By Hereward Mills, Third year, History
The Croft Magazine // When things don’t go as planned, the adventure is often enriched. Cycling on the Sea of Galilee is one of those stories of toil, exploration and, therefore, a deeper connection to place.
Cycling, like camping, is part of the equipment. You can ride a carbon fiber bike that weighs less than a skateboard and costs more than a family sedan; you can have very thin tires, curved handlebars and no suspension; you can wear cleats, lycra, and a helmet that make you look like an extra in the avatar; you can stock up on baby jellies, sports gels and isotonic drinks. It all adds up to an incomparable experience. The battle is with yourself – and sometimes the elements – not dirty gear. But it seems slightly unnatural. You are isolated from the essence of difficulties.
An Irishman I met described a bus trip to the base of one of Argentina’s peaks. Armed with a plastic bag containing two water bottles, he encountered a group with turtle-shaped backpacks, water pipes, poles, etc. Al. Either he was stupid, he thought, or they were. The Irishman was wrong; the Argentinians probably enjoyed the walk much more. But as he sat in that hostel bar – openly bubbly lager in hand, zoning out repulsive American travelers – I’d bet he was most satisfied.
Anyway, we arrived at the Sea of Galilee on the 23rd. This is where Jesus walked on the water, calmed the storm and fed the 5000. It is also the 2nd lowest lake and the lowest freshwater lake in the world. And I’d like to say the place was biblical. I really would. In truth, Tiberias, the Galilee’s main city, was an assortment of tacky, overpriced hotels, monotonous falafel shops, and dysfunctional traffic circles. The place was littered with trash. And don’t be fooled by that quaint, feisty, cricket-tinged notion that beaches are public property. Every square centimeter of facade was partitioned off by proprietary hotels. The real miracle was that Jesus could access water, let alone walk on it.
That left us with only one option. We would have to circumnavigate the Sea of Galilee. As everyone knows, this is the primary purpose of a lake. Ask the people of Geneva. As we started our 70 km cycle, we felt we had done everything wrong. We had paid top world prices for third world bikes. We had fortified ourselves on a small chocolate croissant each; the weather was expected to reach 40c at noon; neither of us had exercised properly for several months. The man who got our bikes simply raised an eyebrow and smiled contentedly; the other explained, with an oratorical gesture, that the feat was possible, but not for us, and certainly not today; the man at the bakery thought we were pissing.
We were on the road at 9:30. The first signs were ominous. My miniature bike made me feel like Tyson Fury having tea on an ottoman. Will’s gears looked like a fruitful slot machine. Then we took a wrong turn. For 20 minutes we walked away from the sea. Long, hard and lonely minutes. In the lowest gear, barely moving forward, eyes glued to the handles, we scaled the desolate expanse at the edge of a dueling causeway, sweat and sunscreen pouring into our eyes, the sun beating in our backs, our legs burning like Prometheus’ entrails. In our extreme fatigue, we thought that the road would turn in circles. But that was not the case. We had made a mistake in the strait and the narrowing.
And yet, on top of this mountain – devoid of all energy, wiping away the last drops of water, the weather at 40 years old – I felt biblical. A refreshing swim in the sea, or a boat on the lake, or sharing bread and fish at the water’s edge, bears little resemblance to the story of Jesus. And yet our struggle – though inferior to ourselves – reminded me of Joseph, trudging through the desert, his wife on a donkey, battling heat, thirst and hunger.
Pride and hope kept us going. The hope of some food, some water and some shelter. Eventually we came across an Arab selling mangoes in a bus shelter. We shared one. Without a knife, we ate it like an apple. He tasted like the nectar of the Gods. The perfect, ethereal, almost medicinal balance of sugar and water. As the juices ran down our faces, we agreed it was the best thing we had ever eaten. Eventually we reach a kibbutz, now on our last legs. We had done about 2/3 of the distance, but more like 4/5 of the fight. The barren, undulating, uninhabited side of the lake was over. The rest, after a little malaise at midday, was academic.
As we sat in the bucolic harbour, fed on dates and other mangoes, drinking copiously, double espressos in hand, a man approached us. He had come from Jerusalem for the day. Where do we come from? The long way? On those old bikes, in this heat this morning? Disbelief gave way to respect. And it was a respect that no amount of expensive equipment can buy.
So is the message to discover peace through acts of physical endurance? Or is it to invest in functional equipment before a long bike ride? Or perhaps to avoid Tiberias? Not really. It’s probably this: if you ever find yourself pondering an awful, ill-equipped, ill-supplied, ill-prepared act of physical endurance, go for it – your victory will be that much sweeter to your fight.
Featured image: © Dave Herring / Unsplash
What back road adventures have you had?