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).
Upon leaving Madaba, home to the oldest known map of Palestine in existence, we entered into the central region of Jordan and major wadi country. The highlands plateau of Jordan, which separates the Jordan Valley on the west from the eastern desert, is intersected by a number of deep canyons and riverbeds known as wadis. All of the wadis eventually flow into the Jordan River or the Dead Sea and can run thousands of feet down from the top of the plateau, millions of years in the making by water chiseling through the sandstone.
On our way to Dhiban, we had to cross the first two of the several massive canyons we are set to encounter over the next few days—Wadi Zarqa Ma’in and Wadi Hidan.
Almost immediately, the scenery dramatically changed from that of the north. The forests and olive groves have now been replaced by rugged and barren terrain. Only patches of farmland and the occasional Bedouin tent with their herds of goats (and some scary guard dogs!), or a palm tree oasis break up the otherwise arid scenery.
The rains have thankfully stopped so we didn’t have to worry about the flash flood risk common in the wadis this time of year but the cold wave passing through Jordan this week brought with it some pretty strong eastern winds, strong enough to blow us off our bikes at times when cresting back on top of the plateau. While riding back up from Wadi Zarqa Ma’in, we caught our first glimpse of the Dead Sea in the distance.
With over 2,000 meters or close to 7,000 feet of climbing each day, which involves quite a bit of hike-a-bike in the process, we seem to roll across the finish line just as the sun sets and with it the evening Adhan or call to prayer. A somewhat fitting way to end an exhausting day on the bike.
We spent the night at Abdullah Abud’s farm outside of Dhiban. He hosts guests in a modern house surrounded by grapevines and olive trees, built next to the large chicken coop in the middle of his farmland. This two story house can sleep at least six people and comes complete with kitchen, sitting room, and even a pool. Abdullah showed us our destination for the next day—Kerak—from the rooftop patio. As he did so, he made a big swooping gesture with his hand, indicating the large canyon we would have to cross to get there.
Possibly in his 70s, Abdullah has owned the farm for 56 years and would love to see more guests come visit him. We shared a delicious meal of spicy roast chicken, potatoes, and tomatoes served alongside rice and bread before retiring to the lounge area to chat over several cups of sweet tea with the equivalent of Arabic MTV playing on the TV in the background.
After saying goodbye to Abdullah the next morning and fortifying ourselves with Turkish coffee in Dhiban, almost the entire day was spent crossing Wadi Mujib—one of the largest canyons in Jordan and now a protected biosphere reserve. Extending from Madaba all the way to Kerak with a 1,300-meter or 4,300-foot variation in elevation, Mujib is a beast to put it mildly.
Numerous times on our descent, trucks full of concerned locals pulled over to make sure we were not lost and actually knew what we were getting into. My Garmin continually beeped with “Caution: Sharp Bend Ahead.” After the paved road gave way to an incredibly rocky trail descent, one farmer insisted I was lost and could in no way shape or form make it to Kerak that way on a bike. We pointed at our fat tires, gave him the thumbs up, and kept rolling on.
Once at the bottom, crossing the Mujib River was an adventure in itself. Getting the bikes to the other side required a whole lot of clambering over boulders, bushwhacking through thick reeds and painful thorn bushes, before wading across the fast moving, knee-deep water. Now we only had the job of riding back up the 1,300 meters to Kerak ahead of us.
As the say, what goes down, must come up again. And so it goes in wadi country.
Subscribe to the blog to follow along with #AmyBikesJordan!