On November 13, 2019, Amy Jurries departed from Um Qais on a 454-mile bike ride on the Jordan Bike Trail, reaching her final destination of Aqaba on the Red Sea. This 13-day bike ride is comprised of 12 stages and passes through three regions of the country (Northern, Central and Southern).
Just as I began to think to myself that I was really enjoying today’s off-road section of trail that rolled in and out of the olive groves, I heard the noise that all cyclists dread — a large pop followed by “hisssssssssssssssss.” I looked back to see that not only was my back tire completely flat, but the entire valve hard shorn off. My happy trail thoughts quickly turned to dread.
The day had started out great, with beautiful riding in the early morning light up and down the hills surrounding Ajloun Castle, before stopping in the small town of Al-Ameriye for our now usual breakfast of fresh baked shrak, falafel, and Turkish coffee. We spent some time chatting with Abdel Rahman, the young owner of the coffee shop. Trained as an accountant, he couldn’t find work when he returned from United Arab Emirates so resourcefully opened the small store instead. We decided to exchange WhatsApp information so that he could practice his English and I could actually learn more than a dozen words of Arabic.
When what I now dub as “valvegate” happened, we were on a 43 kilometer remote section of trail with no services. Not exactly an ideal place to have a major mechanical. A sweet family harvesting olives right nearby quickly came over to see if they could help.
Luckily, Berne, my riding partner, was smart enough to pack an extra valve in her toolkit. But even after we got that installed we could not get the tire to seat properly. Just at that moment, by some miracle or by the grace of Allah, a man in a truck pulled over and brought out his air compressor. Some way, somehow, he knew exactly what we needed and just happened to be driving by.
With a few jury rigged nozzles, we finally heard the sound that all cyclists love to hear — the sound of your tubeless tire popping securely into place on the rim. The olive grove family repeatedly tried to get us to stay for some coffee but as we were late, we had to politely decline. With a million “shukran jazilan,” a number of selfies, and a round of cookies for the kids, we were finally on our way again.
One thing I would do differently and recommend to anyone who might consider riding the trail is to factor in what I call social time. Chatting with shopkeepers, families that curiously drive up next to you wanting to know where you are from and what you are doing, or sharing coffee and tea with all the friendly people you meet. This is where the real magic happens on the trail and should not be skipped or rushed through for the sake of making more mileage each day.
Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent crossing Wadi Zarqa. Taking a lunch break in the shade of some trees before dropping down to the Zarqa River thousands of feet below, I was amazed to see what looked like the start of daffodils growing. In a place so devoid of water, life still finds a way. As it was Friday, we came across numerous families out enjoying picnics, one sharing a large plate of mansaf, a dish of rice, lamb, and yogurt, as they enjoyed the view and fresh air.
The mechanical had set us back a good hour on our schedule for the day so it was getting late by the time we reached Ja’alad. We had been trying to outrun a thunderstorm in the distance but our luck ran out about three kilometers from the end. The sky opened up in an absolute downpour and soaked us to the bone. A boy with a herd of goats tried to coax us under a tree but since we were almost out of daylight, we were sadly forced to pedal on.
While a bit of a splurge, the Mountain Breeze Resort was the most welcome end to a somewhat epic day. A warm, cute mountain cabin awaited us with a hot shower and fluffy white bathrobes. The roaring fire in the dining room warmed our spirits as we laughed in amazement at our good fortune that day over a delicious meal of ara’yes and moutabel for dinner.
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