The 850km Israel Bike Trail runs from north to south from Mount Hermon to Almog Beach, Eilat. It is generally based on the Israel National Trail. The trail winds its way through the countryside, passing areas of great natural beauty and sites sacred to the great religions. The INT serves as the backbone for many of other marked trails, an integrated nation-wide network, designed to foster nature conservation and to preserve the special character of each geographical region.
The eleventh section of the IBT is 32km through Nachshon/Shoresh/Mevo Betar. So we begin the climb to Jerusalem on the Israel Bike Trail. These sections are atmospheric in many ways , not least for the fact that we mountain bike ride through the history of the country, both ancient and modern.
Our first stop is Latrun and a visit to the Police Fort and Museum of the IDF Armoured Division. Then after a short climb we arrive at the Monastery of Latrun, where trappist monks tend their vines, and where we can buy wine and liqueurs. Care, with wine in the bike- bottle cages ! On the hill above the monastery, are the ruins of a12th century Crusader fort. From here we begin the ascent of the Judean foothills to Neve Shalom, a kibbutz founded by Arab and Jewish families, to promote the ideal of co-existence between the two peoples. This is a good place for a coffee break or even to spray the bikes, if mud has been collected on the way.Leaving Neve Shalom we enter the surrounding pine-forest and hit a section that is alive with history , the Burma Road. To us this is just another forest track with excellent biking potential. However, it was built in the time of war as an emergency supply route to beleaguered Jerusalem. It has memorial mock-ups of toiling vehicles and labourers, to remind us of the tracks origins.
The main challenge of the day is to toil up to the hills overlooking the main Jerusalem highway. This starts off quite gently from the Burma Road Picnic Site, but steepens over some cut up track to a near- vertical rocky section where there is no choice but to hump the bikes. However, it is worth every bead of sweat when we arrive at Mishlat 21, for the sensational view down to the highway 300 meters below. This was also the site of heavy fighting during the War of Independence.
The rest of the route is on a wide track that winds up and down,with marvellous views of the Judean Hills to the picnic site of Hamasrek where we can fill up the water bottles for the last section in the forest. Here we split from the INT and continue on a picturesque forest fire-road above Nahal Kisalon to Shoresh.
This very atmospheric section starts with the descent into Nahal Kisalon from the heights of Shoresh. A good way to start any mountain bike ride ! Nahal Kisalon is one of the deep wadis that drain the Jerusalem Hills in a westerly direction. Riding in it is varied, some forest tracks, jeep roads, and river- bed terrain will be encountered. A good time to mountain bike ride is in the early spring when the almond trees are in full bloom with their intoxicating scent.
After some kilometers we arrive at the spring of Ein Limon, which is a suitable place to take a break and sit around on the grass and rocks. There is a pool here dating from Roman times and another of more recent origin.
After having replenished our energy reserves we use them for the climb out of Nahal Kisalon which is in the order of 200 meters . It starts off gently enough but steepens to a lung- bursting gradient on nearing Tzova. Most sane mountain bike riders will take a break to admire the unfolding view of the gardens and orchards of the Arab village, En Rafa, and in the distance Mevasseret Zion on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The Crusader Fort Tzuba is a further road -climb ending with some single-track. Here, find a perch on the ruins and absorb the fraught history of this strategic spot
From Tzova the route takes a hair-raising track into Nahal Zova ; a good exercise of braking control on a technical descent. The climb out is by a winding road to a ridge overlooking the deep wadi, Nahal Sorek, and from here a switchback descent to Ein Sataf. This is a spring still used to irrigate terraced gardens in the ancient way. It is possible to enter on the bikes and cycle on the narrow paths to the pool, however, the descent from there into Nahal Sorek is by way of steps; beware of any heroics on these!
The fragrance of the almond trees soon gives way to the atmospheric aroma of Nahal Sorek, a major conduit for the sewage of Western Jerusalem. Undaunted, we descend on the road and eventually escape the evil vapours by climbing the Sorek Ridge which devides Nahal Sorek from Nahal Refaim, the other major wadi flowing westward from Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this too carries the effluence of the Holy City, and after some good riding in the pine forests around, the INT directs us through this objectionable stream . The Israel Bike Trail, though, offers an alternative for the squeamish (most of us!), by suggesting continuing to mountain bike ride down Nahal Refaim (holding our noses where necessary) until we arrive at road #386. From there we can ascend back up via Bar Giora, to Mevo Betar, not having risked our lives in the ecological mire below !