Thursday, April 08, 2004

During Chol Hamoed Pesach, it is traditional to load up the family and head off on tiyul. Part of this must surely be a sub-conscious re-enactment of the departure from Egypt; part from the necessity to walk off the extra pounds gained on seder night (and believe me there were plenty!) Given yesterday's evidence however, the average tiyul now consists of driving to a clear spot of grass, parking in a way that will inconvenience as many people as possible, throwing down a picnic blanket and stoking up the barbecue.

Nearly a decade ago, when I was a good deal fitter and more stupid than I am today, I spent a pleasant few hours assisting my younger brother to cycle around the Kinneret on a torturous August day. When my girlfriend suggested recreating the feat, I agreed - what could be better than seeing a beautiful part of the country, with my best gal by my side? Memories of my previous trip did leave me with a few reservations but the weather has not yet reached the insufferable stage and the object of my desires works out at the gym pretty much daily and so surely wouldn't encounter the same problems as my younger sibling had so why not?

We set out early in the morning from Jerusalem heading up the Jordan Valley Road (which is pretty at this time of year). Two hours driving at moderate speed found us entering the Aviv Hotel at the southern entrance to Tiberias. The Aviv, situated opposite the Galei Kinneret Hotel, rents bikes out and we had reserved a couple of their finest machines for the day. A day's hire will set you back NIS 40 for the basic model or NIS 50 for a better quality bike - we chose to pay the extra NIS 10 and were pleased to be handed modern mountain bikes with 21 gears, in decent condition. Although they are provided, we had brought our own helmets so all that remained was a brief stop to fill our rucksacks with tiyul food and off we headed.

If you choose to try the route yourself, my tip is to do it clockwise (heading North out of Tiberias) as this means that you'll encounter the hilliest bits early on in your odyssey when your legs are relatively fresh. It's a pretty long ride at just over 60 km so you won't want to be tackling steep gradients at the end of your ride. Perhaps it's obvious to point out that if you're at the high points you'll also have the best views of the trip and you'll be more likely to appreciate these when you're not concentrating on your aching limbs.

The first place of note to pass is Kibbutz Ginossar: in 1986 when the water level of the Kinneret was paritcularly low, locals discovered a boat from the 1st century - the time when Jesus was roaming the Galil. Today the boat is housed in a special museum at the Kibbutz.

Continuing around the sea, one encounters several sites of biblical note including Tabgha, Capernaum (Kfar Nahum), Bethsaida, Chorazin and Susita. All are worth a visit but probably not on a bike. This is the heartland of the New Testament where Jesus once walked and you'll find constant reminders of this fact. On his visit in 2000, the Pope visited the area and performed Mass on a hill overlooking the Kinneret - a view which I still find awe inspiring. There are also plenty of Jewish sites in the area - Tiberias is one of the four cities which have had a continuous Jewish presence and this is reflected in the archaeological richness of the area.

Back to our tiyul however, and my beautiful better half was quickly finding herself in some discomfort - modern bicycle seats are a lot more painful than I remember and we were stopping frequently to nurse our painful posteriors. She was also finding the pedalling more taxing than expected and it was only a lot of pluck and natural stubbornness that got her up the steepest of the hills that marked our route.

It soon became abundantly clear that we weren't going to finish the entire route together. Having covered approximately 30 km she was simply in too much pain to continue. We reached a sensible compromise and found her a women only beach at Kinar on the North East shore whilst I continued in double quick time to pick up the car in Tiberias and came back to collect her. The first 30 km had taken us the best part of 6 hours. I raced around the remaining 31.7 km in 1 3/4 hours, arriving exhausted and stinking in Tiberias.

As I raced to the rescue after 8 hours in the saddle, the car's seats were possibly the most comfortable that I had ever sat on. Fortunately I was able to figure out how to remove the bike's wheel so as to fit it into the back of my sporty little number and we finally made it back to Tiberias a little after eight.

The ride is pretty tough physically and you should prepare yourself with appropriate amounts of water and food. It is best attempted with people in a similar condition physically to yourself - I found it frustrating to continually have to stop; at some points every 3 minutes and were I not a patient person, our relationship would have found itself tested with several blazing rows! There are plenty of places to stop off for a swim so take your cozzie and a towel. It should go without saying but you'll certainly need to use a decent amount of sunscreen, drink plenty of water and have some sort of head covering. A camera is also essential equipment. Our experience suggests that some sort of pit team to come to the rescue would also be a pretty good plan!

Wishing you a Chag Sameach!


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