in a very good time again. The luxury I could enjoy today was unbeatable - Arnons driver Izhar Elden (because he hat to get back home after the ride south) was waiting for us and already prepared some Coffee, Sandwiches and Cookies. After that I was ready to go fulgas, also because he promised to meet us again in three hours with lunch ready for us. We sped trough the most beautiful valley and got deeper and deeper into the desert. It was really hot and Arnon frightend me with stories of riders dying from overheating in the desert. The locals make a 10 min break for every hour they ride, because if you feel the overheating, it could be too late. So I was slowing down a lot after that and tried to not give my body too much of exertion.

The Negev was showing its most beautiful sight in this area as we passed some 2000 year old roman fortifications, camel herds from smugglers and lonely, dry trees. The three hours went by fast and we met Izhar again with a tasty lunch for us. On the way we met a lonely traveler by bike, he had about the same idea than me, and we shared our lunch with him.

After lunch there was still a bunch of kilometers to ride until the "Pepper growing Village" Paran. Very beautiful, very hot and we just made it before dark. My host Amos, welcomed us with a cold beer and it was time to say goodbye to Arnon, who showed me the ride for my last two days on the map and gave me some GPS files for that. Here is the STRAVA Track of this day (110 km, 1000 m climbing, 6 hrs riding time) - actually I got another KOM out there...

day seven - Paran to Samar

The sixth day of riding in a row was really good, so I was excited if it is going as good again! The schedule was 80 km and 1000 m climbing, this time alone again. The temperature was going to be hot and strong wind from the south (headwind) was blowing. After an early breakfast with the Pepper farmer Amos, it was time to start. Again I had the luck to see a special route for the first 20 km, shown by a local. Ilan, I met him in Austria at the Bikeacademy before, rode into a beautiful valley over a nice pass and some good trails with me until he left me at a crossing. "This road is easy and flat for 25 km, than you meet the Isreael Bike Trail again." So I started for the easy road section, wich I thought I´ll do in less than an hour. But sometimes it comes different than you think. First of all I was really tired, I felt the last days. But second, there was the wind - in the beginning from the side and after a 10 kilometers with full force from the front. I addition to my luck, the road was leading along an army training field, where some heavy tanks where swirling up some big clouds of sand, which of course got blown right into my face. So this last 15 km where feeling like one big mountain to climb for me and after two hours of very frustrating riding I stumbled into a restaurant at the side of the road which saved my day. Organic juices, fresh food and a cool garden to relax gave me back some energies and motivation to carry on. Mi spirits rose again as I saw the IBT sign and headed for the flowy singletrail again. Still the wind was blowing against me, but on a singletrack which leads you trough beautiful landscapes and desert mountains, riding is always very enjoyable! So I was riding on good speed again and after I crossed some sand dunes (a rare sight in the stone desert!) and had a few short brakes, my garmin displayed 70 km shortly after noon. I got a little bit suspicious, that the day will be longer than 80 km. After some navigation problems and a some tips by phone from the desert fox Arnon, I decided for the long way and to go for the long option of the route. The reward, said Arnon, will be on of the best descents in Israel, a 10 km long singletrail down a steep Mountain ridge to the "Bike Kibbutz" Samar. But this meant about 40 km plus. I checked my camelback for how much water was left and decided to go for it. So the Trail lead me west first, the opposite direction. Very beautiful valley between quit high and steep desert mountains, very lonely also. Then out on the plain, some DashDash and headwind - not good for my head. As I reached the crossing back to the mountains again it was a little late and I was worn out, plus this was for sure the hottest day. I got a little scared, because I needed more water as I had planned plus I couldn't do the cool down stops Arnon recommended because it was late already. There was no other choice than carrying on. Crossing those mountains back to the cliff where the trail downwards started was a real challenge. It was hot, the trails was steep (up and down), and there where a few valleys to cross, and the track was technical - concentration was needed. As I reached the downhill trail, my body was worn out and in the meantime I ran out of water, my mouth was so dry, I could´t swallow. The first part of the trail was damaged, from the last rainfalls - big loos rocks where lying all over and I had to carry my bike. But it did´t take long until the trail opened and got really flowy, a dream of a descend, but I was not in the state to enjoy it. I jus wanted to be down in Samar with a cold beer and some food. That was good training for my concentration, and after 30 min I was really happy to be down there without any crashes. Just 10 km on the road and I am with people (and food) again. To see Yaron from Samarbike was a great pleasure for me - as I drank liters of water and ate his kitchen empty, the chief trial builder of the Negev Desert entertained me with some great stories how he and a few mates built the Israel Bike Trail by hand.  This ist the Strava Track from the exciting day.

day eight - samar to eilat, red sea

Last day - good thing for me. My bud is sore and my mind is ready to see some green landscape again. But one diamond of trailbuilding art and a highlight of archaeological sites lie ahead of me - Timna Park.  After some trail building stories and a detailed description of the challenges at the Samarathon, an epic bike adventure in des Negev, I was heading south on my Ghost Bike. Actually Yaron is also organizing Enduro or All Mountain Trips in the southern Negev, owns a lodge for Bikers and lives in a great Location - check out his website: http://www.samarbike.com/en/

Some warming up on flat 4 WD trails until I reached Timna Park (a little bit too early, because I found out, that my body needed 2 to 3 hours to get really into it). There I hit a flowy and with lots of love for the details built singletrail, in the best scenery you can imagine. It was really hard to keep your eyes on the trail, and it was hard to stop for a break because it was so much fun. Als I knew that this was the last trail on my journey.

After the trail it was a little bit of dash dash and a lot of flat 4 WD trails wich took me straight to the sandy beach of the Red Sea in Eilat. After 60 km and 500 climbing, of cours I got out of my clothes and jumped into the warm water. So this was the End of this little adventure, big struggle for my body and great relaxation for my mind. I have to say thanks to all the locals who helped with the route, fed me and gave me shelter. Also a big THANK YOU to Adi Rimon, the Ghot Distributer for Israel and the Bike Shop BIKEOUT for giving me his Bike to finish my trip.

I am really thankful, that I did not got hurt, or had any major problems in the desert. I also have to say, that I did feel save every moment of my time in Israel and the people there are just amazing. Your can expect help from everybody the hospitality is amazing and the Bike Scene is very close and like a family. I can highly recommend to go there and bike your head off. I have not been there, but I heard (and I believe) that the trails in the north are as good as in the desert, or even better. Feel free to use my GPS Tracks from Strava, or write me a mail and I send you the tracks! Guidance on all of your trails and thanks for reading this!

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