Cycling in Jordan, and other adventures in the desert

After 6 days in Jordan, I’m now on my next leg of the trip, headed up north to Athens via Istanbul.  I lucked out in that this work trip ended up on a holiday weekend, giving me an extra day to enjoy the country.  Additionally, because Friday is like a Saturday in most Middle Eastern countries (weekend), you get that off too.  Double-bingo.

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Given I had effectively a four-day weekend, I elected to take my bike along and go check out some of the riding out in the desert.  After a bunch of probing via Slowtwitch and a few other places I was able to get some details sorted out, enough to make me confident that I could indeed ride in the country without issue.

So, Friday morning I got my bike all put together and headed out for a little journey.  I did quite a bit of research on Garmin Connect, trying to find routes that were both in the middle of nowhere – but also with speeds that were closer to road bike speeds (once you removed stoppage time).  While there is plenty of mountain biking in Jordan…there’s not a lot of road cycling – so I had to ensure I wasn’t going to be riding a gravel road.  I ended up finding this route, which seemed to fit the bill:

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From there, I loaded it into my Edge 800, so I’d have some reference.  Though, I didn’t actually plan to follow it per se, but rather just use it as a general guide.  Since the Edge 800 has no maps for this area (and I was too lazy to buy/add/research options), it just shows up as a squiggly line in the middle of nowhere.  But, it gave me something to aim for when driving there.

Soon, I found what I believe to be near the top of the route, with road signs that would take me down to the Dead Sea – seemed simple enough.  I parked at a Mosque at the top of the ‘hill’ (read: giant frickin’ mountain) and got ready.  My plan was out and back.

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On my way out I double-checked with the Mosque folks that my car would be fine there for a bit, and they assured me it was good.  So off I went.

And by ‘off’, I mean I basically ‘dropped off the side of a cliff’.

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The grade for the next dozen miles was amongst the steepest I’ve ever cycled.  And it wasn’t so much that it was 15% grade (in the downhill direction), but that it was incredibly tight and winding turns, with one blind corner after another.

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And to clarify – by ‘steepest’, I mean ‘scariest’.  When I arrive back in DC later this week, the first order of business will be picking up a new pair of brake pads.  There was simply no other option but to hold the brakes for dear life.  With so many blind turns, you couldn’t corner the turns with speed even if you wanted to.  If you simply let go of the brakes, you’d easily accelerate to 50-60MPH (been there…done that).  These roads weren’t designed for that speed.  20MPH was pushing it.

At any rate…onwards I went.

A short bit later while climbing a brief hill I stumbled upon a donkey herder.  Given I wasn’t going terribly fast up the steep terrain, he expressed curiosity and interest in me (or my bike).  So, we traded for a moment.

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But since I didn’t know what to do with a donkey, and he didn’t know what to do with a time trial bike…we went our separate ways.

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(Finally…some wide open spaces I could cruise across)

Speaking of animals…they turned out to be the epicenter of ‘scary’ on the bike.  One might have thought that people and cars would be – but in fact, I’ve never had a ride with so many people that waved hello, honked hello, or similar things.  Virtually every single man, woman and child on this middle-of-nowhere road said hello and smiled, or gave the thumbs up.  Even folks hundreds of yards out in the middle of the desert.  And also the numerous military checkpoints.  Pretty cool.

The animals however…not so cool.

Some of the animals, like the donkey’s, goats, or camels – didn’t bother me as much.  You could usually see them coming (except when they randomly departed the brush).

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But the dogs…the dogs were not my friends.

For reasons that are unclear to me, the Jordanian people have an affinity for German Shepherds.  And not just one, but rather each family having a few.  In the goat/donkey herding desert area that I was in, many of the farms kept them unleashed, near the road. And unlike the majority of dogs in the US that tire of chasing you after a bit, these things meant business.  They weren’t just barking, they were showing all their teethy might. They sounded, looked and likely were ticked off.

Now the kicker was they never bothered to chase me while I was descending.  But ascending?  Yes.  Every.fricken.time.  I hit some of the highest heart rates I’ve EVER hit on the bike during this ride.  Sorry, not ‘some’.  The highest.  Period.

In some cases I was climbing up long stretches of 15% grade at well over 500w, all while yelling and wildly waving around and threatening to throw my precious Quarq water bottle at them.  If you want to learn how to be a sprinter, that’s the place to go.

On a subsequent ride I eventually realized a trick.  I went caveman on them.

Yes, I started carrying heavy softball sized rocks in my backpack pockets.

Not to throw at them mind you, but to scare them.

See, these dogs had no idea what a water bottle was, nor did they likely speak English (not that it stopped me from yelling all sorts of English…and French…words at them).  But the rocks – they understood that.  If I mocked a rock throw at them, they held back a second or two (and each second was critical).

Brilliance.

However, sometimes, you needed to simply pick your fights.

On the last portion of a 12 mile long climb, I saw up ahead that three dogs had me cornered.  Being one of the steepest sections on what was already a multi-mile 10%+ climb, I knew there was no way I as going to be able to out-run them uphill.  Especially given they already saw me coming and were chasing towards me already (usually I get in front of them before they notice).  So, I back-tracked down the hill and waited.

What did I wait for?

A goat truck.

After a few hours of cycling, I learned that there was a never ending stream of goat trucks…some with goats, some without.  I also had learned that almost everyone had offered me a ride up the mountain at some point.

Soon, a truck came.

But, it was not a goat truck.  Instead, it was a cucumber and eggplant truck.

When I realized it was full, I told the driver I’d catch the next truck.  But he insisted on helping me out.  So, we loaded my bike onto his cucumbers, and away we went.

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A couple minutes later, we reached the Mosque and he helped unload Mr. Cervelo.  He, like everyone else, was incredibly friendly.  And the whole interaction was done with no English whatsoever.

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Aside from cycling, I did get a chance to visit large portions of the rest of the country, thanks to picking up a rental car.  Since this post is getting rather long already, I’m going to go a bit quicker for everything else.

First up, the Dead Sea.  As you may know, the Dead Sea is incredibly salty.  In addition, your flotation is much higher.  You couldn’t drown here if you tried.  You just float on the surface.  I didn’t want to pay the extra fees (or waste the time) for going to a formalized beach to take a dip.  So along my drive one day I just picked a place off the side of the road.

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And, armed with Mr. Rubber Ducky as my lifeguard (I found him a few miles away along the side of the road), in I went:

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The only problem was Mr. Rubber ducky ditched me…

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…causing me to have to swim rather fast to get to him.  Note that you don’t want to put your face in the water here, it stings a ton.

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I caught him though…bad ducky.

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Oh – here’s some of the salty ‘beach’ area.  Amazing how thick the slabs of salt get.

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Outside of the Dead Sea, I went to Petra, and a few other famous sites around Jordan.  Mostly though, I just did a lot of aimless driving through never ending and really sketchy mountain passes:

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(Don’t worry, I was driving at approximately 4.8MPH up this hill when I took this photo…if I had stopped the car, I’m reasonably certain it wouldn’t have gone forward again.  By the top of the hill 5,000 feet later, a warning light appeared on my dashboard…and my car smelled funny.)

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And here’s some shots of a few places along the way, and Petra:

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Really an incredible country to go visit.  If you do visit, I recommend you simply rent a car and go explore.  Grab a paper map (I had a car GPS that I rented, but it died on day 2), and just wander.  It’ll likely get you into some mountainously scary places (like I did), but they’ll also be some of the most breathtaking places you’ll ever see.

Finally, I leave you with a short humorous story from yesterday.

I was in a bit of a rush to leave Petra.  The way the site is, it’s about a 1-2 mile walk down to the famous city that you see in the photos above.  But your ticket includes a horse ride one way, if you want it.  Given I was trying to save as much time as possible, I decided to take it on the way back (uphill).  The only problem is that typically the handler simply walks the horse next to you.  I knew that’d be slower than me just walking.  So I asked if it was possible to go fast.

He said ‘Of course!’.  Followed up, ‘I assume you know how to ride then?’

To which I nonchalantly said “Of course”.

I have no idea how to ride.  None.

In fact, the last time I rode a horse-like object was an Elephant.  And before that, was a pony in pre-school.  It might not have even been a pony.  Perhaps it was just a large dog and my parents told me it was a pony.

Nonetheless, onto the horse I went.

I grabbed hold of the rope thingy.

And then he did something. Something that caused said horse to go forward. Fast.  Really fast.

And thus, I held on for dear life.

Regrettably, a few other horseman had nothing better to do, so they chased up alongside my little horse and did something else that caused him to run for his life.  Just like I was hanging on for mine.

I wondered if at the end of ‘the ride’, the horse would know to stop, or if I would just run all the way back to the hotel 200 kilometers away, crashing through the security gate.  I wondered if the horse would need nutrition along the way – for I had none for it.  And most importantly, I wondered how I was going to explain to someone that this wasn’t my horse at all.

Thankfully, the horse decided to stop.  He stopped because he wanted to check out three females that were walking.  Given I didn’t know how to make it go (or stop), I just let it be.  I was close enough to the top anyway.  Visit complete, and my life still in tack.

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(P.S. – It’s entirely possible this could be a donkey…those are all just details…)

Thanks for reading all!

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27 Comments

  1. Rob

    Interesting choice of bike kit. LOL!

    Great read – thanks!

    Reply
    • Stuart Bonnar replied

      Good to hear your cycling story, might be heading to Jordan to work and enjoy cycling. Good read. Thanks

      Reply
  2. An amazing adventure! I am glad false pride did not prevent you from circumventing dogs by accepting a ride!…

    Reply
  3. don

    I love that you were wearing your IMC jersey while cycling in Jordan. I would do that! Thanks for the great post, such an adventure, it reminded me of when I went running through Jerusalem last year.

    Reply
  4. Is it Athens-Greece your next destination? Did you know that the Marathon race was named after Marathon city? A good idea might be to travel to the “Athens Classic Marathon” route (2.500 years of history)!

    Reply
  5. i meant drive by the ACM route!

    Reply
  6. Great read! :)

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Awesome report!

    Tor

    Reply
  8. Fantastic as always. Vicarious living is still living…I hope.

    Reply
  9. Great post and fun too.

    Reply
  10. I’m glad you survived all that excitement!!!! Wonderful trip photos as always.

    Reply
  11. Unbelievable trip. You are much more adventurous that I would ever be in a foreign country. Great views!

    Reply
  12. SueM

    great post – love your travel stories!

    Reply
  13. Wow, those are adventures for sure!! How many people can say that their bike got to ride with a load of cucumbers and eggplants? Such amazing pictures. Thanks for sharing them with us. Glad to hear you survived the horse ride!

    Reply
  14. Your post brings back so many great memories for me! I lived in Jordan for a year and it is very dear to my heart! Next time you go, I can give you the low-down on great roads to bike just outside of Amman.

    Reply
  15. thanks for the great post! i enjoyed reading it!

    Reply
  16. RWJ

    The Holy Grail! “The penitent man shall pass.”

    Reply
  17. Ha! Awesome! Great post.

    Reply
  18. As always ….. great post and photos …..especially the one with the rubber duck. We almost wet ourselves.

    Reply
  19. Awesome post. Loved, loved the horse/donkey/possibly a giant dog story. The idea of possibly having to explain that you were on a horse that wasn’t yours in a language you presumably don’t speak made me laugh out loud.

    Reply
  20. Funny stuff. But why no pictures of the dogs? ;)

    Reply
  21. Wonderful post—I’m a huge fan of Jordan. Thanks for all the pictures.

    Reply
  22. katie

    Great post! Very cool to hear what it’s like there and love the humor. Sounds like an awesome experience

    Reply
  23. Xena

    I’m guessing they like German Shepherds because they are farmers with goats and sheep and German shepherds are … shepherding dogs?

    Soooo beautiful there, I really want to go.

    Reply
  24. Awesome! Some pictures reminded me of the Death Valley, California.
    I loved the story with the crazy running horse :D

    Reply
  25. great post, photos and a lovely rubber duck :) – thanks for all the travel stories, they are awesome!

    Reply
  26. Loved readying about your dog exploits. I have been living in Jordan for 5 years, and love cycling around … and can relate to everything you said about the dogs. Why do they always go for you when you’re half way up a climb?? Last time my riding partner was ahead of me, and the dogs chased him, he out ran them, and they gave up, only to turn around and see me coming towards them. Their eyes lit up. It is amazing how high your heart rate can go! I don’t know if you fancy coming back to Jordan, but I’m working to help grow Triathlon in Jordan, so if you’re back in Jordan next spring, you’re welcome to join the 2nd Jordan Valley Triathlon. You can see details of last year at link to facebook.com Next year will either be on 29th March or 12th April, and will be on http://www.experiencejordan.com

    Reply

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