There are many different ways to experience the Abraham Path and with many of the sections being navigable on mountain bikes, API staff-member Julian Bender (the guy who is responsible for all of these maps) decided to take some vacation and explore the breathtaking landscapes of Wadi Rum. Here are some excerpts from his travel journal recounting the welcoming hospitality, soaring sandstone cliffs and sore legs he experienced along the way:
I headed out on this particular cycle-touring expedition after several months of riding a desk, and accompanied by a couple who are on a year-long bike trip around the world. Without conditioned cycling legs, I struggled to keep up with my companions on the 900-meter road climb up to the tiny village where we stopped at a military post to ask for water. At first, we were looked askance, warned repeatedly that we couldn’t proceed south toward the Saudi border, asked how we knew the way.
Then we were asked repeatedly if we needed anything. “Well,” I said, not knowing how long our route would be to the nearest village, “maybe a little bit of bread?” Upon which the high-ranking officer who’d been ordering servings of tea also called for bread, oranges, bananas, cheese, such that I had to refuse half of it, out of inability to carry it all. “You need anything, come back here!” was the parting salutation.
In Wadi Rum, the going became difficult, a mix of rideable surfaces and sandy dunes too soft for anything but slow walking. The majesty of the area’s legendary scenery was tempered by the intermittent slog of pushing bikes through red sand. The first flat-tire (of many) slowed our pace even further. During a supply stop in Rum village I offered a local the opportunity to try my fatbike – my camel, as I introduced it.
The weather was as perfect as we could have hoped for – warm breezy days and cool still nights – as we pedaled away from Wadi Rum into the unknown lands to the north. To the east, weirdly straight wadis ran down from the high plateau that spreads, table-flat, all the way to the Tigris and Euphrates; I was lured to this wilderness by the feeling of being at the edge of the world.
As the afternoon grew golden, four little girls strolled up to say hello, the oldest displaying an impressive knowledge of the local geography for the age of no more than ten. The inevitable tea invitation resulted in a visit with the whole family. Here the names of the local landmarks were discussed, and the family members, goats, and donkeys were all confirmed to be in excellent health – and thus, my linguistic abilities neared their limits.
In Humeima, our lunch stop was enlivened by the entire population of a nearby boys’ school on lunch break, who mobbed us and the bicycles, demanding photos, chirping “What’s your name,” attempting to engage in linguistically-hampered theological debate, in which miming a holy man’s beard played a surprisingly large part. The younger boys grabbed at the parked bicycles; the older yanked them off with a scolding. We munched on our falafel and grilled chicken, bemused by the hurricane of youthful activity.
The search for scenery competed with the search for good, rideable bike routes; there were tough climbs hoping for the reward of a roaring jeep track descent on the other side, and meanderings in the hallway-valleys between sheer sandstone cliffs (siqs in the local Arabic). A simple fare of beans heated on a tiny campfire sustained us at night, and squeezable cheese in a box kept us going through the days, all scooped up into the mouth with saj flatbread. Away from the villages and main tourist centers, we were alone in the desert, spotting only the occasional homestead on the horizon or nestled beside a rocky hill.
A good year for rain meant a good few weeks for grazing, and for gazing out at purple-bathed fields of ephemeral flowers. The springs and wells were full of good water, far apart as they might be. The maze of high limestone hills and rugged canyons called “the waterfall area”, south of Petra, lived up to its name and brought grey skies suggesting rain.
Just shy of Petra and running short on time, we turned west for a 40-km/h descent down an empty, well-paved back road into the Rift Valley, the long-awaited counterpart to the first day’s grueling climb up the Aqaba Mountains. A final flat tire on the long flat Dead Sea Highway exhausted the supply of spare tubes, and while my fellow riders continued on pedal power, I hitched to Aqaba in an iPhone delivery truck. By no means the most fitting ending for an adventure, but as always, representative of the unexpected, often helpful strangeness that permeates the road less traveled across the Middle East.
All Photos by Julian Bender